The Right Salon for China;
Wrong Salon for Me

Maison de France At Home Abroad

Paris:- Monday, 1. April 1996:- This is the plan I had, the one I started out with: go to the International Tourism Salon at the Porte de Versailles (again) and find the area of the Salon representing the 'villages' of France; collect all the brochures I could carry and do a report about the stands; using what I had seen and facts picked up out of the brochures.

Besides the wind still blowing from the northeast, the first thing I noticed about this salon was the lack of line-ups. No waiting. Not many visitors. A lady on the first stand inside the door said everybody was having lunch. I should have been having lunch too. She directed me to the centre of the hall, to the 'France' stand.


The Maison de France stand at the salon.
There was not only no line-ups there, but I had three hostesses all to myself. This should have been exciting but, no. The 'France of the villages' shows up in Paris for so many fêtes, annual events, celebrations, parades, even demonstrations, that I thought it would be a good idea to try and turn things around for once, and turn the focus of Metropole, away from Paris, outwards. That's why I was at the 'France' stand.

Another reason; France had about 60.5 million international visitors in 1995 - and not all of them spend all of their time in Paris. I didn't intend this report to be a tour of things to see and do throughout France in 900 words - that would be a bit skimpy - but sort of just give the flavor of it, a whiff, a little blur - to hint that Paris isn't the only thing going on here.

To be blunt, you will see more 'villages of France' at the parade during the Fête de Montmartre in September than you can find at this salon.

It is possible that France has too much of a good thing. Imagine for a moment, having as many visitors as you have population - although spread out over the year and spread out around the country - but still... in just numbers, it could seem like being in an amusement park where there are as many employees as paying customers. That should add up to pretty good service - except that some of the employees are on strike or on holidays themselves - and if it is the second, then you have to compete for a spot on the beach, mountain or farm with the employees - er - the home team.

Then it should come as no surprise to anyone except myself that the purpose of this particular salon is to convince the aforesaid 'home team' to go elsewhere - to countries around the Mediterranean, to other countries in Europe, to France's offshore departments and territories, to the Americas, to the Indian Ocean, to Africa and to Asia, the North Pole, South Pole, the Moon if necessary, anywhere - just to get rid of them to make room for all the world to come here. Although moving all these people around may seem kind of pointless and a waste of gas; the airlines, the trains, the cruise ships, the buses, all thrive on it.

The 'France' stand is essentially an organization called 'Maison de France.' This outfit has several purposes, but the main one is to entice foreigners to come to France. It is succeeding - wildly - in its mission, with a tiny staff of 200, running 33 offices in 27 countries. This little outfit is the promotion end of a business that has a turnover of 600 billion francs, and turned a balance of exchange profit of 130 billion francs. In France itself, half a million people are employed in this sector. It is, what the Americans would call, a major industry.

On page 50 of the Maison de France's 64 page glossy brochure, the villages are featured: Collonges la Rouge in Limousin; L'Auvergne with its Saint Saturnin; Bonneval-sur-Arc in the Alps; the Dordogne with Breynac-et-Cazenac; l'Aveyron with Belcastel; the Montréal-du-Gers village in Gascogne; Sare and Ainhoa in Les Pays Basque; L'Hérault with its typically mediaeval Orlagues; the Provencal villages of Bargème, Seillans and Tourtour; in the Charentes see Aubeterre-sur-Dronne; Noyers-sur-Serein with its 16 towered wall in Bourgogne; Saint-Amand-sur-Fion in Champagne; and Riquewihr in Alsace - to mention about half of the names cited, and only a fraction of the villages worth passing some time in.

I unrealistically expected all of them to have stands at the salon. If I want a brochure from each of these, and about 2000 others, I will be better off going to the Maison de France office in Sydney. So, for once, you the reader, are in a better position to find out something than I am. If you want to do some armchair travelling in France, head for your nearest Maison de France, even if you live in Alice.

They will also have, probably in your own language, several general brochures such as 'Holiday Villages in France,' 'France en Fêtes' and 'Naturisme en France,' which is especially for travellers with light baggage who want to get down to 'au natural' at 51 centres around the country - including a few scattered around Paris.


The Great Wall of China is great
because it is big, like China.
Besides checking out other likely French Web sites through our 'other links' connection, you might want to give a new service called Globetrotter at try at web URL http://www.abm.fr/ - Globetrotters is an association of members, with an annual membership fee which includes a magazine to which members contribute.

From what I can gather, it is sort of back-packing do-it-yourself Club Med where you bring your own food - with tips on how to order from a menu in Laos, Tanzania and China, and perhaps even Saint-Amand-sur-Fion.


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