How refreshing to be in a culture that is not afraid of tall poppies, that is as relaxed around excess as it is around elegance.
The Paris models (surely; in fact there must have been a hundred of them on holiday here, and just in the quarter of my hotel; models, at least, if not real-life celebs, judging by the clothes, jewellery, perfume and hair) at ease at the nearby, cheap roadside kiosk.
The scruffy (deliberate holes in jeans and t-shirt, perhaps; but the dreads were real) workers in the posh hotels, dispensing smiles and scowls in equal measure, retain street cred alongside impeccable manners when the mood takes them.
Yes, I’m back in a French ‘territory’ and had been partially prepared by the airline with its subtle touches like free drinks, free alcohol and free 3-star menu: “Will that be white or red with your meal, Monsieur?”
The touches include the most comfortable ‘economy’ seats on the planet, the high quality audio/visual options, the charger for iPhones and iPads (Marketing Director to Finance Director: “But of course ALL our passengers will need to charge their Apples.”)
Leap in the shuttle bus, glance occasionally at the countryside, but then we’re past the hustle of town/city and at the beautiful white sand beach with the modern three-hotel complex waiting to receive us.
The sun literally sparkles on the water, the models dip in the various pools, the temperature snuggles around 30 degrees and the seafront cafes and restaurants are doing a brisk trade.
The French influence is seen often on billboards, shops signs and menu designs – the ones with their bright colours, clever typography and the often less-is-more impact. The American marketing (there’s a lot, which surprises) looks crass and utilitarian in contrast. At least the Aussies keep the tone light with their mostly-bloke, often-clever catch phrases.
Meanwhile, on the promenades and often within designated playing areas, the men gather to express themeselves at boules. Or, as is often the case around Noumea, the throwing variation called pétanque. And that expression can certainly include flambouyant, morose, Gallic and with every possible variety of shoulder-shrug known to mankind. And in this case I use that term deliberately as there is a significant (assuming 100% is significant in these modern times when statistics get used to rob the poor and reward the rich – but I digress) gender bias.
Alongside the promenades the traffic flows – beeps, swerves, cuts in, overtakes, undertakes and uses the roads in every way imaginable.
The confident insolence is so evident with cars. In fact, the cars almost swagger as they accelerate into an impossibly small gap, twitch into line, and then slow down or speed up with little concern for those around. And, unexpectedly, the car in front is often a Toyota (or any one of the Asian car manufacturer clones).
Oh, and just a note about the models. They may be anywhere between 30 and 60 but really, who can tell. Centuries of French expertise have gone into couture and coiffure, into makeup and accessories. Personal perfection? Mais oui, always.