Another World

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An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics” –- Plutarch

Champs Élysées from The Arc de Triomphe

Champs Élysées from The Arc de Triomphe

Paris, the Champs-Élysées, on a chilly afternoon, about a month ago. We were walking down the broad avenue when we suddenly found ourself drifting to avenue Montaigne.

We had walked all the way from the upper part which extend to the Arc de Triomphe. We had passed a parade of chain-stores (mostly fast foods and sport shops), we had noticed the Iran Air office and almost withdrew money at the National Bank of Pakistan, we had had a taste of luxury looking at the Mont Blanc and Louis Vuitton stores. No small businesses here: you have to able to afford up to €10,000/sq meter a month.

Further down, the shops had disappeared and the street had turned into a tree-lined boulevard, flanked by gardens, theaters and museums. Still as broad but not as busy. We headed towards Avenue Montaigne, which branches off the Champs-Elysées at the Rond-Point and runs to the banks of the Seine.

The further we walked from the Arc de Triomphe, the fewer pedestrian there were — a nice change from the upper Champs-Élysées where tourists were gathering in front of each flagship stores, barely noticing they had the same at home. Dear globalization — you won.

Avenue Montaigne seemed to be designed for window-shopping with its wide sidewalks. Although there were very little traffic, not a single parking spot was left and most cars were nicely parked parallel to the sidewalks. Most of them from Monaco and Luxembourg, according to the license plates. We walked a few meters, past the Canadian embassy, to the iconic Plaza-Athénée.

The hotel was busy. Black tinted-windows Mercedes were stopping directly on the sidewalk. There seemed to be a constant stream of thin blond women with oversize glasses, presumably to 1) look mysterious 2) hide wrinkles or latest Botox injection. Same clothes as Britney Spears but a good thirty years older. Women who didn’t look like disturbed pop stars had the Parisian chic uniform: trench coat, skinny pants tucked into shiny high-heels boots, long hair, shades (wrinkles as well) and a tote bag. The clothes said “I’m rich” while the bag presumably meant “I often go to the food market and I’m accessible“. It could have contradicted checking in a €1,000/ night hotel. Nevermind. Maybe they do shop at the market to be able to afford the extravaganza. Men didn’t have anything special but for two bulges in their tuxedo pockets: cell phone and oversize wallet.

And more rich people were getting off of rich cars, abandoning them to the valet on the sidewalk, making their way through revolving door. Not a word was spoken, these people were natural. I guess unlike us when we look for an hotel, they didn’t need to ask if there were some rooms available or if hot water for the shower was included in the price.

We kept on walking and passed numerous high fashion stores: Chanel, Valentino, Christian Dior, Max Mara, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Céline, Hermès, you name it. Highly respected designers seemed to favor the street… but they also favored discretion and elitism. Each shop’s windows was clearly visible and well-set with a few items on display, but the main entrance, a tinted sliding door, was blocked by two bouncers. Two huge Cerberus, one on each side of the door, talkie-walkie in hands even though they were only a few meters apart. No every one can come in, not every one can afford it. Got it.

I still managed to get close to one of the window, Dior I believe. Prices were astronomical. I’m talking about €2,000 for a handbag, €3,000 for shoes (a pair, though), €5,000 for pants etc. etc. I was turning my back to walk away when a couple walked by my side, toward the entrance of the shop. The two bouncers nodded and the door slided open. I caught a glimpse of the inside of the shop. It was full of people inside. Sure enough, a few seconds later, two women exited Dior, and walked by me, holding a bag full of their purchases.

I suddenly felt very out-of-place. Who were these people? Why them? Were they the elected ones? On which planet were they living? It wasn’t fashion week and we were in the middle of the week on a cold April day. It wasn’t for a special event. This was a normal day in Paris’ posh district. I kept thinking that the average monthly salary in France is €1,800. Considering the very high cost of housing, the ever increasing cost of food and utilities and an unemployment rate French aren’t exactly proud of, I was literally in an other world. A world that I knew existed but, naive as I am, had never really seen that close.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

16 Comments

  1. “Chanel, Valentino, Christian Dior, Max Mara, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Céline …”
    I own the last 😉

    I like the way you have written this travel tale Zhu, with the right amount of humor to go with your experiences. Excellent. 🙂

    Celines last great read…Widow

  2. Hi Zhu,
    Yes, anyone would feel like they are on another planet.Those were some interesting observations on this curious world of the rich and famous ! Yeah, that’s not my world neither.
    It’s been ages since I’ve last to Avenue Montaigne; I very rarely do the Champs-Elysées, either. I can’t stay too long in these type of quarters.

