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Dylan Jones

Dylan Jones: Paris is still a wilfully old-fashioned paradise that is determined to maintain the status quo

Talk Of The Town

There are only circuitous links between The Rotters Club and present-day Paris, but one came to me in a flash last week, as I gawped at the finery walking down the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. In the opening section of Jonathan Coe's glorious and much-celebrated evocation of Seventies Birmingham – a world of attritional union leaders, class war, casual racism, IRA bombings and (obviously) prog rock – there is the very briefest of scenes in Berlin, a scene which, with only a few phrases, manages to paint a vivid sketch of a city in the midst of change. To me, Berlin feels like a genuinely bohemian city, a city that looks and feels as though reunification happened just before Christmas, not 20 years ago.

Paris, however, for all its fancy public sculpture and go-for-it architecture, for all its attempts at inclusive modernism (both political and cultural), is still a grievously bourgeois city, a wilfully old-fashioned paradise that is determined to maintain the status quo (even if that does mean patronising the gentrified antiques shops around St-Germain). If you haven't been for a while it's easy to forget just how highly the Parisians regard themselves – and I'm not just talking about the waiting fraternity, who continue to take rudeness to hitherto unscaled heights (why try and take someone's order when you could ignore them instead? "Is service included? Oh good, can I have some s'il vous plait?").

So pockets of bohemian resilience here are always good to discover, and I found one last week in the shape of Merci, a bookshop/interiors emporium/furniture store/florist/clothes shop, etc, that lies alongside the higgledy-piggledy cafés and tat of Boulevard Beaumarchais in the Marais. Only a year old, the brainchild of Marie-France and Bernard Cohen – who started the luxury children's brand Bonpoint – Merci has become a designer Mecca, a 16,000 sq ft concrete DS (destination space) that could have been airlifted all the way from Manhattan. The epitome of the modern chi-chi shopping experience, Merci would simply be A Very Good Shop in any other city. But in Paris it seems positively revolutionary.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'