“Finish this sentence,” said Alex, my French teacher. “The thing I don’t like about Bordeaux is….”
She glanced expectantly around the room, but for once, the usually boisterous class was silent. We studiously avoided making eye contact with her. I’m not sure if we were overly polite, shy, or just wary of antagonizing the woman who ruled us for three hours every day.
“Come,” she said with a trace of irritation. “There must be something.”
I sighed and took one for the team. “The thing I don’t like about Bordeaux is that it’s impossible to appreciate what a beautiful city it is when I have to keep my eyes on the sidewalk to avoid stepping in the little ….er, presents the dogs leave everywhere.”
There! I’d said it. Dog poop was a problem that had plagued me since I first arrived in Bordeaux. It’s not just the fact that festering piles of feces are a biohazard, an eyesore, and murder on the olfactory glands. They’re also pretty slippery — just ask the hundreds of unfortunate people who are hospitalized every year after daring to raise their eyes from the fecal minefield at their feet.
Alex first addressed the gap in my vocabulary, writing “les crottes” on the board so that we’d all have a polite term to use for those malodorous little mounds. Then she addressed the problem. “Dodging les crottes is annoying,” she shrugged, “but what can you do?”
There was an audible thunk as my jaw hit the floor. What can you do? What Can You DO? Are you kidding me, woman?
Perhaps I was a little harsh on her. (In my head, that is — I managed to refrain from venting my spleen out loud.) I know that in France, cleaning messes in the street has always been the responsibility of the local government, not the individual. In return for the high taxes they pay, citizens expect to be provided with outstanding service when it comes to public maintenance. And the government, bless it, tries hard. Thirty years ago the battle against dog poop heated up when Jacques Chirac unleashed on Paris a fleet of Motocrottes, a cross between a moped and a vacuum cleaner. Eventually though, it became clear that the government was fighting a losing — and very expensive — battle. The glorified Hoovers were summarily scrapped. Dogs 1, Motocrottes 0.
Nowadays the government has changed tactics and is trying to educate the public to pick up after their dogs. I wish them luck, but I have to say that during the two years I lived in Bordeaux, I never saw a single person stoop and scoop. (I did see one woman stoop and fling, but I don’t really consider that progress.)
I realize there are cultural differences at play here, but I confess I have a hard time reconciling the French love of beauty and elegance with their laissez-faire attitude toward the doggie doo that fouls their streets. Merde happens — why not just pick it up?