In a cult classic French film, “le Père Noël est une ordure,” (Santa Claus is a bastard), the pharmacist character takes a whiff of a botched dessert smeared on his white tuxedo. He scrunches his face up, examines the brown mess skeptically and exclaims: “Mais c’est…C’est de la merde??” (Is it…Is it shit!?).
Yes, it is shit. Dog shit. And it’s all over Paris. It’s on sidewalks, in parks and, most stubbornly, on the sole of your shoes. Take one moment to look up at Haussman’s 19th-century apartment architecture, and poof, you’ve mussed up a mutt’s chef d’oeuvre of the morning. One is as likely to fall prey to the sticky goo in the cobbled, winding chic streets of Le Marais as one is to succumb to its trap in the seedier suburbs of Seine Saint-Denis. This crud knows no social class.
We Americans scratch our heads at this stinky paradox. How can Chanel and shit live harmoniously? How can the French, who frown upon eating dessert with anything other than a dainty baby spoon, overlook plump, smelly piles of poo in their streets? They may have ridded themselves of the monarchy with the storming of the Bastille, but the aristocracy lives on. And it’s canines who are king.
Their heads peer out of oversized Gucci bags in the mÃ©tro. They sit on the laps of women in the salon. In restaurants (at the table!), when they bark, their owners hush them lovingly. Moreover, masters don their dog in Scottish kilts, aprons with ruffles, and long, hot-dog shaped socks. (See follow-up article: How can the French dress themselves so well, and their pups so poorly?) And while dogs often wear a leash, it approximates a human necklace more than a device of restraint. It’s just another accessory to the dog’s overall “look.” This constant primping and preening has probably conditioned the pooch to poop at will, be it in front of Louis XIV’s castle or under the chic awning of Christian Dior. The master overlooks the pile left in its wake as though, somehow, an animal dressed as a tablecloth simply could do no wrong.
But while the poop may seem omnipresent, especially to non-French visitors and residents, there is a counterforce. T
he current Parisian government has said: enough is enough. Let’s bust out the pails! Since becoming mayor, Bertrand Delanoë has unleashed a brigade of 74 “inspecteurs de salubritÃ©” (public health inspectors), employed to catch any of the city’s 200,000 dogs in the act of waste-making, according to Le Nouvel Observateur. An owner’s neglect in cleaning up after his toutou could result in a fine of up to 400 euros. The inspectors have worked diligently. Since Delanoë and his deputy mayor, Green party member Yves Contassot, have been in office, the number of fines given to dog owners has increased three-fold.
The idea of poop as a political position isn’t really new. Jacques Chirac, current French President, also made shit part of his political agenda during his lengthy stint as mayor of Paris. He launched an all out crotte crusade by deploying an army of “moto-crottes,” little mopeds with vacuum suctions to suck up poop. The motos became a staple of Parisian street life—although their effectiveness was questioned—and were only recently phased out. The current administration’s tactic has shifted to personal responsibility. In addition to fines, there are posted signs reminding owners to pick up after their pets. And citizens need only go online to inform themselves of all of the possible tools at their disposal available to help them nab the Citizen of the Year Award.
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