Chinese Tourists Robbed in Paris

Commenter “Hugely Ceebs” points me towards this article:

Tourists from China are avoiding France amid surging violence and crime, a Chinese tourism expert has said, reporting that customers are turning to Russia as a safer destination.

President of the Chinese Association of Travel Agencies in France, Jean-François Zhou, said “increasingly violent” thefts and assaults are turning France into “one of the worst destinations for foreign tourists”.

Mr. Zhou, a representative for major Chinese travel agency Utour in France, reported a steep decline in visitor numbers from Asia, and said many tourists are now looking to Russia as a less dangerous holiday destination.

I’m going to take that with a pinch of salt. Firstly it’s Breibart; secondly the situation might be being exaggerated; thirdly nobody will go on holiday to Russia instead of Paris.

But that said:

“[Chinese tourists] are robbed in the palace of Versailles, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, in front of their hotel, as they leave the coaches … In high season, not a day goes by without tourists being assaulted.”

There is a massive problem with pickpockets, beggars, thieves, scam artists, hawkers, and general criminals around the main tourist areas of Paris, particularly under the Eiffel Tower and the steps leading up to Montmartre outside the Sacré Cœur. I have known a few visitors who have had their bag snatched or pocket picked in these areas, and the perpetrators are many in number and loitering in full display of everyone waiting for an opportunity. I have often wondered why the police don’t clear them out but am told that when they do, they just move onto somewhere else. For whatever reason, probably something to do with fear of being called racist, the authorities don’t clear them out permanently.

But the situation is getting worse and can’t go on forever. It might be that the Chinese tourist agents have received a lot of complaints and they have decided to issue a warning to the French to sort it out or they really will start looking elsewhere. If this is the case then good: it’s high time somebody said something.

Britain’s “Restaurant” Culture

Every now and again the comments section at Tim Worstall’s blog gets taken over by a discussion of British restaurants and how they compare to their European counterparts.  I think it was Bloke in Spain (again) who said a major difference is that people in Britain go to a restaurant for a special occasion, hence when the food or service turns out to be crap nobody wants to make a fuss because it would “spoil the occasion”.  By contrast, people in France go to restaurants because they are hungry and want to eat, and if the food or service is awful then the very purpose of going there has been defeated, and therefore they will complain.  This goes part of the way to explain the difference in dining experience between the two countries.

This article in The Telegraph, via Mr Worstall, would appear to support this theory:

Britain’s booming restaurant culture is fuelling record levels of childhood obesity, with today’s children spending at least twice as much time spent eating out as previous generations did, experts have warned.

French provincial restaurants are full of kids, and yet they are not all a bunch of porkers.  In fact, trying to find a fat French kid requires considerable effort.

Health officials said families no longer behaved as though dining out was a “treat” and have instead allowed restaurant meals and fast food to become a major part of youngsters’ weekly diet.

Dining out in Britain is often an endurance rather than a treat.

Today’s families are spending at least twice as much time eating out as those who grew up in the 1970s, its report warns.

People eating in restaurants generates a warning?  In most places this is considered a good thing.

She said parents needed help – including calorie labelling on menus – to look after their children’s health.

At which point my French readers wonder why British parents are so thick.

“Every day we are bombarded by cheap, high calorie food and drinks; what we see in the media, in our shops and on the street encourages us to consume too much and gain weight,” she said.

If this has anything to do with eating in restaurants, they’re keeping it secret.

We need action from across society to help the nation to consume less,” the senior official said.

I wish these idiots in charge would make up their mind as to whether girls are anorexic because of unrealistically skinny bodies displayed in adverts, or everyone is too fat because the media is promoting junk food.  And last time I heard, telling women they are too fat and ought to eat less was considered a no-no and big was beautiful.  Some consistency would be nice.

Research involving almost 2,000 people found 75 per cent had eaten out or had a takeaway in the last week, a rise from 68 per cent five years ago.

Only in Britain is eating at a restaurant considered the same as having a takeaway.

Last year, Harvard researchers discovered that people who eat out regularly are more likely to be overweight and to develop Type 2 diabetes compared to those who eat at home.

“We now buy a very large proportion of our food from the out of home sector. It is not a treat, it is an everyday event,” Dr Tedstone said.

Note there is no consideration of the quality of restaurant here.  A family eating at a four star brasserie is lumped in with somebody handing their kids a bucket of KFC.

“Children on average have three meals from the ‘out of home sector’ [restaurants, takeaways and fast-food outlets] every week,” she added. “That’s a lot of calories.”

This is wonderful commentary on how the British view eating out, it really is.  But as an article warning of the dangers posed by frequent restaurant attendance, it’s not so good..

One in five families now has at least two takeaways a week, the official added.

