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The Salon

Cruel Intolerance

Years ago, I was having a conversation with some French women who had recently moved to Miami. They told me, quite emphatically, that one of the reasons for their move was that they were frustrated by the anti-Semitism they continually encountered in their homeland. I was stunned by this declaration, particularly because the scenario they painted made it seem as if they led an almost violent existence there. (more…)


The New Fear of Flying

airport-body-scannersI used to be afraid of flying. You couldn’t tell by looking at me, but those first 20 minutes after takeoff turned my insides into one big knot. Like in the movie “Say Anything,” I knew that when the “no smoking” light went out, the danger had passed. By the time federal regulations (thankfully) banned smoking on airplanes, I had managed to vanquish my fears. I fly so often, now, I haven’t even given it a second thought. (more…)


Take My Money. Please.

banking-in-franceTalk to anyone who has ever lived or just visited Paris, and you’ll hear nightmare stories of encounters they’ve had with customer service. Whether it’s calling a company to try to buy a part or a product and being charged a per-minute fee to wait on hold and/or speak with an actual person, or trying to return something they’ve purchased, one gets the sense that there really is no “service” working for the French.

I’ve never had such an encounter. In fact, my experience has been just the opposite, all singing cartoon animals and flower petals raining down on me. Then again, I don’t live in Paris full-time. Once I do, I assume the law of averages will force me into more than a few close encounters of the frustrating kind. But I feel like I’m getting plenty of practice over here in the U.S., because, with a few notable exceptions, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to walk away from an encounter with a company’s customer service with any degree of resolution.

Airlines require you to submit complaints and refund requests by fax or email. Don’t even get me started on insurance companies. Even my bank and credit card companies offer endless electronic menus with automated information, making it virtually impossible to speak with a real person.

Speaking of banks …

I’m getting spoiled by my U.S. bank. They like taking my money. They have no problem giving me my money back. They’ve made it easy for me to deposit checks without having to wait on a line or fill out a deposit slip. Last night, I even wrote a check to myself from one bank and deposited it in another … using my iPhone.

Opening my account couldn’t have been simpler. All I needed was money, a social security number and a mailing address and, voila, instant bank account. They didn’t ask for proof of income or address. I didn’t require any notarized forms, visas, depositions, notes of introduction, personal references or a letter from my employer.

This is why I’m absolutely dreading opening my bank account in Paris. Dread. Ing. From what I’ve come to understand, it’s easier to get elected President of France than it is to open a bank account there. My Paris friends have offered to introduce me to their bankers, which may give me a slightly better chance of being accepted into the bank. But I will most definitely need proof of a Paris address before they’ll take my money, only I can’t get a Paris address without having proof of a Paris bank account.

I’m assuming that all my connections will ultimately pay off, and I’ll get that French bank account. Then all I have to do is pray that they’ll let me take my money out, and that I won’t do anything wrong that leads to them “firing” me as a customer. It doesn’t take much, apparently. My friend, Richard, was expelled for depositing cash into his account. Cash. (As a tour guide, he was frequently paid in cash.) It wasn’t a lot of money, maybe a thousand or two a month. But they didn’t like that, so he was a goner. Another friend was told he couldn’t make any transactions at any branch other than the one where he opened his account, while another was told she could only withdraw funds from her account at certain hours of the day.

I thought I was being smart when I opened my business account at an international bank (HSBC). No such luck, because despite the fact that there are HSBC branches on just about every corner of the French capital, I can only make transactions at the branch where I opened the account. In Miami.

So I’ll take my chances with customer service in France. It’s the banks that make me think that keeping my money inside my mattress may be the easier solution.

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Flying the Not-so-friendly Skies

jetblue-steven-slaterSteven Slater is a hero – or a problem, depending on your perspective. The 39-year old flight attendant for Jet Blue walked off the job yesterday in the most dramatic of ways. After telling off a difficult passenger over the public address system, Slater grabbed a few beers, opened the emergency chute and slid off the airplane. The 20-year industry veteran immediately fulfilled the not-so-secret fantasies of millions (if not billions) of frustrated worker bees everywhere. (more…)


Lost in Translation

google-translate-french1My friend Jean-Claude was the one who introduced me to the French language back in the early 90′s. A graduate of the Lycée Français de New York and the offspring of former Parisians, JC (as I call him) was handsome, sophisticated and full of savoir faire. (Still is.) He’s the one who taught me all the gutter French I knew – back before I even began to learn the language. (more…)


Some Rules are Just Broken

wine-in-parisParis is a city that continues to surprise me. I think it does that on purpose because, just when I think I have it all figured out, the rules change. (Just ask anyone who has ever had to renew their carte de sejour.) Or, the rules remain in place, but they’ve never made sense in the first place. Here are some examples in the continuing series of “Things I’ve Learned.”

