Tag Archives: france

Stereotypes

The oldest house in Paris, next to the Jardin de l’hôtel de Sens

Which makes the house, duh, l’hôtel de Sens. Since you’re curious, here’s a bit of the garden.

The garden and hôtel pictured are in the area of Paris known as Saint-Paul. You can call up a walking tour of the quarter on your phone and follow it around, which is what we were doing when we visited this garden, which is in fact a lovely park in a quiet neighborhood. The building is medieval, as you can see. Most of Paris was razed and redone during the 19th century at the behest of Napoleon III, but a few things, like this and Notre Dame, were spared. So it’s worth looking for.

While we were looking for it, and other parts of the quarter, we walked looking at our phones. Time after time a Parisian native would stop us and ask us if we needed help finding something. Of course, we didn’t, but this behavior was from people popularly thought of as snooty and unhelpful, on the good side. I’m here to tell you that such is not at all the case. Indulge me in another story if you will, this time involving motor fuel and cash.

Tami and I carry the same credit card, so when one of ours (nevermind) was lost on the bus from the airport to the Gare Montparnasse, we had to cancel it. This meant that we had no credit card with which to buy gasoline for our rental car. (We did set it up so that the card was valid for the rental car company, and nobody else, until the end of our rental period.) (Europecar. I recommend them.) We took a train to Angoulême, where we stayed for five days. Charente is a beautiful area (formerly a province, but long story,) and here’s the view out of our bedroom window to prove it.

A view to the East from Angoulême near the center of town.

From Angoulême we drove to Bordeaux, Saint Émilion, Cognac, Royan, and Chabonais over the course of several days. By that time we were low on gas. The station we found (there aren’t as many as we have here) was credit cards only at the pump. The kiosk where one can convert cash to a ticket with which to buy fuel was broken. Thing is, I had never really spoken French before, but when we decided to ask someone to use their card and I’d give them cash (our debit card still worked at least, but not on gas pumps) I looked around and saw only French people. It was raining hard, too. I asked the man at the next pump, “comprendez-vous Ainglais?” and got a “non.” Digging deep, deep into what I’ve learned from various sources (Duolingo is a great place to start) I then used my no doubt horrible French to ask him the favor. He was eager to help the poor American, and I gave him fifty Euros, after which he pumped fifty Euros and one cent worth of gas into our car. (Amazingly, that exactly filled the tank.) I gave him every compliment in French I could think of, and he smilingly said goodbye.

I ask you, is that rude and unhelpful? (Spoiler alert — no, it is exactly the opposite of rude and unhelpful.)

I’ve posted about this before, but whatever you do to other people is reflected back on to you. In France, we take pains to be polite. French polite. That means always say hello, please, thank you, and goodbye. To everybody. Sounds silly, right?

Not to the fine, friendly, helpful people of France it doesn’t. Votre santé, France!

 

Europe and Me: A Travelogue

flag_of_europe
The Flag of the European Union
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The Flag of France
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The Flag of Belgium
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The Flag of Luxembourg
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The Flag of the Netherlands (Holland)
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The Flag of Germany

This is my first post about a recent trip Tami and I took to Germany, France,

Luxembourg, Germany again, Holland, Germany again, Belgium, Germany with a side trip to Belgium, and finally just Germany. This post is about similarities and differences between the USA and those countries. There are some, but not so many as you might imagine.

For an instance of sameness, McDonalds. We ate at one that was next to our hotel in Luxembourg City. It was just a McDonalds. And there are also a lot of KFCs there, with Burger King being the third most numerous fast food place that we saw. This is pretty much the same ratio as here at home, but without all the other choices thrown in. Although, come to think of it, there were enough Pizza Huts to be interesting. Also, crossing a border is just like crossing a state line. If you don’t watch the signs, you’ll never know.

Something different? Consider, have you ever, in the USA, tried to exit a shop by pushing on the door, only to discover that the door must be pulled? Me neither. But that happens in Europe! And, apparently, it is so ingrained in my American consciousness that I don’t try to pull, even after having experienced the need a bunch of times.

Thing is, in the USA and Canada too, if you need to leave a store in a hurry, and you run headlong into the door, said door will open. That’s a safety requirement. I think that new stores in Europe must meet that same requirement, but if so, darned if they’re requiring any retrofits!

So, is the European Union better or worse than the United States? Well, they are different, and the same, so the answer is yes and no. Frankly, our highways are better. Frankly, their food is better. So, whattya wanna do? Eat or drive?

Okay, not that simple. I’ll be posting more in the future. And now I have a brand spanking new bunch of photographs to post at the head of my Wednesday writing blog! Life is good!

A Trip Around Europe Parte Trois

I left us in Barcelona going to the airport. The hotel staff got us a taxi at a quarter to five in the morning and off we went. Remember that forty Euros it took us to get to the hotel? Getting back to the airport cost us over fifty. I was pretty sure that driver was going the long way, but I didn’t know the town well enough to tell him what was the right way. (That’s what works in Vegas.) Well, phoo!

I told you about Stansted Airport being a long way from London. When we landed in France we were at Beauvais, home of a famous cathedral and about 75 kilometers (45 miles) North of Paris. There’s no train. So, after over a hour on a bus, we found ourselves about twenty Metro minutes (Paris calls its subway “Metro” just like Barcelona) from the station nearest to our hotel. Only it wasn’t really. So, after a brisk hike in the Parisian countryside (the countryside looks amazingly like a cityscape in that region) we finally found our Holiday Inn Express. We were not all that far from the Flanders Gate, which is odd because the other side of that gate (or “porte”) is just more Paris. We were hungry so we went out in search of an authentic Paris restaurant in which to sample some authentic French cuisine (the word “cuisine” means “kitchen”). That’s why we ate ravioli at a pizza joint. Aaaah, Paris! That night we did even better and I had a McChicken at, well you know where to get McChickens, don’t you?

