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Paris: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Big Mike from Boone County here. Sorry for the clichéd title. I really should be able to do better than that.

The Ugly

  • OK this is a good one. While boarding the metro one evening when it was comically packed, like face plastered against the window like a cartoon packed, I got on while the door closed on Mary. I made the sign of "I'll come back around wait for me" when voila, the door opened again! Well, I got off and doggone it if Mary didn't get in another door. We didn't see each other through this Laurel and Hardy skit. So I finally figure out Mary is back on board and quickly jump back on as the door is closing. Mary's wrist got hurt by the door a bit but man we were lucky and/or stupid one of us didn't get seriously hurt. If this was caught on youtube you would be rolling on the floor laughing. Lesson learned. #embarrassing.

The (sorta) Bad

  • Security. As mentioned before I'm always "that guy" who has some problem with security. Cmon! This time I was randomly pulled aside in Keflavik for a security check. We were already late making our connection. Mary gave me a forlorn look. Slightly panicked I sat in the security waiting room. Thankfully, the polite and efficient Icelandic security folks whisked me through and we just made our flight on time. Whoa, Nelly my heart was racing! I made a comment about their country of 350,000 people qualifying for the World Cup when the USA with a population close to 330,000,000 didn't. I got some big smiles from that one.

  • Icelandair check in at CDG began two hours before boarding and took freaking forever. Our plans to get through security and have a meal were dashed. (To my consternation my hot wife has to check a bag or this would be a non-issue. Alas, the sacrifices I make.) This was just poor planning by the airline. They should've started 3 hours before boarding.

  • The Orsay did not allow admission at 1700 (closed at 1800). Daggone. Anyway, next time.

  • An ATM near the Louvre ate our card. A friendly Parisian couple actually escorted us to a help desk to report the matter. We soon called Wells Fargo on our cell and it was no big deal. Recommendation: Take a backup debit or credit card.

  • Aside from a few pieces of artwork, for the most part we tolerated the super crowded Louvre. Sorry I guess I'm not the most cultured person in the world. The Coronation of Napoleon was my favorite.

  • A couple of metro trains were so packed we took a pass and waited for the next one, which was almost exactly the same lol.

The Good!

  • I give Parisians a solid A for their consideration, politeness, and courtesy. It would be an A+ if not for a few rather terse and cold service waiters. Then again where I'm from the wait people call you "baby," "sugar," and "honey." I'm just used to a little more warmth in that regard.

  • The Louvre was crazy busy and because of that probably our least enjoyable museum. You couldn't move without running into a tour group barreling down the passageway. (OK wrong category for "Good") Everything else including the Arc, Notre Dame tower (and yes use the app to make a same day appt), St. Michel, and Armee Museum, etc. were not bad at all.

  • Mary and I are both walkers and averaged 7-10 miles per day. Along with hardly ever sitting we were worn out, in a good way, at the end of each day.

  • Loved the Armee Museum and not crowded at all. It was neat seeing French school children getting lessons from their teachers.

  • We did two Paris free walking tours and they were great. Not really free as we tipped 30 euros. (The suggestion was 10 to 15 Euros per person). We planned to do two Paris Walks tours but the "free" ones were within walking distance of our apartment in Le Marais and we decided to take a much needed break from the metro.

  • One day walked from the Arc back to Le Marais.

Posted by
6772 posts

We get a lot of tourists here in the nation's capital, many from places where it's obvious they don't have much (if any) public transportation. So when the metro chimes "doors closing", many of them somehow don't believe the door will (indeed) close on them. So I've seen this movie before too many times (also with some enterprising locals who try so desperately to jump on the metro that they get their briefcase, bag, or hand closed on them). The metro doesn't wait. When the doors are closing, they're really closing. That means don't take your sweet time, rather hurry up and get on fast before your body gets jammed in the door.

No one in Europe in the service sector will call you "sweetie" or "honey", they just don't roll like that. Things are much more formal all around. Viva la difference! Things are different from home, but most of the time much better.

Sounds like you had a good visit! I wouldn't focus on the bad or sorta bad, some of that is just travel skills and some things you can't control.

Posted by
1683 posts

Agnes, I recall being in DC and not knowing what the hell I was doing on the metro. I could hear the locals sighing behind me while I tried to figure out how to put the ticket into the machine (or scan it). There were several people at the ticket machines--some looking at each other for help--trying to figure out what to do. I found the Paris ticketing machines easy to figure out.

