A ‘Bonjour Fest’ Friday, May 28 2010 

There are some things a textbook just doesn’t tell you about the French language. In my years as a former French professor and now as a French language and travel specialist, I find that you have to go to the source—France!—to get the real scoop.

Take the word bonjour, for example. When you learn to say bonjour (hello or good day) in French, most books explain what it means and show how it’s used in a simple conversation. That’s a good start. But they don’t mention that when you are in France, you should make your time there what I like to call a ‘bonjour fest.’

What exactly is a ‘bonjour fest’, you might ask?

When you enter a shop or boutique, when it’s your turn at the boulangerie (bakery) or chocolaterie (chocolate shop), when you approach the reception desk at your hotel, when you come into a restaurant, when you get into a taxi, when you reach the ticket counter at a museum, make eye contact with the French and say a nice, clear “Bonjour!” Better still, be sure to add on a crisp “Monsieur” (sir) or “Madame” (ma’am) to your French hello. This practice will go a long way towards positive human relations and a great French travel experience. 

Here’s why bonjour is so important: French culture is relationship oriented (as opposed to the more transactional American culture) so it is essential to acknowledge and respect individuals you meet. Of course, you don’t need to greet people you pass on the street—only those with whom you come into direct contact. And you can leave off the word “Salut!” (hi) as it’s too informal for anyone other than close friends or family.

Another aspect of bonjour which I have never seen in a French language textbook popped up a few years ago in Paris. I went to my neighborhood librairie (bookstore) to buy some books on my French reading list. I greeted the vendeur (salesman) with a nice “Bonjour, Monsieur” as I entered the shop, made and purchased my selections, and said “Au revoir, Monsieur” as I went out the door.

Later that day, however, I realized I had forgotten to buy a highly recommended livre (volume) so headed back to the book shop. As I entered, the salesman recognized me from earlier that day and called out “Rebonjour, Madame!” “Hello again, Madame!” It was a memorable moment. I was charmed to realize that even in a big metropolis like Paris, people remember you and acknowledge it. Ever since, when I run across someone more than once in the same day in Paris or elsewhere in France, I call out “Rebonjour!” and it never fails to put a smile on the receiver’s face. In fact, rebonjour remains my current favorite French word.

To sum up, whether it’s bonjour or rebonjour, say hello liberally when in France—c’est simple comme bonjour (it’s easy as pie)!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™

The Parisian pâtisserie (pastry shop) Gérard Mulot makes rebonjour a must as it’s tempting to go there over and over again. Their macarons are some of my favorites including the bite-sized orange-gingembre (orange ginger) with bits of candied ginger or the lusciously fluffy noix de coco (coconut) version.

Gerard Mulot

Gérard Mulot is near the Luxembourg Gardens so you can go there to walk off the calories for a guilt-free indulgence. Or you can get a small box to bring back with you on the plane–miam, miam (yum, yum).

Gérard Mulot
76, rue de Seine
75006 Paris

Expand your French Travel Piggy Bank–Or How to Save Euros When You’re in France Tuesday, May 11 2010 

Let’s face it. Traveling in France is très cher (very expensive). Although the euro is falling vis à vis the dollar due to the Greek debt crisis, things cost a lot in the euro zone. Even the French find both life’s necessities (real estate, cars, gas, electricity, milk and dairy products) and luxuries (designer goods, fine wines, gourmet chocolates) to be costly.

So what are some easy ways to faire des économies (save money) in France and still have a fabulous time? Here are a few of my favorites:

1) When dining at restaurants, skip the bottled water and order une carafe d’eau (a carafe of water). If tap water is ok with you–it is completely safe in France—this is the way to go. I once had lunch at a very famous bistrot in Paris, and our table ordered a liter bottle of Evian mineral water. The meal was delicious but I almost choked when the bill arrived and the Evian cost 11 euros, or about $17. The other very French option is to forgo bottled water and just order carafes of the house wine—they are almost always cheaper than mineral water or soft drinks.

2) For an optimum museum experience in Paris, buy the Paris Museum Pass. It costs 32 euros for 2 days, 48 euros for 4 days or 64 euros for 6 days. You can go into as many participating museums and monuments as you wish as many times as you wish—what a bonanza. Especially as most of the best things to see and do in Paris are on their list—the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin, the Arc de Triomphe, Sainte Chapelle. But the BEST thing about the Paris Museum Pass is that you get to bypass all the waiting lines. If you have ever approached the Musée d’Orsay or the Louvre with hoards of people waiting in line ahead of you and despaired of getting in sometime in this century, then despair no more. The Paris Museum Pass saves time as well as money. You can buy it at participating museums in Paris or if you are a planner, you can purchase it prior to leaving the U.S. through RailEurope.

3) Another way to save money on many Paris museums is to visit them the first Sunday of the month. You’ll have the crowds but you won’t pay a dime, or euro, to see world-class art in world-class French art institutions. The Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Picasso Museum, the Musée du Quai Branly and others are all gratuit (free) the first Sunday of every month. There are a few museums in Paris that are always free; my favorite is the stunning Musée Carnavalet in the Marais with its history of Paris. Its gardens and book shop are also two of my preferred cultural stops in la Capitale.

4) To get into Paris from the Charles de Gaulle-Roissy airport, it’s probably easiest to take a taxi directly to your hotel. Depending on the traffic, it costs about 50 to 60 euros one way. But if you want to save some euros, the best and most comfortable way to reach Paris is the RoissyBus. Run by the Paris transport system, it costs 9.10 euros per person and departs the airport every 15 minutes from each terminal (look for the RoissyBus signs in the ground transportation areas). You’ll arrive at the Palais Garnier Opera house in central Paris in about 45 to 60 minutes with views of the city all along the way.

5) Eating at Michelin starred restaurants in Paris always makes a serious dent in the travel pocketbook. To keep euros in your French travel piggy bank, try top restaurants at lunch when their fixed menus are cheaper. But be sure to do your research ahead of time. I once had a gorgeous lunch at a three Michelin starred restaurant in Paris but realized after the fact that lunch there, like dinner, was served à la carte.

6) These days, savvy travelers know the best way to obtain euros while traveling in France is via ATM as travelers checks are nearly outmoded and expensive to exchange. But even seasoned travelers to France may not be aware of the great ATM deal offered by Bank of America. If you withdraw money from your Bank of America account at any of the French bank BNP / Paribas ATM outlets in France, you will not pay any transaction fees or ATM fees. Note that you have to use the BNP / Paribas ATMs, not those of other French banks. The more money you withdraw, the more you will save in excess fees–keeping your money in the bank for more travel to France!

As I wrote this article, it came to me that I could use a piggy bank in the form of an Eiffel Tower to keep at home. I think I would be even more inspired to save both euros and dollars and fill it up. While I have seen Eiffel Tower cookie cutters, t-shirts, chocolates, and other gizmos, I have not found a good tirelire (piggy bank) in her signature shape. Hmmm, something to wish for!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™
You can always save euros by doing the French thing–just in the U.S. Ok, so it’s not France but there are plenty of cities where the French thing is going on. Texas is having a “French year” extraordinaire with all sorts of art exhibits and activities with the Texan-French Alliance for the Arts and the Dallas Museum of Art, new boutique openings–Christian Louboutin is coming to Dallas!, an ever-expanded Beaujolais Festival sponsored by the French-American Chamber of Commerce of Dallas-Ft. Worth, and more.