Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On the Bus

MCM has recently begun working in Paris proper and is really enjoying it; before he was, like me, working on the fringe of the city. I hesitate to say suburb, which translates as banlieue in French and suggests some pretty tough areas. This is because large housing projects were set up in the suburbs after World War II to house the workers in factories - many of them recent immigrants from former French colonies, particularly Algeria. Those communities remained when many expected to them to go "home," and feel marginalised and victimised by discrimination. This was most obvious a few years ago when rioting broke out in some of the suburbs, and immigration and assimilation are two of the hottest and most controversial topics in French society today.

It's a far cry from the suburbs I ride through on my bus to work as an English teacher: Neuilly-sur-Seine (where Nicholas Sarkozy used to be mayor) and Levallois-Perret. This is an entirely different side of the Parisian region: one that some might decry as not the "real" Paris, if real means working class. Neuilly and Levallois are ultra-bourgeois. The bourgeois aesthetic is quite close to that of the New England prepster, although without the whimsy and humour that you find in preppy clothing, for example. I get a kick out of the Neuilly people on my bus. In the mornings there is usually the same frazzled father who takes his daughter to kindergarten; he is sloppily dressed in very expensive clothes, his tie askance, a shirt button in the wrong whole, trying to juggle a small tupperware case of Cheerios and an Hermes briefcase. The Neuilly women wear quilted jackets and silk scarves and have thick, bobbed blond hair held back with oversized velvet headbands. In the afternoon, their children ride the bus with their North African nannies, who are much better at controlling the kids than the bourgeois mums themselves. I'm amused by the twin boys, who must be about four, who wear matching round tortoiseshell glasses and navy wool peacoats. Elderly women in brown fur coats board, some of them carrying their poodles on their "walk." I'm most struck by a young woman who rides the bus in the morning. She appears to be of Polynesian decent, and she has been reading (and is almost finished with) a gigantic tome on Henri IV. The peaceful look on her face as she reads reminds me of Gauguin's Tahitian paintings, and I find this to be a delightful synchronicity, observing her enjoying a biography of the seventeenth-century French king who, in his own time, promoted tolerance and social inclusion amongst the wars of religion.


  1. Yes, as in Paris - well, as in the rest of the world! Nice observations Accidental Parisian. What strikes me - so strongly - is the fact that the old 'clothes maketh the man' saying is so universal in its application. This morning I sat in the little cafe in my backwater market town in Scotland and found myself making the same observations of my fellow townies... Arrogant of me? Perhaps. But it doesn't make the observations any less true! I suppose that we are all - more or less - 'classifiable' by clothing and accessory choice... They advertise us to the world! Our political sensibilities; our class; our aspirations; our educational status - all proclaimed by appearances... Have you tried the supermarket/shopping bag game? It does the same as that hermes briefcase or velvet hairband... and now I am off to read some more of your postings! Thank you! La mujer libre x


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