The Rule of the Rule (Part 1)

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Keep Out sign The Rule of the Rule (Part 1)Even though the Frenchman in me would be the first to admit that, unlike you follow-the-rule English, some of his concitoyens may be accused of lacking in citizenship, he can’t help thinking that mitigating circumstances can be found in the fact that the freedom granted to you to do what you want in publicly-frequented places is far more restricted than in France. For not only are you at constant risk of being brought to order by authority or, incredibly, by your fellow citizens, but I don’t know of any other nation which displays such a generalized obsession for regulating public behaviour in the minutest detail. What other judgement can we have of a country where the ubiquitous presence of such a multiplicity of signs, notices, placards, boards, stickers, plates, pointers, arrows, warnings, instructions, recommendations, injunctions, enjoinders and sundry symbols makes it perfectly clear to all what they can and, above all, what they can’t do in public places, and leaves them in no doubt of the dire consequences that will befall them if they fail to comply? And this can be carried to the most ridiculous extremes. I mean, in some public places it’s even forbidden to kiss!

No kissing sign The Rule of the Rule (Part 1)Imagine, par exemple, you’re a businessman and you decide to take a train to visit a customer in London. Your wife drives you to the station in the morning, and stops at the drop-off point in front. What’s more natural that, just before you get out of the car, your lips should come together in a parting kiss? But, incredible as this may sound, at one station in England at least you can’t do it. It’s officially forbidden! Presumably in an attempt to get us to swallow the idea that it increases traffic fluidity, the area has a prominent sign displaying a man and woman in the act of kissing – with a prohibitive line drawn though it! But don’t worry! Inside the station another sign indicates that kissing is now allowed. The only problem is that your wife’s now on her way back home and there’s nobody left to kiss! And nowhere is your English fixation with the punctilious regulation of public behaviour better illustrated than on that occasion last summer when I visited one of your stately homes.

No Dogs Allowed The Rule of the Rule (Part 1)This is not to say that things didn’t get off to a reasonably encouraging start. For on arriving my heart was warmed by the prominent notice Welcome to Grumblesby Hall attached to a pillar of the palatial lodge gates. I began, however, to have one or two doubts when a No Dogs Allowed suspended immediately beneath, made no bones of the fact that if anyone thought he could take Rover for a run (or more) in the grounds, he was barking up the wrong tree. But I was somewhat assured when, on driving through the gates, a Car Park – 200 Yards sign brought it to my attention that not much more than a stone’s throw ahead a place had been thoughtfully provided for the visitor to lodge his car; and the prominent arrow which followed removed any doubt anyone might have had as to the route to follow in order to reach it. A few meters farther, however, and a killjoy Maximum Speed 5 mph made it quite clear that any attempt on the part of the boy racers among us to cover the distance indicated at a speed not much exceeding the locomotive capacities of a snail would be deemed perilous enough to render them liable to a Fine Not Exceeding £100.

Wheel Clamping The Rule of the Rule (Part 1)In an effort, no doubt, to deter the rambler type of visitor, eager to get off the beaten track, the next sign announced there was No Parking on Grass Verges. And just to make sure we all understood this was no idle warning a ghastly-sounding Wheel Clamping in Operation – Release fee £100 brought it intimidatingly home that not only would any offending vehicle be instantly clapped in irons, but an extortionist ransom would be demanded for it to be freed. As I inched forward, another No Parking on Grass Verges came into view – the At any Time beneath bringing it unequivocally home that military discipline was in operation here, and that in absolutely no circumstances would the slightest quarter be shown.

Pay and Display 300x113 The Rule of the Rule (Part 1)After crawling on for a hundred meters or so an Official Car Park notice informed me that the limits of authorized vehicular advancement had now been reached; and as I pulled into the enclosure an All Vehicles Must Be Parked Well Within Lines – Penalty £100 made it perfectly clear that those who didn’t comply with surgical precision would render themselves liable to a not inconsiderable fine. And just in case any idiot had got it into his silly head that parking was on the house a Pay And Display notice brought it to the attention of one and all that permission to deposit your vehicle inside the park required not only the payment of an appropriate fee but visible proof you had acquitted yourself of it.

