Ready, Set, Go

Written by admin on October 9, 2009 – 3:53 pm -

You’ve made the decision to move to France for most of the year. Or, you’ve decided to invest in a pied à terre, even though the dollar doesn’t have the buying power it once did and your heart is set on Paris, rather than la France profonde, where living is easy and a lot cheaper. That is, if you’re willing to live in the country or in the land of second homes where selling prices have softened by an estimated 20 percent.

You don’t want to wait for the dollar to improve because you probably won’t live that long. Currently, there are more properties on the market, but don’t expect them to sell at fire sale prices. Rather than real estate being snapped up as if there’s no tomorrow, even first-rate spaces tend to sit a bit longer than in former years, when lots of people appeared to have money to burn.

If you’re going to make this a quasi-permanent move, meaning France is going to be your primary residence, you need to deal with the law, which means lots of paper plus racking up some expenses. Snagging a carte de séjour isn’t easy and must be done in French consulate in the U.S. Don’t think you can do it—easily, if at all—while you’re living in France, because according to the written rules, you can’t.

If you’re a US citizen and want to spend most of your time in France, you’ll be required to supply more paperwork than you realized you had; make certain your birth certificate is issued (and officially translated) within three months of your application date. Ditto for your marriage license, your divorce decree, any legal settlement papers and everything but the kitchen sink.

EU citizens, who want to move to France, have it a whole lot easier. They’re only required to fill out forms so the French and their own country’s government know where they’re domiciled. They’re entitled to health care benefits since they’ve already paid into a system that has reciprocity with France.

Just because you qualify for a carte de séjour doesn’t mean you have the right to tap into the country’s medical insurance plan—because you don’t. People applying for residence papers are required to have medical insurance that covers them in France. Don’t think you can move to France without enough documented income that you won’t need to work. Come to think of it, the U.S. government doesn’t open its gates to anyone who comes knocking. No government in any developed country is saying, “Come one, come all” unless that person happens to be providing employment for its residents.

With France’s high unemployment rate, don’t assume you’ll land a job unless you have a (nearly) unique specialty. The main exception might be you’re being sponsored by a business (and the chances of finding one is becoming less each year) that’s willing to jump through bureaucratic hoops for you.

If you happen to the executive who can save the business, you might have a chance. But don’t hold your breath since unless your company happens to be a mega-multi-national where you’re known to be an expert with a long and successful track record for parachuting in and performing P&L miracles, human resources hate to make the expenditure for relocating families. Gone are the days when golden expat packages were the norm, and a local “expert” working for a relocation company was standing by to facilitate you and your family’s move.

It’s simply too expensive, many spouses refuse to give up careers to “trail” their partner and children’s schools (American, International, etc.) cost a not-so-small fortune.

Expect it to take anywhere from four months to a year before you receive permission from the government to legally move to France. Once you arrive on French soil, there will be additional paperwork and before you know it, you’ll be standing in line at the Préfecture to renew your resident’s card. A year goes quickly when you’re having fun.

Actually the first year will fly by as you get acclimated to your new home. If you’re going to do one thing other than getting settled and identifying your grocer, baker, café, dry-cleaner, hardware store and getting the public transportation edged into your memory so you’re not a constant slave to a metro and/or bus map, take French classes.

Even though more people than you can imagine speak excellent English, you’ll be missing out on many of the nuances of French life if you don’t make the effort. Sure, there’re people who have lived in France for decades and have managed not to learn any of the country’s language. But, you don’t want to be among them.

Next week … how to meet people and create a life you wouldn’t have if you’d stayed in the U.S. It’s actually easier than you imagine. Even though the Parisians (and the French) aren’t known for being warm and cuddly, Paris, in many ways, is a village.

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Posted in Around the World |

The Tides Inn: a relaxing escape for those who don’t want non-stop action

Written by admin on October 8, 2009 – 4:41 pm -

If your thing is big city glitz, The Tides Inn in Irvington, Va. isn’t for you. If you like the water, watching boats, biking, playing a few rounds of golf on a par 72 Golden Eagle Golf Club, designed by George Cobband and taking it easy, you’ll love the Tides Inn. Travel and Leisure has named The Tides Inn its number one choice for Best Resort in Virginia (and the only Virginia resort mentioned in their Top 100 issue last year).

