Make new friends, but keep the old: The Champs-Elysees

Copyright JC Politi Photography
Arc de Triumphe – Paris, France

There is an article in the New York Times this week about the Champs-Elysees and since, as you will read on Friday, Paris was my very favorite city on our European tour, I felt that I had to write a little bit about this article here.

The article discusses concerns that the Champs-Elysees is becoming too commercialized and mainstream and losing the Parisian joie-de-vivre that defines French culture.

We visited Paris last week and it was love at first sight. Our first tourist destination was the Arc de Triumphe and the Champs Elysees. We walked the entire length of the boulevard and were mesmerized by the luxurious shops and cafes.

We ate the most delicious pastry I have ever tasted – or seen. I wish I had a photo to share with all of you, but this gallery of sweets, which has been in operation since the 1800’s was off-limits to photographers. The word pastry simply does not do justice to this decadent delight.

The New York Times article examines the influence of new chain stores like H&M and Banana Republic opening on the boulevard.

Copyright JC Politi Photography
Champs-Elysees: Paris, France

We did a Rick Steve’s walking tour down the Champs-Elysees and learned that there was a lot of concern when McDonalds opened.

Steves notes that McDonalds was only allowed to open as long as they agreed to paint their arches white and maintain a café feel, including sidewalk tables.

I understand the concern over losing the artistic and luxurious energy of this iconic avenue. And I certainly saw some signs of this deterioration firsthand. But I also saw the future compromising with the past in a way that held some beauty.

It is hard to explain, but as an example, I was absolutely blown away by the Abercrombie and Fitch store. The outside of the store – we did not go inside – was as beautiful as any museum. We did not learn the history of that building, but I have no doubt that it is a place with great historic significance.

Frankfurt was another incredible example of the old meeting the new, where sky-scrapers share a block with castles, which I will share on my Photo-Friday about Germany.

I find myself wondering how I feel about this. It was wonderful to see historic buildings being preserved and put to use rather than destroyed like we are so quick to do here in the United States.

But is it OK to have a McDonalds in a place with such a rich history? Something doesn’t sit well with me about that. Perhaps it is the desire to slow down the rapid pace of change. But can we do that?

What do you think? Do you have issues with historic buildings being put to use for modern-day services? Would you have a problem if a castle turned into a Walmart, even if it maintained the architectural integrity of the original structure? Have you seen any positive examples of old things being repurposed for new uses that could serve as a model for others?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!


Filed under Business, Culture, Economy, Ethics, History, International, Photography, Photos, Politcs, Privatization, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Technology, travel

52 responses to “Make new friends, but keep the old: The Champs-Elysees

  1. I’ve never been to Paris Jenni. And I hope Champs-Elysees isn’t marked with Taco Bell’s and McDonald’s by the time I get there. 🙂

  2. I recall the controversy over the McDonalds. It never should have been allowed. Compromising with commerce can only go so far! But from what you say there is still a great deal to love about that part of Paris. Let us hope it remains so!

    • I don’t think that Paris could lose its beauty, as long as they don’t start tearing down those incredible buildings. But I certainly see the point of trying to restrict growth. We have some towns in Colorado that won’t allow chain stores, why can’t the Champs Elysees do the same?

  3. “MacDonald’s”, “Burger King”, “SubWay”, “I Eat Fat Juicy Burgers That Drip Fat” (okay so I made that last one up) but none of them belong in a place like that. Leave it for the traditional cafes and restaurant’s. Let them get their money elsewhere, not on historical roads.

  4. I have never been to Paris but my soul is in love with everything French. Perhaps a past life. I really enjoyed the blog. Have a wonderful day.

  5. First off welcome back J! I’ve missed you. 🙂 I don’t mind using old buildings for modern purposes, however a WalMart in a castle doesn’t sit well with me.

    • Thank you!!!! I missed you too! It was nice to disconnect, but I really missed our little community here. 🙂 And I’m with you – Walmart in a historic castle just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. Looking forward to seeing what has been going on in your corner of the blogosphere and catching up!

