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The French Laundry

(Focus Features)
So last Monday I walked into the self-service laundromat at the Place Monge metro stop in Paris, and found the owner removing all of the weekend cash (at least I think she was the owner). She was an attractive woman, maybe 45, with smartly coiffed, shoulder-length blonde hair. She wore a fashionable calf-colored suede jacket, black designer slacks and flat, black shoes, as well as a lovely silk scarf over a pretty white blouse. On her hands were white kid-gloves to keep her fingers from being soiled by the piles of coins that she collected from the machines. She looked like she was on her way for a five-course lunch on the Champs Elysees, and for all I knew, she was Catherine Deneuve. But then, as I found everywhere I went in Paris, nearly everyone – even the people who work in laundromats – dresses beautifully, and if they're tall and blonde enough, they might be Catherine Deneuve.

When I began to ask questions in my bumbling French, the lady answered me in French-accented English and then led me through the process of buying soap, loading my clothes into the machine and paying at a central terminal where you punch in numbers for the washing machine you're using and add Euro coins for payment. Outside it was raining, and people walked quickly through the tree-lined square on their way to work and school. Across the street, the white stone building of the Garde Republican (the local police station) was flying the French flag and had the motto of the French Revolution – Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite – etched into its stone entrance. Young women smoked cigarettes and drank "noisettes" – espresso with a dash of milk – in the café next door, which had a soccer game on the flat-screen TV.

After she collected all the coins and checked the machines, the blonde lady smiled and wished me a good day as she left. To anyone who still thinks that Parisians are rude and snotty as a general rule, I suggest that you do your laundry next time at the Place Monge in the 5th arrondissement.

Who knows? The person helping you might turn out to be Catherine Deneuve.

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