The 106-room inn overlooking Carter’s Creek, surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay to the East, the Potomac River to the north and the Rappahannock River to the south, is an ideal place for family vacations. There’s so much for children to experience while adults do their thing.

The Tides has a camp called Crab Net Kids, where children do more than just basket weaving. They learn about the area’s ecology and the surrounding environment. City kids (perhaps for the first time) are exposed to croquet, shuffleboard, basketball, bicycles, volleyball and bird watching not to mention fresh water fishing. There are nature trails galore and it’s a superb and diverse area to explore. In other words, children are kept constructively busy while parents and grandparents enjoy grown-up time without guilt. Specific rooms have been designated “pet” friendly so you aren’t forced to leave those members of the family home.

The Tide Inn also has a sailing school and paddle boats, canoes and kayaks are available. There are four tennis courts and a swimming pool plus a spa for those who crave a stone massage, a seaweed wrap, a facial and other sybaritic delights.

If you like boats, you’ll probably see some glorious ones since it’s a frequent stop for the 125-foot variety that are making pilgrimages from one destination to another and rent one of the hotel’s slips. Each boat is given a room number and its occupants have access to all of the resort’s facilities. Don’t be surprised if you see crews of well dressed people in the bar or in one of the two restaurants. Smaller boats frequently moor at the hotel and rent a room or a suite for a night or two, since even dedicated sailors occasionally crave a break, especially if their vessel is the 27-foot variety and doesn’t have all of the comforts of home e.g., a really good shower.

The Tides Inn is an approximately a three hour drive from Washington, DC and Baltimore. It’s ideal if you’re planning a visit to Colonial Williamsburg since it’s only 45-minutes away.

The Tides’ executive chef T.V. Flynn is a master when it comes to preparing fresh cuisine and he’d give many French Michelin chefs a run for their money when it comes to presentation. Flynn insists on only the freshest of ingredients. You won’t find anything frozen on the menu and most of the herbs are grown on the property. Flynn’s salmon is grilled with honey glaze, the Filet Mignon is served with cheddar grits and perfectly cooked green beans and the signature She-Crab soup, chock full of soft-white fresh local crab, merits a second order. The tuna is seared rare and draws rave reviews.

If you’re a wine lover, Virginia is making its mark. There are more than 125 vineyards in the state now and some of the wines are very good with the whites currently taking the lead. The area isn’t Napa or Sonoma Valley yet. But don’t be surprised if you’ll be reading about and tasting more Virgina wines in the future. Most vineyards are about five-acres large, but hey, you have to begin somewhere. Wine tours are becoming another tourist attraction. Remember, you’ll need a dedicated driver even if you taste and spit. All those sips add up.

Would I return to the Tides? Yes and with pleasure. I’d love to take two grandchildren with me. It’s time their ‘city’ grandmother exposes them to nature.

The Tides Inn isn’t just for families. Irvington, most definitely a southern town, has some boutique shopping where you’ll spot some chic people buying clothes and more. Many military and government employees retire to the area and more than a few of the homes fetch hefty seven-figure prices. There’s a real community of residents and newcomers (that means you weren’t born there) who socialize and take pride in the area and plan activities such as the First Friday (of the month) evening festival and the following morning’s Farmers’ Market where more than 150 vendors (many who sell organic products) set up stands and people from all over the area congregate.

Oh, if you’re thinking wedding, getting married by the water at the Tides would be a romantic way to begin your lives together. Be sure to have some of Chef Flynn’s succulent grilled oysters and miniature crab cakes to accompany the Champagne toasts! Sante.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

The case for adults-only vacations

Written by admin on October 7, 2009 – 4:44 pm -

In this economy, the travel industry needs to remain fluid, even if it means saying children aren’t welcome. Don’t take this trend as being nasty or uncaring. But, there are times when “adults only” is the way to go.