(To be continued)

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Here’s To An Excellent 2014 Vintage

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Grapes Heres To An Excellent 2014 VintageFrench wine connaisseurs will be pleased to hear that an exceptionally mild winter and a sunny spring got the 2014 vintage off to a good start and that, despite some localized hail storms, this year’s grape harvest should produce a much higher yield than the previous two years. The French Ministry of Agriculture estimates that, unless there’s a meteorological catastrophe in the weeks to come, the 2014 French grape harvest should produce around 47 million hectoliters of red, rosé and white wine. This is considerably more than in 2013 when 42.3 hectoliters were produced, and well exceeds the average of 42.3 million over the last five years. Though the cold and rainy summer we’ve had makes these figures a bit difficult to swallow, an especially mild winter and spring got the year off to such a good start that the atrocious summer weather that followed hasn’t really affected the final result, even if the cooler summer weather has caused grapes to ripen a little later than usual.

Bordeaux vineyard Heres To An Excellent 2014 VintageThis year the Bordeaux, claret-producing region should yield between five and six million hectoliters, an increase of 40% compared to last year when vineyards were devastated by hail storms. And even if they haven’t been entirely spared this year, these have not been comparable with the storms which did so much damage in 2013. However, some producers  in the Languedoc-Rousillon region were not so lucky. ‘Hail destroyed part of the Minervois vineyards. 20.000 hectares were affected in the Aude which represents 21% of the total wine-producing area of the département,’ declared Xavier de Volontat, Vice-President of the Conseil interprofessionnel des vins de Lnguedoc. ’700.000 hectoliters were lost which represents 5 to 6% of the total quantity of around 1 million hectoliters.’ But for those producers affected help is at hand. ‘We’re counting on producers’ sense of solidarity in sharing their grapes with those whose harvest has been completely destroyed. But, generally speaking, we have high hopes for the 2014 harvest. As far as the other vineyards are concerned, even if the yield is only average there’s a very good balance between the different grape varieties and, since the summer hasn’t been too hot, the quality should be good.’

And optimism is also present in the famous Côtes du Rhône region where the average production of 1.7 million hectoliters over the last five years should be exceeded. ‘We have the potential to reach 1.8 million hectoliters for 2014,’ announced Françoise Dijon, head of the technical department of Inter Rhône, the region’s wine-producers’ organization. Even though the weather we have in September could change the name of the game, the grape harvest is looking good both in terms of quantity and quality. And as far as ripeness goes we’re a week ahead of 2013. I repeat, however, that, even if things look promising, it all depends on the kind of weather we get over the next weeks.’

It’s the same story in Burgundy where many reputed vineyards were ravaged by hail – especially the Côte de Beaune on 23rd July. So, generally speaking, if the weather keeps fine it should be a good year here, too. This will enable French  producers to become more competitive after two difficult years when many buyers turned their backs on the French market in favour of Spanish or Italian wines.

Grape picking Heres To An Excellent 2014 VintageAnd in the Jura where I live, and whose distinctive wines are generally unknown to all but the more specialized English connaisseur, producers are  keeping their fingers crossed that the sunny start to September which has already enabled secateurs to start clicking into action will continue over the next weeks. If it does, the quantity and quality of the 2014 harvest should be above the average for the last five years. Cheers!


