The French were a little hasty in congratulating themselves on escaping the worst effects of the credit crunch through their aversion to credit cards and their generally prudent attitude towards debt, but it was without a trace of schadenfreude that I read of the recent increase in demand for pawnbrokers' services in Paris—30% in the last year—where in the Marais, among the designer shops, Parisians are furtively using them. Five hundred a day are pawning possessions, and these are not just the poor but also the well-heeled, raising cash on clocks, jewellery, stamp collections and paintings. Next week Le Crédit Municipal will hold its first auction of pawned grand cru wines.
They still use a euphemism which dates from the nineteenth century, chez ma tante, whereas we were talking of uncle in the middle of the seventeenth. The New York Times recently republished an 1855 article noting that "on this side of the water we have not the art of cloaking unpleasant things so skilfully; in the two great Old-World cities, there is a pleasant sort of romance woven about 'my aunt' and 'my uncle'".