old salut!

Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

December 15, 2006

France in flashes.....8

This site has now moved to Salut!

Soon I will be leaving Paris, but not France. Two-and-a-half years in the City of Light is not much of a milestone but it's the longest I've lived anywhere outside London since the 1980s.

Thanks to this Parisian phase of my life, and indeed to living in France generally,
I am able to start listing - in no special order - a few of the things I now know.

It is a work in progress; the number in the headline will change each time I have a flash of inspiration and want to add something and - as now - I may bring it to the top of the blog.

New thoughts will always appear first in the list but the earlier comments from readers are at the original posting.....feel free to find inconsistencies with what I wrote in 2003.

************** WHAT I KNOW NOW **************

* Paris may not, despite a former colleague's insistence, be the City of a Thousand Bad Restaurants. But I am up to double figures and truly believe London now has a distinct edge on quality, variety and service - though not always value.

* Provincial France is still streets ahead for eating out. But my search for a good Indian restaurant seemed doomed to failure until I stumbled the other night upon Le Royal Shah Jahan at Enghien Les Bains, where 95 (Val d'Oise) meets bad old neuf-trois (Seine St Denis). Easily the best I've had in France. It was our friends' fallback idea after their first choice, at Argenteuil, turned out to be full.

* The French press is more decent - and more dull - than its British counterpart. One (French) theory, heard again today, holds that the country has just two seriously good daily papers: L'Equipe for sports lovers and Mon Quotidien (plus stablemates) for kids.

* Anyone who voluntarily leaves a proper job in France, even a job he or she loathes, is considered mad unless there is something immediate fixed up.

* From the millionaire to the man on the Boulevard Masséna tram, French people know how to appreciate good food. The mountainous plateau de fruits de mer served to my table yesterday could have been ordered at either end of that spectrum (and indeed was, though I'm not saying which).

* And at both ends, they know how tipping is done at the restaurant in France: sparingly or not at all, and without hint of self-consciousness.

* People who insist you should never dine in or near railway stations don't know Paris. Two of my best eating experiences have been at the Brasserie Terminus Nord directly opposite Gare du Nord and, complete with fabulous arty decor, Le Train Bleu inside the Gare de Lyon.

** Châtelet is probably the grimmest of Métro stations unless you are going through without stopping, but if you do have to change, alight or board there, it also has the best buskers on the system.

* When a Parisian receptionist welcomes you with the question: "Is someone behind you?", this is not because she assumes such a nice person would surely have friends queuing up to accompany you. It's her way of telling you to close what you thought was an automatic door, and sharpish.

* Charles de Gaulle airport is not, repeat NOT, the least user-friendly place in the world to fly to or from. Not quite. But getting to terminal three offers a strong challenge to that view.

* Toulon, the nearest town of any size to where I'll be living come January - at least in the short term - has been placed bottom or second bottom in league tables for economic activity, employment, culture and heaven knows what else. Have I made a dreadful mistake? The eastern city of Nancy, which I have never visited, came top in one of these palmarès des villes.

* Policemen on roller skates and - when deployed as traffic cops - bicycles will always look like something out of a French farce.

* Marks & Spencer should be ordered to re-open its Paris store. Don't take my word for it; ask a native Parisian.

* The French are not the worst drivers in Europe and probably not even the second or third worst.

* It is therapeutic to swear in English at psychopathic drivers who try to mow you down on green at pedestrian crossings. But this is not advisable if you happen to be having a mobile phone conversation with a charming American lady at the same time.

* If you want to find out something from a French ministry, make friends with a French official in London. Exposure to le modèle Anglo-Saxon will have given him a hint of urgency.

* Power walking or gentle jogging in the Tuileries is not recommended for those liable to feel like physical wrecks in the presence of superfit Parisian sapeurs pompiers.

* Arriving on time, for dinner, drinks or similar, is a serious gaffe. Getting there early is positively insulting and destined to bring social exclusion.

* Gard du Nord handles people more efficiently than Waterloo. And no one there will try to serve you wine in a cardboard cup.

* Anna Perry was right. The Champs Elysées may look pretty when lit up for Christmas - see above for photographic support, however amateurish, for that claim - but feels ugly and naff most of the time and, at the bottom end, menacing late at night.

* Brits who want to live in France, but stick to English-speaking ghettos and recoil in horror from any idea of integration, bring disgrace on their country and should go home.

* French reality and game shows are even worse than those on British TV. And French television generally is dire.

* Leaving Paris on a TGV feels much better than coming back.

* Coming back to Paris on Eurostar feels much better than leaving.

Here's an explanation I prepared earlier

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This site has now moved to Salut!


At December 15, 2006 6:38 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

It is not a bad list but it really is an Englishman's list living in Paris, rather than flashes of France. I bet after a few years in provence your list will look quite different. Yes I love the train bleu also.

At December 15, 2006 9:58 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

The food in le Train Bleu is on the pricy side but worth it for the setting. And I can't think of a better bar to sit in with a bottle of champagne.
Charles de Gaulle isn't even close to being the least user-friendly airport in the world.

