Not a Jot of Difference

photo: champs de mars, tour eiffel, la defense

Proof that you can breathe Paris' air, on a Sunday at least.

'Is It True What They Say About Paris?'

Paris:- Friday, 23. November 2001:- Even though I have not felt it necessary to trot out the 'Is It True?' theme since the end of August, this does not mean the Paris-incomprehension industry has been idle, or that Alan Pavlik has been less than alert.

For example, in late August he sent a report from the UK's Guardian newspaper that carried a rehash of an item widely reported in France. It concerned the annual vacation-time custom of having health and fraud inspectors check out various kitchens around France, and publish a shock-horror report of their findings.

This 'report' is always published after it is too late to save yourself from food poisoning, after it is far too late to cancel your campsite booking, and far too late to not eat in the restaurants that might irritate your health.

In other words, after the fact - if you are still alive, if you survived - it hardly matters. For this reason I can wait from August to November to say that 'It Is True' and it still won't make a jot of difference.

Is It Safe To Eat In Paris?

While the summer report about the inspection of 29,793 kitchens, markets and supermarkets said the inspectors issued bad-food tickets and fraud warnings to 15 percent of the places checked, no mention wasphoto: boot, skin made of the fact that the inspectors operate year-round - and are always handing out tickets for infractions.

They are especially busy right now because part of the health inspection involves the fraud aspect. Is the food as advertised? Does its franc-price equal its new 'euro' price? Is it full of water, or air?

But last summer, while not only foreigners, but the French were getting ripped off too, the situation was completely 'unchanged from previous years,' according to the report.

Non-heath threatening are frozen foods that are advertised as fresh and simple 'vin de pays' that gets passed off as something superior. These are just garden-variety frauds. Mouldy kitchens and overage products are health issues.

However the Guardian's analysis of the annual report went wrong when it clearly stated that the evil practices are aimed specifically at foreign visitors. In fact, these may outnumber French residents by about 15 million per year, but exactly how can foreigners be 'targeted?'

Imagine the café patron telling Pierre the waiter to serve the week-old fish to 'Les Américains' at table three and make sure 'Les Françaises' get the duck 'suprémo à la mojo' at table four.

The Guardian said Le Figaro wondered if it was greed, extreme heat, or the gullibility of tourists that caused food professionals to ignore fundamentals of honesty, hygiene and safety. Or, was it 'hopeless' French amateurism?' - Le Figaro wondered in despair.

After itemizing the standard food-horror stories, the Guardian did mention that most of the infractions were found at seasonal bars, beach cafés and restaurants.

Since next to none of these are in Paris, it is easy to deduct that it is probably 'Safe To Eat In Paris.' Of course, we must keep in mind that the majority of the summer inspections are carried out elsewhere in France - so if Parisian food operators want to be sloppy, summer is the time to 'get away with it.'

For this reason, many of everybody's favorite Paris bistros and restaurants are closed for parts of July and August - so their staffs can 'get away' to their origins in the provinces and to eat in the same places as everybody else.

Is It Safe To Wear Shoes In Paris?

Since this is going to be about stereotypes and generalities, you can substitute any word you want for 'shoes' in the headline, just so long as you stick to words such as 'thin,' 'stylish' or 'sex fiend.'

According to an American writer, these last three words sum up attributes of French women that American ladies worry they cannot match. Also as a sum up, American women are not known to know 'what women think men like.' And by extension, French women do.

First off, French women are supposed to be 'thin' even though they eat butter, real salad-dressing, cheesephoto: boot, dark, glitter and chocolates. They are said to not 'exercise' and they do not demand a Coke Lite every time they are thirsty, mainly because these aren't found in every frigo.

French women are considered to be stylish because they can buy 'chic' stuff in Paris, wear stiletto heels, carry 'designer' handbags, and acquire fancy accessories almost anywhere in the city.

Finally, French women are considered to be 'sex fiends' because they can smooch on the streets, in the parks, and on the métro. Then our American writer suggests that all this can lead to is anybody's 'best guess' without making her own guess known.

The lady also imagines that French ladies, who are busily doing 'best guesses,' also have time to 'turn up their noses' at American ladies, or bother to take time off from it to consciously spend time thinking that American women are 'more slovenly, obese, and unfashionable.'

I do not think this is true. While not all French women are thin, stylish, sex fiends, and some of them have considerable noses - with Gallic character! - I don't not think they waste much time thinking about American women.

Americans, according to this American writer, are considered to be less fashionable because they wear sneakers, t-shirts and jeans. Without noticing that French women - and Italian women and Spanish women - wear the same things on occasion - the writer deduces that somebody other than visitors buy clothing at Paris' GAP outlets.

She is also astutely aware that the many McDo outlets in Paris are full of customers, but fails to notice that the French people who work in them - free junk food! - often show signs of assuming the shapes of large-sized Americans.

Back to clothing - Americans are supposed to be proud that they are permitted to 'dress down' if they work for casual-dress firms. There doesn't seem to be any conception of wearing what is appropriate to the situation.

For example, if you are a lady who normally works at a Moulinex factory, but it is being shut down and you are protesting against this, you wear appropriate clothing to be on the picket line - rather that high stiletto heels designed to attract 'sex fiends.'

It is true that American women wearing the same kind of picket-line gear while strolling through the Louvre's galleries, may feel somewhat inferior to French women who have dressed for the occasion - but maybe the French woman is casually shopping for a 'sex fiend' while the American woman may not be.

