There is one thing I love about America and hate about France. Yes, I really said that.

If I am trying to get something done that isn’t exactly on the menu, in America the answer I get is 9 times out of 10 gonna be something along the lines of “Sure, we can do that for you” or “Let’s see if we can figure out a way for you to do that.”

Can do. That’s what I love about America.

In France, the equivalent is “pas possible.” No way. Forget it. Ain’t happenin’.

I got the pas possible when I tried to return the boots I hadn’t worn. When I tried to return the pillowcases, unopened, with the receipt, after the 30-day limit. Two different times when I wanted to buy something fragile and have it shipped to the States because I was afraid it wouldn’t survive in my luggage… “Pas possible ! That would mean I’d have to go to the post office.” One of them really said that.

I got the pas possible when I tried to exchange a defective book. I’d peeled off the sticker and thrown away the receipt. How could I have known at the time I bought it that it was missing 100 pages after page 163? But, with Vincent’ s help, I was able to badger and cajole the guy into making an exception. Badgering sometimes works. Then the person dealing out the pas possible gets to feel like he’s really bent over backwards for you.

When you are not asking for anything out of the ordinary, you generally don’t get the pas possible. You’re more likely to get a frown, or a shrug, or some such signal of hesitation or reluctance. It does seem like whenever people have something, or can do something you want here, they like to make absolutely sure that you appreciate that they are in a position of power and they’re doing you a favor. So even if there is no reason why they shouldn’t grant your wish, even if they have every intention of doing so from the start, they like to make you squirm a little before finally, grudgingly, giving in.

It’s getting easier to deal with now that I’ve been here a while. I’ve lowered my expectations to nil, so any time something is relatively easy, I’m pleasantly surprised.

I’m a very can-do American. Most of us are that way, I think. We get an idea and decide we’re going to make it happen. We figure we’ll worry about the details when we get there and that, somehow, we’ll overcome any obstacles. (If I weren’t like that, I might never have ended up here in Paris…) This cultural characteristic probably explains why there are so many entrepreneurs in the US and so few in France. On numerous occasions, I’ve said to Vincent “It must be done, therefore it can be done.” That’s how I operate.

Of course, that classic American “we’ll worry about the details later” approach is what got the US into such a mess in Iraq, as Vincent likes to point out.

I would really like to understand the origins of what I can only interpret, through my cultural lens, as the French national power trip. It seems like the difference is that we Americans get our sense of power from making things happen, while the French get their sense of power from preventing things from happening. By the same token, what makes us feel good about ourselves is being helpful and efficient and making things easier for others, while what seems to make the French feel good about themselves is that feeling of magnanimity they get after they’ve surmounted, on your behalf, the obstacle they created artificially in the first place. Your thoughts?

Nicolas Sarkozy, who’s been president of France for 10 months now, ran with the campaign slogan “Together, everything becomes possible.”

No wonder they call him “Sarko the American.” He’s a can-do guy, no question. I was depressed when he was elected, but I was secretly hoping his election was a sign that the French might be moving away from the pas possible mindset.

But no. These days, Sarko can’t do anything right. Everything he does causes outrage and indignation. (For that the French say “C’est pas possible,” which is not at all the same as plain ol’ “pas possible.”)

I agree with them when it comes to Sarko’s shenanigans, don’t get me wrong. So far, he’s doing much more harm than good. And despite his slogan, I doubt he’ll end up having much of an effect on the pas possible phenomenon.

For now, I can still only dream of the day when I might hear a French person say, right off the bat, no begging or badgering required, no fraught body language, “Aucun problème.”

“No problem.”