Paris Mayor Wins the Fight against Motorists – But Can She Do Better?

Paris is regularly a very sick city, full of spikes of pollution that practically erase the Eiffel Tower from the Parisian cityscape. The last smog attack happened this March (see photo) and sparked a series of actions by the City Council led by Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo. One of these actions was the second edition of the “Journée sans Voiture” or “A Day without Cars” which happened this past Sunday, September 25th.  From 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM, cars were forbidden in 46% of the streets of Paris (that represents about 400 miles of roads).  Pedestrians, bicyclists, walkers, joggers took over the avenues and, except for an hour or two of rain, enjoyed this slight hiatus from urban chaos.

Can you even see the Eiffel Tower through the pollution?
Can you even see the Eiffel Tower through the pollution?

But seven hours of clean air per year is not enough to stop the pollution and its consequences.  Mme Hidalgo has lots of other ideas.  And, due to her “Bras de Fer” attitude, one extremely controversial plan just received the go-ahead from the Paris City Council.

Here's what the Right Bank of the Seine will look like soon.
Here’s what the Right Bank of the Seine will look like soon.


It is now official that 3.3 kilometers (about 2 miles) of the Right Bank of the Seine will be transformed into a pedestrian zone.  This stretch of road (called Voie Georges Pompidou) runs from the Tuileries Gardens to the Henri IV tunnel near the Bastille and, on a normal day, has about 43,000 cars traveling on it.  It’s a great, easy way to cut through the center of Paris.  The fact that it is now inaccessible is causing massive traffic jams on the other Boulevards that drivers are forced to take, such as Rue de Rivoli.  Needless to say, many suburbanites who commute to Paris for their jobs, are not happy with the mayor’s plan.  But she doesn’t care.  They don’t vote for her anyway.  They don’t live in Paris. It was the Parisian Socialist and Green Party City Councilors who passed this measure.

The mayor has a lot of statistics on her side.  She has tweeted that there are 2500 deaths a year in Paris caused by bad air quality; up to 45,000 deaths in France.  The cost of the smog-related health problems is as much as 101 billion Euros annually.  It was time to do something. Yes, everyone agrees that something has to be done.

Enormous traffic jams in Paris due to the Right Bank closing.
Enormous traffic jams in Paris due to the Right Bank closing.

But the motorists and the politicians of the Right say that the pedestrian zone is not the appropriate move and will only displace and increase the pollution in other parts of the city.  That may be true but the decision is now official. The work crews will soon be constructing playgrounds, terraces and waterside gardens where pollution-charged vehicles used to tread.  Mme Hidalgo and the Parisians are taking back the Seine.  However, I have an idea to make this pollution-reduction plan even more effective.

I think that Mayor Hidalgo and her City Councilors can easily do more than just banning motorists.  They should also ban cigarette smoking from the riverbanks.  That would really make these two miles pollution-free.  Let the smokers puff away in the rest of the city but keep these new terraces and gardens that will be lining the Seine smoke-free.  If you have

An all too common site on Parisian streets. Do we want to see these in the Seine?
An all too common site on Parisian streets. Do we want to see these in the Seine?

ever walked around Paris and looked down, you have seen the hundreds, even thousands, of cigarette butts that line the city streets.  Now, just imagine the Parisians on the water’s edge.  Do you think they will throw their butts in an ashtray?  Certainly not.  They’ll throw them in the Seine and watch them float all the way to Normandy.  The mayor has a chance to stop that before it starts.  I know it could spark another mini-French revolution but having a pristine paradise in Paris, even if it’s just for two miles, would be well worth it.


The Dark Side of French Humor

Having been married to a Frenchman for sixteen years, I know a lack of a sense of humor when I see it.  His jokes weren’t funny to me; my jokes weren’t funny to him.  We eventually divorced due to this total humorless vacuum (and maybe for a couple of other reasons I don’t want to talk about here).  My point is that not being able to laugh together can definitely kill a relationship.  I just saw it happen on television this week when a French comedian-weather girl verbally killed her budding professional relationship with Jonah Hill, the American actor, comedian, screenwriter and producer.

Jonah was in Paris promoting the film, War Dogs, which was released in France this week.  He and fellow co-star Miles Teller were guests on “Le Petit Journal,” a French news and entertainment program.

Jonah Hill, in Paris on a promotional tour of War Dogs.
Jonah Hill, in Paris on a promotional tour of War Dogs.

Their interviewer, Ornella Fleury, was a pretty, young weather-girl who thought that ridicule and humor were synonymous.  She kicked off the live conversation with Jonah Hill with a daring proclamation of how she first fell under his charms.  These were her exact words: “It was when I saw you get sodomized by a 3-meter tall demon in This Is The End,” she said, “that I told myself, now THAT’S the man of my dreams.”

