12 commandments for foreigners visiting the U.S.A.

Written by kvfawcett on October 18, 2010 – 11:30 pm -

OK — Welcome to America. We’re glad you’re here but please remember we’re not one and the same. Our country is vast and what happens in one place probably won’t be repeated in another part of the country. Americans are diverse and come in every size, shape and color. Please don’t make snap judgments that we’re one and the same.

Here are a dozen suggestions to help foreign travelers enjoy their time in our good old U.S.A.

Learn a bit of the language:

Please try to learn some English — even the most rudimentary. If you need to use the restroom, please don’t make us guess because if you don’t know how to ask. It’s easy to avoid ensuing embarrassment.

Many Americans are as interested in knowing about your culture as you are about ours. Let’s try to meet on a middle ground even if it means using a translator.

Understand transportation options

Do your homework. In some cities, public transportation is an option and the best one. But if you’re going to a country destination or for that matter, Los Angeles, you are going to need a car. Remember drive on the right hand side of the road and if you’re on a highway, stay to the right unless you want to pass slower cars by using the left lane. Speed limits are usually enforced if you go more than five to ten miles over the posted rate.

Another hint — if there’s a red light and there isn’t a sign saying “no turn on red,” look carefully to be sure there aren’t any cars that might cause a collision and turn. If you don’t, people driving behind you will probably be blowing their horns.

If you’re taking a taxi, don’t anticipate finding taxi stands as you would in many European counties. Step out into street and wave your arms. If you’re in NYC during rush hour, don’t expect the first taxi to stop and you may have to do battle with another passenger who’s trying to usurp yours.

Take advantage of hotels:

If you’re staying in a hotel, take full advantage of the concierge. There’s probably one or more who speaks your language and they’re all too happy to help. But — and this is a BIG must — Be prepared to tip to show your appreciation.

Don’t forget to tip:

One of the biggest complaints from people in the service industry is that they get stiffed. Contrasted with many parts of Europe, tips are not included in the bill. The rule of thumb in restaurants is that an appropriate tip is 15-20 percent. Some people double the city tax and call it a day.

Tip taxi drivers, personnel who deliver pizza and definitely hotel personnel.

Learn restaurants rules:

Don’t expect to begin dinner at 10 p.m. Americans eat early, as in service begins at 6 p.m. If you’re trying to save money, there are many restaurants that offer discounted “early-bird-specials. Ditto for “senior” menus as well as children’s ones.

If you’re going to a restaurant that takes reservations, make one. Don’t walk in and assume you’ll find a table waiting for you if the restaurant is one that’s in demand.

This isn’t the case for fast-food restaurants, most of the ones in shopping centers (you may have to put your name on a list and wait to be called) and diners.

Most restaurants serve bread, butter and water. If they are not placed on your table, you have every right to request them and there’s no cover charge. Soft drinks are served with ice, so if you don’t want it, let the waiter know when you order.

Portions tend to be huge. Some restaurants charge a “sharing fee.” Bring your appetites and it’s OK to ask for “doggie bags” to take the excess food with you to eat later. No, you don’t have to have a pooch.

If you have food allergies, make sure you show the waiter (waitress) a paper in English that lists each and every one of them. Be certain the manager and the chef sees it.

Know where your money is:

Don’t carry too much cash. Make certain you have an ATM debit card that’s on an international network. Think about safety. There are people up to no good in every country and it’s up to the individual to use big city smarts.

Watch out for bad neighborhoods:

In every big city, they exist and the later it gets, the more likely it is that something may happen. Don’t lean on a lamppost in a crummy neighborhood – someone may get the wrong idea. Don’t flash a wad of cash. You get the idea.

Don’t be shy about asking for help:

Don’t be shy about asking questions and soliciting advise. On the other hand, don’t get into a stranger’s car. You may be taken for a (non) joy ride.

Smoke with awareness of the rules:

Americans are less tolerant about smoking than people in some other countries. Be forewarned.

Be considerate when using cell phones:

Please turn them off in theaters, museums, etc. If you’re using them, please keep your voices down. It’s only good manners.

Time:

Americans tend to be on time and appreciate if you are as well. Try to observe the 15-minute-rule and call if you’re running later.

Shower every day:

Many foreigners tend not to bathe as frequently as Americans. Please take a bath or shower each day whether or not you feel the need.

