Life in Close Quarters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Posted in Paris |

Eating out — what are your expectations?

Written by admin on October 28, 2009 – 4:31 pm -

Eating at a restaurant should be a positive experience. But is it? After all, it’s the time when someone else shops, cooks, serves you what (you think) you’ve ordered and takes away the dishes and glasses to a mysterious place. Best of all, you’re not responsible for washing them. In spite of these definite pluses, people appear to have more gripes than you’d think. And they make no bones about voicing them.

Whether it’s your  local joint down the road,  a  recently opened trendy new café or a big name/big chef /big tab restaurant that’s drawing rave reviews, small and large irritations can mar a dining experience.

Pet peeves about dining out — Here’s a laundry list of what a survey of dedicated eaters had to say.

  • Dining rooms that are so noisy you can’t hear yourself think much less hold a conversation with your tablemates.
  • Tables that are placed  so close together you have to be a contortionist to get in and out and there’s no possible way to hold a private conversation.
  • Music too loud. People want to eat their meals in peace and relative quiet and not feel as if they’re in a high-decibel dance hall.
  • Lighting should be bright enough that you can read the menus; but not so bright that you feel as if you’re getting the third degree.
  • Restaurants should have coat rooms and sufficient space that you and your things aren’t competing for space on the chair and at the table.
  • Bathrooms should be clean and well stocked. More than a few people feel there’s a direct correlation between the cleanliness of a restaurant’s WCs and the kitchen.

Service irritations:

  • Being greeted at the door and grilled as to whether or not you have a reservation. If you don’t, the host or hostess will often shoot you a dirty look and lead you to a table as if they’re doing you a favor.
  • Finding yourself even more irritated because when you get up to leave, the restaurant is still half empty.
  • Sitting down and waiting more time than you care to before being handed a menu.
  • When you’re ready to order, being forced to wait. The group of people, who were seated after you, have the waiter’s attention and are firing away what they want to eat. You’ve missed your chance.
  • While you’re waiting, not being asked if you’d like to order a drink or being served water.  Some restaurants serve bread immediately, Others force you to wait so you’re crying, “bread and water — please.”
  • Waiter etiquette:  There are the ones who act as if they’re doing you a favor by serving you. Then, there are too many who want to become members of your family and participate in the conversation. I’m glad your name is John but please remember who’s the waiter and who are the clients.
  • The service personnel not being sensitive to your needs and wishes:  e.g. – when you want attention and when you don’t. There are times conversations are private and should remain that way. Professional waiters appear to have a sixth sense about anticipating a diner’s needs and seem to have eyes behind their heads.
  • Spare diners from waiters who refuse to write orders down. Being able to memorize a list of dishes may impress some people but others would prefer being served the correct dish.
  • Please don’t ask, “Is everything all right?” before someone has tasted the food.
  • Not serving everyone at the same time; Ditto for clearing the table. Many people find it offensive when a waiter removes a few plates at a time, as if to say to the diners who are still eating, “hurry up and leave.”
  • Meals that arrive so quickly that you know they’ve been sitting on a steam table or have had a quick zap in a microwave.
  • Having to wait forever to be served and then receiving the check before you’ve had a chance to drink your coffee. A meal should not be a marathon. Rather, it should be orchestrated to fit the scenario.
  • Some people complain that portions are so large they detract from the meal and its presentation. Not everyone wants a doggie bag.
  • Waiters who fail to check back with you after the meal is served.

There were complaints about parking, stratospheric menu prices, outrageous mark ups on wine. People jumped at the chance at adding their input. And I want to hear yours. You’re bound to have a lot of comments and post away.

Before you do, please stop and ponder what complaint is missing. It seems so obvious. But it doesn’t appear to be a high priority among the majority of people who eat out.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

(Photo: seventh.samurai/Priscilla Flickr/Commons)


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Air travel – what happened to the glamour days?

Written by admin on December 3, 2008 – 12:49 pm -

Speak with anyone about the pros and cons of travel or ask what irritates them about flying and you’ll be barraged by responses. Travelers complain even before getting on the plane about security screenings. Then complaints abound once aboard. Here’s my whining list of procedures and passengers who bug me.

At security checkpoints:
• Inconsistent security screening standards between airports and in different countries.
• People who take too long to collect belongings. Or seem to be taking their time getting dressed after the mandatory strip act in order to walk through the magnetometer. People should collect their things and assemble them somewhere else so others can pass.

Passengers in general during boarding and deplaning:
• Those who are generally late boarding.
• Passengers who bring too many items on board.
• The clueless who bump everyone in aisle seats with their bags as they enter and haven’t a clue as to how to stow possessions in a selfless and logical way.
• Passengers who spend extra time in the aisle looking for a place to stow luggage.
• When deplaning, these same folk take too long to pull their luggage from the overhead.
• Passengers who take too long to get out of the plane, up the jetway and into the terminal.
• Those who stand in the aisle.
• Anyone who reclines their seat during boarding.

Passengers who irritate me during the flight:
• Those who put their seats back during food service (if there’s any) making it uncomfortable for the diner to eat without someone’s head above (or in) their food.
• Overweight people who should be required to buy two seats rather than occupying half of mine.
• People who hog the arm rests.
• A general lack of respect, courtesy or awareness by some.
• Passengers who walk through the cabin grabbing each seat as if it were a handrail.
• Those who place their knees firmly against seat-backs.
• Travelers who rest their feet on the bulkhead or the armrest in front of them.
• Chatty passengers who insist on talking to the person next to them when not invited.
• Or, aloof folk who are so rude that they don’t acknowledge there’s a person in the next seat.
• People who use airplane lavatories in their socks or bare feet.
• And those who use the lavatories as dressing rooms when there are lines of people anxiously waiting.
• Passengers who don’t take the time to wipe clean the WC before exiting.
• Besides loud cell phone talkers, people who don’t shut them off when instructed.

My airline irritants:
• Flight attendants with an “attitude.”
• Pilots who turn the seat belt sign on and off every time the plane vibrates or talk during a night flight.
• Worn out and dirty seat cushions.
• Late arrivals and the clear “we don’t care” attitude of the airlines about it.
• Pushing away from the gate and sitting on the runway in order to have an on-time departure.
• The lack of information or the total lies that airlines tell passengers about estimated takeoff and arrival times during inevitable delays.

And if the above gripes aren’t enough — don’t get into the subject of children, infants, cats or dogs or people who haven’t taken a bath — or those who’ve used too much perfume or shaving cream.

Why don’t you add what you don’t like about air travel?  Or better yet – please list something you like. There must be something!!

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis. Ironically, she loves to fly on long haul flights because it’s where she sleeps the best. One caveat – it should be business class.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |