I have a theory. I think that the best way to enjoy Paris is not to live here. What I mean is, you can really make the most of Paris when you know you’re only here for a short period. That way you can galavant across the city, lapping up the sights and the atmosphere and the culturel and gastronomique delights on offer, without being too bothered by all the yucky things in Paris. The disgusting air. The sulky faces and pissed-on walls in the metro. The bloke gobbing on the pavement just in front of you so you step in it. The sheer Parisian snobbery in the 8ème arrondissement shopping district. When you know you’ll soon be back in your lovely little home (and here I have to stand up proudly and shout out to the whole world that I do indeed have a lovely home in the countryside, devoid of such stress and pollution and gob spurts) then those things don’t irritate you like they would if you lived here and knew you’d be putting up with them for years. Yesterday would have been totally depressing if I was a Paris resident.
I had to go shopping for costumes and I decided I’d go and buy myself a coat at the same time, seeing as the company in Marseille still owe me one since last October when our hire-car was broken into and my favourite jacket and dance shoes were stolen (long story – not a very interesting one). So off I went in the metro – destination Les Halles.
I lasted five minutes in Les Halles. I knew I hated it from past experiences, but seeing as everyone had recommended I go there because I could get everything in one fell swoop, I pushed my old aversion to one side and headed down into that black hole of consumerism. Les Halles is all underground and it is hideous. A strange netherworld of neon lights and shop assistant zombies with glazed eyes. I went into a sports shop and a bloke accosted me as I walked through the bleepy barriers, not that they’d gone bleep. He wanted to know what I was looking for. Dance shoes, I told him and he pointed me in the dance shoes direction. When I took a wrong turn down one aisle he came sprinting down the shop shouting at me to turn left and follow the changing room cabins. When I eventually found the dance section, there he was again, pretty much with his nose inside the shoes I was trying on. They weren’t right. I didn’t want them. He took it personally. I had to run out of the shop and back up to daylight before he ripped my jugular out with his teeth. I decided not to go back down to hell and got back on the metro heading up to the 8th arrondissement, to the land of gold and diamonds and Gucci and Louis Vuitton and also some cheap H&M leggings, ballet shoes and a balaclava.
I came out and was shocked to find myself surrounded by shop mannequins walking down the road. Then I looked closer. No – they were real people – just heavily foundationed and made-up and face-lifted. Their clothes were beige and soft, their necks and ears dripped with jewellery, they glared straight ahead with an expression of utter superiority, simultaneously managing to look extremely pissed off. I wonder why so many of our rich people look extremely pissed off. Is it because they are still not as rich as they’d like to be? Did the plastic surgeon pull the thread too tight, leaving them in a state of permanent discomfort? Is it a technique for repelling street beggar, students giving out leaflets and rats? It is a mystery. On my way to the ‘grands magasins’ I took a turn into Gap because there was a -50% sign in the window and ended up buying Tommy a t-shirt with dinosaurs on. I found myself wandering into Mango and asking if they had their summer dresses in yet. This was not getting me any closer to buying costume stuff so I forced myself into H&M, fought through the crowds of girls with dangerously long red nails (a good attack-and-defense strategy for intensive clothes shopping) and found what I needed in terms of clingy black stretchy things. Next was Mission Coat.
I headed for Printemps and as I approached this haven of luxery the swarm of rich people got thicker and the perfume got stronger. I pushed my way through the big heavy doors, was saluted at by a valet-cum-security-guard, and entered into a world of glitter and gold and jewellery and beauty products and leather goods and a zillion mirrors which spin you into a state of utter disorientation. This, coupled with the snooty sneers and pitying looks from the immaculate shop personnel is enough to totally destabilise you into buying a handbag for the same price as my house, just to prove that you too are wealthy and influential, even if you are far from it. My instinct was to flee but I needed the loo. And I knew that upstairs there were ‘lesser brands’ that I could afford and would hopefully find a coat. So I got on the wrong escalator, got off, came back down again, realised it was in fact the right escalator, got on again, and headed up to the designer labels department which also happens to be where the loos are.
One euro. A euro a pee. The swanky loos had an enormous gold-plated sign up with a price list – you pay depending on what you want to do in their loos. I find a euro for a pee pretty tight but what is worse is that Printemps charge TWO WHOLE EUROS for changing your baby. Now that is downright disgraceful. I stared at the man standing beneath the sign and asked him if my eyesight was failing me. Does it really cost two euros to change your baby in this pompous shop? He looked at me as if I was crazy. “Mais bien sur, madamoiselle.” “MADAME”, I said, and told him to tell his bosses that they had just lost a customer. “C’est la honte de prendre deux euros pour changer son bébé, CEST LA HONTE” (which is the equivalent of saying “shame on you” but has a punchier effect, as “shame on you” sounds like it should be in an Enid Blyton book). I stalked out of the shop, vowing never EVER to buy anything EVER, EVER AGAIN in Printemps and promising myself that if and when I have a second baby I will definitely be bringing him/her to Printemps to change his/her nappy in the middle of the store, making sure to get poo all over their most expensive Armani suits.
I went down the block to Galeries Lafayette thinking the exact same scenario was about to repeat itself. Posh, tick. Glittering, tick. Shop assistants wearing too much make-up (albeit immaculate), tick. Gucci etcetera, tick. I headed up to the second floor and bumped into a smart chap with a wide grin – something I hadn’t seen people wearing (a grin that is) in Printemps as they were all too busy pouting and looking like they’d sat on a thistle. “Je peux vous aidez?” he asked, still grinning. I told him I needed a coat. He asked me exactly what sort of thing I was looking for and took the time to think about it when I’d told him. He headed me over to a swanky designer corner and showed me a beautiful, mid-length coat. I touched it and rather liked it and so I asked him how much it was. “550€” he replied. I didn’t even blink. I was pretending to be a rich person and quite enjoying it. My very long soft scarf and linen trousers were helping the effect, I just hoped he didn’t look down and notice I was wearing trainers. “Do you have it in size 36?” I asked him. He said he’d go and have a look. “Et où sont les toilettes?” I asked and he pointed me in the right direction.
THEY WERE FREE. THEY WERE CLEAN. THEY WERE DAZZLING. THERE WERE FREE BABY-CHANGING FACILITIES. I decided I would indeed be buying a coat in Galeries Lafayette but not the one I was pretending to be able to afford. I considered just legging it upstairs to the cheaper brands but the bloke had been very nice and he did have a great grin, so I went back to find him and tried on the size 36. It was a bit stiff and too big. He agreed with me. Phew. So I said goodbye and went upstairs to Comptoir des Cotonniers where I tried on three coats, all three of which were great and affordable, so I bought one and skipped off outside, swinging my big red Galeries Lafayette bag and pretending it was full of Manolo Blahnick shoes and Eres underwear.
I reckon I’m not the only one who has walked out of Printemps in disgust having seen what they charge for changing a baby. That day they lost 200€, as instead of buying a coat there I went next door (there’s a Comptoir des Cotonniers in Printemps too with the same stock). It just takes one person a day doing what I did, to make them lose about as much money as they gain from charging to use their loos. Plus, I’ve told friends who have also decided to boycott Printemps, and I’m telling you. Spread the word. We shall bring Printemps to their knees. Shame on them.