Now, please tell me, firstly, how does this statement makes any sexual sense and, secondly, how in the world did she expect Jonah Hill to react?  Well, he gave her the “right back at you lady” treatment with the following quote, said via his translator, “I heard you get sodomized quite often.”  That wasn’t enough to stop Mademoiselle Fleury as she pummeled through a very awkward live-TV moment with an even more awkward sexual fantasy of hers.  Here it is in all its glory.  “We would meet up in a hotel room at night. We would chat, you’d make me laugh… and then, all of a sudden, you’d bring your friends Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. And then you would leave.”

Jonah Hill was, as he should be, offended.  He said something about coming to France to promote a movie, not to be publicly ridiculed by a “local weather girl” and he left – the TV set and the country.  He subsequently canceled all his further appearances in France. The

Ornella Fleury, the weather girl and would-be comic.
Ornella Fleury, the weather girl and would-be comic.

weather-girl apologized to Jonah in front of the camera the next day, spurting out some lame excuse about how she mistakenly thought that she and Jonah were “friends” due to the fact that she has seen him in films for the last ten years.  So she was just messing around with him (well, her statements were certainly “messy”).  Jonah Hill has not responded and probably never will.  Her actions certainly don’t merit any sort of response on his part.  One more relationship has gone south due to a mismatch of senses of humor.

This incident got me thinking about the kind of “humor” the French feel comfortable with.  They don’t go in for self-ridicule; they need a target to mock.  Anglo-Saxon humor is often self-deprecating whereas the French think wit is funny.  That wit could be hostile, sarcastic, aggressive – and, in this particular case, just plain rude.  The French have an intellectual approach to humor, which is why they love Woody Allen.  And, the fact that they like to see people ridiculed is why they absolutely adore Jerry Lewis.  Most authentic French jokes get lost in translation and that’s probably a good thing.  American jokes get lost too.  For example, I just saw Jimmy Fallon tussle Donald Trump’s hair on live television and the audience thought that was hilarious.  Now if this weather girl dared to touch a French Presidential candidate’s hair on live TV, it would be seen as disrespectful, rude and uncalled for – anything but funny.

When you think about French comedy on a global scale, there aren’t very many names of French comics that come to mind.

Marcel Marceau, a truly funny Frenchman - the King of Mime.
Marcel Marceau, a truly funny Frenchman – the King of Mime.

To understand its wit and irony, you would need to be extremely fluent in the language.  French “comedy” works on a national level.  In fact, the only well-known Frenchman who could make people laugh in both the USA and France was Marcel Marceau.  Ah, but he was a mime. Maybe that young weather-girl should look him up.  She might learn something.  Something that was truly funny.

A French Summer Special – OVD (Obsessive Vacation Disorder)

It has always been amazing to me, scandalous sometimes, the way Paris allows itself to slow down to a near-halt in August when the whole city goes on vacation.  It’s a

Paris in August - no hustle, no bustle and very few Parisians.
Paris in August – no hustle, no bustle and very few Parisians.

time-honored tradition (established in 1935) that gets everyone involved – from shop keepers to civil servants to government officials.  It’s probably the one single thing that opinionated Parisians agree upon – their need, their undeniable right to a month’s holiday.  Good for them.  Or at least that’s what I thought.

However, this year, I have noticed a “condition” with some French vacationers that could be disabling and potentially dangerous.  I’m going to call it OVD (Obsessive-Vacation Disorder).  Here’s a little summary of its symptoms and side effects.

First of all, the concept and the word “Vacation” laces everyone’s conversations from the month of May to the month of October.  In May, it’s in the planning stages.People are obsessed with getting the best deal; repeatedly searching for bargains for holiday destinations online (and often at work).  Coffee breaks are longer as colleagues discuss where they might go and what they might do.  They leave work early to shop for their snorkels, walking shoes, tents, golf clubs, etc.  The French need extra time to plan and prepare.  Any boss can understand that a good vacation doesn’t just happen – he or she is probably using some of his work hours to do exactly the same thing.

The second stage of OVD occurs as the vacation date approaches.

The stress of preparing for vacation.
The stress of preparing for vacation.

The employee needs to leave his office in a reasonably organized state for his back-up.  And that is anxiety-provoking.  I have witnessed French colleagues stress out so much in this pre-vacation period that they drop sweat beads on their computers and forget all kinds of important details (such as passwords, essential documents, etc.).  Huge computer snafus usually happen in August, just like the one Delta Airlines is experiencing this year.  Could the root of that technological disaster be human error?  Was that human getting ready to go on holiday?  Remember, OVD is chronic, uncontrollable and potentially disabling.

