Being a tourist in Paris during the Protests

Having just endured my second Saturday in a Paris beset by protests, I can assure you that the pictures on TV are generally far worse than the reality. As long as you avoid being caught in the middle of the riots, or between protestors and police, the biggest worries are unexpected detours to avoid the hot spots and extensive closures of popular attractions.

Last Saturday was the third in a row in which the yellow jackets- named after the bright yellow vest each motorist in France must carry in their car – protested against a proposed increase in gasoline taxes, incorporating a carbon levy in accordance with the Paris Climate Change Accord. I had met up with a friend the week before whose colleagues had accidentally been caught up in the riots and tear gassed (they are both okay), so I was not caught unawares. My son and I walked through the grounds of the Louvre, past the outdoor X-Mas market, towards our goal – the Orangerie Museum – which houses Monet’s Water Lillies. The first sign of anything amiss was the large contingent of police officers with plexiglass shields lining the edge of the Place de la Concorde. They were friendly enough and provided helpful directions to the museum, where we enjoyed the paintings.

As we left, towards the Champ Élysées, the silence was noticeable. There were no cars, no buses, nothing. The Cours-la-Reine, normally filled with screeching cars and cabs, was eerily quiet. All the pedestrians, mostly tourists, were being directed onto the footpaths that border the Seine River. At the Grand Palais, police prevented anyone with one appropriate identification from proceeding further, so we turned around and returned to the Louvre.

A deserted Cours-la-Reine

Heading towards the Place Vendome from the Louvre, we encountered a large group of yellow jackets walking towards the Champ Élysées. Intentionally or not, they were effectively blocking  traffic and preventing us from crossing the street, so we did the very Parisienne thing of sitting down on an outdoor patio and ordering a glass of wine. The waiter did ask if we preferred to drink inside, but when we declined, he asked us to pay for the drink immediately in case we had to leave abruptly.

Sipping wine with some yellow jackets in the background

We did not. The protesters kept walking by, some stopping near us. These ones were fairly jovial. Someone had an accordion and was playing a tune that, to us, sounded like Hava Nagila. Some of the protestors were singing – definitely not an anti-gas tax chant- and others were dancing. After half an hour, we were able to cross the streets and returned to our hotel with no further thought of the protests. It was only when we started getting worried emails from abroad that we learned that the protests had turned violent later in the day, with cars burning and graffiti defacing the Arc de Triomphe.

Despite the government cancelling the detested gas tax on Thursday, the protests scheduled for Saturday, December 8th proceeded. The yellow jacket movement morphed from an anti-tax demonstration to general dissatisfaction with the current government’s seeming antipathy towards the financial struggles of many French people. The day before, 89,000 security personnel had been put on alert, many being brought into Paris, to deal with the expected riots. A long list of attractions – 20 museums in total, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Orangerie Museum were closed. Clearly the authorities did not want hordes of tourists intermingling with the protestors.

We were staying near the Gare du Nord, completely untouched by any protesters. My friend, stymied in her plans to visit the Pompidou Center and the D’Orsay museum, walked north to Montmartre where a few museums were open. The only consequence of the riots on the Montmartre district that she noticed were larger than usual crowds, attracting many tourists who would otherwise have been at the closed museums.

I chose to do some errands, specifically heading to the giant BHV department store in the Marais on Rue de Rivoli. Walking towards it, the streets were devoid of any traffic save for police cars and taxis. Many restaurants were closed and as I approached the BHV, I saw that it too was closed for the day due to the extraordinary events.

Sign announcing closure at the BHV department store

As I left, I saw a group of yellow jackets being stopped by a number of heavily armed police. The police were requesting ID from the protestors and conducting gentle pat downs to ensure no weapons or gas masks were being carried. The chatter between the protesters and police was friendly – there was constant laughter and good natured bantering. I am not sure spontaneous pat-downs and ID checks would go over as well in Canada.

Police and protesters banter

Heading back north, near Strasbourg/St. Denis, large groups of protesters were marching and chanting, but everything seemed calm.

For dinner, we walked towards the Porte St. Martin to a trattoria for pasta and pizza. The streets were still fairly deserted, but  lots of pedestrians  were about. All the restaurants were open in the area. However, as we finished our dinner, protesters who seemed more animated than those earlier in the day, walked by the restaurant yelling things I couldn’t understand. Some bystanders outside got spooked, the restaurant owners decided they had had enough and hastily brought in the patio chairs and told the diners there would be no more service. We paid, went outside, looked around to ensure there were no protestors about (there were none) and walked quickly back to our hotel. There, in the hotel bar that was probably the busiest it had ever been, we joined the other hotel guests watching the riots on the large screen TV.

