Paris has a reputation for being a joyless place at times, and locals are not often praised for their ability to take a joke, or get involved in the kind of banter that English-speaking expats and visitors are accustomed to.
A new public exhibition, however, looks likely to cause a few laughs, as residents of the capital are encouraged to take the you-know-what out of themselves, as well as tourists and expats.
“Les Parisiens,” a series of 50 cartoons from the hand of Japan-born artist Kanako Kuno, was launched on Wednesday in collaboration with the city of Paris, the “My Little Paris” website, and Editions du Chêne.
The panels, which play out typical snapshots of daily life in the City of Light, will be displayed until August 28th on 1,000 billboards and bus shelters in famous parts of the city such as Champs Elysées, Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and in Montmartre.
One cartoon shows a café terrace packed with diners, uniformly staring at the sky, wearing shades and phoning a friend, with the caption: “Hurry up! They say there’ll be seven minutes of sun.”
Another shows a couple stuck in a queue outside a popular breakfast spot, as the server tells them happily: “For brunch, I have one table left, at 6pm.”
And anyone who’s ever tried to take a taxi in the city late at night will recognize the pair of lovers kissing on a rooftop, the Eiffel Tower gleaming in a starlit sky behind them, as the caption reads: “Must remember not to miss the last Metro.”
Every caption is displayed in both French and English, so that tourists and non-francophones can get in on the joke, and appreciate that Parisians, despite their reputation, are funny people.
“There is this cliché that Parisians are serious and rude,” Amandine Péchiodat, from My Little Paris, told The Local.
“And because it's so powerful, tourists come here and only look for that kind of behaviour. What I want them to know is that, actually, Parisians have a great ability to laugh at themselves,” she added.
And laughter, it would seem, is the main goal of “Les Parisiens,” as Lionel Bordeaux, deputy communications director for the city, told French TV TF1.
“These billboards have no purpose other than to make people laugh,” he said.
“We’re always putting up notices about serious stuff like social housing and AIDS prevention. It’s nice to be able to have a bit of light relief, and to take a comical and critical look at the lives we lead,” he added.
For her part, Kuno, who moved to Paris from Tokyo in 2005, insists that her cartoons, despite sometimes being bitingly funny, are born out of a love for the city.
“Living in Paris is wonderful…I love Parisians who don’t act particularly ‘Parisian,’ and aren’t really trendy,” she said.
“Like an old gentleman sitting outside a café with his dog, but not far from him, there’s this really glamorous girl. I love these little snapshots of life,” she added.