Now it’s your turn:

Hope these are helpful hints. Now it’s your turn to post yours. Cultural differences are precisely that. Let’s pave the way for people to feel comfortable in one and other’s countries.

Lead video created by Disney for the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State. It is being shown on many flights arriving in the USA from foreign destination.


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

You’re coming to the U.S.? Need-to-know facts for foreigners

Written by kvfawcett on October 18, 2010 – 11:29 pm -

If you’re reading this site, you’ve certainly read about “ugly American tourists.” They travel overseas and radiate the impression they own the country and people should be delighted by their very presence. That sentiment is becoming less prevalent. But still, we can all sit up and take notice and live and learn.

But what do foreigners traveling to the U.S. need to know? If it’s a maiden voyage, there’s a learning curve of dos and don’ts and changing rules and regulations.

First and most essential:
Check and make certain your passport conforms to the U.S. requirements and don’t count on the airline to disperse the most up-to-date information. It’s a changing playing field.

For example — People with Turkish passports may find themselves in Paris not being allowed to board a U.S.-bound flight. There are requirements regarding how long the passports must be valid after your scheduled return and whether or not it’s required to have a biometric chip.

Do you need a visa? Even if you’re told you can obtain one upon arrival, it tends to be less stressful if you show up at your destination ready-to-go. Who feels like standing in additional immigration lines if you’ve been traveling for hours? Be sure you’ve filled out all of the required forms and new online forms before deplaning.

Don’t flip when a customs officer insists you look into a camera so he can take your photo. Ditto for fingerprints. He’s doing his/her job and there are some times that everyone feels as if they’re potential terrorists. Foreigners shouldn’t take it personally. Americans may also be subjected to third degree grilling.

Mission accomplished:
Welcome to the US of A. Pick up your luggage. You’re almost there. Hope you aren’t pulled over for secondary screening and/or luggage inspection. The TSA has every right and the personnel are doing their job.

You may not feel that way after you’ve opened your suitcase, been forced to display your underwear and wished you’d packed more carefully or conversely, thrown everything into your baggage because ultimately, that’s the way it’s going to arrive at your destination.

Passengers clear customs at their first port of entry in the U.S. and if they’re continuing on, their clothes may arrive a wrinkled mess.

There are times when it feels like travelers are being profiled depending on where you originated and/or your nationality. I’ve seen a lot of scruffy backpackers having to unpack and (possibly) being checked for drugs. Some of their possessions look as if they should be dumped in the nearest trash bin because they’ve served their owners’ well. But, that’s another story.

My bags have been searched so many times that the last thing I’d do (anymore) is enter the U.S. with a wedge of French cheese.

On the ground:
If you’re renting a car, be on the safe side and get an international driver’s license before leaving your home country. The car rental agency may not even ask for it. But if it does, your trip can be ruined if you’re not prepared. Traveling by bus may not have been part of your planned itinerary.

Distances:
Many tourists forget how far it is from one place to another and don’t factor in enough time to get from here to there. If you’re driving (and please remember to drive on the right-hand side of the road), be sure you have a GPS to help you navigate. If you happen to be in Washington, D.C., don’t expect the directions to be 100% on target. The GPS instructions have been programmed to circumvent the White House and certain areas that may be considered sensitive.

In sickness and in health:
Buy travel insurance in case you get sick while you’re in the U.S. It’s cheap and if you have it, there’s a 99% chance you won’t need it. If you do get sick in the U.S., or are in a car accident without medical insurance, kiss your savings goodbye.

Language challenges:
If you don’t speak English, don’t count on Americans speaking your language. Bring all of your essential papers, instructions, phones numbers, etc., translated into English. Bring a phrase book. Purchase an electronic dictionary. You will probably get lucky if you speak Spanish but forget Polish, French or even German.

Cell phone:
Yes, it’s a good idea to have one because the chances of finding a phone booth are diminishing each year. There are plenty of cell phone options but if you’re in the U.S. for a short time, you probably only need one that can be used in the States with a phone card.

…To be continued.
What foreigners really need to know and people may (or may not) tell them. Each country has its etiquette, people have preconceptions about “strangers” and so it goes. Stay tuned.


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Do you know where your children are?

