Skip ‘2theloo’ in Paris

the louvre

You’re in Paris. You’ve done the sights, you’ve done the shopping and your feet are asking why you didn’t wear more sensible shoes.

You’ve collapsed into a chair on the terrace of an establishment where you order coffee and a pastry.
Your order arrives: the pastry was clearly aptly named being strong on the paste and light on the filling.
The coffee appears to have been made from ground chicory roots seasoned with a suggestion of Robusta beans roast to a cinder.
You understand why the guidebooks recommend that you take a pastry with your coffee when in France….the unadulterated liquid would hit your stomach like a dose of nitric acid and have you convulsed on the floor in seconds, posing an obstacle to the safe passage of waiters.

To cap it all, the price is astronomical, but you console yourself with the notion that you are, after all, on holiday and can afford some of life’s little indulgences, while hoping to goodness that you’d packed the Alka Seltzer.

Then, inevitably, someone needs to go to the loo.
Usually mother.
She departs, only to return at speed to declare that the state of the conveniences resembles old Tangier in time of plague and, with a suspicious look at the crockery, that your cup seems to have a crack in it.
The bags are gathered and your party departs.

But mother still needs to skip to the loo.

You spot one of the Tardis installations on the corner. A sanisette.
self cleaning loos

These are self cleaning loos….and some, to gladden a Scots heart, are even free.
The paying ones gladden a Scots heart even further….yes, you have to pay, but when your sixteen mates slip in as you open the door to come out they get a free shower as the cabinet cleans itself. Thoroughly.
Just the thing after a celebration of victory on the rugby field…who am I trying to kid…

Mother has seen one of these before and regards it with deep suspicion but as the only other alternative is another high risk coffee she resigns herself to the worst and enters.

But these days are over for the highspots of Paris…and in the mainline stations.
There is an alternative to using a public loo….in fact, a whole new concept!

You can use a ‘2theloo’ restroom.

Rather like the old Marks and Spencer advert…this is not any loo, it is a ‘2theloo’!

According to the company’s blurb, these offer an entirely new concept of….going to the loo.

For a start, the usage is – almost – free.
You buy a ticket…and receive an immediate discount on the price of the goods in their online shop….which sells everything…. toilet.
You can buy this combined loo roll holder and magazine rack for only fifty five euros, though you’d need a serious bowel complaint for the ‘discount’ to be worth having there…:distributeur-papier-wc-et-porte-revue-trinium

Or – for those commuters who harbour unlovely thoughts of the ’emmerdant’ suburban Paris metro system – this:
abattant-wc-metro-parisien

And even this….don’t worry, you don’t have to take it away with you:
wastafel-flush-3-300x300

The service is claimed to be more like a home experience: for example you can pay a supplement to use a Japanese superloo.
Now, this might bear out the ‘home’ nature of the experience as I reckon I’d need an hour with the instruction book before approaching the thing without a suit of armour and a sharp stick.
In the somewhat hurried circumstances associated with using a public convenience I suspect that the thing would blow me sky high on a blast of hot air worthy of a politician at election time before I’d finished fiddling with my faulds.

Their loos are not only clean…but soundproof.
Perhaps this is to reassure those who run the taps while having a pee. but I’m not sure that that is an advantage. At least those trapped in a Tardis can bang on the walls and shout for rescue.
The fate of the three old ladies comes forcibly to mind.

But ‘2theloo’ have thought of that.

There are attendants.

Not the traditional gorgon with her saucer of small coins and barbed wire entanglements surrounding her stash of loo paper…no, someone who can speak a couple of languages – to explain the Japanese kamikaze machine perhaps; someone who can sell things like the items pictured above to desperate punters whose mind is on other more urgent matters.

And this is where I would urge you, should you be thinking of visiting Paris, to skip ‘2the loo’.
Skip…as in don’t use their facilities.

Because ‘2theloo’ has taken a contract to operate these restrooms with the Ville de Paris (City council).
It succeeds another private operator, which was delegated by the Ville de Paris to run the loos.
That operator continued to employ the ladies who were previously employed by the council – at equivalent, though hardly munificent, rates of pay.

2theloo, holding a straight contract rather than a delegation, has refused to take the ladies with the loos.
The company spokesman has said that the company would be willing to interview the ladies for any positions vacant – though without respect to their pay and seniority – but doubts that they would fulfill the company’s requirements.

The ladies would, it was felt, be too stuck in their ways to accept the company’s way of working…too independent…not experienced in sales techniques.

And anyway, claims the company, they are not running loos…they are offering a concept… so there is a clear break which justifies them in not continuing to employ the ladies.

They tried this when they opened restrooms in the mainline Paris stations, but without success. SNCF – French railways – insisted on continuity of employment and its ladies are still in place. From what I remember of those ladies in my time if they tell you that you want to buy a thousand euro Japanese toilet…then that’s what you’ll be buying if you want to escape with your life, so the company could be making a big mistake in trying to get rid of them.

But the Ville de Paris is doing nothing to support its loyal workforce who face a miserable future, even if they win their claim in the Prud’hommes (the labour claims court): no big union is marching in protest…they are just ordinary ladies whose security has been torn from them by some smart alek set up who intend to make a fortune from human necessity.