Receipt from a Paris McDonalds
Not exactly haute, but it was hot.

A cool thing we discovered is that, at least on weekends, the Avenue de Flandres has a flea market along the median strip. They were selling all sorts of stuff, from Sinatra records (got one) to Wall ovens. We also bought some mid-century drinking glasses. They may have been made in Hoboken for all I know but they fit the theme of our “cuisine”.

Next day after breakfast we went to a local laundromat (Paris is crawling with them) and  then hauled our stuff to our “real” Paris hotel, which was the Hotel Windsor Opera. It’s the hotel we liked the most because, in addition to everything I’ve said about the Vincci in Barcelona, it had nice a nice cushy soft bed. It is near, well what do you think it’s near, eh? The Opera. The closest Metro stop is Bonne Nouvelle. Bonne Nouvelle is a dining and entertainment strip for locals and tourists alike. I took a picture of a movie theater marquee along Bonne Nouvelle because I thought it looked cool. Here it is, now!

The Rex Theater on Bonne Nouvelle Boulevard in Paris
The Rex Theater on Bonne Nouvelle Boulevard in Paris

Also along that lovely boulevard is a Post Office, which was just one whole heck of a lot like a Post Office in the USA. Except for the stamps, of course. Even their logo is sort of similar.

A WORD ABOUT the impolite, nasty, unhelpful French: I got lucky. The first time I landed in Paris off of a boat train from London I was given a lesson in French manners by a woman in a change booth. (Change as in change money, I mean.) I took it to heart, and if I ever meet her I’ll have to thank her, because I’ve never found French people to be in any significant way Meaner (or nicer, to be fair) than people anywhere else, be it London, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, or Tiffin, Ohio where I grew up. The secret? You say “Hello”, “Goodbye”, “Please”, and “Thank You.” In French those are “Bonjour” (literally meaning “good day”), “Au Revoir”, meaning “until next time”, “Sil Vous Plait” meaning “if you please”, and “Merci” meaning “thanks.” If you’re in France it is nice if you attempt them in French. You can listen to other people and probably say them well enough. But even if you can’t, you can do them in English and you’ll be accepted and even loved (because you are, after all, a tourist bleeding money, just like our fine and lovely tourists here in Vegas.) It seems a bit stiff and formal, but every time you go into a shop the clerk will say “Bonjour” and you need to say that back. When you leave they’ll say “Au Revoir” and you need to say that back. “Please” and “Thank you” in any language should explain themselves. Consider that you are a guest, albeit an invited one, in someone else’s home (their home country.) You want to do right by your hosts, right? Well, now you know the rules for doing right by a French host. Apart from those four words, French manners are about the same as in America, and French people are really quite lovely when treated with “proper manners.”

I’ve thought for years that Paris is one of the most beautiful cities you could ask for. Happily, that hasn’t changed. Our first night we took a bus tour to see the city with its lights. (In summer it leaves at 10PM!) Narration is in a whole slew of languages, including ever loving English. We took another tour on our final night, on the famous Bateaux Mouche, which as it turns out is pronounced “bat-o-moech.” French spelling, I swear. Either tour, or both, is a good way to get to know Paris better.

One of my favorite places in Paris is Shakespeare & Company. Yes, that’s not only an English name for the place, it’s American. Shakespeare & Company is an American bookstore on the left bank across the channel from Notre Dame cathedral. If you just really really need a bit of home in Paris, there it is. When I say American, I mean it. The clerks greet you in English (but properly) and the books are all printed in English. They only take Euros, though, so you could possibly take the “American” thing too far, I suppose.

Shakespeare & Company
Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France

Shakespeare & Company also affords you an excellent spot from which to photograph Notre Dame cathedral, which will be celebrating its 850th anniversary in a year or two. We didn’t go up to the bell level, but I’ve been there before, and if you’re feeling ambitious, climb on up and meet the gargoyles in person. Here is the picture you can take of the cathedral from Shakespeare & Company’s front stoop:

Notre Dame
Notre Dame Cathedral, Ile de la Cite, Paris, France

We also toured Notre Dame, of course, and the archaeological exhibits under the plaza. Next day we went to the Louvre, mainly to see herself, the Mona Lisa. She’s in Salon 6, if you’d care to drop in. She takes visitors pretty much every day, a lot of them. Last time I visited Paris we skipped her because of the crowd, but this time I figured I owed it to myself to see her once. So, just to show you that I’m not kidding, here she is:

Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa, Salon 6, Louvre Museum

Yep, there she is, looking just like herself. Nice, but frankly she doesn’t look any different hanging on the wall as she does in any reproduction I’ve seen. But, what the heck, it is the original (maybe) so drop on in. She’ll have a smile for you!

The best thing about the Louvre, that is new since I was there in 1976, is the I.M. Pei designed entrance under a glass pyramid. You can go from there into your choice of the three wings of the museum. We saw Napoleon III’s living quarters (which were there, you know) and a few of the (mostly still missing) crown jewels of France.

And I think that about wraps up our visit to Paris. We did the Bateaux at night, so not only was it cold but we didn’t get a lot of steady pictures due to slow shutter speeds. I won’t burden you with a blurry photo, but the boat ride is comfortable and interesting and you get a free language lesson with every tour: French, English, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese.

We didn’t fly back to London, we took the Eurostar. And I was wrong: this is going to be four posts. So, check back next time, won’t you? Au Revoir!