Christmas in Paris & Some Make Merry Suggestions

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:19 am -

There’s no place more magical than Paris during the Christmas holidays. Even if you’re not a believer, when Paris is decked out and decorated to the nines, the city is incredible.  Eye Prefer Paris Tours & Cooking Classes is celebrating the holidays by launching special Christmas Tours & Cooking Classes during the month of December.

Sign up for a tour:

Richard Nahem will personally lead private Christmas tours highlighting the magical shop windows, gleaming outdoor lights, beautifully decorated trees and festive Christmas markets throughout Paris. You’ll visit the department stores Galeries Lafayette & Printemps, walk on the Champs Elysees, duck into the famed gourmet shops Fauchon & Hediard on Place Madeleine, and peruse the rue St. Honoré. Because it will be cold (dress accordingly please) you’ll welcome a mandatory hot chocolate stop at one of the top shops in the city.

Beginning on November 29th and ending on January 9th, 2011, Richard will be leading them seven days a week, except on December 25th, 26th & January 1st and 2nd.

Tours are three hours long from 11 AM-2 PM, or 3PM to 6PM and the cost is 225 euros for up to three people; each additional person 75 euros. Tours are private and limited and the maximum number of people is eight.

Cooking Classes:

Cordon Bleu trained chef Charlotte Puckette of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes, has devised a spectacular five-course Christmas menu (see below) with traditional French holiday foods.

- Sea Scallops with julienned celery root and garlic butter

- Roasted quails with a foie gras stuffing

- Roasted chestnut and potato pureé

- Seasonal cheese course

- Profiteroles with chocolate sauce

Students will be given a tour of a fresh local Parisian food market to shop for some of the ingredients and then go to Charlotte’s private commercial kitchen near the Eiffel Tower. Charlotte will assist and teach students how to make this holiday feast.

At the end of class, students will dine on the menu they prepared and drink Kir Royal and wine.

Classes are offered Tuesday through Friday the month of December from 9AM to 2PM, with a minimum of two students, maximum of six. The cost is 200 euros per person.

Contact: Richard Nahem  Email: r.nahem@gmail.com

Tel +33 6 3112 8620

Be sure to tell Richard Bonjour Paris recommended you contact him.  The 10th and 25th people who sign up will receive a prize – it’s a holiday secret!


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Posted in Paris |

My Favorite Neighborhood and a Few of its Hotels

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:15 pm -

People are constantly asking me where they should stay in Paris.

If they’re friends, I suspect they’re angling for an invite. Who they are and whether they’ll need a tour guide will influence my answer. Then there are times when there’s no room in the Fawcett Inn.

My guest room is also my office. Need I say more? Some people find it unnerving to sleep surrounded by flashing lights. Yes, I know for the sake of energy conservation I should unplug modems, routers, phones, computers, the printer and all of the electronics that comprise command central of Bonjour Paris at night.

I’ve learned better: first, because I may find myself sleepless and typing until sleep overtakes me, and second, I have zero tech skills. The chances of rebooting each day (in a timely fashion) are next to none. As a result, EDF is making extra euros and I’m not being green.

So pointing to a nice hotel nearby has been my traditional solution. How times have changed, though. When people used to ask me to book a hotel rooms for them, it was a pain in the neck. It entailed making numerous calls and, if hotels were filled, I’d have to walk from one to another to see if I could use my charm and snag a room.

As no-shows burned hoteliers, I’d have to plunk down my credit card in order to reserve the digs. If the person forgot to cancel, I’d be stuck for a night’s deposit.

With the advent of the Internet and hotel booking sites, my life has changed. People can make the choices based on what’s available for their specific dates. If their hearts are set on a specific hotel and there aren’t any rooms, the site will suggest alternatives in the area that have space.

Hotel booking sites offer all types of specials. What the consumer pays with them is less than the rack rate or even what I can negotiate. Individuals simply don’t have that type of buying power and when I ask hotel managers for their best price, their response (sometimes) is that they’re listed on the Internet and I should look there.

Being someone who tends to be dubious, I wonder if people who book over the Internet receive the worst rooms. I’m told that’s not the case, but if I can afford it, I try to book the slightly bigger room—usually termed deluxe rather than classic.