Written by kvfawcett on October 18, 2010 – 11:28 pm -

James Brown was surprised to receive this call. He didn’t even know the kids were missing. His fifteen-year-old daughter Bridget, his eleven-year-son Kodie, and Bobby Nolan, a neighborhood friend, were in another state. They’d taxied to the Jacksonville, Florida airport and bought tickets on a Southwest Airlines’s flight to Nashville, Tennessee.

Bridget, the oldest, says it was her idea. Rather than using the $700 of babysitting money she’d been saving to buy a car, she decided the trio should visit Dollywood, an amusement park in Tennessee. Plus, she’d never been on an airplane and thought it was high time.

So off they went, plunked down the money and three tickets were theirs. “Neither Southwest nor the TSA said anything to us. We went over to the conveyor belt post security, picked up our stuff and got on the plane,” Bridget said.

One problem: they didn’t tell their parents about their intended foray and had no identification. But that didn’t appear to stop them. They might still be at the amusement park if they’d flown to Pigeon Forge rather than Nashville. Upon arriving in the wrong city after a very pleasant flight, they were stranded and scared. They decided to call home. Bobby Nolan’s mother, Heather, said, “Bobby said, “For real, I’m in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’m ready to come home; we want to come home.”

But, then there’s the key question that a lot of officials will be discussing and explaining. How were these minors permitted to board the plane?

“Southwest Airlines and federal officials from TSA both issued statements trying to explain themselves. The TSA wrote that “kids under 18 don’t need to show an ID,” so the children were let through without one. Southwest said “Two of the passengers were over the age of 12, and, therefore, could travel without a parent.” They allowed the 11-year-old to travel because “in this case he was accompanied by two older companions.”

Their parents still can’t believe it. But in reality, who is the culprit? Shouldn’t the airline and the TSA have averted this? These passengers were clearly underage and were not accompanied by an adult. What if Kodie had shown up at the airport carrying a stuffed teddy bear?

Do you think new precautions should be instituted? I certainly do even though I might have been one of those children who wanted to take to the skies.

But, there’s another nagging question. These children were certainly AWOL for more than a few hours. Where did their parents think they were? Are the days of parental supervision over?

Photo: Courtesy Peukku Works


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Fed up flight attendant bails prematurely

Written by kvfawcett on October 18, 2010 – 11:27 pm -

Sooner or later, it was inevitable and it finally happened — a flight attendant makes an unexpected exit after getting upset with a misbehaving passenger. He may have been provoked. This may be part of an ongoing airline/passenger battle. Nevertheless, Steven Slater, a JetBlue attendant, is in hot water and, maybe, forced retirement.

His actions caused NY Port Authority police to go to his home in Queens, N.Y. and take him back to Kennedy Airport, where Slater was expected to be held overnight. Pulling the lever that activates the emergency-evacuation chute and sliding down it isn’t in accordance with FAA regulations and is considered a felony.

No one is pro an airline professional acting as anything less than cool and collected. It’s their job and people’s lives are at risk. But when is enough enough? It’s been years since being a flight attendant has been considered glamorous and personnel are frequently subjected to rudeness, passengers’ demands, crying babies and “come now, you’re working for me.”

So what happened to cause Slater to blow a gasket?

After a dispute with a passenger who stood to fetch luggage too soon on a full flight just in from Pittsburgh, Mr. Slater, 38 and a career flight attendant, got on the public-address intercom and let loose a string of invective.

Then, the authorities said, he pulled the lever that activates the emergency-evacuation chute and slid down, making a dramatic exit not only from the plane but, one imagines, also from his airline career.

On his way out the door, he paused to grab a beer from the beverage cart. Then he ran to the employee parking lot and drove off, the authorities said.

But the real question ….

With all of the cutbacks in the airline industry, do passengers have unrealistic expectations? People are opting to fly low-cost airlines, which should be no frills. Would travelers pay extras if there were more people to serve them? Would the airlines up the flight attendant – passenger ratio? One wonders.

This isn’t the first incident of what’s perceived to be an increasingly hostile relationship between airlines and passengers and it won’t be the last. What are travelers’ responsibilities? I know I try to be polite and not too demanding. On the other hand, hearing flight attendants bitch and moan doesn’t make me feel warm and cuddly.

Is there a viable solution or should people accept that flying these days is akin to riding in the back of a very old Greyhound bus? Is this a new low?

What’s the answer? Or is there one?


