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Some Things Never Change

On this last day of the year, it is natural to reflect on how I’ve seen Paris and France change since I arrived more than nine years ago. Yesterday’s newsletter outlining the ten objectives of the new initiatives set forth by the Prime Minister are a perfect example of how attitudes toward business, immigration and the idea of a global presence have done a 180-degree turn.

When I arrived, the “Minitel” was France’s precursor to the Internet. It was an ugly little box with a gray screen, ASCII-style characters and cost a fortune to use by the minute, but provided an information network for all of France — a brilliant forerunner to the Net. Because of it (and because the only French who knew to type were trained secretaries), the French were slow to embrace the age of cyberspace and computers in general. But, in typical French fashion, once the concept caught on, especially with the young, it spread like wildfire. Today, they are as technically advanced and perhaps more so than any of their European counterparts.

Fast food was just taking hold about that time. McDonald’s was already here, but the French were still complaining about it ruining the landscape. Now they’re lining up for the Big Mac on every corner in every town. And just this year (sadly), Starbucks has hit the French pavements. Even a classic sandwich was not an easy commodity to find nine years ago, but now, almost every bakery stockpiles them for luncheoners, the sandwich chains sell them curbside and you actually see people eating them as they walk down the sidewalk like we Americans have come to eat in our cars on route to our next appointments.

The French who spoke English were either the better educated, the better traveled or worked in the tourist industry. Now, almost everyone speaks English, at least at a passable level, and more importantly, isn’t afraid to use it, perfectly spoken or not. One of the things I realized not long after living here, is that we (Americans) assumed the French were too arrogant to speak English…but it wasn’t that at all…it’s just that they didn’t feel comfortable speaking it without making mistakes not having practiced it much. And once you understand this culture, you can understand how important perfection is. Now, they are quite proud of their ability to be so international.

Then, some things never change, or have a harder time making the transition. For example, try as they might with special cleaning crews and ad campaigns, there’s still plenty of doog poop to step in. The queues to get your visas at the Préfecture de Police are still a mile long (maybe longer). The independent merchants still shut down tight in August and customer service is not yet as accommodating as we’re used to Stateside where the customer is king.

But you know what? Isn’t that why we’re here? For all the things that haven’t changed?

Happy New Year! A la prochaine année…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]

P.S. We’re taking a day off January 1st from Parler Paris, but all you subscribers to French Property Insider will have your January 1 issue waiting for you.

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