Living in Paris for Too Long?

Written by kvfawcett on December 23, 2010 – 11:26 am -

Wait, there’s no such thing as living in Paris for too long. Anyway, that’s my opinion.  Anyone who reads Bonjour Paris is aware I’ve been a champion of its positives for so many years that I feel as if the French government should be employing me. At the very least, it should give me a medal. A Légion d’Honneur would be acceptable, but I’d never be so presumptuous.

Paris isn’t perfect, but it’s always pretty good. UNESCO, suffering from too long a diet of Parisian cuisine, wants to declare French cooking a World Heritage… thing, I guess. Next, we can start looking for monumental bronzes of blanquette de veau, navarin d’agneau, and moules marinière strewn here and there around the city to reflect—or gloat at—the honor. Any city has its frustrations and annoyances, but France is filled with so many good things beyond its food that I always look at it with something like stars, or maybe they’re tears of joy, in my eyes.

I’m writing from Washington, D.C., where my family and friends gathered for Thanksgiving. As expatriates know, being with family takes on a very significant meaning the longer you’ve been away from where you were born, grew up or where your nuclear family resides.

When I moved to France in 1988 (for six months that morphed into 13 months and then…), seeing family and friends was no big deal. Invite and they would appear—and more often than one might really want when there were deep-discounted airfare wars so Americans could travel to Paris, often for less that $300 round trip, including taxes, but excluding TSA knows-all-sees-all screenings or security pat-downs.

My son would come to Paris at the drop of a hat and an issued ticket. My mother even arrived one year with a Butterball turkey defrosting in the cargo department because those were the days when it was impossible to buy a large enough bird to feed our friends for Thanksgiving dinner.

Since then, times have changed. Family members have died and dynamics have shifted. My son and his wife have two perfect daughters, and transporting this mob isn’t so easy, plus the cost isn’t insignificant. The children also have other grandparents and interests that have nothing to do with strolling around the Luxembourg Garden. Expats can either decide to miss out or take their turn to pick up and make the reverse commute, whether it’s transatlantic or simply flying across the continent.

Much to my surprise, it’s hard to avoid culture shock no matter how frequently you go from one place to the other, and this even holds true when assembling this traditional family meal where you’d feel guilty if you were to serve roast beef.

What’s the most striking when you live in France versus the U.S. is that a fresh turkey costs 89 cents per pound (if you have a grocery store loyalty card) and one trip does it all. The cranberries and all of the fixings were in the same area and I didn’t need to go to four stores to find what was needed to serve the crowd.

I certainly needed a car to get the many (too many) bags home, but come to think of it, if I’d been in Paris, the groceries could have been delivered whereas relatively few chain grocery stores offer that service unless you order online, and somehow that doesn’t feel right for such an important meal.

If you’re the type of cook I am, you have to meet the turkey (even through it’s wrapped in plastic) before making the commitment to stuff the bird and spend part of the day basting and making two different types of potatoes, corn bread, cranberry sauce—and that’s just the beginning.

Living away from the U.S. causes you to forget the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the dirigibles or are they blimps or very large blow-up dollies? The thing that has shocked me the most is the Black Friday phenomenon. I haven’t been away from the U.S. so long that I do remember the day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been the kick-off date for Christmas shopping, but it seems to have acquired a new and malign branding, as if a holiday itself. Shop or else! Line up at three in the morning! Trample the slowpokes!  Sounds a little like bayonet training.

However, having stores open at midnight is news to me. In recent years, Wal-Mart would open before dawn, but now everything is discounted and how. Winter sales in France don’t begin until January 12th, so don’t think you can get away without paying retail for gifts that are going to be delivered by St. Nicholas, Santa or an emissary. And now that people walk around with electronic devices that can surf the internet such as an iPhone, iPod, Android, Blackberry or some other claptrap, the retailers are expecting you to say you’ve located the desire of your heart for six bucks less somewhere else and they’ll meet the lower price.

