French Bureaucratic Hell?

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:16 am -

I’ve been worrying about this for two years and I’m not exaggerating. Would I or would I not be allowed to stay in my adopted country? There are “eight million stories in the naked city” and I was certain each and every one of them would befall me.

If you live in France and don’t have an EU passport, and haven’t been exposed to a discussion about obtaining a carte de séjour (or titre), you’ve been living under a rock. That plasticized card is worth more than its weight in gold, especially if it permits you to work.

Horror stories abound where people have been literally been given hours to pack up their belongings and get out of Dodge—or actually Panam’ to use the equivalent for Paris in the old days. This is not referring to the recent crackdown on illegal immigration. I’ve known people who’ve outstayed their student visas and have been forced to hightail it back to the U.S.

Others have chosen to remain here sans-papiers—yes, some of my best friends don’t have residents’ cards. But it’s become increasingly difficult because if you’re taking a France-bound flight from the U.S. without a return ticket within 90 days (and no, that doesn’t mean three months) you stand the risk of not being allowed to board the plane.

So you opt to become legal. There’s no way out of having all the many papers translated by an official translator, of proving you can support yourself without working, of having medical insurance, divorce decrees, a marriage license, an official address in France—and that’s just the beginning.

And as is true with all bureaucracies, the rules change or maybe it’s more accurate to say they are moving targets.  One fonctionnaire will ask for a paper another one doesn’t feel is pertinent or required. Welcome to long lines, repeat visits, and Excedrin headaches.

So my day had come and my stress level was on the rise. It was time to renew my ten-year card and, being a wee bit of a pessimist, I was convinced the French government would bid me au revoir. I realized this was highly unlikely since I own property in Paris, pay taxes and, darn it, sing the country’s praises.

My first ah-huh moment came when my photos were turned down because they didn’t meet specifications.  I avoided going to one of the ubiquitous booths that ask me to buy my identity photos here. I spent more at a photo place because I didn’t want to screw up. Well, I did because I smiled.  The application papers were returned and I had photos taken that make me look as if I’m a prisoner on death row. Hopefully, I won’t have to show the card frequently, but probably will since it’s valid for ten years.

No more official letters meant (I hoped) good news—no news is good news, right? I decided to make the foray to the Préfecture de Police on the Île de la Cité, which is Paris’s central headquarters for official business and also houses some fairly mean-looking people awaiting trial in one of the building’s jails.

It’s common knowledge you should expect to spend a day when having to accomplish anything official. Registering a car in Paris took so many hours that I became friendly with a woman in the process of waiting and being shuttled from guichet to guichet.

So, I determined this would be a lost day, shoved a book, a sandwich and a bottle of water into my bag and assumed I’d be home before dark. After all, this is August. I walked up to the métro to be greeted by a train pulling into the station and then whisking me to the Cité stop. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry, I would have stopped and bought (or at least admired) the plants and the flowers at the open market at the top of the métro stairs.

But, I was a woman on a mission. I expected a line a block long to just be able to go through security. There was no one ahead of me, and I was in the door, having had my bag go through x-ray and walking through a metal detector so quickly that I assumed I was in the wrong place. I headed to the building where you take a number and wait your turn. My ticket number was 69 and, when I looked up, I saw that I was next. I didn’t even have time to take a gulp of water before my number was flashing on the sign.

In I went and was greeted by a young man with a beaming smile. I said “bonjour” and he replied “hello” and off we were going to getting my new card.  I asked for the card for Mme Fawcett and his face lit up with (I must have been imagining it—hallucinating?) with a modicum of recognition. He looked in the collection of dossiers under F and returned to report my card wasn’t ready.

My new best friend, who insisted on speaking English while I was babbling in French, asked to see my old card again, smiled and immediately went to another area.  He was looking in the wrong place since my identity in France will always be under my nom de jeune fille (maiden name) even though I can hardly remember when I was called that.

Bertrand, my bureaucrat pal, instructed me to go across the hall and purchase a tax stamp for 120 euros. That took precisely two minutes, and I was almost home free. Or so I thought.

I was back waving the stamps and was about to take my card and hit the nearest café and order a glass of champagne. No such luck. Bertrand was holding my card. I could see it—well, thank goodness I couldn’t see the photo—and he told me I’d have to return in six days since that was the day my card expired. Oh, couldn’t he please make an exception. He assured me no (in English) since he’d lose his job. But who was this lovely man who said he’d look forward to seeing me the following week? A mean and nasty French fonctionnaire? Hardly. Perhaps things are changing in La Belle France.

Or realistically, I got lucky, and August may be the best month for dealing with bureaucratic matters. So many Parisians are en vacances and office workers are actually glad to see you since they’re not frazzled or being hassled.

But, what’s with their speaking English? Is that correct? Can’t say it wasn’t helpful, though.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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So Much for the Smoking Ban

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:16 am -

When the French government banned smoking in restaurants three years ago, no one thought people would go quietly in the night. Most assumed you’d hear a lot of yelling and screaming and the tobacco addicted would ignore the law.

They were about half right. People began congregating outside bars and restaurants without terrasses and annoying neighbors. The signs suggesting that noisy patrons would not be tolerated seem to have had no effect. Screaming in the night, probably having more to do with alcohol than a craving for tobacco, is a new Paris tradition.

Not really surprising. There aren’t enough police in the world to hand out fines to all the perpetrators of cigarette smoke. French fonctionnaires aren’t completely dumb, so they announced restaurant owners would be the ones to pay and possibly have their doors closed in order to enforce the law—but if the smokers are outside their doors?

