New handbag from the waist bin
After several weeks of scooter biking there was a huge hole in the sole of my left shoe with which I did the push offs. I made an appointment with social services - of which I was a regular customer now - to finance either a new pair of shoes or the Paris Navigo metro card. The latter was approved. Also the money was supposed to be available in two days. I was even luckier when I arrived home and found a nice second hand leather hand bag leaning against the common waist bin. In Paris people leave garments and other items still in good condition close to the waist containers for those in need. Many antique brokers also complete their stock by rich neighborhoods’ garbage. An old mirror frame you purchased not so cheap in the famous Clignancourt flea market has probably been found in one of the 16th arrondissement’s waste containers.
The next day my new hand bag was noticed in the office.
- Nice bag! Jee Eun Kim said, taking the bag and turning it in her hands. She then continued:
- Couldn’t tell it is a no name brand bag. When I first came to Paris I was extremely surprised to see Parisians wearing whatever unbranded handbags, even cheap supermarket ones. In Seoul even the most modest working girl has a Vuitton, Channel or Hermes handbag. Wearing whatever hand bag in business would be a shame. I really expected to see even more fashionable bags on the streets of Paris.
- Most Parisians are just ordinary people, we are not movie extras, I said.
She also let me know that she has always thought Scandinavian countries are rich and their citizens well-off. I responded that there was a period when levels of upward social mobility were high and a blue-collar worker’s son could become a state minister. A wrinkle between Jee Eun Kim’s eyes told me that she didn’t quite appreciate the idea. She nodded satisfied when I added that now we started also having very rich and very poor people like everywhere.
- But I understand the taxes are high? She asked.
- Yes, I would say so. Compared to the French system the main difference is that even small salaries and inheritances are taxed. I remember my grandfather once got a mean letter from the town tax office. According to the letter the administration had learned that he had gotten an inheritance that he had not declared. Grandfather was known as a calm man. But this time he got angry. He had, in fact, inherited an aunt. Except that the aunt was poor and the inheritance was nothing else than two worn-out linen kitchen towels. He took the inherited items together with the accusing letter and dropped in the town tax office with no previous warning. He threw both towels on the employee’s desk and said that the tax office could take one of them. He said he would appreciate if he could keep the less worn-out one. Finally they classified his file without taking the towel, I concluded. My boss found the story very funny. But I felt she didn’t believe it was all true.