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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For Americans abroad, no dollar news is good news

Written by admin on September 3, 2008 – 2:58 pm -

The dollar is stronger than it’s been for a long time, and some American travelers and expatriates are breathing a sigh of relief, hoping this is only the beginning. Many of them are tired of living on a diet of bread and pasta.

Maybe you don’t think currency markets are exciting, but lots of people monitor the exchange rate. They cheer when the dollar rises — and cry when it falls.

The U.S. dollar has risen to $1.45.16 to the euro, the highest since Feb. 14, 2008.

According to Meg Browne, vice president of foreign-exchange research at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., the dollar is on an uptrend. “Growth and monetary-policy differentials are beginning to shift in favor of the U.S. dollar,” she said in a recent interview.

Two analysts — Standard Chartered Plc and BNP Paribas SA — have reportedly raised their forecasts for the dollar. London-based Standard predicts the dollar will rise to $1.44 per euro by year-end and $1.36 by the end of the first quarter of 2009, compared with previous forecasts of $1.49 and $1.42.

The decline in oil prices, plus Europe’s weakened economy, is contributing to the dollar’s rise. But neither Americans, nor people in the hospitality industry who depend on US tourists, are resting easy. The dollar has a long way to go until people feel it’s a good travel buy. And that’s not factoring in the increased airfare costs and airlines’ decreased service.

It’s too soon to forecast how soon Americans will return to Europe but the rise in the dollar can’t hurt. Part of it is a matter of psychology.

But the news is something. Let’s hope it continues.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris


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Despite higher dollar, fewer Americans visiting Europe

Written by admin on August 27, 2008 – 3:03 pm -

Even though the dollar is finally a few cents stronger, don’t go out and count your euros and expect to be in consumer heaven when you visit Europe.

Americans are hardly rich, even though there’s talk of a psychological barrier being passed, now that the dollar is clocking in at less than 1.50 euros. Europeans are watching the currency market as if it’s the hottest game in town.

Americans aren’t heading to Paris they way they used to. The weak dollar, the U.S. economic downturn, and the high cost of airline tickets, due to the rocketing cost of fuel and the airlines’ own misguided efforts at nickeling-and-diming travelers, all convince a lot of people to stay home. And many just have sworn off dealing with airport security and being treated as criminals.

According to the French Government Tourist Office, 1.5 million Americans traveled to Paris in 2007, a drop of 5.5 percent from the previous year. Since January 2008, statistics reflect a further decline of 14 percent.

Paul Rol, director of the Paris Tourism office says, “the number of U.S. visitors has been decreasing since June 2007 and the downward trend is growing steadily.”

But as fewer Americans are coming to the City of Light, other nationalities are making up the slack. Paris has recorded an overall increase of tourists by 2.3 percent. During 2007, there were 8.76 million tourists, many of who came from Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Americans still comprise the largest number of tourists in Paris—just fewer, currently. But they’ve shunned France before. There were fewer between 2001 and 2003 following the September 11th attacks and the Franco-American row over the U.S. invasion of Iraq. However, U.S. tourism rebounded in 2004, and many people feel it will again after the upcoming presidential elections if Barack Obama is voted into the Oval Office.

Imad Khalidi, president of Auto Europe, predicts the dollar will become stronger if a Democrat is elected president. “Look back at November 1991, the French franc was very, very strong—4.6FF to the dollar. Once Clinton was elected, the dollar climbed to 6.4FF to the dollar. Let’s hope that’s the case again.”

Khalidi admits that the car rental business is down in the EU. But firms like his have more than made up for the loss by renting to Europeans who are vacationing in the U.S. and, because of the currency exchange, people living on a euro income feel rich and are making the most of their buying power. Walk into any big-city department store in America, and the locals will wonder if they’re in bargain basements when they hear the tourists exclaiming how cheap everything is. It’s reminiscent of the Japanese forming lines to gain entrance to Louis Vuitton on the Champs Élysées.

Travel industry experts agree that the very rich will travel when and wherever they want. Whether or not it costs more or less isn’t a big factor. The swanky Meurice Hotel, located near the Place de la Concorde and facing the Tuileries Gardens, isn’t crying the blues over losing its American clientele because it hasn’t. Eighty percent of them are from the U.S – except during August when the hotel is filled with families from the Middle East because they love Paris and want to flee from the heat at home.

What J.P. Morgan said about maintaining a yacht—”If you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it”—applies here where the least expensive room begins at €650 per night, and a lovely Continental breakfast in the Michelin two-starred restaurant, Le Meurice, headed by Yannick Alleno, costs a mere €36. Since most of us have to ask, it’s pretty obvious we can’t afford it.

Another take is from Bill O’Such, who owns a super apartment in the Marais. “If reservations for our apartment— The Elzevir—is any indication, we have people reserving into 2010. It hasn’t affected Americans’ desire to travel to Paris.” In talking with them, they do cut down on what they do (i.e. fewer dinners out, less shopping, etc.) which costs a lot of money. They search for less expensive ways to come travel. “One theory I have is that hotels are now so expensive in euros that people are considering apartments even more than before. The other trend we’ve seen is we have more Australians and Canadians as clients.”

