A bushload of American businessmen, part of a trade delegation recently visiting here, gasped as the Manhattan-style skyline of this West African commercial mecca exploded into view.
One member of the group, Washington, D.C., public relations man Ofield Dukes, said, "No one prepared us for this. This is a city."
By Western standards, this stillgrowing metropolis of 1.5 million people is a rare African melange of glass skyscrapers and French-style sidewalk cafes that at first glance recalls Paris in summer.
About 60,000 French live here, four times the number at independence in 1960. In fact, after the French leave the city en masse each June for vacations in France, the daily traffic jams disappear until September.
Interlaced with placid lagoons, abidjan grew from a small collection of fishing villages early in the century into the country's commercial capital after the construction of a railroad terminal and the development of Port Bouet here, Its modern communications and Western life style have made it a regional trade center in West Africa for many multinational businesses, including approximately eighty American companies.
Some visitors criticize the city as being "more French than African." They point to the contemporary architecture of the downtown commercial section, called the Plateau, complete with limited parking and narrow streets, or the middle-class suburban neighborhood of Cocody.
But these critics generally overlook the Treichville and Adjame sections where the sights, sounds and banter of West Africa's "market princesses" are like those of any other West African coastal city. The vast Treichville market, with hanging yards of colorful cloth, street vendors selling sweet, fried dough balls and women beauticians braiding hair on the street for a price of $7.50 and up, gives Abidjan a reputation as one of the most active trading centers along the Gulf of Guinea coast.
Parisian fashions are favored by the Ivorian and European women who work in the Plateu's offices. The present-day fashion, in this perpetually hot, humid city, includes clinging corduroy slacks.
On the major streets leading from the Plataeu, street vendors swarm out among the cars to hawk their wares when the fast-moving traffic stops at traffic lights. They sell everything from organges to thermos jugs, baseball caps, magazines and yellow beer mugs with "Visit Rhode Island" written in white letters.
One vender was selling umbrellas for twice the normal $5 price on a dry day. When asked how he could sell umbrellas at that price in the middle of the country's dry season, he answered, philosophically, "But monsieur, the rains will come, the rains will come."