I decided to go to the BHV store again on Sunday morning. The streets were as I had come to expect in Paris – filled with cars and taxis honking. All the stores and restaurants were open. The line-ups at the Pompidou Centre with people taking advantage of free admission on the first Sunday of the month snaked for blocks. The BHV store was jammed with X-Mas shoppers. Paris was back to normal.


Slow Travel Paris Style

Slow travel has been defined as “less emphasis on manic sightseeing and more on taking in your surroundings at a relaxed pace” ( The Art of Slow Travel). That is exactly what I have been doing in Paris.

Having visited Paris previously and seen the major sights, I felt no compunction to “do Paris” as a tourist. I stayed in an apartment in the 17th arrondissement, with nary a place that makes Trip Advisor’s Things To Do section for miles. I had no lengthy list of museums to visit or places to go. Instead, I slowed down to a turtle’s pace, relaxing from the hectic touring of the past 5 months and enjoyed the best of Paris- the architecture, the chic women dressed in the latest styles and, of course, the food and wine.

My days took on a lazy routine. I would wake early, but lie-in, reading a book or streaming TV on the IPad. Sadly, I cannot let go of world events, thus CNN International and SkyNews (from the UK) were my go to channels. Inexplicably, CBC no longer permits live streaming out of Canada, but Global News has its national news on the internet.

Breakfast, or more accurately, brunch or an early lunch, would start with a quick trip to the boulanger across the street to pick up a warm baguette and the decision as to whether to have a classique or a traditional one, followed by a stop at the fromagerie to choose from hundreds of cheese varieties and,  lastly, to the supermarket for eggs. Food was not outrageously priced- a baguette was .95 Euros-about $1.50, chicken breasts cost the same as in Canada but a bunch of asparagus cost the equivalent of $12. Needless to say, I didn’t eat a lot of asparagus.

I did, of course, have a fair bit of wine which was sold everywhere: supermarkets, convenience stores, specialty shops. A cheap bottle of not awful wine could be had for under $4.00; but even in the $8 to $12 range there was a good selection. Bars, restaurants, brasseries were ubiquitous. On the 45 minute walk to my French class, I counted 42 establishments where I could sit down and order wine. That became part of the routine – after French class I would choose a patio, nurse a glass of wine and complete homework. A few hours later, it was dinner time and the choices were endless and mostly delicious.

It was impossible to completely resist visiting the tourist sights, but one look at the line-ups at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre convinced me to find something less busy. I travelled by train to the Palace of Fountainbleau, a medieval chateaux that is to Napoleon what Versailles was to Louis XIV. A mammoth, gaudy, over-the-top tribute to the nobility’s self indulgence, pomp and grandiosity. Although used by the French royals since the 12th century, the décor and furnishings focus mostly on the Napoleonic era – Napoleon’s bathroom (he liked to take baths), his son’s nursery, the abdication room where Napoleon ceded his throne to the British.

Inspired by the tapestries at Fountainbleau, I walked to the Gobelins Tapestry museum and factory in the 13th arrondissement. Gobelins was one of the pre-eminent French manufacturers of tapestries. From its beginnings as dyers in the 15th century, it rose to become the official supplier to Louis XIV. Massive Gobelins tapestries line the walls of both Versailles and Fountainbleau. Tours of the factory are offered by appointment only, which I did not have, but the museum showcases the evolution of tapestries with impressionist and abstract designs, far cries from traditional tapestry scenes of Greek Gods or medieval wenches on horseback.

It was impossible not to stumble upon parks during my walks. Famous ones, like the Parc Monceau or Jardin du Luxembourg, with their well manicured flower beds, fountains and broad gravel paths. But also smaller, hidden gems behind apartment buildings or next to a passageway. Always with a plaque declaring its name and usually a bronze statute honouring its namesake, these parks offered a welcome antidote to tired feet.  Playgrounds were filled with screaming toddlers, mothers congregated on the grass while their babies crawled about and seniors sat together on the benches, enjoying the breezes and shade of the trees.

