Things I loved about France

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  1. No Billboards. Seriously, almost zero, I think I saw one McDonalds sign somewhere. When we were driving through the countryside of champagne country to Epernay, it was like driving through countryside.
  2. The little towns. There were adorable little towns scattered across the countryside with buildings and castles that appeared to be hundreds of years old. None of those homogenous subdivisions with annoying cookie cutter mansions and teensy little yards.
  3. The traffic. Ok, maybe we weren’t driving in rush hour traffic, but they seemed to have traffic pretty well controlled. They use a lot of roundabouts instead of traffic lights. They’re a little difficult to navigate, but they seemed faster than corners with traffic lights and traffic lights are just an eyesore anyway. Actually, they have fewer street signs in general. You sometimes have to look at the buildings to find the street names.
  4. The Moet et Chandon champagne tour. It was a little pretentious the way she bragged about how a specific wine-growing region was superior to another, but the underground caves that housed zillions of bottles of champagne (I forget the exact number) was impressive and it was interesting to hear about the process of fermentation and expelling the condensed yeast pellet. I didn’t know they added a sugar mixture at the end of the process to make up the volume lost from expelling the yeast. The tasting was a bit rushed but the pink champagne was wonderful (we tasted vintage champagnes). I was surprised to learn that Moet is pronounced “MWET’. I always thought they didn’t pronounce the ‘t’.  The photo above is the street where the Moet tour was in Epernay.
  5. The architecture. We took a bus from the Latin quarter to the Eiffel tower one late afternoon and along the way we drove by dozens of beautiful, famous architectural landmarks. I just stared out the window with a dumb grin on my face, amazed at the view of such history. I’m sure the locals thought I looked like an idiot tourist with my mouth agape, but I was equally amazed that they could sit and stare blankly at nothing just because they’d already seen these sites millions of times before.
  6. The yogurts and cheeses. Wow, what a selection and some of the flavored yogurt-like desserts weren’t even really yogurt (some sort of sweet cream). There was this wonderful caramel dessert thing that I fell in love with. I thought my grocery store had a pretty good cheese selection, but the choices in France were totally different. I loved the goat cheeses and some of the stinky cheeses.
  7. The RER. Super convenient to get around once you figure it out.
  8. The Boulangerie/Patisseries, Delis (I don’t remember the French name) and crepes. I probably should have tried more of the tart thingies in the patisseries, they were beautiful to look at. I like the sweet crepes better than the savory ones, like crepe Suzette or the one with granulated sugar or nutella.
  9. Croque monsieur and escargot. What’s not to like about a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with extra cheese broiled on top? The appeal of the escargot is the garlic butter and they remembered to serve bread with it to get every last drop.
  10. The churches, museums and Versailles. We only went to one church, but I’ve been to the Lourve and Versaille and they were definitely worth the entrance fee.
  11. The language. I really hate to admit that French is a beautiful language when I barely understand a word. But they practically sing certain phrases (like bon jour) and even pardon. It’s hard to get annoyed at someone who’s trying to run you over with a luggage cart when they’re singing ‘pardon’ like it’s a children’s song or something.
  12. The wine. Maybe it’s just that we were in France and we expected the wine to be wonderful, but even the simple cheap red wines were pretty good.
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Tipping, doggie bags and shoes at airports

I suppose my first post after the fabulous trip to Paris and Mallorca (Spain) should be about the wonderful drive through champagne country, the fabulous food, the wonderful red wine or the beautiful, empty beaches in Mallorca. But first, I’m dying to say a few words about some cultural differences that caught my attention. I’d like to start by saying that I live in the best country in the world. I know that this sounds like I am just an “arrogant” American but I won’t apologize for this opinion for two reasons. One. I firmly believe that it is true. And Two. I hope that most people would say the same of their own country and that someday everyone will say this of his own country. To paraphrase something that Tony Blair said not too long ago, the measure of the greatness of a country is in the number of people who want to get IN compared to those that want to get OUT.

