News from France: Economics, Google-Hachette Libre Settlement, DSK, Baguettes

Written by admin on October 24, 2011 – 12:36 pm -

The majority of this week’s news from France has to do with the economy, as the world markets ricochet, causing traders and investors to tremble.

Standard & Poor downgraded the U.S.’s triple-A credit rating to AA-plus. Now France’s AAA rating is under fire and President Sarkozy returned to Paris to preside over a small cabinet meeting on Wednesday. According to the New York Times, he instructed his budget and finance ministers to come back this week with new measures to ensure that France meets its targets of a deficit of 5.7 percent of gross domestic product this year, 4.6 percent next year and 3 percent in 2013.

Because 2012 is an election year, the French president is especially eager to improve his popularity rating which according to Bloomberg News is holding steady at 36%.

Sarkozy and Merkel will meet in Paris on Tuesday

German Chancellor Merkel.  Photo credit: AFP-France 24On August 16th, German Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy will meet in Paris to discuss economic governance of the 17-nation euro region.

In the interim, France, Italy, Spain and Belgium have banned “shorting” of banking stocks for two weeks in the wake of this past week’s market chaos, according to the London Telegraph.

Google and Hachette Libre reach online publishing agreement

Google has reached an agreement with France’s largest publishing company, Hachette Libre. The agreement will allow Google to digitize and scan books from Hachette’s library of copyrighted but out-of-print books.

DSK update

What would a week be without news of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose legal problems are by no means disappearing? Even though it appears as if the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office may drop the criminal case against the former head of the International Monetary FundKenneth Thompson, the lawyer who represents Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid from Guinea, who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, is proceeding with the civil case.

Thompson, the son of one of the city’s first policewomen to be assigned to be a street beat cop, was an assistant with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn. His work prosecuting and convicting a New York policeman for beating and sodomizing a Haitian immigrant was an essential part of the case. Fifteen years later, he’s at the center of another high-profile case with racial overtones. To read more, access this article by Reuters.

Dalai Lama in Toulouse

Spiritual Leader Dalai Lama arrived in Toulouse on Friday for a three-day visit.  He was greeted at the airport by Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen and spiritual directors and members of the Organizing Committee of Toulouse 2011.  He addressed  numerous  members of the press during his first private visit to France. The Dalai Lama stated the reason for his trip is to promote human values and religious harmony, adding he is satisfied over turning over his political and administrative powers to Lobsang Sangay, the newly elected leader of Tibet.

According to the Associated Press, “Now, today I’m just a spiritual person” without political responsibilities, the Dalai Lama said in Toulouse during a talk on meditation that drew thousands of Buddhist followers and others. He also addressed politics in the brief remarks shown on BFM TV. “If the Chinese government gives us meaningful autonomy, genuinely implements the rights mentioned in the constitution or … papers regarding the rights of minorities, sincerely fully implements, then it’s in our interest to remain within the People’s Republic of China.”

Dalai Lama in Toulouse. Photo credit: AP-Manuel Blondeau

Bread glorious Bread: What is happening in France? Is it progress or not?

Jean-Louis Hecht & automated baguette machine. Photo credit: Metro-AFP.

According to BonjourParis News, Paris baker Jean-Louis Hecht may have introduced the bakery of tomorrow with his new automated hot baguette vending machine available round-the-clock outside of his boulangerie in the Paris 19th.

According to TIME , 1,600 baguettes were sold in January when the machine was installed and 4,500 were sold in July. Only you can decide whether or not this is good or bad news.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Around the World, Paris |

News from France: Lagarde, Noriega, Air France, DSK, Libya

Written by admin on October 24, 2011 – 12:35 pm -

Lagarde under investigation for abuse of power charges

Christine Lagarde, the recently named head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is under the gun for possible fraudulent activities involving the misuse of public funds in 2008, when she was France’s finance minister. According to the Wall Street Journal, the French court has ordered an investigation as to whether or not the  420€ million ($602 million) payment to Bernard Tapie was unjustified.

