Springtime in Paris….

June 15, 2016 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment



I have been working in Paris, the City of Light, for a few weeks now and, as the flood waters of the Seine have now retreated and Euro 16 is in full swing, I have been reflecting on how it feels to be a visitor here; how the capital city of our nearest continental neighbour differs from London, the Smoke, and other places in the UK.

On the positive side, unlike the impression that your average Daily Mail reader and Brexit campaigner might have (#Remain), there are not migrants (or immigrants) behind every corner or terrorists under every bed. And the streets are not disappearing under mounds of uncollected refuse. There are no blockades of burning tyres or burning sheep manned by “grévistes” in a city gridlocked by rail, metro, air traffic control strikes and failing fuel supplies. And, thankfully, I have yet to see a Russian or English football hooligan in the flesh! Although, to be fair, security seems to be being taken seriously given recent events. There are armed soldiers outside of the local Jewish school and patrolling the airports and stations. Surprisingly, many of the armed soldiers are women.

And, I have discovered that France is also, like the UK, a nation of dog lovers. But unfortunately not big lovers of pooper scoopers apparently, which is a shame because it sounds so great in a French accent….. There is dog excrement everywhere. Dragging a trolley bag around Parisian pavements is a veritable obstacle course in bio-hazards. But, they do seem to hose most thoroughfares down in the morning in an attempt to keep the worst of it in check, or in the gutter at least.

But, it is different here.

They speak French. Almost everyone does. It is like walking around South Kensington (London is apparently now France’s sixth biggest city). So, pour moi, understanding and being understood can be a little “difficile” (did you see what I did there?). But I do occasionally try to dust off my A Level French and holiday Franglais. I am at least talking louder and slower (thanks for the tip, dad) while trying to perfect the Gallic shoulder shrug cum head tilt and the “pfftt” sharp exhale of breath through pursed lips. My hands are slowly becoming a little more expressive, but, I remain very much a work in progress on the speaking the language front….

And, thankfully, the Anglo-Saxon work ethic has yet to cross the Channel. While they work quite late (7ish) nobody starts work here before 9am and everyone takes at least an hour and a half for lunch. Coffee breaks are compulsory and frequent (coffee drinking has been perfected as an art form), and emailing and phone calls out of hours are frowned upon. At least until Monsieur Hollande’s new labour laws are accepted…..

A work/life balance is expected here and family is important. Almost important as bread and patisserie.

Croissants taste different here. Baguettes taste different here. They are fresh as fresh thing could be and they melt in your mouth. The day of a Parisian begins with the trip to the local boulangerie for breakfast rolls and his working day ends with a trip to the local boulangerie for the bread for the dinner table.

The staff of life aside, however, I cannot say that I have eaten particularly well in Paris as yet. But then again the room service menu at the Novotel Porte D’Orleans is neither extensive nor representative of French cuisine as a whole. The croque monsieur served cold last night was an absolute disgrace. Malakoff, where the office is situated, is not known for its Michelin stars. While the fast food invasion of McDonalds, Burger King, and Starbucks remains stoically resisted here there are plenty of Chinese and Japanese restaurants and pizzeria to be found.

Navigating the streets of Malakoff is difficult at the best of times. All drivers of taxis, cars, motorbikes, trucks, and all cyclists are seemingly oblivious to any Highway Code and make up their own rules while ignoring red lights, the flashing green man and supposed safe passage of a zebra crossing. Crossing the road can be tricky. And, you are just as likely to be taken out on the pavement by a dog on a lead, a wayward child distracted by a bread-based snack, or a grown man on a scooter – not the motorised type but the one that kids back in the UK would use; those which allow you to exercise the muscles in just one leg at a time.


But I definitely would not want to drive here. La Peripherique  (the ring road) reminds me of a sign that used to sit above the taxi rank at Euston station back in London which warned visitors from Milton Keynes that “the traffic conglomeration you are about to enter is known as a traffic jam. Do not panic and do not attempt to leave your vehicle”. The Peripherique is the road to nowhere accompanied by the constant sound of car horns, police sirens and cries of “merde!” It makes my experience of junction 14 of the M25 (half an hour to travel one mile to Terminal 5) seem like a regular Sunday afternoon outing in the countryside….

imageWhile I have seen the occasional beret, usually on an older man, stripey t-shirts and garlands of onions have so far been lacking, even on the many cyclists. Indeed, it is true to say that people dress better / different here. Parisians are definitely fashionistas. The women all look like Jane Birkin or her daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Kind of shabby chic. Sexy without having to try too hard (much like C back home….), with a toy dog of some variety clutched under one arm, and a cigarette hanging nonchalantly from rouged lips.

And the men have all mastered the floppy haired and stubble look set-off with a scarf or maybe a pullover (again it sounds better in French) draped over the shoulders and tied around the neck. Think David Ginola before the bypass. Brown shoes are “du jour” even with blue suits! And, like the women, the men smoke. Everyone smokes.

Almost wherever you go in Paris you can catch glimpses of the Eiffel Tower, the roar of the Peripherique, and lose yourself in a heady aroma of baked bread mixed with the scent of Channel Number 5, strong coffee and the sweet odour of Gauloises Blondes. And dog shit…..

I kind of like the place.



Entry filed under: middleman.

Home is where the heart is…. Should we stay or should we go?

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