French Girl in Seattle is Back in Paris
Almost 150 people from all over the U.S., Canada and France tuned in yesterday to Après-Midi on Zoom to see and hear Véronique Savoye, “French Girl in Seattle,” talk about her experience as a “French girl” (when a woman becomes a certain age, being called a “girl” can be very flattering!) having lived in Seattle for 23 years (1996 to 2019), then moving back to France in 2019 to be near her aging parents. “Véro,” as her friends call her, has always worn many “casquettes,” or hats as we might say, as an adult educator (of French, but of course!), a cross-cultural trainer, a blogger (sharing her insights on Franco-American culture) and a tour guide (with Rick Steves Europe, and now as a virtual guide).
Her presentation was a series of slides titled “Paris and I: 35 Years and Counting,” questioning: is Paris the same, or has it changed beyond recognition? What would Véronique’s 30-year old self think of the French capital if she moved there for the first time in 2020? What would she have missed? What would she embrace now in the “New Paris?”
Véro first reflected on the Mitterrand years, a French president who served two terms from 1981 to 1995, the first socialist to hold the office, who “abandoned leftist economic policies early in his presidency and generally ruled as a pragmatic centrist.” (britannica.com) He was responsible for a number of “Grand Projets”—”eight monumental building projects that in two decades transformed the city skyline” including the Louvre Pyramid, Musée d’Orsay, Parc de la Villette, Arab World Institute, Opéra Bastille, Grande Arche de La Défense, Ministry of Finance and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the last and most expensive of the group.
She went on to point out the new Samaritaine project currently underway in the Capital (a heritage site of 80,000 square meteres to include retail space, offices, social housing, a crèche, a five star hotel (Hotel du Cheval Blanc, which will reopen the garden terrace above the building’s famous glass rooftop) and parking. She remembers when the views from the original department store café on the terrace were some of the city’s finest views open to all its customers. She described what it was like to meet friends at Place Saint-Michel long before the Internet; that so many people met there it would be hard to find your friends among the crowds.
One of the changes to French culture Véro likes is the “Café Gourmand,” a dessert concept created in 1985 for the seafood chain restaurant La Criée—a coffee garnished with a few bite-size desserts at a reasonable price that tempted even those who preferred to skip dessert. The advantages outweigh the calories: “1) It gives the opportunity to eat several different desserts in one go, without feeling guilty for the calories, as the quantity of each dessert is supposed to be tiny, 2) It allows the diner to sweeten the bitterness of the coffee, by going back and forth between the desserts and the cup of coffee, and 3) It creates a feeling of mystery and surprise, as the names of the mini-desserts are not indicated on the menu, so that the customer does not know what they will get beforehand.” (Source: wikipedia.org)
Véro pointed out new trends in France that surprise her, such as Stan Smith sneakers on every aged foot, when at one time no one would have been caught dead in athletic shoes; or Birkenstocks replacing stilettos. French berets are no longer just for tourists and hamburgers are now one out of every two sandwiches sold in France (but, still eaten with a fork and knife, rather than with hands). McDonald’s is to blame for that, along with a burgeoning fast-food market in France. Its first location opened in 1972 in Creteil, France, (although the company itself still recognizes the first outlet as opening in Strasbourg in 1979). To marry the Franco-American cultures, McDonald’s created the McBaguette™, oven-baked baguette bread with two 100% pure beef burgers, a bed of salad, two slices of French Emmental cheese and old-fashioned Dijon mustard sauce. The chain’s popularity has grown the originally American franchise to almost 1,500 restaurants operating nationwide, serving an estimated forty-six million people each week.
When Véro would visit France, she’d make a point of visiting EuroDisney (now known as Disneyland Paris), too, which opened on April 12, 1992. It struggled to stay alive for many years thanks to a series of bad decisions, a safety issue with one of their rides and a number of other financial woes, until they were able to turn it around a few years later.
Meanwhile, the French have always struggled with keeping the amount of doggy poop down, inventing all sorts of machines to scoop it up and launching advertising campaigns to discourage pet owners from leaving it for others to slip on. Where we once had the “moto-crotte” (officially called “Caninette” and informally called the “Chiraclette,” was a small motorized vehicle designed to vacuum up doggy poop), we now have the “robot-crotte autonome.” According to planetoscope.com, the 300,000 or so dogs of unscrupulous Parisian owners “shit” about twenty tons of poop on the capital’s sidewalks every year. The robot-crotte autonome drone uses two stereoscopic cameras and olfactory and haptic sensors to recognize its prey. The drone pounces on it and captures it with an articulated arm, then deposits it either in containers in the city of Paris intended for that, or on flower beds where they will be used as fertilizer. (I can’t say I’ve seen it in action, but thank goodness I haven’t stepped in doggy poop in an awfully long time!)
Véro loves the newly reduced number of cars in the city and the newly increased number of bikes, including the two new “Véligo” colorful models that replaced the existing, 20,000-strong Velib fleet—30 percent of which are electric. The new models can go a maximum speed of 25 km/hour and a range of 50 kilometers (30 miles). And she’s not unhappy with all the organic product-selling shops and the latest trend in “planches apéro”—a board laden with a mix of cheeses, cold cuts, salted cookies and/or bread, fresh or dried fruits, nuts, vegetables, olives or pickles, etc.—to serve with “apéritifs,” now replacing a formal dinner among friends.
These are just some of the changes and some of the points made by Véronique Savoye—the changes she has witnessed over the years to Paris and all over France…some she loves and some she’s not so thrilled about. We all could feel both her pain and pleasure as we all shared in many of her sentiments. The two hours of her talk went lightening fast as we enjoyed every insight and enthusiasm for her rediscovery of Paris after having been gone for so many years. Thanks to Véro for total enlightenment!
You may have missed the live event, but you can still enjoy every minute of it by playing it yourself right now at this link.
And to connect with Véronique Savoye, French Girl in Seattle (France with Véro), who is creating Paris and France content to make your French heart smile, visit her website. You can also connect on Facebook. And, to support the valuable content she brings you, become a member!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Visit our Après-Midi page and take a look at the future. See who will be speaking next and what their presentations will be about. And plan to attend them all!