Before I got a dog I’d always been mistrustful of them and, although England is renowned for being an animal-loving country, I’ve found the attitude of most shopkeepers, restaurant owners and people on the street backed up my opinion. In England you can’t take your dog into any shop – you’d have security on you in seconds in anticipation of a stray pee on the products. You certainly can’t take your dog into a restaurant – there’d be so many diners refusing to eat due to the hairy, potentially flea-ridden beast slavering over their meals. In France, you’re welcomed with your dog in both shops and restaurants, and most people’s houses – in fact you’ll be the most popular person in the place due to your cute furry friend.
When I first got the dog and we were passing a restaurant and decided to eat, my immediate Anglophile reaction was ‘we can’t take the dog in, it’s unhygienic’. But then I wondered whether that was true. Is it the hair I’m worried will moult into someone else’s soup? I’ve seen men with more body hair than my little pooch. He hasn’t got fleas and doesn’t go to the toilet indoors. What was wrong with him sitting under the table as we eat? He’s quieter, less slobbery and better trained than most babies or children that are already in there. So in we went and the sight of the sweet little dog immediately put a smile on the face of most diners and staff.
I actually use the dog as a sales tool – he should really be classed as an employee. Cute pictures of him (for example pretending to pull as sledge full of magazine boxes through the snow) do well on my magazine’s social media. Going into a meeting with a potential advertiser, or an interview, with the dog always puts people immediately at their ease and gives you a great icebreaker. Sharing stories of your dogs gets you that initial bond and a way to suss out the other person. Though this probably only works in the context of work in the Alps where everybody walks across mountain trails to meetings and generally fits work in with life rather than the other way round. If I’d taken my dog into work at the BBC they would have sent me to a ‘thought wheel‘ while they called a shrink and readied my P45.
At the same time that France is a much more relaxed place to own a dog, the French also seem more relaxed about the way they treat their pets. Around 100,000 dogs are abandoned each year, with a huge spike in summer as families go on holiday. France pretty much shuts down for the whole of August and it’s not uncommon for people to take the whole month off, leaving their pets at rescue centres on their way. Our own dog is a rescue – he was found abandoned in a car park, in a plastic bag with 3 siblings at 4 weeks old.
On the other hand, the French do treat dogs like dogs. There are a lot of rural areas where the dogs work, on farms for example, or to guard the house. We went to watch the pisteurs doing avalanche rescue training with the dogs, which involved them all sitting in a freezing blizzard on top of a glacier for a few hours – doesn’t do them any harm. However, back in a town centre in England we tied our dog to a bench while we popped into H&M. The weather was mild and we peeped out to check him every few minutes – he was fine sat there waiting. The queue for the till took a little longer and by the time I came outside, the dog had a crowd of women fussing round him, the police had been called and we almost had a crime reference number! That’s the paradox of the relationship of the English to dogs – quick to accuse you of failing to mollycoddle your dog, but quick to throw you out if you try to bring the dog along to whatever you’re doing in a public area. And the other side of the French lacsadaisical attitude to dogs being welcome everywhere is their equal acceptance of having dog poo everywhere. The French are renowned for not picking it up – it’s everywhere even in our ski resort where children congregate and where they provide amazingly high tech poo bags free at all the bins, so there’s no excuse.
Often when I compare England and France I want to stick them both in a bag, shake them up and come out with a happy medium. One of those high tech poo bags will do.