I'm on the Eurostar from London to Paris in one of those carriages where each set of seats is arranged in a square so that the occupants can face one other.
We're just getting down to the line for takeoff. Even the French girl in lowboots and a frange* smoking a last cigarette at the carriage door is stubbing out, coming inside, when they arrive.
There's so much of them. And everything about them is quality. Their fabrics are thick; their watches are chunky, their mobile phones and music devices are slim.
They take possession of their square, expanding, overflowing the inadequate fold-out table, unpacking gourmet crisps, high-end bottled water and glossy magazines. One of the men goes to the buffet carriage for more: coffee, croissants, chocolate.
They are so prolific, so entitled, amazing me with their ability to order coffees and cakes and juice and sandwiches. Don’t they know that they could have waited and saved twenty, thirty euros that would have bought them all a lunch of rillettes and bread in a good cafe? Don't they know they could have bought better, tastier bread from the bakers' at the corner for less than a euro? But they order in at the bar and everything comes to them immediately, ready-made. They expect no less. They expect no more.
One of the girls gets out travel guides, brochures, Obama's autobiography, and a transparent plastic folder filled with clip sheets from expensively photographed travel mags and pages printed from luxe internet sites.
I crane my neck. She flicks past pages on Berlin, Barcelona - a self-made grand tour of the cool spots of Europe. She gets to Paris.
"OK," she says. This is where we're staying. She indicates to spots on the map with the authority of a tour guide.
"Here's Notre Dame. Here's the Eiffel Tower. We're on the Left Bank - beneath the river Seine. The Right Bank is more, like, expensive, more old-fashioned but the Left Bank is cooler, more studenty, younger, y'know... more relaxed."
I can hear in her voice every sweet vision of Paris conjured. When she says, Saint Germain, there are the clever people sipping coffee, letting drop the occasional existential phrase; when she says, Montparnasse, there are the lights outside the Coupole and Ernest Hemingway walking up the Boulevard Raspail to party with Josephine Baker. This is obviously someone who has never walked down the Boulevard Saint Germain to pay six Euros for a coffee in Flore; someone who has never crossed the river to Canal Saint Martin or Oberkampf or Belleville. How can guidebooks still be touting this 1950s myth of the bohemian Left and the monumental Right Banks? How can anybody still believe them? But these beautiful people have never been to Paris before. What else do they have to go on but dreams?
We arrive at Gare du Nord and I take the metro down to Saint Michel. As I dodge through the tour groups, the fast food outlets and the souvenir stalls toward the comparative calm of the rue Jacob, I wonder whether they've taken the same route, these future rulers of the World, so lovely and innocent in their wealth, adrift in a Europe they hardly know has already diverged from the entry in their guidebook? Perhaps I needn't worry. So young, so beautiful, so rich, so well-meaning and so full of expectation: who could fail to love them?
*fringe - the Parisian girls' haircut par excellence.