If Mme Lagarde is found guilty, she could receive a 10-year prison sentence and be fined up to 150,000€, per France24. The IMF board refuses to comment and Christine Lagarde says she won’t resign during the investigation.

France plans to extradite Noriega in SeptemberManuel Noriega   Photo:  Reuters

RFI reports that former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega will be sent from a French prison to his native Panama to serve out prison terms for human rights violations in the 1980s. Noriega, now 77 years of age, has been in a French prison since 2010 for laundering millions of euros in French bank accounts when he was president of Panama. Noriega’s legal representatives say he will not contest the extradition because he wishes to be closer to his family in Panama, according to The Telegraph.

Air France denies Dominique Strauss-Kahn press reports

Dominique Strauss-Kahn can’t stay out of the news. Earlier this week French newspaper Le Parisien reported that lawyers of Strauss-Kahn’s accuser received an anonymous letter saying Air France issued orders that only males should work in the first class area of its jets when Strauss-Kahn travelled.

On Thursday Air France denied it issued this mandate. “Air France formally denies having given any instruction about the composition of its crews,” a spokesman told the news agency.

France will unfreeze $259 million of Libyan assetsLibyan rebel   Photo: Reuters

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said France will unfreeze $259 million of Libyan assets and allow Libya’s National Transition Council (NTC) to use the funds commited to funding humanitarian programs that meet European guidelines, according to Reuters.

The money was confiscated from Muammar Gaddafi and his inner circle. France has been joined by the U.S., Britain and Germany in recognizing the NTC as the official representative of the Libyan people opposing Gaddafi’s regime.

French watchdog group investigating Apple over iPhone privacy concerns

France has launched an investigation into Apple iPhone location tracking. The Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), France’s technology watchdog, said it is investigating privacy issues. Yann Padova, head of the CNIL stated it appears that while the data was definitely collected and stored on the handset, it doesn’t appear as if it was transmitted back to Apple or its commercial partners. This will be a deciding factor in any kind of judgment against Apple, since Apple can claim that it wasn’t collecting or using this information, according to The Inquirer. If Apple is found guilty of wrongdoing the CNIL could follow suit and impose fines.

Rudolf Brazda      AP PhotoMan imprisoned in Nazi camp for being homosexual has died in France

The Daily Mail reports that Rudolf Brazda, the last known male imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp for being homosexual, died last week. Nazi Germany declared homosexuality an aberration that threatened the German race. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 gay men were deported to concentration camps; few survived. Brazda was in Buchenwald from 1942-1945 and he lived in Alsace until his death last week.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Around the World, Paris |

Glasses, Glorious Glasses

Written by admin on October 24, 2011 – 12:33 pm -

Opticiens du Bac store exteriorI finally found them and had given up the hunt. If you’re wondering to what I’m referring, you’ll be surprised. I was walking up the rue du Bac in the seventh arrondissement and found glasses. Not the type you drink out of—rather ones you use to see through.

If you’ve been looking for reading or long distance vision glasses, you’re incredibly unchic these days if your style isn’t itty-bitty ones or ones with wire frames. I know. I have a collection of ones I haven’t felt good wearing.

My search has taken me far and wide including Hong Kong, Vietnam, Washington, DC and even Buenos Aires. I’ve gone to the large optical stores in Paris and had given up hope until yesterday.

Taking a walk I did a double take and went barreling into the boutique where Brigitte, the owner greeted me and within 10 minutes, I’d selected two frames (one for distance and the second for reading) and who cared (pas moi) that I’m substantially poorer.

Brigitte, an optician, has been designing glasses and selling them for more than 20 years in the same location. She’s known for her tortoiseshell frames. But there are many others, which are made in France. She oversees the quality as well as the design and takes the time to make certain your choice is the right one for you.

