Don’t get me wrong, I love France and most things French, particularly the South of France and the Cote d’Azur, Tourettes-sur-Loop, Bordeaux and Provence. Beautiful. But get me to Paris and my love affair with France always seems to fly out of the window.
Take my latest trip, by way of example.
First thing that goes wrong is the connection to the airport.
I’m at a conference at a Disneyland hotel, where everything is ‘cast members’ and all should be happy, happy. So I’m happy. It was a nice conference and a good crowd, and learned a few things.
Knowing that I had to fly out of Paris early the following morning, I decided to catch the last shuttle bus to Orly from the hotel and checked the time with several cast members, who all assured me it was 8:00 that evening.
Good, as that meant I could enjoy a few cocktails.
I set my alarm for 7:45 and mingle away nicely with the crowd.
Sure enough, a wee while later, I shuffle over to the shuttle stop and see it’s dark and no one’s there. I can’t see any porters or bellboys to ask, but then spot a baggage room and ask for the dernier bus temps, and am told it is a huit hueres et cinq. 8:05.
But that’s ok. I’ll wait.
I now start to fret and begin to walk over to the baggage hold area of the hotel when lo and behold, le bus arrivez!
Only it’s the bus pour Charles de Galle (CDG) and my destination is Orly.
Now I’m really starting to get a little concerned and do wander over to the baggage room.
“Ou est le bus pour Orly airport?” je dit.
“Ah, c’est partir a sept heures.”
The last bus was at seven o’clock.
I remonstrate with the porter as, sacre blue et mon dieu, this is not good enough.
He says that they get confused and thought the last Orly bus was at eight, but that is the CDG bus. The Orly bus is at seven.
I can’t believe that the concierge, welcome desk, and bellboys and porters can all tell me the last bus to Orly is at 8:00 when it’s at 7:00.
They shrug their shoulders.
“C'est la vie.”
So I tell the guy my flight’s at 9:30 and it’s now 8:20 with Orly a good 45 minutes away.
“Excusez-moi”, says the porter, “I’ll get you a taxi.”
And the taxi arrives at 8:30.
Now, I’m actually staying overnight at an Orly hotel, so this is no big deal, but the principle of the thing just riled me completely. Not only would a good half an hour be missed from arriving at the airport – which could have been fatal if I had been flying – but now the taxi was costing €100 more than the bus. Darnit.
But it’s ok.
Think Zen thoughts and have an out-of-body moment or two to reflect.
So I arrive at the hotel and it’s ok.
“Bon soir, monsieur, et bien venue”, how nice.
“Nous avons une shuttle bus pour l’aerport. C’est toutes vingt minutes.”
Great. A shuttle bus every twenty minutes. That’ll do me.
The land of nod arrives nicely, and I awake bright and early to get my morning flight.
Today starts well too, as the shuttle bus pulls in just as I checkout.
Hopping on board, it’s pretty full – not a spare seat on the bus – but everyone is quiet and appears relaxed, so I relax.
For about five minutes.
Next thing I know, the bus veers away from Orly airport and onto a dual carriageway going away from the airport.
I’m now thinking he’s going to Charles de Gaulle, which would seem strange for an Orly airport hotel’s shuttle bus, but no … he instead drives to a building site and stops.
All the passengers jump out and leave … except me.
It appears that I'm on the work bus to the local factory or something.
The driver turns to me and says: “qu'est ce que vous waiting for?”
“Urrmmmm … je va de Orly airport?” I respond tentatively.
“Mais oui”, he gruffly says back and sure enough, drives me to Orly West.
Now I suddenly have this realisation.
You see, I’ve had many run-ins with Parisians in the past.
An argument over check-in at CDG, where I mistakenly went to the security scan area thinking the check-in desks were on the other side when they were behind me.
An argument with a hotel who charged me an arm and a leg for a driver for the day to go to the Palace of Versailles, when a taxi would have done nicely and been about a tenth of the price.
An argument over what I ordered in a restaurant, as the steak arrived burnt to a crisp when I ordered it “medium well”.
And so on and so forth.
And my realisation was this: it’s not the French. It’s the English.
That’s what’s wrong with the French – the English.
You see, here’s me waltzing around Paris thinking that they’re out to get me, when it’s actually my very basic parlez de francais that causes my problems.