Even though the developed world is becoming more homogeneous, there are simply traditions that don’t change in one place contrasted to another.  Most people would consider that a plus, but it still takes more than a bit of compromising and adapting to different styles of living.

The one constant is that if you cook a turkey either in France or in the U.S. these days, there always seem to be leftovers. But I’m still convinced that born-and-bred-in-the-USA birds are fatter. The other constant is that no matter where this meal is served, the hosts leave the table wondering how so many dishes could have been used, and if they’re lucky enough to have a dishwasher, odds are that more than one load will be required if you’ve invited a crowd.

Even though I consider myself more than flexible, will I be continually confronted and feel a boomerang effect because of cultural differences.  Or will I be able to say, here is here and there is there?

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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In Washington D.C. and Paris Bound

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:11 pm -

I’m in Washington D.C., getting ready to head to Paris—and am I ever glad. I’ll miss my family, but we’ll resume our weekly Skype sessions. To tell you the truth, though, the girls are leading their own lives and becoming increasingly busy with school, birthday parties and things children do.

I’m looking at the clothes to be packed, gathering papers that seem to travel with me no matter where I go, and making mental notes of chores I need to do, such as alert my US phone carrier to reactivate roaming, so I won’t be hit with a mega bill when emails start rolling in the minute I arrive in France. My lists are beginning to multiply.

Electronics are sitting in one corner including a Kindle in addition to extra large jars of crunchy peanut butter, bars of pink Dove soap, bags of Hershey’s chocolate kisses and two bags of dark brown organic sugar which is probably available in France. Still on my to-do list: a run to a drug store that sells vitamins and other pills in super-size-me bottles.

I’m not living in fear over the current strikes. To be honest, I’m more concerned over the weather, so thank goodness for waterproof shoes, raincoats and umbrellas. For the past seventeen years, the Bonjour Paris mantra has been you don’t come to France for the climate.

Don’t get me wrong. I am following the strikes very carefully, reading the French news, watching France 24 and knowing the strikers are determined to strike and will do so until… well, until what always happens happens once again. They will stop because no one really believes the president and the legislature are going to cancel the retirement-reform legislation. And not everyone is happy: schools are closed, which the students may enjoy, but the parents of young ones do not. High school students are also protesting.

In case you’ve missed it, gasoline is beginning to run low in the tank farms—and the refineries are closed. But the French government is telling the gas companies to use their own reserves and don’t think they can tap into the government’s month-long reserve. Will the government force the lines to be open to supply fuel to Paris’s airports?

I am constantly querying friends in Paris as to whether or not they’re suffering and not being able to navigate within the city itself. Are grocery stores being raided? Are people stocking up on wine (this is as good an excuse as any) and has life come to a grinding halt? The answer has been no unless they are depending on trains; if so, there will more than likely be some inconvenience. One friend says she’s postponed her trips from the Loire to see her dentist in Paris, but it’s not the end of the world.

There are noises (and loud ones) about fuel supplies being cut off at Paris’s two airports. Will it mess up my flight? Time will tell and I may be fuming if my plane doesn’t depart much less arrive in Paris. However, this is a part (the worst part) of the travel experience and even though I’m eager to arrive home and walk through the Luxembourg Garden, if I don’t get home at the appointed hour, I’ll have something to write about next week.

Having lived in France for the past 22 years, I’ve learned unions (declining in membership) strike first and then negotiate. Actually, it’s a bit funnier than that. First, they issue a préavis, a notice that they intend to strike on a certain day. Then they strike, issue several more préavis, do it again, and then they negotiate or, as I suspect in this case, they simply go back to work. How much inconvenience they cause is another story. But here’s a précis: The flights that have been canceled (although not long-haul ones) cause havoc. The Eiffel Tower was closed for one day. If I’d only had one day in Paris, I might have been upset.

French postal workers are now making noises about striking. Yes, that would be an inconvenience. But nothing like it was when there wasn’t any mail the first winter I moved to Paris. Nor were there many faxes and who’d heard of the internet? That was the winter of major discontent (plus my being homesick) and a telephone bill that precipitated some very heated conversations between my husband and me.

