[C’est Top]

This year The Beloved is celebrating a birthday that may or may not end in a zero. Befitting such a milestone, I’d asked her to think about how she might want to celebrate it. It was actually a pretty short conversation. She wanted to celebrate it by taking a vacation someplace that she’d never been: France.

We didn’t want to go in around her actual birthday (early summer, high season, crowded) and so we are going to go during the last two weeks in March. As we thought about it, our goal was to spend the first week in Paris and the second week “somewhere else”. After poking around on the internet and reading a couple of books, we decided we would road trip down to the Dordogne region in the southwest of the country during the second week.

Voyage sur la Route

Unlike the Beloved, I’ve been to Paris. One summer, I went with a friend (almost 20 years ago — yikes) and crashed on his brother’s couch for 10 days (the brother was working in Paris for a stint). Fortunately this time around, there won’t be any pull out couches. We’re going to rent apartments in both Paris and Sarlat – we like this idea because then we won’t have to eat every meal out (saving us some francs, er, euros), and will give a space larger than a hotel room to relax in.

France and Paris are so iconic that I think it’s hard to go into a trip like this without a barrel full of expectations. As Americans, of course, my expectations have been crafted by books, television and movies. Appropriately or not, we have certain ideas about the country, its capital, and its citizenry.

Cafe Life

The Beloved, of course, sees us sitting glamorously in a Parisian street café, perhaps coming across like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise, or an enchanted romantic strolling couple as in Midnight In Paris, or maybe even the wide-eyed joy of the little chef in Ratatouille.

Just like this


City of Lights

As for me, I’m having a hard time shaking Pepe le Pew out of my brain as I think about our new hosts. And sadly, my only expectations for French castles in the Dordogne arise from Monty Python and The Holy Grail – so at least the bar hospitality-wise is set pretty low.


In any case, even though the trip has been on the calendar for a while, now that we’re within a month of going it’s really starting to seem real. My “Learn Conversational French” CDs have gotten me to the point where I will be able to state with great confidence, “I don’t understand,” “Where is Saint Jacque Street?” and “I would like some wine, please.”

What else could we need?


32 thoughts on “[C’est Top]

  1. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve been to Paris (ouch), but some things still apply: speaking French is a plus, though don’t be surprised if some Parisians make fun of your pronunciation. (I think it’s payback for the number of times I saw New York subway workers, cab drivers, and store clerks act rudely towards foreign tourists.) Maintain your aplomb and be polite even if they aren’t: that’ll show them. Parisians still pride themselves on looking stylish, even when going out to pick up a pack of cigarettes, so remember to bring a sports or leather jacket to throw on if you’re going out for the evening. (I was told the French still smoke up a storm compared to Americans, even though the government banned the habit from cafes and restaurants. So if you’re tobacco-phobic, stay away from the outdoor tables.) Mostly, enjoy the food—I still remember the dinners from my visit—and enjoy your trip. I hope the Beloved comes home with many happy memories.

    • HG — I had no issues with Parisians when I was there in the 1990s, though maybe that’s because I grew up in New Jersey where meanness is worn like a badge of honor. I agree that politeness can get you a long way. I don’t really anticipate any huge issues. So looking forward to it!

  2. Oh how wonderful!! This sounds similar to a trip I was starting to plan a few years ago and I think that may have been the year I just suddenly decided to go to West Texas (go figure). I was going to rent an apartment in Paris the first week and then rent a car the second week and road trip it to Belgium and maybe Luxembourg or the Netherlands. I had a year of French in high school (1985-6) and I went to France in 1995 and 1996 and I had no problem with the French. I found that if you at least ask them “Parlez-vous anglais s’il vous plait?” they are much more willing to help you. Really I had people help me whom I didn’t even ASK to help me. Both were older people, one a gentleman in LeHavre who saw I was looking around upon leaving the ferry terminal and asked if I was going to the train station, which of course I was, so he walked with me (He had been a teacher in the US for a while) and sat with me on the train till he left. Another was an old woman on the bus who spoke no English. She heard me ask the driver if it was the bus going to the youth hostel (as opposed to the one going away from it) and she showed me on the little route map how many more stops it was till the Auberge de jeunesse, and since she got off before my stop she had her friend make sure I got off at the right stop. I didn’t need her help, really, but was really touched that she was so conscientious of making sure I got to the right place. So you won’t hear me calling the French rude.
    Anyway. I’m sure a lot has changed since either of us have been there. Watch out for all the scammers. People saying they found a ring, or a wallet or something. Is it yours? (I forget the whole scheme but it’s really common over there and because they act like they FOUND something of yours it’s easier to get taken in). I was appalled at something I was reading and all the commenters relating their similar experiences, because the only time I ever had anything similar was in Spain when some old woman jabbered at us in Spanish (which neither of us knew) grabbed our hands and put some twig in it and told us our fortunes and then wanted money. My friend didn’t want to give her money but I just gave her something because I figured her sons were hanging out somewhere ready to pounce on us, haha.
    Well, have fun. I am so jealous but will enjoy seeing the photos when you return.

