lundi 10 avril 2006

A year in the merde

Paul West arrives in Paris to start a new job - and finds out what the French are really like. They do eat a lot of cheese, some of which smells like pigs' droppings. They don't wash their armpits with garlic soap. Going on strike really is the second national participation sport after pétanque. And, yes, they do use suppositories.

"The year does not begin in January. Every French person knows that. Only awkward English-speakers think it starts in January.
The year really begins on the first Monday of September.
This is when Parisians get back to their desks after their month-long holiday and begin working out where they'll go for the mid-term break in November.
It's also when every french project, from a new hairdo to a nuclear power station, gets under way, which is why, at 9am on the first Monday of September, I was standing a hundred yards from the Champs-Elysées watching people kissing.

My good friend Chris told me not to come to France. Great lifestyle, he said, great food, and totally unpolitically correct women with great underwear.
But, he warned me, the French are hell to live with. He worked in the London office of a French bank for three years.
"They made all us Brits redundant the day after the French football team got knocked out of the World Cup. No way was that a coincidence," he told me.
His theory was that the French are like the woman scorned. Back in 1940 they tried to tell us they loved us, but we just laughed at their accents and their big-nosed Général de Gaulle, and ever since we've done nothing but poison them with our disgusting food and try to wipe the French language off the face of the Earth. That's why they built refugee camps yards from the Eurotunnel entrance and refuse to eat our beef years after it was declared safe. It's permanent payback time, he said. Don't go there.
Sorry, I told him, I've got to go and check out that underwear.

Normally, I suppose you would be heading for disaster if the main motivation for your job mobility was the local lingerie, but my one-year contract started very promisingly.
I found my new employer's offices - a grand-looking 19th-century building sculpted out of milky-gold stone - and walked straight into an orgy.
There were people kissing while waiting for the lift. People kissing in front of a drinks machine. Even the receptionist was leaning across her counter to smooch with someone - a woman, too - who'd entered the building just ahead of me.
Wow, I thought, if there's ever a serious epidemic of facial herpes, they'll have to get condoms for their heads.

Of course I knew the French went in for cheek-kissing, but not on this scale. I wondered if it wasn't company policy to get a neckload of Ecstasy before coming into work."

A year in the merde - Stephen Clarke


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