On Becoming a Flâneur - A Primer of Essential Elements
You need money - but not necessarily a lot.
Obviously you will not be able to enjoy the company of others, nor will you really be able to savor and explore life, if you are preoccupied with procuring the basic necessities of existence. Such necessities would include: 1) a secure abode; 2) food for proper nourishment; 3) a wardrobe in good repair along with a few basic grooming accouterments; and 4) some modest amount of disposable income for entertainment and dining purposes, as well as intellectual pursuits..
As a flâneur has historically been characterized as a "loafer," "lounger," or otherwise idle man-about-town - a flâneur therefore, with no money, would simply be viewed as a bum.
Having said this, it must be emphasized that large amounts of money are not at all required. The aforementioned basic necessities can be prudently obtained for modest sums. In fact, one may credibly argue that simpler is better - as the more possessions and complexity one has to deal with, the less likely one will truly be able to appreciate his environment and those with whom he meets.
But the bottom line here is that, unless you have an inheritance, are independently wealthy, or retired - chances are you will in fact need to work in order to earn some amount of income. Don't get me wrong - work is good. Especially if you love what you do. The challenge is to balance your time spent working with the other aspects of your life so that you don't become consumed by it at the expense of everything else.
The 5 basic elements or activities that are the focus of this website.
The 5 elements graphically illustrated here and discussed in some detail below are important, in my opinion, in living life in a manner that truly allows one to savor it, and to enjoy the company of those one meets along the way. Consequently, many of the discussions in the Blog will be centered around recommendations for achieving at least one or more of these elements.
Life, by its very definition, is about people. To go through life minimizing our interactions with others is to miss out on what most of life has to offer - yet many of us make that very mistake. We often have a close-knit group of family, friends and perhaps work associates with whom we interact, and once that relatively small network has been established, many of us seldom venture out of it, unless various circumstances force us. Most of us no doubt think that we simply can't afford the time to engage in such interaction given all of the things we need to do for ourselves.
I made this mistake for most of my adult life, which I spent in a rather self-centered way, for the most part navigating around the people who's orbits intersected with mine, while I remained truly focused only on the things I wanted to acquire for myself. I frankly didn't think I had the time to engage in what I considered to be superfluous social interactions. So by the time I reached my late 50's, I had acquired a fair amount of stuff, and a reasonable amount of financial success; but there remained an intangible emptiness - particularly as the end of this life started to come into view.
You also reach a certain point in life when you begin to ask whether-or-not what you've been doing is going to matter to anybody once you're gone. In my case, I really couldn't answer positively.
And so, I started out by making a very small change in my daily behavior. I took the time to just smile at people as I passed by them on the street, on the train, in the office. It made no difference if I knew them or if they were complete strangers. I didn't say anything, other than perhaps a brief, "Hello." But I smiled at them, rather than walk around the entire day with my normal sullen face.
And a very amazing thing happened. They smiled back! In the vast majority of cases, their countenance brightened and their entire demeanor changed - simply from an unexpected smile. Having said this, it must be a brief, genuine smile. It cannot be some obviously fake smile rigidly positioned on your face to the extent that people think you are some oddball.
There will be some people who do not smile back. In fact, they will look upon you as though something was seriously the matter with you - particularly if you've never met them before. That's okay. Just move on to the next person and smile at them just like you just did before. You will be amazed at the results.
Emboldened by all of this, I began reaching out and speaking with people whom I had never met before: either while waiting for the train; when by myself at a cafe or bar; or wherever else the opportunity presented itself.
And that's when it finally dawned on me that there's a story worth knowing behind every face you see - a story that can enrich your own life once you get to know it. And frankly, most people truly want to connect with others. Most people truly want others to show interest in them. Most people want to tell others about themselves. But most will never make the effort to reach out on their own because: a) they don't perceive they have the time; b) they're preoccupied with themselves or personal issues; c) they are suspicious of you or mistrust your motives; or d) they have other inhibitions or insecurities.
But the true flâneur takes the time and the effort to become aware, and truly comprehend his world through the people that he (or she) meets, and to develop an appreciation and love for all of it. That is the flâneur's primary desire and ambition in life.
That is why Social Interaction is at the top of the elements necessary on becoming a true flâneur. And in the process, how you treat all of the people you meet, and what you share with them through the benefit of your time, may well enrich their lives. And that would be a life well-lived, wouldn't it?
Given that in the first section of this page we established that a true flâneur shuns the overly complex lifestyles of modern society in order to take the time to interact and observe, it might seem counter-intuitive that concern about Image would be deemed an essential element in being a flâneur.
But think about it: If Social Interaction is such a critical element as we have established in the previous section, how people perceive you - particularly when they first meet you, is obviously quite important. Therefore, do not underestimate the importance of your image to others in your ability to initiate quality interactions with the people that you meet during the course of your journey.
If you come across looking like some troll who just crawled out from under a bridge or a rock, the quality of your social interactions will not be the best.
Therefore, if you're going to take the time and energy to reach out to new people, to learn about them and to interact with them in order to enrich both your own life and theirs, you owe it yourself and to them to look and act in a manner that will make people want to be around you and speak with you.
Proper etiquette (also known as social graces); good grooming; dressing well; your verbal communication skills; and how you carry yourself; are all essential elements in conveying a good image.
We all can use some 'sprucing up' every now and then on those aforementioned image elements, as it's quite easy to backslide and fall into bad habits if we don't remain conscious of how we may appear to others. You will be amazed at the extent to which how you look, and your knowledge of good etiquette, will impact how you carry yourself and your attitude and outlook on life.
And again, paying attention to the details of projecting a good image does not have to cost a lot of money. What matters is the level of scrutiny you place on yourself before going out into public places and interacting with others. Many resources exist to assist you in all of the factors affecting Image.
