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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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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Culture Shock of a Food Junkie

Written by kvfawcett on June 25, 2010 – 1:12 pm -

Some people gauge a country by its museums and monuments. Others gravitate to a place because of sand and surf. Many head to destinations based on what they can buy and bring home. None of these reasons is right or wrong. People travel for their own reasons—and that’s their business, not mine.

But no matter where I go—and I’m always ready to go anywhere, even to places where I can’t get a visa—there are always some must-sees after the usual major tourist attractions. You don’t come to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower any more than you go to Siem Reap in Cambodia and not visit Angkor Wat: granted, we know that.

After Notre Dame or the Luxembourg Garden, my list also includes places where people shop for food. Street market or supermarket, it’s all the same to me because we can learn a lot about a culture from the food people eat when they’re at home—in other words, the food for sale in the markets. The prices of groceries, from staples to produce to meat, can give some idea of the general condition of a country’s economy and a rough notion of how large a proportion of household income the locals are willing (or forced) to pay to feed themselves.

Perhaps my fascination (obsession?) with grocery stores began when I moved to Paris and didn’t speak French beyond bonjour, s’il vous plaît and merci. I was intimidated by the open markets where, if I touched a tomato, the vendor might slap my hand loudly saying, N’y touchez pas. I’d slink off and wonder if my cooking days were over and what were those cuts of beef and why did the chickens still have their heads on and no, I didn’t want it, merci.

I found solace in the Monoprix, where I could read the labels, take my time because there wasn’t someone else standing behind me and what do you mean, you have to bring your own bags and pack your purchases? I spent hours in that store on the Rue de Rivoli across from our apartment on the Place des Vosges. And I learned enough to grow confident in taking on the real markets.

This is true everywhere. You have to get used to the way food is displayed, priced, and used. Those elements after all are cultural, not universal. For example, Australian supermarkets are expensive even when buying local products such as fruit and cheese. I was surprised by the high cost of Australian beef. The wine is good, but (OK, I’m prejudiced) wines of comparable quality can be purchased for less in France.

Now, in Asia, I modify my list unless I’m in a grocery store that caters to foreigners. It’s not hard to identify them since they stock many items few locals would consider buying, and the stores generally have bigger grocery carts. There will be boxes of cereals and few Asians begin their days by eating Wheaties (“the breakfast of champions”) for their get up and go.

Rice is cheap according to Western standards. Not too many foreigners are searching for tiny portions of dried shrimp and other weird-looking items. If you crave peanut butter, chances are it’s going to set you back more than you want to pay unless you can’t do without a fix. Forget wine and opt for beer.

Obviously, no matter where I travel, I compare products with what I’m used to finding in France. But then, consciously or not, I inevitably compare shopping in France to shopping in the States. Parisian markets are for the most part much smaller than American grocery stores. If you want to go to a huge one, you’ll have to go to the suburbs to stock up, but without a car getting your purchases home presents a problem.

The good news is that Internet shopping has come to France, and local markets deliver. About once a month, I’ll order all the heavy stuff that I don’t have to look at—like bottled water, cleaning products, and wine. I know what they are—and let someone else lug them. I’d rather confine my daily shopping to produce, meat, fish, and my caloric downfall—cheese, glorious cheese. And then there’s the mainstay of life, bread. There’s nothing as good as a baguette that’s just come out of the oven, and please let me confine my croissant intake to a maximum of one a day.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I shopped at the same grocery store. Occasionally, I’d stray to the French Market but invariably was horrified by what I’d need to shell over at the check-out counter. The Georgetown Safeway (a.k.a. The Social Safeway) was the store of convenience and choice. When Washington was a village, I had to allow extra time to say hello to neighbors, friends, and parents from the school my son attended.

After being closed for a year, the former building has been replaced with a 71,067 square-foot one that’s state of the art everything and is “the greenest supermarket in the District of Columbia.” It has been built and will be maintained according to LEED Standards. There are even especially assigned parking places for cars that are fuel efficient like hybrids and electric cars. This is the ultimate in going green. And yes, you’re expected to bring your own bags—if not, each plastic bag costs five cents.

Who’d ever guess I’d experience total and absolute culture shock surrounded by produce, every type of food product and thousands of bottles of wine? And this wasn’t in an exotic destination where you’re not quite certain of what’s precisely being sold.

