All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

All things being equal...

Paris RestaurantImage by squarejer via Flickr
I had been in Paris, running between the French Foreign Ministry, the British Consulate and the Costa Rican Consulate prior to going on to London to run between the Costa Rican Consulate and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office...which for my purposes was in Milton Keynes....before returning to Paris to run to the Costa Rican Consulate again, in order to get all the appropriate papers stamped, signed and recorded in order to apply for residence in Costa Rica.
As it turned out I was lucky to have made the acquaintance of both the Costa Rican consuls at this point as I would later be in dire need of their assistance.

Now in London I was fed, wined and lodged by a good friend, but in Paris I was on my own.

I hadn't thought it would be difficult. I had booked two nights in hotels via the Paris Tourist Board website, each for one night as the first had no vacancies for my second night and found the first hotel delightful...I had a four poster bed in a room which overlooked the garden of another hotel...there was free internet...and a nice Italian restaurant on the corner....which was as far as I felt like moving after a day of  queuing, paying and queuing, not to speak of getting past the Costa Rican Consulate's security system.

They should patent it.

On arrival, you mount the steps to find that there is an intercom system mounted on the wall to your controls the gates which bar your access to the building. Except that unless you are built like a basketball player you can't reach the thing.
Because of the gates.

This was a puzzler. I do not have a mobile 'phone, so could not telephone to ask the inmates for assistance and the hours at which the public were admitted were drawing to a close.

What to do? Throw rocks at the window?
No chance...since 1968 the Paris municipal authorities have replaced cobble stones with takes more energy than a student possesses to chip up a chink of that and hurl it at the police.

The street was deserted...people say Paris is a collection of villages and this bit of it resembled one of those villages where all the shutters are closed and the only sign of life is the gleam of eyeballs in the shadows behind.
I was in luck, though. An elderly lady approached...she was also going to the Consulate. She had an umbrella with which she deftly poked the appropriate button, shouted when the disembodied voice answered and the gates opened.
We were in.
I made sure I had an extensible ruler in my bag for the return trip.

Having since seen Costa Rica in the rainy system, all is now clear.
Every Costa Rican worth his or her salt carries an umbrella - for when, not if, it rains.

The system installed at the Paris Consulate is thus designed with Costa Ricans in mind...who carry umbrellas and will have no problem.
It must be a first test towards residency.

I was ready to move hotels the next day when I thought I'd check the Internet.
There was a most unwelcome message.
The hotel to which I was about to remove myself had cancelled my booking.
The booking I had made a week earlier.
Through the Paris Tourist Board.

I imagine that I gave tongue as the receptionist came over to see what was going on and was most sympathetic. She would ring round and see what she could find.
In less than five minutes she came back. She had found a hotel...her nephew worked there....the porter would take me round and it was only one street away.
It turned out to be the hotel of whose garden I had had a view the previous day, was cheaper than the one I had booked originally and was very comfortable...even if there was no four poster.

Let no one say Parisians are not kind and helpful, especially if they happen to be Algerian.

I got through the rest of my business in Paris, took the Eurostar to London - and the sooner they replace that shoddy, overcrowded specimen with a decent German train the better - and dealt with the paperwork at that end.
I returned to Paris on the shoddy overcrowded specimen, enlivening the journey by an encounter with a young woman on boarding the train.

There is a sort of flow system in the carriage and she was coming against it, which is all very well if you only have bodies to deal with, but I had luggage... my overnight bag and a large bag well stuffed with knickers  and stuff from Primark.

I had seen Costa Rican knickers on previous visits...they varied between items so scanty that you could not make a decent pocket handkerchief from ten of them to things wonderfully labelled as 'bloomers senora' into which you could fit ten ladies. So, to tide me over until I could investigate further....Primark.

The young woman was making progress, but I could see that there would be a problem when she got to me...behind me I had a queue of other passengers and my overnight bag...the seats each side of the aisle alongside me were occupied...the knickers were in front.
There really is not much room on the Eurostar.

