'Home' In Paris

photo: columbus cafe

The Columbus Café is in the Marais and the Beetle
looks like it is from California.

Metropole's Club Seeks Members Globally

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 1. November 1999:- Launching and conducting - if this is what it's called - the Café Metropole Club has resulted in me thinking much more about America - the United States part of it - than I have in years.

The 'club' is not an exclusively 'American' affair. It is open to all, from anyplace on the planet. For various technical reasons, I would prefer that extraterrestrials refrain from applying for any sort of membership for the time being - otherwise all human beings are welcome.

About 50 percent of Metropole's readers live in the United States. There are more people hooked up to the Internet there and a lot of Americans are interested in Paris. Americans also like to have fun, so this possibly explains why they have quickly taken up the challenge of membership in the 'club.'

The other 50 percent of Metropole's readers live in the rest of the world. Altogether, you read, write and speak about 200 different languages. 'Club' membership is equally open to you. You are welcome to join it.

This week's 'Club News' gives details of how to do this. It is so easy, I won't be surprised if some people join it while they are asleep in a dentist's chair.

Now, about languages. The 'Club' has no 'official' language; which means you can use your own. I can understand various flavors of English and one or two of French and German, with some 'notions' of Spanish.

Metropole's server-lady - who has a travel feature in this issue - also understands severalphoto: brentano's languages, including being able to speed-read traffic signs in Arabic. She keeps saying she will come to the club, to meet you, and if she ever shows up she will be welcome to become a member too.

The Paris branch of Brentano's, on the Avenue de l'Opéra.

I have explained elsewhere that the 'virtual' membership card I promised last week did not make it into this week's issue. The nominal reason for this is nobody objected to the idea. If I don't know what you don't like, how am I to know what to do?

So then, Paris fans and Internet people worldwide, join the club! It is free, it has no rules, and it doesn't cost much.

If my 'reports' about the club's activities make it seem trivial to you, consider that I am running the club, shaking hands, taking notes, taking photos - so I have only a sketchy idea of what is going on.

At the club, its members do talk seriously to one another and have deep exchanges of views, I think. You can take part in this while I look after the nuts and bolts and ashtrays.

So far, the numbers of members at any one meeting has been low enough so that general conversation is possible. This means that there is not a lot of time spent waiting around for a chance to speak or ask questions.

Just by listening, I have picked up some interesting ideas - one of which led to this week's feature article.

America In Paris

Many years ago when I was a new immigrant in Europe, I used to search for 'items from home.' As my 'home' was pretty insignificant in the export of common things category, I quit searching after a couple of years and adopted European tastes.

Over time I have completely forgotten what 'home' tasted like and have ceased to think about it. Recently, listeningphoto: neon hot dogs americain to club members - who are at the moment mostly Americans - has made me remember that visitors do look for items from 'home.'

In the case of 'America,' this is also a global marketing machine that relentlessly exports its tastes and styles to the entire world. Without worldwide acceptance of things American, they would not be here - but here they are.

Soft drinks, cigarettes, entertainment, the industrial fast-food concept, are all successful American exports. The signs for all these are everywhere.

In the normal course of producing Metropole Paris, I avoid these 'signs.' If possible they do not appear in this magazine about Paris.

But this is unreal. McDonald's does have many branch locations in Paris. Disneyland is very real, just to the east of Paris. Millions of people, both French and visitors, patronize both of these - and eat American packaged cereals for breakfast, eat Mars bars sold in métro vending machines, buy Kodak film for snapshots, drink Coca-Cola and Pepsi at outdoor snack kiosks.

For over a hundred issues of this magazine I have censored all images of these everyday items. Paris is big enough and all of these 'signs of America' are only a thin haze spread over the city, so leaving them out is not any major problem.

But, it occurred to me at a recent meeting of the Café Metropole Club, am I not giving a false impression of Paris?

You pay a visit to Paris, even if it is from Malaysia, and you will see 'America' nearly everywhere. What's wrong with trying it out; having a taste of it?

The Americans who have been at the club say they have tried these things. And do you know what? They nearly all say they 'are not the same.' The taste is different, maybe the name is differnt; the package has French text on it.


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