I love visiting Paris...the food, the history, the arrogance, everything that tells me I'm a tourist. My sister is a hard core Francophile. She ran away to live the dream there, ended up fluent, and a professor at La Sorbonne.
France has always been the land of orgasmic bread and croissants. Luckily, Petit Dejeuners that promise to plump up already pillowy British thighs, can be balanced out by a post gorge run to the chemist for 20 tubes of anti-cellulite cream only French women swear by. I know they only drink black coffee all day and maybe eat an olive and a cigarette when things get really stressful, but hell French women have always had that "Je ne sais quoi". Think Bardot & Deneuve... a tightly belted mac, a chic scarf and giant black sunglasses and they're done. When America was mass producing plastic Barbie dolls, France was showing us the real thing, with a lot less make-up.
Take the classic Deneuve film Belle De Jour. I swear only the French could make a film about a frigid haus frau who turns S&M prostitute that leaves you wondering where she got her shoes (oh and where I could buy Spanish Fly). Paris brings the delight of shopping in small "individual" emporiums instead of the chain stores that have swallowed up the retail personalities back home. And who can beat a cafe au lait on a beautiful afternoon in a slightly too worn, "Lautrec probably drank there" Parisian Cafe? NOTHING.
And this was the Paris I thought I'd arrived at today. Perfectly located by St Lazare station and equidistant from culture and commerce, I unpacked in under 5 minutes and went in search of the perfect cafe experience. Perhaps it was the sight upon leaving the hotel, of not one, but two Starbucks, a sight that in any American city would have me doing back flips. I wandered over, determined to see if they really DO sell the same stuff in every store (they do), but was distracted by the seedy-looking McDonalds (bursting) squeezed between two a-typical cafes (half-empty). Of course the Mac shack had to be full of food allergic tourists I told myself, but the swath of French that hit me as I passed told me otherwise.
Now incensed, I changed direction and headed for Gallerie Lafayette dept store which would surely offer some Parisian elegance at Xmas time. The hoards of people crushed up against the window displays told me I'd struck gold. So there I stood, for at least 10 minutes, trying to understand why the world's most chic city dwellers were creaming themselves over some of the most rubbish child mannequins (dressed entirely in CHILDREN'S BURBERRY'S), flying, or should I say being dragged through the air on very visible wires. I heard oohs and aah's... the excitement was palpable. How I stopped myself from throwing one of the father's (the women are too small), through the plate glass whilst screaming "fromage" I'll never know!
I mean who wants the world to homogenise? I'm a proud Londoner, who wants to be taught a taste lesson by the French. We've been fighting for a 1000 years to be different and NOW they want the same bullshit as us...Kate Moss & Carla, Starbucks & Ronald? Tomorrow I'm going to the 16th arrondissement. If I'm lucky, a waiter will be verbally abusive, maybe a shop assistant will look down her nose at me and (fingers-crossed), some skeletal actress/politician's wife might slither by me in a turtleneck and a cloud of Chanel No 5, and finally I'll feel like the wide-eyed, tongue-tied tourist I want to be. Vive Le difference!