The month was June, and despite the distinctly average weather, scores of people watchers crowded the al fresco seating, sipping coffee or wine. I was in Montparnasse, the 14th arrondissement of Paris known for its intellectual and artsy inhabitants. Chairs and the people occupying them did not face one another, rather they all looked onto the street, making no attempt to hide the fact that they were watching and evaluating each and every passer-by.
The View Down Boulevard de Montparnasse, from my hotel
Despite the ludicrous prices (4 euro coffees and 8 euro beers), I did partake in this element of Parisian life, which I feel is as much a part of their culture as pub-drinking is in the UK, and found it an entertaining way to pass a few hours. This people-watching culture may go some way to explaining why Parisians are all so sartorially elegant, a sub-conscious reaction to the ever present leering.
It’s not only the people who are beautiful, though. Every corner you turn in Paris reveals another stunning medieval church, a neo-classical Haussman boulevard or grand palace. The sheer scale and beauty of the Louvre, at the heart of the city, and Versailles, a 20 minute train ride into the suburbs, defy belief. Complementing these colossal constructions are some of the smaller, market-stall saturated neighborhoods, teeming with street artists and adoring tourists. Undoubtedly my favourite area of the entire city was Montmartre, a steep hill topped by a simple but beautiful Cathedral; throngs of performers, locals and tourists fill the streets, their chatter partially drowning out the music that emerged from the numerous piano bars and jazz joints: a special, special place.
Paris may be known for its beauty, but in my mind it is rapidly losing what little appeal it held for business. As a business student constantly alert to changes in scene, I was shocked at some of the conditions in which businesses operate in Paris. Paris is one of the world’s largest and most influential metropolises, yet they seem to me to have an attitude to business one may find in a sleepy coastal town. The hundreds of small boulangeries and patisseries may feel friendlier than supermarkets, but their small scope means they are inefficient; more frustratingly, most shops are completely closed on Mondays. I asked a French friend why this was the case, and he told me that shops need to be open on Sundays in order to maximize the weekend’s trade, but then close on Monday “because when else do they get to have a vacation?”
It is symbolic of the French attitude towards business that the population of Paris decried the construction of a business skyscraper in the city centre. Tour Montparnasse was heavily criticized upon completion in 1973, prompting the French government to place a ban on the construction of further skyscrapers in the city centre. Today, Paris’s main business districts seem like pariahs in their hometown, occupying unattractive locations away from the general public’s eyes.
Recent news to emerge from France offers insights into the tensions companies looking to operate in Paris have to deal with: namely, a heavy dose of socialism. Left-Wing President François Hollande was elected on a socialist mandate to penalize businesses and entrepreneurs in an effort to address France’s fiscal problems, and on October 19th the French national assembly ratified Mr. Hollande’s proposals for a 75% income tax on incomes greater than 1 million euros ($1.3 million). Furthermore, France has long been known for its overly generous welfare programs, and the violent protests the government faces every time proposals are made to address the issue, most recently protesting changes in the retirement age in 2010. The problem doesn’t look like it will improve anytime soon either. An article published in the Economist this October looked at the effects of school textbooks shaping a society’s culture, and they gave a damning verdict on the state of French Economics books. “A new study of 400 pages of high-school economics textbooks, by the institute of Economic and Fiscal Research, reveals that only a dozen are devoted to companies, and none to entrepreneurs,” the article states. The author concludes that, “For years the French seemed quite blasé about economics textbooks that were filled with unreconstructed Marxism.”
Paris is known as The City of Lights for both it’s beauty and the intellectual capital the city once laid claim too. The beauty still exists, but by refusing to foster an exciting business environment, Paris is showing they are not as wise as they once were.
Next stop: Amsterdam!
Until next time,
The above article is part of a series of articles to be written regarding my Eurotrip adventures in the Summer of 2012. Throughout the trip I attempted to gauge each city’s strengths and opportunities in relation to Business. I only managed to spend a short amount of time in each place, but hopefully I am able to provide hitherto unknown insights for you!!