How to Be Parisian: All Fun and (Olympic) Games

How to Be Parisian: All Fun and (Olympic) Games

Parisians are unimpressed by the disruption the Olympics look likely to cause.

We’re now well into the Olympic year, and Parisians are beginning to feel it. Actually, I’ve been feeling it since back in January because I made the mistake of bowing to crass commercialism and buying an Olympic-themed galette des rois.

This ‘cake of the kings’ is the French pastry traditionally eaten on or around January 6 to mark the Epiphany, though it’s so popular that it’s in the pâtisseries for at least a full month. It consists of circular layers of wafer pastry with a marzipan filling, and to make things exciting (and keep dentists solvent), there is usually a porcelain fève (favour) hidden in there. If you find it, you’re nominated as le roi (king), and you don the golden cardboard crown that is sold with the galette. (These days, I think you can also be a queen or democratically-elected crown-wearer.)

Reaching fève pitch

This is where the Olympics come in. To mark the imminent arrival of the Games in France, the pâtisseries were selling galettes with Olympic-themed fèves. And I found one of these by biting into it and sending a pain through my jaw as if I’d just received the punch that ensured I’d be getting only the silver medal for boxing.

It was a linguistically rewarding moment for my fellow galette-eaters, who were treated to a bilingual blend of oaths similar to the sort we’ll be hearing if the French and British boats collide during the Olympic rowing.

Luckily, my tooth wasn’t cracked, but the incident only confirmed my suspicion that life in Paris is going to get steadily more stressful as the Games approach. We have now been warned not to use our cars during the Olympics. Driving in Paris is frustrating in normal times, as cycle and bus lanes claim ever more space. I’m all in favour of reducing air pollution, but personally I’d just ban cars from some areas outright, rather than allowing them to enter congested streets and slowly giving drivers ulcers.

During the Olympics, private vehicles will be banned from neighbourhoods where sports events are happening (ie. virtually everywhere). So if you come here for the Games and intend to take a taxi, I’d recommend bringing a sleeping bag because you’ll be bedding down in traffic.

We’ve also been warned that public transport is going to get ever-so-slightly crowded. There will be 600,000 more passengers a day than usual. That’s about ten per cent extra. Though given the impossibility of getting around by car, there will also be more Parisians than usual in the Métro and on the buses. The city’s advice is: allow plenty of time to get where you have to go. My own advice: lose ten per cent of your body mass, buy an oxygen mask and learn meditation. The mantra I find most consoling during a Parisian transport crush is ‘merde, merde, merde‘.

This is all sounding very negative, I know, but then I’m a Parisian. Negativism is what we do. Almost all of us are predicting the worst and vowing to leave the city during the Games.

In pole position

However, a lot of that attitude is bluster, because I’m sure plenty of us will be crowding along the banks of the Seine on July 26, curious to witness the first-ever Olympic opening ceremony to be held outside a stadium, on a river. And we’re also impatient to see the triathlon swimmers dive into the river for their 1.5km swim in that suspiciously brown water. We’re all wondering, ‘how long before the typhoid symptoms appear?”. No, no, sorry – I’m getting negative again. So here’s a positive thought: I predict that French athletes will win a record number of medals. Why? Well, the French, and especially the Parisians, are experts at pushing to the front of any queue, and they’ll be on home territory, so shoving their way into gold-medal position will come naturally. Start betting now.

Stephen Clarke’s latest novel is Merde at the Paris Olympics, a comedy that takes a wry look at the city’s preparations for the 2024 Games.

From France Today Magazine

Lead photo credit : © Shutterstock

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