It’s been an eventful week in Paris, and in France. Sure, there were popular exhibits and salons, and you can look them up on the trusted Paris Tourist Office website. A few topics caught my eye as I was browsing the French and international media.
1. The *Tiger* story.
You read that right. The *Tourist* is not the only exotic species spotted in the French capital. On Thursday, in a small town 25 miles east of Paris, a woman saw what looked suspiciously like a tiger on a supermarket parking lot. Other witnesses later confirmed the presence of the animal. The authorities’ response was swift: Within hours, over 100 police officers (equipped with tranquilizer guns,) soldiers, a chopper with thermal imaging, and a Finnish dog specializing in bear, moose and wild boar-hunting, descended upon the area, immediately followed by a swirling media circus. The mayor of the town urged residents to stay indoors and away from the local forest. For the next two days, the story made the local and national news with frequent updates in the media. The animal footprints were found on a nearby trail. Experts confirmed those were the paws of a young, 300 lb tiger. A circus, who had recently visited the town, and a local big cat wildlife park were questioned, but confirmed all their wild animals were accounted for. Disneyland Paris, located a few miles away from the town, allegedly considered evacuating the park. After all, a photo of the animal had been released in the media!
Maybe I have been watching too many episodes of the show Outlander lately, but I was immediately reminded of this famous photo…
By Friday afternoon, the threat had been downgraded drastically. The authorities now believe that the *Tiger* is likely a *big cat,* weighing around 90 pounds, either a very large domestic cat, or a smaller feline. It still has not been found, but maybe they have not been looking in the right places. A smart feline would leave the ‘burbs and immediately head for downtown Paris, non?
I am not the only one with a theory. Many internet users believe they identified the *Tiger.* Check out their proposals here (en français but the Twitter postings are to die for.)
2. French specialty shops: Who earns the most and the least?
The French are well known for their patronage of specialty shops: boulangeries, traiteurs, boucheries, and épiceries are cornerstones of the French way of life. The Figaro has recently conducted a survey to identify the most successful specialty stores.
The top 3: Pharmacies (with a comfortable lead.) Eye-wear stores. Tobacconists (Tabac.) Meanwhile, Florists and Dog groomers are said to be struggling.
The survey results should not surprise anyone. In the French welfare state where affordable healthcare is considered an unalienable right, and where medication is dispensed liberally by many practitioners, the pharmacist becomes a trusted friend and confidant. He fills prescriptions; provides professional advice (occasionally saving you a visit to the doctor’s;) and is happy to recommend over-the-counter meds. One does not purchase the exact number of pills and tablets needed, but goes home with a whole packet, or bottle. The pharmacist carefully handwrites the doctor’s instructions on each packet. As long as you can decipher his handwriting, that is great service! Then the patient goes home with a bulging bag, and starts the treatment. Left-overs meds are stored in the bathroom’s ubiquitous armoire à pharmacie (medicine cabinet,) to be re-used during the next flu onslaught. For the medicine cabinet is, in fact, the only official *doggie bag* recognized in my homeland.
The other kind of doggie bag, favored in the United States, has never taken off in Europe, but are things changing?
3. The French and le gourmet bag.
This week, the New York Times published an interesting article on this very topic, “Brushing off a French stigma that doggie bags are for beggars.” Imagine that: In Lyon, the culinary capital of France, a campaign is promoting the use of doggie… sorry… *gourmet bags,* to reduce food waste. I wish them good luck.
The New York Times points out this approach may resonate more with younger audiences, (the Millenials,) who have more of a social conscience and love take-outs. But their parents, and other Europeans, in spite of harsher economic times, still associate doggie bags with huge, American-size portions; crass behavior that makes you look like a cheapstake; or the old-habit of bagging food for beggars. I have never seen American-style containers offered at the end of meals in France. I suspect most restaurants don’t have them. I do recall a witty Maître-d’, in a popular Parisian brasserie, who once made fun of a traveling companion of mine: He had been gorging himself with French bread and butter throughout the meal, and the waiter kept bringing more to our table. After we asked for the check, the Maître-d’, who had chatted with us on and off for the last hour, came to the table and ceremoniously presented a beautiful swan-shaped foil packet, announcing, with a twinkle in his eye: “Voilà Monsieur. We would not want you to starve until you return to the United States.” When we unwrapped the packet, we found several slices of baguettes with butter and jam…
4. It’s official: “The French can’t speak English.”
They try. They really try. They will give it a go, if you approach them nicely, even on a cold, wet Paris winter day. Unfortunately, in the recent survey conducted by EF Language First, the French rank among the least proficient English speakers in Europe. Several alleged reasons for this debacle: France is attached to – and very protective of – her notoriously challenging language. France lacks exposure to the English language (a stroll on the Champs-Elysées or in the Quartier Latin neighborhood, where many movie theaters play films in “V.O.” – their original language – might contradict that statement.) The French education system and its English teachers are a big fail. The French are too self-conscious to attempt speaking a language when they know they are underperforming. Blah. Blah. Blah. I once wrote a story about that very topic, so I won’t elaborate here. I just want to say that native English speakers won the language lottery, and that many are notoriously (proudly?) monolingual. I don’t think that the French school system is necessarily worse than other european school systems. I had excellent English teachers both in junior high and in high school and spoke at a proficient level by the time I moved to the United States. Things have changed a bit – one would hope – since the days of “My tailor is rich…”
The hilarious Eddie Izzard reminds us that French language instruction in the UK is nothing to crow about…
In conclusion, it may be a GOOD thing the French aren’t that great at foreign languages. Think about it: They have already given the world their glorious language, food, wine, fashion sense, art, châteaux, art de vivre… Do you need one more book (probably by the likes of Mireille Guiliano,) titled: “French women speak English better than you“? Do you, now? By the way, Madame Guiliano has a new book out this year. This one is about French women and oysters. I have not read it, but I am pretty sure she teaches the world how to slurp an oyster à la française, i.e. with inimitable style…
The thing is: Can that stylish woman pronounce “oyster?”