    Get me back to the burbs where I can at least spend pocket money !

    barbaras last great read…Up above the Paris rooftops

  3. I. Wonder. This. Exact. Same. Thing.

    Who are these people and why are they shopping mid-day, mid-week…in Dior!?

    Colleens last great read…What Does it Mean to be French?

  4. Of course, the price included both shoes.
    It’s silly to think otherwise. Most people
    have differently sized feet, so it’s
    silly not to sell individual shoes for a
    better fit, but c’est la vie. Don’t get
    me started on bra sizes.
    Not far from the Arch d’triomphe, in a
    bush next to an outdoor cafe, I saw a
    discarded drug needle. It reminded me
    one is never far from danger.
    Perhaps a large bag affords some measure
    of protection, a barrier/shield to hide
    behind, something solid to hold, which
    is something a dime bag is unable to do.

  5. Sad to say, but what you described is true, not only in Paris, but in other cities as well. Same thing in Manila. In the Makati business district, the skylines are bright, the people are beaming, and women tote their bags exiting the posh shopping districts. However, not a few kilometers away are the slum areas full of hungry men, women, and children.

    They say that ten percent of the world’s population control ninety percent of the wealth the world has. Such an inverse pyramid, eh?

    Linguist-in-Waitings last great read…Independent Travel 101: Cheap Tickets

  6. Lots of happenings and great observation Zhu..indeed prices is insane for these branded goods and people just flock there, I don’t understand at all.

  7. Ah great description of your Parisian tale! So lively till I could imagine I was walking down the streets there!

    *rolls eyes at the prices*

    Those tags could afford my expenses for at least half a year!

  8. Did I ever tell u about that student of mine whom I found in extreme misery one day, only to discover that that was because his parents bought him the new Nissan Micra for his birthday – whereas he said he was “led to believe” he would get a Beemer (3 series – for those that know ;))

    At the time, I was working 2 other jobs – besides the tutorials.

  9. I’m not impressed by people who buy luxuries. What I’d like to know is if they actually “live”. Most of them fear actual life “getting older, wrinkles, decreasing health and death”. Leave them on their cold planets 🙂

    Froggywoogies last great read…OFFNET

  10. @Celine – Thanks! I have a few Calvin Klein tee-shirts, that’s about it! 😆

    @barbara – I’m not a huge fan is the district myself either. It’s not like I can afford anything… yet it was interesting to see and strangely disturbing at the same time.

    @Colleen – Maybe we should ask them? 😉

    @Seraphine – I’m sure they sell shoes in pair, just being ironic… you never know in these stores!

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – 90% vs 10%… just that makes me cringe. I know you can see these kind of inequalities in other countries as well, I know for Brazil, most of Asia etc. But I’m French and I can relate over there… not to the rich though. It was just weird.

    @shionge – This must have been inherited wealth, definitely.

    @kyh – Betcha! And I could never ever afford anything in this street, even if I stopped living for a year…

    @Saskboy – Yep, same kind of thing. How do these people become so disconnected from real life… I don’t know.

    @itelli – Oh poor student! :whatever:

    @Trotter – Yep, and seeing that in France was a bit disturbing for me.

    @Froggywoogie – I know, but considering the economic crisis etc. right now… it’s like when we were on top of the Arc de Triomphe and I noticed the penthouses around… not sure how much they cost but…

  11. I love this post. I often think much the same but not in such complex beautiful wording. :happy: It’s a sad reality that 1% of the population makes the world tick, go about life without any troubles, thoughts or work habits. It’s sad and it will go on because corruption will always exist.

    How great you went back to Paris! :tongue: Makes me happy to know… 🙂

    expatravelers last great read…North Vancouver – Photo Hunt

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