Will the French be able to stop kissing to prevent a swine flu outbreak?

Written by admin on September 8, 2009 – 4:53 pm -

In France, kissing is as common as seeing a person carrying a baguette or drinking an espresso while standing at the bar of a neighborhood café.

Now, “la bise,” (cheek-to-cheek pecks) that the French use while saying hello or goodbye, has come under pressure because of the current threat of global swine flu.

Even though only three (possible) swine-flu related deaths have been reported, the French Ministry of Health is alerting people they need to stop kissing. And they are serious, even though it goes against the grain of French tradition.

Some are wondering how and if the French will be able to kick the bise habit. When greeting each other, they peck cheeks alternating three of four times in rapid succession. Parisians, and most especially students, kiss four times. Any excuse and there are additional kisses. Shaking hands and cheek kisses are imprinted in a French person’s psyche as to what’s correct and what’s not.

As winter approaches, some French schools, companies and a hot-line sponsored by Health Ministry, are advising students and employees to avoid the social kissing ritual. They fear that because of flu, a kiss might cause illness or in the extreme, death.

Better to be cautious than contract this strain, which causes people to run incredibly high fevers. It’s highly contagious and leaves people feeling as if they want to die even if the virus is a temporary affliction. Those who’ve had the flu report that every bone in their body has ached and some say they’ve never experienced a flu that’s plowed them under so acutely.

People are advised to keep a minimum of a three feet from others and face masks should be worn when possible. “These are recommendations, not requirements: People are free to do what they like.” said a hot-line operator.

The French government’s main thrust is to encourage people to wash their hands frequently and use sanitary wipes and gels. Caution is the rule of the week. Teachers are requesting students refrain from kissing one another and French government authorities are asking people to sneeze into tissues – or even their sleeves – to avoid air-born germs.

Some people are staying away from department stores and other closed places for fear of being infected. Since the swine flu vaccine isn’t forecast to be available until October, many people are being extra cautious. Besides prevention, stay home if you’re running a fever or think you might be contracting the flu.

It will be interesting to see whether or not this is yet another blow to tourism.

A French tour operator said some people have canceled their travel plans because of the most recent epidemic which isn’t confined to France but is global. Not a day goes by when there aren’t doom and gloom forecasts concerning this pandemic.

All you have to do is walk through any airport and you’ll see people wearing face-masks. Is this another Avian flu that dealt the deathblow to travel a few years ago? Are you postponing your plans for fear of contamination? Let’s face it; most tourists would rather be sick at home rather than spending vacation time down and out in a hotel room – even if there is a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Please post whether or not you’re changing your travel plans. If you’re not, what precautions are you taking? Or, are you among those who view the flu a get-up-and-go opportunity?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


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France will do (almost) anything for your tourism dollars

Written by admin on July 15, 2009 – 5:16 pm -

Tourism in France is down by 17 percent since January compared with the same time period in 2008. The government wants people back and is going all out to try to seduce them to return.

Airfares are at an all-time recent low (if you’re flexible) and adept at surfing the Internet. There are so many hotel and package deals to be had, that if you have any interest in visiting France, now’s the ideal time – if you have the time and the money.

Restaurants have lowered the VAT (value added tax) to 5.5 percent from 19.6 percent. That will make a dramatic difference on the bottom line when it comes to dining out. Even though I find it hard to believe, the rule is the tip is even included.

In a survey conductor by TripAdvisor.com in May, the findings were that France is the most overrated country in Europe and the second-most expensive. In addition, the French are perceived as being unfriendly.

That hasn’t been my experience. But I’m prejudiced.

To counter the slump and boost revenues, the tourist board has set up stands manned by teams of “smile ambassadors” to welcome tourists at some of Paris’s most popular spots. Hundreds of roller-skaters gathered at Place Vendome and formed a giant smile.

Two holiday rental groups, Pierre et Vacances and FranceLoc, are even offering weather insurance if there are four days of rain during a one-week rental period. That might be an excellent investment since France’s weather can be uncertain especially in these days of global warming.

