Friday, May 18, 2012

Noticing the Culture of Paris: Waste

Depending on the part of Paris you’re in, Paris is a very clean or surprisingly dirty city.  The average Parisian—non-immigrant—is concerned with eco-friendly products and good recycling habits.  In immigrant laden areas of Paris, this is not always the case, though still is for some.  Regardless, there are trash recepticals everywhere throughout Paris, and one sees trashmen going about to collect this trash on a daily basis.  The center of Paris is usually very clean and it’s nearly impossible to find trash on the ground, though one my find the occasional box filled with empty wine bottles from the night before, if walking around in the early morning hours.  However, cigarette butts are not trash.  One cannot regard them as garbage.  Given this, cigarette butts line Paris in an astonishing way.  In any given square foot there are 1-15 cigarette butts in places near where people can sit or street curbs.

Their trash men are not “underlings” of French society the way they are in the United States—service jobs where you do your job unseen.  In fact, they talk to and joke with people on the street as they pass by picking up full trash bags and replacing them with new bags.  People have conversations with them and they do their job well.  Despite relative cleanliness of the inner-city and the well-doing trashmen, France is not afraid of trash and not afraid to admit trash/rubbish exists.  Today I walked out onto my street—a nice street in the 6th arrondisement—to see two LARGE mounds of trash in the middle of the street.  Perhaps the truck broke down, perhaps that’s how they collect trash (I’ll watch out for this again) but no one seemed in a rush to move the trash, and people walked past it without the slightest worry.  It was being taken care of, I imagine.—This is not something you would ever see on an important, well-to-do street in the United States.  Someone would have complained the second it happened, someone would be scrambling to get it off the street and out of the area, someone would be fired.  In Paris, it was life as usual, only a giant mound of trash was accompanying it.


  1. Okay, I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks about waste in foreign countries. Both times I've been in London, I just want to shake people and ask them what sort of insane logic they were using when they disposed of their rubbish. It's really confusing. There are ads everywhere asking people to bin their rubbish, but there's still a lot of waste on the streets. In some places there are lots of bins but they're still overflowing, in other places there are no bins at all, but it's immaculately clean. There just seems to be no rhyme or reason. I'm certain of two things: 1) the average Londoner doesn't feel as guilty littering as I do, and 2) rubbish bins are problematic, because in the past, Irish rebels have used them to hide bombs (definitely not an issue in the States, as far as I'm aware). I'm sure you were just dying to know all of that fascinating information. But seriously, I think about Londoners and their waste habits EVERY DAY that I'm here. I just can't figure it out.

    1. Averyl, the reason I noticed this in Paris the way I did is BECAUSE its so different in London. It particularly hit me the second time around in London that I couldn't find ANYWHERE to throw away rubbish. Every once and a while you'll find one in a large square or a tube station, but more often than not there are signs asking Londoners not to leave their newspapers or trash in the tube area, and yet no place to put said rubbish they don't want left behind. It's very frustrating. Thankfully, you need only walk a meter or two in Paris before finding somewhere to throw away trash from lunch.