Friday, August 8, 2008

Having fun in Paris and London

Puppy love in a Paris bar
A propos nothing, they're just not aspirational are they, them Frenchies? Not in the same way as, say, your typical Englishman - or woman - is. 

Or maybe your "average" French madame or monsieur is aspirational in a way that my Anglo-Saxon mind can't quite fathom?

I've just come back to Paris from a couple of days in London, you see, and one of the things that struck me the most was the way Jo English wears the latest fashions, drives a good car and owns his own house. Or if he doesn't, he - or she - wants to.

Most of all, though, the Londoners I bumped into were intent on having a good evening out with their mates.  At six o'clock the streets are choked with people mobiling or texting one another: "What you up to tonight? Yeah, me and Dave and Bob are meeting the girls at that new bar and then we're off down..."

Okay, so I spent most of my time on Clapham High Street, but even on a Wednesday evening, there was a buzz: the guys and the girls are all dressed up, they're showing off their tans, talking loud, drinking hard. In six years here in Paris, I've never witnessed that kind of atmosphere, where groups of blokes and birds are out "on the pull" or "on the razz". Londoners invest so much energy (and money, no doubt) in letting their hair down - there was no trouble, no aggression, no-one kopped off with anyone... but the drive was there. 

In an equivalent bar in Paris, the music wouldn't be so loud, the glasses of beer wouldn't be so large, the skirts wouldn't be so short - and the girls wouldn't even have bothered to wash their hair for such a run of the mill night out!  What's more, your typical Parisian wouldn't have just come back from three weeks in Goa or whatever else is hip at the moment. In fact, he would still be on holiday - it is August, after all - and he would have taken his "vacances" in the family property in Normandy or in his parents' home down on the Mediterranean coast.

To me, London's a bit startling, a bit "speed" - but you can see why young people are attracted to the British capital because it's dynamic, it's animated, people are going after what they want, sometimes excessively, sometimes admirably.

And then there's the food - even that's aspirational in London! In a run down pub, a guy was ordering from the menu, "... and I'll have that with the fresh salad with the lightly-roasted Mediterranean vegetables". Uh, with what? Or in the supermarket you buy pea and coriander soup with a hint of something-or-other. 

Most of all, if you're still with me, the English aspire to be anything other than English. 

Go on holiday in England? Pull the other one, mate. Eat typically English food? Go to a traditional English pub (unless, of course, it was in the country)? You must be joking! The whole of London seems bent on being European - or what the Brits consider to be European, because the reality is that none of these bars, none of this food (the French eat "steak frites", right, and couscous, none of this ponced-up English fare), none of these fashions exists outside England! 

And, of course, your Frenchman eats French food and doesn't go on holiday abroad 'cos French food is the best and the French landscape the most beautiful.

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