Edit: Where I'm from public transportation is Larry picking us up in his truck.

Posted by
6772 posts

Yup, locals get really ticked here even if tourists stand on the left side of the escalator. The left is the "passing lane", while the right is the standing lane. It's one of those unwritten rules that they think all tourists should know (I know it's not fair, but it is what it is). I dunno, the metro machines seem pretty straightforward and the system maps aren't too hard to follow. Compared to NYC's MTA system, it's much simpler. But like everything else, there may be a short(ish) learning curve.

Posted by
2525 posts

"Edit: Where I'm from public transportation is Larry picking us up in his truck." It's Helen or Hank here.

Posted by
8889 posts

You arrive in a city (Germany, Switzerland, France, doesn't matter), walk out of the station and you need to get a tram/bus/métro to your destination, but first you have to buy a ticket. One thing I have learnt the hard way, don't go to the first machine you see if somebody is already using it. That somebody will be a tourist, who doesn't know the ticketing system, and will spend 5 minutes trying to figure out what to press. It isn't necessarily a language issue, each city has different ticket types and rules which a stranger has to work out. I know in Paris I need a "t+" ticket, but newbies don't.

Example 1: Paris Gare du Nord. Person in front is trying to stick their credit card into the banknote reader slot. Eventually they give up, get out some cash and try to stick that into the credit card slot, equally unsuccessfully. They give up, walk away swearing about the §#ç~ing machine not working.

Example 2: Switzerland. Tourist trying to stuff their credit card into the correct slot, but the machine does not let it in. Give up, walk away. Then I spot the problem, they hadn't pressed any buttons to select a ticket. In a fast food joint, do you hand over your card and pay before telling the server what you want? No - choose first then pay.

Rule: Walk past the first machine till you find an empty one, or one with a local in front.

Posted by
378 posts

Something I discovered about the Louvre and crowds is that the majority of visitors trample their way to the big sights -- Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo -- and totally ignore the rest of the museum. My wife and I enjoyed the better part of a day in the Ancient World wings and barely saw another person. Their collection of Greek and Egyptian artifacts is second-to-none and I felt was far more interesting than yet another painting of The Virgin + Kid. In fact, the only part of seeing the Mona Lisa i enjoyed was watching people fighting their way to the front of the scrum just so they could take a selfie with the damned thing without ever actually looking at it.

Also, the Armee Museum is a totally overlooked gem if you're into military history at all. Even if you're not, it's still pretty fascinating, especially the WW2 displays (I personally liked the WW1 exhibits better, but that's my preference). My wife, who cares not a whit about military history, said she really enjoyed the uniforms.

-- Mike Beebe

Posted by
8659 posts

Big Mike! Love your Trip Report! Thanks for taking the time to let us know how it went. I so agree about the Army Museum. My favorite display was the Parisian Taxi used to get guys to the front in WWI. Amazing.

~Pam, from small town N Idaho where rush hour is a loaded log truck and 3 pickups.

Posted by
35 posts

Isn't that the truth! Last time I was in the Uffizi there were so many people just taking pictures of the paintings! I wondered if they ever actually LOOKED at them. I agree about the Louvre. I spent an hour in the medieval section & was about the only person in there.

Posted by
35 posts

Glad you enjoyed your trip, too. Paris is my favorite city in Europe (so far)!

Posted by
21346 posts

....where I'm from the wait people call you "baby," "sugar," and "honey." .... If a Parisian waiter did that, he/she would be fired on the spot. They are not there to be your friend, buddy, or suck up for a tip. They provide service quietly and efficiently with min discussion. Did anyone come by and asked, "How is your dinner?" Of course not. I do not need or want a chatty waiter.

Posted by
1488 posts

I have a wonderful photo of a highly made-up (makeup) woman grinning into her camera on a selfie stick, with Mona right beside her, so Mona not even in the frame.
Why bother.

Posted by
1683 posts

Hey what the heck with the no bathroom situation in Paris? Good Lord. The two toilet areas near ND were closed. The one we finally found at the Louvre was closed. The rare ones on the street had ridiculous lines. One day we went from noon until almost 8 p.m.without a bathroom break! I took Rick Steve's advice and walked into a cafe but they asked if you was a customer so much left. We did sneak into a McDonald's toilet in the Left Bank thank God.

