I once walked down the Champs Elysees feeling scruffier and more out of place than I've ever felt anywhere in the world. That is because Parisian women have an innate sense of style that just seems to be a birthright. They are always impossibly chic in navy that never creases, with blow-dried hair that always falls back into place and French-polished nails that never chip. Beside them, everyone else in the world looks crumpled.
If I have style envy, it seems other cities do, too.
For it is not just the French women that the world aspires to be like. It is the city of Paris itself. Only Venice has as many imitators. Which is why at various times in history, towns and cities all over the globe have likened themselves to the French capital.
Before its civil war, Lebanon's capital Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East.
Fighting it out for the most legitimate claim to be the "Paris of the Orient" are Shanghai and Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). Both got their Parisian monikers back in the 1920 and '30s when their grand buildings and monuments, built by the British and French respectively, gave these oriental cities a European appeal.
These days I think Shanghai could more accurately be called the New York of the East because its towering high-rises have long since dwarfed its older buildings and its frenetic pace is definitely more Manhattan than Montmartre.
Along the Bund River in the historic part of town, however, gazing at its clock towers and impressive neo-classical bank buildings, you can still see why the city got its nickname and revisiting again recently I definitely sensed a little Parisian style in the new rooftop bars and restaurants.
Tromso in chilly Norway is self-described as the Paris of the North. Since it is not far away from the Arctic Circle and a great place to see the spectacular Northern Lights, it is certainly northern, but Parisian? Quebec in Canada also claims to be the Paris of the North, which is more understandable since its French Canadian citizens do speak the right language.
... being Parisian isn't just about architecture; it is about atmosphere, about having that certain je ne sais quoi.
It certainly has some cobbled streets and picturesque buildings, and enough bistros and pavement cafes to claim a connection.
But being Parisian isn't just about architecture; it is about atmosphere, about having that certain je ne sais quoi. Which is probably why, despite its wonderful historic buildings, no city is rushing to be described as the London of the East or the North, or the South.
OK, so it is atmosphere we're after. Which is why I'm finding it hard to grasp how Manchester can claim its Paris of the North title, but it has. Apparently because a "European-style cafe society" has sprung in the city, which is why the Manchester Evening News thought the city warranted the title. The north of England definitely seems to have Parisian aspirations, since the town of Southport (a stone's throw from Liverpool) describes itself on its tourism site as the "Paris of the North West". Been there, couldn't find decent escargot in garlic anywhere.
Oddly, San Francisco, which you would think had enough other claims to fame, likes to point out that it is a twin city with the French capital and is, in fact, you guessed it, the Paris of the West.
French-speaking Noumea in New Caledonia has called itself the Paris of the Pacific although frankly, having been there, I think all they have in common is baguettes while the Caribbean island of Martinique has been described as the Paris of the West Indies.
Bucharest in Romania was once known as Little Paris of the East and, as it shakes off its communist past and its people embrace fashion and food, it wants to be seen that way again.
There is less competition over the title of Paris of the South that belongs to the vibrant, sophisticated city of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Paris could do worse than call itself the Buenos Aires of the North.
Somehow, though, it never happens that way around.
|If you can't claim Parisian flair for your town, you can at least steal the name. Take Paris, Texas, for example, which may not have as many monuments but makes up for any lack of chic by having a Hollywood movie named after it.
My favourite pretender to the throne is the Cossack village of Paris in Kazakhstan, on a remote steppe near the Russian border. Apparently it was named by troops returning after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. To commemorate its 190-year link with France the village even built its own mini Eiffel Tower, which doubles as a mobile phone mast.
There is also a Paris, Kentucky, and a Paris, Tennessee, to name but three of the 14 towns in the US named after the city of love. The Paris in Henley County, Tennessee, actually has an 18-metre copy of the Eiffel Tower in its Memorial Park. There is also a Paris in Ontario, Canada.
|Those familiar with the director Peter Weir's debut movie, The Cars That Ate Paris, will know that there is even a fictional Paris, Australia although it was actually filmed on location at a little pal e called Sofala in New South Wales.
|Even if cities can't claim the name, their citizens still aspire to imitate just a fraction of what makes Paris special. Few of the world's monuments (except possibly the pyramids in Egypt) have been as copied as the most famous Parisian landmarks.
One of the first Eiffel Tower wannabes was the Petrin Observation Tower in Prague, built not long after the original was constructed. This mini-Eiffel still stands in Petrin Park.
A more recent example is the Tokyo Tower, built in 1958, which one guide book I read descibed as "one of the great cultural and architectural landmarks of Asia". Although frankly I think many of Tokyo's later soaring buildings are more impressive. In reality it is just another Eiffel imitator, albeit in many ways more impressive than the original and a couple of metres taller, too.
I have also (for my sins) eaten ice-cream at the bottom of the infamous Blackpool Tower in the northern British seaside town best known for its copious number of chip shops, game arcades and Kiss Me Quick hats. Although only 157 metres tall, the tower dominates the skyline of Blackpool and is a centerpiece of the much-loved annual Backpool Illuminations. At night the tower is done up like a tacky Christmas tree.
|Having been to the top of both I can report that, as you might expect, the lifts in the Tokyo Tower definitely offer a smoother, more efficient ride.
|The Arc de Triomphe, with its powerful imagery of military might and victory, is also a much-copied monument. Together with the sweeping grandeur of the Champs Elysees which leads to it, the arch has captured the imagination of city dignitaries from Europe to Asia.
To be fair, though, the idea was copied from the Roman concept of triumphal arches so not all arches are modelled on the French ideal.
My favourite pretender to the throne is the Cossack village of Paris in Kazakhstan, on a remote steppe near the Russian border
Some, however, are definite imitators. I was recently in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and had to do a double-take when my motorised tuk-tuk buzzed up a wide boulevard and around Patuxai, a huge and impressive archway. For a minute I was sure I was in Paris, particularly as Vientiane, with its French Indochine history and faded colonial splendour, also has cafes that serve good coffee.
Apparently, the arch was built in the 1960s out of concrete flown in by the US to help build an airport. Clearly the appeal of a grand arch was greater.
The North Koreans couldn't resist the appeal of a grand arch either: in the capital Pyongyang is the Arch of Triumph built in 1982, says an official tourist website, "as a manifestation of North Koreans' firm wish and unshaken resolve to eulogise and glorify forever the late President Kim Il-sung's immortal exploits".
What I love about these look-alikes is the little Asian touches they add to the original ideal. In Pyongyang the arch has an almost pagoda-style top, and in Vientiane there is the added design feature of some very intricate turrets.
As for me, I've bought a French navy coat and have taken to exclaiming "oo la la" whenever the whenever the occasion remotely allows. Perhaps that will help.
Hilary Doling revised 20/7/11