If your travel dates are set in stone, pre-paying the total amount can save you substantial money. But these reservations are not reimbursable. If you’re unable to make it, you’re in for the dollar, the euro or the yen.

I’ve identified some of my favorite hotels located within a fast walk of my apartment. No, they’re not the Renaissance Paris Vendôme with an indoor swimming pool and a spa, or my favorite hotel, Le Meurice, or The Crillon. These hotels are located on the Right Bank and are a wee bit out of most people’s price range.

Some of my personal favorites are only moments away from the Luxembourg Garden. There are many other wonderful areas in Paris, but these are ones I know in my sleep. My choices tend to be boutique hotels that have charm and where you don’t get lost navigating hallways. The rooms tend to be small, but as the French would say, très correct. Do look at the photos carefully and keep in mind the wonders of wide-angle lenses. Think small!

Each has its own personality, and even though they lack hot and cold running staff, you’re taken care of and the hotel’s personnel don’t look at you as if they’ve never seen you before. Because these hotels are small, they rarely have dining rooms that serve anything other than breakfast. That’s not a negative since you can’t walk more than a few steps without being surrounded by restaurants of every type.

My criteria: Good design, renovated rooms and bathrooms that may be small but have a new look and feel, and FREE Wi-Fi. My taste tends not be be as traditional as many people’s—so please don’t jump at one of these selections since there are thousands of hotels from which to choose.

Here are some of my Parisian choices, but I use this specific booking site—Booking.com—any and every place I need a hotel room throughout the world:

Apostrophe

La Villa des Artistes

Le Six

Hôtel Des Académies des Arts

Hôtel De La Paix

Hôtel Le Chaplain Rive Gauche

Hôtel Le Sainte-Beuve

Chances are more than good that we might bump into one another if you stay in one. Paris neighborhoods are villages. And if you’ve ever stayed in any of the above, please post your impressions.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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Posted in Around the World |

Tourist Hell

Written by kvfawcett on July 20, 2010 – 5:39 pm -

We’re okay, you and I, because we know better, right? We know—and we care—so we don’t stick out like sore-thumbs, like… well, tourists. But here are plenty who don’t know, don’t care, and frankly don’t give a damn, and probably (I hate to say it) wouldn’t know how to dress for the situation or the occasion. After all, what’s wrong with wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and flip-flops in a big city? Throw a camera around your neck, don’t forget the backpack, be sure to wear a baseball hat and, yes, you’ll be noticed.

Some feel they’re entitled to wear whatever they want. In reality, the only people who can actually sport these get-ups are born and raised natives or residents—and even they shouldn’t be surprised if people look at them a wee bit askance. If it’s someone you actually know, do you cross the street? Tourist by contamination or guilt by association? Nah, that’s a bit extreme. But, look, there is something really interesting on the other side of the street.

You’ll usually hear them before you’ll see them. Tourists tend to be louder (especially those in groups) when they’re in other countries. This is especially true of Americans. But no nationality is exempt. Perhaps it’s because they’re convinced no one understands them and if they speak at a higher decibel level, they’ll make themselves clear(er)? Works for me.

I’ll never forget the time I was in Notre-Dame in Paris and we were bowled over by a group of Italian tourists. My (now-deceased) native-born Italian husband was able to identify not only the language, but also what city they came from. To make matters worse, he insisted on telling me precisely in which neighborhood they inhabited in the Papal City. I had come to look at the magnificent architecture and gain some inspiration—no such luck. No one could possibly hear himself or herself think because of the incredible commotion.

Then Victor began speaking Italian and I quickly realized we were sinking and would soon be sunk. Within minutes, a group surrounded him, all asking questions at lightening fast speed while simultaneously waving their hands. The memory of groups of tourists going through museums, ruins and everywhere else ricocheted through my mind.

There’s nothing wrong with tour groups. It’s just that I didn’t anticipate we’d be leading one—and in a language in which I was not exactly proficient. The idea that one romance language is the same as another is nonsense and if you speak one, you can kinda navigate in another is wrong.

I don’t care if the root is Latin, which I took in high school, but I can’t say I aced the class. Far from it, and my linguist skills are severely lacking. I must confess I split, but not before going to a souvenir store on the quai where I was able to score a small Italian flag to help identify the instant and self-appointed guide.