On the one hand, I think I can communicate in French.
On the other, my communication is so limited that I only get half the message or just can’t find out what the real answer should be.
And throughout all of this is the fear that you’ve got it wrong. That fear makes you doubly defensive or aggressive, and therefore puts all English on their guard when dealing with the French.
C’est la vie, I’m afraid.
No, actually, scrub that: the French are completely merde at le business.
You see I get to Orly airport, checked in and happily wait for my flight.
All the boards say it is on time, so I wander over half an hour before take-off and sit at the gate.
It’s all on time.
But it’s not.
Ten minutes before takeoff, a sign comes up saying: “flight delayed”.
No announcements, nothing.
Finally some frumpy looking French gatekeeper wanders up to their counter, looking very busy on a walkie talkie, squawking down the line: “c’est vol retarde, vol retarde a quarante-cinq …”
Above the gate is a sign that has suddenly changed from ‘on-time’ to: “Londres 10:55, flight delayed, expected departure at ____”.
Soon a line of passengers gather around frumpy, wondering what’s going on. After all, at 10:45 the 10:55 flight was ‘on time’ and now, at 10:46, it is suddenly delayed.
Qu’est ce que le deal?
She says the flight is now landing at Orly at 11:45 and will depart at 12:15 … or thereabouts.
Qu’est que vous direz?
Yes, you heard me, the flights suddenly delayed 1hour 20 minutes for no reason, explanation or announcement.
So I ask: how can it be delayed so long?
“It’s a strike”, the gatekeeper frump dites-moi, “it is the French strike”.
It’s more like the French way.
p.s. apologies to all my French readers and customers, whom I’ve just lost forever
The following advisory for American travelers heading for France was compiled from information provided by the US State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and some very expensive spy satellites that the French don't know about. It is intended as a guide for American travelers only.
France is a medium-sized foreign country situated in the continent of Europe. It is an important member of the world community, though not nearly as important as it thinks. It is bounded by Germany, Spain, Switzerland and some smaller nations of no particular consequence and with not v
ery good shopping. France is a very old country with many treasures, such as the Louvre and Disneyland Paris. Among its contributions to western civilization are champagne, Camembert cheese and the guillotine.
Although France likes to think of itself as a modern nation, air conditioning is little used and it is next to impossible to get decent Mexican food. One continuing exasperation for American visitors is that the people willfully persist in speaking French, though many will speak English if shouted at. As in any foreign country, watch your change at all times.
The French form of government is democratic but noisy. Elections are held more or less continuously, and always result in a run-off. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into regions, departments, districts' municipalities, cantons, communes, villages, cafes, booths, and floor tiles.
Parliament consists of two chambers, the Upper and Lower (though, confusingly, they are both on the ground floor), whose members are either Gaullists or communists, neither of whom is to be trusted, frankly. Parliament's principal preoccupations are setting off atomic bombs in the South Pacific and acting indignant when anyone complains
According to the most current State Department intelligence, the President now is someone named Sarcastic. Further information is not available at this time.
France has a large and diversified economy, second only to Germany's in Europe, which is surprising because people hardly work at all. If they are not spending four hours dawdling over lunch, they are on strike and blocking the roads with their trucks and tractors. France's principal exports, in order of importance to the economy, are wine, nuclear weapons, perfume, guided missiles, champagne, high-caliber weaponry, grenade launchers, land mines, tanks, attack aircraft, miscellaneous armaments and cheese.
France has a population of 54 million people,
most of whom drink and smoke a great deal, drive like lunatics, are
dangerously oversexed, and have no concept of standing patiently in
line. The French people are in general gloomy, temperamental, proud,
arrogant, aloof, and undisciplined; and those are their good points. Most
French citizens are Roman Catholic, though you would hardly guess it
from their behavior. Many people are communists, and topless sunbathing
is common. Men sometimes have girls' names like Marie, and they kiss
each other when they hand out medals. American travelers are
advised to travel in groups and to wear baseball caps and colorful
trousers for easier mutual recognition.
France enjoys a rich history, a picturesque and varied landscape, and a temperate climate. In short, it would be a very nice country if it weren't inhabited by French people. The best thing that can be said for it is that it is not Germany.