Greenery also prevails  in the cemeteries in Paris. The 14 cemeteries within the city limits are jammed with crypts and mausoleums and are a who’s who in the art, science and political world. Meandering though, on their wide cobblestone sidewalks, reading the tombstones and enjoying a picnic at the graveyard is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. The Montmarte and Pere Lachaise cemeteries beckoned, sans picnic. The latter has been home to more than a million burials, .including the resting places of Edith Piaf, Chopin, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde. But it is not easy to be buried here –one has to have either lived or died in Paris and pay a minimum of 15,000 Euros for a 30 year lease. If the lease is not renewed the remains are dug up and removed.

Jim Morrison, the iconic lead singer of The Doors, died in a bathtub in Paris in 1971, thus fulfilling one of the requirements for being buried in Paris. His gravestone at Pere Lachaise is one of the most frequented, with rumours that die-hard fans drink beer there.


Oscar Wilde’s grave was damaged by women planting kisses on the stone, so a pexiglass wall was erected to protect it:


I spend my days walking around, for Paris is an eminently walkable city. One noticeable improvement since my last time here is the lack of dog crap littering the streets. Way back in the 1970’s, my most lingering impression centered around the prevalence of dog shit on all the sidewalks and the necessity of always watching where I stepped. But no more, although perpetrators continue to defecate. Initially, Paris mobilized a fleet of mini- poop vacuums to gather up the stuff, but when that proved only 20% effective, Paris moved to the time-tested tactic of dire punishment-fines of up to 500 Euros for failing to pick up after pooches. Signs dot the city, reminding Parisiennes of their duties.

Frankly, is it worth 35 Euros?

Sadly, dog poop has been replaced by an even more annoying hazard – smoking. As Paris has moved to ban smoking indoors, smokers have taken to the streets in droves. At every crosswalk, someone but more usually 3 or 5 people are puffing away. Just walking down a street usually entails having smoke blown in my face or hair by some scurrying smoker, balancing a cigarette between clenched lips or sucking on a vaper pipe. Inevitably, when I sat down in a patio, far away from everyone, a smoker would sit down next to me, light up and let the smoke drift towards me.

Smoke aside, its been a wonderfully relaxing month in Paris, no doubt helped by the Indian summer, with temperatures in the mid 20’s and little rain. I have loved walking aimlessly around, delighting in unique store front windows, sampling the wine, admiring the architecture. But like most inveterate travellers, sticking around has its limits and there are just too many new places to discover. I’m temporarily off to different pastures tomorrow.





French Lessons with the Chinese

One of my goals in Paris is to improve my French. Shortly after arriving, I searched the internet for French language schools.  Tons came up. After perusing the offerings, prices and reviews, I chose the most logical school – the one Google identified as nearest to me. I signed up for 2 hours of group French lessons each day.

I arrived for my first class – there were 9 of us initially- and except for me, they were all Asian. Saejee, a former English professor whose husband had been transferred to Paris, was Korean, the others Chinese. Our teacher, Lucie, favoured baggy overalls, had a tattoo on her left arm and kept her long, dark hair in bun, held in place with polka dotted scrunchies. It looked so French – both chic and messy at the same time.

We each introduced ourselves – in French – but English was the lingua franca and whenever Lucie had to explain something other than in French, she turned to English. Saejee and I understood the English, but the other students’ comprehension ranged from barely to not at all. Nevertheless, they nodded in agreement whenever Lucie asked “ca va?” (its okay) even when they had no idea what she had said.

My usual partner, Yang, is a 17 year old from Hunan, China who loves languages, but struggles in English and her French is even worse. She keeps asking me to explain the meaning of words which are obvious to any native English speaker: “intelligiente”, “romantique”, “positive” but might as well be Greek to her. We have odd conversations, one of which translates as follows:

“What profession an acteur?”

“Do you know Tom Cruise?”

“No, what is a Tom Cruise?”

“Maybe you know George Clooney?”

Another shake of the head. I realized she would be equally clueless who or what a Robert Redford or John Wayne might be. Try as I might, I could not (and still cannot) name an actor or actress under 25.

Which brings up another divide. While the class is for adults, Saejee is the next closest to me in age – 35 – and the others between 17 and 30. A few are students back in China, a pair are musicians working in Paris. Una, a former book editor and Chinese teacher, moved here when she married a Frenchman.