Now, when a Parisian is on holiday in August, someone takes his place who is just returning from their four-week July holiday.  One would think that that person would be recharged and ready to go, looking forward to showing off their efficiency.  But no, OVD strikes the returning vacationer as well.  There are several ways the French “handle” their total lack of productivity upon returning to work post-holiday.  The most common one is to

The French Art of Complaining
The French Art of Complaining

complain – constantly, repeatedly, obsessively.  I went to the bank last week and listened to my banker tell me how overwhelmed she was because there were only three people working in her office.  She couldn’t even give me an appointment because of all the frenzy going on at her job.  She told me to stop by and she would “try to fit me in.”  This lady spent at least ten minutes talking about how understaffed they were during the August vacation period; how another colleague was on maternity leave; how that colleague forgot to leave her the information she needed for my account; how the new software they were using was slower than the old one and on and on.  When she finally shut up and did what she had to do, it took five minutes.  Five minutes.

Another OVD sign for post-vacation stress is the French art of using vacation as an excuse for inefficiency.  It happened to a friend of mine during a recent medical visit.  She had seen the same nurse for her ongoing cure – once a week every week in the month of June.  The nurse had completely forgotten who she was and began treating her as a brand-new patient at her August appointment.  She had my friend’s file in her hands but had not thought to read it.  When she finally realized her mistake, she apologized by saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I just got back from vacation a few days ago.  You’ll have to excuse me.”  That’s it.  That’s an excuse that this professional thought was a reasonable one.  So, just how much time does an OVD-sufferer need to get back to the real world? Shouldn’t you be a better worker when you return from holiday?  Isn’t that why vacations exist in the first place?

Is there a cure for OVD?  I doubt it, at least not for any Frenchman worth his salt.

Happy Vacation Everyone - see you in September!
Happy Vacation Everyone – see you in September!

This ritual, these leisure habits are engrained in the French culture.  I simply can’t imagine any Parisian going to an Obsessive-Vacation Disorder support group.  For them, obsessing about vacation is just Business as Usual.  And, like I said earlier, good for them.

Turning Tables and Throwing Tantrums in Paris

The recent (and continuing) strikes in France with their subsequent acts of violence, provocation and just general unrest, set me thinking about French social behavior.  I am not talking about the politics of these demonstrations nor about who is right or wrong – there are plenty of other blogs that are doing that.

French demonstrator being pulled away by police.
French demonstrator being pulled away by police.

I am talking about how the French bring up their kids and what happens when these kids turn into adults.  Can their childhood education possibly have something to do with their grown-up comportment?

For years, I have participated in conversations with other Parisian mothers who stand by the strictness of table manners in bringing up their babies.  They are proud of the fact that their children do not throw tantrums at the dinner table.  They sit; they eat and they are not the center of attention.  I have seen mothers slap their children in public for slight misbehavior and no one even blinks.  (In the US, social services would have been on speed dial!)  The kids request permission to leave the table.  They go to bed and stay in bed when they are supposed to.  The parents have them under control and do not feel guilty about disciplining them.  But, then the kids grow up; turn into adults and regress like crazy.

When I watch the evening news and see the intense kicking and screaming of French demonstrators and police alike, I can’t help thinking of temper tantrums. The French are acting like toddlers in adult clothing.  When a 2-year-old has a fit, it is considered normal.

Child having a tantrum being pulled away by his mother.
Child having a tantrum being pulled away by his mother.

He is testing his limits with these outbursts.  Since he cannot yet master any language, physical wrath is common and is considered a normal part of child development.  Parents have to remain calm; be consistent in their treatment of these tantrums and NOT let the child win.  They are instructed to wait out the storm – let the kid storm off in a huff.  They try to reason with him only when he stops all that negative wrath and animosity. An angry child does not get a place at the dinner table.  An angry child gets a time-out.

Following this temper tantrum theory, I think that as French children grow (or not) into adults, the state replaces their parents and all the temper tantrums that were repressed in their childhood are now directed at the government (their financial provider).  They expect Mom and Pop to provide them with this and that.  They are used to their paternal government privileges and don’t want to lose them.  They certainly don’t want their parents to divorce.  There’s no way they could stand having a step-dad from the private sector.  They want their world to continue just as it is. Safe and secure and with them as the center of everybody’s attention.