For example, if you’re planning a honeymoon or anniversary cruise or a romantic getaway, do you really want wee ones under foot? Not necessarily and you don’t have to feel guilty.

Some camp grounds cater to an older clientele without little ones in tow. Perhaps occasional things take place among consenting adults that aren’t meant for  children’s eyes. Contrasted with the rough and tumble days of pitching a tent and cooking over a Coleman stove, campsites are being refurbished with modern amenities. Approximately 445 camp grounds in the U.S. and Canada have added Jacuzzis, movie theaters and restaurants.

Adults-only travel has recently gained considerable popularity. Hoteliers report that guests are requesting adults-only areas. Presently, a number of resorts are being built which don’t welcome children. Is it a crime to crave peace and quiet?

When do you want to get away and not see or hear children? Do you have them at home and want to escape to the land of peace and quiet? Are you bothered by children when you’re on a business trip? How many of you would search out an adults-only retreat and when?

If you happen to have children or grandchildren who think they should accompany you, how do explain you’re taking off alone and not have them call a social services agency and cry “neglect”? After all, it’s important to remain politically correct.

(Photo: Four Seasons Maui at Wailea — adults only serenity pool)

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Paris Dreaming

Written by admin on October 1, 2009 – 7:34 pm -

People always ask me why I love Paris. I’ve lived in other places, and seize every opportunity to hop on a plane and explore the world. But Paris is the place I know and the one where I feel the most comfortable.  My French is less than stellar, so I don’t opt to make France my home because I’m not language challenged.  Because I am.

Now that I’m relatively footloose and fancy free, I could move anywhere. The world is my oyster. Ah hum. It’s a funny situation to be in as I’ve always considered myself the “responsible one” who has been at other people’s beck and call.

Now I read books and more books and surf the Internet about places to retire. The more articles and books I read, the more convinced I am that Paris is the correct place for me. It’s home—at least, I ‘m beginning to believe that.

It’s wonderful being able to walk out of the door and be in a café within minutes. Being able to buy a baguette and be sitting in the Luxembourg Garden in five minutes is a treasure. Not being responsible for the extensive plantings and always being surprised by the gardens’ constantly changing beauty is such a gift. I’ve lived in the same apartment for nearly 20 years and am always discovering new things since Paris is full of eye candy.

Not being tied to a car is the ultimate freedom.  Excellent public transportation and the availability of clean taxis make life so much easier. I feel safe walking home from a neighborhood restaurant alone at night and even though I always use big city caution and smarts, I don’t feel if I might be robbed if it’s after dark.

Before waxing poetic, there’s plenty wrong with the City of Light. Taking care of the most mundane things, such as having a phone installed, can assume monumental proportions.  It used to be obtaining a high-speed Internet connection was next to impossible. Those days are over and happily the French have become pros when it comes to the Internet.

People can now cyber-commute to their jobs and there’s no reason you can’t live one place and work in another. Plenty of my friends do precisely that and their professional colleagues are in the dark as to where e-mails, reports or phone calls are generated. It’s a whole new world, barring some of the nitty-gritty realities that rear their heads, when you’re least expecting them.

It helps if you’re independently wealthy and clip coupons. If you need to renew a visa, set up a business or even open a bank account, import a giant bottle of Excedrin from the U.S.—where it costs relatively little—money helps. And those pills will come in handy when you’re navigating the quagmire of red tape, where French government officials need and want everything translated yesterday (well, within the past three months) and S’il vous plaît in triplicate and you’ve forgotten the most important form, je suis désolé, madame.

Money helps because French bureaucracy can be daunting. If you’re not willing (or able) to do battle yourself, find someone who will assume that responsibility. For example, renting an apartment isn’t a slam-dunk. You’re required to furnish more paperwork than most Americans can fathom. U.S. residents are getting a bit of a taste now that it’s more difficult to get a loan for whatever.  But if you’re not clipping coupons, count on spending a lot of time, learning to intone Ommm, and practicing counting from one to ten.  But the time is most important.

Even though many people assume I’m an expert because of my years of writing about France on Bonjour Paris, the reality is that the longer I’ve been a French resident, the more aware I am of the need for professional advice in certain situations. Real estate, wills and anything that might be considered an inheritance is out of my comfort zone.