The headline of this article is “Britain’s booming restaurant culture fuels record childhood obesity levels”.  Well, I guess McDonald’s refer to their premises as restaurants…

Dr Tedstone said making improvements to restaurants and fast food would be crucial to tackling Britain’s obesity epidemic.

You want to improve British restaurants?  Good luck.

The nutritionist welcomed efforts by some councils were trying to limit the number of fast food outlets near schools, but said restaurants needed to do far more to help customers make healthier choices.

By hiring a decent chef who can actually cook things?

The nutritionist welcomed efforts by some councils were trying to limit the number of fast food outlets near schools, but said restaurants needed to do far more to help customers make healthier choices.

“Restaurants, cafes and takeaways can contribute by reducing portion sizes, sugar, saturated fat and salt across their menus …” she said.

Are British restaurants really so bad they need external advice on what ingredients to use in their dishes?

Thank God I live in France.

Racist Chelsea Fans Convicted in Paris

I’m glad about this:

Four Chelsea fans accused of aggravated violence against a black man on the Paris Metro have been given suspended one-year sentences by a French court.

Joshua Parsons, 22, and James Fairbairn, 25, had denied their actions of February 2015 were racist in nature.

Their co-accused, fellow Chelsea fans Richard Barklie, a 52-year-old former policeman, and William Simpson, 27, from Surrey, were tried in absentia.

They were also ordered to pay the victim 10,000 euros in compensation.

Souleymane Sylla was targeted at Richelieu-Drouot station as football fans made their way to a Champions League match between Paris Saint Germain and Chelsea.

The hearing at the Palais de Justice saw a video recorded by a passenger of fans pushing him off the Metro train.

I remember that happening and thought it was a disgrace.  The term “racist” has been bandied about to such an extent in recent times that it is now largely meaningless, thus leaving us with no term to describe proper racism.  And what happened in this case was proper racism:

Supporters can be heard chanting “we are racist, we are racist and that’s the way we like it”.

The AFP agency reported that after giving evidence Parsons apologised to Mr Sylla, a Frenchman of Mauritanian origin, but denied there was any racist aspect to what had happened.

Turning to Mr Sylla in court, Parsons said: “I am very sorry to Mr Sylla, but I was not racist in any way.”

Yeah, right.  God only knows what Mr Sylla must have thought: minding his own business in his nation’s capital and a bunch of foreign thugs deny him access to a Metro carriage because of the colour of his skin.  Had he been armed and shot his way aboard and I’d been on the jury, I’d have refused to convict.  Go and watch the video in the link if you think I’m being unfair.  The actions of these thugs are indefensible, and I can only imagine what Chelsea fans would think if a bunch of swarthy foreigners turned up in London and denied a native-born paleface access to the Underground.

I hope that 10,000 Euros sends them into bankruptcy.

Aix-les-Bains and Lac du Bourget

I’m back from Annecy, where I had a splendid few days cooking a Christmas dinner of roast chicken and Yorkshire pudding and taking in some local sights.

One such place was Aix-les-Bains, which I’d never visited before.  Like Annecy it sits beside a lake – Lac du Bourget – which is the largest in France, and I have heard there is some sort of local rivalry between the two towns.  Having now visited both it is clear that Annecy is the more picturesque and attracts more tourists, but the lake at Aix is nonetheless beautiful and it seems more suitable for sailing than Lake Annecy judging by the number of sailboats and small harbours dotted about.  I also found that there are several viewpoints offering spectacular views of Lac du Bourget which can be accessed by road, whereas the best views of Lake Annecy are mostly obtained by hiking on foot to the top of a mountain.  Unfortunately I didn’t have my SLR with me and so was only able to take photos with my iPhone, but I’m sure I’ll go back there before too long with a proper camera.

Paris Property Prices

I’m posting this for no other reason than to give folk some idea of property prices where I live just outside Paris, close to the La Defense business district.  A couple of days ago somebody stuck a letter in my postbox to the effect of:

Our clients are actively searching for a 1-bedroom apartment between 36m and 50m2 ideally close to the tramway/railway in Puteaux.  They live in Rueil-Malmaison (edit: a well-to-do suburb a bit further out) and wish to be closer to their workplaces in La Defense.

Our clients have a maximum budget of 400,000 Euros, not including notary fees and taxes.

They wish to find their new place before the end of the year (2016).

This is probably cheaper than London, but it is way more expensive than other parts of France.  Letters like this are not uncommon.

Exodus

There are many things that make Paris different from other cities and I’ll not list them here, but one in particular I will mention because I contribute to the effect.