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

New U.S. entry fee for visitors from Visa Waiver countries

Written by kvfawcett on October 18, 2010 – 11:26 pm -

As of September 8, 2010, travelers from the 39 countries that qualified visa waiver program will have to fork over $14 when applying for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

The Department of Homeland Security announced the supplemental charge this last week. A portion of the visa fee will go toward funding the Corporation for Travel Promotion, created by the 2009 Travel Promotion Act.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said, “Creating a tourism promotion program to encourage international visitors to vacation in America will help spur economic growth and create more jobs.” Not everyone agrees with this new approach.

But, in the short run, American tourism business expects to see a windfall from the tax and a path to more promotion for the USA overseas. Foreign visitors spend an average of $4,000 per person per trip in the United States and tourism revenues total $120 billion and support more than one million American jobs.

President Obama signed the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 (TPA) into law earlier this year, implementing a new public – private partnership between the U.S. government and the nation’s travel and tourism industry. Oxford Economics estimates the travel promotion program under the Travel Promotion Act will generate $4 billion in new visitor spending and 40,000 new jobs.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the program will reduce the federal budget deficit by $425 million in the next 10 years.

Will this discourage tourists from these countries from coming to the U.S.? And how soon do you think it will be before American travelers will have to ante up money to enter these 39 countries? After all, fair is fair. Or, will some of these countries feel that the influx of funds from American travelers is so essential for their economic well-being that they won’t ask U.S. tourists to fork over cash?


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Observing the French

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:44 am -

The longer I remain in France, the less I understand the French. Or perhaps, I understand them better and have come to accept they’re quixotic. What you’d expect them to do, they don’t. What they do, you wouldn’t imagine they’d do in 1000 years.

Think of the Roma, formerly tziganes or Gypsies, if you want to get a sense of one of the French contradictions. They may complain about the les Roms, but let Sarkozy deport them—as he did—and they’re up in arms. Or consider this. Most Frenchmen and Frenchwomen agree that the welfare state as it is needs reform, beginning with pensions. In the first reading of the bill, it has passed the Chamber of Deputies, 329 to 233, a pretty clear signal. Nonetheless, the strikers will be out again next week and next month. Raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 feels inhumane to them.

And here’s an example that I find fascinating. Politeness is an attribute most French consider essential. Naturally, some things are easing up, as the world becomes more homogeneous and bad manners, rather than good ones, spread. However, the bourgeoisie usually follow certain rules.

But there are exceptions. If you own an apartment in Paris, the annual meeting of the co-propriétaires can feel as if war is being waged. People who nod to one another if they’re sharing an elevator or pass one another in the entrée will frequently raise voices when issues regarding the building are being discussed.

I’m sure there’s a French version of Robert’s Rules of Order, but they don’t appear to be enforced. My French friends tell me these meetings can be difficult and revealing about their neighbors. They can last until each and every person has had his or her say.

When the French debate, they do it with panache and have the ability to focus—especially when it comes to spending money for capital improvements. As is the case with most building associations, there are those who advocate expenditures while the long-term residents are generally satisfied with the status quo—and if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Generally, these meetings are lively and, by the end, an onlooker might suspect the building’s residents must have hearts of stone. Not at all.

For example, the other day, I was walking by the grocery store at the end of my street. There were three police vans and at least six men and women in uniform holding walkie-talkies in front of the building. Had someone been raped, robbed or murdered? Clearly, it had to be a federal case to generate so much commotion.

Rather, the police had come to remove our neighborhood clochard, who lives on the street. For the past twenty years, we’ve had an ongoing relationship and wouldn’t consider not nodding when passing. During this time, we’ve both aged and gone through various stages of living and life. He’s lost his companion dog and part of his right leg, and it’s clear he’s drinking more wine on some days than others. He’s moved from one place to another, but likes our quartier as much as those of us who are paying big euros to live in the 6ème.

I’ve bought him food, water, juice and sustenance; he’s chastised me for selecting a small round of Camembert that wasn’t ripe enough. It was clearly his responsibility to give the resident américaine an education.

By no means am I the only person. I’ve seen him wearing a neighbor’s cast-off overcoat, and when it’s really cold, another neighbor has taken him blankets. Even thought the City of Paris has vans that take street people to shelters for the night and make certain they’re fed and bathed before letting them leave the following morning, not all people will go.