Parisians don’t really respond to email. I learned this lesson after making reservations via email to what used to be one of my favorite Paris restaurants. And here I was, thinking I was being so clever by clicking on the “reserve by email” link. But two days later, I still hadn’t received a confirmation, so I just called the restaurant and made the reservation. When I shared this with my date that evening, he just laughed and confirmed my suspicions: email links are just for show. (I’m still waiting for Comptoir Richard to respond to my email.)

ATMs love dispensing 50 euro bills, but Parisians hate breaking them. C’est vrai, it’s one of the many contradictions you’ll find in Paris. If you request 100 euros at the cash machine, you’ll likely receive two fifties. If you’re in one of the non-touristy areas of the city, chances are you’ll be told by the sales clerk or the waiter that they don’t have change, forcing you to break out your credit card. Which amazes me, really. After all, credit card companies and banks take a chunk of money from every transaction, yet almost every shop or restaurant is happier to take your card than your cash.

Those veggies are in witness protection. I’m a photographer, so I almost always carry one of my cameras with me, no matter where I am in the world. And when I see something interesting or inspiring, I’ll whip it out and snap away. Just last weekend on South Beach, my friend Claudia and I are walking around a clothing boutique taking dozens of photos of the antique sewing machines that line the walls of the shop. We were completely ignored. But the minute I go to take a picture of a bin of tomates at the local market in Paris, some apron-clad shopkeeper will yell at me that I can’t take pictures. Same with the clothing boutiques along the rue Saint-Honoré, or the restaurant in the 7th.

Don’t bring the wine. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to dinner at the home of a Parisian, bring flowers. Bring chocolate. But whatever you do, don’t bring wine. Trust me, the menu has been very well considered, right down to what wines to serve with each meal. So to bring a bottle of wine is to say that you don’t trust your host’s choices. I made this faux pas several times before someone finally shared this etiquette tip with me.

Parisians are notorious space invaders. Which is ironic in a culture that values discretion and privacy. But anyone who has ever stood in line at the supermarché, the train station or in a taxi queue comes to understand, the space between your derriere and the pelvis of the person directly behind you can be measured in mere millimeters. I’ve had less intimate encounters with men I’m dating. Of course, this has nothing to do with any desire to be in physical contact with another human as it does with the Parisian’s desire to cut in front of you. They’re just waiting for enough space to open up so that they can maneuver around you, because in Paris, the line is always blurry.

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Up in the Air

airline-travel-parisEvery now and then, I find myself having a conversation with people about Paris, or about traveling to Paris, and I find myself amazed by either the things they don’t know, or the things I don’t know. And since I fancy myself a bit of a humanitarian, I thought I’d impart some of this knowledge to you through a series we’ve named “Things I’ve Learned.” (more…)


Feeling Crusty Over Baguettes

baguettes-in-parisI’m not a boulanger, and I don’t play one on TV. But I do know what makes a baguette good, whether its de tradition or ordinaire: firmness, freshness and a crispy crust surrounding a soft inside. Still warm from the oven puts it completely over the top, and it’s quite common to see a Parisian digging into their fresh baguette as soon as they’ve hit the sidewalk. (more…)


Reflections of Paris on a Sunday Morning

pilleux-flowers-parisStory and Photo by Linda Donahue

It’s Sunday morning, barely 10:00am. The streets are quiet and the sky threatening as I look out the window of my temporary apartment in Cité Pilleux. The only people I can see are an elderly couple lovingly tending to a grave in the Cimetière Montmartre. She is placing new flowers in urns placed against the headstone, while he removes debris and dusts off the marble. (more…)


A Measure of Success in Paris

measuring-successLast night, over drinks in the 9th arrondissement with two expat friends, the discussion turned to Americans in Paris. The two men I dined with had never met before, so I listened in as they swapped “Why I moved to Paris” stories. And while each had numerous reasons—culture being chief among them—both men agreed that, unlike in the U.S., there was absolutely no pressure to be successful in Paris. (more…)


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Paris

angry-mobI feel like I won the lottery. Really, there’s no better way to describe my disbelief-mixed-with-jubilation upon my arrival in Paris this morning. For a while there, it wasn’t looking good for me and the300+ other passengers on my flight (not to mention the hundreds of thousands of other travelers to/from Europe). But the volcano and the jet stream came together and gave the world a break. That was very nice of them—don’t you think? (more…)


