When I first came to France eight years ago, there were many things which confused and alarmed me, but nothing so much as an official sticker I read on the window of the bus one day.
“Un animal domestique? Oui! S’il est petit et dans un sac.”
Which, translated, is basically,
“Want to bring your pet on the bus? Sure! As long as he’s small and in a bag.”
What sort of bag? A plastic one? A holdall? Do I zip it up? What does ‘small’ mean? Could one really consider putting Rover in a rucksack? At the time my head was spinning with questions. Maybe I’d misunderstood. Of course I had. What sort of crazy puts a dog in a bag? But no, I hadn’t got it wrong, and this kind of behaviour was as common in France as the famous French shrug.
Now, I have not travelled extensively so I do not know how culturally bizarre dogs in bags is. In England, I’m pretty sure that a dog in a bag is frowned upon if not actually condemned by animal rights groups. But in France when the Stickers for Buses Department at the RATP, (the transport operator here in Paris), had a meeting on new ideas, at not one moment during the let’s-make-the-dog-in-a-bag-sticker decision-making process, did anyone say, “Er, hello? Is everyone definitely OK with carrying a Bulldog in a briefcase?” Either no one was really listening, or this was so culturally acceptable that it never crossed anyone’s mind to question it. Of course, it was the latter.
(Incidentally, that same day, I saw another sign informing me not to let my bras poke out from the window of the bus (my bras?! I only wear one at a time. What on earth do French girls do? And why do they need this sticker?). Dogs in bags and undies out the window? My whole world had turned upside down. (Of course, I later realised it was referring to my arm and not my ‘soutien-gorge’ or literally my ‘throat-support’. (Note to France: My throat is fine thanks, it’s my boobs that need the backup.)))
But the funny thing is, that as I write this, I am no longer filled with confusion or shock. I have grown accustomed to many things that once baffled me. In fact, beyond accepting this particular difference between my culture and my surrogate’s, I have adopted and absorbed it; I find it strange no more.
Furthermore, I positively like it. What better surprise when you’re standing on the bus on your way to work, staring at the wizened profile of a powdery old lady who has decided to go and buy three kilos of clementines at rush hour (what are you gonna do with those?), taking up a seat that there is no way I can steal, than to glance down and find the fluffy head of a ridiculously small, unidentifiable canine smiling up at me from the inside of her bag? It’s hilarious. A civil service; a free, public mood-swinger. A dog in a bag can brighten up the bluest of days.
So, bizarre as at first it seemed, now I’m campaigning for dogs in bags. I’m really not sure who gets hurt here. The dog’s happy, the public’s happy, and so is the RATP.
Plus, pooches in pouches don’t poop on the pavement (you can’t take him out just to defecate on the street – now that would draw some judgmental stares).
And this cultural phenomenon is not just about keeping the bus clean. No, no, no. A dog in a bag is also a bone-fide fashion accessory. Not to mention that putting your pup in your handbag saves the little mite from having to use its tiny legs. Women walk down the street looking completely and utterly normal until suddenly your eye falls just underneath their arm where their shoulder bag rests, and there, a Yorkshire Terrier enjoying an undulating ride through the cobbled streets of Paris, an expression of pride so gleefully glazed on his trembling face you wonder if he doesn’t have contacts at the RATP.