I did a bit of research on what causes angry “episodes” in toddlers.  It seems that a feeling of intense anxiety, the kind you experience when you can’t get what you want, makes their bodies release cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone.  That makes them breathe faster; increases their blood pressure and causes confused thinking. They literally become “explosive” at the slightest provocation from their family and the world around them.  This sounds just like what’s happening in the streets of Paris.

The Parisians are acting out; melting down in perfect imitation of early childhood tantrums.  When the unionist “toddlers” come to the negotiating table,

Throwing over the negotiating table...literally.
Throwing over the negotiating table…literally.

the government parents can’t tell them to go to their room and come back when they are ready to talk sensibly.  These “parents” must stay calm and try to reason with them.  But, that doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked in the past and it isn’t working now.  The average child temper fit lasts for 3 minutes and, when it’s over, the tiny tot doesn’t remember anything.  Unfortunately, the French adult-child fit seems to be lasting a lot longer and spreading like a virus.

I am sure that the government Mom and Pop will “cave”; they will give in to their toddlers’ demands during any mediation.  As the unionist spoiled brats kick, scream and literally turn those negotiating tables upside down, the government parents will do what they have always done – give the children what they want so they can have a peaceful meal and/or get a good night’s sleep.  And they’ll do it quickly – right before the European Soccer Cup starts in Paris on June 10th.





This Week in Paris – Madness and Meditation

This week in France, there were not one, not two, but many social strikes and demonstrations.  The demonstrators included truck drivers, post office employees, oil workers, street cleaners, Parisian airport employees and, finally, the French police themselves. Some of these marches were peaceful – so, of course, they’re not worth talking about.  What everyone is focused on, however, is the violence and growing intensity of these movements.

Only one example of Parisian social unrest.
Only one example of Parisian social unrest.

The Molotov cocktails, tear gas, rocks and other projectiles being used in the streets of Paris turned certain parts of this beautiful city into domestic war zones.  A police cruiser was set on fire by a few demonstrators who made sure (at least) that the police themselves had time to get out of the car before the smoke invaded their vehicle.  France is in the midst of social chaos – it is a country full of frustrated, angry, young and old men and women.  It is certainly not the only country in crisis at this time, but it is the one I am trying to understand.

I was watching the news on one of the most socially-chaotic days of this week as the journalist went over the “Strike Agenda”.  He gave a rundown of the who, what, why, where and when of the social movements – it was a long list detailing the parts of Paris to avoid.  I had a sudden thought about how calm the newscaster seemed even though he was obviously discussing a country that was “out of control”.  He was showing footage of hooded trouble makers breaking store windows and throwing stones at people’s heads.  He announced that more than 350 French police officers have been injured in demonstrations in 2016 alone. I was stressed out just listening to him and thought about staying in my pajamas all day.  Then, he talked about someone peaceful – Deepak Chopra.

Deepak Chopra just happened to be speaking in Paris on May 17th at the Grand Rex theatre, a famous venue usually reserved for movies and musicians.  Mr. Chopra, a meditation, wellbeing and human relations expert, who is also a celebrated author, was to

Grand Rex stage ready for Deepak and group meditation.
Grand Rex stage ready for Meditation.

give a conference on “How to Live Better Today and Tomorrow.” He wanted to meet the French public after the horrible events of 2015 to “share an overall global review of ourselves and our future.”  The conference was to be followed by a group meditation led by the guru himself.  They even showed a short interview with Deepak while he was walking around Paris the day before.  When the reporter asked him what he thought would help with the unrest in France, he answered simply that the French should learn how to meditate. A little bit of calm energy and introspection seemed like a good anecdote to the volatile tension in the Parisian air.  So I got out of my pajamas and set my sites on Deepak’s meditation instead of the social madness.

I didn’t think there would be any problem getting a ticket to the conference given the public transportation strike and the feeling I had that the Parisians were just not a meditative bunch (especially not this chaotic week).  But I was wrong.  I tried on both the web and by phone and could only get the highest priced ticket – at 150 Euros (about the same in US dollars).  Now, that was a high price to pay for silence and introspection but I thought I might be able to find a cheaper one at the Grand Rex just before the show.  So I headed out.

In the end, I couldn’t get there because of the very reason I wanted to go there in the first place.  I wanted solace from the social turbulence but the social turbulence got in the way.  Roads were blocked so buses could not circulate; the metro was stopped.

Pink smoke in Paris is not a good sign.
Pink smoke in Paris is not a good sign.

I tried walking for a while but saw pink smoke in the distance and changed my mind.  I carefully treaded back home and put my pajamas back on.

I read the next day that more than 2,000 people attended Deepak’s conference.  I don’t know how they managed to get there but I’m glad there was some peaceful karma in the Parisian air this week.  Wish I had had enough money and enough foresight to be part of the Meditation instead of the Madness.

