Memories, Paris, Provence, Loss, Sadness and Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 12, 2010

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World, Paris |

Welcome to France and the World of Strikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Paris |

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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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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Posted in Around the World |

Do as the French do… or not?

Written by kvfawcett on June 22, 2010 – 10:23 am -

The French government has declared war on alcoholism, and it doesn’t have a lot to do with drinking wine. Nor is the campaign targeting the group that begins imbibing before the noonday sun shines and continues drinking throughout the day. It’s really not focusing on the group sitting in cafes à la Peter Mayle’s books, most especially “A Year in Provence” that motivated so many to move to that part of France. Mais oui, what’s wrong with having a Pastis after finishing your morning shopping? Nothing if you don’t have to work or drive and do so moderately.

France’s stop-drinking campaign is aimed at teenagers, an increasing and alarming number of whom are binge drinkers.

Their alcohol of choice is hard liquor, often gin, vodka, calvados, or something that can be masked with mixers.  After three, four, or more drinks, teens find themselves on the floor wondering what they’re doing and where.  Or, they know and drink to get drunk. Are you surprised since France is a country where many children grow up drinking watered-down wine when dining with their parents?

The French government has banned gas stations from selling alcohol, and clamped down on clubs, where the entrance fee gives people carte blanche to drink until their faces fall off. Too many were abusing the privilege, and many claim that French teens were becoming more like those in Nordic countries where heavy drinking is more the norm.

A study of French 16-year-old teens that was released two years ago reported that drinking is on a rapid rise. According to the French Monitoring Center on Drugs and Addiction, one in five boys and one in ten girls admitted to having ten drinking episodes each month. If that’s what teens will admit to drinking, you’re pretty secure in surmising the statistics are under-reported.

Yes, there are random Breathalyzer tests. But all too frequently, the right ( or maybe that should be “wrong”) people aren’t stopped. Or it’s too late and crashing into another car or an inanimate object may stop them. Parents hope there will be a designated driver. Still, overdoing drinking doesn’t foster good behavior or healthy liver function.

By no means is France alone in fighting this battle of the binge drinker. However, it has a different idea as to how to combat the problem. A government commissioned report is advising that university students attend wine tasting sessions so they can learn about drinking in moderation, an undeniably French solution to the problem.

A committee is advising that conducting wine tastings during lunchtime would enable students to learn about wine. Jean-Robert Pitte, a former director of Paris’s Sorbonne says, “Hopefully, this would lessen the Friday and Saturday night freak-outs that are occurring with greater frequency.”

Jean-Pierre Coffe, a television anchor says, “Universities should give young people an education in wine as well as in academia,” questioning why there’s sex education in schools but none about wine. Not everyone is happy with this suggestion and some feel that it’s a ploy on the part of the wine industry and students shouldn’t be drinking at lunchtime.

Even though there’s a movement to raise the drinking age to 18 in the E.U., the reality is many teens begin at a far earlier age. Alcoholism has become a serious problem and rarely (if ever) does anything good happen after someone has had too much to drink and especially if they drink and drive.

People are fully aware that kids in the U.S. are known to drink—and how.  Since the legal age for drinking everywhere in the States is 21, teens need to persuade older friends to buy liquor for them or use a fake ID, available everywhere for very little money.

Restaurants and stores that sell alcohol to underage buyers can lose their licenses, and you’ll see people (who are clearly over 21) being carded and are serious when it comes to not allowing underage people to drink, even if they’re with parents.

In addition, if an establishment serves someone alcohol and he or she ends up causing an auto accident, the establishment’s owner is legally responsible and can be prosecuted for serving the driver too much: ergo, the last drink that caused the client to go over his or her alcohol limit. Many bar owners and restaurateurs claim this isn’t fair since people may look as if they haven’t been drinking when they arrive in the restaurant when they clearly have, and all it takes is another drink and boom, they’re so drunk that they’re menaces to themselves and others – most especially if they climb behind the wheel of a car.

