Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Trip to Pariiis and the French Riviera - Part Two

[Note: If you missed Part One of this posting, click here to access it.]

Before expounding further on the financial gouging and other annoyances of a trip to France, I’d like to point out that there are some very friendly, hospitable and generous French people. The generalities mentioned herein are drawn from a single trip. To throw in some standard product disclaimer language, individual results may vary; past results are not a guarantee of future performance and consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Case in point: my friends Mary and Jean Marc met me for lunch in Pariiis. Jean Marc was born and raised in France and Mary, my friend from law school, married him and lived for 13 years in France. I was in their wedding party many years ago. You couldn’t meet two nicer people. They picked me up at my hotel (with no meter running!) and brought me to the restaurant where President Obama had brunch with some friends on his first official visit to Pariiis. It was excellent. They also presented me with a welcoming bag filled with savory French delicacies and a bottle of great wine.

And, on top of all this, they provided an abbreviated tour of the city in their car (we both had places to be.) So, in short, yes Virginia, there is a nice Frenchman. Many actually – although most reside outside of Pariiis. But writing about the nice ones is not nearly as much fun as posting a diatribe, so let’s get back to that…

Travel Advisory: If you’d like to order a drink at a Pariiisian restaurant, you’ll need to call your accountant first to make sure you can afford it. Once you see the cost of a single drink, you’ll need another drink to calm your nerves. A rum (or “rhum” as they misspell it) and Coke comes with two separate components to the bill…how charming!  First, they gouge you $16 for the rhum (I think they even charge you two Euro for the extra “h” in the spelling.) Then there’s a separate $10 fleecing for the Coke.  Not bad, $26 for a drink at a regular restaurant (we’re not talking gentleman’s club here; male readers know how pricey that can get…)  And it really burns me that the Coke is an American beverage.  I can see the Frogs gouging us for a rhum and Perrier, at least Perrier is a French product.

Hailing a cab on a city street? Next to impossible; buy a lottery ticket instead. Going to the Louvre? Get ready to stand in a long, slow line to pay about $18 U.S. Once inside, you may be lucky enough, as I was, to have some personal interaction with the staff. A museum guard yelled at me for talking too loudly in the crowded and noisy room leading into the Mona Lisa. He didn’t (or wouldn’t) use English of course, but rather pointed animatedly at a brochure which contained a depiction of people talking too loudly. One of them, coincidentally, looked like me.

The people who speak the best English in France, I find, are the ones who are charged with taking your money.

I’ll spare you the rest of the Pariiis complaints. It is, however, undeniably a beautiful city with many interesting and enriching sights and you could easily spend weeks exploring it and still not have the full picture. Of course, you’d also be bankrupt by then.

By the way, I spell Pariiis with three “I’s” because I believe that you need to be prepared to experience the three “I’s” when you go to France. Despite all of its beauty and grandeur, you’ll be Inconvenienced, Ignored and Insulted. If you’re lucky, that will be the worst of it.

From Pariiis, I took a train (the TGV fast train) down to Cannes on the Riviera. Stupidly, I paid for a “first class” ticket thru the internet, which included a meal for an additional US $47. I got a ham sandwich for that $47. Only if that were the worst rip-off of the trip, I’d be happy.

While I consider myself fairly intelligent in the United States, I found that most of the choices that I made in France were stupid and costly.

My hotel in Cannes was splendid, an elegant place called the Majestic Barriere. It’s right across the street from the beach and half a block from one of the main sites of the Cannes Film Festival. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and The LG Report have all stayed at this hotel at various times. There are photos of three of the four hanging in the hotel. The fourth has his name written in Sharpie inside a dresser drawer to prove he was there. Guess which is which.

Unfortunately, the pool at the Majestic Barriere was being renovated, so my main option for relaxing in the sun was the hotel’s private beach. It only cost $50 (US) per day per person to use this private beach. I thought that included oil drilling rights, but it didn’t. Once again, France was sticking it in my Majestic Derriere.