On May 6th the new Safeway had the grand opening the area’s residents were eagerly awaiting. People entered the store totally wide-eyed to be greeted by so many employees asking if they could help you, did you find everything and passing out samples. When I asked where the ladies room was, someone walked me to it and opened the door. I was fully expecting for them to enter the room with me and… never mind.

A guest from the U.K. accompanied me on one of my visits and was clearly overwhelmed by the size of the store and its vast selection. Choosing a cereal was enough to send him into a cold sweat. And what’s this about having a sommelier and a temperature-controlled wine room selling vintages that cost in excess of $100 per bottle.

Yes, this is an over-the-top store. Even the selection of flowers made me stop. When I ended up at the cheese counter that has an enormous selection, I was so happy until I looked at the prices, swallowed hard and put them down. There was no way I was going to pay that amount of money for a pasteurized Brie and will wait until I’m home in Paris.

I had a revelation. People who work in French supermarkets will never kill you with kindness. I suspect when the Georgetown Safeway is running smoothly, many of the company’s senior management will disappear and shoppers will be left to their own devices.

But, the food items I want—bread, cheese, wine and produce—cost substantially less in France. And who cares if I can’t choose from 22 brands of toilet paper. I’d rather buy cheese,merci, not to mention truffle salt.

No matter where I go, I take myself. And within my inner core, there’s an indelibly etched part of France, and certainly its food that will be with me until the day I die. C’est normal. You can’t live somewhere for 22 years and not be impacted by its culture.


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If I’m Not in Paris

Written by kvfawcett on June 25, 2010 – 1:08 pm -

Bonjour from Washington, D.C. If it’s late April through early June, chances are I’ll be in the Nation’s Capital. It’s not because I feel the compulsion to wave the American flag. Just because I choose to live in France doesn’t mean my forehead isn’t emblazoned with an invisible beacon flashing “Born in the USA” à la Bruce Springsteen. I’m proud to be an American—even if I do find certain things baffling on this side of the Atlantic.

I try to be in Washington for my granddaughters’ birthdays and school events. Even though some people may consider my carbon footprint environmentally irresponsible, I’m lucky to be able to celebrate significant events in person. Travel is a priority and a main line item in my budget.

Many expats miss important family occasions because of distance and the time and cost of travel. Of course that’s also true of people who never leave the United States which, after all, is about as large as Western Europe: the distance in air miles from Madrid to Moscow is less than the distance from New York to Los Angeles. But the euro and Europeanization notwithstanding, you travel farther in Europe. And let’s face it, not everyone speaks English.

The fact that my job is located in my computer (dear lord, please don’t let it crash again) allows me flexibility few people have. Even with increased cyber commuting, virtual offices and on-line meetings, most workers still need to make a physical appearance in an office on a frequent basis.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no way I’d want to head Bonjour Paris if I didn’t live in France. But there’s no need for me to be there 365 days a year. In fact, it’s better that I’m not. Each time I return after a trip of more than a few days (a long weekend in Morocco doesn’t count), it’s as if I am seeing the city in a new light. This is especially true if I return to Paris after the August vacation when many storefront businesses look completely different. Perhaps some people don’t work in August, but that can’t be said of many French construction crews.

So I was puzzled or, really, put out when someone who knew I was away shot me an email saying she didn’t believe I could write about Paris if I weren’t there. My response was downright snarky. But then I came to the realization that some of my best insights about the city I love are derived when I’m not there. The idea of not being able to feel the pulse of the city elsewhere or what’s taking place is downright nonsense. In Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth declared his manifesto for the Romantic Movement, saying that powerful poetry was composed from “emotion recollected in tranquility.” I may not write poems, but I think the feelings of daily life can be felt directly in one place or another, but recollected anywhere—and often more clearly and movingly.

The reality is when I’m in Paris, I may not always have my hand on its pulse. More than likely, my hands are on the computer keyboard and doing the same things anyone does when working. This is especially true if they work at home and a trip to the grocery store is considered an outing.

Even though traveling can be a pain in the derrière—and who enjoys dealing with security screenings, delayed flights, the recent bouts with volcanic ash and being stranded?—when I see a plane, I want to be on it.

