25 January, 2010

Parisians may not be rude but they can be devious

When we lived in Delhi, we would often stop and ask people on the street where a particular building or street was. No matter where it was located, they responded with "it's behind the Regal Cinema." We would shake our heads, because we didn't know where the Regal Cinema was. Then as the weeks went by we finally realized, duh, that it meant they didn't know. While traveling in the countryside, I would ask where the hospital was, as an example. The person would point. I'd say, "to the left?" And he said yes, yes. "Or to the right," I would ask.  Yes, yes, they answered. The person didn't want us to feel bad, so they told us what they thought we wanted to hear.

In Florence, Italy it was the same. Seldom would one say they didn't know where a street or building was, but would send us in totally the wrong direction. When I asked an Italian why they did that, I was told that they didn't want to disappoint us. Okay, maybe.

In May 2009 my daughter, Clio, and her husband, John, were going to meet us at the Charles de Gaulle airport with their 18 month old daughter, Chiara, in tow.  We arrived in Europe a week early so that we would be rested when they arrived, and Chiara would have two rested caretakers. Our first stop was Lyon. It was meant to be a holiday in which the best food in France and Italy was going to be eaten.

Dick and I took a hotel in the vicinity of the airport and caught the bus that fateful morning for the ride to the terminal. I suggested we take the early bus in case something went wrong, but Dick said it wasn't necessary. After all, what could go wrong? They were due at 8:30 am.  So Dick said we can get there fifteen minutes later, because they will have a long walk.

So we caught the bus and arrived at the airport at 8:30. However, the bus driver stopped before we arrived at our terminal. I don't go any farther, he said. Yet the hotel receptionist had told us otherwise, and when we told him that he shrugged and said no. He stopped where he was. Now we have to find our own way to the terminal.

If you have been in Charles de Gaulle, you will understand how difficult it is to find anything. The signs are ambiguous, and there are dozens of doors. We would ask and would inevitably be told to go to the wrong exit.

Charles de Gaulle is said to be an architectual masterpiece. It looks something like an octpus, with moving sidewalks in hundreds of directions. The place where the luggage comes out of the airplane is next to the exit for the passengers. And while everything sounds like it will work in theory, in practice it is something else.

When we finally made our way to the terminal it was after 9:30. We asked at the information desk whether the plane had arrived and the lady said no, it was late. So we sighed a sigh of relief.

However, the plane had arrived at 8am and John, Clio and the baby had been waiting for us, when they decided they had better go on to Lyon as we had planned. The train goes from the airport to Lyon at the train station in the airport. Dick and I had taken that train with friends of ours some years earlier. So when Clio and I talked about the trip, I told her that was the case and she  checked it out on the internet,where it was confirmed.

I need to explain something here. Clio is the research queen, and this is not meant negatively. When she takes a trip, she knows what airlines to take, which bus to catch from the airport, which hotel is the best for  the money, which museum we should see and which restaurants to eat at. She takes the info with her so she can check and recheck. She knew the train left from the airport, but when she asked the woman at the information desk how to find the train, the woman told her it was nonsense. Of course you go to the Gare de Lyon. John and Clio looked at each other, showed her the information she had gathered, and the woman insisted.

So with baby over the shoulder, they caught a taxi to the railroad station, where, of course, they were told that no, the train leaves from the airport. Clio speaks passable French, and she told the man that the woman at the information desk said they had to come into Paris to catch the train. "Ah, yes," he said, "they do that sometimes." They do that sometimes? So another taxi and back to the airport.

In the meantime, we were still waiting at the terminal and had asked many people coming out, but no one was from LA. I asked the information desk lady again. Are you sure I asked.  Bien sur, she smiled. So Dick went to the airlines to ask. We had been waiting for hours for nothing.

We decided that they must have already taken the train to Lyon. So while waiting for the elevator,  we heard, "Daddy!!!!"  All's well that ends well.

However, let me belabor a point for a minute. Does information have another meaning in French?  Or is it not in her job description to give us the info we need. If we had been jackasses, she would have had every right to treat us that way. But we weren't.  Maybe she had a good laugh with her family and friends for the next few days.


  1. My French is passable? PASSABLE? Hmph.

  2. Being an anxious traveler, I get a knot in my tummy just reading about your escapades! But, traveling is suppose to be an adventure, I guess. Paul Theroux says things going wrong need to be part of the experience for it to be meaningful and memorable. For me - not so much.

    Take care.


  3. AH, Clio, you know your French is absolutely mistake free with the be French accent you can find. However if I say that everyone thinks I am prejudiced.