"A day will come, no doubt, when a restaurant à la française run by Japanese for Japanese clients will open."
     Of the three Indochinese countries, Vietnam has inspired the most French literary and artistic words. In 1992 three French movies filmed in Vietnam, Indochine, Dien Bien Phu and The Lover, played to packed houses.
     The Lover, a steamy film about an affair between a French teenage and an ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam, is based on an autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras. Rumor has it that 16-year-old Jane March, who plays young Duras, and Tony Leung, as Duras's lover, weren't faking the sex scenes. Film director Jean-Jacques Annaud has yet to confirm or deny this. Perhaps one may never know the truth, but as Napoleon once said, "impossible is not French."

Japanese, the Feared Newcomers

     Since the early 1980s a dozen Japanese designers who studied with Givenchy, Laroche or Dior have become the rage of le tout Paris. They include Miyake, Kenzo and Kansai. "That the Japanese inundate France with their electronics, we began to get used to this fact," wrote L'Express. "But that they are interested in a field that is as traditional as clothing is something new. And this causes concern."
     Like their American counterparts French journalists, intellectuals and politicians indulge in nippophobie, Japan-bashing, whenever they feel threatened by that country's economic power. Former prime minister Edith Cresson exhibited perhaps one of the worst cases of this phobia when she talked of the Japanese almost as subhuman. "I said [the Japanese] worked like ants. Ants work a lot, it's true... We can't live in miniscule apartments like that, spend two hours commuting to work. And work, work, work, and have children who will work like beasts. We want to keep our social guarantees, live like human beings, as we have always lived."
     To be compared to ants may seem insulting. The French often compare Asians to ants, not as an insult but as a compliment. In the french culture these insects enjoy a very positive image as honorable and industrious creatures. Prime Minister Cresson's remarks may appear more inflammatory than it was actually meant to be.
     The mutual admiration that France and Japan have for each other's cultures, and the benefits thereof, will likely prevail over misunderstandings and economic conflicts. At any given time Japanese in Paris number more than 25,000, half of whom are tourists, the other half students, artists and businessmen, most of whom reside temporarily. They live in the chic 16th Arondissement or the wealthy northern suburbs. Due to their language problems and temporary status here, the Japanese mainly stick to themselves.

     "A day will come, no doubt, when a restaurant à la française run by Japanese for Japanese clients will open, as there already exists bakeries producing pastries that were called 'French' but were made by Japanese for the Japanese, right in the middle of the Champs Elysées," write Holzman and Guidicelli in Asia in Paris.
     Coreans have only a slight presence in Paris. A Corean American named Myung-Whun Chung may be musical director of the Paris Opera, but the two dozen restaurants scattered around Paris don't add up to an identifiable Corean quarter. "The reception in these restaurants is almost always warm," write Holzman and Giudicelli, who are usually stingy in their praise of Asian people. "To take up an old cliche, the Koreans have a heart of gold underneath a rough exterior."
     Thousands of Asians have found in Paris what they want. Other have not. I know of several Asians who emigrated from France to America because, they said, the United States offers more democracy, more social mobility and material comfort.
     If you have artistic rather than academic talent, Paris is the place for you. For artists the city is rich in opportunities and open to new experiences.
     In my case I had toyed for years with the idea of settling down in Paris. I finally left the city when I realized that there would be no niche for someone like me, a foreigner, an outsider, with a degree in French literature. Besides, I was always tired of being down and out in Paris.
     But, as Ernest Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, his tribute to the City of Light, "There is never an ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it."
     Surely, those words apply to the thousands of Asians who have found in Paris a fascinating refuge and a stimulating mix of culture and opportunity. [END]

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