Dances With Words: An Exercise in French Logic

It was 11pm on free museum Sunday. We had just biked our way through the city of Paris like two crazed lunatics with complete disregard for our appearance or for traffic. Coming out of Musée d’Orsay 15 minutes earlier, we realized that we might actually have a chance at making final call for The Tudors exhibition at Musée du Luxembourg.

Breathless, we ran up the road after parking our Vélibs in their charging stations (I know now, this was our undoing) and toward the line that was, dare I say, manageable at the entrance. Before us stood a French security guard at least two feet larger in both height and girth than all the people that surrounded him. He was speaking with an Italian couple that clearly had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

“But it is only 11.”

Ce n’est pas possible, the museum closes at 12.”

“But it is 11.”

“Yes, but the museum closes at 12.”

“But it is only 11. Why not?”

Pas possible.”

“Can we get in that line?”

Pas possible.

“But the museum is still open.”

“We close at 12.”

“But we still have an hour.”

Non, we close at 12. Ce n’est pas possible, monsieur.”

“Can we just stand in line to see if we get in?”

Non, we close at 12.”

“But it is 11, we can get in if you let us stand in the line.”

“I understand, but we close at 12.”

“We just want to stand in line.”

“No, we close at 12. Pas possible.”

As we watched this exquisite dance of words unfold before us, we could only nod in understanding. A year ago we might have been baffled. There’s nearly an hour until closing, surely we can pop in and have a look. We came all the way out here and there’s still time! The problem with this reasoning is just that: it’s reasonable. Those are all logical thoughts. You’d think the security guard would lean more toward, “What’s the harm in letting people stand in line? If they make it in, great, if they don’t, well, that’s their choice- either way it gets everyone out of my hair and I can think about more important things like how I can crush you with my pinky finger.” It’s less work, you don’t have to argue with tourists- win win.

But you see, all of that does not matter. It does not matter that you have arrived with ample time to join the queue and take a gander at the special exhibit. It does not matter that there is a hour between where you are standing and the doors officially closing for the night. It does not matter that you are making perfect sense in your attempts to persuade the gentleman at the entrance to let you have just a chance at getting in. None of this matters.

What matters is that the museum closes at 12. That is all you need to know. That is all that you will be told. The gentleman at the entrance has spoken. He has decided that you will not make it in. He has decided that if you did, by chance, make it in, you would not have enough time to appreciate the exhibit the way that you should. He has decided that if you did make it in, and you saw the exhibit and then felt that you had seen enough of it to accomplish all of these things in an hour, well, that’s not the kind of person he wants in his museum anyways.

We understood. And after watching this dialogue go in circles for a solid 10 minutes we decided to make our way back to the Vélib station and bike our way home. We took the long way, letting the lights of Pont Neuf guide us through the dark. Down side streets and closed cafés, we laughed. Because at this moment, who else could appreciate what had just happened and when did we get to the place where this all made sense to us? Ce n’est pas possible.

It was an exceptional evening.

  • Dyah KD

    I wish I read your article before I came to Paris….
    So true….

  • Dyah KD

    I wish I read your article ! It’s so true……