Paris is by no means cheap and the cost of living keeps many people from relocating to the EU if they’re dependent on a dollar income. Few economists forecast that the dollar will rebound enough to make Americans feel rich any time soon.  What I’ve discovered is that even though Paris is expensive, most people are willing to do with less. They may go out to restaurants less frequently, but my friends limit their clothing expenditures, and few people move to keep up with the Jones.  Few crave the equivalent of a McMansion—and there aren’t any, anyway. They may buy a run-down château, but do it as a long-term project. Few people expect it to be renovated and decorated yesterday.

The French are taking shorter vacations and they’re staying closer to home. But each week when the travel specials come flying across my computer screen, it’s so apparent that travelers can be in so many different countries and cultures within a few hours and package deals are really deals.

Some people are out of their comfort zones if they move from one state to another. And then there are those of us who are born part-gypsy.  Which type of person are you and why?

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Posted in Paris |

Are airlines responsible for bad passengers?

Written by admin on September 25, 2009 – 4:47 pm -

After reading this article about unruly fliers, I wondered how many air travelers had seen other passengers misbehaving.

I’m not referring to parents who allow their children to run up and down the aisles. Or people who cram so much in overhead bins that if they open mid-flight, your life may be at stake. Annoying as those things are, they’re not federal offenses.

Perhaps it’s being a contrarian, but are there times when clearing security, the pre-flight and in-flight experience has been sufficiently exacerbating, that by the time passengers board, they’re ready to riot.

What could airlines do to make travel easier? How would you improve going through security? What measures would you like to see adopted when you’re going from here to there?

If airlines were to serve everyone meals on flights that are longer than two hours (or after you’ve been sitting on the tarmac more than an hour) would that lessen the pain?

In these days of massive cutbacks, are airlines being penny wise and pound foolish, by not offering more customer service when most passengers feel as if they’re being delegated to sardine status  — especially if they’re seated in the far, far back of the plane.

Should airlines stop serving alcohol? Sure, drinks are moneymakers on the P&L statement. But, are there statistics as to how many trouble-making events are directly attributable to passengers’ alcohol levels? Even if they’re served only one drink in-flight, some people are cheap drunks while others may board flights already sloshed.

Should passengers be required to take a Breathalyzer test before boarding? Drug tests?

We’ve been on flights when the crew hasn’t given enough information or when they’ve shared too much — especially in the middle of the night. Plus, there can be communications problems when people don’t understand announcements in a foreign language or they’re so garbled that even if the announcement is in your native language, you’re lost.

Please post some doable things the airlines could tackle to make trips more pleasurable.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What and How to Eat, and When?

Written by admin on September 24, 2009 – 7:38 pm -

Before embarking on a trip to a foreign destination, brush up on how, when and what the natives eat. Should you be France-bound, you may need to adapt to a different style of eating; that is, if you want to.

One of France’s many pleasures is its food – so why not enjoy what many people consider one of the country’s major attractions? And even though you can get a bad meal in France, many dedicated eaters still make gastronomic pilgrimages here with the priority of eating. So much so, that as soon as they’re ticketed and know where they’re staying, they make restaurant reservations. Some may consider this traveling by your stomach, but there are worse sins.

Food differentiates countries and cultures, as does etiquette. For example, the French keep their arms and hands on the table and use forks and knives to eat pizza, sandwiches and even tacos. You can decide whether or not to follow suit. But, if you’re attending a business meal, your colleagues are going to look askance if you eat with your hands, with the exception of bread. And it’s OK; unless it’s a very formal meal with bread and butter plates, place the bread on the tablecloth.  If you were in Ethiopia, by contrast, there’s an entirely different set of rules.

Americans tend to eat three meals each day and many succumb to snacking between (and after) them. There are the families who rarely, if ever, sit down together for a home cooked meal and this is increasingly the norm in the good ‘ole USA where too many people catch as catch can.

American breakfasts are generally big and may include eggs, cereal, different breads (bring on the muffins and toast!) juices and coffee, tea or milk. Many dieticians feel this is the most important meal of the day.

