Shootaround in the Park

I grabbed my basketball and hopped on the metro Monday afternoon with a goal in mind: Meet someone and talk with him/her. Sports have always been my primary method of making friends. It’s where I’m comfortable. When playing basketball, you have certain people you just “click” with. It’s as if you’re operating on the same wavelength. That then lends itself to creating friendship, without really having to use words at all. It’s just as if you’re seeing, thinking, and feeling the same things.

Unable to find a pickup game, I decided to just shoot around, but I deliberately avoided putting my headphones on, with hopes of promoting interaction. Not long after, a short young man in his 20's, wearing jeans, a tee-shirt, and a satchel over his shoulder, came up and asked me if he could shoot. For the next twenty minutes or so, we alternated shots. He eventually asked me to play him one-on-one, and afterwards, we started to talk. At first, the discussion was purely about basketball: which players we were both familiar with, when and where to play around the neighborhood, and its popularity in France. We had resumed taking shots at the basket between our conversations. Eventually, I got his name (Olivier) and gave him mine. Communicating was a tad difficult because my French is not very good, and neither was his English, but we got through by speaking a sort of Franglish.

The first observations that I had were basketball-related, and they were clear. Basketball was obviously less engrained in French culture than American culture. Only a few basketball courts even had nets on the rims, and every court was also doubled as a soccer court, something I’d never seen in America. The kids playing were much worse than what I was used to seeing, and a lot of them were wearing jeans, a cardinal sin on basketball courts in America. Heck, as if playing to a stereotype, Olivier even pulled out a cigarette while we were shooting around. As I talked with Olivier, he assured me that basketball was on the rise in France, though. The French were very proud of their victory over France last week in the Basketball World Cup (along with the Spurs victory in last year’s NBA Finals, led in part by two Frenchmen: Tony Parker & Boris Diaw), and certain parks in Paris become packed with basketball players on weekends.

More interesting, though, were the observations I made during our conversation. I’d read in Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong, by Jean Benoit-Nadeau and Julie Bartow, that questions such as “What’s your name?” and “What do you do?” were more private, so I purposely didn’t ask them, wanting to see if he would bring them up. As I mentioned earlier, he did ask my name, although we had talked quite a bit before it came up. I admitted without being asked that I was a student, to which he asked the follow-up, “At university?” This conversation was not so different that it could have taken place in America, but I do think the typical American conversation goes a bit differently. I think names would have been exchanged earlier, he may have asked what I was studying, and he may have told me what he did for a living.

Simply having this interaction for this period of time also stood out to me. I feel that Americans would have cut the interaction much shorter, whereas Olivier didn’t seem to worry about spending a lot of time talking and shooting around with a stranger. In America, time is money, and this interaction would likely be seen as a waste. In France, time is precious, and hanging out in the park with a stranger is an acceptable way to spend that time.

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