Sunday, April 21, 2013

Paris kiosks celebrate 150 years. My interview with "kiosquier" Jacky Goubert.

Jacky Goubert (right) and his daughter Gaelle.

From April 17 until April 21, Paris is celebrating the 150th anniversary of one of the most iconic symbols of the French capital - its kiosks. On Friday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacky Goubert and his daughter Gaelle, who operate the kiosk on the Boulevard Saint-Germain between Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. It's where I buy the International Herald Tribune whenever I'm in the neighborhood.

MK: This has to be one of the best kiosks in Paris. How were you able to get the concession for it?
Jacky: Normally, it's not possible to pass a kiosk from parent to child because they are only licensed and not purchased from the city. But somehow my mother arranged for me to take it over when she retired. She started working here in 1972.

MK: I've noticed that different kiosks offer different magazines. Do you select the ones that you want to sell?
Jacky: No. The company that manages the kiosks for the city of Paris sends us the newspapers and magazines that are popular in our neighborhood. We get a lot of ones about interior design.

MK: What is the best selling French newspaper?
Jacky: Le Monde.
MK: And magazine?
Jacky: Of the biweekly publications, it would be Elle. But for the monthly ones it's Vogue.

MK: Which newspaper do you read?
Jacky: Le Parisien, the local paper.

MK: I would imagine that quite a few of your clients are tourists. Is there anything that you would like to tell future visitors about shopping at a kiosk?
Jacky (without hesitation): Yes! Don't be afraid to buy Pariscope. People always ask if there's a magazine with information about events in English. There isn't. Even though Pariscope is in French, I think that a non-French speaking person should be able to understand it. Ok, maybe not all of the interviews, but they will certainly understand the information about the current exhibitions and shows.

MK: When I first arrived, you were eating your lunch in the kiosk. It must be hard to take a break. What hours do you work every day?
Jacky (looking at his watch): Well, I've been working since the kiosk opened at 5:30 this morning.  It's open until 11:00 pm from Monday to Saturday and until 8:00 pm on Sunday. We're almost never closed because people expect to be able to buy a newspaper when they visit the Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. We divide the work in three shifts so I'll be going home soon.

MK: Are your customers mainly tourists or locals?
Gaelle (responding to my question while Jacky covers the magazines with a tarp to protect them from the rain): It's difficult to say. There are a lot of people from the neighborhood who pass by every day. They stop for a chat and to tell us how they're doing. Sometimes they even bring us croissants for breakfast, especially on Sundays. People from all walks of life buy their newspapers here, from street cleaners to Catherine Deneuve. One day my colleague was doing a crossword puzzle and couldn't think of the first name of a television star. He turned to one of our customers and asked for the answer because it was the same star whose name was in the puzzle.

MK: You must have all kinds of interesting anecdotes about people. Is there anything that customers do that you don't like?
Jacky and Gaelle (in unison): Yes! When they enter the kiosk and don't close their umbrellas.

Jacky: The water ruins the newspapers and magazines. One day there was a woman who came inside with a dripping umbrella. When I asked her to close it, she said that it wasn't wet. After asking her again, she finally snapped the umbrella shut. It sprayed water everywhere, including all over me. Then she set it down on top of the art magazines, the most expensive ones. When I asked her to move it, she insisted that her umbrella was dry. The magazines were obviously wet so I said, "Oh, then I suppose that it was my magazines that got water on your umbrella." She left in a huff.

MK: With more and more publications offering online editions, are you worried about the future of print media?
Jacky: No. I think that there will always be people, like me, who prefer holding a newspaper or magazine in their hands. There's something about opening a newspaper, the noise that it makes when you turn the page, that you don't get when reading something online. There was a magazine that I had been reading ever since it first appeared, when they decided to only offer it online, I stopped reading it. I liked reading the magazine in bed, before I went to sleep at night. You can't do that when you have to read it on a computer. Look at Newsweek. They decided to be a digital only entity but now they're offering a print magazine again [available only in Europe, the Middle East and Africa].

MK (addressing question to Gaelle): Would you like to take over the kiosk when your father retires?
Gaelle: No, I'm just helping him right now. I don't want to do it on my own. Physically, it's very hard work. Some of the individual magazines weigh 2 kilos which makes it very difficult to move entire stacks of them.

MK: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Jacky: In 2011, it was decided that kiosks could supplement their income by selling souvenirs, drinks and snacks. We're one of the few remaining kiosks in Paris that only sells print media.

The next time that you're on your way to a cafe, please buy a magazine or newspaper from one of the 340 kiosks in Paris. We want them to be in business for another 150 years. Just be sure to close your umbrella before entering the kiosk if it's raining!

Please click here to see a map with the locations of all the kiosks.

Jacky Goubert's kiosk at 170 Boulevard Saint-Germain.

24 comments:

  1. It's interesting that they speak of people coming "into" the kiosks--I don't think most of us think of that--it's more like we're just beside the kiosks, therefore the umbrellas stay open--not that I've ever had an umbrella in Paris. And it's true, we all have to support the kiosks, or they won't be there in 150 years, or even ten. I say the same thing about book stores here in the states. Record stores are practically all gone, except for vinyl shops. If you want it in your neighborhood, you have to support it.


    I like that you did an interview. Do more. And how is the translating for you? Any difficult things to translate?