You can’t help but wonder whether or not binge drinking is a function of age and simply a sign of the times.  It used to be that beer was traditionally the drink of choice among teens where they’d get ‘pissed.’ That was bad enough and can certainly have the same effect. But teens drinking hard liquor, with the main intent of getting drunk and consequently losing control. is causing many adults to think and think hard. Some claim it’s a phase. Others say teens are boozing it up to mask the pain of the fact that life is more difficult in this day and age and their getting jobs isn’t by any means guaranteed.

When you think about it, teens drinking too much is nothing that’s new. How many young adults, in developed countries, haven’t been exposed to too much temptation in the “let’s drink” department? And it’s more difficult for teens not to succumb to peer pressure.

But who guessed the French would be passing legislation to curb drinking to excess. It’s all to the good but hey…..

If you have children, or grandchildren, who are drinking to excess, how are you and your community dealing with the problem? It’s real and not going to be swept under the rug.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Paris |

How Many Ways can you say the Economy is Rotten?

Written by admin on March 27, 2009 – 12:21 pm -

No one is happy about the world’s financial situation. If we’re not experiencing a depression, it’s certainly one hell of a recession. Economists can call it what they like, but unemployment rates are spiraling out of control and even though we’re allegedly not experiencing inflation, certain necessities feel as if they’re more expensive. Perhaps it’s because people have less disposable income. Expats have to deal with the situation in the old country as well as where they are living at the moment—and realize there’s no place to run. 

A trip to my local grocery store has me looking at the receipt more than once. Why did it cost so much to buy so little? There was less of a sting last year and the only really good buy that appears to be left are bottles of wine at Ed, the discount grocer at the end of my block. For less than three euros, I can buy bottle of wine good enough to serve to company and drink it with a baguette. The French are still buying bread because it’s part of their religion as well as tradition. And perhaps it’s because the cost of a baguette (not specialty breads) is price-fixed by the government.  

Americans are used to clipping coupons and trying to make the most of their purchasing power. But as long as I’ve lived in France, I’ve never received a brochure before now telling me that Franprix (a medium sized grocer with numerous stores in every quartier) was going to be open on a Friday night between 8 and 11 pm. It was a nocturne exceptionnelle (which is not the same as a Chopin composition) and six euros would be deducted from clients’ bills if they spent more than 30 euros.  

My neighborhood store wasn’t mobbed and the salesclerks looked bored silly. Perhaps people who live in the more upscale areas of Paris would rather dedicate a Friday evening to going to the movies. What might have been a huge success appeared to fall flat. 

However, you’d have to be blind not to see that deep-discounted “promotions” are taking place in many stores in Paris. It may not be sale time, but when there’s a will, there’s a way to persuade customers to buy—or die trying. 

Each time I turn on CNN, it is clear that things are worse in the U.S. and that it’s time for banks and financial institutions to be regulated. If you weren’t feeling nervous enough, the constant re-looping of the same bad news story is enough to make people not want to leave home — if they still have one. This isn’t to minimize the severity of the crisis; my friends in the U.S. send emails filled with doom and gloom scenarios.  

How could things go so awry with AIG, one the world’s largest multi-national companies? As for Bernard Madoff, it’s hard to imagine that so many people could have been snookered by the king of Ponzi schemes. Where was the SEC in spite of numerous warnings? 

The French aren’t happy at all when it comes to their present and future security. On May 19th, more than a million people throughout France went on strike. Employees of the private sector joined traditional public sector strikers such as teachers, transport workers and hospital staff. People were protesting President Sarkozy’s cuts to the public sector and to France’s welfare system and are holding him accountable for failing to protect workers from the economic crisis.  

Ironically, even though there were so many people striking, people who live in or were visiting Paris didn’t feel much of a disruption unless they were near the Place de la République where the demonstration took place. Because of a recent regulation, buses and metros are required to operate in Paris – with less frequency – but people could still get around.  

Unemployment is on the rise and the French are scared for their futures. All of this has a familiar ring. But contrasted with the French, Americans rarely take to the streets over economic conditions since most labor unions, such as the AFL-CIO, are substantially less powerful than they were in the 1950s. 

