Houseguests à la Française

Written by admin on November 7, 2009 – 3:37 pm -

When one moves to Paris, or for that matter anywhere in France, one obtains immediate celebrity status. People you hardly remember always seem to be able to remember that they know you (sort of) and that you live in Paris. This is especially true in the days of the weak dollar where airfares may be cheap. But once you arrive in the EU, living is expensive.

You quickly acquire the habit of never answering the phone just after a U.S./Paris airfare war has been announced. If you should forget, the conversation goes like this.

Scenario #1: The Casual Acquaintance

“Hi, my dear friend. Guess what? I am coming to Paris and would love to see you,” says the person you hardly know.

Then comes the inevitable question: “Can you suggest a really cheap hotel? Or for that matter, could I sleep on your sofa if you don’t have a guest bedroom. I (or we—for example, a family of four) will be no trouble and we will have such a good time,” croons the voice on the end of the telephone.

If I weaken and say yes, it is only proper that these guests be greeted each morning by fresh croissants and home-made jams. Please do not think I am forgetting the freshly squeezed orange juice or cafe avec lait chaud. After all, this is France, and there are certain standards.

Scenario #2: The Teenaged Backpacker

This is a bit of theater that American expats know by heart. I suspect that if you took a survey of the “transplanted,” you might find one—maybe—who has not experienced the following:

The phone rings. A happy voice says, “Guess what? My teenager is coming to France. He/she will be no problem, and I would be ever so appreciative if my darling could camp on your floor.”

The reality is that “darling,” having been backpacking for three months, comes equipped not only with a sleeping bag but also with three months’ worth of dirty laundry. “Darling” tells you, “I hate to spend time at the laundromat.” Can’t blame our newest guest. Why should he/she (it?) have to spend time doing laundry in Paris when he/she could be out and about? But after the fourth load of clothes, I am tempted to throw them all out the window.

I forget to mention that “darling” needs to be bathed and fed. I may be mean-spirited, but nevertheless, I am a mother myself.

Inevitably, this hot-to-trot kid also has a list of “must dos” while in Paris. And few of the targets are in your ordinary guidebook.

My “charge” takes off and I mean, off. I want to go on record that I do not appreciate waiting up for this 16-year-old “darling” to roll “home” at five in the morning with reports of what “neat” people he or she has met (and with dilated pupils). “And excuse me,” says the guest. “Do you mind if I sleep a bit late? Do you really need to get into your office/guest room? I’m exhausted.” No problem. I try to be quiet and pray that my Skype calls won’t awaken sleeping beauty.

Scenario #3: The Gourmet Tourist

Then there is the third type of visitor. More sophisticated (or possibly wealthier), these are ones who stay in hotels. But they are nice enough to call and say, “Let’s get together. You choose the restaurant. For that matter, we’d love to try the restaurant at Le Meurice tonight. We’re sure you have connections with Yannick Alléno, the chef”

No, I don’t, is my response. It only takes six months to get a reservation in a three-star restaurant here. And on a journalist’s take-home pay, it is a wee bit out of my restaurant budget—for the year. “We’ll go anywhere you choose,” says the caller, “but let’s make it special since we want to experience the best of French gastronomy.”

We eat a calorie-killer dinner, after which it is midnight and all I want to do is go home. Amazingly enough, when the check does arrive, more times than not, it is left on the table as though it did not exist. My guests point out how expensive everything in Paris is. I reply, “I know!”

After what feels like an eternity, I take out my credit card. “Thank you,” my “guests” say, “when you come to the U.S., we will take you to dinner.” Gee, I wasn’t planning on coming to Cincinnati!

Hotel Fawcett House Guest Policy

After living in France for more than 20 years, I have adopted a house guest policy. No one camps with me for more than three days.

I have even become so hard-nosed that I have instituted the rule that if people were not close friends of mine in the United States, I’m not going to put them up in Paris out of a feeling of obligation because I am the one person they happen to know here.

If people do stay with me and they crave fresh baked bread in the morning, I will point them to the closest bakery. I will help them plan their itineraries, but I no longer try claim that I’m an offshoot of the Paris Tourist Office, solely in Paris to be a tour guide.

I am not in Paris on vacation. Unlike my guests, I have to get up in the morning and get to work. And, even though sitting at a computer may not appear to be work, rest assured, it is!

Gazing at the Eiffel Tower at 2 a.m. lacks a certain thrill when one’s work day begins at 8 a.m. If anything, I would appreciate it if they would assume some day-to-day chores such as picking up some groceries.

Also, I refuse to feel guilty anymore because I don’t know the entire Metro system without consulting a map and rarely know that day’s precise currency exchange rate. Nor do I need dollars in place of the euros in my wallet “because it takes such a long time to exchange money at the bank.”

I have learned after all my years here to compile a “survival” kit that includes a set of keys to the apartment, a guide book or two, a map of the Metro (subway), a few metro tickets, and a cell phone. I am rethinking the inclusion of the phone since it seems to serve as a license to call at any hour of the day or night and ask the tiniest of questions.

Do you think that I am being ungracious or unkind? Well, how would you feel if you had 83 consecutive nights of revolving house guests, which is what happened to me when I first took up residence in France? Put yourself in your host’s shoes and do unto others…

I must confess the nicest thank-you gift from a guest I ever received was a sign saying HOTEL FAWCETT. But, I have buried it somewhere… hopefully never to be found again.

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