Tuesday 15 January 2008

Homeless in Paris

Don't Smile
Originally uploaded by malias.

A question that always puzzles me is why, in France and Paris in particular are there so many homeless people. France has one of the best welfare systems in the world and the taxes each individual has to pay is phenomenal.

Despite the arrival of Sarkozy France is still the most socialist of the western democracies. London on the other hand is a bastion of captialism with relatively low taxation and fewer safety nets for the poor. And yet there are far more homeless people in Paris than in London. On every street, on the metro, by the canal, in the parks they are everywhere. I can't explain this paradox. I hope someone else can.

Paris is an exciting place to live but what I know is that it's far more difficult to make a living here than most other places (especially London which is most familiar to me). If for example you have to rely on a salary as an English teacher (professeur d'anglais Paris) from a language school as many ex-pats do, it's difficult. At the end of the month your net wage doesn't go very far.

Monday 14 January 2008

French expressions in English but not French

Frogs Legs
Originally uploaded by malias.

Any educated English speaker coming to France, even if he has never studied the language before arrives armed with a wealth of French words and expressions such as bon voyage, bon apétit, coup d'état etc.

What they may find surprising is that many of these gallicisms are not actually used by the French themselves. When I apply some of these in conversation my words are met with shrugs on incomprehension on the part of my interlocutor. Haute cuisine, double entendre, venue, piece de resistance, risqué and nobody has used sacrebleu here since the 18th century.

Even stranger are French expressions used in English where the French use an English one. We say crème de la crème they say top du top. We say passé they say has been.

So when searching the mot juste make sure you don't commit a faux pas.

Thursday 10 January 2008

The Wallace Fountain

This is a photo of a Wallace Fountain you'll find 65 of this kind around Paris and another 20 or so of the smaller design. They are a design classic and familiar to anyone who knows the city.

They were givend to the city by Sir Richard Wallace a wealthy Englishman and philanthropist after the upheavel of the Paris commune in 1875 when many aqueducts and sources of drinking water were destroyed and many of the poor ended up having to pay for water.

Wallace wanted to provide a source of clean, free water for the citizens of Paris he also believed that this would combat the fight against alcoholism. The first fountain was opened in 1875.

The fountains operate from March 15th to November 15th. They are a great source of potable water to this day. I grew up in London and since I was a child the number of public drinking fountains has declined drastically so we're often forced to buy overpriced bottled water to quench our thirsts. This is the same from many other cities but in Paris thanks to Mr Wallace we can still drink for nothing.