After looking to see what was taking place, it became evident that our street person was being taken to the police station. He was showing his identification and following the rules—and even though he wasn’t drunk that day, it was clear someone had complained. His possessions appear to have multiplied—and he’s not a neat freak—and things were spilling out onto the sidewalk from the doorway that he’d made home.

Speaking with the police was futile. They responded that they knew who he was and were doing their job and essentially, I should disappear. As I walked down the street, I bumped into two neighbors and blurted out what was taking place at that very minute.

Eric responded, “Ce n’est pas possible” and took off saying that he was going to keep the police from taking Michel to the station. He summoned some neighbors who happened to be on the street and there was a posse running to the corner—the famous Parisian mob, united in purpose, in this case made up of people who had nearly been at one another’s throats over the need of painting in the stairwells.

The next day, Michel was back, none the worse for wear. But I keep wondering if the flying squad of neighbors who ran to try to rescue him from the cops the day before are still united in purpose or grumbling at each other over higher wattage bulbs in the common halls or the paint or the number of recycling bins in the backyard.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Paris |

Memories, Paris, Provence, Loss, Sadness and Joy

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:19 am -

Ever since September 11, 2001, most people can’t have that day come and go without remembering the devastating destruction and loss that occurred. Three thousand people lost their lives, and we lost some of our freedom. For many, it was the end of an age of innocence. It’s one of the defining acts in recent history that has impacted travel and so much more. As much as we’d like, the world will never be the same.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was sitting at my desk in Paris in the afternoon, writing away. Because of the six-hour time difference, it was morning on the East Coast of the U.S. My son would usually sign on his computer and thank goodness for AOL instant messenger (IM)—even though we were on different continents, I had the feeling of being able to “talk” to him if necessary. As soon as he signed on, he started typing as if in a whirlwind. Where was I? What was I doing? He told me to turn on the television so I could see what was happening.

I ran into the living room just in time to see the second tower crumbling down. This couldn’t be real. Clearly, this was a bad movie and couldn’t be real.

Please remember these were the days before most of us had high-speed Internet, much less Wi-Fi. I grabbed my laptop and moved into the living room, plugged in the rinky-dink modem and, amazingly enough, was able to snag an AOL dial-up connection.

Sitting on the sofa in total disbelief, I IMed with my son and a couple of other people on my buddy list. Who could possibly believe what were seeing on CNN and why was this happening? The horror and the terror were not to be believed. It would be a while before we knew the whys…

I was unable to reach my mother who lived less than two miles from the Pentagon. All of the phone lines were jammed and there was no way I could make a call from Paris to Washington, DC. The irony was my mother thought I should move home (meaning where she was) because of some mini-bombs that had recently been detonated on the Champs-Élysées.

A buddy list friend, who lived in the area, finally contacted my mother who’d been sleeping. My son had gone home to his wife so he was off-line.

People frequently want to know what it feels like to be an expat. In this case, I wanted to be with family. But would that have changed anything? In essence, we were all impotent and could do nothing but wait and hope the nightmare would abate and we’d wake up and realize it had been a bad dream and shake the dust out of our eyes.

Phyllis Flick, who’d just moved to Paris to study, had rented a room down the street and didn’t have access to CNN. Even though we’d never met except through Bonjour Paris, she asked if she could come up to the apartment so she could see English-language television. That was fine with me. I was pleased to have the company and I think she camped on the sofa in front of the television. To be honest, the entire time was a blur.

How well I remember my neighbors knocking on my door and asking if there was anything they could do for me. We really didn’t know one another, but they knew that I was l’américaine and at times such as this, even the French don’t stand on formality.

The memory of my downstairs neighbor who worked for Microsoft will be indelibly etched in my mind. Michel appeared and insisted I come downstairs for dinner and their door was always open in the event I wanted coffee, company or a cigarette. Yes, it was politically and socially correct to smoke in La Belle France then.

My husband Victor had left for Provence a couple of days before. He so loved that house in the vines, and I was planning to join him a couple of days later. Since his U.S. office was headquartered next to the World Trade Center, he was concerned about many of his colleagues and friends. What a terrible time when he heard that one of the offices where he’d worked was no longer standing. So much sadness.

When I started writing this, I realized today is the fourth anniversary of Victor’s death. I came across this article in the archives of Bonjour Paris and thought it would be appropriate to republish.

