The black coffee gaffe

France might famously not keep race statistics, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t keep the odd casually racist expression.

Take where you buy wine, beers and groceries late at night – yep, at the Arabe.

What’s the accepted way to ask why someone from West Africa is at your well-to-do wedding? “C’est qui le Black?” [Spoiler: it was the DJ].

And what do you call it when someone leaves your night out without saying goodbye?

That’s a file a l’anglaise (“English exit”) – though to be fair, this is just as commonly known as a French exit in anglophone countries, or even an Irish exit by some Americans.

Based on my form on Friday, it’s fair to say my cultural integration is coming along better than expected.

The venue was Coutume Café, a chic Australian-Franco café in the 7th, but worth the schlepp for the great coffee it serves.

Coutume was hosting a launch of a new coffee-flavoured beer collaboration with some local brewers; think Khalua, without the stigma or (as much of a) hangover.

There on invitation of the owner, I soon meet Catherine, a lovely French woman, newly back from holidays in Southeast Asia.

Sparkling in wit, she was also striking in tan.

Thinking back to my own time spent in Cambodia, I spied an opportunity to make conversation.

“Let me guess, it’s the anti-malarial tablets that did it,” I ventured, in what was literally a malarial opening gambit.


I realised she hadn’t understood what was to me an obvious comment, so elaborated: “It’s the doxycycline antibiotics, isn’t it?”

Unsure of the path I was now on, I continued: “When I *ahem* lived, in Cambodia, I also took those pills against malaria.” Then as an addendum I added in French, “paludisme”, to underline the point.

By now I was feeling like someone who’d lived in Italy for 10 years and yet would still struggle to order a gelato.

She nodded uh-huh. “Oh? No, well we didn’t take anti malaria pills.”

Ignoring the warning signs, I forged fearlessly ahead. “Well, you see, the doxy pills make you really sensitive to the sun. So when I took them, like you I tanned really deeply and unnaturally, despite my pale skin, and well, seeing you there, I …”

With a smile she realised what I was talking about! At last!

Or, I thought she had until she replied, “My tan? Oh, it’s always like this,” adding her own addendum, “My dad is black.”


Souffle restaurant: you just got served

Before Paul Keating’s deathless riposte that sealed Andrew Peacock’s fate, soufflé was actually better known – in Australia – as a food that French people routinely eat.

What trip to Paris would be replete without visiting the restaurant named for that time when Australia’s less competent politicians got served?

Le Souffle, the restaurant, delivers exactly what it promises, and by black and white suited waiters no less.

There’s an a la carte option, but also a menu, comprising – you guessed it – soufflé for entre, main, and if you’re game, dessert. There’s also a green salad, of which the less said the better (after all, you don’t win friends – or readers – with salad).

And if by dessert the prospect of yet one more bowl of flavoured hot eggy air has you gagging a bit in your mouth, there is also crème brule and some other French dessert staples to choose from.

Souffle is one of those things in France that fits squarely – or perhaps roundly, given its famous serving dish – into one of those things that foreigners associate with France, along with berets, Breton tops, and, increasingly, horrible taxi drivers.

But many French couldn’t tell you the last time they ate a soufflé, let alone one made from “tomato and basil”, “goat cheese and tapenade” or spinach (and these were just the entrees).

No-one I’ve met in 8 years in France has ever actually made, or even eaten, a soufflé; but being full of hot air, impossibly hard to handle, and easily deflated, it’s a dish that for foreigners “just sums up so much about the French”.

Why oh why do French love Heartbreak High?

The last time I saw Alex Dimitriades’ name it was mentioned just before “and Kylie Minogue’s former publicist” in a write-up of who was who at The Iceberg’s NYE party washup 2015. Ouch.

But if Alex’s star may have waned (or wanked, perhaps, given the Icebergs crowd) in Australia – the show that made him big – Heartbreak High, is still popular in France.

Just what was going on in France in the 1994 to allow for Heartbreak High – or “Hartley coeur a vif” – to strike the same kind of chord that Canada’s Degrassi Junior High did for a generation of Australians?

A family holiday to Paris around that time revealed a country still in the thrawl of mutton wool-lined denim jackets, and where Euro Disney was only starting to feel passe.

In Australia, Heartbreak High bravely sought to depict the multicultural reality of inner-city state schools in Sydney and Melbourne.

I say ‘bravely’, because, let’s face it: Neighbours and Home and Away were vastly more popular and the only gesture they made towards inclusion was using occasional actors with red hair – and Bobby famously got killed in THAT boat accident.