This is not to say that the smoking ban has failed altogether. Initially, people did smoke less. There were 15% fewer heart attacks reported the first year of the ban and it was looking good. But people are creatures of habit and some are next to impossible to break of their habits. In addition, statistics have shown that when the economy is down, people tend to light up due to stress.

After the government imposed the smoking ban and raised taxes on cigarettes (at today’s exchange, they’re about $7.50 a pack, that is, about the same as a pack in Washington or New York), the French did cut back on their cigarette consumption. But, that seems to be a thing of the past. In 2009, there was a 2.9% increase in the number of cigarettes sold, but it was short-lived as people resumed their former habits.

What’s especially alarming is the number of 13-to-15-year-old smokers is estimated to have increased by 66 percent between 2004 and 2008. And almost one in five French 16-to-20-year-olds now smoke, compared to one in ten just a decade ago.

On the plus side, the French smoked 97 billion cigarettes in 1991 and smoked (only?) 55 billion cigarettes in 2009. I guess that makes tobacco manufacturers and distributors unhappy—thank goodness they have Asia as a new and growing market. Come to think about it, so does Starbucks.

During the winter (whether in Paris, London or New York), you’ll see gangs of people clustered in doorways looking like fugitives getting their nicotine fixes. La vie est dure, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Now that it’s summer, it’s hard to walk down the street and not be surrounded by smokers.

Life on the street where I live has taken on a new look and feel since the weather has become more than wonderful. I’ve waved to neighbors whom I’ve never seen before since they’re sitting on their balconies puffing away. I want to go on record that I’m deadheading my geraniums, which is my idea of gardening.

Some theories as to why the French haven’t quit smoking in spite of aggressive anti-smoking ads:

Does printing “Smoking kills” and other one-liners on cigarette packs discourage smoking? By the time you’re close enough to read it, you’ve already bought the pack. Waste not, want not. And the bad news about smoking is old.

Older people frequently say that smoking is one of their great pleasures and why stop now? They may have a point, but it’s their choice.

French women are fast to say they’d rather smoke than gain weight. Plus, since they’re drinking less, it’s a way for women to socialize with one another. Unless or until there are medical reasons for a specific woman not to smoke, they’re quick to say they’ll continue to do it in moderation.

If they decide to get pregnant, most women will stop smoking. They already drink less wine, or practically not at all—much to the chagrin of the French wine industry—so that’s less of a problem, unless of course winemakers start investing in Philip Morris.

Some people attempt to confine their smoking to parties and when they’re out socializing in clubs and in after-dinner bars. That seems counter-productive since they’re forced to stand outside and miss what’s happening—unless of course the reason to go to the clubs is to stand on the street and smoke.

What’s evident and prevalent are the ever-expanding restaurants with terraces and mushrooming tables on the sidewalk. They’re doing booming businesses catering to smokers. If you want to sit outside and enjoy some sun and fresh air, expect to be inundated by second-hand smoke. There’s talk of some restaurants instituting non-smoking terraces, but as the French would say, “On verra.”

Should you be in the Rue Montorgueil area in the 2ème, there are plenty of restaurants on the pedestrian streets that have more tables outside of the restaurant than in the interior. Everyone’s eating, drinking, and smoking away. Because most doors are kept open, non-smokers are doomed if they want a smoke-free meal.

According to data from The Non-Smokers’ Rights (NSR) Association, the ban on smoking is currently being violated far more than it was when the 2007 law went into effect. In addition, restaurants have constructed enclosed terraces, initially so people could eat outside under heaters; these terraces have become de facto smoking zones. The NSR says it has conducted tests that show the air in establishments with covered smoking terraces is three times as toxic as in restaurants and cafés without them.

It’s as if people aren’t even trying. Fewer people are buying stop-smoking nicotine patches and gum to try to diminish the need to light up.

What do you think is going to be the bottom line in France and, for that matter, in the U.S. as well? Are people ever going to stop smoking? And for those us who have (and with difficulty), are we doomed to have our clothes smell like cigarettes because we’re surrounded by others who can’t kick the habit?

Something tells me this isn’t a simply French phenomenon. What do you think?

© Paris New Media, LLC


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August in Paris & I Want to Stay Here

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:13 am -

It’s August when well-to-do Parisians flee the city like lemmings, leaving the other critters behind. But for the past eighteen years, I’ve opted to stay here. To be truthful, August is my favorite month in the City of Light; it’s the one when you can veg out and, yes, restaurants are open. Honest.

Even though my husband and I owned a wonderful house in Provence, which was situated in the midst of the vines—with a pool and all—I’d rent it out during July and August and hightail it to Paris. I didn’t like the crowds or having to place an order for the next day’s bread unless I planned to be in town at 7 heures précises. If I wanted the International Herald Tribune, it had to be ordered since they were snapped up by all the Anglophones who were passing through. There were simply too many tourists, and trying to go around a caravan of trailers (loaded to the gills with more equipment than you can imagine) lost its charm.

When we bought our house, it wasn’t in a chi-chi area. There was one design store and next to nothing for those hunting for bling. A butcher selling horsemeat didn’t qualify.

But after it was discovered, Vaison-la-Romaine assumed the characteristics of anything but a quiet village. Thank you Patricia Wells for writing At Home In Provence and so many others books that were researched or written from her mas overlooking the town.

Our area of the Vaucluse became so crowded that locals stopped going to the Tuesday market. You’d have to watch out for your feet and shoulders, and wrap yourself around the sack of fruit you had purchased since it would invariably end up squished in the crowds. Ah, welcome, you busloads of tourists, and after the Tour de France added to Mont Ventoux’s fame (did you see Lance Armstrong?), the area was on engraved the map of must-see places in France. So much for the summery charm of Provence.

