Sunday, August 30, 2009

LOVE AT FIRST SLIGHT


(Title taken from hardcopy of FT Weekend 29-30 August 2009- have to credit my employers!)
It is a common complaint that France, particularly Paris, would be great if not for the French. I personally have not had difficulty with them (except once --well, more than--which I will discuss later) and I have a few very good friends who are French. Of course, when I tell my husband about their travails, health complaints, problems, etc. the Limey would say, "Of course their problems have to be huge and dramatic. They are FRENCH!"

I always thought that the French were rude to people who didn't at least try to speak their language. They are, after all, from streetcleaners to senators, extremely proud of their language. (Segolene Royal supposedly did not win voters with what they thought was her poor command of French)
However, that does not seem to be the case. One French friend said, "The waiters are all rude even to the French but that's only in tourist restaurants." Below is a feature from this weekend's Financial Times that hits the nail on the Empire chaise lounge and explains EXACTLY why everyone has a problem with the French. It isn't them. It's YOU! (italics are my comments)


A user’s guide to understanding Parisians
By Pauline Harris and Simon Kuper
Published: August 29 2009 02:15 Last updated: August 29 2009 02:15


Almost every year some official campaign urges Parisians to be friendly to ­tourists. At one time, posters of smiling Parisians were hung up around town. Other campaigns have urged Parisians to show tourists around, or even to put up visitors in their own apartments. The Parisian response is usually disappointing.
Visitors continue to leave the world’s most visited city saying they liked everything except the people. In a poll this year by the website TripAdvisor, American travellers voted Parisians by far the unfriendliest hosts in Europe. Sally Bowles in the musical Cabaret speaks for generations of jilted visitors when she admits, “Actually, Cliff, I’ve always rather hated Paris.”
We have lived in Paris for over a decade between us. We won’t pretend that beneath the grumpy misanthropic Parisian exterior there lurks a heart of gold. More often, there lurks a grumpy misanthrope.
However, visitors do habitually misunderstand Parisians. For instance, they are not simply rude. Often, the sneering waiter is observing a complex etiquette, and if the visitor makes a few simple adjustments, they will become nicer. So for the benefit of international relations, here is a user’s guide to Parisians.

Learn their codes
When Parisians are rude to visitors, it is often because they think the visitor has been rude. This city has an old-fashioned etiquette, and unlucky tourists trample it with both white-sneakered feet.
Starting from babyhood, Parisians are expected to dress, speak and behave ­perfectly. This impossible task makes them uptight, and smirking at others who slip up makes them feel better. Foreigners are an easy target: they don’t know the rules and are therefore bound to say, wear and do the wrong things.
A few basic rules will diminish Parisian rudeness by about 40 per cent. Before ­saying anything else, say, “Bonjour” . When the French finance minister Christine Lagarde recently appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show , she cut through his opening storm of questions with a, ­“Bonjour, first of all.” Stunned, Stewart replied in Spanish: “Hola.”
(I managed this practice of saying 'Bonjour' not because I read it in some French tourist etiquette book but because I just mimicked what I saw. What was the ultra-chic Christine Lagarde doing with Jon Stewart who can't even knot his tie flush onto his collar stand? She has to be the chic-est politician. Far chicer than Carla Bruni or Michelle Obama...Wide band black and white diamond rings (Chaumet??), diamond starfish on her jacket shoulder (Boucheron? Cartier?) , great haircut, fab suits, perfect white shirts....Makes Tim Geithner look like her PA. That might happen soon as France is coming out of the recession faster than the US)
If a conversation ensues, don’t speak loudly, smile or use superlatives – all these are the marks of simpletons. On departing, always say goodbye. Yes, always: after an attacker held up a friend of ours at gunpoint in the lift of her apartment near Bastille, he left saying, “Bonne soirée”.
Don’t go around in sports kit, T-shirts with large logos or baseball caps. We did recently see a suspiciously French-looking gentleman wearing a cap on the metro, but on closer inspection he turned out to be mentally disturbed. (I HATE this Hollywood-director-NYer on the weekend American look!!)
On the other hand, don’t spend six hours dressing. Parisians aim to look effortlessly flawless. And don’t attempt flabby exposed midriffs or pushed-up cleavages (especially not if you are a man). Parisian women wear clothes that actually suit their body shape, age and style. (Like Christine Lagarde)
Only in one field of Parisian endeavour do no rules apply: driving.

