Bordeaux - Civil City

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I’ve just had a couple of very pleasant days in Bordeaux. The French city is defined by its passion for wine and cuisine, with many cafes and restaurants that support locally grown and created produce.

There is a strong sense of local identity and a pride in the products that come from the region, which is reflected in the investment in culture that is on display everywhere.

Bordeaux is a busy place, with lots of people visiting the shops and markets. We visited the Christmas Market and a Vintage Market, and managed to take a stroll through the regular Sunday morning food market on the riverside.

I was struck by a couple of things that really stood out to me. First, people are much quieter when they meet together in the cafes and bars. There is very little music played in the cafes, so the predominant sound is that if people talking. Even in a busy bistro it’s possible to have a conversation without raising one’s voice to be heard.

Second, young people are socialised into meeting together in cafes and restaurants where they sit and chat respectfully to one another. There is none of the attention-seeking boisterousness that accompanies young British people when they get together in groups.

Third, the fashion sense is really interesting. There were three main looks. The super-smart, where people wore clothing that was impeccably neat and tailored. Then there were the casuals, but it’s mostly jeans, and very little sportswear. Then there is the French alternative look, which can be a bit hipster in the way that retro fashions are mixed in with trainers and scooters.

The city has quite a lot of independent food and cloths shops, and the chain stores are less prominent than in a UK town centre. Because the old town is a maze of backstreets, we could stumble upon different squares and courtyards just by wandering, and following the flow of people, rather than sticking to the map.

After a couple of days of feeling like I have been in a dreamland, I’ve realised that this level of civility on display in Bordeaux is normal, and the low level of investment in culture, socialisation and the civic realm in the UK is the exception across Europe.

I’ve also come back to the UK more strongly convinced that Brexit is a massive error, not just economically but also culturally, which needs to be corrected sooner rather than later.

If it takes a massive programme of cultural assimilation, consigning the cheap and cheerful boozing break that many Brits think is the norm, then we need to get back into the European family and reintegrate as soon as possible.

The pride and sense of belonging, with an attention to detail about the shared and integrated culture – just look at the trams – is a lesson for anyone wanting to figure out where the UK goes next. Investment in people, place and purpose has taken decades to make Bordeaux the economic and cultural powerhouse it is now.