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Make-Believe Paris in America (1/3): Orlando

Americans can now visit Paris without having to leave the United States! At the EPCOT theme park in Florida, at Universal Studios in California, and at the Paris hotel and casino in Las Vegas, tourists rub shoulders with waistcoat-wearing garçons de café and take selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower. Follow France-Amérique through those picture-postards version of Paris in the United States.

Episode 1: The France Pavilion at EPCOT (Florida)

In the swampland southwest of Orlando, Walt Disney dreamed of building the perfect town. In the center, he designed a pedestrianized area filled with “shops and restaurants that reflect the culture and flavor of locations around the world.” His utopia was christened the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT.

Unfortunately, the town was never built – Disney died before realizing his dream – but the EPCOT theme park was inaugurated on October 1, 1982. Eleven national pavilions were built around an artificial “lagoon”: France comes between Morocco and the United Kingdom. Disney’s architects supposedly based their designs on Georges Seurat’s painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, to recreate the atmosphere of Paris during the 1880s.

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A replica of the Eiffel Tower looms behind a block of Haussmannian buildings at the France Pavilion in Orlando, Florida. © Gene Duncan

Anyone venturing behind the block of Haussmannian buildings featured on a street lined with chestnut trees will glimpse the top of the Eiffel Tower. However, in an effort to force a more realistic perspective, the 103-foot structure only has two floors. On the adjoining town square, jugglers and portrait artists wearing typical striped sweaters are always on hand to welcome visitors. Half of the 300 employees are French, and are granted Q1 visas aimed at participants in an international cultural exchange program. Over the course of a year, they work in the perfume boutique, the souvenir store, the crêpe or ice cream stands, the bakery and patisserie, or in one of the two restaurants – Chefs de France and Monsieur Paul – founded by French chefs Paul Bocuse, Gaston Lenôtre, and Roger Vergé.

“Our staff members are cultural ambassadors for France,” says Jérôme Bocuse, who took over from his father in 2002. “Our customers are generally American citizens from rural areas. Most of them are used to fast food chains and are unfamiliar with French cuisine. We introduce them to boeuf bourguignon, tartes flambées, and macarons.”

=> In the same series, stroll down French Street at the Universal Studios theme park in California, and climb up the Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

Article published in the May 2018 issue of France-Amérique

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