I have attended so many strikes that feel more like a 4th of July parade—where people sing, chant, and naturally eat. Note that in France, attending strikes is similar to going to the movies: you don’t participate, but you do watch—and incidentally get counted as part of the manifestation. There are always food trucks and strikers stop before dinner because most French wouldn’t consider missing their evening meal.

People form a type of solidarity during strikes. I’ve hitchhiked, ridden on the back of motor scooters, biked and confined my projects to places I can walk. I cyber-commute no matter where I am, so I have a definite advantage.

The key point is the government is not going to cave in over the pension reform. As an American, the idea of retiring at 62 sounds pretty good to me. France has the lowest retirement age in the EU except for Greece, where the government—good luck to them!—is trying to raise the retirement age for women from 50 and for men from 57 to 60 and 62. Germany’s retirement age is 65 and it’s being upped to 67.

One thing I do want to weigh in over is the fact that CNN, France 24 and other media outlets can cause things to look worse than the reality. As I’ve said, no one I know—or have read about—is actually suffering anything more than inconvenience so far. And it worth noting that even some of the students who are protesting have conceded that life expectancy is much longer than it was when the current pension system was established.

Strikes to worry about: dock strikes, fuel strikes, truckers because of the movement of goods (e.g., food), etc. Would my bet be this will be the last strike? No. Do I think there will be more days of disruption? Yes! And, for the record, striking or attending a strike beats working. And the poor French Socialists think they’ve got a lock on the presidency in 2012. They also think Galileo was wrong and the sun revolves around la belle France.

My worries are more centered on France’s long-term economy, the euro zone and the fact that too much bread is being pre-made in factories. In spite of these problems, and given my druthers, I wouldn’t live anyplace else.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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It’s Hard to Feel French Here

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:11 pm -

It’s hard to feel French when you’re not in France. Or is it? The fact of the matter is I tend to see things with a French point of view even when I’m in the U.S.

There’s no question it’s undoubtedly easier since I’m in Washington, DC, which acquires an internationalist undercurrent from the embassies and transnational institutions such as the World Bank, the German Marshall Fund, and the Organization of American States. On the other hand, the Luxembourg Garden is only a block away from my apartment in Paris. And in Paris, my usual two-minute sprint to the bakery finds me returning home with a just-out-of-the oven baguette that smells so good, it’s rare when it gets to the apartment without my having devoured (at the very least) its heel—which they tell me, anyway, is required by French law.

My D.C. digs don’t have local clochards or street people visible within a block or two of my walking out the door. I’d have to get in the car to find someone begging for coins, which is easily done. But I don’t make a habit of going downtown in order to be benevolent. And if I do, the best option available to me, since I don’t like giving cash to fuel their next drunk, is to buy some poor soul a burger from McDonalds instead of a chunk of Brie, which I am told on occasion is not yet ripe enough to eat.

Even though I’m less than two miles from the White House, the apartment is in the suburbs. Rather than seeing rooftops, I look at treetops from the 14th floor windows.

Having said that, my neighbor across the hall is French, in addition to many other residents. Come to think of it, that shouldn’t be a shock since there are more than 250 units in the building. Because the elevators are gargantuan compared to my retrofitted one in Paris, where you feel you have to get married if there are more than two people in it, people tend to bump into one another frequently and have more of an opportunity to exchange words when the elevator stops at several floors on the way up to mine.

The mail arrives each afternoon and people tend to congregate and meet and greet and dump the junk mail into a paper recycle bin. There’s where I encounter more French natives. They work at the French Embassy, the International Monetary Fund, or another international organizations.

If you get on the mailing list, you can do something French each morning, noon and night. There’s the Alliance Française where you can enroll in French classes, attend lectures, participate in tours and meet a lot of people from the French community who cluster there. There’s also La Maison Française if you’re looking for French.