Herv Kayser, who conceived the insurance idea, told French daily newspaper Le Figaro, that in a trial run last year, 10 percent of the people who bought the insurance policy received rebates due to rain.

But back to the smiles; this isn’t the first program of its sort. Tourism officials launched a program approximately fifteen years ago where it encouraged people working in the hospitality industry to smile and learn English. Perhaps the downturn in business has caused people to be grumpy and they need to be reminded.

Paul Roll, Director of the tourist board, said “If we want tourism, which has generated more than two million jobs to remain a leading sector in the French economy, everyone has to make visitors feel welcome including professionals, elected representatives and the French public.”

As much as I fear asking this question, have you found the French rude? Anymore than if you were a foreigner going to New York or another U.S. city where people didn’t speak your language and they didn’t speak English?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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France, the world’s #1 tourist destination

Written by admin on June 8, 2009 – 5:33 pm -

Eighty million people can’t be wrong. That’s how many visited France last year. France must be doing something right. According to the French Ministry of the Economy, the country leads in attracting foreigners. Some people may simply be passing through on the way to final destinations because of France’s central European location and airlines’ use of Paris as a hub. But many people stay.

The world had its eyes on France this past weekend when many watched the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Normandy invasion on television. They saw people gather to salute the veterans and heard U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy speak at the ceremony.  People couldn’t help but view a bit of the beauty of that area of the country and realize there’s history bonding the U.S. and France.

After the ceremony in Normandy, the Obama family spent time in Paris touring the City of Light. How exciting the sites must have been for just eight-year-old Sasha and ten-year-old Malia. They’ll have a lot to tell their friends and classmates. No child leaves the Eiffel Tower without stars in their eyes – even ones who live in the White House. Notre Dame Cathedral is always incredible as is the Seine and Paris by night.

In spite of the global economic downturn, there was only a .3 percent decrease in the number of people who came to France in 2008 than in 2007.

Thierry Baudier, CEO of the recently formed tourist entity, Atout France, and New York based Director Americas Jean-Phillipe Perol, have staged major marketing campaigns targeting Americans. The French did not condone the U.S. involvement in Iraq and some Americans feared there would be anti-American sentiments.

But  they held nothing against Americans as individuals. If an Anglophone visitor attempts to speak French in Paris, I’ll wager they will receive a response in English, especially in hotels and restaurants and service oriented businesses.

In spite of getting a bad rap, the French are incredibly gracious to Americans who are considered among the best visitors. The younger generation tends to like all things American, its movies, music and most especially Mickey Ds. France is the second largest market for the burger chain.

Tourism accounts for 6.9 percent of French GDP and is a high priority for the government. There were an estimated 45 million visitors in 2008. Between 2.5 and 3 million Americans come to France yearly and many are repeat visitors.

One explanation for so many American coming to France may be because they perceive France to be a good value, even with the strength of the euro against the dollar. Once you get out of Paris (much in the same way as in other major cities such as New York City), you can travel well and find decently priced hotels and restaurants, which serve wonderful meals, for a fraction of what you’d pay in Paris.

Another factor may be that Americans, as well as 78 million other people, love France for its food and wine. French chefs are fast to say many Americans are more knowledgeable about gastronomy than the French, who tend to take it for granted.

I’m prejudiced and appreciate so many things about France, its incredible wealth of culture and its diversity. It’s an easy country in which to travel because of high-speed trains and its highway system. The fact the entire country is only about 200,000 square miles (less than twice the size of the state of Colorado) makes France easy to tour in a finite period of time. As much as I love to travel and learn new things, not a day goes by when I am in Paris that I don’t discover something I’ve never seen before.

Do you think an increasing numbers of Americans will opt to visit France now that President Obama has embraced the country and the two presidents are making a conscious effort to work together?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Tax savings spread on French bread

Written by admin on April 30, 2009 – 5:55 pm -

If your travel plans include a trip to France after July 1st, you’re going to be in for a cost savings treat when you go out to restaurants and the bill is presented. But be forewarned — the discount will only apply to certain dishes (such as the menu of the day) and you won’t be raising your wine glass in celebration of the reduction since it’s not applicable to alcohol.

