Thursday, March 12, 2009

Merde! and Nimby-ism

Life is messy. It's full of chaos, complexities, contradictions, chewing gum on your ass, and dog shit on your shoes. There's nowhere in the world, where this is better illustrated than France.

There are three glaring contradictions about France: 1) a lot of French people have dogs, 2) French people are obsessed with cleanliness and order but won't clean up their dog's shit, and 3) at least on paper the French put emphasis on doing what's good for "the collective".

When I first visited France many years ago, it was nearly impossible to walk down the sidewalk and not step in dog shit. Apparently, the sheer volume and overall inconvenience began to affect the tourist industry enough that soon after Paris invested a small fortune in giant vacuum cleaners (with smiling cartoon dogs on the sides) that roll down the streets and boulevards sucking up the canine droppings. The next time I was in Paris, while far from pristine, there was indeed a noticeable difference in the amount of dog shit covering the streets and sidewalks.

However, that's Paris and I've learned that when someone is making a grand generalization about France, if you follow it up with "if by France you mean Paris", more often than not you would be correct. The rest of the country's sidewalks, for the most part, are still layered in dog shit.

And, I'll go a step further to clarify that even in Paris, once you step off the well worn pedestrian paths, there is a veritable mine field of fresh and dried dog shit in the playgrounds, parks, and along the rivers. If the giant shit vacuum can't reach it, it either decomposes or ends up on someones tread.

Coming from the SF Bay Area where not cleaning up after your dog in any public space could result in a $250 fine and a whole lot of hassle, it is ingrained in us to scoop the poop. We don't leave the house with Ti without being equipped with her leash and two sturdy (ideally biodegradable) bags. She does her business and we dutifully do ours - putting the bag on like a glove and scooping up the steamy pile, closing the bag and looking for the nearest trash can.

In the entire time I've been in France (a little over three months), I have been out with Ti at least twice/day and during that time have seen exactly two people clean up after their dogs. Let me add that even in the public green spaces in and around Paris that have been equipped with 1) signage encouraging people to scoop, 2) plenty of bags, and 3) conveniently located trash cans, people blatantly and un-apologetically stand there and watch their dogs shit and then move on. They don't even do the guilt-ridden-stealth-glance-over-the-shoulder move to see if anyone caught them. They literally give a shit and don't give a shit.

This is frustrating and reinforces so many stereotypes I don't even know where to begin.

And, if evidenced by what the state smoking ban has done to lower the number of smokers in this country, I would assume that until there is a legal mandate, no one is going to willingly change their behavior with regard to this particular issue.

Now, I can let go of my righteous indignation about it all, chalk it up as merely a silly Frenchism, watch my step and move on, until and unless this particular cultural difference gets real personal, like it just did...

The context: Until we sign our new apartment lease next week, we're currently living in a borrowed flat in a fairly nice suburb of Paris. The apartment is in a typical modern condo complex. The average age of the condo owners is probably 55. The apartment is on the fourth floor so every time Ti has to go out, we schlep up and down four flights. There are other dogs in the complex. For Ti's daily walks, we make sure to go outside of the complex, along the river, or to a public green space.

Last week Ti was sick; diarrhea, vomiting, excessive panting, lethargy, etc. After one particularly difficult and sleepless night, we decided to take her to the vet the next morning.

The vet's diagnosis was that Ti had worms and parasites. Really? What from? She had ingested too much particulate matter from other dogs' feces. Dog's familiarize themselves with their surroundings with their noses. Sometimes that means sticking their noses in gross places. Since those gross places exist EVERYWHERE it is nearly impossible to avoid. The vet went on to acknowledge that it's a well-known fact that in the US people clean up after their dogs, "but (chuckling) that doesn't happen here." No shit.

For the last week, my awesome Mexi-Cali girl has been loaded up on antibiotics and supplements. She's getting better; her energy level is improving.

This morning, on our way out, we found a note taped to the door. It was from the building manager reminding us that it is not appropriate to allow our dog to relieve herself on the complex property, in the grass, or near the flowers "for the health and well-being of the collective." It's true that a few times, when she was sick, she had urgent needs that had to be taken care of before we could get off the grounds, but we immediately cleaned up the evidence so as not to inconvenience anyone. Apparently, someone saw and for the sake of the "collective" turned us in.

I found this both absurd and amusing. The dog owners in the complex do not let their dogs relieve themselves on the property, but take them to the nearest public green space (which is equipped with bags and trash cans), let them shit anywhere they want and don't clean it up, resulting in my dog getting sick, having a few bad nights, and us getting the hand slap suggesting we're not doing our part for the collective?

Brilliant irony, you fucking self-righteous misanthropes.

NIMBY-ism is alive and well here in France and this whole socialism facade is crumbling as my rose colored sunglasses fall off my face into a steaming pile of French dog shit.

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