In addition, there’s an active international group that sponsors something to do or see practically every evening—including how to waltz—that took place at the French ambassador’s residence.

I’ve been invited to join a French movie group and have been remiss because I’m working and would rather try the French restaurants that spring up in the Washington area. Besides, I’m here for a finite period of time and would rather try to teach my granddaughters some French.

Not wanting to lose my knowledge about wines, many liquor stores sponsor wine tastings and some take place almost every day of the week. Winery representatives more than likely speak French because they are French or have learned it and are more than delighted to discuss its smell, taste, nose, and bouquet in their native tongue and are pleasant about putting up with my butchering their language and (contrasted to when I’m in Paris) don’t tease me about my accent or immediately start speaking English.

Wine bars are à la mode here and are multiplying like mushrooms. I try to concentrate on sampling French wines, but have been known to succumb to drinking wine from different countries, especially ones from California. Dollar for dollar (as weak as it is against the euro), my take is that comparable French wines cost less that ones from the Napa or Sonoma Valleys.

Some of Washington’s great pleasures are its museums, which are rarely as crowded as those in Paris. Go to the French collections at the National Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection and you see paintings that were created by France’s greatest masters. When I was in my teens, I lived two blocks away from the Phillips and would stop and sit in front of Renoir’s painting Luncheon of the Boating Party. That painting really motivated me to study the French Impressionists and painters from the French luminous period.

Some people comment that Americans tend to hang out with one another when they live in Paris and unless they’re coupled with a French native, they can live their lives as permanent expats.

It’s clear the same is true for the French who live in Washington. Their children can attend the French school and live in a relatively cloistered environment. But, isn’t that missing out on the best of different cultures and not assimilating? I have no illusions that anyone will ever think I’m French… unless they look into my inner soul.

But scratch even deeper and they’ll quickly see that I was born here and will always be a Washingtonian. For that matter there are few of us who can claim their family lived in the Nation’s Capital when it was a village and my granddaughters are fifth generation.

So, it’s a compromise, I suppose, but maybe an unequal one. The things I love about France and the French can be had in Washington, at the price of some effort and often enough money changing hands. In Paris, they’re just there.  I can’t do anything about it, so I have learned to live with the compromise and have grown to like it.

(c) 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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Up in the Air

Written by admin on June 16, 2010 – 11:56 am -

If you’ve been wondering what’s it’s been like, George Clooney had an easy time when it came to being a road warrior.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. George Clooney had a great time—believe me. He wasn’t trying to fly his way around volcanic ash or sleep on a cot in an airport for six days. Airport hotels? Heaven on earth given the alternatives.

Goorge Clooney could watch TV in his hotel room or the bar without being bewildered and depressed by cancellation notices, dire forecasts, and overflowing toilets. Nor did he have to deal with people sleeping everywhere or children crying. His life was good—or kinda.

Not wanting to miss the drama, I managed to arrive in Washington, DC in time for my granddaughter’s seventh birthday on the 24th. My flight wasn’t impacted in the same way as people who couldn’t take off last week and until Wednesday of this week. That’s when the airports officially opened in most of the E.U., even though flights were departing from some parts of Europe, depending on the day and the hour.

Please don’t think I’m making light of a dreadful situation. Rest  assured most people have concerns over the impact of volcanoes and climate change. But after all, volcanoes are natural and happen—honest—every day; they just tend to be smaller and politer. In any case, let’s hope we’ll never experience this type of travel disruption again.

Not only were the lives of passengers and flight crews disrupted, but planes weren’t where they were supposed to be. When the skies were declared safe, many flights were cancelled because there simply weren’t aircraft to transport people from here to there.

Robin Worrall, who writes special reports for The Danish Centre for Energy Savings in Copenhagen, was heading to Washington, DC. His initial flight from Denmark to London was cancelled. Luckily he was able to get a connection and made the first scheduled United flight to leave the U.K. on Thursday the 22nd, just when the ban was lifted.