Travel, whether it’s for business or pleasure, is the best way to learn about other cultures and mores and to gather a more global perspective. It is also the best way to see my own cultures—American and French—more clearly.

After 22 years of living in Paris, I look at things with a French attitude. My idea of home is a comfortable apartment near the Métro and a good bakery, not a 5000-square-foot MacMansion in the suburbs with a one-hour commute on clogged roads to work in a cubicle. I did not intend this, but this is what has happened to me. Or this:

Last night I toured Washington’s monuments after dark with a friend visiting from abroad and admired the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials as great examples of architecture—and symbols of the American republic. But they don’t make my heart stop the same way it does when I drive by the Assemblée nationale in Paris at night. Perhaps it has to do with lighting? The perspective? Maybe I’ve gone native? I don’t know. It’s a powerful feeling, though, and I can recollect it here in the United States.

Consider buying Travel Insurance. And you’d better believe that my Medjet Assist policy is renewed each year.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Cultural Differences Abound

Written by kvfawcett on June 22, 2010 – 10:30 am -

After living in another country for years, people tend to lose touch with what’s really happening at ‘home,’ no matter how tuned in they think they are to what’s current and what’s not.

I was taken aback by an article that recently appeared in the New York Times, still considered the paper of record in the U.S.  After reading Etiquette in New York City, I found myself having to do a reality check.  Have I missed something by living in France so long?

There’s no question I’ve lost some language fluency because I’m continually surprised by how frequently expressions, such as “How great is that?” are sentence structures I’ve never heard. Is it correct English?  I’d guess not, but evidently a question can be a declarative statement.  Excuse me?

No wonder foreigners doing business in France tend to be baffled. They encounter an entirely different set of do’s and dont’s. Until a few years ago, it was considered impolite to conduct businss at lunch. People toasted the signing of a ‘deal’ with good food, bottles of good wine and perhaps, a cigar. Few French are drinking much wine at lunch and forget lingering over cigars since it’s illegal to smoke in France in enclosed spaces.

It’s been years since I’ve wondered how and where people chew gum, mainly because it’s done so infrequently in France. There must be gum chewers since it’s for sale, but not in 122 flavors, shapes and sizes. The French may smoke (and yes, the numbers are edging up), but I rarely see many actually chewing gum—unless they’re desperate to stop smoking. In all of my years in France, I can’t recall anyone popping bubble gum.

I know some must chew gum, because on rare occasions, it’s been stuck to the sole of a shoe. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. Even though most dog owners really do observe the clean up after your pooch rule, if I step into anything, it’s invariably—well, gum doesn’t come in that color.

The Times article also discussed appropriate decorum when it comes to questioning over-30-year-old couples, if they plan to have children. In France, that’s the type of question you don’t ask unless you’re a very best friend or a mother or mother-in-law who’s looking for trouble.

In Europe, one learns not to question marital status and certainly doesn’t pry into something as intimate as a person’s breeding habits.  Thank you very much, but people simply don’t go there, anymore than they ask how much a colleague makes. They may surmise or even know, but salaries among executives are rarely lunchtime conversation.

Other differences in protocol: people shake hands in France, and it’s not up to either the man or the woman to initiate the action. When I go across the street to the café to grab a coffee, the barman and I shake hands.  Who opens the door for whom isn’t necessarily a feminist matter or a crime against women. I open doors for women who are older than I. Ditto for men if they appear either frail, weak, or are carrying bundles of groceries.

Robin Worrall, who lives in Copenhagen and was raised in the open doors for women school of manners, admits he had to get used Danish customs. “Perhaps some Danish women have come to believe that having the door opened for them somehow implies they’re being thrown back into the mire of inequality by having a man behave in this ‘old fashioned way’ … or perhaps they’re just saying ‘hey guys we can open the door ourselves thanks’. Either way because the picture is rather confused, Danish men (mostly) appear to have given up on the courtesy front. On the other hand, a Brit in Denmark can still get away with opening the odd door or two … and get a smile for his trouble!”

The gate to the building where I live in Paris is so heavy that anyone who opens it more than twice a day doesn’t need to go to the gym. All of the residents open it for other inhabitants and it has nothing to do with whether or not you’re polite.  It’s more about brute strength.