To the many people in all of our lives who’ve been lost for myriad reasons, let’s raise a glass to them. To those who are our friends and part of our families, let’s do everything possible to nurture and cherish them.

Please know I consider Bonjour Paris readers family. You may come and go, but we’re a community and so many thanks to each and every one of you for being there.

September 12, 2010

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World, Paris |

Welcome to France and the World of Strikes

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:18 am -

You may be a tourist and here for R&R. But that doesn’t make you exempt from the realities of French life. Since I live in Paris, I’ve learned (well, kinda) to factor in some of the negatives that drive others nutty and provoke people to call the French some not very nice names. Lord knows, tourists can come away with some mighty negative impressions. To be succinct, it’s the season of la grève first and la négociation after a while. The French strike first and talk it over later.

Dealing with strikes means acquiring an acceptance that you can’t change the way things are done, merci beaucoup. The first year I lived in France, the strikes were enough to make me want to jump out of my skin and decide to make a religious study of France’s best agricultural product.  Ah, drinking way too much wine succeeded in numbing some of the pain and suffering derived from the post office being on strike in addition to Paris’s public transportation system.

This sounds like the dark ages, and yet it was (only) 22 years ago. I had no option but to walk and walk and learned a lot about Paris and happily lost some weight. However, I wasn’t a happy camper since this was pre-internet (no VoIP or Skype) and phone calls were a major line item in our budget. We bought a fax, but still trying to stay close to friends and family cost a ton of old French francs. No, my husband and I didn’t get divorced over the FranceTel bills. However, there were some mighty heated conversations about my intrinsic need to communicate.

People learn to go with the flow or try to without going into cardiac arrest. For example, children are back in school; the rentrée has occurred—or so their parents thought. Twelve million students finally returned to class after a long summer—and let’s get on with education. Easier said than done since the unions that represent France’s 850,000 teachers are going on their first strike of the academic year this Monday and Tuesday.

Teachers’ unions are protesting against the government’s pension reforms and the job cuts. Approximately 16,000 jobs have been axed for this academic year. 30,000 posts were cut between 2007 and 2009. There’s serious talk of 16,000 additional cuts next September and teachers and other members of the staff aren’t happy. Nor are the parents who want their offspring to go to school and actually have the opportunity to learn.

No one is happy. This year’s reforms mean that large parts of curricula at all levels have been rewritten, and several textbooks aren’t ready for distribution. There’s talk of extending the school week so children will be less exhausted and many other changes. Change is generally unpopular.

On Tuesday, while the teachers will be striking, a general strike is planned for people who don’t want to see the retirement age raised from 60 to 62—which may give the teachers a hard time deciding which strike to join that day. All of the other unions will join this industrial action, and if you want to get from here to there, forget it. Whether or not President Sarkozy will be successful in getting this reform passed is more than problematic. There’s been a lot of yelling and screaming even though the French trade unions’ protests failed to rally enough street power against the proposed crucial reforms regarding France’s costly pension system. Anyone who reads the economic news is aware that an economic crisis is spreading across Europe and needs to be contained. Being required to work two or three extra years may ease the problem.

But are strikes and turmoil any reason for tourists not to come to France? The answer is absolutely not. Please anticipate that you may be somewhat inconvenienced, but restaurants will be open. You’ll probably encounter what frequently looks like a Fourth of July parade with vendors selling sausages and drinks to keep the protestors going. If you’re sightseeing, wear a hat with a big brim (things get thrown occasionally) and be prepared to walk and explore some off-the-beaten path neighborhoods.

Politics is a sport and a science of its own. I am by no means dismissing the long-term ramifications of these very key issues. A lot of people’s futures are on the line (including President Sarkozy’s), and French society’s future is resting on which reforms are adopted and which aren’t.

Think of it this way: Vacation is over and it’s a new season and life is back in the fast lane—or maybe it’s the breakdown lane.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Paris |

What Happened to Paris?

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:18 am -

It’s only been a day, or possibly a week, but the Paris I love has changed complexion. It’s not that I’m not still enamored with the city—it’s simply different.

Footsteps are audible in the apartment above me. Ditto for the sounds of my neighbor’s two children, who happily have reached the age that they rarely use the hallway as a non-stop racetrack as if there were gold at the end of the tunnel for the child who comes in first. Yes, you can occasionally hear their voices, which signifies they’re home from visiting their grandparents who take charge of their offspring plus their offspring in Normandy.