The store has a selection of ‘designer’ glasses, but they cost more, and to be honest, I don’t think they hold a candle to Brigitte’s.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:

Les Opticiens du Bac Online shopping available, too

92, rue du Bac, Paris 7th

Tél: 01 4548 0029

Métro: #12 Rue du Bac


Posted in Paris |

France News: Strauss-Kahn, Libya, Finance, Rising Unemployment

Written by admin on October 24, 2011 – 12:30 pm -

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

The legal case against former IMF (International Monetary Fund) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was dropped last week. His passport was returned to him and he’s now free to leave the U.S. There’s speculation as to when he’ll return to France. In the meantime, DSK plans to visit the IMF next week.

According to Reuters, “Like any former managing director of the IMF, Mr. Strauss-Kahn will be welcomed to the fund,” spokesman David Hawley told the press.

Some reactions to the charges being dropped against DSK: François Hollande, a Socialist Party presidential contender, says he is “delighted.” The release came “after three months of an unbearable ordeal.”

It is probably too late for DSK to throw his hat into the ring as a Socialist Party candidate for next year’s presidential election. Rather, DSK will be a kingmaker. Should the Socialists win, he may end up in the Cabinet. Should they lose, he could be the candidate next time around.

The UK publication Mail on Line details some of diverging opinions about the trial and what’s perceived to be cultural differences, even though many American and French women feel that DSK was not brought to justice. There are civil actions still pending in the U.S. and in France, which some surmise will be settled out-of-court.

France24 photo of Moammar Ghaddafi.

Moammar Gaddafi & Libya

The Washington Post reports that Moammar Gaddafi has yet to be located after clearing one of his loyalists’ last major strongholds in Tripoli. According to rebel leader Colonel Hisham Buhagiar, “We are sending special forces to hunt down Gaddafi. We have one unit that does intelligence and other units that hunt him down.”

It’s been reported by France 24 that British warplanes bombed a large bunker Friday in Moammar Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, his biggest remaining stronghold. NATO has been focused on loyalist forces battling advancing anti-regime fighters in the area. In the interim, France has announced its plans to reopen an embassy in Tripoli as soon as it’s feasible.

French Finances and Taxes

The French government is instituting a set of austerity measures, according to The Wall Street Journal, which are aimed at obtaining deficit-reduction goals coupled with the country’s stalling economic growth. It’s hoped this will reassure investors about France’s creditworthiness.
The initiatives mainly target large companies and high-income individuals. The government said this would help minimize the economic downturn. But, the austerity package could prove to be a bitter pill for upper-middle-class French people, who traditionally support President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative party in a presidential election that’s less than eight months from now.

President Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo credit: Michel Euler/AP

Unemployment in France on the Rise

The number of registered job seekers in France who are unemployed rose by 36,100 in July to 2.76 million, the highest level since February 2000. The July figure was up 1.3 percent in the past month and 2.8 percent over one year, according to Reuters .
Considering this is August and it’s not yet the rentrée, this summer has been filled with news.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

An Expat’s Dilemma

Written by admin on October 24, 2011 – 12:28 pm -

Crepes in Paris. Photo: CarinaTruyts

How many times have you heard people say they need to live where their children do? You’ll hear that refrain again when they become grandparents.

For many, that’s the right (and only) route. But, for others, including me, it doesn’t feel as if we’re being true to ourselves. That seemingly selfish decision may evoke guilt. But, if you’d experienced what I did recently, you’d know you’d made the right decision and life goes on. It always has, I hear, and I suspect it always will.

Please don’t get me wrong. My son and his wife are wonderful and my granddaughters are perfect. I’m lucky and have been able to factor sufficient funds into my budget so I can return to Washington, DC, often enough that I’m not a void in my family’s life. “Out of sight, out of mind” is never going to be their mantra about this woman who lives in Paris.

But this August was a month I’ll always remember and so will they. The entire family came to Paris and we had a ball. My daughter-in-law’s sister and her family, who live in Copenhagen, joined us as well. At that point, there were going to be nine people in the apartment (five adults and four children under the age of nine) so while the Copenhagen crowd was in residence, I moved to a hotel five minutes away from the apartment.