All we can do is hope for the best — and that the hard times won’t last too long. But as the man in the White House said, we didn’t get into this mess overnight and we won’t get out of any quicker.


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At business lunch, who picks up the tab these days?

Written by admin on February 16, 2009 – 9:02 pm -

The International Herald Tribune ran an article this past weekend about a new dance that’s taking place. At the power lunch, the check is kryptonite. Clearly not everyone is frequenting the Beverly Hill Hotel. But entertaining budgets have come under scrutiny during these difficult economic times.

There are occasions when you have to spend big bucks to close a deal. But it’s time to be creative and make subtle cutbacks. Be sure you factor in cultural mores when conducting business in other countries.

Most people believe the person who does the inviting should pick up the tab. But they’re are looking for less expensive options. Some suggest patronizing a favorite restaurant and asking the owner or the manager for a discount since times are tough. The hope is that some members of the group will return once they’ve eaten there so it may serve as public relations for future business.

A business owner with whom I spoke said he doesn’t want to give the impression that money is no object when businesses are so bottom-line conscious.

Others suggested a pre-fixed lunch menu with limited choices. When it’s a large group, would the restaurant be willing to comp one or two of the group? Or throw in free desserts and coffee?

Another thought – there’s no mandate business has to be done over lunch. How about breakfast or mid-morning coffee? Another option is having a catered lunch sent into the office and eating (and discussing business) in the conference room.

Some say they’re inviting business guests to lunch in a pub. One caveat: Be sure your table is situated in an area where you can hear people speak and diners don’t leave with headaches.

If you’re entertaining an out-of-town colleague or a potential client, inviting them to dinner at your home may be one way to make a friend forever. Before doing so, be sure it’s an inviting and conducive environment. If there are children running around the dinner table, your good intentions may end up going down the tubes…and fast.

What advice can you offer as to how to entertain without declaring bankruptcy?  This is war.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

A Valentine’s Day full of love without the expense

Written by admin on February 12, 2009 – 9:04 pm -

Some couples traditionally take off for the weekend or go on a mini-vacation to celebrate Valentine’s Day. They may just go to a local inn but it’s become a part of the dating/mating tradition.

Or they might eat at a favorite restaurant to toast their love. This is especially true in Paris where many feature special hearts and flowers menus, accompanied with pink champagne, so diners may express their adoration. Or perhaps their intentions.

Holiday meals invariably carry a monetary premium. Even though there’s usually a more limited menu, the fact that it’s a special event is license to charge more. Ah, the heart-shaped cake and the complementary chocolates. Women dress up and the dining room is decorated for the occasion. Perhaps there’s a string quartet.

This year may be the time to hold back but not delete the day from the calendar. Plan a festive dinner at home. But you’ll need to add some thought as how to make the evening memorable.

Begin your evening with a very French Kir Royale. Some gourmets feel the drink should be made with cassis (a raspberry liqueur) and good champagne. Most people can’t tell the difference between champagne and a sparkling wine when it’s mixed with cassis. But your bill at the liquor store will be very different. If you’re wine drinkers, buy a nice bottle, but it doesn’t have to be a vintage one with dust on it.

Ask the wine specialist to recommend one that’s moderately priced and will compliment to your meal. Prepare a favorite dinner but make it special by using good china and good glasses. If you don’t have them, buy two thin-rimmed wine glasses. It’s a lot less expensive than going out and every home should have a pair. Crate & Barrel, Ikea and comparable stores have moderately priced goblets that will do the job. No need to buy crystal stemware in this economy.

Candles do wonders when it comes to making rooms more romantic. Buy red and white ones at the grocery store; glimmering votive candles add to the ambiance.

Dress for the occasion as if you were going out. Differentiate this evening from others.

Pick out your favorite CDs and have them waiting. You may want a couple to which you can dance. Who knows?

For dessert, chocolate cupcakes with red icing and some sparkles feel festive and can satisfy your sweet tooth.

With the downturn of the economy, this is a time to be creative. Rather than sending a vase filled with long-stemmed red roses, consider a red box of dried rose petals containing a romantic card or note.

