A couple of years ago I read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and didn’t eat in a fast food joint for nine months. I was probably suffering from the mother of all hangovers on the day all my ideals melted and obviously I have eaten in these establishments since; but I’ve always hated those places. Before it was just a gut feeling, whereas Schlosser framed it in a way that made me understand why I hated those places.
I grew up in a part of London that was owned by the church. I don’t know which church, or why, but what it meant was that there weren’t any pubs. The HSBC Bank on the corner was meant to be a pub until this ridiculous bylaw was discovered; so although we lived in a tiny little bit of London that didn’t really deserve its own tube stop we had four banks on the high street but not a single pub.
One summer, when I was home from university a man came and knocked on the door doing some market research about opening up a Weatherspoons on the corner. I was ecstatic; finally there would be a ‘real’ pub here instead of that dreadfully tacky Mandy’s wine bar. My Mum was not so chuffed when she got home and I relayed the news. ‘Drunk people in our street!’ Like me or my brother had never been drunk in the street? We wouldn’t have so far to reel home now, she should be pleased and front gardens all over the neighbourhood were safer (that was my brother not me). Well anyway, the Weatherspoons opened here, it opened there, it opened every bloody where and one day I sat in one of them in xville looking at the identical menu with a feeling of dismay. I sighed: ‘this is just like the McDonald’s of pubs, they are all the bloody same.’ I was missing the King’s Head where the manager used to rib me about my awful choice of boyfriends and the loose table top was glued on with chewing gum and the toilets were outside in sheds.
Soon after I left England and when I returned the rash of Starbuck’s, Costa Coffee etc. had spread over London like the plague and coffee was no longer coffee. Instinctively I hated them, I knew these coffee establishments were going to take over England and there was something hateful and insipid about them (and I don’t mean the coffee). Stupidly though I felt smug over here in mainland Europe; here we had proper coffee in little coffee cups that made your hair stand on end and your face contort into a Popeye impression. And we drank coffee for proper reasons: to finish off a good meal, while waiting for friends, to while away a Sunday afternoon, or just because it was time. When I got to France I also discovered that there were just as many different types of coffee as Starbucks: espresso, café crème, grand crème, noisette, allonge. And there are traditions too, you get a freebie glass of water with a coffee and coffee after dinner or lunch is just scrumptious.
But the Starbucks contagion continued to spread and reached Paris. Jose Bove was busy stopping GM food or was perhaps banged up in prison so he couldn’t stop it coming to Opera, and then one day I saw one in Montparnasse. Having finally discovered the wonders of Toastissimo, that was taken over by a Starbucks and now they are just everywhere.
And now this whole franchise crap is spreading into other domains. When I arrived in Paris six years ago, you found your apartments by phoning the small ads in Particulier a Particulier (owners rent directly to you) and you queued up with the other fifty million possible tenants with your dossier clutched in your clammy little hand just like everyone else and you got depressed just like everyone else. I’m on an e mail alert with PAP as it is fondly known and I’m getting NOTHING. So I decided to have a wee look with the agencies (who I also hate because what exactly do they do for their money). Anyway one kept coming up: ANCEA. Yep, I’m outing you ANCEA. They are not an agency, no they are kind of like Particulier a Particulier, but unlike PAP, instead of you phoning the owner up and making an appointment and the owner having to answer the phone countless times and make appointments, ANCEA does all that for you. Isn’t that nice of them? Yeah, and they charge you 220€ for the privilege. But they are not an agency, they won’t charge you again. But you already have you bastards, because you are flooding the market with your ads for places that I can’t see unless I pay you to see them and you are wasting my time. And come August 16th if I still haven’t found a flat I will probably be sucked into your organisation like a fly in a web because you will have killed the market, just like Weatherspoons killed pubs and Starbucks killed coffee.