Of course the dollar is stronger against currencies that are pegged to it, so traveling in Asia, for example, may be a better bet than traveling to Europe. “In fact,” says a San Francisco resident, “I can fly more cheaply to Beijing than to Paris.”

So, the exchange rate is only one factor. The cost of flying may be greater, depending on your destination. It’s not easy to balance. And naturally enough, what we love is often what we’re willing to pay for, not matter what.

For instance, author Nancy Bruning says that she doesn’t know about others, but she’s booked to come to France this summer. “I’ll simply be sparing when it comes to spending. But, I love Europe so much that I’m not going to forgo my France fix.”

I don’t know about others either, but I will just be “sparing with the spending” and hope my credit card doesn’t melt.

For people who live here, we’re holding our breaths and eating a lot of pasta and drinking a wee bit too much wine.

Karen Fawcett is the president of Bonjour Paris


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What to Wear When the Dollar is at an All Time Low Against the Euro?

Written by admin on January 22, 2007 – 3:12 pm -

For those who fill their closets with European clothes, and we’re not talking haute couture but simply off the rack prêt a porter, what buying options are there when the dollar is lower than low vs. a vs. the Euro?

Those of us, who live on dollar incomes in the EU, are feeling the pinch. We’ve probably already developed the habit of buying better and buying less. We buy only during the sales unless it’s something perishable to serve on the table.

Pulling out all the stops, who is more of a buying expert than Born to Shop Suzy Gershman? She’s no enigma to Bonjour Paris readers and dedicated shoppers and advises people to purchase clothes and more for the long haul.  That includes weight fluctuations. Her caveat when shopping in Europe is, “ buy silly throwaway mementos or clothes, which you’ll wear forever.” Suzy states there are still bargains in Paris, but the majority of them are found in the make-up department. If you’re into designer clothes, she advises that the second hand store route may be a solution. Two of her favorite Paris outlets are Réciproque and Le Dépot Vente du 17eme.

I’ve found some neat, cheap and chic clothes in outdoor markets and should confess the dress I wore to my son’s and daughter-in-law’s wedding came from the Tuesday market in Vaison-la-Romaine. Suzy found a linen dress that she loved and purchased it in every color, merci.

Suzy’s current mantra is,  “Go West Young Man,”  (or woman) when seeking fashion deals.  “Think Indo-Chine (Vietnam) and head to Hong Kong or China where fashion and home décor bargains still exist. Plus,  $200 per night can buy a first-class hotel room contrasted with Paris, where you’ll probably be sleeping in a closet. Don’t forget restaurant costs in Asia and who doesn’t love noodles?”

An additional plus of buying in Asia is that clothes can be tailor made or altered within a matter of minutes or days. When was the last time (unless you were spending couturier big bucks) when you were entitled a fitting? If you have an item of clothing you love, take it with you and have it copied. Some people say you should import your own thread but that’s a matter of opinion.

Some trends: Department store and professional buyers are scouring former European colonies for the new look. US buyers are heading to Tokyo in order to seek out fashion trends. They may buy one sample and have it modified to fit the American body and shape, before articles find their way into department or clothing stores.

The shopping queen also advises going to second hand stores and buying carefully. Two of her favorites in New York are Michael’s and Encore, which was made famous by Jackie Kennedy Onassis, since her “used” clothes ultimately ended up (discreetly) being resold there. But, people in the know, knew.

Friends who live in the US are complaining about dramatic price hikes when it comes to their buying power. A few are threatening to go nude rather than wearing last year’s wardrobe. Even though that’s a grand exaggeration, what happened to parity? Suzy once again has a way to beat the system.  If you happen to be near a Loehmann’s, head to its Back Room.  You may find an Armani for a fraction of the cost you’d have to shell out in Italy. So what if it’s last year’s model? Women should also peruse the men’s department since they’re frequently less expensive even if they require some alterations.

Another recommended shopping destination is: The Woodbury Common Outlet Center where you’ll find 220 discount stores including Chanel and so many others. Located approximately 1.5 hours north of the Big Apple, don’t fret if you’re without wheels. There are buses to transport you to and fro for your buying pleasure. All you need to do is reserve.

Suzy has been shopping with a vengence and has just completed circling the world three times doing research her upcoming book, “Where to Buy the Best of Everything” that is slated to be released this coming March. She’s spent her time unearthing the 1000 places where addicted shoppers should shop before they die. Don’t expect to see the usual stores you’ll encounter on 5th Avenue or Rodeo Drive. The listings will include emporiums for people who are looking for the most unique of the unique.

How did Suzy pack for these killer trips?  “I always wear black and then black,” she said. She didn’t even pack anything grey for because it might necessitate an additional pair of shoes. Another hint; the shopping goddess always includes a very lightweight duffle bag in her suitcase. First, she’ll need it for things she’s purchased during her travels. Secondly, the way different airlines are adhering to different weight specifications, she’s been known to have to repack as she checks in for a flight.  And who said shopping is easy?  It’s both an art and a science. Not to mention, an act of passion and love.


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