Remember When Restaurant Service in France Was Gruff?

Paris is apparently making an effort to make its restaurant staff more polite.  It reminded me of the trip my wife and I took to Paris last year.  For those of you contemplating a similar trip and who want the inside story from an experienced traveler who was there for nearly five days, here are a few tips for dining in the City of Light:

1.     “Cheval” means horse.

2.     Every member of the waitstaff I met was very polite and spoke fluent English.  I didn’t even try to speak French.  One restaurant even had an American server that was assigned to any American patrons that walked in the door.  She reminded me of one of my classmates from high school.

3.     Despite the pervasive English fluency, if you ask for grog, and you don’t pronounce the “r” with a proper guttural roll, they won’t know what you’re talking about.  Practice in front of a mirror before you leave, maybe while you’re waiting in the airport.

4.     Believe the hype about the croissants.  No matter how lost you get or what other frustrations you meet along the way, the croissants in Paris will take you to another dimension.

5.     There were many cafes but nothing that had what I would count as coffee.  I’m not talking about espresso or some other smidgen of brown liquid shoved into a cup from a dollhouse tea set, but a coffee that can bring me back to life every morning.  The kind of coffee I drink every day before work, and as soon as I get to work, and after lunch so that I don’t pass out at my desk.  They have something called “Cafe Americain” but it must be an inside joke.  There was even a Starbucks across the street from our hotel.  From the length of the line and the price of the coffee and the kilos of cardboard and plastic that clothed each serving, I said to myself, “Well, this must be authentic American coffee!”  But I drank it and I still fell asleep on the train to Versailles.  What the croissants giveth, the coffee taketh away.

And those are my tips for dining in Paris.  Bon appetit!

Remember When You Could Bring Lip Gloss On An Airplane?

On the occasion of my 50th post I would like to thank you all for reading, and especially those of you who took the time to comment.  For the first few months of this operation the only person reading my posts was my mother, which was a little awkward since she does not have a computer.  I would have to print the post and mail it to her along with a self-addressed stamped envelope for comments.

Blogging is easier when the only reader is your mother.  But it is not nearly as fun.  You all have made this worthwhile, and I hope that you’ve found at least one or two things here that did not put you to sleep or make you ill.  As long as someone’s still reading, I’ll keep posting.

And on that note…

Remember when you could carry things like lip gloss, hand moisturizer, and water on an airplane without incident?

I do.

When I was a kid and my parents felt like putting me on a plane, the only items I ever carried on were paperback novels, Esquire magazine, and, just once, the Etch-A-Sketch Animator, which interfered with radar and necessitated an emergency landing in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I did not know that lip gloss and hand moisturizer even existed, and I would not have believed that people would one day pay for bottled water.

And then I got married. My wife carries around a CVS in her pocketbook, and engages in what I call “guerilla moisturizing.” Sometimes when I’m not looking she’ll apply some Neutrogena to my hands and say, “Rub it in.”

The other day we were at the airport, flying somewhere. We walk up to the security line and start placing into the gray plastic bins our shoes, belts, wallets, keys, cell phones, iPods, magazines, fuzzy dice, tongue scrapers, Texas Chainsaw Massacre bobble head dolls, Smucker’s jars containing embryonic aliens, and chewing gum.

Three items in my wife’s pocketbook catch my eye: a plastic bottle of lip gloss, a plastic bottle of hand moisturizer, and a plastic bottle of water. I consider telling her that these items might be a problem, but elect to remain silent. You learn certain things when you are married, and I know that it will be better for me if I let someone else tell her she can’t take something on the plane.

I’m directed to stand in this apparatus that looks like an upright magnetic resonance machine. Obviously I’m either going to travel through time, or be subjected to a full body scan. There is a whirring noise and I close my eyes. When I re-open them I am still in my own time, but they catch me trying to smuggle an ATM receipt onto the plane. After a TSA worker pats me down and then buys me drinks, I re-don my shoes, belt, et al.

I’m ready to graduate to the Food Court/Hudson News phase of air travel, but my wife has been detained by a TSA worker who does not look as nice as the one who patted me down. “Do you have a re-sealable plastic bag?” my wife asks me, as if I was supposed to have packed one.  I reply that, alas, I do not.

Spread out before her are the lip gloss, hand moisturizer, and bottled water. “They’re saying I have to put these things in a re-sealable plastic bag. I have to go through security again.” I ask my wife why she doesn’t just throw out the water. “Are you kidding? I paid three dollars for this!” The humorless TSA worker starts leading my wife back into the pre-security area. The chivalric thing to do would be to follow her, but chivalry is no match for Cinnabon.

A few minutes later I’m stuffing my face and wondering where my wife has gone. I see her standing just before the conveyor belt, chugging her water. I wonder if she’s going to start applying all her hand moisturizer, perhaps offering it to the passengers around her. “Excuse me,” she would say, “but I can’t take this on the plane, and your hands look dry.” Then she goes through the time warp again, and I’m about to breathe a sigh of relief, but she is detained again, this time by a different TSA worker.

I’m halfway through Steig Larsson’s “The Girl Who Tried To Bring Moisturizer On A Plane” when my wife gets through security. She tells me that she had to take a taxi to a local convenience store to buy Ziploc bags. I tell her how unfair it all is, how making her go through security three times is a waste of valuable resources, and inconveniences people for no gain. I put my arm around her and she smiles a little.

But let’s see her try to moisturize me now without my hearing the plastic bag.