If you live in Paris, or in any city that’s a tourist magnet, you’re going to encounter people from foreign countries. It’s up to you to decide how you’re going to cope with them. Are you going to stop and give them directions, take them to their destination, draw a map on a napkin and hope it doesn’t tear… or pretend you don’t speak the language?

The perception that the French are rude is not embraced by all of our readers, which stands to reason since our community consists of Francophiles—and a few francomanes—from all over the world.

But people do contract tourist fatigue, and it’s not just natives. When I first arrived in Paris (and actually began to get my geographic bearings and might even be able to give people directions that were on the mark), I’d speak to anyone and everyone who was muttering in English, looking at a map, and offer my services. It dawned on me that I was so eager to speak English that I was delighted to help. It was the least I could do and as a self-proclaimed representative of the French Government tourist office, I felt a responsibility.

Twenty-two years later, I must admit I’m no longer always as charitable. If I’m in a rush or late for a meeting, I’ll smile and say I don’t speak English or aren’t from the quartier(neighborhood), which is standard operating procedure, especially in Paris. It’s better for someone to admit to not knowing the area than sending you in the opposite direction hither and yon. Good manners would preclude me from asking for their identity papers or following them home to find out they live around the corner. Besides, it’s none of my business, merci.

I try not to be hard-nosed because I so vividly recall my days of being lost in the City of Light. And to be honest, if I’m not in my immediate neighborhood or one that I frequent often, you’ll find me peering at a map or plan de Paris. I am contemplating activating the GPS function on my cell phone, but that feels as if I’m giving in and why isn’t it free?

When people do ask for directions, I’m ever so thrilled when Anglophones ask them in French and then compliment me on my excellent English when I respond. I always debate whether or not I should admit to being an American in Paris.

What do you do if you live in a tourist Mecca no matter where it is? Do you accord strangers (and lost souls) acts of kindness? Or do you run in the other direction? Do you give them wardrobe advice? Or tell them it is illegal to photograph the Eiffel Tower? Or just cross the street? When all is said and done, it’s a question of etiquette. Non?


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Posted in Paris |

House Guest Heaven or Hell?

Written by kvfawcett on July 20, 2010 – 5:38 pm -

Summer is here, and more than a few people would like to come visit if you live in Paris, or New York City, or have a country house almost anywhere.

The dollar may be stronger against the euro, but free rent is still cheaper.  Besides, staying with friends feels better than staying in a hotel.  Whom would you trust to steer you to the right places—a friend or a concièrge?  Your friend has only your interests at heart when he recommends a restaurant (and possibly a desire to get you of her hair for a couple of hours) while it is possible that the concièrge gets a free meal or a pourboire from the resto for his pains.

Houseguests can be wonderful when they know and really understand the rules. If you hear the least bit of hesitation in your host’s voice when asking whether or not you may stay, move right on—not right in—and try someone else.  If you have enough friends, you are sure to catch one in a weak moment or at least on a second bottle of wine.

One of my friends loves having guests. I accuse Judy of running a hotel, but attribute her being the hostess with the mostest to the fact she was in the Foreign Service and was stationed in some hardship posts where she was delighted to have company and had hot and cold running staff to look after them.

She’s left the government, but has a large house and works in an office. When her working day is done, it’s done. She’s trained her guests to shop for and prepare dinner or, better yet, make reservations.  It always seems right to me that the person who makes the reservation should call for the check—and pay it.

Judy leaves for the office before people are up and the refrigerator is stocked with the essentials for breakfast. As I do, she takes the initial order for what they want before they arrive and stocks coffee, tea, milk (regular, low-fat, and the list goes on), juices, fruit, breads and expects them to restock their own special brand of organic Swiss muesli.

Guests don’t need to feel that pots and pans and dishes will break if they look at them cross-eyed.  No one likes to return home to a sink filled with dirty utensils, and please don’t use the excuse, “I wasn’t sure how you like to load the dishwasher.”  Load it carefully, run it when it’s full, and please (if you’re staying with me), unload it and put the dishes, glasses and silverware where they belong.

Unless you’re in the boondocks without a car, find a grocery store, a place to buy wine and liquor and go all out and spoil your host(s) with flowers, unless there are so many in the garden they’d be redundant. It’s OK to deadhead the roses and cut some and put them in vases inside the house.

