Culture Shock of a Food Junkie

Written by kvfawcett on June 25, 2010 – 1:12 pm -

Some people gauge a country by its museums and monuments. Others gravitate to a place because of sand and surf. Many head to destinations based on what they can buy and bring home. None of these reasons is right or wrong. People travel for their own reasons—and that’s their business, not mine.

But no matter where I go—and I’m always ready to go anywhere, even to places where I can’t get a visa—there are always some must-sees after the usual major tourist attractions. You don’t come to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower any more than you go to Siem Reap in Cambodia and not visit Angkor Wat: granted, we know that.

After Notre Dame or the Luxembourg Garden, my list also includes places where people shop for food. Street market or supermarket, it’s all the same to me because we can learn a lot about a culture from the food people eat when they’re at home—in other words, the food for sale in the markets. The prices of groceries, from staples to produce to meat, can give some idea of the general condition of a country’s economy and a rough notion of how large a proportion of household income the locals are willing (or forced) to pay to feed themselves.

Perhaps my fascination (obsession?) with grocery stores began when I moved to Paris and didn’t speak French beyond bonjour, s’il vous plaît and merci. I was intimidated by the open markets where, if I touched a tomato, the vendor might slap my hand loudly saying, N’y touchez pas. I’d slink off and wonder if my cooking days were over and what were those cuts of beef and why did the chickens still have their heads on and no, I didn’t want it, merci.

I found solace in the Monoprix, where I could read the labels, take my time because there wasn’t someone else standing behind me and what do you mean, you have to bring your own bags and pack your purchases? I spent hours in that store on the Rue de Rivoli across from our apartment on the Place des Vosges. And I learned enough to grow confident in taking on the real markets.

This is true everywhere. You have to get used to the way food is displayed, priced, and used. Those elements after all are cultural, not universal. For example, Australian supermarkets are expensive even when buying local products such as fruit and cheese. I was surprised by the high cost of Australian beef. The wine is good, but (OK, I’m prejudiced) wines of comparable quality can be purchased for less in France.

Now, in Asia, I modify my list unless I’m in a grocery store that caters to foreigners. It’s not hard to identify them since they stock many items few locals would consider buying, and the stores generally have bigger grocery carts. There will be boxes of cereals and few Asians begin their days by eating Wheaties (“the breakfast of champions”) for their get up and go.

Rice is cheap according to Western standards. Not too many foreigners are searching for tiny portions of dried shrimp and other weird-looking items. If you crave peanut butter, chances are it’s going to set you back more than you want to pay unless you can’t do without a fix. Forget wine and opt for beer.

Obviously, no matter where I travel, I compare products with what I’m used to finding in France. But then, consciously or not, I inevitably compare shopping in France to shopping in the States. Parisian markets are for the most part much smaller than American grocery stores. If you want to go to a huge one, you’ll have to go to the suburbs to stock up, but without a car getting your purchases home presents a problem.

The good news is that Internet shopping has come to France, and local markets deliver. About once a month, I’ll order all the heavy stuff that I don’t have to look at—like bottled water, cleaning products, and wine. I know what they are—and let someone else lug them. I’d rather confine my daily shopping to produce, meat, fish, and my caloric downfall—cheese, glorious cheese. And then there’s the mainstay of life, bread. There’s nothing as good as a baguette that’s just come out of the oven, and please let me confine my croissant intake to a maximum of one a day.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I shopped at the same grocery store. Occasionally, I’d stray to the French Market but invariably was horrified by what I’d need to shell over at the check-out counter. The Georgetown Safeway (a.k.a. The Social Safeway) was the store of convenience and choice. When Washington was a village, I had to allow extra time to say hello to neighbors, friends, and parents from the school my son attended.

After being closed for a year, the former building has been replaced with a 71,067 square-foot one that’s state of the art everything and is “the greenest supermarket in the District of Columbia.” It has been built and will be maintained according to LEED Standards. There are even especially assigned parking places for cars that are fuel efficient like hybrids and electric cars. This is the ultimate in going green. And yes, you’re expected to bring your own bags—if not, each plastic bag costs five cents.

