John Lichfield: Our Man in Paris

The new slimming shop caters for Monsieur - but I couldn't fit through the door, luckily
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The Independent Online

A new small business has arrived in our quartier of Paris. Alongside the five bakeries, the three butchers, the two greengrocers, the three wine shops, the two dozen restaurants and the canine-grooming centre ("A Dog's Life"), there is now a shop dedicated to reducing your weight, not increasing it. The Ultrasonic Slimming Institute ("revolutionary technology, unique in Europe, painless treatment") offers to rejuvenate the bodies of women. The establishment also offers - a sign of the times - to "re-model" those of men.

A new small business has arrived in our quartier of Paris. Alongside the five bakeries, the three butchers, the two greengrocers, the three wine shops, the two dozen restaurants and the canine-grooming centre ("A Dog's Life"), there is now a shop dedicated to reducing your weight, not increasing it. The Ultrasonic Slimming Institute ("revolutionary technology, unique in Europe, painless treatment") offers to rejuvenate the bodies of women. The establishment also offers - a sign of the times - to "re-model" those of men.

My family has been trying to push me through the door but, luckily, I do not fit, even sideways.

Despite its claim to have a "revolutionary" method, the slimming shop practises a form of "lymphatic drainage": a technique which has been around in France for a decade or more. A course of "ultrasonic" massage "liquefies" your fat into your urine. You pee away your excess kilos.

My wife, who has no kilos to lose, believes that this is the real reason why middle-aged Parisian women are so slender. It is not just a question of diet, as claimed in a celebrated book, French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mireille Giuliano.

What is striking is our corner slimming shop's attempt to appeal to men. ("Pour vous madame, pour vous monsieur.") Its brochure has a rather suggestive picture of a man being massaged by a pretty young woman in a white coat, using what looks like a small hair-dryer.

Male narcissism - obsession with appearance or "le look" - is big business in France these days (not just in France, but especially here). The concept of "metrosexuality" - a new care for appearance among young, heterosexual males - was first identified by an Englishman, Mark Simpson, 10 years ago. It has been enthusiastically embraced by Frenchmen, young and old.

Cosmetic surgery of all kinds is exploding, but the real boom is in cosmetic surgery for men. Fifteen years ago, according to an industry website, there was one cosmetic operation on a French man for every 15 on French women. Now the ratio is one to four.

The most common operation is the hair transplant, but there is also a boom in male nose-jobs, ear-jobs, chin-jobs, eye-lid jobs, bags-under-the-eye-jobs, face-lifts and the liposuction of spare tyres and fat bottoms. The typical client is in his forties or early fifties.

Dr Richard Aziza, a successful French plastic surgeon, says: "Men are more and more aware of the importance of looks and a well-groomed image. This is not a question of girliness. Even in the workplace these days, to succeed you have to look and feel good and project charm, virility and dynamism." Hmm. Nothing to do with older men wishing to pick up younger women, then.

There was a strong rumour a couple of summers ago that President Jacques Chirac, 72, had peeled back the years by visiting a Canadian plastic surgeon while on holiday in Quebec. If so, he should ask for a rebate.

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, freely admitted recently that he had been for a "service" on his face in Switzerland. Other celebrated continental Peter Pans include the disgraced former French politician and businessman-turned-TV actor Bernard Tapie.

Among younger French men, the fad is for cosmetics. One in 10 of all beauty products in France is now sold to a man. In five years, the male cosmetics market has increased by 140 per cent. The range created by the fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier includes men's nail varnish (black would save a lot of trouble), lipstick, an eye-liner pencil and artificial blushes. Other French manufacturers have gone for laddish-sounding names for male make-up, such as Coup de geule (slanging match) and Lendemain de fête (morning after). How about a male lipstick for the British market called "pub brawl"?

All this, I am assured, is new. But it is not entirely new. The French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat - whose idea of cosmetic surgery was to chop off people's heads - once observed: "What men are more vain than the French?"

Down the ages, Frenchmen have had a reputation for caring about how they looked more than, say, the English. Can this explain their success with women? Surely not.

Moped madness

A British visitor to Paris said recently that she was startled to see how many French parents - usually dads - take children on the back of mopeds or motorbikes. She witnessed one man attaching a small boy to his back with a thin piece of cord before setting out on his motorbike into the unforgiving Parisian traffic.

She has a point. The other day, I was driving along near the Invalides when a moped drew alongside me at a traffic light. The driver had a girl of about seven years old holding on to his back and a girl of five on his lap. Both children had their faces painted as animals; both were clinging to balloons.

When the light changed, dad and daughters shot ahead, balloons trailing in the slipstream. The girls seemed unconcerned. The only surprise, I suppose, was that papa stopped at the red light.

Silver service

Having lunch at the British embassy the other day, I idly looked at the underside of the silver salver which was the foundation for my place setting. It was inscribed: "Her Britannic Majesty's Embassy to the Court of France."

Since there has been no "court of France" since 1848, the salver must be at least 157 years old. Imagine how many Anglo-French diplomatic rows that plate has seen. I have been in Paris for eight years and I am on my 12th.

And who dares to say that the Foreign Office is overfunded? The British embassy in Paris has not been able to afford new silver salvers for one and a half centuries.

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