Natalie Portman Versus Scarlett Johansson: The White and Black Swans of Paris Celeb-Expat Living

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Photo: Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images

Poor ScarJo. She just can't catch a break with the French. First, the actress — who's been living in Paris the past few years and is pregnant with the child of her French fiancé, adman Romain Dauriac — went on David Letterman and complained that Parisians rudely shove her on the sidewalks, leading to a barrage of French commentary, such as: "Une seule solution: Go home." (Though, to be fair, many Parisians agreed with her.) The fact that she hasn't learned French yet also hasn't endeared her.

And now she's ruffling more feathers in France for suing best-selling and beloved French author Grégoire Delacourt for his novel La Première Chose Qu'on Regarde ("The First Thing We See"), which is built around a character both blessed and cursed to look exactly like, well, Scarlett Johansson.

ScarJo says that the writer is using her for commercial exploitation; the writer (and most of France) says there's nothing wrong with writing a fictional character that happens to look like a real-life one. "We're in France, Scarlett, not Hollywood," one journalist wrote to her in an open letter. "We don't sue people here because our coffee is too hot or too cold."

To add insult to injury, ScarJo must endure the shadiness of Parisians while she watches that other huge American bombshell celebrity expat in Paris (also mother to a hot Frenchman's child) just lap up the love from her new countryfolk. Yes, that would be Natalie Portman. Who is married to Benjamin Millepied, the handsome young French dancer (whom she met filming Black Swan) who has become a French cultural rock star as he prepares to take over the Paris Opera Ballet this fall. Whose adjustment to Paris, at least in the press, seems limited to learning how to walk all day in heels, having noted Parisian women's avoidance of Nikes for anything but exercise. Who already speaks some French and has the grace to note that Parisians are open to your bad, American-accented French if you at least make an effort. Who even was named for a beloved French song!

But if you ask me, Parisians are falling all over Portman for the same reason that they fell all over Jackie Kennedy: She has that quality much-prized by the French in their women, a quality that really has no equivalent word here except, perhaps, class or understatedness. That would be la discrétion. In an outdated way, Parisians are obsessed with this quality in women, which has something to do with keeping a low profile and being a bit mysterious and never vulgar. Just Google Portman's name along with discrétion and see how often she is described thusly. The French love her for her Audrey Hepburn-esque fine features and her soft, mewling voice, such a reprieve from the shrieking American tourist girls who plague Paris. (Ask any Parisian to imitate an American girl, and they'll instantly raise their voices and go, "Oh my God you guys that's soooo amayyyyyyzing!") Portman, who moved (at least part-time) to Paris a few months ago, may secretly be missing all those gabby, overexcited New Yorkers on the street, but she has the good sense — no, no, make that la discrétionto say only good things about French culture, which leads the French to believe that, like Jackie Kennedy, Portman has the class to truly appreciate them.

There is just something so hopelessly American about ScarJo. Her voice may be smoky and come-hither rather than squeaky-Kardashian, but you can tell she's a native New Yorker who's used to quick service and speaking her mind. The semi-joking remarks she made on Letterman probably represent a micro-fraction of her exasperation with Parisians. She lacks a suitably Parisian level of la discrétion.

For that reason, she'll probably remain Paris's black swan to Portman's white for quite some time. Thank heavens. But she should still reach out to Bradley Cooper for help with her French. (And can I just say? That fucker's French is so fucking good. I hate him.)