December 2008


Domino’s Pizza in Paris. Another layered, Pico Iyer-esque moment: Italian food, American interpretation, French audience. (Note also the Coke machine lurking in the back of the restaurant.) Somehow, this Domino’s has managed to skirt French laws requiring advertisements to be presented in French—if you squint, you can see that they’re still billing themselves as “The Pizza Delivery Experts.” (This claim dubiously, if ingeniously, avoids any sort of claim on the quality of the pizza itself.)


A herd in support of pizza-delivery. These scooters have identical end-goals to their cousin, the American automobile; the surmountability culturally-based differences in transportation and delivery.


Herds on the streets of Paris. As I was preparing this post, sorting through the photos I have, I started thinking about what constitutes a herd and what doesn’t. A herd, I decided, is a group of similar objects that have chosen to gather together. (Or their respective owners have chosen to gather them together, as the objects lack agency.) This excludes merchandise for sale (one common owner; a herd represents compound decisions) and things that operate as indivisible objects (a metro train can be thought of as a herd of cars, but properly the train, while divisible, is an indivisible object—it needs all five cars to operate) and short-term high-turnover clusters of objects (buses arriving and leaving—there is something static to a herd.)


These photos, on the other hand, show proper herds: Static groups of diffuse, divisible objects that have clustered together through the actions of disparate owners. The motorcycles are an exemplar of the proper herd; these herds of police and medical vehicles are a little harder to define. If the place they gather is formally set, and not ad hoc as the motorcycles’ is, do they still constitute a herd? I would argue they do: Much as herds of animals can cluster out in the field, they can also cluster inside a defined corral. The motorcycles in this example are “out in the wild”—away from their respective home bases—and the emergency vehicles are “in the corral”.


The definition of a herd also assumes a lack of purpose and agency: A farmers’ market isn’t really a herd of humans, because the farmers have chosen to gather themselves there with an explicit purpose. These herds just are—waiting, in most cases, for their owners to return or for them to be pressed into use. The point of a herd is that it is inactive, that when active it is necessarily diffuse


Herds, lines, groups, order: The ways in which we organize our common existence.


“WANTED” brand tortilla products at Le Grand Epicerie De Paris, a high-end grocery store connected to a department store, Le Bon Marché.


How do we define ourselves abroad? Are these chips and tortillas American because they tilt at Old-West stereotypes? Because they’re in English? Because tortilla chips are un-French?


The layers of filtration: Mexican food, packaged as American, advertised using American stereotypes of Mexicans, to be sold to a French/European audience. 


Pico Iyer would have a field day.


A quick break from the Paris posts (which are nearing their end—back to the Northeast soon, I promise) to consider a remarkable in-the-wild case of pithy helvetica, that oh-so-popular graphic design format privileging appearance over content. posts a free, custom-designed logo every day, available for unrestricted use. The various elements of each logo are only strange lorem-ipsum style placeholders; the logos can be edited to suit their final users. But before the logos are edited, they are exemplars of pithy helvetica: They “read” as a logo, even though their constituent parts are meaningless

[via Lifehacker]


Instead of asking passengers not to take luggage carts up or down escalators, CDG airport simply makes it impossible for users to perform this action. This is an interesting case of a constrained-choice system because it is rare that the system is so overt in communicating its end-goal(s).

(Note also the innovative up escalator/down escalator pictograms, in place of the DOT standard [and easier to understand?] up/down pictograms.)


More Louvre pictograms. The above three are all DOT standard, and direct patrons to an escalator or an elevator, depending on their ambulant condition. But where there is a slight elevation change and only handicapped patrons need to use an elevator, the Louvre improvises:


This pictogram draws on elements of the elevator pictogram—the arrows, the platform—but is not a part of the DOT set.

Accents, dialects, informalities: The way in which our visual systems speak.


A standard no-parking sign in Paris: The “not” symbol is understood to mean “no parking,” and “jour et nuit” translates to “day and night.” No Parking, Day or Night.

This system relies on interpretation and conscious action. People must follow the rules, must heed the signs, if the signs are to be effective. This is an open-choice system: We may follow the sign’s instructions, or we may not. The physical environment does not constrain us in any way. Contrast this with a constrained-choice no-parking system, which simply prevents users from parking in certain places or certain ways. Open-choice systems are significantly more flexible than constrained-choice systems, leading to their deployment in places like no-parking zones.


The ways in which we segregate items from our realities. Sudden discrete herds.


How items are grouped, made indiscrete, and removed to storage or disposal. Objects not in use.


Leaves, chairs: A Paris park prepares for winter.


Another constrained-choice system: Poles in the sidewalk ensure that cars don’t turn on to the (very broad) Parisian sidewalks, while permitting bicycle, motorcycle, and pedestrian traffic to pass through. A kind of semi-permeable membrane for the four-wheeled set.

The poles are also a way of claiming turf and delineating space. They are also a handy way to notify pedestrians that they should expect auto traffic.


McDonald’s, central Paris.

Be prepared to compromise. Le M is served alongside the McChicken.

The McDonald’s of Paris are always packed, possibly to an even greater extent than their American counterparts. Businesspeople, school kids, teenagers, fashionistas: They’re all here. Those who aren’t lured by McDo’s burgers are there for the chocolate mousse—bring up this France-only menu item with any American who’s spent time in Paris and be prepared for a long-winded rave—or by the free wireless internet every restaurant pumps out.


Tread softly, and carry an extra supply of subtle-dark-grey lettering.

It works because McDonald’s is American, but it’s not too American. It’s the same story as Disneyland Resort Paris: An outside product that has, in effect, knelt and asked for the French to accept it. America sells, but it’s got to ask nicely.

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