But there was an option...between us, one of the aisle seats was unoccupied so I suggested she nip in there...being more manoeuvrable as it were...frigate to my oil that I could pass and unblock the gangway.
With a toss of the head she kept on coming....what on earth she was thinking of was beyond me. What could there be to object to in ducking out of the aisle for a moment?

Well, a pretty young thing with a vanity case will get away with this with the weaker sex - men - but not with a crabby old bat with a bag of knickers and half a coachload of passengers backed up behind her.
She received a firm but not violent rugby hand-off amidships with the knickers which put her into the vacant space and I went on my way while her angry voice squawked

Do you mind!

Which gave me the one and probably the only chance I will ever have to utter the immortal line from 'Gone with the Wind'

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

And neither did I.

There was no worry about being arrested by the guard, either...they're never to be seen when hooligans are around.

I reached Paris without further incident and I had promised myself one last lunch in the City of Light before heading for home on the afternoon train.

Normally I would have gone to Chartier, which, touristy hell that it is, I love.
The food is solid, traditional French, the wine is drinkable, the cheese for some reason is always out of this world and the waiters don't have attitude.

But I had had a recommendation for a place off the Champs Elysee...not frightfully expensive...from a foody friend, so I thought I would give it a try.
A last fling, as it were.

I found it, was shown to a table and a waiter appeared with a menu within a few minutes.
I was thirsty after the journey and asked for some water, tap water, while I made up my mind what to order.
It did look an interesting menu, after all.

The waiter reappeared...with a bottle of mineral water which he was about to open when I stopped him.

No, Monsieur, I asked for tap water.

Yes, but Madame will not enjoy tap water with her meal.

Madame was not intending to stick to water with her meal.

The tap water is not recommended for the palate.

The wine will cure that.

Madame, as a foreigner, does not understand the subtleties of French cuisine.

Madame, as a foreigner, knows very well she will be charged for mineral water while tap water is free.

Madame, as a foreigner, does not have the same sense of values as the French.

Madame, as a foreigner, entirely shares the French system of values when it comes to money and she is not paying for what she does not want and did not order.

Madame, as a foreigner, does not understand the classless nature of France....where a client doesn't think themself too grand to accept the recommendations of the waiter.

Madame foreigner or not, understands all too well the nature of France and is not going to be talked into buying water she does not want even if by so doing she contributes towards the income of the doubtless underpaid waiter.

Madame, coming from a class ridden society, does not understand the spirit of equality in France....a French client understands that they and the waiter are on the same footing, combining to produce an agreeable dining experience.

Madame does not see any problem in achieving an agreeable dining experience once she gets the water she asked for and is able to order her meal.

Madame does not understand that in France everyone is equal....from the Revolution of 1789!

Madame has news for you. When the National Assembly of 1789 debated the franchise it was decided, among other measures, that servants should not be eligible to vote. And that included waiters.

While he was digesting that one I picked up my knickers and left the establishment.
Clearly, no agreeable dining experience would be in the offing.
Which was a shame as the menu looked interesting.

The queues by now at Chartier would be too great to give me time for lunch if I were not to miss my train so I grabbed something that called itself ciabatta at Montparnasse railway station on the way home which made me bless the skills of my dentist and gave me indigestion.

If only I had understood, after all these years in France, how to obtain an agreeable dining experience.......

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. I would have been sorely tempted to use, again, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" on the waiter after he insinuated you don't have the same sense of values as the French!
    I certainly home the trans-Atlantic move goes more smoothly for you than the preparing for it.

  2. Another Day of Crazy, what got me was the persistence and the escalation...all for a bottle of mineral water that he was determined I should buy!

    The move was no problem. Lock door in France, unlock door in Costa Rica.