Who’d ever guess I’d experience total and absolute culture shock surrounded by produce, every type of food product and thousands of bottles of wine? And this wasn’t in an exotic destination where you’re not quite certain of what’s precisely being sold.

On May 6th the new Safeway had the grand opening the area’s residents were eagerly awaiting. People entered the store totally wide-eyed to be greeted by so many employees asking if they could help you, did you find everything and passing out samples. When I asked where the ladies room was, someone walked me to it and opened the door. I was fully expecting for them to enter the room with me and… never mind.

A guest from the U.K. accompanied me on one of my visits and was clearly overwhelmed by the size of the store and its vast selection. Choosing a cereal was enough to send him into a cold sweat. And what’s this about having a sommelier and a temperature-controlled wine room selling vintages that cost in excess of $100 per bottle.

Yes, this is an over-the-top store. Even the selection of flowers made me stop. When I ended up at the cheese counter that has an enormous selection, I was so happy until I looked at the prices, swallowed hard and put them down. There was no way I was going to pay that amount of money for a pasteurized Brie and will wait until I’m home in Paris.

I had a revelation. People who work in French supermarkets will never kill you with kindness. I suspect when the Georgetown Safeway is running smoothly, many of the company’s senior management will disappear and shoppers will be left to their own devices.

But, the food items I want—bread, cheese, wine and produce—cost substantially less in France. And who cares if I can’t choose from 22 brands of toilet paper. I’d rather buy cheese,merci, not to mention truffle salt.

No matter where I go, I take myself. And within my inner core, there’s an indelibly etched part of France, and certainly its food that will be with me until the day I die. C’est normal. You can’t live somewhere for 22 years and not be impacted by its culture.


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If I’m Not in Paris

Written by kvfawcett on June 25, 2010 – 1:08 pm -

Bonjour from Washington, D.C. If it’s late April through early June, chances are I’ll be in the Nation’s Capital. It’s not because I feel the compulsion to wave the American flag. Just because I choose to live in France doesn’t mean my forehead isn’t emblazoned with an invisible beacon flashing “Born in the USA” à la Bruce Springsteen. I’m proud to be an American—even if I do find certain things baffling on this side of the Atlantic.

I try to be in Washington for my granddaughters’ birthdays and school events. Even though some people may consider my carbon footprint environmentally irresponsible, I’m lucky to be able to celebrate significant events in person. Travel is a priority and a main line item in my budget.

Many expats miss important family occasions because of distance and the time and cost of travel. Of course that’s also true of people who never leave the United States which, after all, is about as large as Western Europe: the distance in air miles from Madrid to Moscow is less than the distance from New York to Los Angeles. But the euro and Europeanization notwithstanding, you travel farther in Europe. And let’s face it, not everyone speaks English.

The fact that my job is located in my computer (dear lord, please don’t let it crash again) allows me flexibility few people have. Even with increased cyber commuting, virtual offices and on-line meetings, most workers still need to make a physical appearance in an office on a frequent basis.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no way I’d want to head Bonjour Paris if I didn’t live in France. But there’s no need for me to be there 365 days a year. In fact, it’s better that I’m not. Each time I return after a trip of more than a few days (a long weekend in Morocco doesn’t count), it’s as if I am seeing the city in a new light. This is especially true if I return to Paris after the August vacation when many storefront businesses look completely different. Perhaps some people don’t work in August, but that can’t be said of many French construction crews.

So I was puzzled or, really, put out when someone who knew I was away shot me an email saying she didn’t believe I could write about Paris if I weren’t there. My response was downright snarky. But then I came to the realization that some of my best insights about the city I love are derived when I’m not there. The idea of not being able to feel the pulse of the city elsewhere or what’s taking place is downright nonsense. In Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth declared his manifesto for the Romantic Movement, saying that powerful poetry was composed from “emotion recollected in tranquility.” I may not write poems, but I think the feelings of daily life can be felt directly in one place or another, but recollected anywhere—and often more clearly and movingly.

The reality is when I’m in Paris, I may not always have my hand on its pulse. More than likely, my hands are on the computer keyboard and doing the same things anyone does when working. This is especially true if they work at home and a trip to the grocery store is considered an outing.

