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A New and Dirty Paris

One-time resident and tour-guide of Paris, Karen Henrich, came for a visit to the City of Light with her husband, Wayne, to celebrate their 10 years together. As someone who once knew the city intimately, but hadn’t been back in a few years, a few changes made a deep impression on her. Those of us who live and work here don’t have the same advantage as someone who comes periodically, because the changes are subtle as they take place gradually over time. We hardly notice them as we accept them for what they are bit by bit. Her observations enlightened me.

[White Shoes – By Karen Henrich]

Photo by Karen Henrich

Photo by Karen Henrich

Photo by Karen Henrich

Photo by Karen Henrich

Café du Trocadero prime seats - by Karen HenrichCafé du Trocadero prime seats – by Karen Henrich

Not so great view - photo by Karen HenrichNot so great view – photo by Karen Henrich

France24 Report

France24 Report

One that was particularly amusing was what she called the onslaught of white athletic shoes on more feet than she could remember, and particularly worn with clothing that was diametrically opposed to the shoes’ casual sporty style. It shocked and appalled her! Young women were wearing big, bulky, ugly, glaringly white athletic shoes with “n’importe quoi” — even with fishnet stockings, long skirts, high-water pants…all looking very unchic indeed. What happened to classic French style she wondered!? Was she still in Vancouver or was this a New Paris she hadn’t seen before?

I can remember when I was a tourist over 25 years ago, I wouldn’t be caught dead in white sports shoes for fear of being spotted as…the tourist that I was. The French never wore them, unless they were at the gym (which at that time they didn’t go to much anyway, or if they did, were there briefly between their cigarette smoking). Even then, they carried them in a bag to the gym, rather than be seen on the street in them. Before heading to Paris, I would make a special trip to the stores to find comfortable black shoes that would take the cobblestones well, but wouldn’t brand me as an outsider.

Once she mentioned this, I started to notice them, too…everywhere and on everyone no matter what else they were wearing. There they were, those big ugly shoes on at least half the feet. The shoe departments and shoe stores now sell more athletic shoes than anything else, or so it seems. It’s sort of like the onslaught of the hamburger, which is now 50 percent of all sandwiches sold in France. White athletic shoes and burgers seem to go hand in hand in the New Paris, an influence from the west we wish they wouldn’t adopt.

Another thing she noticed is how the greening of the city is obscuring the view of the monuments. In her blog Karen wrote: “Soaking up atmosphere and watching the world go by at one of the City of Light’s celebrated cafés is a favorite past-time, for tourists and locals alike. For years, I took tour clients to see the Eiffel Tower magically light up from the Place du Trocadéro and then snag a prime seat at the Café du Trocadéro, which has the best view of La Tour. Well, it used to be. But now, the trees that the city planted almost completely obscure the view.”

Karen’s husband is an arborist and forester. He was particularly upset by the obscured tower. She further wrote: “As we were sipping our pricey drinks placed on linen cocktail napkins, he began rattling off a ‘prescription’ that the City of Paris should follow. According to him, the trees could easily be pruned by raising the bottom branches, thinning the canopy and reducing the top and side branches in a way that would open up the view again. It seems that the city has not made this a priority which is confounding, given the million-dollar view the location affords. And it’s equally surprising that the owners of the café haven’t lobbied for the management and care for these trees.”

My guess is that the city is so focused on adding the greenery that they aren’t thinking about how to take it away! And my own comment to them was how I wished the city would pay more attention to removing the trash than the leaves. Karen didn’t notice it, but I do. The city seems dirtier than before and I’m not the only one who has noticed. About a month ago, The Guardian proclaimed Paris “a dirty old town, or as locals have nicknamed it, “Paris Poubelle (dustbin Paris).”