Worrall admits to feeling a wee bit guilty, as well as lucky, as the plane departed, because he’d had a reservation on that specific flight. People who’d been stranded since the time Heathrow closed on the 14th surrounded him.

The flight attendants were in excellent spirits since many of them were returning home. They welcomed everyone as the passengers were boarding. Some commented about how expensive London was compared to the U.S. At least their housing was covered during the paid but unwanted furlough. That wasn’t the case for many others who had no option but to wait it out. No matter what was the reason for their trips, it was as if people had been handed “get-out-of-jail and pass-go-collect-$200” cards.

Before the DC-bound flight took off, the captain assured everyone that United wasn’t taking any chances. Off they went and after a few minutes, everyone clapped. The French aboard naturally shrugged and said, C’est normal. You’d think the plane would have had every seat filled, but much to Worrall’s surprise, there were two empty ones next to him in the Economy Plus section of the cabin. “I was lucky in every way,” he said. “The flight over was pleasant and we landed only eleven minutes late.”

Bonjour Paris’s events‘ editor Lisa Buros didn’t have the same luck. She and her fiancé were headed to the U.S. for their dream wedding, only to have to call it off because the guests would have arrived in time, but they wouldn’t, since their flights from London were cancelled and cancelled again.

Lisa adopted a stiff-upper-lip British attitude and has rescheduled the event. “We’re going to have a hurricane wedding in Las Vegas and do anything we please.” she said. The pair can’t wait to be surrounded by family and friends. Gee, this type of agony might have split some couples up. But I suspect this one will be dining out on this story for many years. And then some. No doubt the grandkids will roll their eyes.

As for me, I managed to make it to my granddaughter’s birthday and on time. But, I would have flown half way around the world to do so—and darn near did.

Please post your stories if you were inconvenienced by the volcano or were waiting for anyone who was. Let’s hope this will be the one and only occasion you’ll have the opportunity to rant this way.

If you were the recipient of an act of kindness while stranded, please share that as well. We’ve been hearing those stories too. Someone was musing as to whether or not there will be romances (even weddings) resulting from chance meetings in airports.

© Paris New Media, LLC


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Are The French Rude?

Written by admin on June 6, 2010 – 5:23 pm -

For years I’ve been denying the French are rude. People simply don’t understand cultural differences. Tourists who come to France should remember they’re guests. It’s their responsibility to learn about French culture and mores, before making grand pronouncements that they’re not well treated as soon as they land on Gallic soil.

There have been times I’ve nearly waged battle over what I believe to be massive misperceptions. Some people assume I’m a representative of the French Government’s tourist office since my mantra has been: smile, shake hands, say “bonjour” and “merci” and don’t assume your being here and spending money entitles you to jump to the front of the line.

The analogy I’ve made is Parisians tend to be like people who live and work in Manhattan and don’t necessarily make nice-nice to strangers—you know, the ones who look lost and ask for directions, in a foreign language no less, about how to travel from the lower East Side to the upper West Side without changing subway lines.

Imagine my upset when the results of a telephone poll conducted by the CSA (France’s Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) of 1000 French adults, who live outside of Paris, were made public.

The findings were devastating. But there had to be a reason. It was a sample of those who were willing to take the time to answer the questions, undoubtedly because others were too busy. How many times have you said no to a telemarketer or a survey-taker because you had other things on your plate—like dinner? I’m skeptical of the results, but here they are:

Parisians were found to be: arrogant, aggressive, snobbish, flirtatious, chauvinistic, feel they’re superior to people who live outside of Paris, and—dig this, Lotharios who hang out on the Champs-Élysées picking up women. It didn’t mention whether or not women were guilty of picking up men.

Thank goodness, “Marianne,” a political magazine ran an editorial alongside these findings. It was quick to say Parisians are under substantially more stress than people who live in other parts of France. Many have longer commutes to their jobs, work longer hours and, if the truth be told, they tend to be unpleasant to one another.

In addition, Parisians may have tourist fatigue since the city is a major tourist destination. Among the French, people from Brittany frequent Paris more than people from other parts of the country.

