(On Profiteroles in Paris )  


August 2003 


Thank you President Bush, I’m about to get my child tax credit check this week and guess what, I’ve already spent it.  In France.


We just spent nine wonderful days touring France – Paris , the chateaux of the Loire and the Normandy coast.  We didn’t encounter one bit of anti-Americanism.  If anything, people went out of their way to be helpful.  Yes, we did keep a low profile and tourism is down so people might have been a tad friendlier just to get our business.  But during the nine days we were traveling, we ran into Americans only twice – once near Azay-le-Rideau and again in Giverny where an onslaught of older American women in the gift shop of Monet’s garden gave new meaning to the word “shopping.”  Put a water lily on it and they would buy it.


Before we left, anti-French sentiments were pretty strong on our side of the pond.  Friends were practically shouting, “we’re not going to France ” which coincided with boycotting French wines, cheese and eating out in French restaurants.  We felt otherwise.  We hadn’t been to the Loire Valley in 17 years and we had never been to Normandy .  Regardless of what was going on at home, we were determined to see the châteaux and D-Day beaches and most of all have some good food. 

Three years ago when we were in Paris we were told that we could eat better French food in New York .  At the time it was true.  Not anymore.  We spent our days eating fabulous moules, frites, escargots, duck, local fish, every variation of tarte aux pommes imaginable, profiterole, great chèvre and camembert, enormous quantities of butter and cream, and lots of local wine.  We also ate better pizza in France than we ever had in Italy .

But being American and being used to the way we do things, there are pros and cons to every trip.  We didn’t see any Starbucks in France . (This is a good thing.)  For about 1.20 Euros you can get a really decent “cup” of coffee even if their idea of a “cup” is actually three sips.  We spotted only one Hummer (in Trouville-sur-Mer) on the trip (another good thing) but gas is still over $4.00 a gallon. OUCH! 

Three out of the four hotels we stayed in were not air conditioned.  This proved to be quite uncomfortable since Europe was in the middle of a heat wave.  At over $100 a night per hotel room, we never thought the rooms would not be air conditioned.  Boy are Americans spoiled!

Other peeves include tiny hotel elevators.  It’s either you or the luggage on the lift but not both.  It really shouldn’t become an all day event to get four people and five bags out of a hotel!  Hotel breakfasts were also not that great.  The buffet table at the hotel usually consisted of the basics – baguette, croissant, butter, cheese, jam, coffee and juice.  But at an average of 10 Euros a head, it was getting to be quite expensive.  For a family of four, spending over $40 on breakfast would get you a lot of bacon and eggs in the States.  Needless to say, six out of the nine days we headed to a local pâtisserie and picked up croissant and pain au chocolat.

Then there’s the bathroom situation.  If you can get a room with a shower, the bathroom is going to be small.  Trying to move around in a closet-size room without bruising some part of one’s anatomy becomes a challenge.  Bigger bathrooms resulted in baths with hand-held showers.  When you’re traveling with two kids, hand-held showers mean there is water all over the floor, the walls and the towels but not on the body.

Wanting to get a real feel for whatever town we were in, we would stop at a local Champion supermarket.  Yes, it’s a strange form of sightseeing but it was fun to see what other countries stock on their shelves.  In one supermarket we went to one entire aisle was devoted solely to yogurt!  There were fabulous cheeses and every single New Yorker’s dream – one-piece packages of chicken and meat.  There were also aisles filled with interesting jams, mustards and oils.  Who would have thought there are so many oils to cook your frites in as well as a totally different oil to make your fondue with?  More perplexing however was that the stores still close for lunch.  Even the supermarkets!  What kind of nonsense is that? 

We stopped in a post office one day noting their closing time of 12:30.  It was 12:15 and they were already mopping the floor and shooing me out.  By 12:20, they had locked up.  Okay, I can respect the concept of the two hour lunch break.  But every day?  Maybe that’s why our lunches were always so damn long?

We would sit down for lunch at 1 p.m. and at 2:45 p.m. we would still be waiting for dessert!  It was exasperating.  Do you really need to eat four courses in the middle of the day?  Granted, some days we grabbed a pizza or a quick omelette but it was often too irresistible not to order the four course prix fixe for 23 Euros.

With all this eating, it was only time before someone had an upset stomach.  That’s when the great American drugstore was sorely missed. At home, we have a drugstore every three blocks.  You walk inside for whatever ailment you have and there usually is an entire aisle loaded with medicine to take care of it.  In France , there are no drugstores, only pharmacies which means that whatever is wrong must be described (in detail) to the pharmacist behind the counter. After a series of potentially embarrassing questions, you are handed a package of pills.  These are the only pills they offer you, so you take them.  Luckily, they work so you don’t have to repeat this experience and you can resume eating.

Spending our tax credit in France was not what I think President Bush had in mind.  The past few days I’ve been reading how other Americans are spending the money; they’re buying school supplies or clothes.  After our trip, we have enough money left over for a single school supply.  I told the kids they could have any colored pencil they wanted.  And for the record, the profiteroles in Paris were really good. 

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