Mad Dogs and Frenchmen – Animal Drama on a Parisian Sidewalk

Dogs are rock stars in Paris.  They are conversation starters and inseparable companions for over 300,000 dog owners here (that’s about one dog for every 7 people).  Dogs are the real “social animals” in this fair city.  They actually make people talk to each other.  A recent magazine poll states that around 40% of the French consider their dogs more important than their lovers!  Now that’s saying something.

I recently witnessed just how “social” dogs can be when I observed a French lady and a Frenchman tie their mutually cute dogs to a couple of shopping caddies outside a local supermarket. You see, it’s not legal to bring your dog into a food store and many customers just leave them outside.

Charley with a "Y" and Brigitte - before they got all excited.
Charley with a “Y” and Brigitte – before they got all excited.

(That’s actually not legal either; but like I said, dogs are rock stars.)  The man and woman, who had just met, exchanged small talk about their dogs’ names.  The bigger dog was named Charley, with a “y”, the man explained – as if the dog really cared about how its name was spelled.  The smaller dog, the lady’s pet, was named Brigitte, after Brigitte Bardot, the most famous animal advocate in France.  The dog owners instructed their pets to say “bonjour” to each other while they themselves exchanged flirty little glances.  I definitely thought those two (the humans I mean) would hook up later on, once they had brought their groceries and dogs home, but, as fate and “social animals” would have it, that was not to be.

The man and lady separated in the market and went about doing their individual food business.  Suddenly, from the outside, we all heard the crunching of metal against metal and a very angry male voice screaming obscenities in French.  Dogs were barking wildly and the flirty pet owners ran out of the store to see what was happening.  I did the same; I could sense something blogworthy was about to happen.  I was right.

It seemed that, even though the dogs were tied to the caddies, the caddies were not secured.

The scene of the "Dog Day Afternoon" in Paris.
The scene of the “Dog Day Afternoon” in Paris.

So, once the dogs got through saying hello to each other as their owners had requested, they got a bit excited (just like their flirty owners had).  One of them broke loose and the other followed. However, they were both still attached to their respective empty caddies.  It was a hysterical scene to see their shopping carts rolling around haphazardly and hitting the side door of a new, black, shiny Porsche Cayenne SUV that was parked next to them.  The dogs panicked as the car owner started screaming.  So they moved more quickly and the metal kept screeching against the car.  Quite a few scratches and a couple of good-sized dents made their appearance on that vehicle before the pet owners could get a hold of their dogs.

Charley with a “Y” and Brigitte were finally released from their caddies and under the control of their respective owners but not before considerable esthetic damage had been done to the Porsche Cayenne.  The car guy now redirected his screaming to Monsieur and Madame; saying how they would have to pay for the damages.  He was getting the forms out of the glove compartment to report this incident.  Monsieur immediately said that Charley had nothing to do with it; it was all Brigitte’s fault.  Madame glared at the jerk she was flirting with ten minutes before.  She raised her voice as well.  There was no way she was going to fill out any form.  Accidents happen, that’s it.  She pulled on Brigitte’s leash and ordered her to sit quietly (at least the dog listened to her).

This heated discussion went on for a while with the supermarket manager and a cashier joining in the argument.  Car guy asked me if I could be a witness but, thankfully, I had only looked at the dogs and the owners before the side door smashing.  I was in the market when the dogs broke loose.  The angry man said he would call the police.

The Angry Conversation that the Doggie Drama started.
The Angry Conversation that the Doggie Drama started.

“Go ahead,” Monsieur answered.  “See what good that will do you!  You should have parked somewhere else.”

“The dogs should have parked somewhere else.  You have no right to leave your unattended dogs on the public sidewalk!”

The three adults involved in this doggie disaster got nastier and nastier.  Monsieur took out his cell phone to take a photo of the man and his car’s license plate.  Madame took a photo of Monsieur’s dog; he did the same to her pet.  Car guy took photos of his damaged side door and also of Monsieur and Madame.  I didn’t manage to get a photo of anyone (I’m technically challenged).

In the end, the police were called but Monsieur and Madame went their separate ways with their pets before the officers of the law showed up.  They were both enraged and went off in different directions.  No cell phones numbers were exchanged and no groceries were bought.  The closeness I thought they would have shared thanks to their dogs dissipated in the gray Paris sky.  So, in this case, the Parisian dogs did their part as conversation starters.  They just didn’t know when to stop.