In spite of the fact that I constantly defend the French, Parisians are different from residents from other parts of France. When I split my time between Paris and Provence, I was constantly irritated by how long it took me to accomplish the most mundane things. I’d go into town to buy newspapers, bread and a few other things and it would invariably be a two-hour foray when I was in the country.

Why did people want to discuss everything and anything? I’d look behind me (when I finally got to the counter) and wonder whether or not these conversations were really necessary.

If I ran into a neighbor, it was considered rude if we didn’t stop for a coffee or a pastis. If I had a drink at 11 a.m., well, so much for the rest of the day. What I had to remember was that many of our neighbors were retired and that’s precisely the reason they settled in Provence. They were doing what they loved, and bless them. But I wasn’t into planting gardens (that was my husband’s passion) and please please, let me get home so I could access my passion Bonjour Paris.

As someone who loves to travel, we all have to learn that people march to their own drummers and at different paces. No matter where you go, rhythms are different.

When I spend time in Washington, DC, my pace slows down compared to Paris. Another thing I’ve learned is that no matter where I am, taxi drivers tend to be rude. It may be because they’re tired from having to fight traffic, busy listening to the radio and invariably are carrying on phone conversations— rarely these days in a language I understand.

My question (I’m ducking) is do you find Parisian rude? If you do, how could they change their behavior to make you more comfortable? Most people (and certainly ones in the hospitality industry) speak English. What can tourists learn from Parisians?


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Posted in Paris |

Could the DC metro crash been avoided?

Written by admin on June 26, 2009 – 5:25 pm -

At approximately 5 p.m. on Monday, June 22nd, two trains crashed on the packed commuter metro Red Line near Tacoma Park, Md.

The accident is the deadliest in the D.C.’s Metro’s 33-year history. Nine people were killed and least 76 people were injured and transported to hospitals.

After New York City, Washington’s rapid transit system, called the Metro, is the second-busiest urban rail system in the country. An average of 800,000 people use it each day. During President Obama’s inauguration, more the 1,200,000 people used it. The system has been in a constant growth mode as the  Metropolitan D.C. area has exploded into the suburbs.

Since the crash, there has been extensive debate as to whether or not the crash was due to a human or a mechanical error. Initially, reports attributed the accident to a human error on the part of the conductor, who was killed. After further examination, some of the cars were found to have mechanical faults.

District of Columbia’s Mayor Adrian Fenty has said the crash dramatizes the need for the rail system to be upgraded because some cars were found to have mechanical defects and others were overdue to be inspected. Federal transportation inspectors say it will require a minimum of six months until the reason for the crash is ascertained. Fenty said federal safety investigators are still searching for the cause of the crash and there’s no question the issue of rail car safety is a valid one.

The mayor is adamant that the transportation system must protect more people with stronger cars. The governments of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia operate the system jointly.

According to the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority,  metro trains in Washington will be manually operated by operators until further notice. This way, the train operator has full control of the train’s starts, stops and its speed. The operator must operate within specific speed parameters set by the signals or the train will automatically shut down.

Many people are questioning the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s liability. Many feel this accident could have been easily avoided. They don’t remember this is only the second accident where there were fatalities in the history of this rail transit system.

Do you think this will be a wake up call for cities throughout the world to institute more assiduous inspection systems?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Witnessing the beginning of a new era in Washington

Written by admin on January 21, 2009 – 9:23 pm -

I witnessed history in Washington yesterday. The expression sounds trite, but it’s true. People descended on the nation’s capital from everywhere for the big event.

There was such a feeling of solidarity. People who’d normally never talk to one another have become best friends as they waited — and waited — to board the Metro. Getting around the city was a walking event and people from all over the world gathered together to welcome President and Mrs. Barack Obama and his two daughters to the White House.

People were literally in tears — of happiness and from the cold — as they watched the 44th President of the United States be sworn in by the Chief Justice of the United States.

Even if they were nowhere near the Capitol, just being on the Mall was enough to be a part of the event.