 

So. What about tipping? When we first arrived in Paris and tried to get used to the idea of NOT tipping, we were very uncomfortable. We were constantly discussing the idea of not tipping among ourselves and we even tried to ask a few servers if they were REALLY ok not getting tips. We scrutinized the bill to see if something was listed that looked like a tip. Then, we decided to appreciate not leaving tips (since the dollar is so weak and the restaurant/bar prices were so outrageously high anyway). But then, I started to notice the attitudes of the servers. They weren’t all overtly rude, in fact, most weren’t rude at all. However, they were not nearly as attentive and intentionally pleasant as American servers are. When I was a waitress, I considered my customers my employers (which they were considering the puny, less than minimum wage salary I was earning). If I got an order wrong or if a customer wasn’t happy for any reason, I was that customer’s strongest advocate when I asked the manager what I could do to make it up to him. I was shocked when the bus driver for the hotel didn’t bother putting our luggage in the bus for us (or opening/closing doors). It just really made me appreciate the service we get in the “service industries” here in the good old U.S. of A. I think tipping is a big part of why service is better in this country. (Or maybe Americans are just naturally more polite). Oh! And WHY for God’s sake would I tip someone for cleaning the restroom! Can’t they PAY someone to do that! That person is certainly NOT working for me. Unless she escorts me into the stall and asks me if everything is to my satisfaction, I do not see why I need to tip her. I’ve been to high-end restaurants here in the ‘States’ where I can’t get a towel to dry my hands without tipping the person who hands it to me, but in restaurants like this, the bathroom is gorgeous and spotless, the towels are real and I can get a spritz of a fancy perfume or a shot of mouthwash for my $1. In conclusion, tipping a restroom worker has socialistic overtones whereas tipping in the service industries seems much more capitalistic. Hooray for capitalism.

 

Doggie bags. Why not? We could have had some fabulous meals back in our rooms. Where does all that food go? Maybe we can convince the europeans that doggie bags are another way of ‘going green’. They’re already stingy with their plastic bags at the grocery store. On an unrelated note… they bag their own groceries (too bad I couldn’t tip someone to do that for me).

 

Shoes at airports. I don’t remember taking my shoes off in most of the airports we traveled through, but in Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris on the way home, they looked at our passports and ONLY if we were American- we had to take our shoes off. No one else. What’s up with that? Are we more likely to wear explosives in our shoes than anyone else on the planet? Was the nutcase who did that here an American?

Mom, Thank you for…

I’m afraid that my mom (aka Toby) thinks I don’t appreciate her. So I thought I’d write a list of just a few of the things that I appreciate her for.

  1. The genes (except for the thin hair and slow metabolism). I wish I was taller; but I’m healthy, strong, relatively smart, confident and pretty enough. I’m counting on longevity genes too. I inherited your stubbornness; but believe it or not, I sometimes wish I was even more stubborn/competitive (career-wise). I inherited your love of cooking (and eating—but I won’t thank you for the latter either)
  2. Raising me. I don’t have children of my own, so I don’t have a whole lot of insight into the amount of work it takes to get a person through babyhood and childhood (the feedings, shopping, bathing, dressing, shuttling, homework help, school related events etc.). But I know it was a lot of work and I appreciate it.
  3. All those great meals. When I am a guest at your house or on vacation in the Carribean, the meals are always exceptional and I don’t think to tell you how much I appreciate the work that went into them. I always feel special when you make a favorite meal or dish, like spaghetti for my birthday when I was young or city chicken for a special occasion or the liver paté that is mainly just for me. Your cooking is was makes Christmas –Christmas, the homemade caramels and chex mix etc. I love that you are a creative cook. I remember when we moved from Alabama to New Mexico, how you taught us to appreciate New Mexican food. You made stuff we’d never heard of like huevos rancheros and chili rellenos. And you still cook Pennsylvania Dutch stuff (scrapple!), Southern dishes (black-eyed peas) and New Mexican food. You have raised very adventurous eaters who can appreciate foods from any culture.
  4. Values and morals. I’d love to be gorgeous and skinny and rich and I suppose college degrees are important symbols of accomplishment, but I don’t obsess about these things. Instead I value relationships, learning, productivity, health and creativity. I’d rather be kind and compassionate than than famous or powerful.
  5. The example of a strong marriage based on mutual respect. At times I thought you two were pretty old-fashioned, but even so, you loved and respected each other and I could appreciate the compromises and adjustments that were made, often gradually over the years. I love that you two have happy hour on the porch (or in the pool) whenever possible and that you still love traveling together and that you are at a point in your lives where you are not afraid to spoil yourselves a little bit every now and then. I look forward to a retirement just like yours.
  6. College tuition and all the fabulous trips. I believe these made me more adventurous, worldly? and tolerant.
  7. A close family. I love that we all get together at least once a year and that we call each other on the phone every few weeks (if not every week). Thank you for keeping our family close in spite of the distances.