One of the caveats was that everyone except me was responsible for planning their time in Paris. I may be an “expert,” but this was their trip (with only a wee input from me). I can’t deny that I polled all of my friends whose grandchildren had come to Paris with them and came up with a laundry list of things and places that were must-sees.

What I learned: my family didn’t feel as if they needed or wanted to be tourists. They were coming to see “Gran” and where she lives. The eight-year-old had been to France when she was little, but this was the first trip for my just-turned-five-year-old.

When you’re traveling as an entourage, especially with children, who may not be able to overcome the effects of jet lag as quickly as some adults, don’t count on getting an early start. The 9 a.m. activities we had planned were akin to pulling teeth when it came to getting up and out.

Children need to stop and eat at the strangest times; for example, whenever they see a vendor selling crêpes or ice cream. Even though you may have a sack filled with sandwiches, snacks and drinks, they’re simply not the same.

We traveled by bus, métro and the RER. The children were troopers when it came to changing trains that required going up and down stairs. The adults’ legs (OK, mine) may have felt a few aches and pains, but the children did amazingly well, except for the youngest who cajoled her father into transporting her on his shoulders when the going got tough. A friend suggested we have a stroller for such occasions, but that was nixed as a thing of the past. In retrospect, it would have come in more than handy—I wouldn’t have minded a ride now and then.

Amazingly enough, there were few complaints about taking public transportation except when we were in métro cars that were so packed that we all felt as if we were sardines. The children loved walking—you mean there’s a pastry store so close to your house? It wasn’t until nearly the last day that I heard my “baby” say something about looking forward to getting into a car.

Eiffel Tower. Photo: Mlle Be

Each day, the girls were responsible for recording what they’d seen that day. My elder granddaughter wrote a lot. The younger child drew and drew some more. She’d come into the room where the paper is kept and raid pages from the ream of printer paper and kept on drawing.

Our travels took us past the Eiffel Tower so many times that the children became blasé after they’d seen it for the umpteenth time. That was until the night we went to the summit which, in spite of our having tickets, took an hour and a half once we were in line and was so disorganized that I wondered how people weren’t lost. After complaining loudly, one of the few and far between employees commented that 30,000 people a day go up the Eiffel Tower each August and what did I expect?

Knowing then what I know now, there are far better ways to see Gustave Eiffel’s creation which he designed for part of the celebration of the 1889 centenary of the French Revolution and is the highest building in Paris. A far better vantage point is from the Paris Architectural Museum at the Trocadero métro. If you don’t have time to see the museum, buy a drink in the cafeteria and enjoy the most incredible view where the crowds aren’t overwhelming.

You’ll also avoid being accosted by the illegal vendors, who keep the souvenirs in bags that can be picked up in a second as the police come by and tell them to scat. That lasts for all of ten minutes and these men are back in business tout de suite.

Mother [at Luxembourg Garden.] Photo: Ingrid.DemingTheir all-time favorites:  The Mona Lisa, the “puffy cake,” The Sacré Coeur, The Pont des Arts where the children placed their locks and the Luxembourg Garden where we spent so many wonderful hours.

Even the children (and more importantly the adults) had a better time than they did at Disneyland Paris. A day at the Luxembourg Garden cost substantially less and the children loved the playground, the merry-go-round, and being able to rent their own boats that they pushed with their sticks in the pond behind the Sénat.

Don’t get me wrong. We did many more things. But how I loved it when my granddaughters said, “Gran, this is your garden and we can come and play here all the time.” They won’t remember everything but Paris will be indelibly etched in their minds for the rest of their lives.

They really understood that my living in Paris isn’t because I don’t love them and they can have the best of both worlds. For an expat, that’s a victory and has alleviated some of my guilt.