Even though traveling can be a pain in the derrière—and who enjoys dealing with security screenings, delayed flights, the recent bouts with volcanic ash and being stranded?—when I see a plane, I want to be on it.

Travel, whether it’s for business or pleasure, is the best way to learn about other cultures and mores and to gather a more global perspective. It is also the best way to see my own cultures—American and French—more clearly.

After 22 years of living in Paris, I look at things with a French attitude. My idea of home is a comfortable apartment near the Métro and a good bakery, not a 5000-square-foot MacMansion in the suburbs with a one-hour commute on clogged roads to work in a cubicle. I did not intend this, but this is what has happened to me. Or this:

Last night I toured Washington’s monuments after dark with a friend visiting from abroad and admired the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials as great examples of architecture—and symbols of the American republic. But they don’t make my heart stop the same way it does when I drive by the Assemblée nationale in Paris at night. Perhaps it has to do with lighting? The perspective? Maybe I’ve gone native? I don’t know. It’s a powerful feeling, though, and I can recollect it here in the United States.

Consider buying Travel Insurance. And you’d better believe that my Medjet Assist policy is renewed each year.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Cultural Differences Abound

Written by kvfawcett on June 22, 2010 – 10:30 am -

After living in another country for years, people tend to lose touch with what’s really happening at ‘home,’ no matter how tuned in they think they are to what’s current and what’s not.

I was taken aback by an article that recently appeared in the New York Times, still considered the paper of record in the U.S.  After reading Etiquette in New York City, I found myself having to do a reality check.  Have I missed something by living in France so long?

There’s no question I’ve lost some language fluency because I’m continually surprised by how frequently expressions, such as “How great is that?” are sentence structures I’ve never heard. Is it correct English?  I’d guess not, but evidently a question can be a declarative statement.  Excuse me?

No wonder foreigners doing business in France tend to be baffled. They encounter an entirely different set of do’s and dont’s. Until a few years ago, it was considered impolite to conduct businss at lunch. People toasted the signing of a ‘deal’ with good food, bottles of good wine and perhaps, a cigar. Few French are drinking much wine at lunch and forget lingering over cigars since it’s illegal to smoke in France in enclosed spaces.

It’s been years since I’ve wondered how and where people chew gum, mainly because it’s done so infrequently in France. There must be gum chewers since it’s for sale, but not in 122 flavors, shapes and sizes. The French may smoke (and yes, the numbers are edging up), but I rarely see many actually chewing gum—unless they’re desperate to stop smoking. In all of my years in France, I can’t recall anyone popping bubble gum.

I know some must chew gum, because on rare occasions, it’s been stuck to the sole of a shoe. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. Even though most dog owners really do observe the clean up after your pooch rule, if I step into anything, it’s invariably—well, gum doesn’t come in that color.

The Times article also discussed appropriate decorum when it comes to questioning over-30-year-old couples, if they plan to have children. In France, that’s the type of question you don’t ask unless you’re a very best friend or a mother or mother-in-law who’s looking for trouble.

In Europe, one learns not to question marital status and certainly doesn’t pry into something as intimate as a person’s breeding habits.  Thank you very much, but people simply don’t go there, anymore than they ask how much a colleague makes. They may surmise or even know, but salaries among executives are rarely lunchtime conversation.

Other differences in protocol: people shake hands in France, and it’s not up to either the man or the woman to initiate the action. When I go across the street to the café to grab a coffee, the barman and I shake hands.  Who opens the door for whom isn’t necessarily a feminist matter or a crime against women. I open doors for women who are older than I. Ditto for men if they appear either frail, weak, or are carrying bundles of groceries.

Robin Worrall, who lives in Copenhagen and was raised in the open doors for women school of manners, admits he had to get used Danish customs. “Perhaps some Danish women have come to believe that having the door opened for them somehow implies they’re being thrown back into the mire of inequality by having a man behave in this ‘old fashioned way’ … or perhaps they’re just saying ‘hey guys we can open the door ourselves thanks’. Either way because the picture is rather confused, Danish men (mostly) appear to have given up on the courtesy front. On the other hand, a Brit in Denmark can still get away with opening the odd door or two … and get a smile for his trouble!”