As a result, the area became increasingly chic, so if we rented during the house high season, we could recoup part of the cost of running our country digs that were high akin to dumping euros into the ocean. Being a city girl, dealing with a septic tank was nothing I’d ever experienced and could pass on the privilege, merci.

My husband, who died three years ago, hated leaving Seguret no matter the season. He wanted to watch fruits of his labor grow in the potager. Victor poured over seed catalogues every winter. Each year, he’d become more ambitious as he spent hours squatting on a stool in this plot of land, placing each seed in the earth with slide rule precision.

He spent hours with neighbors and farmers from the area discussing what would grow best. It was Victor’s garden. He came by this passion naturally, maybe genetically. Victor was a man of the land and felt if you couldn’t get your hands dirty, you were missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures. He was born and raised in Italy and constantly recounted his childhood memories of climbing up and down the stairs next to where he lived on the Italian Mediterranean. The stairwell was surrounded by fig trees. He could as a boy watch figs grow—imagine that—for hours, so as a man it made sense for him to watch zucchini grow.

Good for him, but the garden was mine to weed and to water—and why the hell didn’t the automatic water system shoot water where it was supposed to go rather than shooting it elsewhere? Then there were those zucchini. I’ll spare you the gory details about what you do with a vegetable that grows so large overnight that it could be used for a baseball bat and as abundantly as kudzu.

I was much more pragmatic. I loved entertaining in the South. But there were some days when I felt as if I were running a hotel and conducted more than my share of wine tours though the Côtes du Rhône. In addition, just as I sold the house, it was only then that FranceTel took the leap and installed lines so people could connect computers via DSL rather than being forced to use dial-up modems that were so slow (and took multiple attempts) that I could do the laundry while waiting to hear, “You’ve got mail.”

I grew up in an apartment and didn’t love my summer forays to girls’ camps where we slept in tents and had to walk (for what seemed like forever) to the cabin with toilets and showers. Plus, there were those ever so unexpected encounters with snakes and other animals that crawled in the night. When we finished renovating, expanding, and landscaping our perfect house in the vines, I couldn’t believe there were critters crawling in the night, and dear Kitty, whom I mourn each day, would present us with snakes. Perhaps I loved her more when she became a city cat.

If you think Paris is hot in the summer, double that when you think of Provence—and throw in the wind. Depending on where you are and whether or not the mistral is blowing, you can broil. It’s not that I don’t love the area; I do. It’s simply that I prefer to visit when there are fewer people on the roads and vying for, well, everything.

If anyone tells you Paris closes during the month of August, that’s nonsense. Yes, “my” bakery will shut down and I’ll simply have to walk a block further if I’m craving a croissant in the morning. Or, they have terrific frozen ones (don’t tell) at Picard. They’re open during August (even on Sunday) and if it’s a hot day, spending time in one of their stores is a great way to lower your body temperature. It’s even cooler than the movies with their air conditioning—and you don’t have to buy anything.

One of the things I love about being in Paris during August is that everyone who is here is very much more laid back than when business and work are in full gear. Gatherings happen spontaneously and people you might never have met appear to turn up where you least expect to find them.

How do you feel about being in Paris during August or any big city where people (if they can afford it) take off for the country?

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Where is Home?

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:12 am -

When I ask the question Where is home, I’m not referring to where you were born. Or where you grew up or even graduated from high school. And, yes, home is where the heart is—or, as Robert Frost taught us—“home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” But so much more comes into play and the equation.

Perhaps people who have always lived in the same place have an advantage over others who’ve taken to the road. Sure, there are bound to be changes, but they tend to be subtler—or perhaps, more gradual than they are after you’ve been absent and haven’t been privy the (for better or worse) changes.

They may move away—to college, on a business assignment and even for romance or a job. But you know it’s transient and you’ll return. You may even venture beyond your comfort zone. But it’s always in the back of your mind that it’s not a question if you’ll return home, but when. Whether or not you do, is something else. But the thought gives you solace, doesn’t it?

Others, often referred to as “hired guns” by headhunters, go where the job is, do it and keep on going to the next assignment. People who’ve opted to join the military move frequently, and packing is a way of life. Their friends tend to be ones they encounter on different assignments. Ditto for those who sign up for the Foreign Service. But, when queried, the majority of them will have a precise place in their minds about where they’re going to retire.

But then there’s the real expat. I keep wondering whether or not there’s an invisible line that, once crossed, there’s no going back cannot be crossed again, except for serious family reasons such as taking care of elderly parents. And once that’s done, they return “home.”

At dinner the other night, this was a big topic of conversation. One woman moved to Paris because she loved France. Twenty-five years later she’s still here and working as the Director of Communications at an internet company. She ultimately married and divorced a French man. Deborah now has a 14-year-old daughter, who’d left the previous day to visit her grandparents in Southern California. We all agreed the weather in that part of the world is a whole lot more seductive than Paris. Why doesn’t she move “home”?

After considerable discussion, she said she welcomes going back once a year, enjoys seeing family and falling into the sand and surf groove. But when it comes to living and life, she’s become Parisian. Her daughter has too because after ten days of going to the beach and hanging out with contemporaries, even she is bored—and it’s not because her English isn’t fluent. She has grown up with a different frame of reference.

Deborah elaborated that when she goes to California, she says she’s going home because that’s where her family lives. But even they put it into perspective, when they assured her she should stay in France because that’s where she belongs and it’s her home.