At December 16, 2006 7:07 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Duck for cover, everyone. We have an Anne Gilbert sighting over on Richard of Orleans' blog.

At December 16, 2006 9:43 PM, Anonymous the anne gilbert fan club said...

'Twas in the Spring of the year 1810,
That General Sir Thomas Graham occupied Matagarda with 150 men;
These consisted of a detachment from the Scots Brigade,
And on that occasion they weren't in the least afraid.

And Captain Maclaine of the 94th did the whole of them command,
And the courage the men displayed was really grand;
Because they held Matagarda for fifty-four days,
Against o'erwhelming numbers of the French - therefore they are worthy of praise.

At December 17, 2006 5:38 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Colin, have you been over to Louise's blog, of late? A decent bit of rabble-rousing going on over there and Louise is in the thick of it -- a strong argument for more blogger participation in the debate that follows an initial posting. I, for one, would welcome the opportunity to cross swords with you more often.

At December 17, 2006 8:10 PM, Blogger ColinB said...

What's this ? Pangs of conscience, Bill Taylor, disguised as matey advice ? Colin R did not have to come down from Mount Olympus in the good old days to keep his blog on the boil.

It's dying the death, if the truth be told. And why is that ?

It's not because of lack of visitors - even now, there are hundreds a day, even when few if any comments are being posted.

I'll tell you why it is. It's thanks to you and Richard of Orléans. Nobody dare post, for fear they get set upon. Give Colin a break, the pair of you. Take a long holiday, 3 months at least, and let's all see how the blog develops without its resident rottweilers.

At December 17, 2006 8:33 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I thought you'd vowed, for the umpteenth time, never to darken this blog's doorstep again, Dr. Cornflake (and I said you didn't have a sense of humour; I'm still laughing about that one. Anyone wishing to share it should have a look at Louise's blog). But apparently when you say "final farewell" you mean "bye for now."
One can only hope your scientific research was more painstaking and accurate than your remarks here. Anyone going back through the last few Randall blogs would see a sometimes spirited but quite a high and intelligent level of discussion.
You wouldn't know the truth if it bit you on the bum so we can dismiss your comment about this blog dying the death. Anything but. Still, perhaps what it needs most to revivify it is one or two more rottweilers.

At December 17, 2006 10:23 PM, Blogger Robert Marchenoir said...

The other remarkable thing about Châtelet metro station (and a few others) is that they permanently smell of shit in some specific places.

Not only because of defecating activities in corridors by the homeless and their dogs, although these occur all the time.

But also, I suppose, because of some atmospheric connection with sewers, that was never corrected.

I remember when I walked through a corridor where they had just embarked on cleaning the narrow gutters on each side (which seems to occur once every ten years). There were neat piles of some horrible-looking black sludge along the walls.

I have bever been submitted to such a stink in my entire life. But then, I have never encountered rotting corpses on a battleground.

As the old French joke about haggis goes (time for a little Scot-bashing), it looked like shit, and when I smelled it, I just wished it were.

As you can figure, the haggis joke, which we owe to a long-forgotten stand-up comedian of the sixties named Jacques Baudoin, was about a Frenchman who raises the aforementioned analogy at first sight, when presented with the offending dish, and goes on wishing he were right after having tasted it.

Incidentally, if president Chirac really wanted to insult seriously the British or the Finns with food remarks, he could take a cue from Baudoin's book and forget about his own lame attempts.

At December 18, 2006 9:43 AM, Anonymous Richard of Brittany said...

Arriving on time for an Apero calls for some patience in my part of the world (Brittany. Typically, if you arrive on time, you may be the first, but after some 25 minutes when most other guests have arrived, they sit or stand about just TALKING, about everything and nothing. Then, like a tide that suddenly turns, the drinks and nibbles are brought out, and from then on it's non-stop indulgence....

At December 18, 2006 9:58 AM, Anonymous Richard of Brittany said...

To say that French Television is rather dire is just not true. I have been impressed by what I have seen since I moved over here four years ago. The Documentaries are really excellent, such as 'Thalassa', 'Ailes et Racines', 'Ushuaia', 'C'est pas Sorcier', Animal and Travel Documentaries, two excellent national News programmes and an equally excellent Regional News channel. The quiz shows are no better or worse that UK ones. But the French do have a passion for Intellectual Discussion programs, where Serious Blimpery is All, while on the other hand they do have some very good lightweight and very amusing discussion programs such as 'On a tout essayé'. And there is that perennial Talent Show 'Star Academy'whose showmanship could knock spots off most UK productions for its sheer glitz and glamour. And their Crime Thrillers are first class: 'Femme d'Honneur', 'Commisssaire Moulin'. 'Le Crim'', 'Maigret','Un cas pour Deux', Inspector Derrick' and the ever delightful 'Louis la Brocante'....to name but a few.So I for one am pretty pleased with French TV!

At December 18, 2006 11:43 AM, Blogger roadsofstone said...

"* Brits who want to live in France, but stick to English-speaking ghettos and recoil in horror from any idea of integration, bring disgrace on their country and should go home."

That is so true. These are strangely the very same people who will always rant (typically at the cocktail party of the English-Speaking Club) that Britain has gone to the dogs over the years since they left.