When it comes to who exits elevators first, few Parisians who live in old buildings have much choice. Elevators are miniscule, so who gets in last, exits first. If not, people may live and die together or be squished to death in the process.  The hell with gallantry. It’s called survival.

As polite as the French may be most of the time, Métro or subway etiquette appears to be universal. Who wants to be stuck in a car that pulls out of the station where they want to exit? People do push and then push some more.

“Je veux sortir, s’il vous plaît,” is invariably replaced by “Je pars,” forcefully said. People want out when they want out and who cares if neighbors are pushed in the process?

I was raised reading the © 1955 version of my mother’s bible, “Emily Post’s Etiquette” (it’s very much the worse for wear) and learned all of the must-do’s and don’ts. Then I proceeded to break most of the sacred rules. Come to think of it, I did the same thing when I moved to France. Manners are very important – but manner dictums do change.

The longer I live in France and the more I travel, the more I understand about other cultures. Conversely, I’m always a bit confused. But, there’s one thing that’s certain: cultural mores are an endless source of fascination. The puzzle is never precisely solved.  And that’s OK.  It makes life more interesting.  Please feel free to chime in as to what you perceive to be correct etiquette and what’s not.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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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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Paris Windows

Written by admin on March 26, 2010 – 11:35 am -

It’s rare I have revelations in the true sense of the word. But recently, I realized I’ve seen and experienced so much of Paris simply by peering out my windows. And looking into them.

If this makes me sound as if I’m a voyeuse, it might be deserved. I’ve never considered myself one, but perhaps I should reconsider. Spending hours looking out of my apartment’s windows has given me insights into how the French live. It’s a very personal microcosm on Parisian life.

This view isn’t unique to France unless you live in the country or far enough away from neighbors you’d need to sneak around for a look-see or resort to binoculars.

However, when you live in Paris, few people have clear vistas. That’s one of the city’s charms. People talk about its rooftops and, yes, they’re lovely and do change according to the light, the weather and shadows. But they remain essentially the same if you live in central Paris. Rooftops aren’t living theater unless your thing is watching birds and where they perch.

Parisians rarely close their shutters unless they’re away and, if they’re home, why pull down shades or close curtains unless they want to darken their bedrooms when they’re sleeping. The French, at least in my quartier, don’t appear to be instilled with the same sense of modesty as Anglo-Saxons.

When I first moved into our home 20 years ago, many of our neighbors were older and lived predictable lives by the clock. The kitchens were functional, but that was about it. Many of them had racks where people would hang laundry to dry.  Many French didn’t believe in dryers because of the cost—they were expensive to run—and they could possibly ruin clothes.  No self-respecting French woman would put underwear in a dryer because undies are a true investment. Some people had maids and left the laundry to them.

Five years later, some of the apartments’ residents began dying off. If they were living in some of the smaller apartments across the courtyard where my bedrooms and kitchen are situated, more than likely a younger relative would move into the premises. As a rule, the French don’t like to sell property because of inheritance taxes and they feel better owning bricks and mortar.

Contrasted to Americans, most French didn’t redecorate for the sake of redecorating. Family furniture was cherished. Much of it was period and may have been recovered, while the walls were given a fresh coat of paint—but that was it.

The surprising thing is I didn’t know the name of my neighbors even though we were a part of the others lives. One couple had a cat and our kitties were brought to the window each morning to say hello.

There was a deaf woman who lived across the way who would always smile. When she first moved in, she had a lover. When they broke up, my heart ached for her. After approximately a year, another woman moved into the apartment and it was apparent their relationship was more than platonic.

We’d bump into each other on the street and always nod and smile but we never knew one another’s name. When the apartment was sold, I was sad when she moved out. A woman, who has covered every wall with purple wallpaper with tiny flowers, has bought it. She dresses and behaves to match the décor.  In other words, boring.

Babies have been born and I’ve seen them grow up. One teenager, whom I’d watched since she’d moved into the apartment with her parents, made the family’s apartment headquarters for all of her friends.  They’d come home after school, go into the garden and light up and they weren’t smoking cigarettes.  I did know the parents and debated as to whether or not I should tell them what was taking place while they were at work because the air was being permeated with smoke from cannabis and you could get a contact high. After a few weeks of ongoing parties, I did tell them and questioned my decision.

