Friday, January 30, 2015

January 30, 2015 -- Montpellier, France

Today is my last full day in Montpellier. Tomorrow I'll take the train to Paris as I work my way back to Brussels and my flight back home to Phoenix.

Today I decided to visit some non-tourist places including the large Polygone shopping center. In Arizona, the traditional large multistory shopping mall with its department store anchors has almost disappeared in favor of strip malls, where the shopper can drive up to the store and park right in front of it. The traditional multistory department store has also almost disappeared in Arizona. Both are very much alive in France. There is still an advantage to being able to wander around a large shopping mall and ogling the offerings of small shops instead of just driving from Walmart to Costco and then to Target.

The photo below shows the hordes of people entering and leaving the Polygone shopping center near the Place de la Comodie here in Montpellier. There is a parking lot in the subbasement, but most people take public transportation to the area and then walk to the shopping center. This benefits other businesses located nearby that shoppers must walk past to reach the Polygone.

People entering and leaving the Polygone shopping mall
Inside, the shopping center looks a lot like traditional shopping malls used to look in the USA, and may still look in some parts of the country as far as I know. This is one of the two periods of the year when stores in France are permitted to hold sales (soldes). Hence the sign to the right of center of the picture below with the word "soldes" at 50% to 60% off. 

In most countries of the world, a store can hold a sale anytime the management decides to do so. Holding a sale with marked-down prices is illegal in France except during the two six-week periods when the national government allows it (up from five weeks last year). There is a bit more flexibility allowed in some cities, especially in cities on the border with other countries. If you own a store and get stuck with some stock that is not moving, you may not just mark it down in price to try to get rid of it. You have to hang onto the stock until the dates when the French government allows markdowns. Do otherwise, and you will face harsh justice.

Inside the Polygone shopping mall
Despite the efforts of the French government to reduce cigarette smoking, France is still a country of smokers. Through the 1970s, roughly 2 out of 3 French men smoked. The government has managed to get that figure down to 1 in 3 for both men and women. France has tough anti-smoking laws with a fine up to 300 euros for violations (about $340 US at the current rate of exchange). However, the law suffers from lax enforcement, and it is still sometimes difficult in France for non-smokers to avoid secondhand smoke. In 2016, France plans to implement the world's toughest anti-smoking law. In remains to be seen if that law will finally make France a country that is friendly to non-smokers. Tobacco sellers threaten to turn out hordes of French people to demonstrate in the streets if the law goes into effect. However, about 70 percent of French people support smoking restrictions, which is just about the percentage of French non-smokers.

I have only seen one person on the street "vaporing" or smoking an electronic cigarette. However, e-cigarettes are increasingly available here if not yet as popular as in the USA. I stumbled across the e-cigarette shop near the Polygone shopping center on my wanderings today.

An e-cigarette store
Finally a look at the inside of the Montpellier railroad station. Most of the railroad stations in France have not been modernized and looks like they were built in the 1800s, which they were. I prefer the old railroad stations. These modern ones seem sterile to me and remind me of airports and their association with the unpleasant experience of flying commercial airliners. This is the station from which I will take the bullet train tomorrow for Paris.

The railway station in Montpellier

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