John Lichfield: How I became chic growing roses and parsnips

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The Independent Online

For the first time in my life, possibly only briefly, I have reached the pinnacle of Parisian chic. The newspaper, Le Figaro, has published a list of what it calls the panoplie du snob: a catalogue of 50 things which are at the furthest cutting-edge of in-your-face trendiness amongst the wealthy, Parisian chattering classes.

Please note that snob is one of those words which subtly changes its meaning when it catches the Eurostar. Something is très snob in French if it is a symbol of cool trendiness. It is what we would call, in English, "very chic" – a word which is no longer trendy, or snob, in French.

Items on the Figaro snob list include English bulldogs, which are now apparently the mutt of choice for wealthy Parisians parading in the Bois de Boulogne on Sunday afternoons. The bulldog – or bouledogue – has supplanted the Jack Russell and the Labrador. Those breeds have become too populaires, in other words down-market or de-classé.

Amongst the bulldog qualities admired by the wealthy French, Le Figaro says, is their flegme is so British. The word flegme refers to the dog's phlegmatism, not its phlegm.

I also learned from Figaro that the self-respecting, rich French trendy- in-sunglasses would never wear a pair of Ray Bans. The shades of choice are now the Italian-made Persol, as worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.

Exquisitely fashionable good taste also requires Parisians to drink "green tea" and the right kind of bottled water. Perrier, Evian and Badoît are for ploucs (yokels) or beaufs (chavs). The snob water of choice is Chateldon, which used to be drunk by King Louis XIV.

The height of cool in a select Parisian brasserie is to order a café blanc. This has nothing to do with white coffee or even café au lait. It is a Lebanese drink made from warm water and the flowers of the orange tree. You can't yet order them in the Starbucks outlets which are advancing like a green weed across Paris. It probably won't be long. By then "white coffee" will no longer be snob.

Parisian cultural snobisme is highly perverse, it appears. The trick is to claim to adore artistes who were, until recently, regarded as hopelessly old-fashioned or just hopeless. The top kitsch cultural icons of le snobisme nouveau include Arielle Dombasle, the actress and singer of modest talent who is married to the philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levy. Another is the deceased French comic movie actor, Louis de Funès, a kind of diminutive Gallic John Cleese.

Why does any of this transform me into a trendy? I do not wear Fred Perry shirts or Persol sunglasses or drink warm water and orange flowers or own a bouledogue. I cannot abide Dombasle.

Le Figaro lists two other snob traits. It is now apparently utterly oafish behaviour to turn up at a Parisian dinner party with a bunch of shop-bought flowers or a box of marron-glacés. The annoyingly cutting-edge thing to do is to present your host with a few roses, or even a herb plant, "from my little garden in Normandy".

At the same time, the humble parsnip, or panais, in French, has become an exotic vegetable prized by Parisian food bores. Parsnips were long regarded in France as fit to be eaten only by horses and the English. They have now become, according to Le Figaro, "top of the hit parade of forgotten vegetables, with a very subtle taste reminiscent of the artichoke".

I happen to have "a little garden in Normandy" where I grow not only roses but parsnips. For the first time in my life, until the restless wheel of fashion moves on, I find that am not only chic, but snob.