The gate to the building where I live in Paris is so heavy that anyone who opens it more than twice a day doesn’t need to go to the gym. All of the residents open it for other inhabitants and it has nothing to do with whether or not you’re polite.  It’s more about brute strength.

When it comes to who exits elevators first, few Parisians who live in old buildings have much choice. Elevators are miniscule, so who gets in last, exits first. If not, people may live and die together or be squished to death in the process.  The hell with gallantry. It’s called survival.

As polite as the French may be most of the time, Métro or subway etiquette appears to be universal. Who wants to be stuck in a car that pulls out of the station where they want to exit? People do push and then push some more.

“Je veux sortir, s’il vous plaît,” is invariably replaced by “Je pars,” forcefully said. People want out when they want out and who cares if neighbors are pushed in the process?

I was raised reading the © 1955 version of my mother’s bible, “Emily Post’s Etiquette” (it’s very much the worse for wear) and learned all of the must-do’s and don’ts. Then I proceeded to break most of the sacred rules. Come to think of it, I did the same thing when I moved to France. Manners are very important – but manner dictums do change.

The longer I live in France and the more I travel, the more I understand about other cultures. Conversely, I’m always a bit confused. But, there’s one thing that’s certain: cultural mores are an endless source of fascination. The puzzle is never precisely solved.  And that’s OK.  It makes life more interesting.  Please feel free to chime in as to what you perceive to be correct etiquette and what’s not.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Do as the French do… or not?

Written by kvfawcett on June 22, 2010 – 10:23 am -

The French government has declared war on alcoholism, and it doesn’t have a lot to do with drinking wine. Nor is the campaign targeting the group that begins imbibing before the noonday sun shines and continues drinking throughout the day. It’s really not focusing on the group sitting in cafes à la Peter Mayle’s books, most especially “A Year in Provence” that motivated so many to move to that part of France. Mais oui, what’s wrong with having a Pastis after finishing your morning shopping? Nothing if you don’t have to work or drive and do so moderately.

France’s stop-drinking campaign is aimed at teenagers, an increasing and alarming number of whom are binge drinkers.

Their alcohol of choice is hard liquor, often gin, vodka, calvados, or something that can be masked with mixers.  After three, four, or more drinks, teens find themselves on the floor wondering what they’re doing and where.  Or, they know and drink to get drunk. Are you surprised since France is a country where many children grow up drinking watered-down wine when dining with their parents?

The French government has banned gas stations from selling alcohol, and clamped down on clubs, where the entrance fee gives people carte blanche to drink until their faces fall off. Too many were abusing the privilege, and many claim that French teens were becoming more like those in Nordic countries where heavy drinking is more the norm.

A study of French 16-year-old teens that was released two years ago reported that drinking is on a rapid rise. According to the French Monitoring Center on Drugs and Addiction, one in five boys and one in ten girls admitted to having ten drinking episodes each month. If that’s what teens will admit to drinking, you’re pretty secure in surmising the statistics are under-reported.

Yes, there are random Breathalyzer tests. But all too frequently, the right ( or maybe that should be “wrong”) people aren’t stopped. Or it’s too late and crashing into another car or an inanimate object may stop them. Parents hope there will be a designated driver. Still, overdoing drinking doesn’t foster good behavior or healthy liver function.

By no means is France alone in fighting this battle of the binge drinker. However, it has a different idea as to how to combat the problem. A government commissioned report is advising that university students attend wine tasting sessions so they can learn about drinking in moderation, an undeniably French solution to the problem.

A committee is advising that conducting wine tastings during lunchtime would enable students to learn about wine. Jean-Robert Pitte, a former director of Paris’s Sorbonne says, “Hopefully, this would lessen the Friday and Saturday night freak-outs that are occurring with greater frequency.”

Jean-Pierre Coffe, a television anchor says, “Universities should give young people an education in wine as well as in academia,” questioning why there’s sex education in schools but none about wine. Not everyone is happy with this suggestion and some feel that it’s a ploy on the part of the wine industry and students shouldn’t be drinking at lunchtime.