France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy has instructed the country’s estimated 200,000 restaurant owners to pass on a portion of the 19.6 percent VAT (value added tax) that will be reduced to 5.5 percent. France has one of the highest tax rates in the European Union.

For years, this has been a bone of contention among hoteliers and restaurateurs, who said the added cost discouraged consumers by inflating meal costs. The high taxation has also been an impediment for hotel and restaurant owners, as well as potential ones, who want to invest in the hospitality industry.

Sarkozy is banking on the reduction giving a needed boost to restaurateurs who are feeling the effect of the weakened economy. French residents are cutting back on meals out and tourists are eating out less or at less expensive restaurants. Restaurants and bistros have lost between 20 and 50 percent of their income between January and March. Many have introduced more modestly priced “crisis menus” to lure patrons back.

It’s also anticipated more workers will be hired and it will give France’s restaurants a jump-start. Sarkozy’s campaign promises included this cut and he’s making good on it. The tax-cut agreement includes a commitment by restaurant and hotel owners to work with the government to improve pay, training, and working conditions.

Christine Pujol, President of the Union des Métiers et des Industries de l’Hôtellerie, the largest industry union says, “We’ve been working for 15 years for this and we’re most satisfied. It will provide a needed boost.”

Some critics feel the cut may not be judicious in the long run. It’s easy to lower taxes but hard to subsequently raise them.

Something of something is a whole lot better than a lot of nothing or having to shutter a restaurant’s doors.

Chain restaurants may have a bit of a cushion but what about privately owned establishments? No matter where you live, people are feeling an economic pinch and many are buying frozen pizza at the grocery store rather than ordering carry-out or taking the family out to dinner.

In the meantime, enjoy the savings. Don’t anticipate not having to tip the service staff.  You’ll still be expected to leave them 15 percent – and more if you think it’s merited.

Do you think restaurants in the US will follow suit if they haven’t already?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Would the French ruin one of their main tourist attractions?

Written by admin on March 11, 2009 – 8:45 pm -

The movie Sideways highlighted wine tasting junkets as a major sightseeing activity for wine lovers in the U.S. People go from one wine producer to another, sample a bit of that year’s crop (or older vintages) and buy bottles of their favorites to take home.

Limousine companies got into the marketing act by chauffeuring oenophiles (tasters out for a good time) from one producer to another. Driving after too much drinking is frowned upon and punishable by hefty fines with points being added to a driver’s license. Worse yet, you may find your car wrapped around a tree with you and your passengers in it. That doesn’t factor in the cars you might have encountered head on.

The French have traditionally enjoyed wine tastings at caves throughout France. Many wine growing parts of the country have designated wine-tasting routes where people stop and sample tiny glasses of wine and may or may not came away with a bottle or even a five- or ten-liter bag-in-box. Off they go to the next cave, which may be less than five minutes away. People from all over the world come expressly to make wine pilgrimages. France’s hospitality industry has benefited.

Last week, France’s Minister of Health Roselyne Bachelot proposed a law that would make it illegal to have wine tastings. This is intended to ban binge drinking at soirées sponsored by liquor companies in open bars where young people, often students, pay an entrance fee to drink as much as they like. But it could be interpreted as banning wine tastings.

As the French like to do, vintners went on strike over this proposition that would severely impact business and their ability to sell wines. Gone would be tastings in liquor stores and grocery stores (that sell enormous quantities of the country’s best-known beverage.)

Most observers of the French wager this law will never be adopted. It has too many marketing ramifications and would destroy a huge draw for French tourism.

Wine growers are proposing they be given a status differentiating them from producers of hard liquor and fortified spirits. That’s what’s done in Spain.

“How can one imagine that French wine, without even talking about its economic weight or its place in our heritage and our cultural identity, can have any real export growth opportunities when everything is done to censor it in our country?” questioned Bordeaux mayor, Alain Juppé.

