Musings from the French Riviera
by Jan Baughman

I spent last week on the Cote d'Azur. It was a business trip, mind you, with record-breaking rainfall, so don't jump to any conclusions. Nonetheless, I don't think there would be any circumstances under which one would not enjoy this setting.

I was about as far from my roots as I can imagine, the only commonality being the proximity to the ocean. Antibes, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo -- such elegance lined by a stunning coast. We Americans certainly would have ruined it. And, by the way, we did manage to leave our mark. The second only commonality I confronted was the omnipresent MacDonald's, one of which was firmly planted on the shore just west of Nice. It was, architecturally speaking, rather discreet for a MacDonald's; but I must point out that there are very few buildings on the beaches of the Cote d'Azur and this was prime real estate. I also noticed a line outside the "restaurant" and there was not a tourist in sight....

Some news from France: they now have one car for every two citizens.

European chocolate makers gained approval to use up to 5% vegetable fats in their heretofore protected as pure and hence delicious products. My limited French prevented me from learning just who approved this, but I assume it was the U.S. Food and Drug Association or something. Chocolate is a 40 billion Ecus per year industry (they speak more in Ecus now), the most important food item behind meat and fish.

I watched the coverage of the air collision. Many of my traveling colleagues are quite distressed when air disasters occur while they are on the road (or, in the air, as it were). Me, I am the opposite. There is a discernible increase in safety awareness following a crash and I find this the safest time to fly. Anyway, one CNN reporter says to another: "Any information on the kind of passengers involved?" Of course I expected a response like "176 of humans, 29 domestic animals and countless unidentifiable microbes". The response was: "the Saudi aircraft held Indian laborers and the Indian plane was carrying shoppers". Go figure.

The most interesting news in France was a scandal that was the topic of headline news and talk shows. It seems that a store called "Crazy George" is taking advantage of the poor by allowing them to buy goods like appliances and television sets on credit. Ultimately, the customers end up paying over twice the original cost. It was as shocking to this American to see such uproar over something we take as an inalienable right (amassing goods on credit is on the pathway of the Pursuit of Happiness) as it is to the French to see these consumers being taken advantage of. What a breath of fresh air to witness a call to humanity. Imagine Oprah Winfrey with "Today's topic: People who buy things they can't afford". I've asked Gilles to write about this one because I can't explain it. All I can say is that since I've known him, I no longer have debts...

Published November 27, 1996
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