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Paris Elected As Their Favourite Shopping Town

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Tourists shopping in Paris Paris Elected As Their Favourite Shopping TownAccording to an article which recently appeared in the Economics Supplement of the Figaro newspaper Brazilian, Chinese and Russian tourists have voted Paris their favourite shopping town. Moreover, 28% of them come to Paris just for the shopping. A solid argument in favour of Sunday opening for shops and stores which, at the moment, is the subject of considerable controversy in France. A recently published study by Advice Consultants, Abington, shows that luxury boutiques are the capital’s trump card when it comes to persuading foreign visitors to part with their money.  Figures also reveal that for more than 75% of tourists Paris is by far the most attractive place to do your shopping – well ahead of its eternal rivals, London (11.7%) and Milan (5%). The survey which focuses on Brazilian, Chinese and Russian tourists (three nationalities representing the biggest potential for development) shows that an almost unanimous 93% of Brazilians place Paris at the top of their place to shop list, while 71.5% of Chinese and 58.9% of Russians do the same.

Place Vendome 300x164 Paris Elected As Their Favourite Shopping TownThe same survey notes that out of an average of ten days spent in Paris these same shoppers devote two whole days just to shopping – 28% of them admitting that shopping is the main aim of their visit. And their budgets are high – which is just as well since their favourite shopping places are the Champs-Elysées, the Boulevard Haussmann, the Place Vendôme and the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, all of which are famous for their high concentration of de luxe boutiques and the astronomical prices they charge for their wares.

According to the survey, 75% of the Brazilians taking part planned to spend between 3.000 and 10.000 euros, including meals and accommodation, while 8.5% said they would probably be spending even more. The budgets of most Chinese were more modest  – between 500 and 3.000 euros for 57% of them. Nevertheless, 10% of them said they were ready to spend more than 10.000 euros. As for the Russians, more than 60% planned to lighten their wallets by sums ranging from 1500 to 10.000 euros.  Lumped together, these tourists would, therefore, be spending on average the ‘modest’ sum of 4.980 euros.

Chinese shopping in Paris Paris Elected As Their Favourite Shopping TownAs far as the things they intended to buy are concerned, 51% of tourists plumped for clothes, 40% for souvenirs and 38% for cosmetics. The three top designer names quoted were Louis Vuitton (27%), Chanel (14%) and Dior (12%). The survey did show, however, that these tourists didn’t in any way exclude a visit to more affordable shops like Sephora, Zara or even H&M.

Duty free shop Paris Elected As Their Favourite Shopping TownAnd proof that some tourists are quite prepared to leave their purchases to the very last minute is supplied by the fact that 44% of those questioned admitted that they planned to do some last minute shopping at airport duty-free shops while waiting to catch a plane back home. Airport terminal shops could rely on foreign visitors spending an average of 645 euros, the Chinese and Russians spending their money mainly on perfumes and cosmetics, while most Brazilians favoured top of the range wines, cheeses and  gastronomical goodies like goose-liver pâté and truffled sausages.

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Why Foreign Tourists Love France