Remember: the server doesn’t want your money – he wants his dignity
An American friend recently tried to buy a newspaper at a Parisian kiosk. The stallholder, ignoring his outstretched hand with money, continued calmly putting his stock in order. “Why?” our friend asked later. “Doesn’t he want my money?”
(This is the SAME issue I STILL have with the baker. I'm beginning to think it's not me, it's the wheat that has fermented in her nasal passages)
No. He couldn’t care less. A Parisian shopworker or waiter has a mighty disregard for the turnover of the establishment he works in, and for the functioning of its Kafkaesque system. He isn’t “serving” a “customer”. He is an individual interacting with an individual. What’s at stake is what each can get out of the interaction – respect, power, or drama to pass the time.
Part of what is going on here is that the Parisian labour market is inflexible. You need exactly the right qualifications for exactly the right job, because employers here rarely understand the idea of transferable skills. That leaves lots of overqualified Parisians doing menial jobs they loathe.
Furthermore, inside every Parisian shopworker lurks a revolutionary who cannot be bought. It’s useful to remember that the quintessential Parisian form of group expression is the demonstration. You find the same sullen service in other countries where capitalism hasn’t always been the leading ideology, such as the former USSR or Castro’s Cuba.
The Paris Tourism Agency says that about 20 per cent of people working in this city depend directly or indirectly on the tourist economy. But to Parisians, that’s no reason to prostrate themselves before visitors. “The customer is always right,” sounds to them rather like the Italian ­fascist adage, “Mussolini is always right.”
That’s why it’s counterproductive to try to hurry a Parisian waiter. He is not your boy. His ethos says: the more they try to rush me, the more time I will take. If you treat the waiter as an equal – asking his advice on the wines, for instance – he might treat you as an equal, too.
(I made this mistake when I was furnishing our chalet in France. I walked into an upholstery and linen store with a list--of course!!---and handed this list over to the shopkeeper and started rattling on. Needless to say she showed no desire to serve me until her daughter showed up. Luckily, she worked in London and undertsood the uncouth ways of l'etranger. We have been very good friends since and she has answered questions I have like : 1) "Why do French shops close for 3 hours in the middle of the day? Do they sleep like the Spaniards or lay their towels on the beach loungers like the Germans?" For single proprietorships like their family business, she explained to me, they use that time to do admin, open deliveries, re-stock, etc..which they can't do while attending to customers; 2) Why don't the stores just display everything for me to pick and choose? See above entry and also it is to weed out looky-loos who will not buy, waste their time and might even end up stealing!)
Bully back
Imagine 2.5m grumpy people packed into the tiny space inside the périphérique ring road, living on top of each other on creaking 19th-century parquet floors. Inevitably, the biggest Parisian pest is the grumbling neighbour. The biggest Parisian mistake one of us ever made was to buy a bottle of port to placate a grumbling neighbour. He took it as a surrender, like handing over the Alsace-Lorraine.
You get respect here by standing up for yourself. The very common Parisian “non” should never be confused with the less ambiguous English “no”. In Paris, “non” means, “Let’s see what you’re made of”. The more emphasis someone can place on a negative response, the more satisfying it seems to be. One of us once asked if there were any scarves in a shop in the Galeries Lafayette. The response was a 180-degree slow-motion shake of the head, accompanied by “Du tout, du tout, du tout,” which roughly translates as, “Not at all in any way, no chance, never”. But after a spot of arguing, as if by magic the scarves were produced.
Persist with dignity, and when necessary with aggression. In Paris, you never let anybody beat you.
(This is probably why the baker bullies me into giving her exact change. I should fight but I never do. I only simper, "Oh..I'll just take those last two sad eclairs with half the chocolate rubbed off and I'll go back to the car for your change..." )
It’s not because they’re anti-American
In the highest-grossing French film ever, the comedy Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis, a postmaster is told that as a punishment for a transgression he is to be transferred from idyllic Provençe to a terrible place.
The postmaster buries his head in his hands and moans, “Paris!”
His boss shakes his head sorrowfully: “Worse than Paris”.
The postmaster looks up, incredulous: “Worse than Paris?”
Parisians are grumpy to everyone, even each other. If they are mean to you, it’s not because you are a foreigner. It’s because you don’t know how to behave.