Even if it is, the French tend to eat a croissant or a tartine (a portion of a baguette with a light coat of butter) accompanied by a café, a café crème (hot milk, please), a hot chocolate or possibly some tea. If you order a glass of milk in France, be prepared to receive a glass that isn’t what most Americans are used to drinking. More than likely, the milk was poured from a carton and is probably served lukewarm.

Furthermore, Americans are more likely to skimp on lunch than people in Europe, where the mid-day meal is traditionally the day’s main meal.  That may be changing somewhat among the younger generation, who may grab a sandwich or stop at a McDo for a bite to eat.

But, think about it; eating your main meal at lunch makes great and good sense.  Perhaps the days of three-hour lunches are coming to an end though, with the exception of Sunday lunches, en famille, which is still a tradition. The French are even drinking substantially less wine (frequently only one glass) and vintners are crying the blues, as a result.  Wine sales are dramatically down and college students are drinking an increasing amount of soft drinks and beer.

Typically, in France and other EU countries, workers are entitled to restaurant subsidies if their workplace doesn’t have its own canteen (or cafeteria). It’s not unusual to see business colleagues sitting down to a meal and forking over coupons when the tab is presented.

Universities have cafeterias where students are entitled to buy meals for a fraction of what it would cost were they to head to a neighborhood café. Tourists have also been known to eat in them (if security is lax and IDs aren’t being checked), since your money will go a great deal further here than in a traditional restaurant.

School children are fed three-course meals and are expected to eat green things such as broccoli when presented. Menus are published each week in the newspaper so French parents know what their offspring have been served – and more than likely, have consumed.

Bless most French children. They don’t think it’s their innate right to say they’re not going to eat what’s served to them and are adventurous when it comes to tasting different foods. It’s wonderful to watch a three-year-old scarf down puréed celery root.

The reality is, as more couples are both working, big lunches prepared by someone else is a time and work saver, in addition to the other pluses. Dinners often consist of soups and salads accompanied by cheese and perhaps desserts. But rarely is the evening meal the 3+ course variety during the work/school week.

The French are also changing and buying more frozen products than they did years ago. Even here, there’s a different standard when it comes to quality, and many meals (for guests as well) come straight from the shelves of PICARD, which now takes orders on-line and delivers, further simplifying the lives of busy people.

Even though the French do worry somewhat about weight (and some French are gaining a few pounds as more junk food is appearing in markets), they tend to eat smaller portions. But realistically, who wants to go to bed on a full stomach? Is it healthy? Do you get the best night’s sleep and how many calories do you burn off between dinner and crawling under the covers?

It’s likely that your dining habits will change somewhat while abroad, but do you see yourself adopting the French style of eating more mid-day and less at night?

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Posted in Paris |

What’s in a five-star hotel? And do you want such digs?

Written by admin on September 21, 2009 – 4:50 pm -

In these days, where many people are watching their pennies, are über deluxe five-star hotels become memories of the past? You know, elegantly decorated hotels with a staff available 24-hours-a-day to satisfy every whim?

Well, yes and no. Would you pay for such service? As the famed financier JP Morgan said, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” He was probably right.

Let’s face it – there will always be the very rich and famous (or wannabees) who aren’t going to go without. They’re probably just not us. Or if they are, it’s because we’re getting special deals.

Many hotels are offering promotions to keep their room occupancy nights high since they don’t want to let the employees go during these challenging economic times, when unlimited expense account travel is down and even well-to-do tourists are being increasingly cautious.

Other hotels are cutting services, which some hoteliers say is the way to go. Others feel there’s no turning back when the financial crisis is over.

But why does a hotel merit a five-stars and what how are hotels classified?  The global rating system is supposed to be consistent.  In reality, five-star hotels in Paris and New York City are inevitably jazzier and offer more service than hotels in Tunisia. In parts of Asia, hotels are often more sybaritic, as well as service-oriented, because the service personnel’s salaries are substantially less.