    • cranky — I agree that I think basic politeness will get you pretty far. Everything I’ve read suggests that Parisians appreciate civility almost more than anything and I think I can do that.

      I’ll be curious to see if we run into many scammers and how different Paris is than the Dordogne.

  3. You will have such fun! My sister lived in France for five years. I only got to visit once, but how extremely beautiful it all is.
    And we never had any rudeness, either. (Except for seeing one embarrassing American acting like an ass.)
    The food was fantastic. Street cafes fantastic. The wine, of COURSE! Fantastic! I need to get back there!!! We went on some wonderful hikes up mountains and into caves. And I think you are going at an excellent time!

    • Lauri — yes, I’m afraid that my countrymen might embarrass me more than the locals. Fortunately, we’re not going in the summer when everything will be very crowded and peoples’ patience might be a little thin.

      I’m really looking forward to the Dordogne too — especially after spending a week in Paris, I think it will be a great change of pace.

  4. “April in Paris” … that has a nice ring to it, someone should write a song!

    Watch out, though, my parents went to France 50+ years ago (courtesy of the US Army) and came back with my oldest sister. I hope you bring back a much nicer souvenir!

  5. Oh, that sounds like an amazing trip! I do hope you’ll have a chance to blog, or at least post a few pics to FB while you’re there. I’ll be anxious to hear how it all meets up to your expectations.

    • Mello — our phones won’t work, but each apartment has wi-fi, so we should be okay. I don’t think we’ll spend a LOT of time on the computer, but we’re going to take a laptop to be accessible, and since I get ready more quickly than someone I know, I’ll probably have times to post from time to time… ;)

  6. Ooh, sounds like fun.
    Frenchman: “Bonjour, what’s your name?”
    Steve: “Je voudrais un peu de vin, s’il vous plaît”
    Frenchman: “That is the Eiffel Tower”
    Steve: “Je voudrais un peu de vin, s’il vous plaît”
    Frenchman: “Stick ’em up”
    Steve: “Je voudrais un peu de vin, s’il vous plaît”

    Oh kidding..have a fantastic time. Look forward to reading all about it.

  7. You need Andy the Armadillo. He wants to go to France and explore the beautiful countryside. He’s potty trained and doesn’t eat much. I believe apartments in France have a ‘we love armadillos’ policy, too.

    I look forward to reading about your trip and living vicariously through the pictures, which I hope you’ll share.

    By the way, “I’m not dead, yet.”

    • LD — hopefully, we won’t have to bring out our dead. Just tossing away our dead soldiers of wine bottles. :)

      Andy? Heck — I’m still trying to figure out how to smuggle Penny along!!

  8. Oooh! I’m jealous. My birthday ends in a 0 this year, too. I think we’re going to get two nights away somewhere not too far from home. Maybe Vegas? Maybe San Luis Obispo? Anyway, not France. But I guess we could stay at the Paris hotel in Vegas….

    Have fun!

    • M — we’ve stayed at the Paris, it’s pretty nice, though not 0-ending birthday nice, I think. :) SLO’s a great getaway from it all sort of town –pain to get to though (which is probably what keeps it nice).

  9. Ah, a coeur vaillant, rien d’impossible.

    How fun! You will have a great time, I hope you review some restaurants and wine. The streets and cafes look so romantic. My dream is to tour the Pyrenees looking for genets. It looks like you might be slightly close to those mountains? I bet you’d love that too. Can’t wait to hear more, and early happy birthday to Beloved.

    • Tres bien!

      We’ll be pretty close to the Pyrenees (in a relative sense). I’m very excited to explore the countryside and open areas after spending a week in the big city.

  10. Awesome – what a great trip! I’m looking forward to reading your impressions and seeing the pics. Good luck with the conversational French. I know every time I’ve needed my French skills, my mind went blank!

    • Thanks LG! One of my personal high points when we went to Germany a couple of years ago was being able to conduct and entire store-transaction in German without the person lapsing into well-intentioned English. If I can get that in France, it will be a success.

  11. This trip sounds awesome! Its the only place I’ve been in Europe and it truly is an unforgettable place to visit. I’m sure your Beloved will have the birthday of her life. Enjoy south of France too. I hear that’s great. When we went ten years ago we did Paris and then headed north to Normandy region. My husband was trying to track down his ancesters who had departed out of that area. Safe travels.

    • We thought about some of the northern places too, but figuring that we’ll be there over the last two weeks in march, we thought going south might buy us a little better weather.

  12. Pingback: Check, please | Stevil

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