There were at least twenty events taking place in Paris including one at the Hôtel de Ville (French for “City Hall”) today. Americans held celebrations all over the world.

If people couldn’t attend an event, they could sign onto the Internet. Facebook and other social networking sites enabled people to virtually participate in the swearing in and other festivities. More people watched this event than any previous inauguration – either on television or via the Internet.

Being in Washington holds special significance — welcoming the first black American President. Barack Obama is inheriting some the greatest problems the world has ever known.

Everyone, no matter their political affiliation or nationality, is unanimous in wishing him and his administration luck. Even though the weather was cloudy yesterday, the sun is shining.

How did you celebrate this Inaugural Day?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Sorry, no Inauguration Day tickets — or space on my floor

Written by admin on January 16, 2009 – 12:16 pm -

When you have digs in the Nation’s Capital, your popularity increases exponentially when Inauguration Day rolls around every four years.

This coming Tuesday is different from other recent Inauguration Days. An estimated four million people will be descending on Washington to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as America’s 44th president.

Festivities will commence at 10 a.m. at the west side of the U.S. Capitol. For the first time ever, the length of National Mall will be open for those wishing to attend the swearing-in ceremony.  Sure, there are bleachers with allocated seating. But obtaining a ticket is next to impossible and if you don’t have one by now, don’t plan on scoring one.

The President-elect and Vice President-elect and their families will participate in the traditional inaugural ceremonies and events that include performances by the United States Marine Band, the San Francisco Boys Chorus as well as that city’s Girls Chorus.

After proceeding with the formalities including speeches, invocations, musical selections, Vice-President Biden will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and Barack H. Obama will take the Oath of Office, administered by Chief Justice, the Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.

President Obama will then deliver his Inaugural address. That’s simply the beginning of the day and the formalities.

Later in the evening, there are ten official Inaugural Balls taking place in the city. President and Mrs. Obama will make an appearance at each of them. They’ll be surrounded by the members of the Secret Service and the Press Corps. People will be able to see what dress Mrs. Obama is wearing (and, later, read about every detail).

If you’re a woman who’s attending a ball, do not buy a new dress. The balls are so jammed-packed that you’re going to feel like a sardine and your outfit will end up looking as if came from the Salvation Army — and I don’t mean a chic second-hand store. Most dresses don’t survive being stepped on, having drinks poured down them and other mini or major catastrophes. Men are expected to wear Black Tie.

Unfortunately, I can’t get you a ticket to a ball. They were doled out long ago. Even the “peoples’ ball” tickets were sold out before you could navigate buying them on the Internet.

Transportation is going to be another horror. The District of Columbia isn’t equipped to deal with so many people. Bridges to and from Virginia are going to be closed and the only way to navigate the city will be by metro, some buses and more to the point, by foot.  Yes, there will be private cars for dignitaries and the very rich. But don’t plan on renting one now.

Do access this Web site: Metro on Inauguration Day to see what’s available. Please remember it’s going to be cold. Be prepared to walk. A lot of areas are going to be closed off for security reasons.

So what plans have area residents made?  Some have rented their places and left town. Others are stocking supplies and have decided to watch this historic day in the comfort of their own homes. Many others whom I know will go to a neighborhood bar and celebrate (and drink) while watching a large screen television.

Some people are throwing parties in private homes, delighted to avoid the massive crowds. The one I am attending is “Black tie, pot luck and please bring a bottle of champagne.”

If you haven’t made your plans by now, you’re pretty much out of luck. Hotels are filled, albeit you can still find a few rooms on Craig’s List.

If you can physically get to the Nation’s Capital, you can try calling friends to see if they have an available blow-up mattress. Whatever you do, don’t request a ride to the festivities downtown. Your hosts may like you a lot but some things are out of the question.

If you are Washington, DC bound, what plans have you made, when did you make them and how will you be spending your time here?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.  She is currently in Washington but doesn’t have an inch of  floor left in her apartment.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |