Wednesday, July 19, 2006
thoughts about paris (not hilton)
so, my wife and i were in paris a couple of weeks ago. what can i say? i thought it'd be easier if i broke it down by category.
the only other time i was in paris was 1998. i was boarding the plane as france won the world cup. pretty cool. the take-home message last time was that the whole city smelled of urine. this time the theme was dog poop. maybe i didn't notice it last time due to the pervasive smell of urine with which i was fixated but i mean there was dog poop freakin' everywhere. see pic for a representative sample. "pooper scooper" is not a word in the french dictionary...and not because it's an american term!
probably one of the more important things for me. the last time we were there, the food was excellent. we found a restaurant (la cloche d'or--the golden bell) near our hotel where we went to a few times, right down the street from the moulin rouge. i later found out it was a pretty big hangout for famous folks, including francois mitterand. plenty of little shops with tasty gyros around as well. this time it seems the food wasn't as good. granted, we did eat at brasseries most of the time. it would be like if you visited the u.s. and ate at tgi fridays or some other chain all the time--okay food but nothing special. i'm sure if we went to some nicer places it would have been better but the few nicer places we did go to were still nothing remarkable. the exchange rate didn't help either. what is normally a cheaper place was much more expensive than the last time. the coffee was outstanding, though, pretty much everywhere as was the bread. wine is cheaper than water or coke so we had plenty. the coke was typically ~$5 per glass!!!
i guess overall the french people probably get a bad rap as being rude. my experience overall is that they're not too bad. most people everywhere speak at least a little bit of english, enough for you to get by, and if you make a little bit of an effort to use even the smallest amount of french, they usually appreciate it and are nicer to you. what pisses them (and me) off is when someone starts mouthing off in english, expecting everyone to understand them and get angry if people don't. having said that, don't get me wrong, the french should still and always should be very appreciative that we and the brits saved their asses from the nazis in ww2. speaking english i'm sure is more favorable than speaking german to them.
i did find it interesting that there aren't a lot of chains there, particularly in the restaurant field. in korea you'll see starbucks, baskin-robbins, popeyes, etc all over but i can't actually recall seeing a single restaurant chain. there are brasseries and cafes all over the place so i doubt they would do well in that kind of market.
we hit all the usual stuff--everything from the louvre up to sacre coeur and back (due to time constraints we actually didn't even go into the louvre), notre dame, eiffel tower, st. chappelle, arc de triomphe, moulin rouge. we took a day trip to the d-day sites in normandy, a must see if you can. the american cemetery was amazing and a few miles west of there is pont du hoc where the army rangers scaled some cliffs and held off the germans for a couple of days. when you see what they climbed up you realize what a bunch of bad asses they were. unbelievable.
one of the main reasons we went was a friend's wedding outside of chartres and i would have to say that if you do plan on going to paris, the cathedral at chartres is also a must see. it's ~1 hour southwest of paris and the notre dame of paris is so crowded it's hard to enjoy. the notre dame of chartres is just as amazing with a smaller crowd. it also gives you an opportunity to enjoy the countryside and the local feel of france.
the cars are tiny. after some problems, i heard on clark howard that mercedes is bringing the smart car to the u.s. check out this video of a simulated crash...not pretty! http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5217861/
driving is a trip, probably worse than korea. there are no lanes, pretty much no rules, and the roundabouts are crazy. diesel gas, which our rentals used, was about $6.50 or so per gallon.
i certainly did get a sense of our hurried culture in the u.s. while i was there, particularly with dining. some things in france are slow--not that that's necessarily bad, it's just how they want it and how everyone is used to things being. when people eat, they expect it to be a time of relaxing and hanging out and the service is probably slower as a result of that. there's not much of eating quickly and getting out. you can sit there for hours and you won't get evil eyes from the wait staff to make you leave so that they can make more money off the next guy. also, it's such a conversational culture that the tables are tiny so you're obligated to be close to your dining partner and talk. i remember eating at the chick-fil-a here when i got back and thinking that i was so far away from my wife!
well, i'm getting tired so i'll have to continue other thoughts later. i also started my new job so i will write about that later as well.