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Anglo culture the French should do more to resist

The Paris mayor's promise not to let the French capital become a consumer’s paradise this week has divided readers. The Local takes a look at other Anglo customs the French should do their best to resist. What else would you add?

Anglo culture the French should do more to resist
Binge drinking, one of the aspects of Anglo culture creeping into France that should be resisted. Photo: Race Bannon

The French resistance to the creeping Anglicisation of their culture is nothing new.

The rather helpless language police at the Académie Française have long fought against the invasion of English words, the ministry of culture has tried to hold back wave after wave of English or American music and trade unions have staunchly resisted any kind labour reform that appears too “Anglo-Saxon”.  

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo is desperately trying to resist the New York-style shopping culture that sees stores open all day and all night and even Sundays, which has somehow survived in France as a day of rest, despite the country's secular principles.

While many critics dismiss her as foolish for being resistant to reform especially at a time when France could do with creating a few jobs, many others including The Local admire her for closing her ears to the ringing of cash registers and doing her little bit to protect Paris from falling victim to rampant consumerism, as one supportive reader said this week.

Hidalgo has long championed the fact that Paris’s charm and unique selling point compared to rivals like London and New York is that you can’t just shop till you drop 24/7. On Sunday you simply have to think of something else to do. All this of course helps the small independent stores, who thankfully still get a look in in Paris, just about.

Granted it takes a bit of getting used to when you first get here.

But if you are organised, develop a detailed plan and do your homework on which shops are open on a Sunday (there are thousands of them) then you should survive the weekend unscathed

Hidalgo’s stance brings up the question of what other Anglo customs and cultures that are sneaking into the French way of life should Paris and indeed the rest of France be doing its best to resist for the sake of “Vive la Difference”.

Here’s a few we’ve picked out, but what else would add?

Le doggy bag:

For a long time the idea of taking slops in a box back home would have disgusted the French. But now le Doggy Bag – a common practice in the United States when diners can’t finish their mammoth portions – is creeping over the Pond.

Two French entrepreneurs have even developed their 100 percent recyclable doggy bag with the caption “Trop bon Pour Gaspiller” – (Too good to waste).

Instead of that, how about we just stick to normal sized meals and nothing goes to waste.

Lunch at the desk

The cliché that all French workers enjoy a two hour lunch break at the local brasserie, still pervades. But sadly the reality is that more and more are opting for a sandwich at the desk, which has been the norm in the UK, for centuries.

But it’s time France gave life back to the old cliché and forced staff to dine out at lunch.

Unrealistically friendly staff

There’s a new campaign in France to force locals to be more polite to foreign visitors and while not many would argue that it wasn’t a good idea, given the reputation of Paris waiters, we could be in danger of going too far.

For a start the reputation is overblown.

Most shop staff are polite if a little standoffish and experiencing the odd grumpy waiter is always an experience.

We don’t want to end up with shop staff who are forced to ask “How was your day sir?” or “Enjoying life are we today”?

Of course that sounds mighty miserable but I just want supermarket staff to scan my tomatoes rather than be forced by their bosses to engage in the kind of forced small talk prevalent back in the UK.

Binge Drinking

Hangovers, liver damage, doing silly (or worse) things you really regret the next day, and vomit on the street – there is no shortage of reasons why binge-drinking is an “anglo-saxon”pastime that should be discouraged among the French. 

It has alas been rapidly encroaching into the lives of young folks here.
 
Weekend nights are not quite as bad as in British cities, where a majority of people on the streets appear to be inebriated. But the number of youngsters in France knocking back beer, wine and spirits with a view to getting drunk as quickly as possible is growing every year.
 
Even young women, who a few years back wouldn't be seen dead with a pint glass in their hands, are now eschewing the “demi” and going for the big one.

So would you add anything else to the list or are you more of the opinion that this is a load of tosh and France needs desperately to change?

 

 

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CULTURE

Skulls, beer and a ‘cathedral’: Discover the secrets of underground Paris

You've certainly heard of the Metro, maybe the catacombs and perhaps even the Phantom of the Opera's underground lake - but there are some things lurking beneath Paris that might surprise you.

Skulls, beer and a 'cathedral': Discover the secrets of underground Paris

One of Europe’s most densely populated cities, Paris has over two million people living within its boundaries. As those inhabitants walk along the Champs-Elysées or Rue de Rivoli, they might be entirely unaware of the extensive underground world that exists below their feet. 

These are some of the hidden gems beneath the famous monuments in the City of Light:

Skulls, beer and police

The final resting place for over six million Parisians – the catacombs are the most well-known part of underground Paris, but did you know that the 1,700 metres of catacombs that are open to the public represent less than one percent of the whole of the catacombs in Paris? In fact, the underground network is thought to be around 300 km in size.

The catacombs are also known as the Ossuaire Municipal, and they are located at the site of former limestone quarries. The Ossuaire as we know it was created during the 18th century, because the city’s cemeteries could not withstand its population growth and public health concerns began to be raised. Gradually the remains of millions of Parisians were moved underground.

The bones of Parisians only comprise a small section of Paris’ ‘carrières‘ (or quarries), which can be seen in the above map.

These subterranean passages have fascinated cataphiles for many years – with stories of secret parties, illicit tunnel exploration and much more. During the Covid lockdowns, the catacombs infamously served as a location for clandestine parties. At one point, over 35 people were ticketed for participating in underground raves

The network even has its own police service, the Intervention and Protection Group, known colloquially as the cataflics, who are a specialised police brigade in charge of monitoring the old quarries in Paris.

