Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ordure in the Streets

It happens every time I come to Paris. Regular as clockwork. Sooner or later, in one class or another, we will be practicing our mastery of the conditional, and one of the students (usually American, usually female, but not always) will start off a sentence "If I were mayor of Paris ....."

I think we all know that there is only one possible ending to that sentence. Anyone who has spent more than an afternoon in the city can fill in the rest .....

Because Parisians are notoriously bad about following the recommendation above, making scenes like that below (look away if you're thqueamish about puppy poop) commonplace

that never-to-be-fulfilled conditional "If I were mayor of Paris ..." invariably ends with dreams of draconian punishment for scofflaws of the pooper-scooper regulations. Yes, there are actually regulations, but since they are generally ignored and never enforced, one asks oneself  "What use are they?"

This general scorn for pooper-scooper laws is somewhat baffling, because in other respects the casual visitor might be forgiven for thinking that Parisians are obsessed with litter control. The quiet of my little side street here in the Marais is interrupted not just once, but twice, a day for garbage pickup (non-recyclables, recyclables), with an extra-loud glass pickup every few days thrown in as lagniappe. When I first came to Paris, in the spring of 2011, I didn't yet have a cellphone that worked here in Europe, so I used to have to phone the U.S. using a prepaid phone card from a public kiosk. It was a running gag that, no sooner had I punched in the (lengthy) code sequence to get through, but the glass collecting truck would roll up, rendering things inaudible for the next several minutes.

The Parisian tolerance for dog poop on their sidewalks remains puzzling. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the word "ordure", which in English has quite strong negative connotations of filth and excrement, is a relatively mild term in French, no stronger than, say, "garbage" or "rubbish" in American or British English.

But "how is David able to post so early today?", you may be wondering. Well, because of a temporary staffing issue at school, they ended up having to combine two classes, to form a monster group of size greater than 20. Given the lack of chairs and the general air of exasperation that seemed to have set in, I decided that discretion was indeed the better part of valor and that a morning spent skipping ("secher" = to skip class) might be in order. I do have a workshop this afternoon, so it's not as if I won't be learning anything. Plus I can read up on all the gory details of that gruesome quadruple murder in the woods near Grenoble (this kind of article, filed under the rubric "fait-divers"- "diverse facts", or human interest stories, - is a staple of the free daily newspapers handed out by the Metro entrances. Appalling journalism, but pretty helpful for one's French).

You know, I may just be getting the hang of this keyboard.

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