Posted by
1683 posts

Not suggesting wait people call me "sugar." It's just the aloof demeanor, especially compared to Ireland and Scotland where the folks were professional and warmer, or kinder. Warmth and professionalism are not mutually exclusive.

Frank sorry didn't mean to offend.

Posted by
6772 posts

Mike,
At the risk of generalizing a bit, Europeans tend to reserve the bulk of their warmth for close friends, family, and people they're intimate with. They are cordial and polite with strangers (although some may seen a bit curt) but not immediately warm, as you would like. They open up with time and as you get to know them, but not immediately (you may find it odd but they consider an overabundance of American friendliness and smiling to be over-the-top and even fake). The beauty of travel is you get to see these cultural differences and learn not to expect or hope that things are exactly as they are at home. The concept of "warmth" itself is interpreted or weighted differently depending on where you are - it depends what cultural lens you're looking through.

Regarding the bathroom thing, again they may not be as ubiquitous than you're used to. But every guidebook will tell your to step into a cafe, buy a cheap drink, and just use their bathroom. No don't need (or want) to get a urinary tract infection from waiting all day.

Posted by
3176 posts

I enjoyed this trip report immensely. I am curious about the rush hour packed crowds on the métro; what time do the packed cars abate? In midtown Manhattan, the crowds begin to thin after 9:30.

An ATM near the Louvre ate our card.

Mike, do you remember which bank's cash machine did that?

Posted by
2703 posts

Mike,

Thanks for the entertaining trip report. I'm glad "threw punch at scam artist" did not appear in it! I, for one, have to say I kind of enjoy your wide-eyed honesty when expressing your thoughts on things like Paris waiters. I had nothing but good experiences with them, but I tend not to frequent places where I'm called "sugar" (though there are plenty of those places here in the Upstate of South Carolina).

I had my primary travel debit card (Schwab) eaten by an ATM in Krakow. I had to resort to my backup (BB&T), with its ridiculous transaction/currency conversion fees. I was glad to have the backup, though.

Posted by
6877 posts

the culture is different the French see it as superficial the smiling American stranger

Posted by
12400 posts

If you were at the Armee Museum, you must have seen the special exhibit still going on, "Napoleon as Strategist." That was the special feature, well worth visiting since this special exhibit was reported on the French news on TV as a suggested place to see as to it elaborate displays, etc. Lucky I saw that news bit, it gave me more incentive to see special Napoleon exhibit. When I went in May, the Armee Museum was not crowded either but still well attended.

When my mother was in the hospital a few years ago and it was time for her to be given the medicine, the young blonde nurse came in and said, "Time to take your medicine , sweetie." I couldn't believe she said "sweetie." I hadn't heard the word used like that in years, sounded like back in the '50s, really "down home," and thought it was very nice her saying that to my mom of 91 years. That nurse had to have come from the South. I thanked that nurse

Posted by
12400 posts

@ Mike/WV...There is a well frequented restaurant in Berlin serving traditional German cuisine where the owner comes around to each table at least once to ask how the food is, etc. She makes it a point to engage in some sort of conversation, however perfunctory, with the guests. If the guests can speak German, then she speaks German. Most of the international patrons speak English with her. The point is that you as the guest are NOT left ignored after your order has been taken.

Posted by
1683 posts

Continental, the spam in a can packed. Metro was a Friday around 2100. We avoided the rush hour times 1600 to 1800. Sorry can't remember ATM name but there were Parisians behind us waiting to use it. Looking back we could have walked more as opposed to the metro. It can also get rather, um, pungent when it's a warm day.

Posted by
1683 posts

Fred yes that was an awesome and informative exhibition on Napoleon. My wife commented on his very handsome looks in one of the paintings.

Posted by
408 posts

That was a fun read thanks for posting. When we were in Paris I thought it was good for my kids to see how different cultures react. While Americans are very friendly we found people in Paris very polite and quieter. Not bad just different.
Loved the public transport musings.!

Posted by
12400 posts

On Napoleon's looks...the painting of him (wearing no hat) carrying the flag at the battle of Arcola in 1797 to get across the bridge in face of Austrian volleys when he was 27 is one of the youthful paintings or the one with Malmaison in the background when he was 30.