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Previously in Atlantic Abroad

  • The View from Awolowo Street (Jeffrey Tayler, Nigeria, February 19, 1998).

  • The Courts of Pondicherry (Akash Kapur, India, February 4, 1998).

  • A Convent with a View (Katherine Guckenberger, France, January 22, 1998).

  • The Moscow Rave (Jeffrey Tayler, Russia, December 24, 1997).

  • Waste Not, Want Not (Ryan Nally, Poland, December 10, 1997).

  • Sikkim and Ye Shall Find (Akash Kapur, India, November 26, 1997).

  • The Magistrates of Creektown (Jeffrey Tayler, Nigeria, November 5, 1997).

  • Brando's Birds (Marshall Jon Fisher, France, October 22, 1997).

  • Dinner at the Gostilna Novljan (Chris Berdik, Slovenia, October 8, 1997).

  • The Dacha Regime (Jeffrey Tayler, Russia, September 25, 1997).

  • Blazing Telefonini (Tom Mueller, Italy, September 11, 1997).

  • French Games (John Robinson, Madagascar, August 27, 1997).

  • Heaven in a Ballotin (Gregg Easterbrook, Belgium, August 13, 1997).

    For more, see the complete Atlantic Abroad Index.

    Share your tales of life abroad in the Global Views forum of Post & Riposte.

  • Dog Days in Paris
    March 4, 1998

    On a recent trip to Paris I couldn't help noticing that America's cultural influence has reached new heights. What once appeared to be a quintessential and seemingly untouchable aspect of Parisian life -- the lap dog as fashion accessory -- now seems to be under siege: affenpinschers, chihuahuas, pugs, poodles, yorkies, and dachshunds are being threatened like never before by canine cousins of the big, oafish variety. These new arrivals turn up in brasseries, huddled awkwardly under small tables; at the Bois de Boulogne, chasing their tails; and in cars, riding shotgun, their heads out the window. The Parisian dog of choice today is the most popular breed in the United States -- the goofy, splay-legged, hyperactive, tail-whipping labrador.

    Parisian dogs have traditionally been found snuggled under arms, peeking rodent-like out of bags and baskets, or on leashes, racing like toys on high speed at the feet of their well-shod masters. Welcome in restaurants, boutiques, and even on the Métro, these dogs are generally well-behaved and meticulously groomed, blown-dry and beribboned. They descend from bloodlines that can be traced farther back than some of France's fine families, and they are dressed appropriately: haute couture for these exemplars of good breeding includes winter wardrobes of intricately knit pullovers with pom-poms and buttons, down vests, reversible leopard-print coats, and padded booties tied like small packages around the ankles. Spring fashions include leather, raingear, and sunglasses. While their attire may change from year to year, lap dogs themselves have been as constant a presence in Paris as cafés and cigarettes.

    Anyone who has ever owned a lab knows they aren't good in a lap. They're sporty, outdoor dogs, bred to retrieve waterfowl, and they can't help but instinctively plunge into every body of water they pass -- including puddles. They can't sit still long enough to be groomed, and even if they could, their short coats, which are slick and oily like the ducks they retrieve, don't fluff the way pomeranians' or chows' do.

    Perhaps the new trend can be traced to prominent statesmen who have favored the breed. The late François Mitterrand, for example, made arrangements for his lab to travel in the state cortege alongside his coffin from Paris to Jarnac, where the president was buried. President Clinton, too, seems to agree that labs are a good choice for world leaders. The message is clear: labs are obedient, loyal, and great with people; they also represent a distinctly American sense of power, energy, and naïveté. But their rambunctiousness, their sheer size (typically sixty-plus pounds), and their uncontrollable friendliness make them unlikely Parisians. Or do they?

    Walking along the Quai D'Orsay one morning I was surprised to see a middle-aged French woman -- tight-lipped and meticulously dressed, her blonde hair styled stiffly under her Hermès scarf -- emerge from an ornate eighteenth-century apartment building with a yellow lab on a retractable leash. The lab lumbered behind her, nose to the street, drooling happily. They made their way down the sloping cobblestone path to the bank of the Seine, where the woman carefully removed the leash and watched the lab leap, chin to the sky and stomach first, into the river. The lab sank with a splash and then re-emerged, his front paws pounding at the water. "Ça suffit!" the woman called out, laughing and shielding herself with an arm. The lab finally clambered out of the water and shook down, starting slowly with his head and then speeding up as a current of pure labrador pleasure surged through the length of his spine. The woman rewarded the slimy, shimmering dog with a kiss, proving what I had suspected since spying my first lab in Paris: the hearts of Parisians have melted.

    Last year the mayor of Paris opened the grassy areas of the city's parks and gardens to pedestrians. After centuries of sticking to walkways and paths, and of paying whistle-blowing gendarmes to scold wayward tourists for not doing the same, Parisians find themselves in an unprecedented position: they're expected to commune with nature. Smiley-faced signs invite the public to loll around, frolic, and picnic on the greenery. And what better way to savor the outdoors than with a romping labrador? Can dog-frisbee be far behind?

    Katherine Guckenberger is a staff editor at The Atlantic Monthly. She recently wrote for Atlantic Abroad about Alsace.

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