A friend of mine commented the other night that Paris doesn’t have the same festive vibe before Christmas that London does.  I speculated that this is because during public holidays – or more accurately, school holidays – Paris empties.  If I walk up and down the corridors of my office asking people what they are doing over Christmas, very few French will say they are staying in Paris.  As soon as the kids finish school families based in Paris pack themselves up and head of to “the provinces”, i.e. anywhere in France but Paris.  Usually they are heading to one or other of the kids’ grandparents’ places, or back to the region where they come from; even those who are born and raised in Paris will find some in-laws in the countryside to go and dump the kids with.  Nobody wants to stay in Paris over Christmas, and over summer the effect is doubled: the city empties of French people who are replaced with Chinese and American tourists.

The French autoroutes are superb, as is the SNCF – if it is working – but timing is everything.  If you try to leave Paris on a Friday evening when the schools break up you can look forward to one or two hours on the périphérique.  Similarly, if you are foolish enough to return to Paris on the last Sunday of the holidays, you will start hitting traffic jams up to 200km from the city and you can happily add another two hours to the journey. You’ll see hundreds and hundreds of estate cars, family SUVs, and people carriers jam-packed with kids, suitcases, clothes, presents, etc. driven by a middle aged man who looks as though he needs a stiff drink and another holiday – alone.

For my part, I have become enough of a local that I decamp to Annecy during most public holidays, as I will next week.  It is fun to stroll around the office with my appalling French and very English attire and tell people I am leaving Paris for the provinces for Christmas as per the rest of them.  Such things endear you to the French more than pronouncing “Rheims” correctly.

I am sure there are other cities where a mass exodus occurs in advance of a public holiday.  I was in New York the weekend before Labor Day and it was half-empty.  And although people undoubtedly leave London for the weekend and holidays, especially those wealthy enough to have a country pile, you don’t find almost every British family planning to flee the second the kids are out of school.  My guess is this happens in Paris because the provinces are very nice, families ties are still quite strong, it is well situated in the sense that you can depart in any direction, and the transport links are good.  It might also be that non-Parisians come to the city for work but never stop hating the place.

Would any of my readers like to tell me what other cities empty of locals during holiday periods?

Yet More on Polythene Bags

Today I went grocery shopping, but went to a different supermarket than usual because I needed to buy things which aren’t normally available in the smaller store beside my apartment.  When I got there I discovered the aversion to polythene bags had reached far beyond the checkouts and into the heart of the shop.

Usually when buying loose fruit and vegetables you pull very light polythene bags off a roll and put your selection in them before weighing.  But in this place – a Monoprix – they had done away with the polythene bags and replaced them with stacks of paper bags like these:

So if you want to buy a lemon, two carrots, five potatoes, an onion, and a parsnip you need five of these bags.  You can see the problem already, can’t you?  The excess paper takes up a lot more space than excess polythene does, and so your basket is full after putting only a few small items in it.  You also can’t seal the bags like you can with the polythene ones by tying a knot in them, and the best you can do is scrunch them down.  Yeah, that’ll work on the drive home.

There is also a major drawback when you come to weigh them: the stickers don’t stay on a scrunched up paper bag, which is down to a combination of the irregular shape and the surface of recycled paper.  Put a sticker on a polythene bag and it stays on.  So you get to the till and find the stickers have fallen off.  This is progress, apparently.

I then went to another store, this one specialising in organic produce which I normally avoid like the plague but I had no choice if I wanted to find what I was looking for.  Their entire collection of carrots was split.  When I worked on Britain’s largest vegetable farm in the summer of 1996, we wouldn’t dream of selling split carrots to our supermarket customers.  Perhaps we should have doubled the price and sold them as “healthier carrots”?  Anyway, this shop had the same deal with the paper bags only you didn’t weigh them yourself, the cashier did it.  The geniuses who dreamed up this plan overlooked one crucial benefit of polythene bags over paper: you can see what’s inside!  So the cashier – I kid you not – had to unscrunch everyone’s paper bags to see what was inside before she could tap the price in.  Again, this is supposed to be progress.

Hey, maybe using millions of paper bags is better for the environment than using millions of polythene bags, I don’t know.   But I would like to see a study that shows the recycling process and the chemicals used, plus the transportation and disposal costs (paper bags are much heavier and bulkier), works out better for the environment than sticking with polythene bags.

Otherwise we’re being monumentally stupid, aren’t we?

With bosses like these…

It’s well understood that football players are a bit dense, but those running football clubs are sometimes lacking in grey matter as well:

Paris St-Germain full-back Serge Aurier has been stopped from entering the United Kingdom by authorities before Wednesday’s Champions League match at Arsenal.

The Ivorian, 23, was given a two-month suspended prison sentence in September for assaulting a police officer.

Aurier is appealing his conviction, leading PSG to believe he is entitled to be presumed innocent.

“Paris Saint-Germain strongly regrets that the presumption of innocence has not influenced Britain’s decision,” said the French champions in a statement.

He’s been convicted.  By definition he’s not innocent, and those appealing a conviction are not presumed to be either.