Another woman said she really hasn’t lived in the U.S. since she was in her early 20s. Even though she returns frequently for work, she no longer really understands the culture. Neither woman could envision herself moving back permanently although both agreed the Paris expat community plays major roles in their lives.

Jim Haynes, who’s known for his Sunday night dinners that attract people from all over the world, rarely leaves Paris unless it’s to attend the Edinburgh Festival or other book and arts festivals in the E.U. He doesn’t make frequent pilgrimages to Louisiana where he was born. Jim doesn’t want for friends or meeting new people since they gravitate to his place.

If you attend one of his soirées, it’s not unusual to encounter lots of tourists who are passing through Paris, plus those who’ve chosen to live places other than their home country, many of whom have opted for Paris.

The reality is that no one ever totally becomes the nationality of the country they adopt even if their language fluency is 100% perfect and they’re totally assimilated into the culture. People still maintain their native identity despite any outward adaptations they may have made.

No matter how long you live in a place, there’s nothing like talking “shorthand” with someone who understands your language, the nuances and how to say something so fast that there’s zero need for a translator. It’s essentially subliminal and what the hell. Jane and I just had a drink and it was akin to bingo. She and Olivier are in the process of moving their chicer than incredible cooking school to three-story digs overlooking the Seine. Both of them are excited but there’s nothing like a construction project to make anyone nervous.

After our glass of wine, I realized my construction terminology is now in French rather than English. The last three properties I’ve renovated have been in France. Don’t get me wrong; I have no illusions of being French. It’s simply my frame of reference has changed—and how. It’s symptomatic of where my head is … for better or worse and if I need a plumber.

After polling some expats, the best answer I received about how to define what is home came down to one word: “homesick.” Tirumalai said, “When I first left my native country, I’d get homesick in my adoptive country after visiting my native country. After living here for several years, I found the situation reversed. I became homesick for my adoptive country while visiting my native country. That was the defining moment for me.”

No matter where I go, I find France is always part of my psyche and how I view situations. It’s not that I can’t be comfortable in the U.S. I can be and don’t feel completely out of place. On the other hand, I’m not completely comfortable anywhere and don’t expect to ever be 100% integrated. I like to rationalize it’s because my mind is always being challenged which I think is positive. But, not everyone agrees, and I’ve even been criticized for being too much of a travel junkie.

I’m saying it’s not the easiest life, but it’s the life I have chosen. If you have similar feelings, how do you manage? Let us know at Bonjour Paris.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Falling in Love Again

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:11 am -

It’s not unusual for people to fall in and out of love. Isn’t it wonderful when a relationship goes on forever and a couple feels the same fervor for one another the day they die as they day they met.

It’s not all that usual. Wouldn’t it be nice? But falling in love with a city or a place— isn’t that something else? The other night I had an epiphany. After wondering whether or not Paris was still my true passion, I came to the realization that it is, and it’s OK to let a place (or a person) get on your nerves, and still know it’s an integral part of your heart and soul.

Life doesn’t always go swimmingly wherever you happen to be. We take ourselves with us, and depending on the time and the moment, that’s not always the lightest load to lift and carry.

There are the day-to-day challenges that comprise—and sometimes compromise—life. Did the check clear, much less arrive? Is the meeting you’ve been waiting to happen actually going to take place? Why is there yet another strike when I can’t get from here to there?

Then there are the joys of finding yourself without Internet, and after calling the cable company numerous times (and being charged for the pleasure of doing so) being told it’s your modem and no one else’s and a technician will be available next week for an on-site visit and will repair the problem.

You sit back, try not to scream and tell yourself this would never happen back home. But of course the very same thing happened when I was last in Washington, DC, and my Blackberry didn’t get a signal and I surmised we were under nuclear attack.

The Internet amazingly restarted all by itself (and that includes telephones, thank you very much). When I called the cable company to cancel the technician’s visit and informed “technical support” that the entire building was sans Internet, the person on the phone didn’t even bother to respond. Oh well, big deal and (in my case) the mega-crisis was over.

But being disenchanted with Paris – that’s something else. Even though the Bonjour Paris mantra is that people shouldn’t come here for the weather, this month’s heat alternating with torrential downpours can leave you feeling out of sorts. One can’t take it personally—although perhaps Sarkozy did when the skies opened on his 14 Juillet parade. Were the weather gods trying to tell the President of the République something? No one with half a heart could help but feel compassion for the soldiers who marched down the Champs-Élysées without visible grimaces.

There was a business networking party on one of the boats on a quai of the Seine. I walked to it and was greeted by a sea of totally unfamiliar faces. People from all over were in attendance. Lord knows how many countries were represented. But no matter the attendees’ native language, everyone spoke French and English. People were based in Paris from anywhere from three years until forever. More than one person said they came to Paris on a year’s assignment more than 10-20-30 years later and had zero intention of ever leaving.

Even though the French are supposed to be unfriendly (sic), people were delighted to meet and greet. Not one person failed to comment on the beauty of the city and we all waved to everyone on the bâteaux that floated by.

I left at nearly 11 pm. Rather than heading up to the sidewalk, I walked along the quai.There were so many couples celebrating the evening. Some were nearly making love and who cared?

There were a few clochards (bag people). In some situations, I would have felt threatened and walked in a more protected area. In many places, I would have jumped into a cab. Rather, I ended up taking the Métro and exited at my usual stop.

