Friday, July 9, 2010

French Holiday

France is especially beautiful this time of year and teeming with vacationers and tourists. But here it is easy to see the impact of the ongoing economic turmoil that is roiling Europe. This is not to say the French people are despondent, after all it is holiday time in France.

Paris is alive with energy and passion. The banks of the Seine are populated in the evenings with picnickers and young lovers. The sidewalks of Boulevard Saint Germain as well as the Avenue des Champs-Élysée are bustling, even though their stores are not. Boats laden with sightseers slowly make their way past the Ile de la Cite where the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris towers above an endless stream of tourists from around the world. There are also lengthy lines of visitors waiting to ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The World Cup matches in South Africa have captivated the attention most Parisians. Tens of thousands of young men and women gather in a park to watch the matches on a huge television screen regardless of who is playing.

In the richly colorful Provence, with its uniquely blue skies, vibrant trees with varying shades of green and an abundance of pink, purple and yellow flowers, the crowds seem smaller than usual. Clothing and jewelry stores are not full and many display sale signs. Many of the restaurants are not doing well.

In the Cote d'Azur, also known as the French Riviera, carefree crowds fill the beaches from Nice to Monaco and romp in the cool sea. Nonetheless, this wealthy region is not immune to the economic downturn. Many hotels, stores and restaurants are struggling even though this is their most important season for business. Thank goodness for the Russians, they are everywhere. In fact, one hotel employee observed that his hotel is fully booked between June and the end of August and 40% of the bookings are Russians. But, he quickly noted with a smile, "The Americans are coming back!"

France is always wonderful to visit. But some things are a bit annoying. For instance, when are these people going to get the memo about smoking? To France's credit, many cities forbid smoking inside a restaurant, unless you are a star or celebrity. Why don't bathtubs have better drains? Perhaps it is because the local population does not as frequently use showers. Why does it take so many people to get anything done? At one hotel it appeared that a full time person was assigned only to staple documents together, like the final bill.

Of course, you should know that according French law the tip is built in to your restaurant or hotel bill. Yet on credit card receipts the word "tip" appears just below the subtotal. If one asks the waiter whether the tip is included the answer may very well be "no", or the waiter may act as if he has just forgotten his English. He may be thinking, “Thank God the Americans are coming back!”

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