When French Arrogance Pays Off – Vigilante Justice in France

I often write about how arrogant the French are and how they are so proud of that trait in their collective DNA.  I usually talk about it in a negative sense, having been married to a Frenchman for a while and remembering so many fights where he absolutely had to give me some kind of “moral lesson”.  I also come across daily French life lessons from disgruntled bus drivers, bakers, school teachers, administrative workers.  It can be exasperating sometimes, but, I just saw an example of where a crime was prevented and a very dangerous situation averted due to a French woman’s up-in-your-face attitude. You gotta love it.

The in-your-face attitude that the French are famous for.
The in-your-face attitude that the French are famous for.

This true story is about an attempted robbery which happened last week in a bar/tabac in a small town in Normandy, near Calvados. It was about ten in the evening and a hooded man toting a pistol and an empty bag burst into the quiet bar where there were about ten clients.  The manager and owner, Nathalie, was holding a month-old baby in her arms when the robber stormed in.  He shouted something about this being a hold-up and the first thing she did was to start yelling at him about how that wasn’t the way one should talk around a baby.  She calmly brought the baby back to his mother in the next room and then came back to handle this guy.

She yelled at the thug some more and told him he should take off his hood if he wanted her to talk to him.  He demanded to see the manager.  She kept on insisting that he show his face, all the while shouting that she was the manager.  Nathalie insisted that a real man wouldn’t hide behind a mask and threaten a baby. She advanced toward him; aggressively

Peaceful town of Champ-du-Boult where the robbery almost happened.
Peaceful town of Champ-du-Boult where the robbery almost happened.

pushing him out the door.  A shot was fired and then another one. (The shots, fortunately, turned out to be blanks).  A client picked up a chair and crashed it over the robber’s head while Nathalie picked up his empty bag and beat him a few times with it. The guy finally made it out the door and took off on his motorbike.

Now, the police, of course, don’t suggest that anyone follow Nathalie’s example.  They don’t advocate vigilante justice.  But, as Nathalie said in an interview afterward, she had no time to think.  Her French sense of civic education and her arrogant French attitude just took over.  No one acts like the robber did in front of a baby!

Bar owner Nathalie shouting at the robber wannabe.
Bar owner Nathalie shouting at the robber wannabe.

That was the first thing she preached to him.  Secondly, if you want to talk to me, take off your mask.  And thirdly, get the heck out of my establishment!  And take this stupid, empty bag with you!  At the time of this failed robbery, Nathalie didn’t know that the gun was shooting blanks.  But she didn’t care.  That guy’s actions in front of the baby were unacceptable.

The would-be thief actually came back to the scene of the crime since he had forgotten his charger.  The police were on their way and the young 21-year-old man knew he would be caught.  He gave himself up and Nathalie waited with him calmly in her bar for the police to pick him up.  She undoubtedly had time to give him a few more life lessons.  (One of them probably was that he should have been a bit more prepared and certainly not have forgotten his charger!)


Up Close and Personal on a Parisian Bus

The Parisians are naturally a discreet bunch; my French friends have more than once made fun of my American naiveté and openness.  They say Americans small-talk freely about money; ask total strangers their salary (a taboo subject at French parties); mention their psychiatrist; describe their abortion experience, etc. etc.  In summary, Americans are not at all reserved and, consequently, not as elegant as the French who keep their personal lives to themselves.  That may have been the case in the past – but things have changed here in Paris and I’m guessing, all over France.  Just take the bus.

I prefer taking the public buses to the Metro since you get to see Paris in all its splendor. It’s true that the buses are slower but you have so much more fun and they don’t have that urine-tinged aroma that the subway cars have.  In the B.C. era (Before Cell phones), the French passengers were silent, book-reading, shy people who looked right through you if you tried to strike up a conversation (their version of transparency).

Public bus and public broadcasting
Public bus and public broadcasting

However, now, everyone, literally everyone, is equipped with a cell phone and is turning them into a broadcasting service for their private lives.  They can provide some pretty spicy entertainment.  All you have to do is listen up.

Age does not seem to matter in this significant shift in French social behavior.  I have overheard conversations of teen-agers, middle-aged people and senior citizens.  Everyone is willfully exposing bits of their dirty laundry for whomever is curious enough to listen.  I am that curious.

Here are just a few examples of modern French life unveiled to the general public.  I overheard a 30-something woman explain that she would never use Facebook since it was an invasion of her privacy.  She then went on the say that yes, she did get that loan from the bank and will soon be buying her first apartment in Paris in the 19th district – not

Just one of the hundreds of rolling radio stations in Paris.
Just one of the hundreds of rolling radio stations in Paris.

too far from Belleville metro station (she even announced the name of the street). It ended up only costing about 200,000 Euros.  Her parents were co-signing the loan next Wednesday at Mr. X’s office, their notary public.  I don’t think her Facebook account would have been half as much an invasion of her privacy as this public litany turned out to be.

