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What makes Parisians tick

I’ve just read Olivier Magny’s ‘Stuff Parisians Like’, written by the young French sommelier and owner of the successful Ô Chateau wine bar in Paris, in a bid to appear au fait (knowledgeable) about the joie du vivre here in the leafy banlieues (suburbs) of Paris. The French is coming along nicely too, n’est-ce pas?

His delightfully flippant book is based on the wine buff’s former blog, and I suspect largely written for an American audience given the references to “Les (stupid) Américains”, Clint Eastwood and New York. Equipped with Magny’s keen eye for all that is Parisian, and a spot of homework on my part, I find his observations largely spot on. Here’s some of my favourites:

Car snobbery: a recent trip to the UK had my father-in-law, well versed in the land of baguettes, pointedly stating that I had a less than desirable license plate. He’s shamefully wicked, but annoyingly correct.

Parisians are wildly snobbish when it comes to the last two digits of a French license plate, which correspond to the particular départment of car registration. Central Paris is ’75’ and therefore très chichi. Other numbers smell like “mud” or “depression” according to Magny. Sporting ’92’ on our motor we fall into the latter category of those living in les banlieues of Paris, which in turn implies “limited self-esteem…and an awful dose of rawness to them” . Ouch. And if that wasn’t humiliating enough, we also get blamed for any outrageous driving, unlike the “mud” numbers—07,86,53,41,23—that occasionally venture into Paris from the countryside (“un paysan” for which a Parisian has a degree of affection for) and are treated with more leniency.

Le Moelleux au Chocolat: Magny’s right—this has to be the most divine dessert ever invented. No wonder Parisians love it and every self-respecting restaurant in Paris carries a moelleux on its menu. It has a dark crispy outer crust, which, once sliced, delivers a surge of rich, warm and runny chocolate onto your plate. Forget the two spoons that savvy Parisian waiters serve with it to appease the guilt that accompanies this deeply sinful experience, I managed it with one, with ease.


Le Moelleux au Chocolat—every Parisians sinful dessert of choice

Parisians rarely smile: it’s not in their genes. Although I haven’t been wholly starved of an occasional switch of the lips, but it does require much smile foreplay on my part to secure the rare reward. Meanwhile, I have discovered that the only way to deal with impatient drivers waiting for me to reverse my hulk of a car through the narrow iron house gates, is to wind down my window and grin my chops off. It leaves them looking either utterly mystified, or simply more incensed; both reactions are equally satisfying.

La Fleur de Sel: sits on every restaurant table ‘worth its salt’ (excuse the pun). “the Rolls-Royce of salt” Magny claims. These flakey grains of salt are gently raked by hand and give an immensely satisfying crunch. I unknowingly picked up a packet at my local butchers—clearly my subliminal flair for good taste. Even better, it had originated from the medieval town of Guérande in north-west of France, which Parisians rate La Fleur de Sel of distinction.

La San Pé (short for San Pellegrino) is simply ‘sympa’: the drink of choice for Parisians despite it being Italian. I can vouch for its bubbly fame—move over Evian—having the honour of its “vaguely retro, vaguely new, vaguely healthy” presence at two lunches with Parisian friends. And ‘sympa’ by the way, is the Parisian word of the moment, meaning ‘cool and likable’.

Pedestrians rule the road: they seem completely oblivious to the existence of cars and rarely alter their field of vision when they cross roads, which occasionally involves a pedestrian crossing, but more often not. This has led me to conclude that Parisians either possess an innate sixth sense that can determine the presence and speed of a voiture, or a (misconceived) trust that the driver is in full control of their faculties and can stop (with four kids in my car neither can be taken for granted).

Parisians take their food very seriously: only the best ingredients will do. The freshest légumes and poisson (vegetables and fish), crispiest pain (bread) and choicest vin; this obsession has caught on as I now spend many an hour scouring the outdoor markets of my hometown St Germain en Laye and the neighbouring Mesnil Le Roi.

Even burglars know their wines: a friend who had the misfortune of having her house and cave à vin broken into told me: “they took only the very best years”…


Fans gather early at the training grounds of France’s leading football team—Paris Saint Germain F.C.

Only beaufs support Paris Saint-Germain F.C.: strictly according to Magny, of course, as I can’t imagine the same applying now that David Beckman is at helm of PSG. “Beauf” (pronounced “bohf”) equates to “an American redneck or the English pikey”, and I am happy to be counted as one. Lining up outside PSG’s training grounds in la forêt behind our house recently dressed in my sweaty jogging bottoms, moi, plus a posse of busty young ladies in their Sunday best and by a handful of tattooed PSG-shirted supporters, did catch a glimpse of Mr Goldenballs himself. “Génial!” indeed.


David Beckman makes an appearance after a Sunday morning training session (centre figure approaching his black Audi) at PSG training ground—Camp de Loges photo taken 7 April 2013

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