  6. funny, I lived in Madrid when their first McD’s opened in 1981 (curiously 10 years to the DAY before my wedding…which I learned last year while in Madrid). I was excited then. Alas, it made me sad to see a McD’s practically every 2 blocks in Madrid upon my return nearly 30 years later. There’s another down the street (Gran Via) from that first one that looks like the front of a museum. I didn’t really answer your question….but these are the thoughts that came to mind. I also remember eating at a McD’s when in Paris in 1981….it’s all we could afford at the time 😉 Sounds like you had a fabulous trip!!

    • We did. Yes, Burger King asctually seems to be more common from what I could see. And in Germany, the Starbucks are on every corner. But it is still so beautiful I almost didn’t even notice them. Thanks so much for your comment!

  7. Pingback: Make new friends, but keep the old: The Champs-Elysees | Home Far Away From Home

  8. Your trip sounds amazing! I grew up a Canadian on French and German soil. I remember when McDonald’s first came to a small town in southern Germany — I was soooo disappointed.

    I think as a global community, we have a responsibility to share our BEST, and Taco Bells and McDonalds are not necessarily our best. though they do prove we can eat fast and not care about presentation and taste! 🙂

    • You are so right!! But I guess in an increasingly connected society, what we love as a culture, for whatever reason, is likely to spread. I do hope there can be some limits and the French seem to be good at imposing those types of restrictions, but it will be interesting to see how things go. Thanks so much for the comment!

  9. I look forward to future posts on your trip. I have several thoughts – when I visit anyplace, I try to go to restaurants which are local or regional. I want to experience their cuisine. Also, having seen what happens in America if you do not control the store brand marketing, you end up with a very ugly street. So, if they allow brands, I agree that they need to remain in keeping with the feel and culture of the neighborhood.

    • There will be many, I imagine as the experiences simmer on the brain. I was so tired when I wrote the Spain one, it had a few errors and I can’t go back to edit it for some reason, but I will be sharing lots more. We saw so much and learned so much and ate so much – the perfect adventure!! Thanks for the comment! By the way, I would NEVER eat at a chain when I am abroad. The only time I did was when I was in Argentina and our dog, who was the love of our life, passed away suddenly and I needed to feel something familiar. What does that say that I needed some McDonalds french fries? But other than that, I always want to find the local favorites. Thanks again for the comment!

  10. This is always a tricky issue. I’ve strolled down the Champs-Elysees, and it can be jarring to see McDonalds and such. Then again, times change–such is life. I think as long as the architectural integrity is maintained, that softens the blow a bit.

    • I agree. And at least they are not going to tear down these beuatiful old buildings and put up McMansions or box stores. It will be interesting to observe how they manage the growth and change. I guess I will have to go back to see and I am such a team player, I am willing to do that! 🙂

  11. I was in high school when McDonalds showed up on the Champs. As I recall we had to go down to a small room in the basement and the lines were short. It all seemed very strange and I wondered why anybody would want to eat there. A year later I was in Munich and a McDonalds had just opened there. We went for the novelty. It seemed funny. In 1993 I moved to Moscow and there was a big two story McDonads right off Pushkin Square. The lines to get in ran for several blocks. I couldn’t be bothered. Today,McDonalds and Starbucks are everywhere. If people didn’t go to them, they would not exist. Somebody must like them….. As for the architecture, a Walmart is a Walmart is a wallmart is a Walmart…..

    • Wow. You have seen a lot! Actually, you just jogged my memory that I went to that McDonalds when I was 16 and on an exchange program in Moscow. I remember my Russian mother making me eat before I went! Maybe she was onto something! I completely agree about the Walmart. I am sure some restrictions could be put in place to provide some limitations that could lead to a good compromise between maintaining the history and bringing in the new. Frankfurt is an interesting example of this from the little bit we saw. Thanks so much for your comment!

  12. I could see a bookstore in a castle but not a Walmart! What a wonderful trip – thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Thanks for reading!!! It is so fun to be able to share photos here where people will actually be interested in seeing them!!! I think you are right about a bookstore being more palatable. Thanks so much for the comment!

  13. What troubles me is the homogenizing of our experiences. When I was a child, there was a real excitement about visiting another city, state, country, because I’d see and experience things there that were different from where I lived. Bringing back gifts was a big deal because we’d bring back things that were unique to where we’d been. The last time I went abroad, I brought back very few things because, for the most part, I could buy them back home and saw no reason to schlep them in my suitcase. And I find this to be true across the U.S. as well as across the seas…xoxoM

  14. Great post! I am a traditionalist and hate seeing all the American chains on an important avenue. The McDonald’s definitely doesn’t belong and I’m afraid all these western stores will only make the avenue loose it’s charm and become only for tourists.