Mail is finally being delivered. Perhaps employees of La Poste went on vacation. More realistically, it’s that most of the residents of this building go away, so why send mail if there’s no one home to receive it? France is in many ways more “green” than the U.S. and you don’t have to fight your way through tons of junk mail to find a letter. As is the case in the U.S., bills are automatically deducted from my bank account, accounts are accessible online and it’s hard for me to recall the last time I received an honest-to-God letter. If it weren’t for invitations to some art openings, I’d toss everything without looking.

During August, parking is free where I live. Until the last couple of days, I could have parked anywhere if I had a car. Now people are forced to jockey for spaces, and beginning September 1, the meter maids will be out in full-force, writing tickets and collecting money for the city of Paris. Vivent les pervanches!

Shutters are being opened, and everybody’s cleaning house: duvets are hanging out to air, and it feels like a new morning. The apartment where I witnessed the recent raucous party is also undergoing a metamorphosis. Gone are the sex, drugs and rock and roll as well as the red curtains and the inhabitants. Perhaps they were ephemeral squatters who were taking advantage of the fact that they were not going to leave a forwarding address.

Now, there’s a painter giving the walls a coat of white. I couldn’t hightail it quickly enough to the café below to ask the owner whether or not the apartment is for rent. Perhaps I have a friend who might want it and could snag it before it goes on the market, which it will any minute if someone hasn’t already purchased the property.

I’ll know the answer tomorrow and was able to take a look at the very nice digs. In the process, I was able to get some exercise because there’s no elevator and walking up to the fourth floor (that means the fifth in the U.S.) means it would have to be a very healthy friend. Actually, I should probably move into it—my legs would be so much better for the exercise. In addition, I’d be forced to be so much more organized, because who wants to go down and up four flights because of a forgotten liter of milk?

Construction crews are back and the relative sounds of silence have gone away. Work that came to a grinding halt at the end of July is now being finished. The lobby of a building that has been in the process of being renovated forever may actually be ready.

Parisians who have the means to spend the month of August elsewhere have returned home all at once like lemmings: highways have been filled with bumper-to-bumper cars waiting their turn for their sortie that will take them into Paris.

Women are meeting, greeting and gravitating to cafés, as if they haven’t seen one another in years. It’s clear they have a lot to discuss after having been separated while on vacation. Or have they been? People seem to be having conversations while socializing but the hot thing is that everyone who’s who (and who’s not) has an iPhone, which seems to be in constant use.

This year’s fashion style for “older” women is tights and shirts that are loose flowing tops, as if they’re not quite ready to make the leap to wearing true city clothes. Feet are covered with sandals; people are hanging onto summer. Women’s faces and arms are bronzed and many of them look as if they’re waiting for an appointment with the hairdresser because they’re allowing their hair the privilege of being a tiny bit wild and naturally streaked—which is unnatural in Paris.

Last week, grocery stores were nearly empty. This week, you get the definite impression that people are stocking up after their time away. Grocery carts aren’t filled with that day’s necessities, but are brimming, and purchases are being stacked in plastic boxes that will be delivered within the following two hours—or so they tell you.

Voilà the trucks filled with cartons of groceries, water, wine and more that people have ordered online. Those sites didn’t exist until about five years ago and people using them initially might have been chastised for not caring enough to select their own items. Quite frankly, I don’t feel the need to handpick my own laundry detergent. I do choose produce and fresh fish at the local markets. And naturally, cheese, glorious cheese….

What’s most poignant about this period is that children are obviously getting ready for the school year. Parents are assiduously ensuring their charges have the right books, pencils with gradations of thickness, pens, notebooks with grids and so many other sundries.

After giving the August-September phenomena some thought, I realize my new year always began in September because that’s when we returned to school. The official January 1 new year was always symbolic of the winter-holiday vacation more than another year and a new start. Is this a universal feeling of people where the school year begins in September?  Do we ever break the feeling even if we’re no longer lugging book bags?

Perhaps we’re eternally school children at heart no matter what nationality is stamped on our passport. What do you think?  As some children say, “Good night, Moon,” perhaps we should say, “Goodbye, August.”  But, there will be another one.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World |

Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll in the Summer

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:17 am -

Good, I hope that got your attention. It’s not that the French avoid sex, drugs and loud music for eleven months of the year. But they are more discreet about when and where and how. When August comes, people remaining in Paris assume they’re just about the only ones left, only tourists are walking the streets, and no one is looking out of windows—a Parisian pastime. Clearly, that’s not the case, and if you’re the least bit aware, you may see things that weren’t intended for public viewing. Or you might not see when the weather’s in the single digits Celsius. But August is warm.

