Friendly, helpful French folk and terrific taxis; Kudos to Paris and the Grand Tour
PARIS - It was a wild night at the Galeries Lafayette near the Opera metro station. The sidewalks were jammed with Christmas shoppers, and I was looking for a gift for my daughter.
I wanted to check out the Longchamp purses on the main floor at the Galeries department store, which is about the size of the entire Eaton Centre from what I could see, and there was a lineup to get into the small Longchamp section.
I finally got through the line and stopped to ask a sales person, perhaps in her mid 20’s, about a specific style.
“I don’t think we have that one,” she said with a slight French accent. “I’m sorry my English isn’t so good.”
A few days later I was at the Novotel at Charles deGaulle Airport. I just made it in time for dinner at the hotel restaurant – they make a pretty good Peruvian-spiced chicken by the way – and was struck by how the server apologized for what was pretty good English.
We all know the stereotypes about the French. Maybe there are a few snobs still hanging about that demand we speak with the perfect Parisian accent. But I didn’t find a single one of them on a week’s visit to Paris and Provence. Not one.
Without fail, everyone I dealt with spoke at least a little English. And they repeatedly apologized – many, many of them – for not being more proficient. And here I am, speaking hardly a word of French and hailing from a bilingual country. I’m the one who should’ve been apologizing. I think I did a couple times, actually.
You can think what you want about visiting Paris or France as a whole, I don’t care. Personally, I don't know how anyone can resist French food or the romance of Paris. But my point is that whatever your preconceived notions might be, don't let language – or the hospitality of the people – be any kind of a factor at all. From the waiters at Les Deux Magots in trendy St.-Germain-des-Pres to the workers at the harried department stores, I found virtually everyone I dealt with to be warm, kind and hospitable. Several, including the cab driver I talk about in Saturday’s Grand Tour finale in Star Travel were downright fabulous.
Another thing that struck me were the cabs. They start the meter at about 2.50 Euros, I think, which is better than Toronto. And the cabs I saw were remarkably clean and bright and well-made cars; high-end Renaults and Peugeots and even a couple Mercedes. Not a dud in the bunch.
Anyway, it’s been a great ride with the Grand Tour. Star Travel guy Adrian Brijbassi took you to the stunning scenery of Cape Town and the magnificent palaces of St. Petersburg. He also provided an intriguing glimpse of life in historic Jerusalem and got to check out the cafes in lovely and lively Buenos Aires, where I keep thinking he’s going to move one of these days.
As for me, I enjoyed my time at the Mina A’Salam resort at the Madinat Jumeirah, with its shops and terrific beach, as well as learning about Islam at the Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Tokyo was a blast, especially the fish market and the beautiful temples and the crazy energy. Maui I absolutely adore for its beaches and mountains and rain forests and fresh seafood and that simple Hawaiian spirit. Rome was outstanding, especially the views from my room at the Hassler Hotel (see photo at right) and my walks around the Trastevere neighbourhood. And what can you say about Sydney? Great food and bars, incredible scenery and wonderful people.
So thanks to everyone for reading our Grand Tour stories. I hope you enjoyed them half as much as I enjoyed my visits.
Happy holidays to all!