This may come as a surprise to those who follow the general belief that Paris is a glamorous city of culture, fashion, effortlessly chic if slightly rude beautiful people, and that Manchester is… well, none of those things. But I am here to point out that you should not be so easily deceived! They’re actually the same! (Well, in certain small ways. I will admit that the overall impression is ever so slightly different). So, here goes!
10. They both have a Christmas big wheel. OK, so in Paris you get a view of the Champs-Elysées and the place de la Concorde, the Louvre etc., and in Manchester you get… that big tower next to Piccadilly Gardens and what was Noble’s Amusements, but you’re still paying to go round and round in a big circle.
9. Both have a large tower with a slightly dodgy shopping centre around it. In fact, parts of the Montparnasse ‘centre commercial’ in fact remind me of the Arndale Centre before they did it up: a mysteriously unidentified smell, tiled walls ever-so-slightly reminiscent of swimming baths or public toilets and a fair few shops selling mysterious tat mingled in amongst the slightly more upmarket Habitat and Galeries Lafayette. OK, the Montparnasse tower isn’t covered in peachy-coloured tiles, and does have a fancy restaurant on the top floor (I don’t know if anyone actually knows what’s on the top floor of the Arndale tower), but other than that…
8. Paris has Marks & Spencer’s, WH Smith, Starbucks galore and the rumour of the arrival of Costa. Manchester has all of these, plus plenty of bookmakers’, Gregg’s, pawnbrokers and payday loan sellers. The French have still clearly got a way to go, but they’ve made a promising start.
7. No-one entirely understands the Mancunian tram system, which now appears to have eight different lines, helpfully marked with colours on the network map, but showing no such distinctions in real life (so woe betide you if you find yourself at St. Peter’s Square, especially because there are not separate platforms for the four lines that pass through…). Paris also has a tram system, much less well-known than its Métro (unless, of course, you travel on it every day) and a lot slower, since, being overground, it’s forever getting stuck at traffic lights. Seven lines link various bits of the outskirts of Paris and surrounding suburbs, but there are umpteen projects for extending this network. Sound familiar?
6. A selection of odd roadworks projects in Manchester have made it nearly impossible to drive around the city without getting hopelessly lost and disorientated amongst one-way streets, no right turns, no left turns, blocked road and temporary traffic lights. (I can only assume that this is deliberately to discourage people from driving through the city, and applaud it). Only mad people attempt to drive through Paris, since the traffic is so bad that you’d invariably be better off walking/ cycling or on a scooter.
5. Galeries Lafayette on the Boulevard Haussmann has a glass walkway linking its two sides. Marks & Spencer’s on Market Street is linked to the Arndale by a glass tunnel. They are, therefore, the same. (Apart from M&S not selling Rolex watches, obviously…).
4. Walk down Market Street for more than a minute (at any time of the day or night) and you are guaranteed to see someone eating a pie and/or sausage roll. Walk down any street in Paris and you’ll see someone with a baguette.
3. Double parking and the use of hazard lights. Yes, we know that you’ve not actually broken down and that there is no emergency, so don’t even try to pretend you didn’t just nip out to use the cash machine, go to the supermarket, pick up the children from school or whichever other errand you fancied doing (I think this one might be universal…). Just be aware that the twenty cars behind all beeping their horns are angry at you. Yes, that’s right, you. (Bonus points in both cities for making a bendy bus mount a kerb or do another weird manoeuvre to swerve around your bad parking).
2. The setting up of an ice rink in a public space for most of the end of November and the whole of December reminds us that we don’t live somewhere with a lake that freezes over naturally (and perhaps that we should be grateful, since it’s somewhat rare for people to lose hands, feet and noses to frostbite in Manchester, even if it is in the chilly North). Queuing for half the day and paying an outrageous price for skate hire (and even more for the mulled wine and/or coffee we need to warm up afterwards) reminds us that we’re glad this isn’t a year round attraction, especially when we can’t walk the next day because of stiff ankles and bruised knees. In fact, Manchester once again has an advantage: by hiding the ice rink in the dark depths of Spinningfields, families get to enjoy a good game of ‘find the winter attraction’ first: bonus points for being in a middle of a row by the time you get on the ice and spending the whole time in a sulk or trying to angrily push siblings and/or parents over. Paris hasn’t sussed this out yet, putting their ice rinks in obvious, easily locatable places like the Champs-Elysées, Trocadéro gardens or town hall. Now where’s the fun in that?
1. Manchester may be known for its rain, but when the sky above Paris turns dark and ominous, you know you’re in trouble. However, the French city has got it all worked out: no sooner do drops start falling from the sky than little men appear selling umbrellas and ponchos (what do you mean, you left yours at home?) and everyone dives into the nearest café for shelter. In Manchester people just tough it out, or go and lurk in Debenhams.