Parisian Bouquinistes Seek UNESCO Intangible Cultural Status

Bouqinistes

Paris City Council has taken the first steps to help its centuries-old "bouquiniste" stands achieve UNESCO Intangible Cultural Status. Although opinions are mixed on whether this lofty title will help bouquinistes' sales, most Parisians are optimistic this proposal will go through.

Leaders of the Cultural Association of Paris Bouquinistes have been encouraging City Hall to recognize the iconic green bookstands for months now. Just a few days ago, representatives in Paris City Council finally decided to recognize bouquinistes as a cultural treasure nationally. With this formal recognition, the French government can now send an application to UNESCO.

Even if the paperwork goes through to the UN, it will most likely take a few years before bouqinistes are awarded with an Intangible Cultural Status designation. According to UNESCO's rules, France is only allowed to submit one new application for this award every two years.

A few major companies and authors have expressed support for the bouquinistes' campaign. The famous Bateaux-Mouches on the Seine and the Académie Française said they would like to see the bouquinistes achieve UNESCO Intangible Cultural Status. Anna Gavalda, the author of Ensemble, c'est tout, also expressed her support for this campaign.

Even if the bouqinistes are given UNESCO status, many booksellers don't believe it will positively impact their business. A few vendors point out that the nearby quays in Paris were listed on UNESCO's World Heritage list, but that didn't result in a tourism boost.

Some vendors at bouqinistes, however, are optimistic that a UNESCO designation could drum up business. After these bookstands were given national status, a few bouqinistes experienced higher than average traffic.

Whether or not the UNESCO status will help bouqinistes is debatable, but the problems these book vendors face are far more extreme in the 21st century. Many bouqiniste workers complain that younger people aren't interested in buying second-hand books anymore. Most book vendors have to sell tacky souvenirs just to get by.

Bouquiniste workers also blame the Internet on the decreased demand for their books. Nowadays bouqinistes can't make the same amount of money they used to make before the 1990s.

The tradition of book vendors along the Seine goes back at least five centuries. The government now requires all bouqinistes to work at least four days per week and to only have one box of souvenirs. The approximately 900 bouqinistes that stretch from the Louvre to Notre Dame are all rent-free.

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