Monday, June 04, 2007

Just Be Nice

As I was saying, before being so rudely interrupted by my mother, the advice given to me for how to survive as American/British tourists in Paris had been 'just be nice'.

WTF thought I. Moi? Always nice. As it happens, so were the French. True, I did get my fair share of being shoved out the way if it came down to an available seat in a cafe during a rainstorm. Having a baby does not apparently mean you get any priority with seating; restaurants, the metro, anywhere. Maybe I'm just being provincial. The English are known for being almost absurdly gallant when it comes to giving up seats etc, walk on to a crowded bus in Harrogate holding a baby and the entire bus-load of passengers will spring to attention to offer you a seat. You could accuse me of stating the obvious though when I say that Paris is a tad different to North Yorkshire. It's a major metropolis (Geography degree coming in useful there), and I wonder how many people give up their seats on the tube in London these days; about as many as return eye-contact probably. On the whole though, people were really lovely, and this is despite me wandering the streets singing 'I don't understand the Parisians' a la Leslie Caron.

I suppose the trite moral is 'be nice and people will be nice to you'. You may be expecting them to rob you blind and spit in your coffee and they may be expecting you to demand ranch dressing on your salade and ketchup on your omelette aux fines herbes but if you have a stab at speaking French, they'll at least try to keep the sarcasm in check when saying 'ahh, you speak French, but you are English?!'

Plus as is usually the case when out and about in Europe, people were incredibly knowledgeable about all things political, asking beaucoup questions about the Presidential race, listing all the candidates and weighing their pros and cons while I just about knew that a new French President had been elected and that he was right-wing with a name with a z in it. Nice. Maybe I should read more than the 'magazine' section of the BBC website when I log on in the morning.

The Parisians we met were head-over-heels with Anna, and if we ever actually managed to squeeze her jogger in to one of those ridiculously tiny French cafes they were showering her with bread and cheese in minutes. Toddler - international credit-card you'll find, (to paraphrase Eddie Izzard).

Talking of credit cards. Another thing that made me feel like a club-wielding cave-dweller whilst in Europe was our American credit card. In the last few years the UK, and apparently France too have gone Euro-techno with their plastic and treat my BofA card like it should belong in a museum. Example:

Checker - "Hello dear. Oh and isn't she bonny? What's your name love?"

Anna - "Choclit?"

Me - "I'm sorry, it's an American card and it doesn't have a chip so you have to swipe it"

Checker - "Oh really, you'd think they'd be more advanced over there wouldn't you? I don't think the machine'll let me do that. I think I have to stick it in first, then it has to realize there's not a chip."

Checker - "Hmm, it says 'swipe card'"

Checker - "CHRISTINE! My lady here as an American card with no chip"

Christine - "Just swipe it Maureen"

Checker - "Oh yes, it'll let me do that now. Funny, you'd think the Americans would have done this first wouldn't you?"

Lance - stony-faced seething

Anna - "Choclit?"

Repeat said scene fifteen billion times every day.

I know we have debit cards and pin numbers in the States, but I'm not kidding, every card over there has a chip and a pin regardless of whether it's credit or debit. In France too. And in all restaurants the waiter brings this little hand-held credit-card jobby to your table and voila bill-paying is over. Even the shabbiest French bistro we went to had these things. I suppose it's less convenient in the US where you have to tip and it would be a tad awkward to punch in tip = $2.50 in front of Jaden/Braden/Hayden/Cayden your waiter who tried to do a good job whilst waiting for decent waves but really wasn't the dogs bollocks.

Thus in conclusion (I had to add that bit for Ms. T) I loved Paris. I loved the fact that every morning we'd walk out of our apartment, buy some pain chocolat and croissants and just walk in a random direction. Neither of us had ever been before, so we had to do the obvious touristy stuff, but instead of queuing for hours to go up the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe, LK has come up with a much better solution. Kick the thing. Have you seen the Eiffel Tower, yep, I've kicked it. Notre Dame? Gave it a good one-two. It's very satisfying and generally you don't have to pay. Lovely.

By the way the best diss of our holiday francais came from my brother, who else? We almost bought ourselves some Lacoste shirts because honestly, why not, we were on the Champs Elysees, it was sunny (briefly), and then we saw the price. The exchange rate is not kind to those of us with dollars these days. I could see Anna's preschool tuition in each carefully appliqued crocodile. Needless to say we gave it a miss, but mentioned to, lets just call him, 'Pierre' that we almost bought him a polo shirt. To which he replied 'oh, is that considered trendy in the States? It's a bit chavvy here to be honest'.

Just as well we didn't really. Anyway, for the record, here's a picture of LK kicking the Eiffel Tower:

1 comment:

Mikaela said...

Would love to see some 'kickin it' photos in Paris! I finally caught up on your blog - what a wonderful trip (besides your mum being sick). Hope all is going well with her! I am in Beau Fleuve right now, with the fam, getting ready to celebrate the head honcho's 70th. Happy bday to Anna!
Love, Mooks