French lessons from a regular visitor to France: Travel Weekly

Richard Turen

Richard Turen

This was our annual vacation. We would spend several off-the-beaten- track days in Paris, then move on to the Luberon for several nights in the anointed “most beautiful village in France” followed by a week slow-cruising the Rhone River from Avignon to Lyon with AmaWaterways.

My wife, Angela, was looking forward to this “romantic” getaway, and my daughter, Bree, was looking forward to the start of her summer vacation. It was family togetherness in France — accompanied by just 33 of our clients.

Our small home-away-from-home on the Left Bank, the Hotel Esprit Saint Germaine, was modern and intimate, with a comfortable living room on one side of the entrance and a library with an open bar on the other. What I loved most about the hotel was the secret neighborhood that surrounds it. We loved walking the streets at dusk as the outdoor cafes started to fill with locals and the boulangeries, sad to say, began to run out of the days’ supply of fresh baguettes. The bookstores were seemingly always packed, and I noticed that the French like to enjoy ice cream prior to dinner, given that dinner rarely begins before 9 p.m. and the streets were warm in the June sun.

Please allow me to share a few of the things I think might be worth knowing about the French:

• The most important thing to know about visiting France is that “bonjour” is more than a greeting. It is a kind of required admission to be taken seriously as a guest. To encounter a French person and not say “bonjour” is to immediately identify yourself as another rude American. When one enters a cafe or encounters a shop clerk, an immediate “bonjour” establishes that you know the first rule of French interaction.

• The French do not smile as much as we might like. It is important to note that the word “imbecile” is French and is often used as a term that describes someone who smiles for no reason. But do not mistake a lack of smiles as a sign that the French are unhappy. Make note of one important fact about the French: 95% of them eat freshly baked bread every day.

• Some of us might imagine that, given our size and diversity in the United States, we would be the most visited place on this small planet. We would be wrong. That would be France, a country that stylishly entertained well over 90 million international visitors in 2019. (By the way, Spain ranks second in international visitors and seems to be gaining on France.)

• Taking care of this large influx of annual visitors is a challenge. But those of us in tourism should note that 99.9% of the businesses in France have fewer than 250 employees. So, when it comes to private travel, hospitality and special arrangements, the country is filled with small firms dedicated to personalized and unique travel experiences.

• The French “obsession” with food is real. A recent study found that 93% of the population identifies food as representing a “preponderant place” in their lives. One fascinating report from a leading French university showed that the French literally begin salivating about a half hour prior to lunch or dinner. Dining brings both emotional and physical joy. And that joy comes twice each day!

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