The Emperor Vespasian, who set up the first public loos in Rome in the first century A.D,.was reproached as having bad taste in taxing the collection of urine as a source of ammonia to be used in tanning leather.
His response?
Pecunia non olet. Money doesn’t stink.

In this case, it does.

So, please: if you visit Paris…
Skip ‘2theloo’.

And now, just for fun and very little to do with the above, here’s Georges Brassens’ homage to his ladyfriend, the ’emmerderesse’.
Lyrics in French and English here.

Mind your Language

caedmonIt was my husband’s birthday this weekend and we had the best of all celebrations.
Time to ourselves.

We closed the gates to the drive and settled down to undisturbed peace.

Yes, of course we had to collect eggs, let out the chickens and ducks, change their water, put in fresh feed and then bang them up again in the evening.

Yes, we had to chop banana stems and fodder grass for the sheep and cattle and not get knocked over in the stampede for the bananas as we shut them in for the night.

Yes, we had to give the dogs their wash and deflea session.

But we did not have to speak to anyone else.
We did not have to put ourselves into the mindset of another language or culture.
We could think and speak entirely as we pleased.
All the time.

And what did we find?

For the most part we spoke to each other in English….but when we were talking about local stuff it was surprising how much Spanish we used…I can only imagine because the source of our information, whether oral or written, had been expressed in Spanish which had come, in its turn, to define the mode of discussion.

It would not have ocurred to us that the lunacy of a situation in which the leader of H.M.’s government is a foul mouthed coke head could be discussed in any language other than English, but it was interesting to find that the same process led to discussion of the character of the ex Mayor of San Jose and Presidential candidate using any number of Spanish phrases.

I would not say that it was perfect Spanish, either in use of grammar or pronunciation, but it was the Spanish that came to us spontaneously.

I enjoy the proper use of language, but not to the point of pedantry.
Language lives, evolves; it has to do so to be able to reflect the experience of its users.
I do not understand texting ….but it is an offshoot which has developed to enable those with more time than sense to communicate with each other and as such is no less legitimate than any professional jargon – which is double dutch to anyone outside the charmed circle.

I would never make a translator.
I see languages in their own compartments: products of their own cultures and dependent on those cultures for their meaning.
I can enter those compartments; enjoy the contents, but I can’t bridge the compartments to translate – it is too easy to be clumsy and swift yet takes forever to translate one context to another.

I would be quite capable of the translation classic..the English phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ translated into Russian and then retranslated to English as……. ‘absent idiot’.
But on the positive side, as a translator I could block the work of the European Union for years…..
Any offers?

Expat blogs can be a sort of translation…..illustrating one culture in the light of another in the person of the blogger…and there are many fine ones in the blogosphere.
There are also the others….

Those on Costa Rica which would lead the unwary to believe that the country is populated solely by wild birds and monkeys…like the tropical house at Kew Gardens with the lid off.
Or those which seek to persuade others that Costa Ricans are simple, happy folk, whose only concern is to help the gringo – reminiscent of slide shows of missionary activity in darkest Africa.
Or those that want to sell you overpriced property. ‘Trust me, I’m a gringo!’

There aren’t so many of the rose tinted blogs about life in France these days – if you discount the American girls in Paris rotting their teeth on macaroons – as reality in the shape of taxes eats into the dream world of pink wine and baguettes.
But, by golly, there are still a few blind mouths about….

Those who have a holiday home there and spend their time visiting other expats with holiday homes and eating in restaurants: any criticism of France, any comment on the realities admitted to by anyone French, and they fly up like a fighting cock.
‘Touche pas au grisbi!’ Don’t go for their bundle of golden dreams.

And then there are the pedants: wedded to a certain idea of France (pretty damn far from that of de Gaulle) based on its literature, architecture and gastronomy as they have learned to appreciate them in their home countries. So far gone are they that some of them would even eat an andouillette.
They ‘know’ France…but they don’t know their neighbours.

I was reading of the death of a film director, Georges Lautner, and one of his films came immediately to mind.
Les Tontons Flinguers. A take off of gangster films.
Not so much for his direction, but for the dialogue written by Michel Audiard – a man who had an ear for France.

One of his characters says
‘Les cons, ça ose tout! C’est même à ça qu’on les reconnaît.’
Pratwits…they are capable of anything. That’s how you know them for what they are.

The pedant would soon tell you that is not French…not proper French. ‘Les cons’ is plural and ‘ca’ is singular…
What the pedant can’t tell you is why audiences – French audiences – rolled about.
If you want to connect with old France…find a Youtube download with subtitles to make things easier…and enjoy.
The scene where the assembled crooks sample the products of the illicit still is a classic.

Audiard was also responsible for the dialogue in another of my favourites…but I don’t think that it is subtitled…
‘Les Vieux de la Vieille’ where a trio of First World War veterans decide they are better off in an old peoples’ home than in their own – until they meet matron.
I saw the last of the world that that film depicted….in all its hardship and obstinacy…when I was first in France.
But then…I knew my neighbours.

I’ll let the pedants tell you how to pronounce ‘crapule’ while I leave you with a classic from Georges Brassens

‘Quand on est con, on est con.’
You can be an old ‘con’ you can be a young ‘con’…but you’re still a ‘con’.