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An article I read recently in the weekend T.V. supplement of the daily regional  newspaper Le Progrès reveals some of the reasons so many of the 83 million annual foreign visitors fall head over heels in love with France. But when we fall in love we tend to turn a blind eye to everyday reality. My italicized comments are intended to bring things back nearer to earth . French Parks. Aynur, 48, a nurse from Turkey.                                                Jardin publique Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceI’ve noticed that French towns have well-maintained parks with statues and fountains. They’re so clean that you can sit on the grass – so convenient for people who don’t  have a garden. Watch out all the same, Aynur. Generally speaking, the French are an undisciplined lot, and tend to let their dogs do it anywhere … so I’d advise you to look carefully before placing your bottom on that beautiful, clean grass. French Calm. Maika, 27, a sales assistant and Rachel, 27, a web editor from Spain.                                                                                                                Terrace de café Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceWe find the French aren’t as noisy as the Spanish. It’s very pleasant when you’re sitting in a café or restaurant. At home people talk much more loudly – especially in the evening over an apéritif. Sometimes you can’t even hear yourself speak.                                                                                         In my own experience, when it comes to hearing ‘em before you see ‘em, there’s nothing much in it between the French and Spanish. Personally, when it comes to loudmouths, I find Italians are the worst of the lot. French Cheeses. Urszula, 25, a museum curator from Poland.                     Fromages Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceHow lucky you are to have such a great choice. At home there are only a few cheeses, and they’re all a bit bland. The family I was an au pair girl with in Lyon introduced me to goat’s cheese, Comté and Roquefort Blue. Yum! Yum! I also like your ritual of all dining together. At home people eat alone in their little corner.                                                                                                                     Yes, Urszula, I would agree with you about French cheeses. But the downside is that, as General de Gaulle found out to his cost, how do you govern a country which has two hundred and forty six varieties of cheese? And I didn’t realize you Poles were such an unsociable lot. Provence. Paolo, 55, a department head, and Stefanie, 53, a housewife from Italy.                                                                                                      Champ de lavande 300x103 Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceWe were enchanted by this region. The villages are charming and the countryside is unbelievable. And the lavender fields are just magic. France is really a very romantic country – even more so than Italy!                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Yes, yes, Paolo and Stefanie. You make it sound like two teenagers falling in love for the very first time. But aren’t you both old enough to know that once you’ve lived together for a while the charm can begin to wear thin? French Bookshops. Kuang, 22, a student from China.                                  Librairie Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceI’m really impressed by the number of small bookshops in France. There’s a lot of choice at all prices. I really love books on art, illustrated by numerous photos. My suitcase is already full of them. Hurry up, Kuang, because all those bookshops are fast disappearing. More and more French people are buying them on Internet. Apparently, it’s much cheaper. French Confectionary. Katherine, 19, a student from the U.S.A.                   Patisserie Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceI worship French cakes and sweets, especially eclairs and macaroons – they’re so delicious. What I find astonishing is that they’re so refined and light without being too sweet. It makes a change from cheese cakes. Go easy on that sugar and cream all the same, Katherine. We don’t want you getting as overweight as most of  your compatriots.   French People. All, 39, a doctor from Australia.                                      Commercant Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceSome friends told me the French never stop moaning. Personally, I find it’s the opposite. We’ve visited several towns in France, and each time people offered to help us when they saw we were a bit lost. And the shopkeepers are really so pleasant. Perhaps you’ve been lucky so far, mate. As a general rule, the French are not always noted for being over-helpful to bewildered foreigners, or being convinced believers in the principle that ‘ the customer is always right’. And they do love protesting. Look at all those street demonstrations. French Weather. Nigel-Mohammed, 41, a Managing Director from Trinidad and Tobago.                                                                                               Ciel et nuages Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceHere the sky changes from one day to the next. You also have as many hot days as cold with rain and wind. It’s so varied! At home we have a tropical climate with a temperature of 30° C all the year round. Mind you, the tourists love it. Come off it, Nige! If you’d had to endure the kind of summer we’ve just had you’d be glad to get back to that horribly monotonous 30° C temperature you get all the year round back home! French Bread. James, 29, a school manager from England.                      Baguettes Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceWhat a delicious smell you get when you walk past a bread shop! It really makes you want to step inside and buy everything. The person who invented the baguette was a genius: it’s delicious – even though there’s nothing inside. The bread you get in England has no taste to it. It’s true the baguette has a light and airy crumb, but you seem to be saying that the ‘nothing inside’ tastes delicious. Or is it just the crust you like? And James, not all English bread is as tasteless as you’re trying to make out. Small bakers do exist. Why not try a nice, crusty, home-baked country loaf? Old French Buildings. Amelia, 36, an interior designer from Singapore.     Vieux batiment Why Foreign Tourists Love FranceAt home the buildings are mostly modern skyscrapers which have far less charm. In France you have the impression you’re travelling back in time, and each town has its own style. The other thing I love is blanquette de veau. Hey Amelia, you might not know it, but not all the French are still living in the Middle Ages. They do have modern skyscrapers, too! I agree with you about the blanquette de veau, though – provided the calf hasn’t received too many growth hormone injections. Believe it or not, a friend of mine once bought a joint of veal from his local supermarket, only to find a syringe embedded in it!

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