What’s the definition of a five-star hotel?  According to Hervé Novelli, Secretary of State for French Tourism, five-star hotels should have most of the same services as the revered Meurice Hotel in Paris:

A multi-lingual concierge staff that can perform miracles and access tickets for events and reservations at restaurants that are ‘impossible’ to come by.
- A gourmet restaurant
- A bar with food service.
- Room Service – 24 hours a day
- A spa or health club
- Laundry and dry-cleaning facilities
- Air-conditioning, individually controlled
- Rooms for non-smokers and ones that are handicapped accessible and equipped

Technology in all Rooms

- Multi-channel TV (LCD and plasma screens)
- High-speed Internet access
- DVD and CD players
- Video and music on demand
- Multi-line telephones
- Dual-voltage power supply
- iPod radio-alarm-clock

Business and Entertaining

- Fully equipped Business corner with Internet access
- Fax machines/ printers in the room on request
- Wi-Fi access in public areas- Private dining room
- Ballroom and banqueting suites

Additional Amenities

- Car or Limousine service services
- Babysitting on request
- Courier services

It goes without saying, bathrooms should be worthy of being featured in “Architectural Digest” and all linens should be perfect, including robes. There should be complimentary bottled water, lavish bathroom amenities, evening turn-down service and a well-stocked mini-bar.

The above services don’t come cheap. But many hotels essentially offer much or many of the same ones.

How do you choose between one hotel and another? Some people may prefer high-tech modern décor opposed to traditional (and often opulent) silk, satins fabrics exuding a more formal look and feel.

The Meurice Hotel has 200 years of tradition and service to differentiate it from this year’s high-rise hotel a block away. There are plenty of five-star hotels that are wonderful but may not be as charming or elegant. It’s up to clients to decide what’s right for them and what they select is very subjective.

Which brings me to my questions. Even if you’re not planning to spend big bucks (Euros or Yen) on a room, what essentials do you require? How do your decisions differ if you’re on business versus pleasure? Do you take advantage of a hotel’s facilities (e.g. a fitness center) or do you just like knowing one is available in case you’re motivated?

When do you decide to splurge on a hotel? If you’re traveling on business and are staying in a big city, how much latitude do you have in deciding where to reserve? If your company has a corporate travel department, do they make housing decisions without your input?

And last but not least: When you’ve check into a hotel that has promised the sun, stars and the moon and find that it’s not delivering what it promised, do you complain? Do you ask to change rooms? Do you check out?

Please post what a five-star hotel experience signifies to you – and whether or not you’re willing to pay for it and when? If you are, which hotels are the ones to which you love to return?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Ask Karen — And People Do

Written by admin on September 16, 2009 – 7:41 pm -

E-mails to Bonjour Paris are a good barometer as to what readers are thinking and doing. No, we’re not a branch of the French Tourist Office, but, come to think of it, some days, we’d be hard pressed to deny we’re not doing some of its work.

Because we answer all e-mails (some might even accuse the B.P. staff—or me—of being compulsive), people fire off at all hours and expect an immediate response. And more than likely, they’ll receive one within twelve hours. How we wish we could be online 24 hours a day, but it simply isn’t realistic.

One thing that’s glaringly apparent is that people are going to France. Contrasted with a few years ago, frequently it’s last-minute travel. It’s almost as if people can’t stand it anymore and are being seduced by last-minute deep-discounted airfares and hotel-booking sites that are offering rooms at affordable prices.

Business travelers are coming to France now and want information about less expensive digs or where to rent an apartment if they’re staying for a week. Even though the economy is in the tank, executives appear to be realizing that occasional face-to-face contact and shaking hands is a necessity if you’re going to get a job done. Can we suggest less expensive restaurants where to take clients? Make reservations? And yes, they’re leaving for Paris tomorrow afternoon.

Examples of emails we’ve received—and these are the tip of the iceberg:

A recently married woman is coming to Paris and realizes her passport hasn’t been changed to her married name. Theresa sent an email asking, “Didn’t I think she’d be OK if she showed up at the airport with a marriage certificate and a driver’s license that have her ‘new’ name in addition to her passport.”