It is possible that this is not about women from two continents at all, but is about French men. According to the American writer, these seem to be attracted to femininity, and love the 'ooze' of it on the streets of Paris, with repeated specific mentions of 'stiletto heels, exotic perfume, perfect coiffures, designer handbags, and the ever-present accessories.'

About 'accessories' - one lady recently explained to me that these are strategically placed as sort of an eyeball-lure. One, is usually enough.

The French are supposedly 'conformist' because young women do not go out in groups to be rowdy, laugh loudly or have an 'obvious good time.' To do so would be a hard way to meet timid 'sex fiends.'

French women apparently do not like sports - even though there are world championship French lady tennis players, bicycle racers, deep ocean sailors and very fast downhill skiers. Despite these, they are 'demurring creatures.'

The American writer has a lot of otherphoto: three boots strange observations, based on 'a year of living in Paris.' Without going into details, I can only assume the lady spent all of her time in Passy, mostly during its twin-set times of day.

After saying that she has never seen any of the more common freak shows on the streets of Paris, she advises her readers to try not looking like what half the people in France look like every day.

As a wind-up, for the Paris-challenged, she suggests that ladies should try to remember some role models, such as Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Oprah Winfrey, or Mia Hamm.

Then she spoils it by pointing out that Hillary and Madeline are not exactly thin, and Mia might be too sporty to be a proper lady. The point is that these American ladies are too smart to want to be 'sex fiends' or get to know any.

This means you have a choice. Wear those sensible shoes or get yourself some decent stilettos.

Do Babies Wear High Heels In Paris?

Did you know that all French women starve themselves so that 'sex fiends' they know will find them attractive? Do you know that all French women shop daily for fresh goodies for their 'sex fiend' companions?

And, does everybody know that all French women make their own salad-dressing from simple but legal household ingredients? Finally, are you fully aware that the French lady's only desire on earth is to be 'on the arm' of her favorite 'sex fiend?'

Another American lady writer considered the answer 'yes' to all of the above questions, which added up to the 'superior attributes' of French ladies, and decided that she could fit the bill.

For her weight, she took on red wine. She got out of shopping daily by eating in restaurants daily. For an arm rest, she used a cane - she says. She made up her mind to get some really good olive oil.

Where she really had to bite the nail hard, was with the high heels. She had the perception that every French female over the age of three months wore high, higher, or highest heels, 24 hours a day, including to births, weddings and funerals.

She began by saying that she did not notice this high-heel business at seven in the morning at first, but became aware of it after seeing them at 17:00. She claims Parisians wore them all night long too, even at seven in the morning.

Then she discovered that Paris ladies of all ages even wear boots with high heels, while hinting that these may only be sold to licensed 'sex fiends.' Finally, she witnessed the high-heel ultimate - a high-heeled lady truck unloader.

This correspondent finally succumbed and found an accommodating shop with a selection of high, higher, and highest heels. After being assured that even 'mature' women wear them - actually being convinced by a shoe salesman that she 'must' have them, and besides - 'Madame wasn't THAT old!' - clinched the sales argument with the phrase that all French salespeople learn the first day on the job.

She got two pairs of them and test-walked them around her apartment, without worrying too much about having given up heels for flatties years before. For her feet's sake, she considered more red wine could do the trick.

I subjected this story to the 'Is It True' test for several days on the sidewalks of Paris last week. Except for shops exclusively selling sports shoes, all other shoe stores are copiously supplied with high, higher and highest heels, and many of them also have the boot version too.

Like Mole, I had my nose to the ground when it wasn't pressed against display windows, and what did I see?

I saw sports shoes, I saw flatties, I saw these funny-toed shoes that are in style this season and I saw all sorts of other odd footwear, including heelless sandals, both with and without socks.

High heels, with or without boots, I did not see. I guess it is only a matter of time until the boots show up - because these are in fashion every winter - but not to see high heels on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré - not even one! - has me puzzled.

Off the Champs-Elysées on Matignon, near the galleries in the Marais, on top of the Tour Montparnasse - where are the heels? I didn't see them even where I didn't expect to see them. The three-month-old babies I saw had no heels either.

The high heels are coming. Maybe even soon, but they're not here yet.

Is It Safe To Breathe In Paris?

The Montgomery County Council somewhere in the United States recently passed a measure making it an offense to burn tobacco in the home if the smoke drifts out of a window and accidently crosses a neighbor's property line, even if the neighbor is on holiday in Paris.

The fine for illegally wandering smoke could be as high as $750 for a first offense. The same penaltyphoto: boots, boxes, bata also applies to being careless with other pollutants such as household asbestos, used battery acid, radon, molds or pesticides.

'It Is Not True' that the Paris city council seems to have the intention of considering this problem's solution. While smoker-tourism is not officially encouraged, there are no laws in France against it so long as it is unorganized.

So many people smoke in Paris anyway, that it would be hard if not impossible to identify the guilty party. In fact, smells like garlic are an essential part of the Parisian sensory fabric. Taking away the distinctive odor of Gitanes and Gauloises would subtract from the total experience of Paris.

Meanwhile the national government is keeping its ears tuned to complaints from neighboring countries about French smoke crossing their borders without export licenses. But honestly, who believes Switzerland smells more exciting than France?

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