The city blames the Parisians and the Parisians blame the city. City hall spends a bundle (€550 million a year) on getting rid of the “16 tons of dog dirt produced each day by the city’s 200,000 pets, 350 tonnes of cigarette ends, and emptying 30,000 bins.” Garbage collection happens daily while glass collection is picked up weekly and bins with recyclable materials are picked up twice a week. But, it’s not enough. Personally I have noticed that even after the garbage truck has passed, there is still a lot of litter in the streets that no one bothers to do anything about. Even the street sweepers manage to sweep past it leaving it less than pristine. And the Parisians…they’re ignoring it all, assuming it’s the city’s responsibility to clean up after them.

That’s what the city thinks. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo wants to educate Parisians to respect their environment. “It’s an educational problem,” she said, “and I think we have to start all over again. Respect education, respect for others, respect for the environment, respect for the place where you live.” (See In 2017, she rolled out a new team of “civility police” whose job it is to ferret out offenders and fine them. The brigade consists of 3,700 staff members and more than 35,000 fines have been issued annually since 2016, including to pet owners who aren’t picking up after their pooches.

Educate? Respect? Sure, the fines are a start, but she needs to consider human nature. If the city is dirty, then it’s human nature not to care by just contributing even more to it, since it’s already dirty. And the Parisians aren’t taking the responsibility for themselves. This is because they expect the state to take care of it and take care of them, as they always have.

I suggest she do a little research and find out what will really motivate Parisians to clean up after themselves. And I ask why aren’t the street cleaners doing a more pristine job? They could also be motivated to do a better job.

Do you know the “broken windows theory?” The broken windows theory is a criminological theory that states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes. The theory suggests that policing methods that target minor crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and fare evasion help to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes.”

Thanks to then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s “get-tough” policies based on the broken windows theory toward low level crimes in New York City, the crime rate drastically reduced in the 1990s…more than 56 percent. In this view, small crimes lead to larger crimes…so if Parisians allow someone to toss their cigarette butt into the street, that would be as big an offense as dumping a load of trash in the middle of the road or letting their dog poop on the sidewalk. I guarantee you, should a Parisian see any of those things happen, they won’t say a thing…just let it go and assume it’s not their problem.

A dog picking up poop in Paris, France

American Library in Paris, Panel on Expat LifeAmerican Library in Paris, Panel on Expat Life

New ideas: What if there was a reward for picking up, rather than a fine for not? Imagine all the civilian do-gooders we might suddenly have!!?? And what if we could train our dogs to pick up their own poop!? Now, wouldn’t that be great!?

Special note: Participate in the Panel on Expat Community, Life, and Experience
with Janaki Challa, Linda Brimm, Nicole Tamer, and Janet Hulstrand
November 13th, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“This panel will feature a conversation about the existential complexities of an international life and a global disposition. Panelists will discuss the narratives of belonging/not belonging, what it means to find ‘home,’ be a ‘global citizen’ or find oneself as the ‘other’ in foreign spaces. Do our personalities change based on the spaces we inhabit or the languages we speak? Do we feel a sense of existential or cultural exile when we relocate? Is it permanent, temporary, or shifting? Further, the terminology we use to label a variety of experiences (expat vs. immigrant/migrant/refugee) will be critically dissected in terms of ascribed privilege and freedom of movement and relocation. How can these terms be problematic and what are the socio-economic, political and racial implications? Additionally, panelists will explore the role of foreign language  and how it shapes our lived experience. The process of identity-making, movement, and the process of reinvention and discovery that come with migration are themes that will be debated and fleshed out in this hour.”

For more information, visit the American Library in Paris website.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France with Karen Henrich and Her Husband, Wayne

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

(with Karen and Her Husband, Wayne)

Respond to Adrian

The Adrian Leeds Group


P.S. What a surprise and an honor. If you haven’t yet heard, we are nominated for Expatriates Magazine Best in Paris – Real Estate Expert! Please vote for us using this link. Thank you! 

P.P.S. And don’t miss Anne Pujalte’s “L’Histoire par l’Humour”…when history is painted with humor, her mischievous mind wanted to crunch some illustrious and colorful personalities. Come to the art opening tomorrow night, October 29th from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and then visit the exhibition October 26th through November 8th, at La Galerie Thuillier, 13, rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris.


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