Em­brac­ing a very French revo­lu­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY JENNI FRAZER

“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

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