Appearance Discrimination in Paris: The Ugly Truth (and Some Even Uglier Lies)
- Published on Sunday, 02 February 2014 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
Beauty Is Only
Two Rows Deep
Illustration by Charles Giai-Gischia. Visit his blog, Traits-Drôles, for a larger version and more drawings
Paris is often called “the most beautiful city in the world.” A subjective and categorical title to be sure, but nonetheless one with some logic behind it. In fact, most (not all, but most) of the city consists of beautiful buildings prettily arranged on lovely streets laid out in an eye-pleasing fashion on either side of a photogenic river whose resplendent water is teeming with fish, some of which are real lookers.
And that’s not all: according to a recent exposé in the press, when you walk down those stunning streets, you’re likely to see nothing but attractive people in all of those comely cafés and bistros. This is, reportedly, because a great many Parisian eateries practice blatant, bald-faced discrimination based on physical appearance.
This little niche of the social prejudice industry became a hot, or at least simmering, topic late last year when an article in the French daily Le Canard Enchaîné, relayed in virtually every other newspaper in the country and some out of the country, revealed that the waiters at Le Georges, the trendy restaurant on the top floor of the Pompidou Center, are under strict orders from management to seat “beautiful” (a category that also encompasses “wealthy” and “famous”) people up front and “ugly” (a category that also encompasses “wearing Velcro shoes”) people in the back by the restrooms. Which, incidentally, are just gorgeous.
A disgruntled former employee told a Canard reporter that, during her tenure there, the managers would reprimand her severely if she didn’t keep the front tables — the ones with the best view of the city through the museum’s glass walls and, not incidentally, offering museum-goers the best view of the diners — full of nice-looking, well-dressed customers and/or celebrities. Patrons who were unlikely ever to appear in Playboy, Playgirl, Fortune or People were to be informed that the good tables were all booked and then shown to a spot in the back, where the only view is an occasional glimpse of the urinals.
The revelation, coupled with follow-up stories uncovering similar practices at many other Paris restaurants, sparked a minor uproar. The comments sections of the news sites filled up with torrents of shock and anger, most of which read something like this: “It’s unthinkable! An outrage! A heinous violation of basic human rights! The restaurant should be sued, closed down, gutted and burned! And then boycotted!”
I personally sided with the minority opinion, which held that people who go to chichi, see-and-be-seen places like Le Georges, the kind of restaurant where the decor is more important than the food, should not be surprised to find themselves being judged on their personal decor, as it were.
After all, nightclubs around the world routinely refuse admission to supplicants who don’t meet their standards of stylishness, sexiness, hipness or rolled-up fifties. And there are a great many careers that are essentially closed to less-than-red-hot candidates, including supermodel, pornstar, Rockette, Chippendale, magician’s assistant and Village Person. And waitperson at Le Georges.
But then it occurred to me: why have a reasonable, level-headed reaction when I can take the opposite point of view, ignore all logic, wallow in paranoia and extrapolate a minor injustice into a full-fledged conspiracy theory?
What if this triage in the food services industry is only the tip of the iceberg? The malodorous edge of the Camembert wedge, so to speak? What if it’s just phase one of an insidious, far-reaching, long-term program?
My theory is this: fearful of intensifying competition from fast-changing cities in high-growth economic zones like Rio, Mumbai and Shanghai, the Paris municipal government has secretly adopted a 10-year plan to consolidate the city’s number-one status on the urban beauty charts.
In phase two, the policy pioneered at Le Georges will be extended to every café and restaurant in town, and then to lunch counters and takeout stands. In the latter, the scramble to make sure that the most visible spots are occupied by the best-looking customers at any given time will make it impossible to maintain any kind of orderly line. In other words, this won’t change anything at all.
In the next phase, looks discrimination will be extended to all commercial establishments. Department stores will have hostesses at every door to steer customers either to their desired department to browse the goods or, if they don’t measure up, to the basement, where they will be able to select the items they want from a catalogue and retrieve them at the loading dock on their way out.
Other workplaces that are visible from the street will be required to place attractive employees at the windowside desks. Recognizing that some types of businesses, such as tech startups, video-game design firms and my home office, are likely to have more windows than attractive employees, the regulation will allow the substitution of store display mannequins or life-sized (and clothed) inflatable dolls.
Public transport will, of course, be segregated, and only out-of-work fashion models will be allowed to panhandle in the A-list Métro cars. This will save the prettier passengers money (which they can spend on spa treatments), because their beggars won’t need that much spare change to eat in the first place.
Hospitals will be required to divide their operating-room staff into two groups, one of which will be allowed to work around the patients only after they have been anesthetized.
An ordinance will be passed requiring theaters and movie houses to sort their audiences into as many ranks of pulchritude as they have rows of seats. This in turn will require the hiring of large teams of physiognomists and ushers who are able to do their job very quickly.
Then it will be remembered that in these places the patrons spend virtually the entire time in the dark not looking at each other, thus making the whole exercise pointless. Armies of former audience sorters will be laid off and, having no income nor prospects of finding more work in their field, will become depressed and begin neglecting their looks.
In the final phases of the plan, real-estate agents will be banned from selling residential properties in central Paris to buyers who “don’t fit the profile.” An elite corps of traffic cops will patrol the outskirts of town, directing nice-looking drivers in nice cars onto the main routes toward the city center and everyone else onto the narrow one-way side streets. By 2025, Paris’s eye candy index, from architecture to restaurant clientele to residents to passers-by, will be a consistent 10++ in the area around Notre Dame and gradually descend to 0.01 at the Periphérique.
And then, at last, we’ll see what we can do about those less-than-fetching fish. I just hope I can become wealthy and/or famous by then, so I won’t be forcibly relocated to the suburbs.
Note to readers: David Jaggard’s e-book Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011 is now available on Amazon as well as iTunes, iBookstore, Nook, Reader Store, Kobo, Copia and many other distributors. At $6.78 (less than €5) it packs a lot of punchlines per penny.
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