Embracing a very French revolution
“WHAT IS she wearing?” Two Israeli girls, mouths open, heads craned, are sitting by the side of a deluxe swimming pool in Tel Aviv. The woman in question knows perfectly well that she is the subject of discussion. She smiles sleekly and preens herself. Her bikini is top-notch, her kaftan throw even notchier, and she sports the highest of heels. (Yes, next to a slippery swimming pool, but she has style to maintain). Chuck in, of course, a handbag which probably cost more than the GNP of a small country.
And yes, of course, she was French. The French have arrived on Israel’s coastal plain in force and every place you go, you are reminded of their presence. The men, in the upmarket hotels, wear trousers in colours rarely seen outside a Rubik’s Cube, their children are kitted out in adorable mini-me versions, the wives and daughters are primped and gussied up in that oh-soirritating French fashion.
Not a tattoo in sight — too déclassé for the French middle classes — and there are signs that the rather fashionblind Israelis are upping their game in response. Far fewer wife-beater vests are on display among Israeli males and this summer saw a flurry of polo shirts complete with upturned collar — very unIsraeli but tres, tres, French.
Restaurants are responding to the influx, too. Instead of the usual threelanguage menus — Hebrew, Russian, and English — you can now see French. And it’s not just the top level eateries: Tel Aviv Port’s Aroma café, centre of the grab-and-go foodie universe, now shows pictures of its baguettes with relevant French captions.
Entire enclaves of shopping streets have changed aspirations and now cater to the yummy-mummy French cliques — or should that be the Bon Chic, Bon Genre crowd? They sit with their designer pushchairs parked at uncircumnavigeable angles, sipping lattes as though they were still summering in Arcachon.
The spas, too, are responding — the usual Russian weightlifters who comprise 90 per cent of Israel’s beauty therapists are now, instead of their grunts, trying a word or two of French.
At the duty free shop at Ben-Gurion Airport, the middle-aged Parisienne in front of me is less than enchanted by the Israeli “service”. “What do you want?” barks the assistant, only to be floored when the lady in question pretty much buys everything on the counter. The bad-tempered duty-free assistants are suddenly being given a crash course in “la politesse”.
En route to an appointment in the centre of Tel Aviv, I spot estate agent hoardings offering space in enticing new developments — all in French.
If the reason for the French stampede weren’t so distressing, it would be almost funny. Thirty years too late, the politician David Levy’s time has come. He, of course, spoke hardly any English — but could discourse endlessly in flowery French. Two months ago, a rumour gripped Israel that Mr Levy was running against Reuven Rivlin for president. Timing is everything. Israel could so easily have been a new French protectorate. It may well yet happen.
Israelis shopping in Tel Aviv