World vs. the Volcano

iceland-volcano-travelIf I had a dollar for every time my travel plans were put into chaos by a volcano … well, I’d have exactly a dollar. While I’m supposed to fly from Miami to Paris on Wednesday, I’ve adopted an “expect the worst” attitude. (I’ve given up on “hope for the best.” (more…)


Ash Be Gone. (Please.)

iceland-volcano-eruptionYesterday morning, I awakened to the troubling news that most flights to Europe had been cancelled because of that pesky Icelandic volcano. But it was Thursday, I reasoned, and my flight to Paris wasn’t until the following Wednesday. So I took a deep breath and relaxed. The four-hand massage I experienced later that afternoon definitely helped alleviate any anticipatory stress I was feeling. Seriously. (more…)


Fly the Unfriendly Skies

Young boy and AirlinerI used to love to fly. Loved everything about it. I could spend hours watching people moving to their gates, or standing with my head pressed against the window to watch planes taking off, wondering where they were flying off to. It was all so exciting to me, but it would be to an eight year old child with an overactive imagination. (more…)


Le Affair: To Forgive or Not

les-amantsUnless you’ve been living under un rocher, it would be pretty hard to miss all the recent headlines sprawled across entertainment and mainstream news websites. “Jesse James Cheats on Wife Sandra Bullock.” “Tiger Woods Cheats on Wife Elin.” And in France, there was a spurt of news blasts about how Nicholas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni were each having affairs, he with a cabinet member and she with a fellow musician. (more…)


In Paris, Still American

american-in-parisLike any other fashionable woman, I try not to let my roots show in Paris. Only I’m not talking about those of the follicular kind. The roots I refer to are the things that make me stand out as an American. (more…)


Sex and the Single Woman in Paris

HandsThere’s a scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary where the eponymous Brit is invited to a friend’s dinner, only to find that she’s the lone single person there. Half a dozen cozy couples line both sides of the table, peppering her with questions about her singlehood. Of course, the implication here is that unless you’re one half of a twosome, you may as well have scales on your back. (more…)


Woman in Paris: 45 and Fabulous!

women-over-40Today is my 45th birthday, and it recently dawned on me that I’m one of those people who still gets excited when it’s my birthday. In fact, I’m throwing a little party for myself and decided to leave off the “no gifts, please” line that I used to include with my invitations. Yes, this year, I want presents. Lots and lots of presents. (more…)


Feeling Out of Fashion in Paris

paris-fashion-weekIt’s fashion week in Paris. That means the city is being overrun by skinny models, preening celebrities and anxiety-ridden fashion designers. Actually, that sounds like any other day in Paris. Except now there are tents up in the Tuleries, the Hôtel de Ville is crawling with fashionistas, and, well, you try getting a reservation at Kong this week or next. (more…)


I Really Don’t Have a Plan

paris-franceI’ve never been a planner. Other than personal and professional commitments, I have never tried to plan out my life, choosing instead to live by the philosophy “let’s see what I see.” Leading an unexpected life brings far greater rewards than if I stuck to a single path, where I’d miss out on so many wonderful surprises. (more…)


I Google Paris

google-superbowl-adAs a rule, most people use commercial breaks when watching TV to grab a snack or to run to les toilettes. But the Superbowl in the U.S. is an exception. This is when advertisers supposedly pull out all the stops on creativity. After all, when you’re paying a million dollars for a 30-second spot, it pays to create something people will be talking about the next day. There are those who actually pay as much attention to the ads as they do to the game. Sometimes more. (more…)


Nutty for Nutella

world-nutella-dayToday is World Nutella Day. Don’t bother sending a card. All I want is one of those industrial-sized jars of this orgasm-inducing, hazelnut-chocolate nectar of the gods. (more…)


Pack Your Paris Suitcase

ile-st-louisFive years ago, I started playing around with the idea of creating a website dedicated to all things Paris. At the time, though, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted that website to be. It was only during one of my extended stays in Paris—at a private party—that it all came together. I wanted this website to be like a grand salon in old Paris—a place where people came together and shared insider information. And thus was born Parisien Salon. (more…)


Is it Really Better in France?

ladies-in-parisI may be biased, but I find it impossible to refute the announcement from International Living that, for the fifth year in a row, France has the best standard of living in the world. Even on a hot summer day, as I sit in a Paris apartment sans air conditioning, I find life in Paris (and France) to be of a superior quality to the U.S. (more…)