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Viva la Paris... Not

Everywhere you turn, retailers are pushing Paris. Why?

With a recent royal wedding, the Summer Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, I can understand if all eyes are on London.

But it seems retailers are busy pushing Paris. Everywhere I go I see Paris-themed products. From Target to Neiman Marcus, Paris is plastered on sheets, plates, cubs and canvas.

The Eiffel Tower is more prominent in American stores than the Statue of Liberty.

What is up with that?

Remember just a few years ago, after the French opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we had folks using the term “freedom fries” to describe french fries? Now it’s Viva la Paris!

The other day, while strolling through Pentagon City Mall, I noticed Bath & Body Works promoting its new Paris line of body products. There's a big cardboard Eiffel Tower. Posters proclaim "From Paris with Love." Even the shower gel containers are shaped like the Eiffel Tower.

A few stores away, in the home section of Nordstrom, I saw table lamps with "Paris" on them. The Eiffel Tower was on pillows and napkins. Paris, Paris Paris.

Bed Bath & Beyond at Pentagon Row is promoting Paris power, too, on sheet sets.

I don’t get it. Perhaps I'm among the few people who just don't get Paris.

I mean, I like French food and appreciate the culture, including the huge influence the French have had on fashion and fragrance. Though I've only been three times, I must say I'm not impressed with Paris. 

I don't hate it. I even managed to enjoy myself while there. But the way we talk about Paris in the United States, I expected to love it.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. I fell for the Paris propaganda you find in stores like Le Village Marche in Shirlington Village, Arlington's little slice of Paris.

These stores play that pleasant French music. They have cute antiques oh-so-perfectly displayed.

The owner of the boutique, Angela Phelps, claims to have fallen in love with Paris in 2000. On the store’s website she recalls a journal entry she made while on the trip: “Now I fully understand why Gertrude Stein said, 'America is my country and Paris is my hometown.' ”

Like most, she said, it was love at first sight.

Unlike Phelps, on my first trip to Paris, back in 1998, I did not fall in love. Paris annoyed me. Things got off to a bad start when the taxi driver who took me to my hotel cheated me by giving me currency that had no value as change.

When I visit a city I rarely have an itinerary and despise "tourist tours." I like to float among the locals and discover things on my own.

Once out and about, I found Paris to be a dirtier version of New York with better pastry. I remember being afraid, at night, while waiting for the train. Most of the cars were covered in graffiti. I lived in New York City for four years and never felt as frightened as I did waiting for a train in Paris. And I love New York.

Several, but not all, of the people I encountered in Paris were nasty. I got the you-stupid-American look quite a bit.

I loved the architecture but I didn’t feel the romance everyone talks about.

I revisited the city a year later, thinking maybe I missed something. Nope. Still seemed as dirty as before.

Paris is more interesting than Cincinnati, but certainly not as fun as London — or Brussels, for that matter. On my last trip, in 2007, I was just passing through. Still, no love.

I guess what retailers are selling is the American romantic myth of Paris. It’s the fake Paris, like the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas or the Paris at Epcot in Orlando. You get a big clean Eiffel Tower, flowers in windows and folks smiling and saying “bonjour” or “merci."

Even I can buy that Paris.

Pensacola Pete August 14, 2012 at 02:45 PM
First of all, it's "Vive la Paris", not "Viva (Spanish). To many people, Paris is the most beautiful city on Earth, I being one of them. You haven't made too many friends with your opinion.
Eva\= August 14, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Just got back from Paris. My first visit. I could not agree more with the article.

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