  3. Suddenly your desire to move to Costa Rica is startlingly clear.

  4. Steve, It's not typical...I hope! But it illustrates a strand of French behaviour which is quite unpleasant...try to make the foreigner feel ignorant and uncultured...and then stick it into him or her for money!

  5. I'm gobsmacked at the waiter's attitude, but I loved the telling of the whole story. Gave me a good giggle. I bet you regretted not following your initial plan though.

    So you're now in Costa Rica? How exotic! What's the weather like? Is it raining? What's the likelihood of finding a waiter with attitude who refuses to bring you what you ordered?

  6. Sarah, I'd heard about these wretched waiters who think themselves superior but I'd only up until then come across the ones who sneer when you order a coffee with milk...and then only in Paris.
    So what a great send off from France this one was!
    Mr. Fly thinks that, seeing a crone with parcels he probably thought I was a SDF come in from the cold for a free glass of water.
    I shall deal with Mr. Fly in due course.

    Yup. In Costa Rica, in the aftermath of a tropical storm that has seen over twenty deaths, landslides, villages engulfed, towns under water and all communication cut to the south of the country...
    But the waiters are fine!

  7. You have a talent for storytelling, dear Fly. I have to add that I never had a snooty waiter in your present environs. They like a good tip and are generally agreeable as a way of securing it.

  8. I'm still laughing over your restaurant conversation with the waiter.
    Glad you've gotten your paperwork in order.

    I think the EuroStar is quite shoddy too.

  9. Costa Rica sounds like it should be exotic but at the moment sounds not much better than France! I hope that things improve for you.

    On the subject of waiters - on our recent trip to France, twice we walked out of restaurants when the waiter ignored us.

  10., but I have only frequented a couple of 'up market' establishment so far....and they were super, though American friends tell me some of the 'eco' resorts boast some iffy staff.
    We shall see.
    I don't think anyone is going to beat that chap in Paris, though.

    Dedene, surreal, isn't it! And all to sell a bottle of water! Or humpty because he couldn't.

    The paperwork is something else. Mr. Fly's was fine, but the French foreign ministry mucked up the confirmation of my criminal record -lack of, I hasten to add, as they hadn't heard of my outburst in the Eurostar -three times and without the help of Trisha in France, my dear friend, I should probably have been out of date and having to get the whole shemozzle done again!

    Cheshire Wife, where we are living has had little damage,luckily and yesterday and today have been sunny and windy, so it looks like things are getting back to normal.

    I can never see what waiters think they are doing to ignore customers...can't they see that their job depends on them?'s France.

  11. I so envy your command of the language to be able to argue the toss with the waiter. Go girl!!

  12. Fly, your posts keep on getting better. If only that stupid girl, and dumb waiter, had followed your progress through Paris, London and Milton Keynes from Consulate to Foreign Office, they would have known the futility and danger of crossing you and your bloomers.

    I suspect the young woman on the train was of the same ilk of those bloody drivers who, when there is only one car's width available on the road, nevertheless insist on approaching you while you are half-way down the road, instead of pulling into the side and waiting the six seconds it would take you to clear the way.

    I think you were commendably forbearing with the waiter. He needed the bottle breaking over his head.

  13. "bloomers senora" i shall never call mine anything else after that.
    "a crabby old bat with a bag of knickers"
    snort. that made me laugh out loud.
    wonderful story as only you could tell.

  14. Reminded me a little of Down and Out in Paris and London. Not sure who'se shoes I'd like to be in less - yours or the waiters.

    Check out this blog by the way:

    I met Zoe the other week - very intelligent and a good writer too; bet it turns out be interesting.

  15. After that encounter with the waiter, which just about sums up a lot of what you've written here about France, I should imagine you boarded your plane for Costa Rica humming "non, je ne regrette rien".

