THE ART OF WORKING IN PARIS
Bonjour mes amis!
Below is just a quick update on current events, as I wrote about Paris in June 2015. Little has changed — we found Paris to be just as maddening and delightful as ever. For example…
La Nuit Debout was on while we were there during the last two weeks of April…and continues as I write. It is a typical French manifestation: the students are striking, staying up all night in the Place de la République. Why? President Hollande — on whom socialist idealists were counting, wants to make it easier for businesses to fire employees. As the law now stands, it is very hard, almost impossible (see Pamela Druckerman in The New York Times, 5/12). One would think young people, almost 25% of whom are unemployed, would welcome this opening of job opportunities. HELAS — NON! They are horrified that if they do manage to get a job, they could get fired. They not only want the same guarantees their parents have, but they want even more. The students have demanded a subsidy for “looking for a job.” It looks like they will get it. When the Socialist Prime Minister met with student leaders, he offered concessions on the proposed labor reforms in order to quell the uprising, saying, “The government is listening. It understands the youths’ worries.” I read that the concessions included between €400 million and €500 million in aid.
But remember the French work to live, not live to work.
I think my attitude is typically American about the French lack of work ethic…and yet their productivity is equal to that of Germany! It seems impossible. Keep reading…
The police presence is greater than last year but not pervasive…all kinds of uniforms on the street — from battle greens to storm trooper regalia. Parked on a corner near Invalides were three or four vans of these flics dressed in reticulated armor, looking tough, and just waiting…
We watched a motorcycle careen around the corner right in front of them. It slid on a slick spot and went over…the driver was pinned under his bike. One of the armored flics strolled over, looked at the man struggling, turned his back and sauntered back to his van, with that typical Gallic shrug. By then ordinary civilians had gathered round the poor guy and helped him out from under his bike. What was the policeman thinking? “Not my job…”
Towards the end of our two-week sojourn we stopped at the local cleaner to pick up Allen’s shirts.
“Desolé, Messieur…no shirts.”
“Mais, pourquoi? You said they would be ready today.”
“Rien a faire! The manager of the plant has died and all is FERMÉ!”
“Mais Madame, I am leaving in two days, going back to the USA, I cannot come back for my shirts.”
“Why can’t you call and just get my shirts back dirty?
“Impossible, Messieur. The police will not allow.”
Oui, Messieur. The police have closed down everything until further notice.”
“A week, maybe three or four….je ne sais pas. I will send your shirts when they are ready.”
As the above conversation took place in French, we doubted our understanding and so asked a fluent friend to call — she confirmed. We are home over two weeks now and have not heard anything. Do all businesses close down when the owner dies? But why the police? I am afraid we will never know — until we pick up Allen’s shirts next year.*
And yet …we had the most marvelous experience our last night, dining at David Toutain. So French and so not. So French because the service and presentation were exquisite, the wine descriptions so ardent, the tastes so delicate. So not, because the owner’s five-year old son was running the circuit from kitchen to dining room, dressed in apron and clogs…his dad in miniature helping and getting underfoot. The chef’s wife ran the front of the house…a Vietnamese-American from San Francisco, seven months pregnant. She was friendly and chatty and challenged us to guess the ingredients of the divine dessert. We got egg whites and white chocolate, but never in a million years would we have guessed cauliflower. Nor would you. David Toutain trained in Queens. His restaurant is a brilliant combination of both worlds. Reserve NOW!
*I was about to send this out, when the doorbell rang. The postman was delivering a large box from Paris….our SHIRTS, washed, pressed and beautifully wrapped! It must have cost much more to send them than we paid for laundering. The French continue to confound on the upside as well as the down.
May 16, 2016