Bathroom etiquette:  If you’re staying in a Paris apartment, chances are pretty good that bathrooms are at a premium. A WC is not a library and please don’t plan on making it one unless you’re home alone.  Do pick up your towels and please show others courtesy. To be upfront, the toilet brush is there to be used, and please don’t leave the toilet seat up.

Bedroom etiquette:  I don’t want to get personal but unless your room is separated from the living quarters, please make your bed in the morning, pick up your clothes and try to keep the room in order.

Paris apartments tend to be small so your mess becomes visible to others.  If that other is I, color me cranky. Do not feel it’s offensive to strip the bed when you’re leaving.  Place your sheets and used towels in a pillowcase. If there’s a spread, make up the bed (sans sheets) until there’s time for someone else to do it – usually in preparation for the next guest.

My son and daughter-in-law have shoes off rule in their house. I’ve adopted it and keep a basket by the front door since I hate seeing shoes strewn everywhere.  Some adults may be taken aback, and if they’re coming to my once-a-year dressy dinner party, they may wear shoes. But the reality is that floors tend to creak when a building is more than 120 years old as is my Paris apartment. No one loves hearing footsteps above them or finding shoe polish on their upholstery.

A friend of mine asked me to compile a do’s and don’ts guide for people who rent her country home.  Clearly it wasn’t the same you’d send to guests.  But come to think of it, I may just write one specifically to friends and (some very recent) acquaintances.

It would save a lot of time. I wouldn’t need to explain about converter plugs, please don’t bring your U.S. voltage curling iron or the fuses will blow and, yes, I have 220 voltage hairdryers in each of the bathrooms.

Some people love staying with others. Unfortunately, I don’t happen to be one of them because I feel as if I have to wash the kitchen floor, paint the ceiling, and take out the trash before the wastebasket is full.

And since I’m the guest, I feel it’s my responsibility to pay for dinner. After one go-around as a houseguest, I calculated that it cost more to be a guest than if we’d stayed in the town’s hotel. Plus, I feel terribly embarrassed asking whether or not someone has Wi-Fi since Bonjour Paris isn’t a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.  If it were, I could take a real vacation!  What a nice thought… er, fantasy.

Please add any tips or thoughts you might have for being a good host.  Ditto for being the perfect houseguest!


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Posted in Paris |

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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Posted in Around the World |

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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Posted in Around the World, Paris |

Don’t cry for Argentina, but open your wallet

Written by admin on January 7, 2010 – 10:15 am -

One of the things many travelers don’t factor into their trip expenditures is the cost of coming and going to certain countries. Depending on your passport, you may be in for a surprise when you purchase a plane ticket. If it didn’t set you back enough, you may have to buy your way in and out of the country and obtain a visa.

A hot off the press add-on fee pertains to Americans, Canadians and Australians who are flying into the Buenos Aires airport. Effective December 28, 2009, the Argentine Immigration Office implemented a reciprocity fee.

Happily, you can pay for the visas at the airport and won’t be turned away if you arrive without a stamp in your passport. There’s a desk at the airport and as long as you have cash, a credit card or traveler’s checks, you’re good to go.

The fees are:

$70 for Canadian Nationals and it’s valid for only one entry
$131 for United States citizens that is valid for ten years
$100 for Australians that can be used for only one entry.

Flight crews, people from the above countries, who have legal residences in Argentina, plus people with official or diplomatic passports are exempt from paying entry fees.

While you’re thinking security and the myriad aspects involved in air travel, ascertain whether or not a visa is required. The airline should know but that doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for checking the government’s official tourist site. Another caveat: be sure your passport doesn’t expire within six months of your return ticket to the U.S. A conscientious airline representative can (and should) forbid your boarding the outgoing flight.

Leafing through my passport, I realize it represents a mini-fortune documenting my travels and some didn’t come cheap. You have the option of sending your passport, the supporting paperwork and passport photos to the consulate of the country where you’re intending to travel or using an Expedititor Service to facilitate the process. A Briggs is one of many of these companies and you do pay a premium in addition to the cost of the visas listed on their site.

Who says travel is glamorous when there so many variables? But for travel junkies like me, each visa stamp brings back memories I’ll never forget.

Come to think of it, it’s a good thing I returned from Buenos Aires on December 18th, 2009 or I’d be out an additional $131. On the other hand, I’d be able to return to Argentina without having to ante up additional cash.