I once sat across from an elderly gentleman who held one of those slap-shut old-fashioned cell phones to his ear for at least five minutes.  In all that time, he didn’t say a word.  I suspected he was pretending to use the phone, as a pre-schooler might do. I knew for sure when, for the second five minutes of non-stop fake listening, he actually turned the phone upside down; put it back close to his ear; and kept pretend-listening.  It might be funny when a young child imitates his parents but this role reversal was a bit sad.

I have witnessed lover’s quarrels on public buses – one-sided ones.  It’s worth noting that the fights I have heard are mostly from women speaking.  Men tend to talk about money (a lot of it and often); business-related deals and what a horrible time they had visiting their mother for Sunday dinner.  Sometimes I have heard men working out an obvious extra-marital rendezvous on their way home.  But, that’s when they turn discreet on me; actually lowering their voices; covering their mouths and furtively looking around to see if they know anyone who might be on the same bus. At least talk of adultery gets special treatment on Parisian buses.

A couple of years ago, the French were not so loud and indiscreet on public transportation.  The RATP (the French public bus company)

The RATP campaign encouraging riders to speak softly.
The RATP campaign encouraging riders to speak softly.

has signs on the buses which encourage people to be quiet when they are speaking on their cell phones and to limit their conversations time-wise.  But that just isn’t happening.  Instead, everyone is chiming in; using their bus time to call and be called by their dentist, lover, wife, banker, lawyer, child, mother, etc. and (sometimes) their imaginary friends.  But, at least the French are talking – and perfect strangers are listening.  Now that’s up close and personal – Parisian style.


Mother Nature’s Topless and Bottomless Vacation Holidays in France

With the approach of spring and warmer weather, I thought it was time to talk about a summery French tradition – that of the longstanding acceptance and practice of Naturism.  In France, Social Nudity can be a seasonal family vacation theme or a simple way of life.  The credo of naturists goes something like this – “Living in harmony with nature, characterized by the practice of group nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect and respect for others and for the environment.” Leave it to the French to be famous and economically successful for both putting on clothes (Paris is, after all, the world’s fashion capital) and for taking them off.

The poster child (and adult) of the France Naturist Organization
The poster child (and adult) of the France Naturist Organization

France was certainly not the first country to “unveil” itself in this way but it was the first country to create holiday resorts with a naturist theme.  The people who were responsible for this institutionalization of nudity in beautiful surroundings were Albert and Christine Lecoq.   They were seasoned naturists and in 1944, founded their own club called “Club du Soleil” or “Sun Club”.  They were very active in promoting naturism from 1944 – 1975.  During that time, they started nudist magazines; founded the FFN (French Federation of Naturism) and then expanded this organization into the IFN (International Federation of Naturism) in the early 50’s. At the same time, they created the CHM (Center of Sun and Sea), the world’s first naturist holiday community in the village of Montalivet located in the Medoc region north of Bordeaux.

So what happens in the nude at a naturist village?  Well, everything.  At Montalivet, you

At Montalivet, the dress code is non-existant.
At Montalivet, the dress code is non-existant.

can bicycle (with a clean towel on the seat please); play tennis; play golf; buy your newspaper, baguette and lunchtime sausages; hang out at a bar; get your lottery ticket; dance the night away at the discotheque; gossip with your neighbors; buy that sunscreen at the pharmacy (you’ll need it); call your Mom and just about everything else you would do on a normal day.  Oh, and you can also swim naked in the pool or the Mediterranean.  The nudist community rules state that no clothing is allowed (weather permitting, of course).  However, some people have not been obeying the rules recently which has caused some dissent on the part of stoic naturist advocates.  These people, these rule-breakers, are called the “Textiles”, the ones who DO wear a bit of clothing for one reason or another.  You see, simply being naked can get quite complicated.

Let’s say you and your wife and two young children did a naturist holiday every year. Everyone liked it – was used to it – and being naked together was just as natural as saying hello.  Then, let’s say you got divorced and your second wife is not into nudism and she has two children who do not want to get naked in front of your children.

Do you want your children to follow these rules? No dogs, no ice cream and no clothes.
Do you want your children to follow these rules? No dogs, no ice cream and no clothes!

Also, your own children are now adolescent and are starting to rebel against imposed nudity.  So, do you go on holiday to a nudist camp alone; without your wife and children?  You must admit that this could get a bit messy on the family front.