Even though there’s a movement to raise the drinking age to 18 in the E.U., the reality is many teens begin at a far earlier age. Alcoholism has become a serious problem and rarely (if ever) does anything good happen after someone has had too much to drink and especially if they drink and drive.

People are fully aware that kids in the U.S. are known to drink—and how.  Since the legal age for drinking everywhere in the States is 21, teens need to persuade older friends to buy liquor for them or use a fake ID, available everywhere for very little money.

Restaurants and stores that sell alcohol to underage buyers can lose their licenses, and you’ll see people (who are clearly over 21) being carded and are serious when it comes to not allowing underage people to drink, even if they’re with parents.

In addition, if an establishment serves someone alcohol and he or she ends up causing an auto accident, the establishment’s owner is legally responsible and can be prosecuted for serving the driver too much: ergo, the last drink that caused the client to go over his or her alcohol limit. Many bar owners and restaurateurs claim this isn’t fair since people may look as if they haven’t been drinking when they arrive in the restaurant when they clearly have, and all it takes is another drink and boom, they’re so drunk that they’re menaces to themselves and others – most especially if they climb behind the wheel of a car.

You can’t help but wonder whether or not binge drinking is a function of age and simply a sign of the times.  It used to be that beer was traditionally the drink of choice among teens where they’d get ‘pissed.’ That was bad enough and can certainly have the same effect. But teens drinking hard liquor, with the main intent of getting drunk and consequently losing control. is causing many adults to think and think hard. Some claim it’s a phase. Others say teens are boozing it up to mask the pain of the fact that life is more difficult in this day and age and their getting jobs isn’t by any means guaranteed.

When you think about it, teens drinking too much is nothing that’s new. How many young adults, in developed countries, haven’t been exposed to too much temptation in the “let’s drink” department? And it’s more difficult for teens not to succumb to peer pressure.

But who guessed the French would be passing legislation to curb drinking to excess. It’s all to the good but hey…..

If you have children, or grandchildren, who are drinking to excess, how are you and your community dealing with the problem? It’s real and not going to be swept under the rug.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Up in the Air

Written by admin on June 16, 2010 – 11:56 am -

If you’ve been wondering what’s it’s been like, George Clooney had an easy time when it came to being a road warrior.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. George Clooney had a great time—believe me. He wasn’t trying to fly his way around volcanic ash or sleep on a cot in an airport for six days. Airport hotels? Heaven on earth given the alternatives.

Goorge Clooney could watch TV in his hotel room or the bar without being bewildered and depressed by cancellation notices, dire forecasts, and overflowing toilets. Nor did he have to deal with people sleeping everywhere or children crying. His life was good—or kinda.

Not wanting to miss the drama, I managed to arrive in Washington, DC in time for my granddaughter’s seventh birthday on the 24th. My flight wasn’t impacted in the same way as people who couldn’t take off last week and until Wednesday of this week. That’s when the airports officially opened in most of the E.U., even though flights were departing from some parts of Europe, depending on the day and the hour.

Please don’t think I’m making light of a dreadful situation. Rest  assured most people have concerns over the impact of volcanoes and climate change. But after all, volcanoes are natural and happen—honest—every day; they just tend to be smaller and politer. In any case, let’s hope we’ll never experience this type of travel disruption again.

Not only were the lives of passengers and flight crews disrupted, but planes weren’t where they were supposed to be. When the skies were declared safe, many flights were cancelled because there simply weren’t aircraft to transport people from here to there.

Robin Worrall, who writes special reports for The Danish Centre for Energy Savings in Copenhagen, was heading to Washington, DC. His initial flight from Denmark to London was cancelled. Luckily he was able to get a connection and made the first scheduled United flight to leave the U.K. on Thursday the 22nd, just when the ban was lifted.

Worrall admits to feeling a wee bit guilty, as well as lucky, as the plane departed, because he’d had a reservation on that specific flight. People who’d been stranded since the time Heathrow closed on the 14th surrounded him.