In recent years, many of the apartments have been sold and the area has made more than a few contractors and architects rich. Designer kitchens equipped with high-tech appliances and super chic bathrooms are now the rage.

New owners are gutting the apartments, and after they’ve completed the rehab, frequently decorated with Italian furniture mixed with antiques, they entertain. But they never close the curtains.

Which means you can see things at all times of the day and night, including parties.  They could be parties anywhere, except the French serve far more champagne and far less food.  I’ve attended so many of them, but from afar—across the courtyard or the street.  I’m tempted to organize a block party, but that would be so very un-French.

Discussing the know-your-neighbor-but-not phenomenon with the building’s guardienne, she laughed and told me that everyone refers to me as the American who’s always sitting in front of her computer. They’re right.

However, that doesn’t mean I miss so many of Paris’s nuances. Still, I’m becoming increasingly tempted to throw that party. If no one shows, so what? I’m betting it will be a mob scene since so many French have become increasingly Americanized.


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Formal French Functions – as in Soirées

Written by admin on March 19, 2010 – 2:52 pm -

Recently I offered the use of my apartment to an American friend for a reception.

Jerry heads a global think tank, The Millennium Project, that does admirable work in the field of future studies and research. It was a no-brainer to host a gathering chez moi and was the least I could do. It required minimal work or wear and tear.

Even though all of the attendees would be guests of this group and I wouldn’t know a soul, what did it matter? It would be an opportunity to meet new people, the majority of whom I assumed would be French.

As it turned out, people were from all over the world. In that way, it was similar to parties in Washington, D.C., where it’s rare to meet someone actually born there. Only one guest was a native Parisian, but many had lived here for the majority of their lives. Each person had a mission and that was to make the world a better place through committed dedication and not simply talking the talk.

The one thing the women had in common is they all wore black. If you’re in Paris during cold weather and want to look Parisian, black is it no matter what the fashion gurus are trying to have us believe.

The evening was a success. But upon reflection, I realize it might have gone more smoothly had my American side not surfaced.

Two weeks prior to the “cocktail”, custom-designed and elegant invitations were sent. So far so good, right? No, probably wrong. Call it the Green movement or laziness, they were sent via cyberspace. The invitation composition program is ingenious and tracks who’s received the invitation, whether or not they’ve opened it and even allows people to RSVP on the spot without having to send an extra email or pick up the phone to respond.

Don’t get me wrong. The French are incredibly Internet savvy and use it with a vengeance. They send mails, and on-line communication isn’t the enigma it was ten years ago.  The French have not only taken to computers but they’re frequently glued to iPhones, Blackberries—and lord help you if you’re not a master at texting.

Ride on any métro (it’s amazing the signal can reach that far down) and you’ll see people typing away rather than reading newspapers as they used to do. Come to think of it, perhaps they’re reading their news on-line.

In the case of this event, people didn’t respond to the invitation. I’ve always found the French to be très correct, but why weren’t they saying whether or not they were attending? It was baffling.

When it came to saying yay or nay to the reception, perhaps it was because the invites were cyber-sent during winter vacation when the recipients had other things on their minds. Or maybe they were holding off in order to see what was on their agendas for that day.

There was no reason to bother fretting (or in my case, obsessing) because there wasn’t a darn thing I could do except buy a few extra bottles of wine and faux-champagne for Kir royals, which would be served in flute-shaped glasses.  People could opt to drink hard liquor, but not ever one person asked for scotch, gin, vodka or anything with high alcohol content.

The French usually don’t serve tons of food at cocktail receptions. Nuts, olives, a few hot and cold appetizers usually do the job. Guests are expected to go out to dinner after an event and usually plan on doing so. The evening was so interesting and people were so involved in exchanging ideas and meeting one another that they didn’t drink and run.

This is where my American side comes into play. The idea of people leaving a party of mine hungry goes so against my grain. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons Americans tend to have problems with their weight since they rationalize that anything they eat while standing up, or that’s been passed (or grabbed off a plate) doesn’t enter into the calorie intake quotient.

If you’re of the Martha Stewart generation, it was only polite that guests could go home without having to stop for dinner or cook before going to bed.