Escape tourist Paris
Tourist Paris is essentially a façade designed to punish people who transgress Parisian etiquette. Horrible waiters in waistcoats slam down €10 bottles of bad orange juice. They know they could hang the tourists upside down and flay them, and people would still be back next year.
But hidden beside tourist Paris is another city: the Paris of neighbourhoods. Most people there don’t have hearts of gold. They won’t be instantly chummy. Why should they behave like your long-lost brother when you’ve only just sat down in their restaurant? However, they do want customers to come back. Go to the same neighbourhood café every day, even if you’re only here for a long weekend. Once you have established some mutual respect – you like their café, they think your taste in cafés is excellent – they will soften up. Then Paris becomes really rather bearable.
(This goes for Italy, too! We will have to go back to when Napoleon looted Rome to even BEGIN to tell you about their 10 euro coffees!! They're probably just taking it out on us.)

Pauline Harris is a writer based in Paris; Simon Kuper is the FT’s sports columnist

Friday, August 28, 2009

WHEN FAT HITS THE FAN

....When fat hits the fan, she is no longer chic.
I'm serious, boys and girls and gheys.
Shit has hit the fan big time as in from size small to GIGANTIC!!!

From the day I joined the fashion media, I swore to myself to keep my dress size down to model/sample size so I could buy editorial samples. As it is, press sales in Asia are heaven for me in the shoe department because unlike in the west, girls here have small feet and samples are all 39/40 which is my shoe size.

In the Roger Vivier, Tod's and Hogan sales I let the tiny editors battle for the bags while I take my time with the shoes knowing no one will ever fit in them until some foreign (read: white or northern Chinese) editor shows up. Then I take all the boxes to one corner.

However, in the dress department: As the years went by, I started to expand but still to a bearable point of being able to wear samples made up in stretch fabric.

Why, last winter I was still able to squeeze into Italian 40 white ski pants from Fendi. (Of course I had to get the matching white mongolian lamb Yeti boots and black mink ear warmers)
I was still a size 6 at Nathan Jenden before Christmas. Fitted. As in Roland Mouret/Victoria Beckham fitted. Dress AND pants.

Before the summer I was a medium at Sabina Swims for bikins and a 40 at Eres for bathing suits. Being a medium was the bad omen of a rapidly increasing waistline.

BUT ON WEDNESDAY I suddenly expanded to a point of embarrassment at the Loewe sale when I couldn't get into SSS---TT--R--E--T--C--H jodphurs AND crocodile belts!!

AND YESTERDAY I was up to a size 10 at DVF for a wrap dress!! (I screamed in shock in the dressing room) As in silk jersey!! I'm really going to have a word with Diane and Nathan about their sizing. Either that or kill myself this weekend. (But wait, I just bought four new dresses at DVF, an ostrich bag and cashmere sweaters at Loewe)

But then again, that might not be a good idea because when I couldn't squeeze into a French 38 at Lanvin in Taiwan, the salesgirl told me that I needed a girdle.
GIRDLE!!
When I ran into Madame Wang Shaw Lan, the owner of Lanvin, I told her this and that her sales staff should be better trained with customer relations because you can't possibly tell a thin customer to wear a girdle.
She looked at me from face to chest to stomach and said, "Maybe you SHOULD!"

I realized there are certain samples that still fit me....those from the MEN'S collections!!
I have to admit I didn't want to just leave Fendi with one, no, two..okay--so much more items ---last winter so I also bought a MEN'S --men's!!--grey flannel coat.

It was voluminous enough to hide Andre Leon Talley and his tennis kit.

As they say in Espanol, que horror la gorda (fat)!!!
It has only been 15 years since I was last called esquelita lumbera (skeleton).

What a difference 15 years makes. (15-20 tonnes/inches, perhaps?)
For a fashionista in the media, going up one size is the difference between life and death.

And there are only TWO (two!) WORDS that would make me stop eating and exercise until I'm thin enough for UN Food Aid: Buy retail.

Nevah!!!
Next week, I continue yoga and go back to three times a week Pilates and I'm adding twice a week swimming. Hopefully by October I'll be too thin and too weak to type.