The flight attendants were in excellent spirits since many of them were returning home. They welcomed everyone as the passengers were boarding. Some commented about how expensive London was compared to the U.S. At least their housing was covered during the paid but unwanted furlough. That wasn’t the case for many others who had no option but to wait it out. No matter what was the reason for their trips, it was as if people had been handed “get-out-of-jail and pass-go-collect-$200” cards.

Before the DC-bound flight took off, the captain assured everyone that United wasn’t taking any chances. Off they went and after a few minutes, everyone clapped. The French aboard naturally shrugged and said, C’est normal. You’d think the plane would have had every seat filled, but much to Worrall’s surprise, there were two empty ones next to him in the Economy Plus section of the cabin. “I was lucky in every way,” he said. “The flight over was pleasant and we landed only eleven minutes late.”

Bonjour Paris’s events‘ editor Lisa Buros didn’t have the same luck. She and her fiancé were headed to the U.S. for their dream wedding, only to have to call it off because the guests would have arrived in time, but they wouldn’t, since their flights from London were cancelled and cancelled again.

Lisa adopted a stiff-upper-lip British attitude and has rescheduled the event. “We’re going to have a hurricane wedding in Las Vegas and do anything we please.” she said. The pair can’t wait to be surrounded by family and friends. Gee, this type of agony might have split some couples up. But I suspect this one will be dining out on this story for many years. And then some. No doubt the grandkids will roll their eyes.

As for me, I managed to make it to my granddaughter’s birthday and on time. But, I would have flown half way around the world to do so—and darn near did.

Please post your stories if you were inconvenienced by the volcano or were waiting for anyone who was. Let’s hope this will be the one and only occasion you’ll have the opportunity to rant this way.

If you were the recipient of an act of kindness while stranded, please share that as well. We’ve been hearing those stories too. Someone was musing as to whether or not there will be romances (even weddings) resulting from chance meetings in airports.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Life in Close Quarters

Written by admin on June 16, 2010 – 11:52 am -

It’s become a growing trend. Rather than being cramped in a hotel room, an increasing number people are opting to rent apartments when they come to Paris or cities. They may be on vacation, but even business travelers are going the rental route if they’re going to be in the city for more than a few days.

When Americans rent Paris apartments, invariably they’ll echo the same refrain. They wonder how people can live in such tight quarters. Many rental apartments are in the 40-50 square-meter range; multiply by 11 for the number of square feet.

Besides a living/dining area combination, a kitchen and a bedroom, there’s usually only one WC (toilet) and one bath (a tub and/or a shower) plus a sink.

Sound good? You bet. This size apartment isn’t terribly unusual if you want to stay in central Paris. But the agent or ad states the apartment is large enough to accommodate four people. Few Europeans flinch nor will people on a very tight budget.

Americans tend to have different expectations, unless they’ve sailed together in an under-30 foot boat and have experienced truly close quarters. People from the U.S. expect to be able to spread out unless it’s a family of four or very good friends—and then, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice had a king-size bed.

Well, hello, and welcome abroad! The American way of life including living in big houses or large apartments isn’t the norm. City dwellers in many parts of the world don’t have excess space to burn. But here’s the bottom line: A week or two spent living in what seems to be half the space or less than you need can be an illuminating moment. I can’t predict that you will shout Hallelujah or just Eureka, but you might learn something about how to live.

This idea is already taking hold in the States. I don’t know how many magazine articles I’ve seen recently about how to adapt to small quarters and live with less and more efficiently. Then there are the television shows that focus on downsizing, and designers and space planners engineering small spaces so they fit their clients’ lifestyles. With the advent of the green movement, many groups are advocating that people should downsize in order to conserve resources.

Okay. Now, the French have traditionally been energy conscious because of the high cost of electricity. As an American, I applaud this and turn lights off and the heat and air conditioning down no matter where I am. It’s become such a habit that I turn out lights even in hotels where utilities aren’t the issue. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

They utilize space very differently even in other rich countries. Few people have enormous family rooms with media centers plus workout equipment discreetly tucked into a corner. People tend to buy less because closet and storage space is at a premium.

Many people in the U.S. are spoiled. I count myself among them. But the idea of having a big house for which to care has become increasingly less appealing. Having had those pleasures and responsibilities in both France and in the U.S., it’s no piece of cake, and for the few times a year guests want to stay (and vice-versa), booking a room in a nearby hotel is more sensible.