Easy Pickings in Paris

The BBC reports on a robbery in France:

Masked men have robbed two Qatari women and their driver on a motorway north of Paris, taking valuables worth €5m (£4.5m; $5.6m), police sources say.

The sisters had just left Le Bourget airport in their Bentley on Monday evening when they were forced off the road and sprayed with tear gas.

“Everything in the vehicle: jewels, clothes, luggage” was taken, a police source told AFP news agency.

Here’s some advice from somebody who lives in Paris: don’t go around with €5m of valuables on you.

The section of the motorway where the robbery took place is favoured by criminals targeting luxury cars or wealthy-looking foreigners stuck in traffic jams:

In April last year, an east Asian art collector was robbed of jewels worth €4m when three people caved in the window of her taxi.

In August 2014, heavily armed men attacked a convoy of cars belonging to a Saudi prince, stealing €250,000, as he headed in a convoy to Le Bourget

Last month, US reality TV star Kim Kardashian was tied up and robbed at gunpoint of jewellery worth up to €6m in a luxury apartment in the heart of Paris.

Not that I’m excusing armed robbery, but common sense has given way to vanity here, hasn’t it?  Getting in a taxi with €4m of jewels about you?  These people are asking for trouble.

Les Brocantes

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the folly of diverting Sweden’s labour pool to repairing bicycles instead of just letting white collar professionals buy replacements, I want to talk about the very French event called a brocante.

As the linked site says:

The flea markets, second hand markets and car boot sales are very popular in France especially in the summer and before Christmas, in fact, that’s an understatement – it seems to be the national pastime to spend weekends visiting the different types of second hand markets.

Some of these brocantes are permanent, but the ones I have seen are held periodically in each suburb perhaps once or twice per year.  The local municipality closes off a few streets and sets up collapsible tables and the local residents come out with all their old junk and spend the day trying to flog it.   These events are very popular and people pack the streets, but from my observation most of them are just nosing around and not buying anything.  They can also be a pain: I woke up one Sunday morning in June to find a brocante going on in my street; clearly I’d not bothered reading the signs that had been posted.  As such, I couldn’t get my car out of the underground car park to go anywhere.  The French expression governing what to do in such a situation is “toff sheet”.

A brocante is basically the French equivalent of the British car-boot sale or jumble sale, or the American yard/lawn sale.  They are also similar to the school fetes which used to go on in the 1980s when I was a kid, where parents would bring junk they wanted to sell.  I have no idea if this still happens.

It might be my memory playing tricks on me, but I seem to remember the jumble sales and school fetes of my childhood turning up some bargains for my various family members.  Decent books were a favourite, and I managed to snag myself a hardback second edition of The Lord of the Rings for 50p back in 1992 which I still have.  But you also stood a chance of finding a good piece of furniture, some tradesmen’s tools, gardening equipment, kitchenware, sports gear, and other items which were bargains in the sense that to buy them new would cost a lot more, assuming they were available.  I recall people used to get quite excited by what you could find, myself included (I was usually after piles of old Beano and Dandy comics).

By contrast, when I walked around the brocantes of Parisian suburbs I found there is little of any value and nothing that could be considered a bargain.  It is mostly toys, children’s clothes, shoes (I always wondered who bought second-hand shoes; that was the one item that was not hand-me-down when I was growing up), and obsolete rubbish like CDs, VHS cassettes, and mobile phone chargers.  You might find the occasional fishing rod or ski gear, but not much else.  Even the books seem to be junk, very little by way of early edition hardbacks and lots of Da Vinci Code.

I think the reason for this is that a lot of stuff is so cheap now that when it breaks it is simply thrown away and replaced:, e.g. tools, kitchenware, and furniture for example whereas before this stuff could stay in a family for generations before being packed up for a jumble sale after a clear-out.  Perhaps another reason is that nobody would buy items which can break, e.g. kettles, microwaves, lawnmowers, DVD players, bicycles, drills, flashlights, etc. when buying one brand new with a warranty is only marginally more expensive and people have more disposable income.  There’s also the effect of eBay: there is no need to trawl through jumble sales looking for an obscure item at a bargain price when you can do that sat on your sofa with an iPad.

In short, things getting cheaper and more readily available has killed the second-hand market for many items which would have appeared in jumble and car-boot sales a generation or two ago.  It’s the same reason why people are choosing to replace broken appliances and other items in Sweden rather than having people fix them.  It is nice to engage in a nice spot of nostalgia about going through a jumble sale and finding a set of vintage cast-iron kitchen scales for a fiver, but the very fact such an item was being traded second-hand shows they were expensive new and not within reach of everybody.  Cast-iron kitchen scales might look nice, but it is probably better that every household can now buy an electronic set for ten quid in Argos and there is no second-hand market any more.  It’s called progress, and it’s a sign we are all better off.

Perhaps the Swedes ought to have taken a wander through a brocante or two before meddling with their economy.