ON A RECENT visit to Paris I was struck by the difference between that great city and West Lothian. And I don’t mean the big things; I mean the little things.
Livingston has neither a Louvre nor a big tower that lights up at night, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Any West Lothian town centre at midnight is quiet in terms of numbers, but still manages to be a cacophony of shouting, squealing and breaking glass.
Paris, on the other hand, is mobbed in the wee sma’ hours but there is nothing in the way of noise, yelling or drunkenness. Instead, little bands of musicians play tunes on street corners while groups of youngsters wander arm-in-arm along the pavements or sit on the bank of the River Seine watching the world go by.
In West Lothian you’re more likely to come across a punch-up in a bus shelter.
That’s one difference. But another – and it may be connected – is the number of police officers on the streets.
When darkness falls across West Lothian you would be hard pressed to find a cop. And those you DO see are peering out from behind the steering wheels of their patrol cars. On the streets of Paris there are cops on every corner. Not doing anything… just making their presence known.
In the UK our cops wear peaked hats and black, tucked-in combat trousers. The purpose of combat trousers, by the way, is to stop trouser hems snaring on the undergrowth in a war zone. On cops they merely serve to give them a scary, macho, paramilitary appearance. The whole look is designed to be intimidating.
In Paris they wear skip hats and blue overalls with arm patches to identify them.
The result of all this is that despite the pressing crowds throughout the city centre, you feel safe.
But the real difference is the amazing lack of bureaucratic meddling and legislation. Parisians are treated like grown-ups responsible for their own decisions and safety. For example, there are hundreds of cyclists whizzing along every street. Yet in my entire time there I saw no more than two cycle helmets!
Parisian Health and Safety Nazis have not taken it upon themselves to scare the public into cocooning themselves in hi-viz jackets, polystyrene and bubble wrap in case they are stupid or careless. Or both.
Another example? The walkway along the River Seine has no barriers between the concrete and the water. Neither is there any of the ludicrous highly coloured signage that blights West Lothian: Warning. Danger of Death. Caution. Steep drop. Hard hat area. Slippery surface, and so on. There is not a single warning sign on the walkways of the Seine.
The bureaucrats of Paris obviously have a high regard for the common sense of their citizens. They know that the walker on the banks of the Seine has the sense to realise that if he larks around and gets too close to the edge is going to end up in the drink. And wet. He doesn’t need a silly big sign of a cartoon man tumbling into wee wavy lines to make this clear.
West Lothian ain’t got the buildings of Paris. But neither does it have the meddling bureaucratic attitude which holds that every citizen is a fool who needs protecting from their own stupidity.
And I LIKE that!