Do you think it’s a fundamental difference between the French and Americans that cocktails mean cocktails and not dinner? Now that I think about it, my French friends tend to bring a bottle of wine or some flowers to an event (don’t believe that those are no-no’s) while my American friends frequently offer to bring food and, even if you say no, frequently arrive with something edible.

I know I always ask what I may cook or bring when I’m in the States. I don’t when I’m in France; perhaps it’s simply yet another cultural difference.

As someone who’s always curious and fascinated by cultural differences, I know that no matter how hard I try to stay au courant, it’s hard (O.K., impossible) to keep up with rapidly changing trends as the developed world becomes increasingly global.


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How I Know I’m Not French But Then…

Written by admin on March 12, 2010 – 4:33 pm -

May 1st is the twenty-second anniversary of my moving to Paris. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here so long and how many things have changed—especially me.

I’ll never be French in spite of feeling very much part of the culture and loving so many aspects of life in France. The global insights that accompany relocating to a new country are both mystifying and enlightening.

No matter how long anyone remains in a new country, no one assimilates one hundred percent even if they’re totally comfortable in their adopted home. Scratch the surface, and invariably you’ll unearth a raw nerve.

For example, strikes are irritating and will always be. Even if they’re announced (as they’re legally supposed to be) and you plan accordingly, there are times when the best made schedules will crash and burn.

How well I recall the day I spent at the Gare de Lyon not going to Provence, even though the departure board showed my train would be pulling out of the station within the next 30 minutes. Sure. Had I been smarter, I would have returned to the apartment after a couple of hours. But that would have ensured the train would leave within minutes of my climbing on the bus heading to Boulevard du Montparnasse.

During strike season, working at home has its advantages albeit isolating. There are days when I stay put with my computer—even though I know it’s important not to become a hermit. I may become lazy (or absorbed) and sometimes have to force myself to get up and go.

I’m still irritated when I can’t accomplish things during the vacations and days off that are a part of French culture. One of the things about being an American in Paris is that French holidays aren’t necessarily holidays because I’m working with people in the U.S.

Ditto for American holidays. When all of the U.S. is observing Thanksgiving, I’m invariably working or preparing a Thanksgiving dinner to be served after 8:00 p.m., when friends are available. I’ve never heard of a multi-national corporation telling its American employees to take the day off even though some U.S. expats do return home to eat turkey and the fixings with their families.

More likely, Americans wait until the Christmas holidays to make a beeline to the States. It’s well known that not a whole lot gets accomplished during Christmas and New Years even if you don’t observe them.

But wait. I’ve done nothing but cite negatives. After all these years, more of me is French than American. For example, it’s hard to see into my closet because ninety percent of my clothes are black and it feels as if I continually buy the same ones.

The moment the sun appears during the dreary months of January and February, I make a mad dash outside to soak up a few rays. After all, if nothing else, we all need vitamin D, and if you’re someone who feels better after absorbing natural light (and who doesn’t?), you can rationalize the escape is precisely what the doctor ordered.

My French self is really evident in how and when I buy clothes and housewares. If something isn’t on sale, forget it. Retail has never been my thing (yes, I miss discount stores that are in practically every U.S. shopping center) but unless I’m desperate, I never buy anything unless it’s discounted.

Food has assumed more significance since I’ve moved here. Iceberg lettuce is no longer a staple. Don’t laugh: that was one of the few fresh vegetables you could always count on finding in a U.S. supermarket more than twenty years ago. Discovering French cheeses was a revelation. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven—and will unless I eat substantially less of it because of my cholesterol count. Unlike the French who eat tiny portions, my innate reaction is (was) to pig out.

Wine is an affordable commodity. It’s easy to experiement with different ones and you don’t have to spend more than a few euros per bottle. It’s not a major budget item and I’ve developed an anti-snob attitude and rarely spend more than ten euros per bottle in the grocery store when I buy it. What’s dinner with a glass or two of red wine? It’s good for your heart and it’s my contribution to France’s wine economy.

