walk at your own risk

In the last post I mentioned surprising areas in which French punctiliousness is absent. The one that immediately springs to mind--and to sight, and all too often to shoe-sole--is the attitude towards cleaning up after your dog. Which is, ce n'est pas nécessaire.  

Actually, although I've put this attitude in French, I simply cannot begin to understand it. Of course, some dog-owners do clean up after their chiens, I have seen them doing so--one or two. But judging from the appalling condition of the pavements, they are in a small minority. In a country that prides itself on appearances and presentation--and where the wearing of elegant shoes is de rigeur!-- this filthiness in the streets of otherwise beautiful towns and cities is extraordinary.

Many other writers have talked about this, most famously perhaps Stephen Clarke (A Year in the Merde) in his inimitably funny and acerbic way.  I cannot attempt to say anything new or better or funnier or more bitter, but I add my own lament to all the others. And I realise I'm breaking my own rule of shaping a post around a French word or phrase...this one is based on a French phenomenon.

One of the English-language French newspapers recently had an article about this ghastly mess, from which it's clear the phenomenon is not restricted to Lyon (or Paris, where Clarke lives and writes). The article explained that there are special pavement-cleaning machines to deal with this problem, and cited the number of tons of dog waste removed from France's pavements yearly--my numerical blind spot prevents my recalling the figure, but, believe me, it was staggering. And it's true that the urban clean-up crews are very efficient here, just as public transport is, and most other public services; every morning, the streets and pavements are clean, ready to be soiled all over again.

I live on a pedestrianized shopping street down which it should be an unmitigated pleasure to promenade. I'm not far from the cobbled, narrow lanes of Vieux Lyon, also traffic-free, where again one should be able to walk with a liberated and relaxed stride. Instead of which, one has to keep one's eyes vigilantly upon the ground ahead to avoid stepping into disaster.

Que faire? Do I dare accost every dog-owner I see leaving behind his pet's souvenirs? Strangely enough, one rarely sees it actually happening; but if I did, is my French good enough, am I confident enough, to say anything? And what kind of difference would it make, in the grand scheme of things?

We noticed that the little villages around Lake Como in Italy had scrupulously clean pavements and frequently-posted signs enjoining dog owners to be responsible about this. While we were sitting on a bench looking out over the lake one evening, a young boy with a puppy who had taken him by surprise came up to ask if we had any tissues. Young as he was, he knew he had to clean up after the dog. If only this understanding could be imported to all dog-owners in France.