I shot back an “absolutely not.” She could chance it, but I’d be a nervous wreck getting in and out the US and into France. Perhaps she’d succeed, but my stomach would be tied up in knots. Theresa called the help desk at the airline and, since they’d yet to issue the ticket, they were willing to issue it in her maiden name. Whew.

Another reader sent an e-mail from a man who realized his passport would expire in three months and he’d be fine? Again, off went a reply he didn’t want to hear that included the names of a few companies that expedites visas and new passports.

During my recent travels, I’ve noticed when I’m traveling from one country to another, the person checking my ticket against my passport always looks at the expiration date. Even though this passport and visa site includes all of the information any American traveler could want and need, people don’t always want to take the time to do the research themselves. Who blames them?

Some airlines may allow you to check in online (United does for a fee—at least for U.S. citizens departing from Paris), but since I’m a French resident and my plane tickets originate in France, every time I return to France I have to show the ticket agent my Carte de Séjour, because no one is legally allowed to remain in France without a visa for more than three months. I live in fear that I might misplace that plastic card because I’d be persona non grata.

Another notable e-mail: Susan and John sent one telling me they were planning to bring their miniature Yorkie to Paris since the city is so dog friendly. That’s true. But they assumed they wouldn’t have any trouble sneaking Fidoette on the plane since she’s so tiny and never made a peep buried in Susan’ purse.

I literally called this couple to tell them that they’d better find a puppy sitter or they might be faced with having their baby confiscated while going through security in the U.S. or in France. All animals are required to have specific vaccines, tests, I.D. chips, and a clean bill of health issued by a veterinarian who’s authorized to complete an international health certificate.

On top of that, they’d need to make a reservation for their canine companion and pay between $200-$250 each way (depending on the airline) for the privilege of allowing Fidoette to come to the City of Light.

Some readers probably think I’m exaggerating. How I wish I were.

Now it’s your turn to ask questions. Please register HERE if you need a user name and password and ask away.

There’s no such thing as a (really) stupid question. It’s better to appear silly than end up in another country not knowing what to do where.

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Posted in Paris |

Kissing Off the Kissing Habit?

Written by admin on September 9, 2009 – 7:46 pm -

It’s as common as seeing a person carrying a baguette or drinking an espresso while standing at the bar of a neighborhood café, la bise.  But now, now la bise, the cheek-to-cheek pecks that the French use when saying hello or goodbye, has come under pressure as a result of the global swine flu threat.

Even though there have only been three (possible) swine-flu related deaths reported, the French Ministry of Health is alerting people they need to stop kissing. And they mean it even though it goes against the grain of French tradition.

Some are wondering how and if the French will be able to kick la bise habit—and habit it is.  Most Parisians will kiss twice, once on each check, and usually the right cheek gets served first.  I hear that overly enthusiastic students may kiss four times.  But if you kiss three times, people will ask if you’re Belgian.  This is not a compliment, though better to kiss too much than not at all, right?

As winter approaches, some French schools, companies and a hotline sponsored by the Health Ministry are advising students and employees to cut out the kissing, which is as much a ritual as a greeting. They fear that because of flu, a kiss might cause illness or in the extreme possibly death.  Which would be a high price to pay for an air-kiss on the cheek, but better to be cautious than get the flu, which causes people to run incredibly high fevers, is highly contagious and leaves people feeling as if they want to die even if the virus is a temporary affliction. Those who’ve had the flu report that every bone in their body has ached, and some say they’ve never experienced a flu that’s plowed them under as acutely.

So, the Health Ministry advises keeping a minimum of a three-foot distance from people and states that facemasks should be worn when possible. “These are recommendations, not requirements: People are free to do what they like,” said a hotline operator. The government’s main thrust is to encourage people to wash their hands frequently and use sanitary wipes and gels.  Caution is the rule of the week. Teachers are requesting that students refrain from kissing one another—which, if they’re keeping a distance of three feet would be hard to do anyway, but it might be interesting to watch them trying.

Some people are staying away from department stores and other closed places for fear of being infected. Since the swine flu vaccine won’t be available until October, many people are being extra cautious. That’s okay, but not kissing?

