Antony, 28 Aug, 2010
It’s finally happened. An acquaintance from the states came to Paris, and actually wrote an asked to stay with me. I tried to explain that I lived in a rather scary area, with no particular tourist value, but my acquaintance, probably out of a need for frugality, had no problem with that. At least until he arrived.
Day One – the arrival.
I pick him up at the RER commuter rail station in Antony. He’s easy to spot because of the deer in the headlite look. Plus, he’s the only non-Algerian in the station, besides me. Only he’s not used to that. He’s obviously waiting for someone to blow up next to him. But my landlord hasn’t returned from jihadi camp in Pakistan yet, so he’s safe, I assure him. I note that he’s attempting to nonchallently keep his thumb hanging on his wallet pocket.
We get back to the house, where the smell of stewing lamb parts permeates the air, which is filled with the whining sound of Algerian love songs from the apartment below us. Funny: he STILL has that deer-in-the-headlights look. I show him his room, which is actually rather nice by local standards. I give him the tour. He’s intrigued by the fact that the toilet is in its own ‘closet’ and doesn’t understand the concept of the bidet. Americans shower a great deal more than the French. They also use deoderant, a concept that’s pretty foreign here.
We go out for dinner in Massy, the next town over, to a small hotel that serves more or less tradiional French food. He seems more relaxed.
By the time we get out of the restaurant, it’s almost midnight, so I suggest a taxi back to the apartment, more out of consideration of his obvious paranoia about the area than the need to ride back to the house. He eagerly agrees and I have the hotel call for a cab. Back to the apartment, where he promptly falls asleep.
Day Two – the tour
When you live here, it seems that anyone who visits Paris and looks you up expects a tour. I’m not quite sure just why that is, but I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower more times than I ever planned, walked the Champs Elysees to the point I know it by heart, and have even had the appalling experience of riding one of those obnoxious boats down the Seine for the city tour “and ‘ere, on zee left, eez zee famouz La Tour d’Argent, where eet ees sed dat zee fuck (fork) was invented”. More of the same today. I try to prevent him from getting too shafted buying an overpriced scarf for his mom back home. We do lunch in an overpriced cafe on the Champs. He insists, and pays.
Day Three – Reality
I have to work SOMETIME, so today’s the day, I explain to him. I’ve developed a nice itinerary, actually itineraries, so that he has a choice of places to explore. Alas, the tastes of a Frenchman don’t match those of an American, no matter how long I’ve spent Stateside. Still, he graciously thanks me, takes the list, a spare key I have, and I’m off to as couple of meetings that should only take a couple of hours, but I know will take the whole day because, well, this is France.
6pm – I get home. He’s there. In the livingroom. Deer-in-the-headlights look back again. I ask him how his day went. “Fine” is all I get from him. Okay, time for 50 questions..not a favourite pasttime of mine…
“So, what did you do today?” I ask innocently, bracing myself. “Oh, not much” he responds. I went down to the train station, but I couldn’t figure out how to get off the train platform (there are turnstiles where you have to insert your ticket a second time, but I guess I forgot to tell him that), so I came back and watched TV” said he. “What did you watch?” I inquired. “I don’t know” he responded “It was all in French”. Did I mention that, despite 3 years of high school French, and two years of college French, that, for some reason, he doesn’t speak a word? We ordered in that night…
Day Four – Au Revoir
There are two things that really kill productivity in my book: French meetings for one. Seeing a friend/acquaintance off at the airport for two. Today was send-off day. The flight was scheduled for 1pm, which meant that we needed to get to the airport at 10:30 to be safe, which meant we needed to leave the house at 9:30, to be safe.
“You mean we can take the train directly to the airport?” my acquaintance asked in an amazed voice. Like the French have suddenly become so efficient that it’s not necessary to take that 40Euro airport bus from the center of the city after all.
We board the train at the Antony station, my acquaintance dutifully with his thumb slung over his wallet pocket once again. 40 minutes later, the train pulled into Roissy, the home of Charles de Gaulle airport, and his flight home. We check in and, no surprise, learn that the flight hasn’t arrived yet, as it was delayed for some reason enroute from New York. Did I mention the effect that these send offs have on productivity?
We go to the local airport cafe and have a stale Croque Monsieur sandwich and flat soda. I have a weak coffee made from beans that were obviously roasted a half century ago. We then visit the gift shop, this overpriced area where you can find all the stereotypical presents to bring back to loved ones that you might have forgotten while shopping along the Rue Rivoli. Only twice the price of the rip-off shops on r. Rivoli….
2pm – they FINALLY announce boarding for the flight back to New York. This is always the point where everyone acts so sincere and proclaims their unbounding gratitude for one’s proferred hospitality. Today is no exception. Then he’s gone. F-R-E-E-D-O-M!
If you’re reading this and have a friend in Paris, do him or her a favour. Have them make a restaurant reservation at a place of their choosing. Then treat them to an evening on you. Oh, and book your own hotel room and tours. They’ll truly appreciate it…
Antony, 28 Aug, 2010