We practice our French as best we can. I am the only student with a child but they all want 2 children- a boy and a girl. Identifying what sports everyone plays, 2 said none, 1 likes hiking, Saejee is a weightlifter and everyone else mentioned badminton. I am the only cyclist.

Lucie is strict about phone use. After the first student picked up her cellphone during class, Lucie admonished her and said “no phones during class”. Another tried to photograph  the blackboard containing verb conjunctions. Lucie told her to write it down as she would remember it better. When I tried to check a word spelling on Google Translate, Lucie shook her head. No cellphones and no dictionaries. We learned, but Lucie did not. Routinely as we we completed assignments in class, Lucie whipped out her cellphone and checked it for messages.

Compensating for this forced deprivation of cellphones, we all immediately pulled them out at every coffee break and stared furtively at the screen, scanning for messages, watching videos and avoiding conversation. But slowly the group began to talk, both in Chinese or English. Saejee returned after a day’s  absence and provided an hilarious description of her encounter with the French medical system after suffering  food poisoning. Apparently, she was turned away from the hospital and told to wait at home for a doctor to make a house call. She described the doctor as no more than 18.  She attributed the food poisoning to the “greasy French food” (her description, not mine). To a person, all of my classmates nodded in agreement. They abhorred French cooking and blamed all sorts of ills on it.

Talk turned to travel. The Chinese were intrigued I had visited China but responding that Lhasa (in occupied Tibet) was my favourite city in China was met by complete silence. Equally perplexing to them was I had started my Chinese adventure in Kunming.  They were aghast. It is a dangerous city, they said, and no place for a foreigner. That reaction was unexpected – we had enjoyed Kunming and felt not a whiff of danger. Similarly, when I discussed the million or so people displaced by the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, blank stares greeted me. They knew nothing of that. Even Chenguang, a human resources expert who had spent 7 years working in Africa, watching Western TV and reading newspapers, was unaware that the Dam had displaced a single person.

One afternoon, the conversation turned toward beauty products. Saejee bemoaned the fact that her favourite face mask –made in Korea but also sold in China – was not available in France. Apparently a Chinese substitute was sold in Paris, but at twice the cost. At this point, I returned to staring at my cellphone.

Every afternoon we meet, practice our pronunciation, work through grammar points, pick up new vocabulary. Each day, my classmates’ personalities reveal a little more. Yang wants to be pastry chef when she leaves school.  Li wants to find a romantic husband. Jing loves museums and is enthralled with the Louvre.

And so it goes.

The Downside of Technology: Paris Week 1

When I was 19, way back in 1979, I went on the obligatory “see Europe on $10 a day” trip with a Eurorail pass and a well used copy of Frommer’s Europe on $5 per day. ATMs had not been invented and 19 year olds were not given credit cards, so I had cash and traveller’s checks. Cell phones only existed on Star Trek, so my single call home in 2 months was from a Post Office booth in Rome, where I waited in line to make an appointment with an attendant, then waited (for hours I recall) until I was called and told my call had been placed. I was directed to one of a dozen wooden booths which lined the office. Once there, I picked up the phone with my mother and we talked for a few minutes, all the while my eye on the clock since the phone call was outrageously expensive.

Nor were advance reservations possible. On arrival in Rome at midnight, the hostel was full but we were welcome to unroll our backpacks and sleep on the grass. Also in Rome, I showed up at the train station but no seat was available on the last foreseeable train to Paris (a train strike loomed in Italy), so I plucked myself in an aisle for a while before moving to the luggage car, stretched out with other backpackers and tried to sleep.

Fast forward to today and all the technology that is supposed to make travelling easier. HAHAHA!!!

I have come to the conclusion that all this technology is a giant joke perpetuated on the unsuspecting public by a group of technologically savvy nerds trying to justify their salaries by creating idiotic means of doing just about everything these days, then adding layer upon layer of complexity masquerading as security solely designed to screw me.

To wit: A day after arriving in Paris, I received a message from Hotmail, my email provider for at least the last 18 years saying it had detected strange activity on my account (I had signed in from Paris) and needed to be authenticated. Simply enter the verification code sent to the phone number associated with my email and all would be fine. Except I had changed phone numbers when I left Canada so the number was no longer valid. I managed to find the security settings on Hotmail and changed the number to the Latvian number I had been using. A text message with a verification code arrived, I entered it into Hotmail, and Hotmail responded that I had successfully changed my security code and it would take 30 days before implementation. In the meantime, I could access Hotmail using the link provided.