Even though the economy has never been worse since the depression, do you think Michele and Barack Obama won’t be celebrating Valentine’s Day? I’ll wager they’ll be doing something special.

How do you plan to express your affection?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis. She’s an incurable romantic.


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5 tips to stretch your business travel dollars

Written by admin on February 2, 2009 – 9:11 pm -

Some people are putting traveling on hold and not going any place that isn’t 100 percent essential.

Welcome to the world of video conferencing and talking via Skype or other programs such as Go to Meeting.

But there are times when business people need to sit down together and make personal contact. The challenge is how to make meetings more cost effective.

Here are some options:

1. Surf the Internet for the least expensive airfare and decide whether or not you’re willing to stay at one of the suggested hotels and rent a car (if needed). Package deals often save money.

2. Some people are opting to stay at less expensive hotels. “Residence” ones, where you can eat some meals or have a drink without going to the bar or the restaurant are cost effective. More than likely, there’s a grocery/liquor store within striking distance.

If you’re traveling on business, ask your client to suggest a hotel. If it’s the pits, you can book another. Make sure it’s close to where you’ll be conducting meetings or make sure there is direct public transportation.

3. The days of having a car and driver waiting have become an extreme luxury. Ask the receptionist to arrange for a taxi to meet you when you’re leaving a meeting.

Some people suggest their colleagues or clients meet them at the airport, and/or pick them up and drop them off each day at the hotel. It saves on rental cars and taxi fares. Plus, it insures you get to meetings at the scheduled hour. In addition, the commuting time can be used to discuss business.

4. If you have to host a meal, arrange to hold it at a restaurant and offer your guests a fixed menu with two to three choices for each course. That way, you’ll be spared from having to ante up for the person who decides he or she craves lobster. Plus, it saves time not having to discuss who’s eating what.

Some people pack their own food ranging from power bars to pre-packaged food. That saves money and can be eaten on the run. There’s nothing like having nuts or trail mix to satisfy middle-of-the night munchies. Whatever you do, stay away from the mini-bar.

5. One friend told me she is now willing to share a room at a conference. Sue said she would never have considered that before but it’s a real cost saver and she’s met some terrific people. I wouldn’t share a room with a stranger — but that’s me.

Welcome to 2009 and being creative when it comes to saving money. Your job may depend on it as well as whether or not you win the contract.

What compromises are you willing to make when you take business trips?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Thai government’s push to rebuild wounded tourism

Written by admin on December 26, 2008 – 12:29 pm -

Following November’s  week-long Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport closing  caused by the blockades of anti-government protesters, the Ministry of Tourism is taking proactive measures. The airport’s closure plus the civil unrest paralyzed the tourist industry and stranded 300,000 travelers.

The country will spend $450 million during the next four years to reestablish Thailand as a destination of choice. Already the country has adopted an aggressive advertising campaign to begin luring visitors back to Bangkok and Thailand’s many resorts. Wedding packages, special holidays and discounted packages are some of the incentives being offered.

The government realizes that the recent incidents have tarnished the country’s image as a prime tourist destination and may have a lasting effect. The tourism sector directly employs 1.8 million people and generates 6 percent of the GNP. This source of revenue is a major factor in the country’s economy and was in the process of increasing.

Apichart Sankary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said Thailand  traditionally welcomes 8,000 to 12,000 foreign tourists a day during its peak season that began in November. That number fell to 5,400 after the airport’s closing.

His optimistic projection is that  12-13 million foreign visitors may come to Thailand in 2009. The Ministry of Tourism is hoping tourists don’t steer clear of their country that has so much to offer. Having just returned from there, how I wish I’d had time to stay longer.

People who are currently spending the holidays there are enjoying far better weather than travlers who are stuck in the U.S., snowed in and having had their travel plans turn to mush.

With the election of the new government, the consensus is that Thailand is politically stable. Tourism should rebound. The biggest question is how fast can it recover and will there be another political shock.

How I wish I could afford to return to Thailand immediately. Paris is my next stop. But I hope to return to Thailand next year and hope I won’t be alone.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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