Though these quarries might be a location to secretly throw back a few pints, they are also connected to beer for another reason, as they are the ideal environment to both store and make beer – with consistently cool temperatures and nearby access to underground water sources.

In 1880, the Dumesnil brewery, located in the 14th arrondissement, invested in the quarries underneath its premises, using them to store the thousands of barrels of beer that it produced each year. Over the years, the brewery simply turned its basement into a real underground factory. 

If you really want to visit the ancient underground quarries specifically, you don’t have to just go to the catacombs. You can also do so by visiting the “Carrières des Capucins.” Found just below the Cochin hospital, located in the 14th arrondissement, access to these tunnels is allowed to the public (with reservation) in small groups.

As for entering the rest of the old quarry system, that has been illegal to enter the old quarries since 1955, which has not stopped several curious visitors and explorers from trying to discover what secrets might be underground. 

Sewer Museum

Recently renovated, this museum might not be at the top of a tourist’s list in the same way the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay might, but the museum of sewers actually has a lot of fascinating history to share. It took almost a century to build Paris’ sewage system, and it is largely to thank for the city’s growth, protecting the public health of inhabitants by helping prevent disease outbreaks. 

Visiting the sewers is not a new activity either – according to the museum’s website, “as early as 1867, the year of the World’s Fair, visits were met with immense public success, the reason being that this underground space had always been hidden from the curious eyes of all those who dwell on the surface of Paris.”

Ghost stations

A total of 16 Metro stations go unused underground in Paris – some were built and never put into use, others were decommissioned after World War II.

The most famous is Porte des Lilas – a working Metro station that has an unused ‘ghost’ section which these days is used for filming scenes in movies and TV.

If you’ve ever watched a scene set in the Metro, chances are it was filmed at Porte des Lilas, which has a section of track that Metro cars can move along if needed for action sequences. 

The extra section was taken out of commission in 1939 due to under-use, and in the 1950s it served as a place to test new metro cars.

Beware if you find yourself in Haxo station – it does not have its own entrance or exit and is only accessible by following the Metro tunnels. It is one of the six that never opened, similar to Porte Molitor, Orly-Sud, La Défense-Michelet, or Élysée-La Défense.

Other stations were closed for being too close to other stations, such as the Saint-Martin station, which was closed after World War II as it was too close to Strasbourg-Saint Denis. 

These phantom stations are usually off-limits to the public, but sometimes access is allowed for special guided tours or events.

Reminders of World War II 

Paris’ underground played an important role during the Second World War.

First, there is the French resistance command bunker, which is now part of the Musée de la Libération at Place Denfert Rochereau.

It was from here that Resistance leaders co-ordinated the battle for the liberation of Paris in 1944.

There is also the anti-bombardment bunker near Gare de l’Est. Normally this is closed during the year, but it is opened on Heritage Day in September. (Journées de patrimoine). 

The bunker was originally commissioned in 1939 to keep trains running, even in the event of a gas attack, and it was completed by the Germans in November 1941. It is located between Metro tracks 3 and 4. The bunker itself – which can fit up to 50 people – has basically been frozen in time, featuring a control room and telephone. 

Another river

You’ve heard of the Seine, but what about the underground river that flows through the city of Paris? Prior to the 20th century, the Bièvre river flowed through the city as well, running through Paris’ 13th and 5th arrondisements. Once upon a time, tanners and dyers set up shop next to the Bievre, shown in the image below. 

The river eventually became quite polluted and concerns arose that it might be a health hazard, so in 1875, as part of his transformation of the city, Georges-Eugène Haussmann decided that the Bièvre had to go. It was mostly covered up, and now what remains of the river flows beneath the city, with some parts of it joining Paris’ sewage system.

The Phantom’s lake

If you are a fan of Phantom of the Opera, you would know that the Phantom’s lair is below the Palais Garnier (the Opera house), and that Christine and the Phantom must cross a subterranean lake to get there.

This body of water is not a figment the imagination of Gaston Leroux – though not an actual lake, a large water tank can be found below the grounds. It is even used to train firefighters to swim in the dark.

The Phantom’s not real, though (probably).

‘Cathedral’

The Montsouris reservoir is one of Paris’ primary drinking water sources, along with L’Haÿ-les-Roses, Saint-Cloud, Ménilmontant and Les Lilas.

But while it’s undoubtedly very useful, it’s most famous for its looks.

The structure resembles a kind of underground water cathedral and is home to over 1,800 pillars, which support its numerous vaults and arches. It’s closed to the public, but its rare beauty means that it’s often photographed by urban explorers.

Mushroom farms

And last but not least – the ‘mushroom houses.’ Les champignons de Paris have been grown below the capital’s soil for centuries.

READ MORE: Inside Paris’ underground mushroom farms

“Paris mushrooms” have been grown since the 17th century. The rosé des près (meadow pink) mushrooms were a favourite of Louis XIV and were originally grown overground – their colour comes from the limestone that Paris is build on.

By the 19th century they went underground, which provided more space and allowed the fungi to be cultivated year-round, but eventually the construction of the Paris Metro pushed many growers out of the capital.

Today, there are just five traditional producers in operation – Shoua-moua Vang runs the largest underground mushroom cave in the Paris region, spread across one and a half hectares of tunnels in a hill overlooking the Seine river. 

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