Je t'aime....moi non plus
A little bit late for Valentine's Day but as is customary I have been unwell in the lead up to, during, and since the 14th of February. I'm not sure if my illness was brought on by the hype; shielding with a family of equally unsentimental Brits, I scarcely noticed this day was looming. I can, at the very least, be thankful that in my solitude I cannot be made to endure the usual obligations that come on a day like this (suppressing the urge to wince at soppy declarations of love in perpetuity, reluctantly accepting tasteless jewellery and kitsch trinkets, the expectation that these grand gestures be reciprocated...)
It struck me that so many people move to Paris expecting to find love. It is, after all, revered as the city of Love. Most ironic then that I, the most unabashedly acerbic female I know of, should have succeeded in a quest pursued by so many hopeless romantics. Here then, are some unconventional suggestions for lonely optimists living in Paris (from a professional cynic). Good luck.
Perhaps you're looking in the wrong place? Have you tried the préfecture? With so many identity documents needed for the slightest administrative box-ticking, you can skip the small talk because they know it all already. A second date is inevitable, because it's guaranteed you won't have all the required documentation.
Maybe an RATP agent? If you try hard enough you could almost recast the monotonous meeting as a romantic encounter...you descend from the metro, trench coat billowing theatrically in the drafty tunnels, the carriage doors sound behind you and a little ticket flutters out of your coat pocket and comes to land at the feet of a utilitarianly attired transport agent. You reach down to pick it up simultaneously. Your hands brush. Your eyes meet. "Ticket non validé, Madame". 60€ fine. "You owe me dinner, Monsieur" you tease. He even helps you over the gates.
As a last resort, there's always the customs staff. Forever striking, you'll have plenty of time to chat. They've been through your drawers already and seen your not-safe-for-Sunday-school underclothes, so don't be bashful. After a bag search as intimate as that, it might be reasonable to suggest a quid pro quo.
Now for comportment; how should one behave here? I would say the "fashionably late" cliché is rather tasteless. Nobody likes to be kept waiting long enough that it looks like you're up to no good- much less when with every passing second of loitering you become more of a target for pickpockets and peddlers of counterfeit cigarettes. That being said, sod's law dictates that if you care too much, it'll all go tits up anyway. So the situation really is impossible. When it comes to splitting the bill, call upon your judgement; splitting is fine, "I'll get this one" too, but I would refrain from demanding the lady pay and citing feminism, it's a cheap shot (I certainly didn't appreciate it). Tourist traps make for banal dates; on a good day you can hardly move for tortoise-paced gawkers laden with cameras and selfie-sticks, so joining the crowd will only exasperate both problems (the throngs of revellers and your love woes, that is).
And what to wear? Hmmm... that really isn't a question for me I'm afraid. The most sensible answer, albeit vague, would be to go for an aesthetic of elegance, refinement, and understatement. Easier said than done. Truth be told I never gave it much thought. In fact with hindsight, I can see this guide won't be much help to anyone. But that's just the point: you can only wing it if you don't really care. Bonne chance, les amis, l'effort est vain.