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

December 28, 2006

France in flashes.....9

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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