Even though it was past midnight, I didn’t want the evening to end. I walked along Bv. Montparnasse and ended up at one of my favorite bars, The Rosebud. Upon walking in and sitting at the bar, Dominique shook my hand and looked at me quizzically and asked, “Irish déca”? I nodded yes. I immediately realized it had been more than six months since my last visit and my last decaf Irish coffee and I am by no means one of their only clients, but Dominique remembered. The place is packed with regulars, many of whom are from the neighborhood. It’s rare you’ll find many Americans, which doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t speak English.

Upon leaving, I realized I’d come home. I’m no chicken but there aren’t many places I’d feel secure walking home alone without looking in front of me and behind me. During the seven minutes it took me to wend my way to my apartment, I saw no one after crossing Bv. Montparnasse. Those few minutes gave me the chance to realize I’d been seduced by Paris again. I will always travel and revel in it. But, I wonder whether or not I will ever leave—except feet first.

How many people feel this way about where they live? Do you?

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Going Green in the City of Light

Written by kvfawcett on September 6, 2010 – 11:08 am -

Most people are all for going green until it costs them something or limits their freedom, merci beaucoup. Yes, here’s to a more sustainable environment—but what’s the price we’ll have to pay.

For a third year now, National Geographic has assembled a Green Guide to make living a more environmentally aware life easier and to help create some ways of achieving it. With GlobeScan, the Geographic is looking to develop an international research approach to measure and monitor consumer progress towards environmentally sustainable consumption. Sounds good? Sounds right? You bet and the 2006 carbon dioxide emissions results prove that the poorer the country, the less impact it has on the environment.  Not surprising: the poor have less—and less to waste, to burn or to throw away.

Most developed countries are recycling glass and paper, promoting alternative forms of energy, trying to cut down on water usage, utilizing recyclable building and storage materials, and screwing in light bulbs that are longer lasting and consume less energy.  But this is just the beginning.  We need to utilize cleaning materials that are ecologically friendly and not throw out things because they’ve been used once, substitute paper or cotton for plastic and use “green” products because we care about future.

But living a green life—even a pale shade of green life—isn’t easy and doesn’t come naturally to us, (especially Americans) any more. Europeans have always been more energy conscious since electricity is expensive and why pay for lights and heat that aren’t needed? Until relatively recently, many of my French friends didn’t have dishwashers and would hang just-washed clothes outside or use an indoor clothesline. Most Europeans drive smaller cars. It’s not only a question of gas but also finding a parking space.

Now, I should study the label on every detergent I buy. Do I even know if the chemicals in this product or that are harmful?  Where am I supposed to store the dead batteries and the defunct smoke detector and all the other dangerous junk (who knew it was dangerous?) before I throw them out? And where did I put all that stuff, anyway.

Some may have hybrid cars, use High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, but other people can’t adopt the entire kit and caboodle—and hybrids still use gasoline and only gasoline over 40 miles per hour. As much as I chastise myself over my carbon footprint, I’m not going to stop traveling by plane. Nor am I going to unplug my modems each night to save some electricity. I will wear a sweater when the apartment’s temperature is colder than I like and even a pair of socks or furry slippers in the house. So I’m pale green at best.

And now there’s a huge hoopla in Paris courtesy of Paris’s Mayor Bertrand Delanoë. First, he narrowed some major streets by adding bike lanes. He was a big proponent of closing off others and turning them into pedestrian walkways. Many people loved it while some vendors are still cursing this move has ruined businesses.

When the mayor mandated in 2002 that Paris was going to have a plage (beach) for four weeks on the Right bank of the Seine, some drivers may not have been happy, but figured that not everyone could go to the country so they’d grin and bear it.

But now, the Mayor is adamant that he wants to close the Left Bank expressway that goes from the Musée d’Orsay to near the Eiffel Tower. That’s a total of 1.2 miles. Paris’s City Council will vote on the ban this July and, if passed, that part of the city will have a new look and feel in 2012 when there would be 35 acres of new cafés, parks, permanent foot and bike paths, sports facilities and floating islands complete with palm trees. Parisians would be able to pretend they were someplace exotic—if they’re not seeing red.

Taxi drivers and people who use the Quai de Branly are ballistic. Closing this area would displace approximately 30,000 cars each day. It’s been the fastest way to get from here to there. Here’s an example. A friend staying in the 11e arrondissement had an appointment with a doctor in the 16e—that is, point A and point B are both on the Right Bank.  The métro was having a problem, so he grabbed a cab.  The driver asked which way he wanted to go.  He said, take the Left Bank then cross the river again. The driver, from Senegal, beamed, saying, “You really know Paris, don’t you?”  The trip took twelve minutes—and the driver only ran one light.

Bonjour Paris readers were polled about closing the road by the river. Some think this will be great and a boon to tourism and make the city more livable. Others are more than annoyed, saying that traffic is already a mess in Paris and this will only exacerbate the problem. Not everyone agrees you don’t need a car in Paris, especially if they’re in a service business and don’t want to be dragging things on the métro or waiting for buses. Many say they don’t live near a convenient métro and don’t want to be jam-packed in with other riders.

David Tussman, a frequent Paris visitor, who lives in Berkeley, CA, said, “This is a fabulous idea. How many people really need to DRIVE in Paris? Tearing down the Embarcadero freeway in San Francisco after the earthquake in 1989 totally transformed the waterfront and remade the city. The area along the Seine is horrific now with all the traffic and this will be a gigantic change for the better.”

Some Bonjour Paris readers think Delanoë should have his head examined. What do you think? Is this too much a theme-park notion or really a green idea?