  15. Despite some cultural homogenization that speaks to the flatness of our world, there is still something magical about favorite city too…didn’t love Frankfurt so much – but I did go to an outdoor market there which trumped any market I have ever seen in terms of fresh food!!

    • Hi Mimi!! Thanks for the comment! Frankfurt was our last stop and we only had a day there, but we really liked it and found a charming neighborhood and a german beergarden where everyone knew each other. It was a nice surprise for us. Too bad we missed the market!! But PARIS!!!!! OMG – I completely agree – magical!! Thanks again for the comment!

  16. Zen

    Somehow I think it would seem weird if a brand new McDonald’s was present in the vicinity of old historic buildings. It rather ruins the atmosphere, I guess?

    Also, those are pretty pictures!

    • Thank you and thank you for taking time to leave a comment! I think you are right, although this particular historic area is full of shopping, so the stretch is not quite as far as a Walmart in a castle. I just used that to illlustrate my point. It will be very interesting to see how this unfolds in Paris and elsewhere, since I think this is a sympton of the flattening society, as Mimi referred to so eloquently. Thanks again for reading and for your comment!!

  17. Whether here or when traveling, I prefer privately run or at least regional establishments. Repurposing buildings is usually better than just tearing them down, but if I were far from home for an extended time, the golden arches may be a welcome site.

    • I completely agree about repurposing being better than tearing down. And it was interesting to see how much I needed McD’s french fries when I was sad in Argentina after my pup died suddenly. It is just so ingrained in our culture I suppose. But I do think there are other streets for the golden arches to occupy. Thanks for swinging by Katie! I missed you while I was gone!

  18. Hi Jenne, I’d love to see Paris one day before I die…I don’t believe that the Burger Kings and other fast foods of the world should run their business in a cassle.

  19. Definitely have a problem with McDonalds being on the Champs-Elysees (love saying that name! :P) and that’s not just because I have a problem with McD’s in the first place. When we were in Europe, I made it a point to not eat in an American franchise. I just don’t think they should be there. Europe has such amazing food and it’s usually fresher, better quality and not as full of sugar, preservatives, and fillers. Why they want to follow in the unhealthy footsteps of Americanized food is beyond me. It’s obvious that it hasn’t done us any good!
    I love the idea of a castle being turned into a house, or orphanage, or something like that, but Walmart? That’s just sad to me.
    Thanks for a great post!

  20. I can walk to the corner if I want to see a McDonalds (and I don’t eat it – it makes me sick). But regardless of this – I wouldn’t like to go all that way to see the beautiful Champs-Elysees just to run into another McDonalds – I think it takes away from the majesty, history and wonder of such places.

  21. Love that you followed Rick Steves…isn’t he great?! Paris in the Springtime or anytime is wonderful! So glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

    • He was great – we used him for just about every city. His walking tours are amazing, but you certainly have to give yourself more time than he suggests. He must be a machine to be able to do these walks!! But we learned so much. I would recommend his books to anyone headed to Europe, for sure!

  22. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart? from evil.. -Proverbs3:5-7

  23. I don’t know – I don’t think I would like it, much. But that’s illogical!

  24. So cool, Jennifer! I want to go to France (testing comment)

    • Yay!!!!!! It came through loud and clear Cassie!! France is spectacular – I could have stayed for weeks or months and never gotten tired of it! Thanks so much for reading and for your persistence with comment attempts! 🙂

  25. alejandra

    I’ve been to paris 4x, my last visit was in february 2012. I took my husband, to this, most beautiful city in the world-and he too is in love with it. I found your blog because I recently read that paris is tearing down historical buildings to allow fast food chain establishments!! My heart jumped! I already despise that it is merely impossible to drive half a mile without driving by a mc donalds, now paris! I’m dying to have my kids grow up so they can visit the city that I love and cannot stop day dreaming about, and now this! Okay now I’m venting.
    Regardless, I believe such a beautiful place should be kept just as it is, with tradions intact, where cusine, even if as simple asa croissant

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