I have personally found that the most effective means of Social Interaction once you get acquainted with a person is over a meal or drink. I believe this to be a universal axiom no matter where in the world you reside. Charles H. Baker, Jr. - the original modern American flâneur - clearly understood this as he traveled the world during the first half of the 20th century.
There is something about sharing a coffee, light meal or especially a drink with a person that immediately creates a bond.
Every flâneur will have their favorite haunts, and there is no right-or-wrong venue - though I would tend to favor places with some ambiance, maybe some history, and certainly in an environment in which you could have a focused conversation with those in your company. Therefore, you will not find me frequenting sports bars, fast food restaurants or coffee shops in shopping malls - but that's just me.
There are certain bars in the United States, and around the world for that matter, that have become the social equivalent to the Parisian cafés of the 19th and early 20th centuries. You can find a good one easily enough with a modest amount of research. Or check the Blog here for some recommendations.
My own favorite venue is the bar at Keens Chop House in the heart of midtown Manhattan. A power bar where I virtually never fail to have an interesting conversation with a new acquaintance; exchange a business card; or consummate some important business.
You can live well without spending a fortune. The quality of your lifestyle really has nothing to do with the amount of money in your possession as much as how you utilize what you have.
You can live in a modest place or have a modest wardrobe, but how well are they maintained and kept clean? Good grooming doesn't cost much money at all, but it does require an attention to detail. A Lifestyle is a state-of-mind. You must consciously define for yourself the Lifestyle you want to lead, and work to lead the best Lifestyle you can afford.
As with Image, the attention you pay to the quality of your Lifestyle directly impacts your attitude and how others perceive you. And as we've seen over and over, this is quite important in order to maximize the quality of your Social Interaction.
There are plenty of resources available to provide you with ideas for living the best Lifestyle you can afford. Martha Stewart is no doubt the best known. But if Martha's not your bag, there are plenty of others - not the least of which is my wife's own website, "Living Well With Pat Nogar," as well as her accompanying YouTube channel.
The biggest challenge many people have is making the conscious decision to define a better Lifestyle for themselves, and to remain committed to the time and work required to achieve it - as it is so easy to backslide into complacency.
My wife grew up in public housing in St. Louis, but her mother knew very clearly the kind of Lifestyle she wanted for herself and how she wanted to entertain. So she bought Wedgwood china a single piece at a time until she ultimately had enough place settings to set a table to which she always aspired. A remarkable commitment indeed, by a woman who knew exactly what she wanted in life and where she wanted to go, despite her limited means in the beginning.
I'm sure she didn't achieve everything she wanted out of life - but none of us ever will. What differentiates her from many of us, is that she overcame the inertia and uncertainty that afflicts many of us; defined what she wanted out of her life, then got in the canoe and started paddling. Many of us are too afraid of failure to get in the canoe, and we reach the end of our lives feeling unfulfilled and having wasted the precious time that was given to us. That almost happened to me.
So if quality Social Interaction is at the apex of the flâneur's art, one must presumably be able to converse somewhat fluently in a fair number of subjects in order to engage and find some commonality when conversing with others with whom you meet - particularly for the first time.
This would mean having the ability to talk about more than just the weather or sports. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with either, but one must go at least a bit deeper and more diverse, in my opinion, in order to avoid wallowing in pointless banality.
I cannot tell you the number of cocktail parties I've attended where my preference would have frankly been to stick a dessert fork in my eye rather than continue to engage in the endless prevailing conversation with no substance or meaning. Fortunately however, after about an hour, the cumulative effects of continuous alcohol consumption became such that even the news of little Jimmy's pet gerbil dying had me thoroughly engrossed and mesmerized - or at least I was able to credibly fake the profound concern.
But the point is, why settle for that? You are short-changing both yourself and the people with whom you engage in conversation. And you are wasting precious time. Why waste hours talking with someone and not learn anything significant about them or exchange ideas or knowledge that truly matters?
Beyond its importance to meaningful Social Interaction, the pursuit of intellectual interests rounds out our life experience and keeps our minds and spirits engaged in the life around us. And those interests can be anything you want them to be.
I believe God placed each of us on this earth with our own unique characteristics and specific interests, and He has given us a fixed amount of time with which to pursue those interests in our own way. It would be tragic for any of us to waste such a precious gift.
And again, your Intellectual Pursuits can be whatever you want them to be - but you should think about them and you should write them down - otherwise you are liable not to act on most of them. As for me, mine are rather diverse - but I'm pursuing all of them:
I think you should make such a list for yourself too. Then go for it. Like there's no tomorrow.
By the way, regarding the admonition to 'Stay Offline!' in the graphic above - the Internet can be an extremely valuable tool in terms of communicating with others and researching just about anything. And obviously, if you were not online, you would not be reading this.
But the Internet must be viewed for what it is - a tool to obtain information and with which to do commerce. It must not become your reason for existence, or substitute for real social interaction. That would actually be the antithesis of a 'flâneur.' Restricting your time online each day to perhaps 2-hours maximum by using the alarm function on your smart phone might prove to be a wise idea.
The rest of your hours might actually be spent enjoying your life and meeting real people face-to-face.
So, what's the point of all of this?
It really depends on you. If you've come this far down the page, and all of this strikes you as being much in the way of grandiloquent verbosity without any comprehensible point, then thanks for stopping by - but there probably isn't anything that will be subsequently added here that will make you draw a different conclusion later.
However, if any of what I've written here strikes even a single chord, then I would invite you to follow the Blog. This website and Blog are meant for those of us who are from a very different era, with a set of sensibilities that are unique and increasingly uncommon in our contemporary culture.
So, if any of this speaks to you - stick around. You may encounter some neat stuff along the way. Here we go.
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