© Paris New Media, LLC

PHOTO CREDITS:

Crêpes in Paris ©CarinaTruyts

Paris Duo ©Mlle Bé

Mother (Luxembourg Garden) ©Ingrid.Deming


Posted in Paris |

News from France: Strauss Kahn, Air France Crash, McDonald’s & Minitel

Written by admin on October 24, 2011 – 12:26 pm -

Air France 447 debris recovery Photo ©Getty ImagesDominique Strauss Kahn:

And the beat goes on and on: The New York City trial has now been postponed from August 1st until August 23rd.

DSK’s lawyers are hoping the trial will be dismissed before then; however, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has refused to comment.

In the meantime, according to the New York Times, Nafissatou Diallo, the NYC Sofitel housekeeper who accused the former IMF chairman of sexually attacking her, is speaking to members of the press including ABC News and Newsweek.

Nafissatou Diallo   Photo ©EPAThere’s discussion as to whether or not what many are terming a media circus will help or hinder Mrs. Diallo’s allegations.

Stay tuned.

Air France Crash:

Pilots at the helm of Air France Brazil to Paris fight #447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, killing 228 passengers and crew members, could have survived the situation after the jet lost speed. The data from recovered recorders has been analyzed by France’s Bureau of Investigation and Analysis’s (BEA) authority and according to Reuters have provided data that the crash was due to pilot error.

The BEA report states the pilots failed to act on repeated stall warnings and hadn’t had adequate “high altitude training” to be able to deal with the crisis situation. Conflicting air speed readings were received in the minutes leading up to the crash and the pilots pointed the plane’s nose upwards rather than downwards.

In addition, The Daily Mail has published that 32-year-old Pierre-Cedric Bonin was left to cope during a tropical storm, because the vastly more experienced captain was taking a break. The article states Bonin was not qualified to navigate the plane under the circumstances.

McDonald’s goes French:McDonald's introduces baguettes Photo ©Reuters

Even though the fast food burger, fries and milkshake chain that entered the French market in the 1970s has been an incredible success, management conceded to the French palate by adding salads and fruit to McDo’s menus.

Now it’s going to add warm baguettes, marketing to those who crave tradition. “For the first 15 years, from 1980, what we did above all was offer people a slice of America,” Nawfal Trabelsi, senior vice president for McDonald’s operations in France and southern Europe, told Le Figaro. “The French are passionate about bread and crazy about baguettes, so why not give them what they want?”

The Minitel:

It’s taps for the Minitel, according to France Telecom, adding that it’s shutting down the service that was the proto-Internet that brought online shopping and chat rooms into millions of French homes in the 1980s. It was ingenious and there was talk of it being introduced into the U.S. But, it was too little, too late and was beat out by early providers such as AOL, CompuServe and others. It you have a Minitel terminal, keep it. It will be a collector’s item.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

Five Romantic Paris Hotels: Bel Ami, Belle Juliette, L’Hotel, Mathurin, Villa Madame

Written by admin on October 24, 2011 – 12:24 pm -

Hotel la Belle Juliette lobby niche

How do you define a romantic hotel? Hotels that cater to people on honeymoons claim to be romantic; but, let’s face it, not even a heart-shaped bed guarantees romance. Romance and romantic hotels are totally subjective definitions.

None of these hotels appear to have been cut from a cookie-cutter mold. All have first-class bedding and high-count quality linens. Rooms were designed with taste and care, and hopefully are more than clean. There’s usually enough space in your room to sit and enjoy a glass of wine, or if feeling romantic, why not Champagne?

Bathrooms have been renovated to exceed modern expectations and more than likely are outfitted with marble. Yes, there are lovely soaps, shampoos, thick towels, and probably terry cloth robes.

As tends to be the case with Paris hotels, rooms are usually on the small side, with the exception of the larger business hotels.  This is especially true if you opt to stay on the Left Bank, which for many is considered more romantic. To be sure, some people will dispute that premise.

Hotel Le MathurinMathurin

This should be considered a sweet hotel more akin to an elegant townhouse (okay, mansion) than a place where you’re just a number. Its 54 rooms were designed with elegance and an eye for décor that’s both functional and inviting, but by no means boring. Each room is slightly varied in its color schemes so guests don’t feel as if they’re staying in a Holiday Inn.