Upon checking into the hotel I asked the concierge about renting a car for 24 hours. He pulled out a book labeled “Elite Rental Car,” and I knew instantly that I would be taken for a ride in more ways than one by Elite.

The English-speaking (and money-accepting) concierge quoted me a price of $400 US for a one-day rental of a Cooper mini. To be clear, that's one day, not one week.  Being the smart American that I am, I made up an excuse for needing to get back to him later while I pondered my options. The next morning, I hoofed it back into town to find the Hertz location that I had seen on the way in from the train station.  Being an American company, I hoped that Hertz would take care of an amigo from the good ole US of A without such a rip-off price.

After getting lost and wandering around Cannes for an hour, I finally found the Hertz office and approached the French woman at the counter (I was hoping that they had imported their employees from New Jersey, but no such luck.) She coldly informed me that if they had a car available for the day that I wanted – and there was no guarantee – it would cost $560.  Again, for the DAY, not a week.


It was back to the concierge and the Cooper Mini for $400 a day.  It seemed like a bargain-basement price. Yipee!

One of my shirts needed laundering before I could wear it for the fifth time on this trip (just kidding, only fourth.) I checked the laundry list in the closet (I noticed Ricky Martin in there, come to think of it…) and was by this time only semi-aghast to see that it cost $18 US to get a shirt washed and ironed in the hotel. Back home in Manhattan it costs $2. Who’dda thunk that Manhattan would have such low prices?

Again, being the smart American that I am, I hid the shirt in a plastic bag (I didn’t want to appear to be a cheap-ass while carrying it thru the plush lobby in search of less expensive laundering) and marched into town to find the Laundromat that I had seen while wandering a day earlier.  Eventually I found it, after getting lost for another hour.  I was downright steamed to learn that this establishment charged $16 per shirt - and without delivery.   Off I went back to the hotel, tail between my legs, to take advantage of an $18 shirt washing.  I was being taken to the cleaners again.

There was no winning in this country, not for me anyway.

One night I went into one of the local casinos to sample the gambling scene.  In casinos in Vegas and Atlantic City and almost everywhere else in the States, they ply you with free drinks for as long as you’re gambling.  Here, it was $14 US per drink while you lost your laundered-for-$18 shirt.

A club sandwich beachside was $27 US.  One night I went into Monte Carlo for dinner.  The restaurant, which you know wasn't cheap, so I won’t bother to say it, added a 19% “service charge” onto the final bill and in very large lettering stated that “This 19% service charge DOES NOT include any tip whatsoever.” Normally, the “service charge” in Europe serves as the tip, as you probably know.

I'm going to stop here. This posting may sound bitter and angry.  If that’s the vibe you picked up, congratulations, because it is! You are an astute reader.

France is a beautiful and cultured nation with many splendid attractions.  It’s well worth a trip if you haven’t been.  But, in my opinion, if it were populated by warm and friendly people from, say, the American Midwest, it would be even better.   But that's just me.

Brats and brie anyone?

1 comment:

  1. This is very funny. I hope you'll write more! I've been to Paris six or seven times, and I've not had these experiences. But in all honesty, I stay away from the big tourist hotels. I either stay in a fleabag hotel or rent a little apartment. I make sure not to sit down in the big tourist cafes, preferring instead the small out of the way dives, never in the Marais, that still sell an espresso for less than two euros, and even in these I don't sit down. I stand at the bar instead because in France you have to pay to sit down. I buy my fruit, and, when I have cooking facilities, my veggies, from the market, where they are cheaper and better tasting than their US counterparts. As for taxis, it is impossible to hail one, because ... it is impossible to hail one. Taxis are not hailed in Paris. You have to call them, but I never do. I take the metro instead, or a velob bike. Very cheap.


The LG Report appreciates all comments, thanks for taking the time; Karma will probably award you a winning lotter ticket or something. The "or something" being more likely. But thanks again!