Janet Street-Porter: Some English lessons on French polish

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The Independent Online

On the day that the French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy paid a flying visit to London, I took the Eurostar to Paris. My day didn't include lunch with a political leader at the Elysée Palace, or a trip to a job centre. I didn't speak at a rally or pose for photographers - but we both travelled on Eurostar at exactly the same time, in different directions.

I would loved to have shared a glass of wine with M. Sarkozy at the end of his day and swapped experiences. The intention of his visit was to try to win the votes of up to 300,000 of his countrymen who have decided to cross the Channel to live here. But did he stop for one moment to ask himself why? Did he bother to question any of the highly paid 2,000 Londoners who turned out to meet him in Billingsgate about why they've turned their back on Paris?

I've visited the city regularly for nearly 40 years. I've applauded it's modern architecture, noted the latest charm offensive (even the taxi drivers speak English and are helpful) and have plenty of friends there. Yesterday, I went to a fashion show, ate lunch and dinner in trendy areas (Odeon and the Marais) and stayed in a comfortable hotel on the Left Bank. It was all fine - but these days my French friends spend every weekend they can in London - according to them, the food is better, the restaurants are cheaper, there's a huge amount of culture and you don't have to step over dog poo every time you walk along the pavement.

It pains me to say it - they are right. Hotel rooms in central Paris now cost so much it's ludicrous - mine, small but chic, was a whopping €450 (£298), and the lift was the size of a child's toilet. I loved the gorgeous manager - but I reckoned it cost about £20 a smile every time I entered the place.

Lunch in a beautiful historic bistro around the corner was inedible, although the waiter was truly professional, working like a Trojan, efficient and helpful. My tuna had been fried in old oil in a pan used for meat, and the smell of my friends' sausage is a nightmare that will haunt me for days. The cheese was cold, the wine watery. Dinner was in a fashionable Argentinian restaurant - at least the food was excellent. On the next table, a quartet of the French bourgeoisie drank Pernod and puffed on one cigarette after another. The women had horrible grey skin and wore those expensive fur coats which hang lank and lifeless from your shoulders.

On the streets in the Marais there were plenty of tramps sleeping in doorways, and on the Boulevard St Germain I saw a woman drinking scotch from a bottle at 11am. It seemed there were more down and outs, more beggars. The Metro smelt repulsive and the graffiti soon begins to pall.

At the fashion show (Dior Homme), the clothes were divine. The music, composed especially, was by a new young band from Southend, These New Puritans. The fashion press seemed jaded, and didn't even bother to applaud. In the end, a desperate paparazzo took a picture of me, sitting there in my £25 orange cotton jersey frock, the only woman daring to wear a colour. Paris is a city of dreary uniformity.

I couldn't wait to get back home. M. Sarkozy, come round to my neighbourhood for dinner any time - and perhaps you should fit in a meeting with Monsieur Livingstone. It pains me to say it, but he could teach you a thing or to about how to make a city great.

Keeping abreast of the situation...

The horribly vulgar necklace worn by the Duchess of Cornwall to a musical gala in America the other day was apparently a gift from a member of the Saudi royal family, not a regime as interested as Charles allegedly is in environmental matters.

Leaving that prickly subject aside, the Duchess is slightly younger than me, and so I speak with some authority on the subject of ageing cleavage. Wrinkly skin is never going to be rendered smooth and dewy by popping on a large platinum breastplate dripping with 37 glittering rubies that get folded into your cleavage.

As a fashion moment, it was a disaster, but, as a political statement, the message came across loud and clear - commoners might moan about our carbon footprint, but, quite frankly, we're rich and don't give a damn. Corseted in red velvet like a hotel sofa, HRH simply resembled a dotty Britannia.

* I flew back from Paris to Bristol on BA Connect yesterday, and it was clear at Charles de Gaulle airport that the last-minute cancellation of the planned strike had cost the company dearly, as the terminal was deserted.

Once again, BA doesn't seem to be able to deal with the bad publicity these disputes produce. You'd think they'd make any customers they did have feel welcome, but when I asked for a coffee, I was told it cost £1.60. Having boarded without any refreshment, I asked for a cup of water - and was told I'd have to pay for that too! What if I was suffering from dehydration?

Presumably BA can afford to open a bottle if you collapse. If water isn't free, then they should have large signs telling you before you leave the lounge. Free beverages for a day might have pleased long-suffering customers.

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