The bar is inviting and if you like a spa with a Jacuzzi plus a hammam, you’ll think you’re in heaven.

Some rooms are definitely larger than others: try to snag one with a balcony if you’re into viewing the Paris rooftops. The hotel’s location, between La Madeleine and Opéra, is ideal for people who are in Paris to work while enjoying the City of Light.

The service is excellent. The breakfast buffet isn’t the best in Paris (nor by any means the worst), so you might want to take a short walk and eat out if the first meal of the day is your thing.

Business people tend to gravitate here because of the hotel’s Right Bank location near the Opéra Métro hub with lines that can whisk you to La Défense quickly. If you’re a shopper, it’s a short walk to the main department stores in Paris.

Belle Juliette

Hôtel La Belle Juliette Paris

This is an elegant hotel where each of the 34 rooms is decorated with a different look and feel and a spirit of whimsy. The design was conceived by Anne Gelbard, who specializes in fabrics that many haute couture honchos use.

If you’re a swimmer, there’s a small pool plus a spa that offers different types of beauty treatments, including traditional Chinese medicines and Acu-Face Lifts (no surgery involved). Guests can also relax in the hammam.

If you’re a Left Bank type of person, the location is ideal: you’ll be in the midst Saint-Germain-des-Prés and steps away from the Bon Marché department store (don’t miss the grocery store). Nearby rue du Cherche-Midi is nirvana when it comes to shopping until you drop. If you feel like a bit of calm or a run, the Luxembourg Garden is a fast walk away.

Hotel Bel AmiHôtel Bel Ami

If you’re looking for a hot and hopping hotel, The Bel Ami qualifies. It’s totally Saint-Germain-des-Prés and you can be at the Café de Flore in minutes. There are 106 standard rooms and six suites, designed à la moderne utilizing six different color schemes.

If you head in the other direction, you’ll be at the banks of the Seine for some chilling-out or taking a bâteau bus. If you want a culture fix, Musée d’Orsay is minutes away.

The hotel has an excellent spa with Payot products and a fitness center for those who want to work out (or have overindulged—you get the drift). While you’re running on the treadmill, you can watch fish swimming in an aquarium to bring your heart rate down.

The hotel’s lobby has a piano bar and feel free to challenge the bartender to make your favorite cocktail. There are jazz nights and special performances on certain evenings. Rooms are modern, well designed and should you have too much to drink, all you have to do is take the elevator to your room.

La Villa MadameLa Villa Madame

This 28-room hotel has more of the feeling of an intimate club where you’re tempted to sit in the lounge and meet the other guests. The rooms are small, but incredibly charming; and it’s on one of my favorite streets removed from the beaten path.

Not that many people need it, but this is one of the few small hotels with 24-hour-a-day concierge service. If you’re restless in the middle of the night, there’s an inviting lounge area with a fireplace and a library where you can have a drink or cup of tea.

The highlight of the hotel is the location, which is only a few minutes away from the Luxembourg Gardens, blvd Montparnasse and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. There’s a tiny outdoor area and the hotel staff prides itself in its lovely floral arrangements. Hôtel La Villa Madame is the epitome of refined elegance and everything about this hotel makes people feel as if they’re privileged to have the opportunity to stay in a such an almost-hidden gem.

L’HotelL'Hotel

I’ve always wanted to stay here because it’s lavish, totally unique and, oh, the stories I’ve heard about divine stays at this exquisite hotel. Designed by Jacques Garcia, it’s a showstopper and no two rooms of the 20 chambres are alike. Discreet and glamorous, highly rated by every stylish fashion and travel publication favored by jetsetters, this is where you stay for a lover’s tryst.

No matter which suite your budget allows—and unless you splurge large, it will be small—trust it will be romantic. When you eventually emerge from your room (and why rush when room service is available), on-site you have Le Restaurant, the one-star Michelin restaurant with ambience as pleasing as the menu. Le Bar, one of the most romantic bars in Paris, is open late—past 1 a.m. most nights.