Many Consumer Traveler readers travel extensively. Have you ever forgotten to obtain a visa before leaving the U.S.? And what’s the most expensive visa you’ve had to buy? In my case, I’d wager it’s my collection of visas permitting entrance into Vietnam.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

Photo: detail of print by Tina Chaden


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Some do’s and don’t of vacation rentals – will you fall in love?

Written by admin on December 15, 2009 – 3:21 pm -

Having written extensively about vacation rentals, I’ve learned quite a lot since I took the plunge and rented an apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After years of advising Bonjour Paris readers to stay in apartments rather than hotels, in order to experience a place as a quasi-local, it was my turn.

Never having been to the Paris of South America (and speaking no Spanish), B.A. had been on my must-visit list. An acquaintance decided she wanted to perfect her tango so an apartment was the best solution. Eating every meal out is expensive and two people (who’ve never traveled together) confined to one room could spell disaster.

The Internet is a wonderful thing when selecting a temporary home. Enter vacation rentals or short-term rental apartments plus the name of the destination in the search function and you’ll be inundated by choices. Too many. The selection process is challenging, especially in this economic market, when people might opt to rent out properties rather than sell them.

Renting an apartment site unseen is akin to a blind date. Will you fall in love even if you’ve looked at lots of photos?  Wide angle lenses and photo-shop can do wonders.

Tips I’ve learned from being on the buyer’s end:

- Do initial research about the city. Decide what you want to see and study the transportation system. Opting to rent a less expensive apartment a bit out of town, may ultimately end up costing you more money if you’re wedded to taking taxis or are locked into spending time commuting to see what you’ve come to see and do. Surf the web and if you like paper, buy a guide book or two. The DK-Eyewitness Travel “Top 10 Buenos Aires” book with its pull out map was my bible.

- If you’re a woman alone – or traveling with another – evaluate your comfort level if you want to return home late from dinner, or in the case of B.A., a milonga (a tango hall) that doesn’t get started until 11 p.m.

- Reality check: if you’re going to be somewhere for only two or three days, it’s probably not worth renting digs. You’ll need to hit the grocery store and buy essentials such as soap, etc.  Consider whether or not you want or need a concierge or someone to set up tours, make suggestions and/or dinner reservations for you.

How to evaluate a property:

Make certain there’s a high-speed Internet connection if you’re off to a city. Even if you’re not taking your computer and have no need to be on-line, it signifies the landlord caters to business travelers and usually, a more upscale market. Take a careful look at the photos of the kitchen and the bathroom facilities. Living rooms and bedrooms can look charming. Photos of them can be deceptive but they can’t hide an antiquated kitchen or circa 1942 bathroom plumbing fixtures.

How soon and how thoroughly is your rental request answered? People who are professionals are very responsive because there’s so much competition.

Always ask the size of the apartment. A two-bedroom apartment isn’t necessarily spacious when it comes to Americans’ expectations. Forty-square meters is tiny (440-square-feet) and believe it or not, some apartments with those dimensions are intended to accommodate four people.

Do you want to stay in someone’s apartment or are you more comfortable staying in one that’s used exclusively for rentals? A just-rental apartment tends to be less personal. On the other hand, you may not be tripping over the owner’s belongings.

Is the apartment’s owner (or rental agency) willing to have you speak with previous tenants? Is there a manual to the property and a 24-hour-contact number in the event there’s a serious problem with the apartment?

We rented a renovated two-bedroom apartment on the 17th floor that was ideal for sharing. Its American owner emailed a response within one hour of the inquiry and his support staff was excellent. There was a car waiting for us at the airport and someone who met us when we checked in and explained everything in perfect English. There were even cards for us that included the apartment’s address and all of the telephone numbers including the cell phone that was there for our use. We had no complaints. Judy and I were able to share an apartment without getting in each others way since we kept very different schedules.

Another group of apartments that intrigued me were Apartments in a Recoleta Mansion that have been developed by a 38-year-old San Francisco native. Brent Federighi decided to restore the facade  rather than tearing down the building, which so many builders have done in B.A. since it’s easier and less costly. The 18 apartments have the  feel of a boutique hotel. There’s a lobby and a concierge on the ground floor office plus a small pool on the building’s roof.