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Tourist Hell

Written by kvfawcett on July 20, 2010 – 5:39 pm -

We’re okay, you and I, because we know better, right? We know—and we care—so we don’t stick out like sore-thumbs, like… well, tourists. But here are plenty who don’t know, don’t care, and frankly don’t give a damn, and probably (I hate to say it) wouldn’t know how to dress for the situation or the occasion. After all, what’s wrong with wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip-flops in a big city? Throw a camera around your neck, don’t forget the backpack, be sure to wear a baseball hat and, yes, you’ll be noticed.

Some feel they’re entitled to wear whatever they want. In reality, the only people who can actually sport these get-ups are born and raised natives or residents—and even they shouldn’t be surprised if people look at them a wee bit askance. If it’s someone you actually know, do you cross the street? Tourist by contamination or guilt by association? Nah, that’s a bit extreme. But, look, there is something really interesting on the other side of the street.

You’ll usually hear them before you’ll see them. Tourists tend to be louder (especially those in groups) when they’re in other countries. This is especially true of Americans. But no nationality is exempt. Perhaps it’s because they’re convinced no one understands them and if they speak at a higher decibel level, they’ll make themselves clear(er)? Works for me.

I’ll never forget the time I was in Notre-Dame in Paris and we were bowled over by a group of Italian tourists. My (now-deceased) native-born Italian husband was able to identify not only the language, but also what city they came from. To make matters worse, he insisted on telling me precisely in which neighborhood they inhabited in the Papal City. I had come to look at the magnificent architecture and gain some inspiration—no such luck. No one could possibly hear himself or herself think because of the incredible commotion.

Then Victor began speaking Italian and I quickly realized we were sinking and would soon be sunk. Within minutes, a group surrounded him, all asking questions at lightening fast speed while simultaneously waving their hands. The memory of groups of tourists going through museums, ruins and everywhere else ricocheted through my mind.

There’s nothing wrong with tour groups. It’s just that I didn’t anticipate we’d be leading one—and in a language in which I was not exactly proficient. The idea that one romance language is the same as another is nonsense and if you speak one, you can kinda navigate in another is wrong.

I don’t care if the root is Latin, which I took in high school, but I can’t say I aced the class. Far from it, and my linguist skills are severely lacking. I must confess I split, but not before going to a souvenir store on the quai where I was able to score a small Italian flag to help identify the instant and self-appointed guide.

If you live in Paris, or in any city that’s a tourist magnet, you’re going to encounter people from foreign countries. It’s up to you to decide how you’re going to cope with them. Are you going to stop and give them directions, take them to their destination, draw a map on a napkin and hope it doesn’t tear… or pretend you don’t speak the language?

The perception that the French are rude is not embraced by all of our readers, which stands to reason since our community consists of Francophiles—and a few francomanes—from all over the world.

But people do contract tourist fatigue, and it’s not just natives. When I first arrived in Paris (and actually began to get my geographic bearings and might even be able to give people directions that were on the mark), I’d speak to anyone and everyone who was muttering in English, looking at a map, and offer my services. It dawned on me that I was so eager to speak English that I was delighted to help. It was the least I could do and as a self-proclaimed representative of the French Government tourist office, I felt a responsibility.

Twenty-two years later, I must admit I’m no longer always as charitable. If I’m in a rush or late for a meeting, I’ll smile and say I don’t speak English or aren’t from the quartier(neighborhood), which is standard operating procedure, especially in Paris. It’s better for someone to admit to not knowing the area than sending you in the opposite direction hither and yon. Good manners would preclude me from asking for their identity papers or following them home to find out they live around the corner. Besides, it’s none of my business, merci.

I try not to be hard-nosed because I so vividly recall my days of being lost in the City of Light. And to be honest, if I’m not in my immediate neighborhood or one that I frequent often, you’ll find me peering at a map or plan de Paris. I am contemplating activating the GPS function on my cell phone, but that feels as if I’m giving in and why isn’t it free?

When people do ask for directions, I’m ever so thrilled when Anglophones ask them in French and then compliment me on my excellent English when I respond. I always debate whether or not I should admit to being an American in Paris.

What do you do if you live in a tourist Mecca no matter where it is? Do you accord strangers (and lost souls) acts of kindness? Or do you run in the other direction? Do you give them wardrobe advice? Or tell them it is illegal to photograph the Eiffel Tower? Or just cross the street? When all is said and done, it’s a question of etiquette. Non?


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House Guest Heaven or Hell?

Written by kvfawcett on July 20, 2010 – 5:38 pm -

Summer is here, and more than a few people would like to come visit if you live in Paris, or New York City, or have a country house almost anywhere.

The dollar may be stronger against the euro, but free rent is still cheaper.  Besides, staying with friends feels better than staying in a hotel.  Whom would you trust to steer you to the right places—a friend or a concièrge?  Your friend has only your interests at heart when he recommends a restaurant (and possibly a desire to get you of her hair for a couple of hours) while it is possible that the concièrge gets a free meal or a pourboire from the resto for his pains.

Houseguests can be wonderful when they know and really understand the rules. If you hear the least bit of hesitation in your host’s voice when asking whether or not you may stay, move right on—not right in—and try someone else.  If you have enough friends, you are sure to catch one in a weak moment or at least on a second bottle of wine.

One of my friends loves having guests. I accuse Judy of running a hotel, but attribute her being the hostess with the mostest to the fact she was in the Foreign Service and was stationed in some hardship posts where she was delighted to have company and had hot and cold running staff to look after them.