Except I could not. I spent hours trying and all I got were circular messages routing me back to the “enter your new number” message and wait 30 days. I tried Hotmail’s help icon, but received only a snarky message saying it was not a chat and it would need a screenshot of the message before it could assist. I tried to use my Outlook email to respond but it too is connected to Hotmail and was equally inaccessible and impossible to send a screenshot even if I had been able to take one.

In a panic, I called my computer savvy son at 6AM. His none-too-happy groggy advice was to set up a Gmail account so at least I could receive emails and he would see what he could do. I did so, all the while thinking what a bother this was. All my accounts were set up with my Hotmail email address- the bank, expedia, my contacts, Phoenix and pensions….it would take me forever to contact each and give them a new email address.

Fortunately, and no thanks to Hotmail/Outlook, after 24 hours I tried to connect using my Mac Air computer, as opposed to the IPhone or the IPad and instead of sending me on a never ending roundabout, it sent me to a very long list of security questions:

  • Did you ever use Skype? Yes, in 2007.
  • What number did you call? Thank you father for having the same number forever.
  • Did you ever buy any Microsoft products? How the f$*$%&# should I know.
  • When and where did you open your Hotmail account? In Winnipeg maybe in 1998.

Something clicked since the next message told me I had answered enough correctly to pass security and access my account. After 24 hours without Hotmail and a lot of sweat, frustration and working out alternatives, I was finally allowed into my own account.

Technological disaster number 2 occurred a few days later when I was booking a flight to Australia. I have decided I cannot bear staying in Paris over the winter when the sky is dark, the rain is never ending and it is cold. The departure and returning airlines confirmed my tickets on-line but the next day I received emails from both airlines advising that my credit card was subject to verification and, failing that within 48 hours, my reservations would be cancelled. To verify, I simply needed to send a pdf of my passport, my credit card statement and an indemnity for the amount of the ticket in case the charge was fraudulent. This was ridiculous. Even assuming I had the capability to do all of the above, I don’t want to share my credit card information with overly nosey airlines. The other option was to go to the airline office with my credit card and passport and prove it was really me charging my card. Since the office was not too far away, I walked over and a very helpful employee both verified me and the charge and explained that, in all likelihood, the charge was flagged by the airline since the card was issued in Toronto but the charge came from Paris.

Problem number 3 occurred as I tried to book a train trip, in France, on the French national railway line SNCF. I duly registered my account, filled in all the necessary information, gave it my credit card and was promptly declined. Their FAQ advised that only credit cards equipped with a 3DS/Safekey system would work and suggested I try again with a card with that system. I don’t know what it is, I have never heard of it but I highly suspect none of my cards have it. I foresee a future trip to the train station to buy the tickets.

All of which has me longing for the good old days of traveller’s checks, live reservation agents and snail mail.




Settling into Paris

Paris did not begin well. I didn’t make it out of the airport…. actually, I did and that was the problem. I was in the taxi line before I realized I had forgotten to pick up my suitcase. Years of traveling without checking a bag had habituated me to walking directly from the plane to the taxi line.

I doubled back to the passenger exit to be met by an intimidating  “passage interdit” sign. Even my bad French told me that going through those doors would not be a good idea. Two heavily armed police officers came by – not for me- so I asked them, again in my really bad French, what to do. Something clicked because they took me by the hand (I think after they gave up giving me directions) and deposited me at Luggage Services. I explained my dilemma to the lady there, who waved me to another Luggage Services counter behind some walls. There, another lady told me in English to go to Post 1 and look for the short man with glasses before turning to her colleague and saying something in French. I am sure I heard “idiot”.
Making my way to Post 1, which is not as easy as it sounds as there are tons of posts at Charles de Gaulle airport, mostly with signs of some sort, I saw a man with glasses near the “passage interdit” door. For the record, he was about 5 foot 8 inches, which I wouldn’t describe as short. He greeted me by name and I asked him how he knew who I was. He said there was only one unclaimed bag and it had my name on it. We both chuckled, he led me to my bag and I left the airport again, this time with my suitcase.