If someone lives in an old Parisian building, most windows require curtains that are three meters in length and can set you back a pretty centime. Since the majority of these apartments don’t have air-conditioning, people leave their windows open to let in the air and let the noise out. If you live on a street that’s narrow or looks out over a small courtyard well you may be privy to activities for which you didn’t buy a ticket.

Though all those churches make France look like a Catholic country, relatively few people attend Mass or go to confession. Many (especially middle-aged and younger) French residents appear to have been born without the deep-seated modesty genes good Catholics were supposed to have. Seeing someone in his or her underwear is no big deal. Watching a person (hopefully the occupant) clean the apartment wearing next to nothing isn’t unusual in the summer. Perhaps it’s because it tends to be hot or maybe it makes sense since it cuts down on washing clothes that get dirty during the process. Whatever…

I’ve seen people cooking in their über-chic designer kitchens, eating dinner, sitting in their living rooms drinking wine, having conversations that look heated, putting babies to bed and making love. Come to think of it, I’ve seen relatively few people watch television—even though I know full well they do.

During summer months, I’ve spotted my homosexual neighbors across two courtyards make love as if they’re dancing and want an audience. Oh, to be that limber! Rather than yelling bravo, I close my blinds or exit the kitchen. There are some things that are none of my business; what a consenting couple does between is their business (please), and my fantasies just don’t work that way.

As for drugs, the teens (and older folks) who remain in Paris appear to feel no one’s looking and they can smoke marijuana or do a little coke (not cola) with impunity and immunity. The other night (rather morning) I decided to sit on the balcony at 4 a.m. and witnessed a party in full swing. Being of the live-and-let-live frame of mind (that does not apply to my son and his offspring), I figured what they ingested was their business, wasn’t doing any harm to my central nervous system, and wasn’t going to get my apartment raided.

But I was highly offended by the rock and roll emanating from the apartment. How dare it rupture my silence? I took my trusty whistle and blew it with all my strength. I didn’t want to yell la ferme! since I knew they’d know it was l’américaine who was putting a damper on their party and their fun. Then I began to wonder whether or not I was the only person left on the block or if everyone was so sound asleep they were oblivious to the music that was blasting loud enough to entertain people on the Right Bank… I’m on the Left.

There’s also another August phenomenon. When you think about it, it makes sense. People vacate apartments. It’s as if it’s the end of an old and the beginning of a new school year. Parents are undoubtedly getting situated so their children are settled when the semester begins.

Still, it’s a quiet month because when the French move, they move efficiently and quickly. The truck, complete with scaffolding that goes up and down mechanically, is parked in front of the building and boxes are loaded and unloaded in a fraction of the time it takes in the U.S.

Even though the French don’t move anywhere near as frequently as Americans, there’s been a fair amount of turnover on my street. This is good and bad since it undoubtedly signifies the neighborhood’s value is increasing as apartments are virtually dismantled and reconstructed. It also means the street can be blocked while the movers are at work. Some of the apartments, which had permanently closed curtains or shutters, can now be seen, leaving me to wonder if they had been vacant or inhabited by moles.

Invariably when a property is sold there will be increased noise for a while because the French are now into major renovations. We all know that can take forever and generate a lot of dust and forget about quiet. Anyone who’s lived through a property being gutted down to the studs, rebuilt, etc., knows it isn’t a silent process. I’m fully aware I’d better find another place to work when floors are being sanded, because I feel as if I’m sitting in the dentist’s chair with him drilling my teeth.

Happily, most workmen take the month of August off or concentrate on renovating commercial properties. That’s when they’re most in demand, can charge premium prices and have a finite period to gut and reconstruct before the rentrée and “new” establishments doors open.

By the last week in August, the world eases back to normal. Bakeries reopen. Restaurants spring to life. Invariably there are some new stores and prices have edged up just a tiny bit—as if people wouldn’t notice because they’ve been away. If nothing else, you can count on that. And of course, there are sex, drugs and rock and roll. They’re simply less visible because more people may be watching.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Paris |