There is no better way to get to know a country than to spend half a day with a group of tourism officials, especially if it involves sitting at a table with plenty of wine. Today among the things I learned about tourists and France is that there is a special relationship between the French and the Scots–they both hate the English. One man said that the relationship between the English and the French is complicated, and not so good. And that not everyone in France is wild about the socialist president and the country’s famous policies that make it so hard to fire and hire your own employees.
I was curious about Francoise Hollande, the socialist president elected last year. One man who I sat with, who works promoting Champagne, the drink, said he preferred Hollande over the tee-totalling Sarkozy. Other tourism people I met with said they hated both of them, and that politics in this country was too much talk, and never enough action. I asked the man about Hollande’s first goal of lowering the retirement age, which is going the opposite direction in the US. I mean, people live so much longer that it makes sense to extend the age of retirement longer. He said he thought it was ridiculous, and did not like Hollande’s idea.
We had a big group dinner on a barge on a river in Dijon, and up on deck they grilled hamburgers. I was the only person among about 50 who asked for catsup. “In France, only kids like catsup on their burgers,” someone told me.
In France the regions are quite territorial, often acting alone instead of in concert with what might benefit the entire country’s tourism. I suggested that if one region knew a writer was coming, they could share the fact with neighboring regions, so that the writer might be tempted to stay longer and write about both regions. This was kind of a radical idea, but many people nodded their heads in agreement.
I’ve been a little bit surprised at how much things cost here, versus the last time I visited two years ago. I bought euros at the airport for $1.45 each plus the fee, netting me just $71.00 in money I could spend. I blew through the dough pretty quick, since things here seem to be about the same amount in euros as they would be in dollars. A menu at a nice restaurant has starters for 9-11 euros, and mains for 16-22. A snack of a grilled cheese, salad and a beer was $15 in dollars. Coffee in the airport was 3 or 4 euros, which is about $5.
There was a time I could have bought euros for just a little over a dollar each. But like always I didn’t because I didn’t know I was coming to France until the middle of May.
But despite these expenses, it is still France, one of the greatest most beautiful and friendliest places I can think of. Plus, there is lots of Franch wine and the typically first-rate food. There are a lot of good reasons that more than 75 million people visit France every year, more than any other country.