This is a complicated topic that I will not be able to fully explore in one post. I haven't finished my research on the topic yet anyway. We'll call it a work in progress.
Le regard de l'autre, literally, the look of another, plays an important role in French society. Homogeneity is highly valued here and the collective regard de l'autre keeps everyone in check.
As a foreigner, I am somewhat exempt from le regard. But today, perhaps for the first time ever, I felt the full weight of the regard.
The muffler fell halfway off my car today. I was across town from my house with groceries from the co-op and two kids in my car. It was too late to drive it to the mechanic's. It was way too far to walk home with kids and groceries. I drove home, muffler hanging and sparking, hazzards on. I cannot even describe the looks we got. Although from inside my hot, loud car, they looked like incomprehension from the women, wonderment from the kids, and pity from the men.
The boys, of course, thought the whole 'adventure' (their word) was fun.