A+ A A-

No sooner had we poured ourselves some wine and ordered lunch at a  neighborhood cafe when the waiter plopped a bottle of ketchup on the table.  Twenty years ago this gesture would have been a ‘put-down’ reserved for American tourists.  Today ketchup arrives with everyones order of pommes frites.

Paris has been under siege by America’s popular culture for some time now.  There is Euro Disney, and McDos, as McDonalds outlets are called here, continue to pop up all over France.  Now Starbucks has begun setting up shops with abandon.  It feels like a replay of their expansion in the States a decade ago.. When it comes to soft drinks, the French prefer Coke served in its iconic glass bottle.  Next thing you know the French will start adoping our holidays.  Surprise!  Dressing up for Halloween has been popular here for more than a decade.


The French express their feeling of superiority to American culture with thinly disguised humor.  On the rue de Clichy a bright and lively McDonalds outlet has the porno movie theatre CINE X as its next-door neighbor.  Notice in this photo to the left how the bare breasts of the scantily-clad woman on the theatre marqee line up perfectly with the McDo logo. That’s how the ‘French exception’ works.  The French do accept new ideas, but on their own terms.

Recently Starbucks opened a coffee shop on the Place Blanche,  the collecting point for white gypsum rock mined from the butte of Montmartrethe in the 19th century.  Gypsum powder mixed with water was troweled on the walls of buildings all over this city.  You may have used it yourself.  It's Plaster of Paris.

I thought about the past as I drank my coffee at an outside table that faced the La Moulin Rouge.  Seeing this dance hall always conjures up images of the painted faces and the double-jointed antics of  Montmontrois (the locals) painted by Toulouse-Lautrec a century ago.   Where was my glass of absinthe? 

We tried one of Starbucks baguettes with our coffee.  It looked like every other sandwich sold along the rue de Clichy but was totally tasteless.  The presence of American fast food may be growing in Montmartre, but it’s still just garnish on a richly layered plate of Paris culture.