Besides prevention, stay home if you’re running a fever or think you might be contracting the flu.   Marie-Louise and Jean have decided to postpone putting their one-year-old into the crèche (day-care) until the flu has come and gone. It will mean one parent will need to stay at home with their daughter until they line up a caregiver.  Some parents are banding together to alternate homes where their children may stay with one parent at a time so they aren’t exposed to twenty or more children who spend their days at a local center.  That’s okay too—though you might ask how many toddlers create a critical mass of infection—but not kissing?

It will be interesting to see whether or not this is yet another blow to tourism. A French tour operator said some people have canceled their travel plans because of the swine flu epidemic—which has not reached epidemic levels in France.  All you have to do is walk through any airport and you’ll see people wearing facemasks.   Is this another avian flu that dealt the deathblow to travel in 1997? Are you postponing your plans for fear of contamination?  Let’s face it; most tourists would rather be sick at home than spending vacation time down and out in a hotel room—even if there is a view of the Eiffel Tower.

But trying to keep people from kissing, while hygienically sound, doesn’t sound very French to me.  I wonder if it will actually become the rule—and la bise will pass into history, along with the beret, the horizontally striped shirt, and the cigarettes known as Parisiennes, sold in paper packages of four really nasty smokes.  And what about shaking hands?  Everybody does that in France, constantly, sometimes even while kissing.  Can that be far behind?  And, while we’re at it, what about sex?

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Posted in Paris |

Will the French be able to stop kissing to prevent a swine flu outbreak?

Written by admin on September 8, 2009 – 4:53 pm -

In France, kissing is as common as seeing a person carrying a baguette or drinking an espresso while standing at the bar of a neighborhood café.

Now, “la bise,” (cheek-to-cheek pecks) that the French use while saying hello or goodbye, has come under pressure because of the current threat of global swine flu.

Even though only three (possible) swine-flu related deaths have been reported, the French Ministry of Health is alerting people they need to stop kissing. And they are serious, even though it goes against the grain of French tradition.

Some are wondering how and if the French will be able to kick the bise habit. When greeting each other, they peck cheeks alternating three of four times in rapid succession. Parisians, and most especially students, kiss four times. Any excuse and there are additional kisses. Shaking hands and cheek kisses are imprinted in a French person’s psyche as to what’s correct and what’s not.

As winter approaches, some French schools, companies and a hot-line sponsored by Health Ministry, are advising students and employees to avoid the social kissing ritual. They fear that because of flu, a kiss might cause illness or in the extreme, death.

Better to be cautious than contract this strain, which causes people to run incredibly high fevers. It’s highly contagious and leaves people feeling as if they want to die even if the virus is a temporary affliction. Those who’ve had the flu report that every bone in their body has ached and some say they’ve never experienced a flu that’s plowed them under so acutely.

People are advised to keep a minimum of a three feet from others and face masks should be worn when possible. “These are recommendations, not requirements: People are free to do what they like.” said a hot-line operator.

The French government’s main thrust is to encourage people to wash their hands frequently and use sanitary wipes and gels. Caution is the rule of the week. Teachers are requesting students refrain from kissing one another and French government authorities are asking people to sneeze into tissues – or even their sleeves – to avoid air-born germs.

Some people are staying away from department stores and other closed places for fear of being infected. Since the swine flu vaccine isn’t forecast to be available until October, many people are being extra cautious. Besides prevention, stay home if you’re running a fever or think you might be contracting the flu.

It will be interesting to see whether or not this is yet another blow to tourism.

A French tour operator said some people have canceled their travel plans because of the most recent epidemic which isn’t confined to France but is global. Not a day goes by when there aren’t doom and gloom forecasts concerning this pandemic.

All you have to do is walk through any airport and you’ll see people wearing face-masks. Is this another Avian flu that dealt the deathblow to travel a few years ago? Are you postponing your plans for fear of contamination? Let’s face it; most tourists would rather be sick at home rather than spending vacation time down and out in a hotel room – even if there is a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Please post whether or not you’re changing your travel plans. If you’re not, what precautions are you taking? Or, are you among those who view the flu a get-up-and-go opportunity?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |
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