Alice Jones: French dinosaurs make our MPs look modern


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The Independent Online

Who knew that suburban transport links could be so sexy? When Cécile Duflot stood up to talk about plans for the development of Greater Paris in the French parliament this week, she was greeted by a primal wave of phwoaring, hooting and ooh la la-ing so loud her questioner had to intervene and tell the drooling masses to calm down, dears.

The rumble began as soon as France's new housing minister stood up from her seat. By the time she had mounted the podium and taken a firm grip of the mic, the house of power was vibrating with the sound of 100 men rubbing their thighs, smacking their lips and twirling their moustaches. Had Duflot picked up her copy of Cinquante Nuances de Gris and started to read from that instead of her ministerial portfolio? No. She was simply talking while wearing a dress. This may be the country that banned the burqa but outlawing speeches in skirts is going a bit far.

The dress in question – since we're now apparently talking about the MP's clothes – was a bright, blue-and-white floral number, below the knee with long sleeves and a demure neckline. But even if it had been a couple of inches shorter, or a mite tighter, Duflot should have been allowed to answer the question put to her without having to wait for her fellow adult politicians to damp down their ardent loins first.

Criticised for their chauvinism, the male politicians were quick to defend themselves. The mating calls were simply their way of "paying homage to the beauty of this woman", said Jacques Myard. "We weren't booing her, we were admiring her," said Patrick Balkany. Watch and learn, David Cameron: it's fine to be sexist so long as you tell the woman you're patronising that she's pretty too. Next time Duflot gets up, perhaps they could shower her with roses, maybe leave a box of posh chocolates on her seat. Women love chocolates.

Duflot's dress is a symbol of a sexism that infects the French parliament, not insidiously but openly, with pride, even. The percentage of female MPs has risen from a woeful 18 per cent to a pitiful 27 per cent after last month's elections, but the few women who have made it into power are most likely to be heard speaking out about paternalistic colleagues or the sleazy remarks that come every time they dare to wear a skirt. It makes the House of Commons look like a bastion of radical feminism.

Another MP, Laurent Wauquiez, claimed that a male wearing a neon orange tie would have elicited the same catcalls. "If she didn't want us to take an interest in her, then she shouldn't have changed her look," added Balkany, digging himself an ever deeper grave. "Perhaps she only wore the dress so that we wouldn't listen to what she had to say." Perhaps. Or perhaps it's the job of an elected representative of the people (man or woman) to be professional and to abide by workplace rules, no matter what they might find distracting. To have their minds, perhaps, on highe r things than hemlines.

Now that's a dining fad too far

For Londoners, unlikely restaurant fads are as much a fact of daily life as rudeness and signal failures. You can choose to ignore the weekly bulletins heralding the latest eating trend, or you can, like me, devour them all greedily. Small plates? Great. I'll have 14 please. A restaurant that serves only one food type? Perfect. I was definitely in the mood for Peruvian raw fish anyway. No reservations? No worries. Show me the back of the queue. The latest restaurant "experience" to come to the capital is to "pay before you eat". A new system, Bookingrid, will allow you to pay in advance for a table, putting down a non-refundable minimum spend per head. Like airline tickets, prices will vary depending on how ahead of time you make your reservation and if you want to dine at a peak time. If you cancel your booking, you lose all of your cash. Patrons have been happy to serve the whims of restaurants for a while now, but this sounds like a fad too far for them to stomach.

We're not really a nation of naysayers

An article in The New York Times yesterday poked fun at the Eeyoreish attitude most Britons appear to have to the impending Games. "The news media have added to the general sense of wretchedness with numerous we-told-you-so accounts of mishaps, glitches and grandiose plans gone awry," it sniped before laying into our weather. So here's a little ray of sunshine for you, New York. This week, following gigs by Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Madonna in Hyde Park, the roads around Marble Arch were closed to traffic, allowing concert-goers to roam at will across Park Lane – and into the much-debated Olympic lanes. The red tarmac strips painted with the five rings (one place you are permitted to use them) have become something of an attraction in their own right as they lie empty, awaiting next week's bigwigs and limos. Teenagers have been sitting down in the middle of them and posing for pictures to upload to Facebook. And one Independent columnist may have taken the opportunity to skip up and down one a few times, too. Who says we don't know how to get into the spirit of things?