It was our annual vacation. We would spend several days off the beaten track in Paris, then head to the Luberon for several nights in the “most beautiful village in France” followed by a week of slow cruising the Rhone from Avignon to Lyon with AmaWaterways.
My wife, Angela, was looking forward to this “romantic” getaway, and my daughter, Bree, was looking forward to the start of her summer vacation. It was a family reunion in France – accompanied by only 33 of our clients.
Our Left Bank home, Hotel Esprit Saint Germaine, was modern and intimate, with a cozy lounge on one side of the entrance and a library with open bar on the other. What I liked the most about this hotel is the secret neighborhood that surrounds it. We loved walking the streets at dusk as the outdoor cafes started to fill with locals and the bakeries, sad to say, started to run out of fresh baguettes. The bookstores were apparently always crowded, and I noticed that the French like to enjoy ice cream before dinner, given that dinner rarely starts before 9pm and the streets were hot in the June sun.
Let me share a few of the things I think are worth knowing about the French:
• The most important thing to know about visiting France is that “bonjour” is more than just a greeting. It’s a kind of admission required to be taken seriously as a guest. To meet a Frenchman and not say “hello” is to immediately identify yourself as another rude American. When you walk into a cafe or meet a store clerk, an immediate “hello” establishes that you know the first rule of French interaction.
• The French don’t smile as much as we would like. It is important to note that the word “imbécile” is French and is often used as a term that describes someone who smiles for no reason. But don’t confuse a lack of smiles with a sign that the French are unhappy. Note an important fact about the French: 95% of them eat fresh bread every day.
• Some of us might imagine that, given our size and diversity in the United States, we would be the most visited place on this small planet. We would be wrong. That would be France, a country that in style welcomed more than 90 million international visitors in 2019. (By the way, Spain ranks second among international visitors and seems to be winning over France.)
• Taking care of this large influx of annual visitors is a challenge. But those of us who are in tourism should know that 99.9% of businesses in France have fewer than 250 employees. So when it comes to private travel, hospitality and special arrangements, the country is full of small businesses dedicated to personalized and unique travel experiences.
• The French “obsession” for food is real. A recent study revealed that 93% of the population identifies food as representing a “prominent place” in their lives. A fascinating report from a top French university has shown that the French literally start salivating about half an hour before lunch or dinner. Dinner brings both emotional and physical joy. And that joy comes twice a day!