  16. Roz, it has dawned on me that my command of the French language has been honed on stroppy lawyers, crooked insurance agents and men from the planning department.
    I owe them all a great debt.

    nodamnblog...that girl was particularly irritating...and the toss of the head was the trigger for the all out bloomer attack.
    When something is so simple...move into a space to clear the gangway, why not just do the obvious? Why try power play?
    As for the you ever find yourself in conversations that turn bizarre and you seem impelled to carry on rather than withdrawing sharply to a swift G and T elsewhere?

    Clippy Mat...yes, 'bloomers senora' has a certain ring to it, doesn't it!

    Mark, generally I do feel sorry for's not an easy life and not well paid....enquiry of foody friend reveals that there is a new breed of waiter about....who wish to impose their ideas on the customer who is assumed to be totally ignorant of anything to do with food or wine.
    I wish I'd gone to Chartier.

    Pueblo girl, well, it was a great send off!

    I'll follow the link, thank you.

  17. Um..that last bit became detached from my reply to you, Mark. Apologies.

  18. I can't believe how patient you were with the waiter! And I don't blame you for walking out without ordering...I think I would have done so too!

    (Oh and like you, I'll be dashing around Primark on my trip to England the week after next for knickers and stuff...brilliant aren't they?)

  19. Ayak, well, I seemed to be caught up in it...I really couldn't believe that at some point I wouldn't get my glass of water!

    I do like Primark...I've never been an M and S shopper as in my young day they did not have changing rooms so if something didn't fit it was another trip on the bus to replace it...with something else that might not I used BHS instead whose quality seemed equally good for less money and who did have changing rooms.

  20. I love your narratives, my friend, and I find it fascinating how the tale unfolds and the pains you take to bring in the elements and, having been in France, I find you convey the frustrations so brilliantly, yet with certain kindness. I think you'll find Costa Rica less challenging, especially once you get the knicker question sorted out.

  21. mrwriteon, having lived in France yourself you must recognise the slightly deranged quality of life there...
    Yes, I too think Costa Rica will lower my blood pressure considerably...once I sort out the knicker question....
    And thank you for your kind comments....especially valuable coming from you.

  22. I'm glad you stood up for yourself and, better still, stood up and walked out. First impressions are important: if I think the waiter is being offhabnd to me or directs me to a table I don't want then I walk. Once, just off the Rue de Rivoli, a friend and I wanted a table and there loads empty but the waiter took us to a pokey backroom, claiming everything was booked. Good day, wanker, I said, and walked.

  23. I spotted a typo just as I hit the button! (offbhand or something).

  24. Dumdad, I should have walked earlier...but I was tired, looking forward to a decent lunch, and just could not believe the seems, looking back, more like a struggle for dominance than a spat over a glass of water.
    I suppose I just could not bring myself to believe that a blasted waiter was trying to bullyrag me...the customer!

  25. Dumdad...I usually spot mine a split second after hitting the button too!

  26. Hi Fly, nice one! Don't take no crap from no waiter.

    And on a different subject entirely, I'm laid back about corruption in high places as you know, but the latest post from Maître Eolas fair took my breath away. Have a look if you haven't already. Enjoy!!

  27. Mark in Mayenne, I should have left at the first sign of problems....

    Yes, indeed I did! This business has been rumbling for months now....and while this doesn't surprise, it does depress.

    Did you see the earlier post on circular about the garde a vue?

  28. Yes I saw the GaV post; I follow his blog with interest. I'm glad that there are people like Maître Eolas around, but I fear for his job when he gets outed.

  29. Hi Fly,

    Loved the story and glad you have made the move to Costa Rica OK. If I'd had the sense I would have come and visited you whilst you were both in France. Having said that...Costa Rica...that's a lovely country y hablo el idioma mejor que hablo frances! Maybe one day!

    Hope you are settled in well and glad you didn't get hit by the storm.

    I'm hoping to blog a bit more now that the main season is over. Hugs Hadriana xx (Greetings to Mr. Fly too!)

  30. Good for you standing up to the waiter. Ole!