How about another example where you are a twenty-something pretty young American student and your French boyfriend invites you to his parents’ bungalow for the Bastille Day July holiday?  You’re all happy about meeting them for the first time, in fact, you actually stress out about your wardrobe.

Here's Mom and Pop enjoying the simple life.
Here’s Mom and Pop enjoying the simple life.

But, when you arrive, you find Mama and Papa in their birthday suits waiting for you to take your clothes off so they can take a family selfie!  Is that really the way you want to “Meet the Parents”?  Would you post that selfie on facebook?

In spite of social complications, French Naturism is a booming industry with no signs of slowing down.  France has more than 150 nude holiday resorts and miles of official nude beaches.  This industry brings in about 250 million euros yearly and employs more than 3,000 people. However, according to statistics, 55% of naturists are not French – the honors go to the Dutch in first place; the Germans in second and the Spanish in third.

I know it’s popular, but I myself am still not sold on this version of Mother Nature’s French Holiday.  However, if I were to head to Montalivet this summer, I must admit that packing my carry-on bag would be an absolute pleasure. And that’s the naked truth!


The Elevated Price of Peeing in Paris

Here’s a question for you. What basic service that every human being needs just increased its price by 40% in some parts of Paris? It’s not electricity or gasoline or highway tolls. It’s not the price of coffee or a baguette. It’s the price of peeing in this fair city. That’s right, now that many public toilets have been transformed into “retail” stores, the price has skyrocketed. Let me explain how this costly upgrading of restrooms came about.

The "Dames Pipi" protesting the loss of their jobs to a retail company.
The “Dames Pipi” protesting the loss of their jobs to a retail company.

Back in September of 2015, the “Dames Pipi” of Paris, the ladies who took your money at public train stations, airports, etc. and offered a clean toilet in return, discovered that they were losing their jobs. The mayor of Paris, Annie Hidalgo, had signed a new contract with 2theloo, a Dutch company that claims to make going to the toilet an “extraordinary experience”. Usually, this new boss would be obliged to keep the employees who were already there.

2theloo - The company that has revamped the public restroom experience.
2theloo – The company that has revamped the public restroom experience.

However, 2theloo’s lawyers argued that they were a retail company (selling toilet-related products to the customers) and refused to keep the former employees since they could not speak English. The “Dames Pipi” took their case to court – and lost. They lost both the court case and their jobs. And now, the consumers are paying the consequences.

I recently witnessed first-hand this so-called “progress” at the Gare Montparnasse train station of the 15th district of Paris. This is a huge station where thousands of commuters pass through daily on their way into the city or on their way westward to Brest, Nantes, Bordeaux. Before 2theloo took over toilet management here, it cost 50 centimes (about 52 cents) to use the public restroom and have a chat with the “Dames Pipi” who were always pleasant and efficient. In February of 2016, the prices at the Montparnasse Station jumped to 70 centimes (about 73 cents) and the middle-aged ladies have been replaced by twenty-something year-olds who speak English. (We are talking about Paris here and I’m pretty sure that the Parisians pee in French – so who cares what language the new employees can speak.)

2theloo's sign explaining their multiple pee card.
2theloo’s sign explaining their multiple pee card.

There are a few so-called improvements that 2theloo is making as it revamps public restroom services at Montparnasse. They have added a sign and a mirror on the wall that says “Make Up Corner”. It is now possible to pee between 6 am to midnight (it was 8 – 8 before). You can use your credit card. And, 2theloo takes it even further, you can pay using a contactless credit card. As a special bonus, you can buy a plastic type of loyalty card that will get you 12 pees for 7 Euros (56 centimes for each usage) or 25 pees for 14 Euros (58 cents for each usage). I am guessing that innovative concept was developed for commuters. The occasional tourist would not need to be “loyal” to any particular toilet.

It is difficult, at this point, to justify such a huge price increase. The toilets are exactly the same as the ones that cost forty percent less only one month ago. Maybe 2theloo will develop other services. Perhaps they will sell us fluorescent-colored toilet paper or toothbrushes in the shape of a train. But is that really a justification for such a price hike? And what pressed-for-time commuter actually wants to do anything but pee in their native language?

I, for one am all for efficiency and clean public toilets in any large city.  But I must confess that I miss the ladies.

Same old toilet -- with a 40% price increase.
Same old toilet — with a 40% price increase.

It was comforting to see a bit of humanity in a large, impersonal train station where harried, stressed, unhappy people are running around like crazy. I sincerely hope the “Dames Pipi” have moved on to better things and that 2theloo gave them all a free-pee-for-life contactless loyalty card as a parting bonus. That’s the least they could do for erasing a historical piece of the Parisian scenery.