Time will tell. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if you read about the French striking and a lot of lobbying and posturing.  C’est la France.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Do swinging cruises shock you? Then stay out of clubs échangistes

Written by admin on September 9, 2008 – 2:52 pm -

So Yolo Cruises is launching its virgin cruise for “swingers” on April 26, 2009. The week-long charter aboard a Carnival Cruise ship, will set sail from Tampa and head to the Western Caribbean with stops in the Caymans, Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Honduras.

Shocked? Don’t be.

In France, there are more than 400 clubs échangistes — and don’t assume that a door marked Club Privé in one of Paris’s tonier neighborhoods is reserved for members who want to discuss philosophy. Natives and tourists mix … without a language barrier.

By comparison, the swinging cruise will be relatively tame. Nudity will be restricted to pools, spa tub areas, and special themed parties. Similarly, Acts of Oneness (or twoness or eightness) must remain in staterooms or designated “playrooms.”

“It’s not simply about sex,” says Marlene Brustle, president of YOLO (You Only Live Once). “Some people want to watch.”

The group hopes to book 2000 passengers for the maiden voyage and anticipates there will be a market (albeit niche) for three to four cruises each year. Prices range from $949 for an inside cabin to $3,499 for a penthouse suite.

Stéphane Julienne, a journalist who has written extensively on swinging in France, says Europeans are the king of swing.

“The European, and probably the world Mecca for swinging, is Cap d’Agde,” he says, referring to a naturalist resort on France’s Mediterranean coast. These clubs are perfectly legal since there’s no prostitution and it’s consensual.

People from every stratum of social and economic life participate and don’t feel the need to hide. “It’s become a leisure activity, like going to the theatre or the cinema,” says Alain Plumey, curator of Paris’s Musée de l’Érotisme.

There are clubs in every big American and European city. People just aren’t as open about them. In France, people accept them as reality and at the end of an evening, always say goodnight and shake hands. You might even run into one another the following day but no one will even acknowledge the evening before.

For many, c’est normale.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris


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No time to visit France for a culinary vacation? Try Las Vegas

Written by admin on September 8, 2008 – 2:54 pm -

Snagging a table in Paris often isn’t a last minute event, especially if you’re shooting for the Michelin stars. People clamor for admission into the doors of some restaurants as if they were the gates to heaven. It doesn’t hurt if you’re staying at a hotel where the concierge has clout. But don’t expect him or her to perform miracles if you decide your heart is set on eating at a specific restaurant that night.

But there’s no need to leave the States — unless you want to. You can always head to Las Vegas and come away with a taste of the City of Light.

The same culture and history is lacking but hey, there’s a time and a place for everything. There’s no mandate you’re required to hop on a transatlantic flight. Plus, you may not have the time.

Some of France’s leading chefs have set up satellite restaurants in the desert where, “What happens here stays here.” Among them are Joel Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Guy Savoy and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

People are required to reserve in Vegas as if they were dining in Paris. But don’t expect these restaurants’ meals to be cheap. Even with the weak dollar, a meal in Las Vegas is going to set you back a minimum of $100 per person.

Come to think of it, you might not want to keep your culinary forays in Vegas a secret.

Karen Fawcett is the president of Bonjour Paris


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Oh say can you see? And drink and drive?

Written by admin on August 29, 2008 – 3:01 pm -

It could happen anywhere but somehow it feels so very French and it happened in Nancy, France. Where else could a blind man get behind a car’s wheel and be fined only 500 euros ($750) by a judge presiding in a French court room. Not only did this 29-year-old journalist not have a driver’s license but also he clocked in at having double the permissible alcohol level after the police performed a breathalyzer test.

To be sure he was feeling no pain as he and his accomplice, the owner of the car, were taking a joy ride on a country road in the very early hours on July 25th.

The police didn’t stop the duo for speeding. Rather, they spotted the car zigzagging at a low speed and wondered exactly what was taking place.

The car’s owner, a 52-year-old photographer, was indulging his blind friend’s wish to drive. Unfortunately, he was also pronounced drunk and was fined the same amount plus the judge revoked his license for five months.

