Some highlights from trip to Paris 08
The French have a reputation of rudeness towards foreigners. I was a little intimidated by this reputation before my trip there in April. Then I thought about the (very few) French people I have known. They were a pretty nice bunch all things considered, so perhaps, I thought, they would not be as bad as everyone makes out.
We arrived at Paris Nord railway station and had to make our way to our hotel (the lovely, if somewhat small by Australian standards, Hotel Royal Magda) near the Arc de Triomphe. The receptionist in the hotel had told us not to touch the subway with luggage and to expect a cab fare of about €25 (the Hotel has a pick up service, but at €75 it seemed a bit much). Outside Paris Nord we were approached by some fellow with a custom cab service, quoting €45 (“lots of traffic this time of day,” he said, in (halting) English). We turned him down and decided to look for the cab rank, when some French fellow carrying a baguette in one hand (no, honestly, he really was carrying a baguette) grabbed us and ushered us up the street to the cab rank. He browbeat the cabbie to take us then asked for a tip (€3 but I only had €4 so he got a bonus). The cab fare cost €17 (plus another large tip) so presumably there wasn’t as much traffic as the €45 fellow was expecting.
That night we had dinner at a restaurant around the corner (The Chez Clement Wagram). The hotel staff said we’d get free drinks there if we showed our hotel card – but we didn’t. Oh well. Dinner was very enjoyable (even though I had oysters for starters and they might have been responsible for me being a bit sick a day or so later). The waiters suggested I have a Heineken with dinner which seemed a little odd to me. Why come all this way to France and drink a dutch beer? So I asked for a French beer, but apparently they didn’t have any because they gave me a Belgian one (Affligem).
On the way back from the restaurant some lady “excuse moi”ed me and told me my backback was open.
The next day we “did” the Louvre (it seems one never becomes fully acquainted with the verb “to do” but when one is on holiday). Got a reasonable photo of what the people in the Louvre call “Portrait of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo” (ie the Mona Lisa). It was raining when we left the Louvre and most of the cafes seemed full. We ended up at one near the Bourse and sat down for a nice lunch (I ordered Roquefort ravioli and M ordered a hamburger (of all things) but it was a bit rare, so I ended up having the hamburger and not the ravioli :( The waitress spoke very little English but we communicated well enough and she was helpful in getting us organised into our seats.
After lunch we wandered over to La Conciergerie and then to La Sainte-Chapelle (btw well worth the wait and should be on anyone’s Paris itinerary). One of the Gendarmes guarding the exit to La Sainte-Chapelle let me and my son through the gates so he could go to the toilet. While M waited in (the very long, slow) line to (get your bags checked so that you can) get into La Sainte-Chapelle I took the kids over to Notre Dame and had a quick look inside. We went back there again after finishing at La Sainte-Chapelle. M apparently encountered some woman at Notre Dame who wasn’t entirely helpful… but it was late in the day.
Later that afternoon I went out to find some snacks to eat and ended up at a “Pain a Manger” shop a couple of blocks away. The lady “bon soir”ed me and I “bon soir”ed back – apparently with too much confidence. After she rang up the price I insouciantly handed over €15 in notes. The woman at the checkout asked me something in French – actually incomprehensible, but something to do with “do I have any change”. As there were now half a dozen people waiting in line behind me I just opened my wallet and let her take what she wanted – what flair… Next time I will “bon soir” with less aplomb.
We must exude French (or perhaps Hapless) because two days later while wandering up the Boulevard Haussmann (or perhaps the Avenue de Friedland) an elderly French couple wandered up to us and asked us (in French) where the could find the Galleries Lafayette. Speaking only about 5 words of French (including Bon-jour, soir and merci) we did the best we could…
I only managed one coffee in Paris, although I did have it on the Champs-Élysées. It was rubbish. Perhaps I should have gone to the place next door, which was charging €4.50 a cup?
On the way to the bus to take us to the airport some woman helped one of our children wheel their suitcase across the road b.c she thought they were having trouble with it (she had come across the road, then doubled back to help us, then had to go back again to continue on her journey).
The Verdict: Myth Busted
We were only in Paris for a couple of days, but the French we encountered were either pleasant or helpful. In some cases (such as the woman who helped us with our bag across the road and arguably also the fellow who dragged us over to the taxi rank) they went out of their way to help. To the extent there was difficulty it was usually down to the fact that they didn’t speak English, but it would be churlish to point this out (that we didn’t speak French is an alternative, but easily discounted, explanation).
[update June 09 – some checkout attendants can studiously ignore you, which I found off putting, and one of them quickly slammed a “this checkout closed” sign down as I was mid-stride towards her. However, also some old fellow came and gratuitously offered me directions (which I didn’t really need, as I was just wandering… and we couldn’t really communicate, me not speaking French and all, but I politely asked after some monument I knew was close by and waited for him to explain, then we parted ways. Overall the French I’ve encountered (in Paris) have been polite and helpful.]