Flowers are a must in where and how I live. This isn’t a new phenomenon. I used to buy inexpensive ones at sidewalk vendors in Washington, DC, but soon nicknamed them graveyard flowers since they always died within 24-36 hours. There are incredibly expensive florists (ergo, artists) in Paris where you can drop a bundle. But there are also chain stores where you can purchase flowers that don’t make you feel as if you’re robbing a bank. My most recent purchase was forty white roses that cost ten euros and gave me ten times the pleasure.

This may seem odd, but the French are incredible when it comes to packaging. It’s a sense of aesthetics that brings me such intense pleasure. If you purchase something and say it’s a cadeau, the vendor usually wraps it as if it’s worth a million dollars using tissue, cellophane paper, ribbons and imagination.

Yes, there are irritations when living in France and it’s not for everyone. But, it’s captured my heart and part of my soul.

(c) Karen Fawcett


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Life in France and Some Challenges

Written by admin on March 12, 2010 – 3:04 pm -

Many Bonjour Paris readers question if there’s a way to beat the French system. Well, oui et non. If you’re going to live here you need to acclimate yourself to the country’s customs, recognize there are cultural differences, and grin and bear it.

If you’re trying to get a Carte de séjour (a legally required resident’s card if you’re from a non-EU country and plan to stay in France more than six months a year), the rules say loud and clear (and in black and white) that you must apply for one before you leave your country of residence.

Some Americans have come to France, bought a house, even married a French spouse, only to be told they must return to the U.S. if they want to become legal. During the process, which can easily take six months, they’re not entitled to enter France. It goes without saying this can cause more than a fair bit of aggravation.

A freelance journalist, who’s a frequent contributor to the New York Times, was ousted from Paris and sat in the U.S. waiting and waiting for his papers to be stamped, sealed and delivered. He wasn’t asking for a work visa since he wouldn’t be working for French companies. The French government isn’t quick to hand out work permits to people who might take a job away from a French citizen and who can blame it?

Then system D comes into play. Another friend married a Frenchman, for love and not for papers, only to be told she had to leave the country and it didn’t matter whether or not her husband might miss her—much less his children whom she was helping to raise. This came as a shock since she’d inquired at the French Consulate in New York City and was told not to worry.

System D, which stands for débrouiller or disentangle, came into play. Perhaps it was due to her screaming and her husband’s persistence that the mayor of the town where they live intervened and she didn’t have to return to the States. One never quite knows exactly what takes place. This is why I advise people to seek the advice of a lawyer, who will cost money, but hopefully can save you more in time and aggravation.

Don’t get the idea the French aren’t frustrated by French red tape and stalling, even in domestic life. One taxi driver told me he no longer makes dates with his brother, because he’s consistently late and doesn’t bother to call or excuse himself when he arrives. His compromise is that if they’re going to see one another, his brother has to come to his apartment—and no, not for a meal. Claude said his wife was done with serving overdone food and had gone on strike. You can’t blame her.

When we had a home in Provence, dinner guests frequently turned up more than an hour late, which did nothing for my cuisine or my disposition. My late husband was far more forgiving than I, and ultimately assumed kitchen duties and hoped I would open the door.

Those dinners went on forever and more than a few times, I’d rudely say goodnight at 11:30 and excuse myself. When people say goodnight after two-plus hours in the U.S., I’m surprised. When I lived in Washington, D.C., invariably I ended up walking around the block for 15 minutes so not to arrive early.

In France, people don’t show up precisely on time because invariably the hostess won’t be dressed. As a result, when I’m in the U.S., I have to readapt to the on-time habit.

Another shocker in France: If you call an office and try to leave a message, forget it. You’re usually told to call back and when you do at the appointed hour, the phone line is invariably busy. During an appointment yesterday, I voiced how frustrated I was over not being able to leave a message and having no alternative but to put my phone on automatic redial. The recipient of this minor diatribe explained his office receives 600 phone messages per day and it would be impossible for the staff to field all of them.

Much to my amazement, my response was that if he didn’t want to hire more personnel, his phone system should have voice mail for individual employees. He replied he’d look into it since he found it frustrating when he was out of the office that he was unable to contact his staff by phone.

Go figure and take the good with the bad. If you live abroad or for that matter in the U.S., please register and post your frustrations. But I keep thinking that the French would do themselves a big favor by figuring out how to apply System D to all facets of their lives and, instead of tying everything in red tape, get to the point.


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