My next challenge was entering the Airbnb suite I had booked. Normally, the Airbnb host is supposed to greet you, let you in and show you around. I had no such luck. When I emailed my host the time of arrival, he said he would be out of town for the weekend, but left the most convoluted instructions. They went something like this:

…the keys will be under the doormat. Use the longer key to unlock first using the locker second from above. Be careful it goes in the wrong way so to unlock you turn from left to right as if you wanted to lock! And then take the shorter key to push the door open by turning right to left. You will not use the upper and bottom locker. In any case, do not force with the keys you would break them…..

I had sweated my ability to perform this operation for a week, but thought I had better give it a try since I didn’t have much of an alternative. To my amazement (and with an extremely gentle turn to the right on the second of four locks), the door opened and I was in. Relief set in and was even more pronounced when I connected to the wifi. Mission accomplished!
My neighborhood in the 17th arrondissement is a 10 minute walk from Montmartre, but miles away from the tourist haunts. There is a bar/restaurant next door to my building and dozens more within a few blocks. Patisseries selling fresh baguettes abound, with colorful macarons in the windows and tempting tarts, strudels and croissants. Within 2 blocks of my place are 4 butchers, an oyster shop, 2 cheese stores, too many wine stores to count and at least one laundromat every 100 meters.
Aside from being well equipped with all the necessities, the striking feature of the neighborhood (and all of Paris) is the diversity. In stark contrast to the homogeneity of the Baltics and to a lesser extent, Sweden and Finland, Paris is multicoloured. Blacks, Arabs and Asians speaking perfect French; Lebanese and Turkish restaurants, the lady who cut my hair talking Arabic, the beggar in the metro station with the sign saying “Nous Somme Syrian refugees”. Multiculturalism is thriving here.
The myth of the rude Parisian was also quickly dispelled. When I tried to buy a SIM card for my phone from the non-English speaking telephone store clerk, he locked the store and walked me down the block to the Tabac to buy some minutes. The shelf stocker in the grocery store laughed when I resorted to Google Translate to ask where the flour (florine) was, but showed me its location, which, for some unfathamable reason, is beside the eggs in dairy. The counter clerk in the Bureau de Post (Post Office) walked me over to the machine to buy a stamp to send an envelope to Canada and punched in all the information sought by the machine (weight, air mail, etc.) when the machine kept asking me questions in French.


My local bar/restaurant is also very tolerant. The waiter and I have connected on my preferred order- a large glass of Chardonnay – which does not have the oaky taste so prevalent in Canada.  Strangely, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc are not readily available and the only Pinot Gris I purchased from the store was quite sweet.
The single exception to the “be nice to tourists” attitude I generally encountered occurred in the most unexpected spot – the official tourism office. I expected to find one near the Arc de Triomphe, but couldn’t see one. Google Maps sent me to the nearby Official Tourism for the island of Mauritius which, while very pleasant, was totally useless in my queries. Finally, Google Maps directed to the official Paris Tourism office in the Place de Congress some 4 kilometres away. I later discovered a much closer one just outside the Louvre, but Google Maps is oblivious to it.
Back to the tourism office. After passing through the security post, a lady behind the counter beckoned me over. She said she spoke a bit of English – she was pretty fluent to me. I told her I had 5 questions:
1. How do I sign up for Velbo- the bike ride share in Paris? She looked at me as if I was from Mars then pointed to the “Information for residents” and suggested they could help (Correct answer-sign up on the internet and download the app).
2. How do I use the Metro? She looked at me again aghast. “How should I know? I do not use it. Go ask the person at the station.” I cannot believe that in however long she worked there not a single other person ever asked how to use the metro. Beside, it was another wrong answer. There is no person in the metro station. The correct answer is: Go to a machine, tap on the flag of the UK for English, and follow the very straightforward instructions.
3. Where do I go to deal with visa issues (as in immigration not credit cards). Another “ how the f*($&**should I know” totally useless response.
4. How do I recharge my SIM card for my phone? The third “how should I know” answer. Correct one is go to any Tabac, buy a card then dial the number on the back of the card and enter the code. Why I buy a SIM card at a carrier store but recharge it at a Tabac was never explained but at its face seems totally irrational.

5. Can I have a map of Paris? She actually got this right- sweeping her hand toward a large display of maps at the back. “Go there and get one. They are free.”

She was useless on 4 of 5 questions and seemed to begrudge me the time it took to respond to my queries. Nonetheless, she was the exception. Everyone else has been quite lovely.

And so went the better parts of my first week in Paris. Next up, the pitfalls of traveling with technology.