(Times have now changed, and it’s possible to see “Australians of Asian extraction” on these two popular soaps, providing they speak with propa-Aussie-accents™.)

So, was it a yearning to learn what multiculturalism and integration means in other countries that made ‘Hartley’ so popular?

Probably not.

20 years later and ethnicities in Paris are as marginalised as ever. Inner-city workplaces remain white dominated, while black and Arab populations toil in the hospitality and service-related jobs.

With any number (literally any – France keeps scant race statistics these days, having learnt its lesson post 1945, albeit probably the wrong one) living outside the Paris city limits, the word “ethnicity” itself seems more and more an oxymoron.

Luckily there’s a more simple explanation, which any girl around the age of 30 will tell you immediately.

And no, it’s nothing to do with Alex Dimitriades, but rather his erstwhile friend, played by Callan Mulvey.

“Hartley coeur a vif? I loved that show. Drazic WAS HOT!”

Easter revenge on a dickhead ex-housemate

Aftermath from a Rue du Temple party

Easter Sunday, 2011

Electronic music was playing. Once the marijuana smoke partially dissipated through the living room door I had just pushed open, I was confronted with a site that was unusual even by our house’s standards.

Dickhead and his two mates were sitting straight-backed and side-by-side all on the uncomfortable couch-bed, as if it were the back seat of the school bus.

They were passing a substantial joint between them, and picking at the remains of last night’s cocktail chips.

Spanning the length of the wall opposite was the grainy but clearly recognisable projection of a naked woman. She was repeatedly inserting a gold burnished dildo into the vagina of her friend.

I said hello and excused myself to go work in my room at the other end of the corridor. Opening my laptop, I adjusted the curtain to block the afternoon sun streaming in my window on the third storey of my Rue du Temple flatshare in the Marais.

It was 5pm on Easter Sunday.

Easter Thursday 2015

There’re plenty of dickheads in Paris, but there are very few I’ve ever seriously contemplated sending an envelope full of sheep testicles out of sheer anger.

And yet, my ex-housemate was that guy. After booting me out of the share house, then shagging my ex for good measure, I was left seething with rage for about, well, ever since really.

Or so I thought.

On Thursday I was in Chez Prune, one of those popular French bars that has absolutely zero pros except an amazing location (I’m looking at you too, Progres). The reason I was there, and who I was with will be subject of a future blog.

With Easter in the air – Jesus died for our long weekend! – I was reminiscing about Easter Sunday as experienced in a sharehouse living with a Grade-A twat.

Spurred on by a few beers and a sense of occasion, I started to describe the housemate in minute detail: minute, because he was short.

No sooner spoke I the words “and then this short, fat twat had sex with my ex…”, that a sixth sense caused me to look to my right, where sitting three metres away was the housemate. First time I’d seen him in three years.

He was blushing red, though being colour blind, was probably unaware of it.

He waved.

My anger dissipated, what else was there to do. Raising my arms….I waved back, and continued on with the story, louder than ever.

“So that short, fat twat there…”

Dickhead’s love letter goes balls up the wall

wall graf 2

Seeing some street artists working on a giant commissioned mural near my house, I asked whether they could include a message to a girl I was keen on.

By chance, they were including many phrases related to the theme of love and light, so they were happy to accommodate me.

Despite relations breaking down in the interim with the girl, I persisted with the folly, and over the space of two days, formulated a succinct, witty phrase, highly personalised, that I thought captured her essence.

The phrase said “ephemeral street art, an eternal sweetheart”, which in hindsight might not have been my best gambit.

Partly for the following reason: perhaps due to a language breakdown, and despite only being six words long, half the sentence got left off the wall. If it wasn’t romantic in the first place, it certainly wasn’t comprehensible in the second.

Probably for the better, a thick red line masks half of the person it is dedicated to.

Since it purely by coincidence marks the spot I’d unsuccessfully lunged at her two weeks earlier, I think it’s best if I pick different locations for my romantic gestures.

Or just different girls.

Love writ large

Just begging to look like a dickhead

What you looking at dickhead?
What you looking at dickhead?

Visitors to Paris may be struck by the visible numbers of homeless – or SDF as they are known – on the streets.

At last count there were 28,800 homeless in Paris, a number that’s increased 84% in 10 years.