Don Aldo vs. Mr. Israel

The San Diego trip was fun. The weather improved by the last two days of the meeting and we spent time at the hotel pool, at Seaport Village and Horton Plaza. Plus, I got to see Haus Frau and the practically grown-up, pre-teen version of pumpkin, aka squash. What a nice young lady. But the highlight was the cab ride where we got ‘pulled over’? by a cop. Our bad tempered, notsa-bright, middle eastern cab driver (the name of his leased cab was “Israel” which seemed incredibly ironic to me) managed to get us lost. Don Aldo had taken two cab rides (to his mom’s house) previously and when he gave the previous cab drivers the major cross-streets and the city (Mission Hills), they had no problem getting there for a total fare of $11-$13. This cabbie however, had never heard of the cross street or the area (Mission Hills). So he got on the freeway (unnecessary and way out of the way) and proceeded to Washington street in the wrong area (he didn’t know where Mission Hills was and he knew that Hillcrest was ‘over there somewhere’, but he couldn’t tell us what area we were in and Don Aldo was disoriented by this time). Tempers flared and Don Aldo called Mr. Israel a F***ing idiot. Mr. Israel then called Don Aldo a F***ing idiot who clearly didn’t know where he was going. Don Aldo contended that “I’m not the cab driver, it’s not my job to know how to get there, that’s your job and if you didn’t know where you were going; you should have informed us so we could have taken another cab.” This inspired Mr. Israel to yell “You don’t disrespect me in my cab, do you want me to call the police?”. Which he did.

Meanwhile, the cab fare was already $17 and we weren’t much closer to where we were headed than when we first started. The good news is that a cop can find a cab driver in ‘distress’ VERY rapidly. We were impressed. The cop was also very calm and polite. Mr. Calm quietly listened to Mr. Israel’s rant for about 4-5 minutes after which he asked Mr. Israel, “So how would you get to Washington and Goldfinch in Mission Hills from the Hyatt downtown?” Mr. Israel was visibly flustered and tried to change the subject. “He disrespected me in my own cab”, he ranted. Mr. Calm replied something like, “If I got involved every time one person disrespected another I would be a very busy person”. Now that it was clear that Mr. Israel had NO idea where he was or where he was going Mr. Calm decided to ‘throw the book at him’. He asked for all the ‘usual documents’ and asked Mr. Israel to show him the map that he was required to carry (he didn’t have one). Mr. Calm also pointed out that if he really wanted to make a point he could ticket Mr. Israel for not wearing a shirt with a collar (apparently this is a law in San Diego). In the end, Mr. Calm told us that Mr. Israel had agreed to take us to our destination for no additional charge (I had already given him $10 in the hope that he would call us a cab and go away quietly). We declined. Mr. Calm said “Well the only other thing I can do would be to take Mr. Israel out of service for the rest of the day”. We said that we would appreciate that. The cab ride from Lost in the Middle of Nowhere to Mission Hills was $7. The African-AMERICAN cab driver was very knowledgable and polite and apologized for the few bad cab drivers out there.