She’s left the government, but has a large house and works in an office. When her working day is done, it’s done. She’s trained her guests to shop for and prepare dinner or, better yet, make reservations.  It always seems right to me that the person who makes the reservation should call for the check—and pay it.

Judy leaves for the office before people are up and the refrigerator is stocked with the essentials for breakfast. As I do, she takes the initial order for what they want before they arrive and stocks coffee, tea, milk (regular, low-fat, and the list goes on), juices, fruit, breads and expects them to restock their own special brand of organic Swiss muesli.

Guests don’t need to feel that pots and pans and dishes will break if they look at them cross-eyed.  No one likes to return home to a sink filled with dirty utensils, and please don’t use the excuse, “I wasn’t sure how you like to load the dishwasher.”  Load it carefully, run it when it’s full, and please (if you’re staying with me), unload it and put the dishes, glasses and silverware where they belong.

Unless you’re in the boondocks without a car, find a grocery store, a place to buy wine and liquor and go all out and spoil your host(s) with flowers, unless there are so many in the garden they’d be redundant. It’s OK to deadhead the roses and cut some and put them in vases inside the house.

Bathroom etiquette:  If you’re staying in a Paris apartment, chances are pretty good that bathrooms are at a premium. A WC is not a library and please don’t plan on making it one unless you’re home alone.  Do pick up your towels and please show others courtesy. To be upfront, the toilet brush is there to be used, and please don’t leave the toilet seat up.

Bedroom etiquette:  I don’t want to get personal but unless your room is separated from the living quarters, please make your bed in the morning, pick up your clothes and try to keep the room in order.

Paris apartments tend to be small so your mess becomes visible to others.  If that other is I, color me cranky. Do not feel it’s offensive to strip the bed when you’re leaving.  Place your sheets and used towels in a pillowcase. If there’s a spread, make up the bed (sans sheets) until there’s time for someone else to do it – usually in preparation for the next guest.

My son and daughter-in-law have shoes off rule in their house. I’ve adopted it and keep a basket by the front door since I hate seeing shoes strewn everywhere.  Some adults may be taken aback, and if they’re coming to my once-a-year dressy dinner party, they may wear shoes. But the reality is that floors tend to creak when a building is more than 120 years old as is my Paris apartment. No one loves hearing footsteps above them or finding shoe polish on their upholstery.

A friend of mine asked me to compile a do’s and don’ts guide for people who rent her country home.  Clearly it wasn’t the same you’d send to guests.  But come to think of it, I may just write one specifically to friends and (some very recent) acquaintances.

It would save a lot of time. I wouldn’t need to explain about converter plugs, please don’t bring your U.S. voltage curling iron or the fuses will blow and, yes, I have 220 voltage hairdryers in each of the bathrooms.

Some people love staying with others. Unfortunately, I don’t happen to be one of them because I feel as if I have to wash the kitchen floor, paint the ceiling, and take out the trash before the wastebasket is full.

And since I’m the guest, I feel it’s my responsibility to pay for dinner. After one go-around as a houseguest, I calculated that it cost more to be a guest than if we’d stayed in the town’s hotel. Plus, I feel terribly embarrassed asking whether or not someone has Wi-Fi since Bonjour Paris isn’t a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.  If it were, I could take a real vacation!  What a nice thought… er, fantasy.

Please add any tips or thoughts you might have for being a good host.  Ditto for being the perfect houseguest!


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Cross-Cultural Relationships – Playing with Fire?

Written by kvfawcett on July 20, 2010 – 5:36 pm -

It’s June and based on the questions in Bonjour Paris’s in-box, love must be in the air. Or, at the very least, like—okay, lust. There are so many e-mails that begin, “I’ve met someone who lives in France (or remplissez le blanc) and am considering…”

Perhaps it’s because people are more mobile and even though air travel may not be glamorous or pleasant, it’s easy enough to fly wherever you want for the person you want than ever before. And with the advent of Internet and email, it’s simply easier to maintain long-distance relationships.

And that’s only the beginning. Anyone can instant message, Skype and spend as much time (at least) communicating with someone else as if you were in the same city. The main impediment to whether or not you should pick up the phone is the time difference. I don’t care how much you love speaking, not everyone feels like talking at three in the morning.

Some conjecture that on-line dating has opened up a whole new world. People who would never have “met” twenty years ago are striking up cyber relationships that may develop into something substantially more.

Can two people from different countries see eye to eye and agree on little things such as where to live, how to raise children, who’s responsible for doing what and how? Factor in religious and political differences and you’re asking for double (a conservative estimate) trouble. If you don’t speak the same language, a lot gets lost in translation.

Will these relationships work? For some people yes—and for others, forget it. Unless they’ve been raised with the same set of values and references, cross-cultural relationships are too much of a stretch.

Some people are truly better off marrying someone from their community and (with luck) living happily ever after. The fact that fifty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce seems to be lost on a lot of people. Marriage, or just getting together with reasonable seriousness, is, well, a serious matter. And who remembers the quaint thought that it’s ’til death do us part?

The divorce rate is lower in France, which doesn’t mean that people are necessarily more content. But, because France is a nominally Catholic country (all right, Catholicism ceased to be the state religion a century ago, and attendance at mass is on the slim side most Sundays), perhaps people are less likely to divorce for the sake of the children or their status within the community. And many couples opt not to marry for all kinds of reasons—including being able to establish a civil relationship, which is more common among heterosexual couples than homosexual ones.

But what’s different now and interesting to me (and perhaps this is due to the somewhat older demographics of our readers) is that many of these emails are coming from Baby Boomers. We’re the post-WW II generation of people who are (possibly) easing into retirement and many are “empty-nesters.”