These apartments are being sold to individuals who want to own a pied-à-terre but want to defray its cost. It’s better than a time-share for those who have money to invest and want an occasional home in Buenos Aires.

Even though where you stay for a short vacation isn’t a life or death matter, it can impact your feeling about a place. Prospective tenants need to read between the lines of rental ads. It’s not always obvious.

Do you have additional tips?  Or have you rented a place to find out it’s a dive upon arrival? If so, what did you do?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


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Medical Musts or Maybes When Traveling

Written by admin on November 15, 2009 – 3:33 pm -

Anyone who’s traveling these days should take extra health precautions. This isn’t targeted only to people going from one continent to another. They may be taking a driving or train trip—or for that matter, going to visit friends or relatives during the upcoming holiday season. But that doesn’t negate the need to be prepared.

Driving long distances can play havoc with people’s bodies. Do stop every couple of hours if only to take a walk around the car even if you don’t need to use the facilities. Some rest stops are cleaner than others, so it doesn’t hurt to take some baby wipes with you, even if you’re not traveling with the infant or toddler set.

Whichever way you’re traveling, having a bottle of water with you is a good idea and even if you’re the best of friends or family, don’t share them. Take individual ones and fill them from water fountains when you stop for gas. I’m not implying you do this in Mexico – but if you’re close to home, chances are the water’s safe to drink. If there’s any question about this, buy a gallon bottle and fill your personal bottles from it. During these days of coughs, colds and flu, why chance catching something you might not if you’re extra cautious?

I’m not one who sees germs everywhere. But having just flown in three planes for cumulatively 24 hours, my antenna is at an all-time high. Considering the hacking and sneezing going on, I bet some people are feeling not so hot (or perhaps they’re feeling too hot since they’ve come down with a fever) because they contracted someone else’s germs and made them their own. Airplanes (whether or not the air is circulated) can’t help but be breeding grounds for infections and one sneeze may be enough to do the trick.

When I take long flights, I use an ointment (a type of menthol one) in my nostrils. My others musts are my own blanket, pillow and items the airlines may have cleaned but have not 100% sanitized.

My travel kit includes earphones, a tiny bottle of Purell and hand wipes. Many people tend to have sensitive stomachs when confronted with new foods – so pills for any and every GI problem are in my survival kits. Ditto for antacids. There’s nothing worse than a sour stomach when embarking on a new adventure.

Don’t forget throat lozenges in case you feel a tickle in your throat. A friend takes an entire sack of homeopathic drugs. She swears by them and come to think of it, never gets sick when she’s away from home.

Some people definitely have better immune systems than others. Not departing on a trip exhausted definitely gives most travelers a step up on overcoming jet-lag, adjusting to food, water and air in new environments.

Be sure your shots are up to date. Contact your doctor or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for a list of necessary vaccinations. Allow plenty of time for this step in case you need to get vaccines that require more than one dose if you’re headed overseas. Even if you’re just going camping, be certain your tetanus shot is up to date. A cut shouldn’t necessitate your making a trip to the nearest hospital if you’ve encountered a rusty nail.

When traveling to a location where I may contract an exotic disease and won’t have access to an English-speaking doctor, I pack Tamiflu and Cipro with printouts with when and how to use them. Happily, I’ve never had the need.

This may sound crazy but pack a bar of soap, one you usually use or have tested. I should confess that I caused a houseguest to contract (what felt like) a killer case of hives. He was incapacitated from welts and the subsequent itching. When I had to ask my Paris pharmacist for some cream so this person could move without being miserable, I had a case of serious humiliation.

Even though houseguests may not be a blessing, death by savon isn’t polite. Plus, it’s embarrassing when the story is told – and retold. And this type of happening invariably makes the rounds. “She did what?” is said with giggles and more than a bit of incredibility.

What do you pack when you’re traveling? Prescriptions (and always get a written one for refills from your MD if you’re going to be away for any period of time) and your usual medications are givens. But do you have other musts? There’s no way I could have included everything.


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Posted in Around the World |

Tipping while traveling — more questions than answers

Written by admin on November 2, 2009 – 4:25 pm -

With so much information easily accessible on the Internet, most travelers are still clueless about tipping. Many have no idea of how much they should tip and to whom? If you’re on a tour or a cruise, travelers receive guidelines and some of the tips are automatic. But, for travelers on their own, a sense of local tipping rules are need-to-know facts. Otherwise, travelers may come away leaving locals with the impression that they’re rude, condescending or stupid tourists.