When someone shows me their château or mansion, heating bills and maintenance costs immediately shoot through my mind. The next question is who is going to clean the digs? It’s amazing how some people don’t appear to factor in that someone is going to need to be responsible for cleaning the premises or, perhaps as I did, work at full gallop in order to pay a housekeeper and a gardener or two.

How many people spend their weekends and time when they’re not at work pushing vacuum cleaners and scrubbing floors? If they have children, their time is spoken for. Sadly, most children aren’t into being neat or mopping floors.

If you live in a small apartment, there are so many ways to maximize space. If the ceilings are high enough (which many are in France if the building is more than 100 years old), you might add a mezzanine. Even though built-in furniture can be expensive, IKEA and other stores lessen the cost. Even if you don’t buy a thing, purchase a catalogue and use it as a textbook in addition to providing inspiration as to how to utilize every inch.

Europeans might partition rooms by using screens to separate space or have beds that go up and down on a hydraulic lift. In addition, having furniture that’s moveable can allow flexibility when entertaining. Consider sectional seating that can be shifted, and thank goodness for mirrors that make spaces look larger.

But please, whatever you do, if you’re coming to Paris, please don’t send an email complaining about the size of your rental apartment. If you’re space driven, ask the owner or the agent for the precise number of square feet (or meters) of your temporary home and go (and pay for) bigger. Or, hey, you might consider renting a suite at The Meurice.


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Some People May Think the French Are Rude But…

Written by kvfawcett on June 10, 2010 – 11:53 am -

Some people may think the French are rude. But they certainly aren’t Bonjour Paris readers. Nor did the readers of last week’s article here and in the blogosphere of social networking. There’s no way everyone can be a Francophile.

Our email box looked as if we were offering a free trip to Paris that included two first class air tickets, ten days at the The Marriott on the Champs Elysees and breakfast, lunch and dinner at two- and three-star-rated Michelin restaurants.

Each comment was read and re-read. To be honest, they supply inspiration and serve as an incentive for all of our contributors. We’re conveying the message that the French aren’t rude. Or if they are, it’s a lapse and the exception rather than the norm.

Frequently repeated comments:

It makes an enormous difference if visitors attempt to speak some French—even if their accents are terrible. No one should assume the French speak English, but you should be able to say Bonjour, merci and s’il vous plaît.

If you treat people with courtesy, they’ll respond in the same way. Don’t think if you raise your voice, the French will be charmed. They won’t be and you’ll have a harder time dealing with them. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

Visitors should have the courtesy of familiarizing themselves with the cultural differences between their native country and France. Don’t expect things to be identical to what you experience at home. If that’s what you’re looking for, don’t bother making the trip.

Gwyn Ganjeau said, “I think many Americans go to France and expect the French to be the same as us—but with an accent. But there are significant cultural differences. Reading about those before my first trip was like receiving the secret code. I learned there were so many ways I could have inadvertently been considered a stereotypical ‘rude American.’”

Another person commented that as a former New York City resident, she’s found Parisians not to be any different from other big-city residents.

Some observations:

Amy Gruber commented, “I think Parisians are delightful. Let me give you one of example from my six-week-long stay in Paris last year when I didn’t meet one rude Parisian. One morning, I was waiting outside of a shop, which was late opening. A woman arrived and we began talking. The owner’s phone number was written on the door and the woman phoned her to let her know clients were waiting.

“Then, she asked me what I was looking for. When I told her what it was, she said she had seen something similar at a nearby store. She couldn’t remember its name and asked me to wait a few minutes. Ten minutes later, she returned with the card. Did she have to do that? Not at all.”

William Cover posted that they’d rented an apartment near the rue Montorgueil. Each time they would purchase something from the merchants, they attempted to speak a bit more French. “A small gift of a rose or flowering plant was also a big hit with our favorite vendors. A young girl sales clerk at Stohrer’s, with whom we became friends, spoke some English. She appreciated our trying to speak French. If we passed by, she would say ‘Coucou!’ and wave. When it was time to leave she used her fingers to signify tears going down her cheeks. That was followed by a big hug. We exchanged email addresses and she always writes, ‘Miss you! Kiss Kiss!’”