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    1. I was also surprised that Jacky and Gaelle spoke of people coming "into" the kiosk but better understood their sentiments while standing next to them at the counter. It really does feel as if you're "inside" because of the extended awning.

      Thanks for your positive feedback about the interview. I've got a few more lined up that I hope will be of interest. As for translating, most of it wasn't a problem because I repeated much of what they said to make sure that I understood the words and the nuances. One part, however, that really had me stumped was when Jacky mentioned the year (1972) that his mother obtained the commission for the kiosk because I'm still used to thinking of French numbers in the less complicated way that the Swiss say them. When Jacky said "mille neuf cent soixante-douze", my mind heard 1912, so I kept trying to figure out how that would have been possible given Jacky's age. My brow must have been wrinkled in confusion because Jacky very nicely took the pen out of my hand and wrote the numbers for me. Talk about a light bulb moment!

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  2. I have to agree with Joseph, I really enjoyed the interview and would like to see more of this. I feel it gives a look at the daily life in Paris rather than all the special things one can do.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the interview with Jacky and Gaelle. After reading everyone's comments, I've contacted some other people that I hope to interview in the very near future.

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  3. I also enjoyed this post a lot. Very interesting slice of life! I love these kiosks and often stop to buy a newspaper or magazine (sometimes a postcard) when I'm in Paris.

    Regards,

    Patricia H

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    1. I also love the kiosks. Whenever the one behind our apartment is closed for a couple of weeks in August, I realize how much I've come to rely on easy access to newspaper and magazines.

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    1. Thanks for commenting. There will be more interviews to come!

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  5. Nice post - enjoyed reading the interview with Jacky/Gaelle. It's interesting that Gaelle doesn't want to carry on with the Kiosk when her Father retires! I always buy my postcards from a Kiosk rather than at a souvenir shop - I have worried that they won't be around too much longer so do try to patronize them whenever I can.

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    1. I was a bit surprised by Gaelle's comment, too. But when I started thinking more about it, I realized that I haven't seen a female kiosquier, at least not that I can remember. The physical labor and lifting all of the magazines/papers on a daily basis is probably a strong deterrent.

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  6. a truly lovely post - I LOVE READING and I always buy something, a journal, a magazine or postcards just for the pleasure of being able to and to make sure those shops (as bookshops too) stay open also in the future. I also buy from on-line bookshops but it's not the same - and I agree with Jacky that holding a real newspaper, magazine,book in your hand beats on-line-reading by miles.

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    1. I'm in the same camp as Jacky and you, Kiki. I have a Kindle but rarely use it because I still prefer the tactile sensation that comes with reading print material!

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  7. I agree with the others, I really found this interview interesting. A look at a bit of Parisian life I never really think about. I never read newspapers, (having once been married to a journalist. I don't believe what they print!) And my French is not good enough for the magazine's. But I despair of what will happen to book shops and kiosks like this with the advent of on lune journalism and social media. Good luck to Jacky and Gaelle. Love Denise
    L I ve

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    1. There are some journalists/papers that I have more confidence in than others. Unfortunately, too many of the owners in the USA have an agenda that they expect their reporters to follow.

      I was pleasantly surprised to hear Jacky's optimistic forecast for the future of print journalism. Let's hope that he's right!

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  8. A lovely warm tone comes out in the interview Mary Kay...very enjoyable. The kiosks should certainly be supported or they will close down. Many of the kiosks (modelled in the Parisian style down to the green facades) in Melbourne have unfortunately closed down due to lack of patronage. I love that one can potentially see Catherine Deneuve pass by their work place!!

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    1. After I heard that Catherine Deneuve is one of their customers, I almost asked if I could hang out at the kiosk for a couple of days. If I ever get the opportunity to take a photo of her for you, Baron, I definitely will!

      It's interesting that there are kiosks in Melbourne modeled after the Parisian ones. I didn't know that. One of the reasons why I think that the kiosks still work in Paris is that there's a lot of pedestrian traffic.

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  9. How I missed your Paris stories! Wonderful to read them now again.
    Kindest regards Sanne

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    1. Thanks, Sanne. I've been rather slow getting back into the swing of things this month. I hope to be a more regular poster in May!

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  10. "People always ask if there's a magazine with information about events in English. There isn't. Even though Pariscope is in French..."

    No English magazine with Paris info available in Paris? I have the knowledge if anyone has the capital...lol. Now THAT would be a fun job for an unemployed American!!! Great story by the way...when I clicked on the map for the Kiosks locations, I was floored!!!! There must be a couple of hundred of them. Very cool!

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    1. Sounds like you've got your work cut out for you! When can we expect to see the English magazine with info about Paris in the kiosks?

      According to the mayor's office, there are 340 kiosks in the city. What's amazing to me is how close some of them are to each other. It makes it very easy to buy newspapers here!

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  11. Loved this interview about a Paris institution that has always fascinated me! And now I know to always shut my umbrella -- and that a thoughtful croissant goes a long way.

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    1. Many thanks for commenting, Ann! I hope that you'll allow me to interview you about you new book, "Mastering the Art of French Eating""Mastering the Art of French Eating" when you're in Paris.

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  12. Most enjoyable, Mary Kay, and very informative. I'm featuring it on my Wednesday's Bloggers' Round-up today.

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    1. Thank you for featuring the post in your Bloggers' Round-up, Rosemary!

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