One purported resource is: The Conde Nast Tipping Guide. It’s a start. Tipping rules vary by country, by region and by the scenario. However, many locals feel this Conde Nast chart is out of whack as well. If you are not totally confused after reading this post, add your own tipping stories.

Tipping gaffs are international — foreigners don’t know our rules, just like we don’t know theirs. One of the reasons many Europeans receive bad raps in U.S. restaurants is because the tip is already included in the tab at home. They may choose to leave a few extra coins to show their appreciation. But, it’s no where near the traditional tip of 15% U.S. waiters expect to receive.

Because of this, some restaurants in areas that attract a lot of foreign visitors, note on the menu that tips aren’t included (or clearly state they are included). It’s not unusual for the management to state an 18% tip will be included on checks when six or more people are dining. (Of course that can happen anywhere, even in non-touristy spots.)

If the service has been less than satisfactory, it’s up to the clients to make their feelings known. First, you have to find the manager on duty.

Note: For Americans used to tipping 15-20 percent and traveling in areas frequented by foreign tourists, check your restaurant bill carefully. Often the tip is unexpectedly included. Nothing is more irritating that finding that you unexpectedly tipped again on top of the original tip.

Even here at on American turf, tipping rules are somewhat confusing. Travels don’t have to be international to be confusing.

Americans tend to tip the service people with whom they do business including the person who brings you your car (you do want to see your car again and relatively quickly) if you frequent that garage. Tipping is expected at the hairdresser, barbershop, the person who grooms your dog and the list goes on. Are you supposed to tip the owner of a hair salon if she or she does your hair?  The technical answer is no. But have you ever seen your “thank you” turned away?

Hotel guests frequently overlook tipping the maids who take care of their rooms. Who does what and when may be a mystery and how do you know the correct person is collecting the money? Either you can tip as your go if you see the housekeeper or you’ve made a special request for extra towels or more. If there’s a day crew, a night staff and then there are weekends, you might want to leave an envelope at the front desk for the head of housekeeping and hope he or she passes on your monetary thank you.

Do you tip the concierge? I always do if he or she has done something special, such as making a restaurant reservation.

How much do you tip the bell-hop for dragging suitcases to your room?

Are you expected to deposit something in the doorman’s palm each and every time you leave or enter the hotel? Or do you save your money for when a  taxi appears because of his magic whistle or wave?

Don’t necessarily do as the locals do. Yes, they’re definitely a good frame of reference. But there may be different rules for people who live in place rather than visit it. And you won’t always get a 100% accurate response if you ask a waiter whether or not the tip is included. Some waiters in the E.U. have an interesting way of interpreting that question that ends up with the diner forking over some extra money.

Read what it says on the bottom of a check before making up your mind as to whether or not an additional gratuity is expected. If one is, it’s more appreciated if left in cash rather than on a credit card. Not that I’m an authority but it has something to do with the tax man.

Most people have made gaffs when it comes to tipping. When I insisted on giving a taxi driver in China something more than was shown on the meter, the tip was quickly and audibly returned. I wasn’t aware taxis are equipped with with microphone and tipping isn’t allowed. Live and learn.

A group of us are still  feeling (somewhat) guilty over our not tipping when we were having a drink recently. We waited 20 minutes before our drink orders were taken as we were bellied up to the bar. When a table freed up in front of it, we grabbed it taking our Martinis with us. No one bothered to clear or clean the table so we were sitting among glasses and dirty napkins and empty dishes. We were hoping for a second drink but we were invisible.

When the check arrived, our host forked over a credit card but omitted adding a tip. The bar’s owner marched right over and chastised us for not adding a tip or making a slash in the tip amout line and insisted it be done. One of our group decided to write a summary of everything  that was wrong and we exited quickly.

We were fine with that decision because we had zero service. Our host wasn’t, because it’s the only place in her tiny town that has a bar and she might need to return there.

Everyone has tipping stories of when they’ve tipped too much or not enough and when they’ve regretted it. Add yours to the comment section and add to the confusion. Some are even worth a few giggles because cultural differences are precisely that.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


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