The pool just made for two is tucked into a stone grotto just begging for candlelight. And do reserve your complimentary hour in the pool the moment you have your hotel reservation, it understandably fills quickly. The owners say their business philosophy is the Oscar Wilde saying, “I have the simplest of tastes; I am always satisfied with the best.”

Last-minute travelers, take heart:

August is one of the months when you’ll find Paris hotel rates at their lowest. Still far from cheap, no matter which of these hotels you choose, you’ll take memories of a rare stay at one of the most romantic hotels in one of the world’s most romantic cities.

If you have favorite romantic hotels in Paris, please let us know.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

What do you mean you’re not married? Not even a blood relative?

Written by admin on October 22, 2011 – 1:22 pm -

Hello 2011 — Do insurance companies understand this is a whole new world and not everyone chooses to get married or legally can? Apparently not; at least in the case of Geico.

This is really not a complaint about customer service. The company has tried its hardest and has been more than responsive in communicating about my car that is somewhere in Maryland, three hours from Washington, DC.

The car and a deer collided on a lovely country road and the deer is no longer. My friend and I survived. But the car will cost nearly $6,000 to repair and it’s anticipated it will take 14 working days before the car is operational.

Geico tried its hardest to get us back to D.C., but most car rental companies in this part of the world, are closed on Sundays. The few that were open, didn’t have any cars for rent. If we could have found our way to an Amtrakstation, Mr. Murray, Geico’s damage adjuster, informed us all of the seats were reserved. Thank goodness, someone, who shall be nominated for sainthood, spent six hours (round trip) and drove us to D.C.

Our only alternative would have been taking a taxi to the Nation’s Capital and that didn’t appear to be an option. This company has insured my cars for more than six years and has never had to pay a dime.

This was not a day in the country nor a jog in the park; and when the thermometer hit 105 degrees F, everyone was cranky.

When I received an email advising me a rental car would be awaiting me the next day, I was delighted. However, when I went to pick up the car, I was given a car that’s too big to fit in the garage and was advised to keep calling back to check whether or not a smaller car had been turned in. So much for Enterprise’s customer service. The Enterprise rental agency’s personnel couldn’t call me and instructed me to continue calling since they couldn’t anticipate when/if cars would be returned to that office. The idea of transferring a car from another center or having me pick one up was beyond their comprehension. Hey – DC isn’t exactly the end of the world … but, so be it.

The issue that got me the most was I was not permitted to add an additional driver to the rental policy because Geico was paying for the rental car. After calling Geico more than a few times, the reality was that unless the person was a legal partner or a blood relative, there was no way the company was going to allow me to designate another person to be a second driver, even if I paid the premium.

Which caused me to think and think again. In spite of the fact that Geico’s headquarters are in Maryland, which doesn’t recognize same sex marriages, that was too bad. If a step-parent or step child wanted to drive the car, too darn bad. Only blood and marriage? Excuse me — but isn’t this a civil liberties violation? After repeated calls and being told no and no again as I went up the management ladder, I started seeing red, not green geckos. What is wrong with this picture?

Accidents happen and that’s life, in what happened to be the slow lane, since we were traveling less that 30 miles per hour when the deer jutted out of the woods. On the other hand, what gives an insurance company the right to stipulate a client can’t designate a secondary driver on a rental car? When a woman handling the claim said (ever so calmly) I should have read the small print of the policy, obscene thoughts entered my mind.

So — if you happen to live an “alternative” life-style, should you insure with companies that refuse to allow someone who’s not related to be placed on a rental policy even if you’re willing to buy additional insurance? That’s worth pondering since it includes step-children, step-parents and significant others (or even a friend) if your relationship hasn’t been sanctioned by a state.

Good news: I just call Enterprise with the saga that the SUV I had wasn’t safe (for me) to drive on congested streets. They had another much smaller car but they still refused to allow me to buy insurance for a second driver. Do other people’s hearts palpitate in situations such as this?