There were so many additional comments, many having to do with political differences, the Americanization (rather than globalization) of France and other perceptions as well as misconceptions. The reality is that people everywhere have the right to, and do, disagree.  I so wish people would travel more so they could experience people on their home territory and acquire first-hand knowledge of different customs.

Bonjour Paris’s Margaret Kemp, who writes each week for the site, said she believes as most food lovers do, that many of the world’s ills could be solved by sharing a meal together, adding that “French cuisine is alive and well and showcased in every corner of the globe.” Perhaps food could be the common denominator.

There were so many thought-provoking comments….  to be continued


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Are The French Rude?

Written by admin on June 6, 2010 – 5:23 pm -

For years I’ve been denying the French are rude. People simply don’t understand cultural differences. Tourists who come to France should remember they’re guests. It’s their responsibility to learn about French culture and mores, before making grand pronouncements that they’re not well treated as soon as they land on Gallic soil.

There have been times I’ve nearly waged battle over what I believe to be massive misperceptions. Some people assume I’m a representative of the French Government’s tourist office since my mantra has been: smile, shake hands, say “bonjour” and “merci” and don’t assume your being here and spending money entitles you to jump to the front of the line.

The analogy I’ve made is Parisians tend to be like people who live and work in Manhattan and don’t necessarily make nice-nice to strangers—you know, the ones who look lost and ask for directions, in a foreign language no less, about how to travel from the lower East Side to the upper West Side without changing subway lines.

Imagine my upset when the results of a telephone poll conducted by the CSA (France’s Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) of 1000 French adults, who live outside of Paris, were made public.

The findings were devastating. But there had to be a reason. It was a sample of those who were willing to take the time to answer the questions, undoubtedly because others were too busy. How many times have you said no to a telemarketer or a survey-taker because you had other things on your plate—like dinner? I’m skeptical of the results, but here they are:

Parisians were found to be: arrogant, aggressive, snobbish, flirtatious, chauvinistic, feel they’re superior to people who live outside of Paris, and—dig this, Lotharios who hang out on the Champs-Élysées picking up women. It didn’t mention whether or not women were guilty of picking up men.

Thank goodness, “Marianne,” a political magazine ran an editorial alongside these findings. It was quick to say Parisians are under substantially more stress than people who live in other parts of France. Many have longer commutes to their jobs, work longer hours and, if the truth be told, they tend to be unpleasant to one another.

In addition, Parisians may have tourist fatigue since the city is a major tourist destination. Among the French, people from Brittany frequent Paris more than people from other parts of the country.

In spite of the fact that I constantly defend the French, Parisians are different from residents from other parts of France. When I split my time between Paris and Provence, I was constantly irritated by how long it took me to accomplish the most mundane things. I’d go into town to buy newspapers, bread and a few other things and it would invariably be a two-hour foray when I was in the country.

Why did people want to discuss everything and anything? I’d look behind me (when I finally got to the counter) and wonder whether or not these conversations were really necessary.

If I ran into a neighbor, it was considered rude if we didn’t stop for a coffee or a pastis. If I had a drink at 11 a.m., well, so much for the rest of the day. What I had to remember was that many of our neighbors were retired and that’s precisely the reason they settled in Provence. They were doing what they loved, and bless them. But I wasn’t into planting gardens (that was my husband’s passion) and please please, let me get home so I could access my passion Bonjour Paris.

As someone who loves to travel, we all have to learn that people march to their own drummers and at different paces. No matter where you go, rhythms are different.

When I spend time in Washington, DC, my pace slows down compared to Paris. Another thing I’ve learned is that no matter where I am, taxi drivers tend to be rude. It may be because they’re tired from having to fight traffic, busy listening to the radio and invariably are carrying on phone conversations— rarely these days in a language I understand.

My question (I’m ducking) is do you find Parisian rude? If you do, how could they change their behavior to make you more comfortable? Most people (and certainly ones in the hospitality industry) speak English. What can tourists learn from Parisians?


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