France Afresh

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Cultural change is sometimes so gradual that it creeps by unobserved until suddenly one day you wake up and think “That’s changed!”

It’s happened to me a few times recently over this side of the Channel. I spend so much time in France, have a sense of how it is and yet still get taken by surprise at odd things.

To start with, the Cinema Outing. At one time, a visit to the cinema meant a visit to sit and watch a film. With no eating attached to the occasion. You entered a cinema, you bought a ticket and you went in to watch the film. In many places, you couldn’t even buy a bottle of water. Now, it’s the whole American-influenced multiplex thing. Massive frontages selling all manner of fast-acting carbs before you get anywhere near the screening. I feel like standing in front of it all, waving my arms at the punters, and declaiming as loudly as possible “Français et Françaises, DON’T DO IT to yourselves!”

I haven’t, of course. But it was so un-French 30 years ago to wolf down so much rubbish. The French Paradox? No paradox to me. You can eat as much good red meat and knock back the wine freely if you don’t eat between meals.

The second change: an abundance of sapins everywhere. I just do not remember seeing Christmas trees for sale quite as much as now in years gone by. This year, though, you can’t walk the streets without tripping over a tree.

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And the final change of note? Number plates. When did they change to German-style? They have abandoned that gloriously French narrow lettering forever associated with battered Citroëns bumbling along tree-lined highways.

Vive la difference nonetheless for that which remains.

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