There’s a good chance you like to travel if you’re reading this site. So what about falling in love or like or lust and changing your lifestyle? Are people more willing to take a chance and move to another country? There are certainly a lot of reasons not to. But as I reminded someone who was chastising me for living in Paris because my grandchildren are in Washington, DC, I reminded them that the commute is an hour longer than if I were living in California.

Many of my American friends in Paris came to France for their college junior year abroad. So many of them stayed, married and have become more French than the French. Have their marriages worked? Not each and every one—but I am surprised how many have and how many of their children speak English with very French accents.

So much in relationships has to do with expectations and the ability to compromise. Can you be flexible in the way you approach life? Are you able to give the other person space to do what he or she needs to do—most especially when it comes to dealing with family who may live on the other side of the world? Are you capable of doing with someone from another country what is hard enough to do with someone from your own?

Real life situations cross us up, and unless you’re a take-charge type, you may need to assert yourself. I was just speaking with someone who commented that even though he’s 50 percent Italian and 50 percent American, he and his Italian wife don’t understand one another all of the time. Duh—who does?

When I questioned a friend who’s a therapist and does mediation training and conflict resolution, his first comment was that men and women tend to speak in different languages, and people (no matter their sexual orientation) get out of synch. And yes, there are some real negatives to being involved with someone from a different culture. On the other hand, there can be real pluses. Some people thrive in different cultures and may turn out to be more interesting than if they’d never left home. I like to think that’s my case.

What’s the best way to approach cross-cultural relationships? I have no idea. Only you and your other can have a clue. Try to figure it out, but look at the person, not the scenery, not the material. So what if he or she has the most spectacular apartment in Paris? You don’t make love—or even like or lust—to an apartment. On the other hand, if you feel right together, where you live, isn’t the be-all to end all—and there are worse places than France.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Follow the Bouncing Dollar

Written by kvfawcett on July 12, 2010 – 4:35 pm -

The U.S. dollar hasn’t been this strong against the Euro in more than five years. That isn’t a shabby incentive to motivate Americans to take to the skies and head to Europe. There’s no question there’s been a pent-up demand to travel—and why not do so when your money will go a whole lot further?

According to a survey conducted by TripAdvisor.com, which polled more than 1200 Americans, 60 percent of them are planning to come to the E.U. in 2010, up 50 percent from 2009.

(Surprisingly, only six percent of the people surveyed stated they were reconsidering their travel plans because of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland even though volcanologists are predicting it isn’t dormant and won’t be for quite a while.)

The favorable exchange rate makes a trip to Europe more manageable—or may just put it back in reach if you’ve been feeling priced out of the market. Bonjour Paris has been saying that if you’re coming to Europe for a short vacation, a few dollars here and there do not make a live-or-die difference. But it’s a real difference and it’s your money. Here are a few numbers.

A little over two years ago, a euro cost $1.60. Today, it costs a little less than $1.25. That’s like getting a 22-percent raise or, to make it very practical, 100€ spent in restaurants costs you about $122 (today’s exchange rate), not $160. Does that sound real enough?

Apparently it does to quite a few people. We conducted a very quick poll on our Bonjour Paris Facebook Page and queried our readers about their plans. Some people commented that, because of the current exchange rate, they’re booking tickets to France since it’s simply too good to pass up. Others posted they’d planned their trips when the dollar was at $1.40 to the euro and would go anyway, stating that the elevated airfares are the real sticking point.

Those truly (under $300 round-trip) deep-discounted fare wars seem to be a thing of the past, which makes sense because of the cost of fuel. Fares may look good until all of the add-ons are factored into the price.

Kathleen Delgado commented that she travels to France four to five times a year on business, so the exchange rate is not the deciding factor. But Kathleen commented, “Since I’m not made of money and have respect for the money I earn and the people who help me earn it, the exchange rate does impress me.”

Other Bonjour Paris readers say they’re feeling some respite from when the dollar didn’t buy as much. Dorothy Bain Raviele plans to make improvements to her home in Europe and do some more traveling thanks to the lower euro.

Some of our most faithful readers (merci) Barbra Timmer and Richard and Kathy Nettler posted they’re currently in France and enjoying the dollar’s increased buying power.

Hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the service industry that target an American clientele are seeing a definite increase in business.

For American expats who live in the E.U. and whose income is dollar denominated, we feel as if we’ve come into a small inheritance from a relative who worried about whether or not we’d be able to pay our bills. Yes, we’ve received a slight reprieve from what’s felt like poverty, especially for those of us who have lived in France since its currency was denominated in francs. It’s been a financial roller coaster, whether or not we were prepared for the ride.

On the other hand, Americans who invested in property in the E.U. with the idea they might return to the U.S., sell their homes and convert their profits into dollars aren’t so happy today because of the limp euro. Few of us anticipated we’d need to be experts in currency arbitrage when buying our primary residences. Well, you can’t have it both ways, have your cake and eat it, and (for good measure) on ne peut pas avoir du beurre et l’argent du beurre.

Not being an economist, I don’t pretend to know whether or not the euro has been overvalued—although given the way all the members of the currency union have been fibbing about their deficits, there’s some good evidence that it has been. If that is the case, then, on the one hand, it’s overdue and, on the other… well, as Harry Truman said, it would be nice to find a one-handed economist. But the facts of the moment are right in front of us. The euro is down and likely not to rise very far any time soon.

So, here’s a question for everyone. Is the lower value of the euro having any effect on your plans for travel? If so, how? Let us know. We’re always glad to hear from you.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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