A Bit of This and That

by Ric Erickson
Number 1.08 - Metropole - Paris Online, Friday, 12. April 1996:- The northeast wind stopped. It's been that kind of week - the biggest news I can pass on is about the lack of wind. Look on the other side; it is nearly 20:00 and it is still light; it is definitely nearly spring because the trees are showing some green fuzz and the Japanese Cherry trees are blooming all over the Ile de France - but even if the temperature averages have gone up, the sun is not quite getting through.

The Chinese Prime Minister, Li Peng, is in town and a lot of ink is flowing about this particular visitor because even if you think the French are touchy, the Chinese invented prickly relations. Of course the government is taking the guest on a major shopping tour of Airbuses and spiffy locomotives. While promising rights groups to bring up some matters of human rights with the Chinese - a UN commission report has embarassed France itself on the issue - after a study conducted last fall and detailed in a report by Maurice Glèlè-Ahanhanzo - reported in today's the International Herald Tribune, but given only a paragraph by Libération. (The UN Declaration of Human Rights was signed in Paris in 1948.)

I certainly do not want to meddle in the internal affairs of either France nor China - but both these countries have signed the 'rights' declaration - supposedly 'rights' that transcend the temporary shifts of local politics - and it would be wise for France at least to remember that these basic human rights apply not only to citizens, but to visitors as well - and there were 60 million of them last year.

SNCF Questionnaire

The new president of the SNCF, Loïk Le Floch-Prigent, decided to find out what passengers wanted besides reliable public transportation. A lengthy questionnaire was distributed far and wide, and 189,000 rail users responded. Customers had five main complaints; two of which directly affect visitors. Users said the price structure was too complicated - a blizzard of special offers seldom available - or of doubtful value; and users also wanted tickets to be easy to purchase at the last minute.

At present, if the train is in the station and you have money in your hand, it is doubtful that you will have time to buy a simple ticket before the train departs. As I see it, it is hard to buy a ticket quickly from an automatic vending machine - even if you know what you are doing.

In general, users praised the overall attitude of railway employees towards customers - I suppose finding that dealing with people is a bit more supple than dealing with machines.

Good news for the 900,000 passengers a day who ride the 'A' train, the jointly operated SNCF-RATP RER line that has the heaviest traffic in Europe. Double-decker trains will be introduced on this route early next year, increasing capacity by 30 percent per train. The 64 present trains assigned to the 'A' line run at two-minute intervals during rush hour, and especially on the eastern end of the line, there is a heavy crush of passengers.

Silly Europe Week Still On

Since last reporting on this subject a two weeks ago, 'What to Do About English Mad-Cow Disease' has been under non-stop discussion in London, Brussels, Paris and other European capitals. While officials having been talking, customers have been switching to other forms of food.

A chain of Paris steak-frites restaurants is now offering vegetarian 'steaks.' The management does not think much of their taste, but their - few - vegetarian employees say they are quite good. There have been no studies on the incidence of vegetarianism in France, but the percentage of veggie fans is estimated at two or three. In any case, the consumption of red meat has been slowly but steadily going down in France since the early '80's.

Weekend Idea

The Parc Asterix is now open again after its winter siesta. Gaulois cartoon characters Asterix and Obelix are the centre of attraction at this amusement park just outside Paris. I have had favorable reports about this park from little people who have tried more than one, and see these things from a different viewpoint than large people.
Access by car from the A1 autoroute or by bus from the airport at Roissy.
Info : 36 68 30 10 or Minitel : 3615 Parc Asterix.
Open 10:00 until 18:00 daily.

Chambre de Commerce et de l'Industrie de Paris

The Paris Chamber of Commerce has taken a few very small, discrete ads in today's Libération, to simply say that its Web server is now online to serve you, at URL :

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