Parisians wouldn't give a XXXX for anywhere else

In Paris, the chic share tinnies, not bottles of wine. Julie Street goes walkabout and finds bars and restaurants springing up everywhere to cater for the French passion for Australia
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Nobody expected Muriel's Wedding or Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert to strike a chord with the French. But when both films became overnight box-office sensations in Paris, it was clear that the great French love affair with Down Under had begun in earnest.

The new French passion for "le pays des kangouroux" means that Australian bars and restaurants are springing up in Paris quicker than you can say, "G'day Mate". Indeed, the vogue for all things Aussie has now reached such proportions that Cafe Oz has started placing ads in local papers insisting on its authenticity as the city's "original" Australian bar.

But the Fosters-swilling French youth who have taken to hanging out at Cafe Oz on a Saturday night don't don't seem bothered. They'll quite happily settle for a fake Aboriginal mural, a few token boomerangs and a burst of Midnight Oil.

By 9pm, Chantal, a student from the Sorbonne, is already downing her fourth Bondi Iceberg. "Why do I come to Cafe Oz?" she repeats, erupting into peals of laughter. "Because the music in French bars is atrocious, the waiters are rude and everyone spends the evening pretending the people on the next table don't exist. But Cafe Oz, is really cool. The music is brilliant and there's a really good vibe. Australians know how to party."

Chantal's mate, Rose-Marie, has just staggered off to the bar to buy a round of Darwin Sunsets. "J'adore la culture australienne!" she suddenly announces, apropos of nothing in particular. "In French bars, girls are never allowed to hang out in groups and get smashed. We're just expected to sit there, sipping kir and looking pretty all night. But here you can go really wild - just like Muriel when she does her Abba impersonation!"

Things are somewhat quieter at the second, not-so-original Cafe Oz in Les Halles. Isabelle and Thierry, a couple of computer technicians, are sharing what the menu bills as a "romantic Australian dinner": a jug of beer, two glasses and a candle. "I just love the Australian sense of humour," enthuses Thierry. Isabelle, like her boyfriend, has never actually been Down Under. "It's a bit far, really, isn't it?" she says. But she has decided that "spiritually" she feels closer to Australians than she does to any other Anglo-Saxon culture. "Australians are simple folk who enjoy the good life. They appreciate the joys of eating and drinking, and yet they're also healthy and sporty. In fact, they're just like the French!"

This similarity has never struck Leila, the Sydney-born barmaid. "They are always going on about how the great open spaces instill a sense of freedom in Australian people," she says. " Actually, they wouldn't last two minutes if they found themselves off the beaten track. But you can't blame them, when they live in flats the size of rabbit hutches in an over- populated city like Paris. It's probably nice to fantasise about kangaroos leaping around in the outback."

But sometimes, as Ben, manager of the Wooloomooloo restaurant, discovered, the French imagination gets out of control. "We've had people coming in expecting to be served crocodile and emu," he says. "But modern Australian cuisine is about fusing a whole variety of culinary influences and our menu frequently contains Thai-style starters and North-African curries. I remember the look on this one French guy's face when he saw the menu. He got quite upset and began insisting that we weren't serving real Australian food. But he finally calmed down when we found him a nice bit of kangaroo!"

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