BUT I'll get to wear samples again!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

EXCUSE MY FRENCH


I cannot recommend this book enough.
I am only on page 43 (because I had other more important reading to do such as 2 months worth of back issues of UK Grazia and The Week) but I am already 'taking today and tomorrow off' to continue reading this book which may be the worst or the best (we'll see!) publicity for French manhood.
What's a book about France without being rude about the English?
The writer is an English woman divorced from her French husband and the whole book is rude about....well, we shall see....
"It was B., for instance, who told me the preferred euphemism used by RG (French secret police) spooks to indicate the subject of their memo was homosexual: 'He is partial to the English style of life."
Even my husband, who is English, found it funny.
In fact, last night, he looked up from his boring Churchill's Bunker book (which I gave him) and said, "I want to read that after you..."

FIVE TO TRAVEL

I am soon to embark on a six-week, six (or seven)-city family trip which involves seeing my family (read: husband) for only a few days in two cities. If we see each other more often, by the end of six weeks, our family vacation will end up as a broken home.

Not that the dogs will care.

This whirlwind journey involves major European and American cities, the mountains and the tropics, much like a Michael Jackson concert tour without the entourage and plastic surgeons but just as many costume changes.

Because September is a transitional time and I am going to travel through four different climates (six if you count London), I think I won't be able to get around the costumes. Therefore the beauty kit is going to have to suffer.

I have my wardrobe sort of planned out but my usual (read: heavy) cosmetic and wash bag need a major cull and I have narrowed my kit to five items. These five items have already been on my mind for sometime (with some changes over the years) because my husband asked me to be ready with ONLY THREE (but I bargained for five) beauty items to bring if we EVAH took the Siberian Express (his dream journey, my nightmare).

One of my friends actually took this trip on her honeymoon (they are still married) and from how she describes the accomodations, it was especially created in traditional German transport style from the time of the Nazis.....for the Jews.

Whether there is sun or not (it will be worse if there was snow), I'm going to need at least SPF 15 and this is by far the most expensive and important cosmetic I will be bringing.
This is probably the cheapest and the best. Who hasn't used Nivea in the blue tin for both face and body? (How come I couldn't find any at Boots in Knightsbridge?)
It's stinky but it's the best for very dry skin and as a lip moisturizer. Since I'm not going to be with my husband very much, he won't get to smell this and if ever we go on the Siberian Express, I'm sure there will be worse aromas enveloping us.


Bath and shower gel, shampoo, toothpaste, detergent all in one. Plus it's organic and cruelty-free. My trip will have more things that can go wrong than this product.




A friend gave me a small bottle of this for bumps on my forearms and it works beyond that---a bath oil, cellulite oil, anti-scarring, anti-aging for face and body.
Now that I have enumerated my FIVE BEST, I fear that I may have to get the rest at airport Duty Free.



Friday, August 14, 2009

alldressedup with lots of places to go

For three weeks out of the six that I have been away, I decided to put a regional label to the fashion travel test. It's not exactly a new label but it is one that I appreciated from the start.

The Singapore-based clothing label alldressedup (www.alldressedup.com) has always been a winner to me and now it is showing signs of being accepted internationally with worldwide distribution at Lane Crawford in HK, Saks in Bahrain and Dubai, Aquaint in London, Isetan in Tokyo and Beige in Los Angeles among other smaller, more esoteric boutiques.

The ensemble featured above looks great but I didn't buy that because I would for sure look like a clown. I did, however, buy several tops that washed very well and needed abso-fuckin-lutely NO IRONING!! Not only that, all of them looked great and I didn't need to put a lot of thought into what to wear with them. I wore them layered with cashmere, silk or cotton for cool (or cold) English summers and on their own for Italian summers that could melt gelato in seconds.

The line is a bit of a hard sell because the pieces look very complicated but they are really easy to wear (pull your head through the neckline and slip your arms through the sleeves). Also, it is that very quality that makes alldressedup outstanding. All you have to do to balance their multi-colored and multi-layered tops is wear them with dark bottoms or leggings.

The clothes have worked out so fabulously that I am taking the whole lot (ok maybe only half!) including Gap t-shirts that I bought on sale for 3 pounds each to Laos next month. Never mind that I will have to spend days in a very poor area potentially building toilets. Or a bridge. (Who knows! I only follow orders)

I swear by caftans in the tropics but in some parts of Europe and America, summer weather can be unpredictable and I never got my travel wardrobe down to a science until now. The pieces travel very well, wash easily and dry quickly, all qualities that make an excellent capsule summer wardrobe .