It’s not uncommon to be solicited for coins several times a day. Rightly or wrongly, I don’t think I’m alone in trying to ignore the majority of these requests, usually with one of the following strategies:

  1. Saying I don’t have any money/cigarettes on me (and let’s be honest, if bankcards were accepted, I still probably wouldn’t make direct payments)
  2. Ignoring them, justifying that I already contribute to the advanced social safety net through hefty tax, thanks to which I’m only marginally better off than the homeless person (and cheers to glib irrationality here)
  3. Running away, feigning obliviousness

    It was this third strategy I used two Saturdays ago when walking between bars across the Place de Republique, Paris’ grandiose monument to solidarity (one of those lofty values France aspires to at least – if not exclusively – in writing.)

    “Monsieur, monsieur…” Ah yes, heard this one before. Best to pretend I can’t hear it.

    From the corner of my eye I saw a figure, about 4 metres to my left, sitting by the road. 
    He seemed to be calling for my attention in particular.

    A dab hand at being a dick, I continued my course of ignoring him. 
    Only when several other onlookers started calling out “Monsieur, monsieur!” (their exclamation marks, not mine), did I start to start to hesitate.

    I caved, and stopped. Turning around I saw about five women looking at my disapprovingly. Come off it, why me?

    Following their stares, I realised that while the guy calling out for my help might well in other circumstances have asked me for money, his more pressing need at the moment was for assistance having his wheelchair onto the bus.

    Ah! But of course I can help, sorry, didn’t realise you needed my assistance there, what with only five other pedestrians trying to get my attention for you.

    Embarrassing yes, but not my most shameful experience related to helping (or not helping) a homeless person on a bus. No, that title goes to the Madagascar 8 years ago.

    I was settling in to my seat on a local bus waiting to depart for a long ride from south to north, when a homeless man came to the door asking for change.

    I figured it was just as well I give him the money in my pocket that would otherwise soon tumble onto the floor or roll into the seat crack.

    Triumphantly I removed a handful of coins, about 15 of varying sizes I’d say, and went to hand them over.

    I say “hand”, because I soon realised the man didn’t have any. Instead he offered me two palms with entirely zero fingers.

    A little taken aback, I did what I thought was the only logical action, neatly stacking the $1.05 of coins in a pyramid, largest to smallest.

    No need to say what happened next, but there’s a particular sound of flesh scraping to collect coins from bitumen that will stay with me a while longer yet.

    As for what everyone else did? They chose a wiser path: depositing their contributions in the man’s open bumbag, apparently worn for that express purpose.

Generating buzz for new hostel piss-up

Photo: Generator Paris

It was a ground zero for dickheads. The opening night for a chic new hostel at the base of Buttes Chaumont. A backpackers for the almost-made-its, where the journey to success could now be that little bit more comfortable – as long as success meant a weekend in Paris in the recently remembered deep 10th.

Generator is its name, a 900-bed behemoth, with everything from 10-bed dorms to two-bed rooms, roof terrace, Moroccan stylings; the ultimate filing cabinet approach to bed space, perfect for former backpacker-types whose expectations of success perhaps exceeded their salaries (but watch this space!).

It was one day before its doors would open, and the PR list had been carefully cultivated: designer, geek, techie, trendy, or owner of horn-rimmed glasses and a five-panel cap. If any of these applied, you were as assured of an invite as of receiving this year’s census.

But a glitch in the system had allowed +1s (read: zeroes) to tag along. Thus my trusty Billy (effectively a +1’s+1, or shall we say, a 2?), and I found our way in.

Billy was already three sheets to the wind by this stage, and I get the feeling many more had he found the linen closet.

It was fancy, I won’t lie. Fun in fact: terribly so. Not just free champagne, but free bottles of champagne. Great music, an enormous sprawling dance floor in the basement, and rooms offered to those who couldn’t face leaving the 10th   – and I know that feeling.

At 3am I managed to escape – both the clutches of Billy and the hotel –  and wandered home, conveniently down the road.

(I say convenient because it has happened that when friends have visited for the weekend they have been left locked out and in need of emergency cheap local digs.)

The next morning, a message from Billy, on Facebook.

“Have you seen my phone?”

“No. Why not return to the hotel and see if they have it?”

It was well into the afternoon when I heard from Billy, again over Facebook.

“No phone then?”

“Oh man. I’m so embarrassed”

Relax, I told him, forgetting shit when you’re drunk, it happens.

“It’s not the phone that’s the problem,” he replied. “But when I asked the bouncer about the lost phone, he said I should be more concerned about forgetting the fact I’d peed all over the lobby before leaving.”

The lesson: when it comes to piss-ups for chic hostel openings, it pays not to invite degenerates.