They are also the same folk who will rave to the point of stultifying ennui to all and sundry about the wonders of their newly adopted country whenever they return 'home' to the UK.

But even with the best intentions, after living abroad a while it can sometimes become increasingly hard to define where 'home' actually is.

I can't remember now who coined that phrase 'expatriatis in extremis' - the dangerous state of miserably belonging neither to one country nor another, but it strikes nearly everyone who has ever lived abroad eventually, and needs to be treated with appropriate caution !

At December 18, 2006 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seasons greetings.
May we have a spell check?

"People who insists you should never dine "

At December 18, 2006 2:29 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Interesting point, roadsofstone. When I left England for the United States, I fully intended to settle there permanently. But even after eight years, it never quite felt like home. Toronto, on the other hand, felt that way immediately. And, almost 25 years later, very much has become home. I don't at all regard myself as an ex-pat Brit but as a Canadian who just happened to have been born and raised there.
Britain has become a foreign country to me -- one, I must admit, that I'm not terribly fond of. But far from ever saying it's gone to the dogs, I'm amazed when I visit the north-east, how far from "the dogs" it's progressed.

At December 18, 2006 2:37 PM, Blogger Robert Marchenoir said...

Bring back Marks & Spencers, by all means. I still have and wear a few shirts bought from them around the 18th century, while similar garments bought at the same time from other channels have fallen to pieces long ago.

Of course, there is always the risk that, if they do open shop again in Paris, they decide to "modernize" their ways, that is sell us expensive and ugly crap which dissolve in the washing-machine in a few months.

At December 18, 2006 2:53 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

If you visit the Marks & Spencer website, it'll tell you: "We have over 450 stores located throughout the UK... In addition, the Company has 150 stores worldwide, including over 130 franchise businesses, operating in 30 countries."
It's that word "franchise" that gives one pause. It IS M&S but at the same time it's not really. Who knows how long their shirts might or might not last?

At December 18, 2006 3:01 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Anonymous is right to insist and it will be fixed. Didn't some people in newspapers warn that giving journalists direct input would end in tears?

At December 18, 2006 3:37 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

I went through the 'living abroad' phenomena some months after moving to France. I was at ease neither in France nor in the UK. However, I accept that I now live in France, my life which is neither French nor English, but I'm happy to go back to the UK to visit.

My spiritual roots are in the UK, but the life I've made for myself and the boys is in the south of France, in my little corner.

At December 18, 2006 3:51 PM, Blogger anne gilbert said...

Dear little Hippo was almost in tears.
From yesterdays postings,here,far and near.
But knowing now that people have faults.
Will only encourage his Christmas catapault.
The Spirit of Christmas is in the air.
Watch for parachute Hippo and his cheery greetings prosper.

At December 18, 2006 4:13 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

If your circumstances changed, Sarah, could you happily live back in the UK?

At December 18, 2006 4:19 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Bill, not unless I was financially much better off than I am now! I would also hate to live in London. They are no places for children, big cities. Children need fresh air and lots of opportunities to get out to play.

At December 18, 2006 4:24 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Is where you live safer for kids than a comparable place in England? I don't really have a handle on that situation in the UK but I hear horror stories sometimes from my family.

At December 18, 2006 4:52 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

I don't think anywhere is totally safe these days, but then they never were. There have always been nutters about. My son came home not long ago terrified because he was convinced he'd been followed home by a strange man. Yet we live in a very nice quiet area. Our local maire is determined to keep it nice and quiet, too.

At December 18, 2006 5:01 PM, Blogger roadsofstone said...

Interesting thoughts, Sarah, in recognising that whilst life aboard may be different from life at home, you can successfully incorporate two (or more) countries into your life.

Something I did learn, though, is that once horizons are widened, they do not so readily shrink-wrap themselves back again. I lived abroad for five years, and it was quite a surprise when I finally returned to the UK that it took a good while time to readjust back here. I had thought I would simply be returning 'home', but in some ways it didn't feel very much like it at the time.

There was a huge amount of Euroscepticism in Britain then, and what really used to amaze (and also enrage) me was the number of people who would obsessively criticise everything European, seemingly all too ready to dismiss the whole continent as not much more than an offshoot conspiracy of barmy Brussels.

Fortunately, that strand of opinion is pretty much limited to the Daily Express readership and editorial these days, but it is still alarmingly latent even in the quality press at times.

As for safety with kids, I think by far the biggest issue is the growth in traffic. In my area, we have pretty country lanes with urban traffic levels, and that's not always fun, either.

At December 18, 2006 9:21 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Roads, it's true that once you leave somewhere and experience new horizons, the ones you left behind can never be the same, because you are seeing them with different eyes.

That can push you to make your surroundings better, or just make you feel relieved to back amongst what you know, recognise and love.

I lived in Egypt for a year and was hugely pleased to come back to the UK. I lived in the US for a year and was delighted to come back to France. I live in France, but my English trips are always an immense pleasure.

At December 18, 2006 9:35 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

Sarah, what do you like about England? The street life in Ipswich?


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