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Chasing The American Dream

October 03, 2006


I’ve heard many people say how snooty the French are to us Americans. Why this is, I don’t really know. Is it only because some of us don’t speak their language? On my previous visit, I definitely felt the chill. Upon my return this past weekend, I didn’t feel any more welcome than last time. Whether it was dining in a restaurant or asking for directions or trying to tell the hotel that my shower was broken, I always felt they looked at me and were thinking, silly American tourist. Very frustrating.

I don’t know why, but my travels are always filled with misadventures. Belgium was no exception and neither was France. On this particular Saturday night, I was out having a late dinner near the Notre Dame. I kept my eye on my watch because I knew that I had to take the train and be back to De Gaulle by 11:30 in order to catch the last shuttle back to the hotel. I wanted to leave the restaurant by 11, but let’s just say, due to circumstances beyond my control, I got overruled. “Party on,” my date said. Yep, I actually had a date. But “party on” meant big trouble. I had this bad feeling about the train situation. I wasn’t entirely sure how late they ran. I decided departure time had to be midnight because I didn’t want to get stuck looking for a cab for an hour like I had the previous night.

I was really getting confident with Paris Metro. Getting on the appropriate train, switching stations, finding the right platform in the maze of a station, all this was old hat now. We got on the B train at the Notre Dame station and appeared headed for another easy trip. The sign on the board had De Gaulle as the last stop. So the train was correctly heading toward De Gaulle. Only one thing could go wrong. There was a fork in the track route; the lower track headed to De Gaulle and the upper fork headed who-knows-where. I listened intently as we approached the fork and the next station. Sevran-Beaudottes was what I wanted to hear. Please don’t let me hear Sevran-Livry. But Sevran-Livry is what I heard. This train was not going to De Gaulle. I didn’t notice the guy sitting across from me, but he must have been an expert in American expletives. I guess he heard me muttering because he came over and said that the trains don’t go to the airport after midnight. Swell.

He was French but knew a bit of English. I asked him if I could get a cab. He didn’t have good news for us. Apparently, we were not in the best of neighborhoods and getting a cab was darned near impossible for any of the remaining stops. He had an idea; he suggested we get off at Livry with him where he’d ask the awaiting bus driver. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I could be ambushed here, but what choice did I have? I looked around and the neighborhood didn’t look much above a ghetto. He talked it over with the bus driver. They agreed that the best course of action was for us to get on the bus for an hour until it stopped in somewhere called Bobigny or something. That was pretty much our best bet for a cab. We thanked the bus driver and our new French amie profusely. Our friend got off at the next stop and we were truly on our own.

Strange feeling being on your own in a strange country on a slow bus to nowheresville. I felt like I was in a Rutger Hauer movie headed for imminent disaster. After a couple of stops, I heard the driver yelling de Gaulle, de Gaulle over and over again. I couldn’t imagine what that was all about. I walked up to the driver and he was yelling out of his window. I looked over and he was yelling at a taxi. A taxi whose light was on which meant he had no fare in there. I couldn’t believe it. Once I realized what this driver was doing for me, I patted him on the back and repeated, Merci beaucoup. Both the taxi and the bus driver pulled over to the curb. The bus driver told me in broken English that the cabbie agreed to take us to De Gaulle. Unbelievable. I tipped the bus driver and thanked him again. It was on to the next adventure.

I figured since I was on a roll, I might as well go all the way. I asked the cabbie if he knew where the Radisson Hotel was near the airport. Not oui, oui, but yes yes, he said. Luck was with me. He spoke a bit of English. But I knew from previous experience that finding the hotel wasn’t going to be easy. It was really not near the airport at all and quite tucked way out of the way in an industrial area. I kinda sensed the cabbie was lost so I again, lucky me, I had the hotel phone number programmed into my Blackberry so I called the hotel and gave him the phone. I don’t know what was said, but he appeared as though he had gotten the correct directions. Well, we repeated this hand over the phone routine until we finally made it. It was 1:30 in the morning, but we couldn’t have been happier to see that hotel. We could literally have been left for dead and never heard from again. But lo and behold, three fine Frenchmen came through. Who’d have thunk it? My faith in French humanity has been restored.

"A votre sante," la France.


  • I'm so glad to hear this! Not only that things worked out, but that you seem to be enjoying the adventures as well as the misadventures :)

    I had a somewhat similar experience in Spain (and I speak the language!). I've always figured it is not the French that are rude, but people that are rude. In every country around the world, I'm sure there will always be good ones and bad ones.

    "a late dinner near the Notre Dame"......sounds like a sah-weet trip!

    By Blogger catsteevens, at 1:29 PM, October 03, 2006  

  • hey man, are you dying your hair?

    you look like Efrain....

    Cool Runnings


    By Blogger Alfredito Rivera, at 9:42 PM, October 03, 2006  

  • The mishaps are what we remember. Sounds like fun.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:17 PM, October 04, 2006  

  • Very glad to read a happy ending. You must love Paris to go there twice! Take care - Mari

    By Blogger Mari, at 4:26 PM, October 04, 2006  

  • VERY SWEET STORY IN THE END. anywhere you go there are rotten apples and then there are some good ones who will counter them.

    By Blogger Sass, at 3:19 PM, October 05, 2006  

  • Some people are rude - wherever you go. Many are not.

    The French - especially the non-Parisian French - are incredibly warm, friendly, funny, and warm. But they are very reserved, and very, very polite. What Americans take for coldness is just the French way of leaving you be, of not intruding, and of trying to minimize their impact on you. It comes from living in a very crowded space, I think. (Paris is the most densely populated European capital, I think. It's actually a very small city, geographically speaking.)

    To see the true French character, you need to get outside of Paris. Get off the auto-route, and stop into a relais de routier (French for a truck stop) for lunch. Communal tables. Sharing bread and cheese and stories and jokes with whoever happens to sit near you. A little French goes a long way. And you may be surprised at how much you can communicate without words....

    To really experience Paris, you should do it with a Parisian or, at least, someone fluent in French. It's a different city.

    Next time you're in Brussels - or Paris - give me some advance notice, and I'd be happy to meet you and show you those few things I know....

    By Anonymous EAO, at 7:18 PM, October 06, 2006  

  • This is fantastic! Like some of your other commenters, I've had great experiences with non-Parisian French. (I haven't spent any significant time in Paris, so I can't comment on their character.)

    I really enjoy the blog. Keep up the good work.

    By Blogger Bart, at 2:00 PM, October 10, 2006  

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