The Obama Family Comes to France

Written by admin on June 13, 2009 – 11:49 am -

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

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

After the ceremony in Normandy, the Obama family spent time touring the City of Light. How exciting the sites must have been for Sasha, who celebrated her eighth birthday in Paris, and ten-year-old Malia. They’ll have a lot to tell their friends and classmates. No child leaves the Eiffel Tower without stars in her eyes — even ones who live in the White House. The family visited Notre Dame Cathedral where they heard a 45-minute-long private concert and climbed the 350 stairs to the top of the landmark. The Pompidou Center was another stop during this special weekend.

Hundreds of people stood behind police barriers to watch the Obama family take a brief sightseeing excursion that also included their driving by the Champs Elysées and the Place de la Concorde, across the Seine and through the Latin Quarter. Bystanders cheered and applauded as the motorcade passed.

President and Mrs. Obama dined at La Fontaine de Mars, a traditional French bistro with red-and-white checked tablecloths that’s located near the Eiffel Tower. The restaurant, which opened in 1908, is popular with both natives and tourists. It isn’t fancy, but it’s fun and the food is good.

The family stayed at the 19th century residence of the U.S. ambassador, 200 yards away from the Elysée Palace. The mansion, once owned by the Rothschild banking family, has a lush garden with roses and magnolia trees. President Obama said he’d love nothing more than to spend free time in Paris touring with his family and taking them to the Luxembourg Garden. But he returned to Washington while his family remained in Paris for a couple of extra days. The girls’ school year has already come to an end.

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

Thierry Baudier, CEO of the recently formed tourist entity, Atout France, Jean-Phillipe Perol, Director Americas of Atout France office in New York, have staged major marketing campaigns targeting Americans. The French may not have approved of the Bush Administration’s policies, but they hold nothing against Americans as individuals. If Anglophone visitors attempt to speak French in Paris, I’ll wager they will receive a response in English, especially in hotels and restaurants and service-oriented businesses.

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

Tourism accounts for 6.9% of French GDP and is a high priority for the government. Between 2.5 and 3 million Americans come to France yearly and many are repeat visitors.

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

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

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

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

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