Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013



It seems every American tourist has a horror story about visiting France.  Mine goes like this: A crappy bike broke down two kilometers after I rented it.  When I tried explain that the axle was horribly rusty, a heated dispute arose with myself and the shady manager of the rental kiosk.  Finally, a gendarme was called.  A decision was made.  There is now a lifetime ban on DUNER ever returning to the picturesque riverfront city of Blois. 
Well…those days are over!  At least, that’s what new French Tourism Minister Sylvia Pinel says.  Since the socialists took over last year, there is a nouveau attitude in Paris.  This means lots of fresh programs aimed at changing vague things like the ‘national psyche.’  For example, Mamoiselle Pinel is extremely proud of her latest such promotion.  It’s a twenty-page pamphlet titled: “Do You Speak Touristé?” It is designed to help Parisians “break language barriers” and help wealthy tourists around town. It has simple, helpful phrases in six languages.  It also has a section devoted to the subject of traditional French egalité…and how it needs to be toned down a bit.

Sylvie Pinel means business!
Why the big fuss?  Well, around 30 million tourists visit Paris every year…which is more than any other city on earth!  Consider this:  The entire metropolitan area has a mere 7 million people!  It's a fact: No one can deny that there is a worldwide obsession with the beauty and romance that is Paris.  In fact, since such travel statistics were first recorded fifty years ago, France has always been perched as the #1 Destination Nation for tourism.  The USA and Spain are ranked #2 and #3. 
You would think Sylvie would be thrilled with such a statistic! However, there is another stat that is much important regarding international tourism: The total amount tourists spend in a country during their visit.  On this list, the USA doubled the revenue of France last year...a whopping $126  to $56 million.  Sacré Bleu!  The main reason for the disparity is the nation’s sizes.  Most foreign visitors to France leave after seeing Paris and then depart elsewhere…to ski in Switzerland or sun in Spain.  Also, the figure also includes a 50% increase in UK visitors, who zoom into town for the weekend on the Euro-Star train.  In the USA...however...travelers tends to stay longer and spend more.  In short, Sylvie wants people to make France their only European destination.

We here at the DUNER BLOG applaud Sylvie Pinel and her wonderful goal of humanizing the French.  However, we know that there is still a long road ahead.  There are many other cherished national traditions (aside from being rude in the street) that also need to be examined.  For example, it’s hard to shop when the stores are closed during a three-hour lunch break.  On Sundays, the French like to spend the afternoon burning tires and blocking main roads over a labor dispute.  And…of course…The French love to charge way too much to rent an old bike to a college kid on summer vacation in France.  Bon chance, Sylvie!
NOTE: We like Sylvie Pinel’s goal to encourage visitors to see some of France’s wonders outside of the capital.  Here are three amazing places that are a two hour train ride from Paris:

MONT SAINT MICHEL.  At high tide, it's a island.  But at low tide, the road opens up and you can access the castle.  It might look familiar to film buffs as it was the inspiration for Minas Tirith Castle in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  It also appeared in the film The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. 

CHENONCEAUX.  Everyone loves this castle...because it was built across a river!  You walk in the front door, glance out the window at the water, then exit onto the vineyards on the other side.  It also has a topiary garden for the kids.

CHAMBORD.  The inspiration for the famous liquor is perhaps France's most famous chateaux.  Visited by everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Louis XIV, it claims to have the most chimneys of any building on earth: 282 in total.  During World War II, the Mona Lisa was hidden in one to escape Nazi capture.

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