|with thanks to Biscarotte’s Flickr photostream (adapted)|
In Kuwait, Mohammed and Abdullah look out of the window and, if it’s a nice day, say to one another “I know. Today we will have a sale”. So, they break out the orange stickers and drop the prices by 20%. The French have a rather different, more revolutionary approach. On the day after midsummer, the ‘soldes’ begin – a principle enshrined in the immutability of the law – Medes and Persians meet on Boulevard Haussmann. The result is, of course, chaos. The metro overflows with dentists’ wives from Lille clutching huge Galeries Lafayette bags, having clawed, spat and punched their way to the front to grab the Lancel handbag whose price has plummeted from its original, eye-watering eight hundred euros. Even the silk Dolce & Gabbana underwear is reduced. You get the idea.
I am one of the few men I know who quite enjoys a little amble around the temples of retail Mammon. This is not girly. Should anyone wish to debate this with me, I should be more than happy to have a full and frank exchange of views on the matter. Outside. I realised however that I was physiologically ill-equipped for survival in the environment of the Paris sales, not having hips the size of Hampshire and bosoms the size of Bournemouth which could be used as battering rams. As it happens, the above is not strictly true – French women are obsessed with their size so it’s more like being battered to death by sapphire-clad claws while running through a densely populated forest of bamboo. It’s the only place in the world where it’s cool to be anorexic. Gipsy calls herself a really cheap date; “don’t worry, darling, they don’t carry my size”. I therefore waited until evening, drove to Versailles – there’s a mall with all the big names (so chic) – and being almost dinner time it was quiet (the French let nothing interfere with gastronomic delight), and collected a few things I liked from Zegna, Ralph Lauren and Hermes. A kindly friend bought me dinner afterwards in a rustic little place in the centre of town. I ordered calves’ liver. My dining companion was asked if I would like it well-cooked, being ‘un Anglais’ thus unable to speak the language and as subtle as a brick when it comes to culinary niceties. I glowered at the waiter as if he had just grabbed the last Ralph Lauren jacket on the rail and invited him outside.