No one was hurt — but it only goes to show that truth is often stranger than fiction. And some of us think that driving in pitch darkness is exciting.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


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There’s Eating and Then There’s Dining

Written by admin on January 22, 2007 – 3:14 pm -

The adage that you can’t get a bad meal in France is a fallacy. Paris is filled with restaurants, bistros and cafes where tourists gravitate. Chances are the management will never see the majority of these diners again. “What… me worry?” may be their attitude.

How can you make your dining experiences more meaningful? By all means, read Bonjour Paris’s food critics’ reviews. But there are some other ways when you don’t have access to the Internet or guidebooks that may give a clue as to when a restaurant is out of date.

Steer clear of establishments where the carte (that’s required to be posted so it can be seen from the establishment’s exterior) is written in multiple languages. It’s a sure tip-off that you should be on the lookout for the next group of haggard-looking people disembarking a tour bus.

After all, everyone has the right to eat especially after spending the morning in the Louvre and seeing half of the City of Light. 

Many restaurants do have English language menus. This is partially for the guests but more for the waiters. They may not understand your English, much less your accent. The selections sound so much less elegant in English than in French. Most Francophones will tell you the translations leave much to be desired.

It’s akin to being in a very trendy restaurant in New York City or Los Angeles where, even after you’ve read the menu, the waiter, who feels the need to introduce himself, has to spend 30 minutes explaining what to expect. “Cunningly arranged” are frequently buzzwords for nouvelle cuisine, where it’s more than likely you’ll probably leave the restaurant hungry and awaken with the 3 a.m. munchies.

I’m currently in Washington, DC. Considered a good restaurant city, I’m at a total loss when a friend asked me to choose where I’d like to eat before I board a Paris-bound flight tomorrow. It’s not that I don’t like going out for a nice meal, being pampered and avoiding dirty dishes plus pots and pans.

But after seeing numerous $60 tabs for soup, two burgers and two glasses of wine, my enthusiasm diminishes about eating out for the sake of eating out. Remember, in the US contrasted with the EU, you have to factor in the tax and the tip.

There’s a new group of “in” restaurants in Penn Quarter, a recently renovated area between the White House and the Capitol. Some of the city’s hottest eateries are found there. The food is often good and sometimes more than that. But the headache that’s derived from the din can be enough to make you question your sanity.

Perhaps it’s because the under 40-year-old crowd has been subjected to blow-your-ears-out music since they were teens. 

Some of the most popular restaurants in DC are the steak houses where some of the city’s power brokers and big-buck expense account types meet and greet and impress clients.

These restaurants (frequently chains such as The Palm, Morton’s and Smith & Wollensky’s) serve such humongous portions that you need to be a gourmand or feel guilty about those who are starving throughout the world.

One of the neighborhood haunts I frequent offers $5.00 burgers if you sit at its bar and are finished before 7 p.m. when the crowds descend. Each Monday night, wines from Chef Geoff’s more than adequate list are priced at 50% of the regular cost. That’s a bargain and attracts neighborhood folks including a lot of the area’s students. But why are there two televisions? Why does everyone talk at the tops of their lungs so you can’t hear the people with whom you’re breaking bread?

Each time a person raises his or her voice, the sound level escalates. Why isn’t there carpeting, walls with materials that baffle sound, acoustical ceilings, etc.? There are sports’ bars everywhere; during playoffs, noise, and even shouts and screams, are anticipated. But, why are people discouraged from thinking when it’s a normal day. Is it a commentary that the art of conversation is on the wane?

Restaurants in Paris and many other EU cities encourage people to linger over their meals and don’t count on turning tables 2-3 times during a dinner service.

Studies have proven that the less comfortable the seating and the higher the decibel level is, the faster patrons vacate a table. In Europe, getting the bill is often a lengthy process. In the U.S., signal your waitperson and you’ll be out the door within minutes.

One way to be able to have a conversation coupled with a light meal is to go to a hotel bar, which has sofas and additional seating with sufficient space between areas. If you’re noise sensitive, steer clear of people sporting nametags (undoubtedly, they are part of a convention) and/or the pianist who may be wonderful if and when you’re in the mood. However, when you’re not …

There are ways of escaping death by decibels but it takes a certain amount of creativity to accomplish the feat.


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