Dateline: Paris, 13th Arrondisement, October, 2003.
Since I'm traveling for free (on United miles) this time, it was really hard to get flights at all. For some reason leaving Honolulu on Friday at midnight was something they were willing to let me do. And it never occurred to me that there would be a problem in arriving on a Sunday.
The plane landed at 10:30 Sunday morning, and I took the Air France bus, and there was construction being done on the Périphérique (this words looks much more impressive with the acute accents put in) and I arrived at the hotel about 2 PM, having been pretty much awake for the past 24 hours. Whereupon the owner told me that unfortunately, my room had not yet been cleaned, and I should come back at 5 PM. "It's Sunday, you know, and also we have this new law in France reducing the workweek to 35 hours.... But you can leave your luggage here."
Of course, as soon as I walked off, I realized that having left my luggage at the hotel meant that I didn't have available a number of little things which I normally unpack immediately. I was certainly in bad need of a shave. I had, though, remembered to grab my booklet of maps, Paris Par Arrondisement.
Anyway, wandering around the neighborhood, near the Gobelins Métro Station, which is not one I had known before, I passed a little Italian restaurant which was open, and it occurred to me that I might as well get something to eat, since that would kill some time and besides, being Sunday in France, there wouldn't be that many restaurants open. So I went in and had a full meal.
That evening, I lay down for a nap about 7 PM and when I woke up, what with the time change, it was after 10. Now I know that 10 PM is an acceptable time to arrive for dinner at many Parisian restaurants, and I've seen customers come in and get served at 11 (midnight seems to be the standard closing time, if there are still customers eating at that point), but I thought I'd better get to a place for dinner fairly quickly, otherwise I'd wake up hungry in the early hours in the morning with no place to get food. Managing to get out of bed and get dressed at that point was not a rapid process. It was about as hard for me as it is when one has to wake up at 5 AM.
Anyway, given the fact that most restaurants would be closed for Sunday and I didn't have a lot of time to look around, it seemed wise to go back to the same place I'd had lunch which at least I knew would be open. And since the mom-and-pop store next door to the hotel was miraculously open, I bought a package of cookies and one of crackers just in case. (This shop was closed the next day, observing the standard French Monday shop-closing custom.)
Well, there's a point to telling you all this. When I came back from Paris last March (2003), there had been all those maliciously spread lies about how the French were treating Americans badly. And I reported to people my experience had been that there had only been two occasions when the service to me at restaurants had been just slightly less friendly than I normally expect. To which some people said, "Oh well, the French...." Suggesting that in France, especially in Paris, discourtesy is simply the norm.
In fact, the French are extremely courteous. It's just that French and Americans have very different concepts of courtesy, so that each finds the other rude. When an American walks into a shop and simply starts looking around without first saying, "Bonjour, Madame," the French find that quite rude. (A mere "Bonjour" withou the "Madame" is adequate only if the customer and shop owner know each other fairly well.)
Okay, so back to the narrative. I had dinner at this same Italian restaurant and left shortly after the last other customers left, just before midnight. And then after I had walked about three blocks, I suddenly remembered, "Damn! I forget my cookies and crackers." Well, since I'd had dinner, they weren't really so important, but I thought I'd walk back to the restaurant and maybe the waiter and owner would still be there cleaning up.
As I got to the intersection near the restaurant, some guy in a car which was stopped at the light yelled out the window, "Monsieur! Monsieur!" I looked at him, and he wasn't anyone I recognized, so I assumed that he was yelling at someone else and continued walking. But then he got out of the car (he wasn't the driver, obviously) and came up to me and led me to the restaurant, which was totally locked up at that point, and unlocked the door and retrieved my cookies for me. It wasn't the waiter, it was the owner, which is why I hadn't recognized him.
So if anybody tells me that the French, especially the staff in restaurants, are all totally rude, they won't get any agreement from me.
Never eat at a place called Mom's, never play cards with a man called Doc, and never sleep with a woman who has more problems than you do.
--- Nelson Algren