This is when I suffer extreme culture shock. The perception that everything is so easy in the U.S. is precisely that. If you think I would consider getting married if this were to (please not) occur again, think again. Are others outraged over what could be perceived as discrimination of so many types? Let’s hear your reactions.


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

It was bound to happen — passenger gropes a TSA agent

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 4:08 pm -

What comes around goes around and sooner than later a passenger was going to turn the tables and grope a TSA agent. Not that groping is ever funny, and now, 61-year-old Yukari Miyamae from Colorado, is facing felony charges.

Last Thursday, Miyamae was in Phoenix’s Sky Airport en route to Colorado when the incident occurred, KWGN reports.

According to the arrest report, Miyamae is accused of groping TSA agent Barbara O’Toole’s “left breast through her clothing and squeezing and twisting it with both hands without the victim’s permission.” Gee, what if she’d had permission?

Yukari Miyamae admits she groped the agent. Consequently, she faces felony charges of sexual abuse. Miyamae was released from a Phoenix-area jail on Friday.

This is a real turnaround when the TSA, and more notably TSA agents are accused of groping grandmothers, people in wheel chairs, babies and even celebrities. Perhaps, you had to be there to understand what happened and Miyamae’s motivation.

If you’ve been subjected to a severe pat down when going through security, have you ever been tempted to reciprocate? Thinking. As the world turns.


Posted in Consumer Traveler |

What foods are you allowed to bring into the U.S.? It can be a mystery

Written by admin on July 26, 2011 – 4:07 pm -

OK, we’re supposed to be experts on travel issues but there are times that rules and regulations can leave even pros baffled. Is it because it’s a changing playing field? What foods you can bring into the US from overseas?

There’s a lot of controversy over this issue. This is an interesting and informative site . But, I’m beginning to believe nothing is set in stone, except (possibly) a lot depends on which side of the bed the inspector got up.

One thing I’ve learned the hard way is, even if you buy cheese at a French airport, and tell the sale person you’re U.S. bound, and are guaranteed the package will make it through customs when property wrapped, don’t accept it as gospel. Ditto for caviar. Between the beagle brigade and the inspectors, I’ve seen some lovely food items left in the inspection area.

It’s hard to watch grown people cry over cans of foie Gras and vacuum packages of ham being confiscated. Are you allowed to bring croissants into the US? My guess would be yes based on this list provided by the CBC.

Travelers definitely must take precautions when returning from adventure travel or farm tours, etc. Contact your tour operator for information about possible exposure to diseases the U.S. may not have. Find out what needs to be done before leaving and returning.

I must plead guilty. I never considered the house we owned in Provence (surrounded by vineyards) to be farmland and noted nothing on my customs declarations. Was it? I’m still not sure.

If you’re subjected to a secondary scanning, Kenneth Larson, a retired aerospace contracts manager said, “Anything with aluminum foil wrapping around it that sets off a metal detector, won’t make it. The scanner does not have the time to open, examine and analyze it. So, it hits the garbage bin.”

Once you’ve stood in line and opened every suitcase and then had them go through the scanner (again), bringing in food becomes substantially less appetizing. I had this pleasure when I was traveling with my cat and brought a sealed foil package of food in her carrier.

If you don’t declare agricultural items and are found out, you’re liable for a $1,000 to $50,000 fine. Do you have to declare candy, etc. that are prepackaged in the original manufacturer’s wrapping? People have been told no but it’s not 100% clear.

After doing substantial research, my conclusion is that getting through customs with food products is a moving target since the rules seem to change frequently.

If you have any insights, please share them. If you’ve had items confiscated, what were they? Do you always fess up about the wedge of runny cheese you’re bringing home as a souvenir of your trip? It tastes so much better in the U.S.

Photo courtesy U.S. Customs Service, photographer James R. Tourtellotte


Posted in Consumer Traveler |
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