Tourist Traps' that Aren't

photo: cafe, rue abbesses

On Montmartre near Abbesses, 'untrapped' residents
and visitors.

Are the French 'Normal?'

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 21. August 2000:- Last week's overly optimistic outlook for August weather has turned out to be about what most forecasts are worth - worthless. Bright weather happened on Wednesday morning and it was pure chance that I snapped it up.

For this reason, most of the photos in this issue seem to have been shot in summery Paris; but the fact of it is this 'summer' only included Wednesday up to about 16:00.

Since then, things have been worse than usual, with exceptional amounts of rain, off and on, all the time. On Sunday, a visitor in the Tuileries garden was struck by lightning and killed.

The chance of this happening to you in Paris is probably about the same as it is where you live; and I only mention it here to underline how weird the weather has been.

The forecast for this week calls for clearing skies on or after Wednesday, with temperatures rising to 'normal' by the coming weekend - which is rated 2/5 for probability.

'Tourist Hell' Explored In This Issue

For a long time, before I visited a place or went to an event, it never occurred to me that there might be a lot of people there before me. I have had a lot of surprises.

Finally I got used to the idea that a lot of different people could have the same idea to do the same thing in the same placephoto: musee montmartre at the same time. I got into the habit of going early, or booking early, in order to be sure of getting a secure place.

'Mobs' of tourists, not mobbing Montmartre's own museum last Wednesday.

These days, I live in the middle of a big city and I'm not particularly surprised that a lot of people can have the same idea to do the same thing in the same place at the same time. Such as, all going to the local 'Bonaprix' at the same time of day to get some carrots for dinner.

There is a 'surprise' with this though - the 'Bonaprix' never seems to anticipate all these people showing up - by magic? - at the same time every day, to buy carrots. Seven of the ten checkouts are closed.

If you try to outfox them, by going to get carrots at offpeak times, then all the checkouts are out of order.

This city I live in is also the world's champion 'tourist trap,' so in addition to its residents I've gotten used to its constant large numbers of visitors. I should - readers write to me all the time to tell me they are 'on their way' - even if I don't notice them while walking around.

Visitors in Paris are so normal, that I almost group them in with everybody else. There are some slight differences though.

Parisians may have little sacks on their backs, while visitors have these things as big as midget totem poles. Parisians know where they are going, so it's pretty safe to walk behind them without fear of collision - although they will stop for chats with long-lost friends at the tops of up-escalators.

Visitors are a walking hazard; these may stop anywhere at anytime - to see a sight, to consult a map, to read a sign, to scratch their heads. Visitors also tend to walk slowly and they often have two friends, so they walk abreast.

If you add their huge backpacks, walking abreast, and put them into a métro tunnel - then it's 'bouchon' time. Getting a couple of visitors in a crowded métro wagon, with their packs, looking at their maps, causes squeeze-plays.

Visitors must be surprised occasionally at the antics Parisians go through getting on and off at their stops. Burrowing out from under 80-day-cruise seabags, or leaping over them like nimble gazelles.

I have also seen high levels of surprise on visitors' faces when Parisians hop down métro stairs, skip across a métro platform while the close-door 'beep' is sounding, and glidephoto: fiat 500 of the week safely into an overfull wagon as the doors snap shut.

Even Parisians think this requires a high level of nerve, 'savoir-faire' and athletic skill. Doing it past, under, around, visitors consulting métro maps, is sometimes applauded.

The 'Fiat 500 of the Week' feature resumes with this fine example - note original Roman plates.

Generally, visitors do not seem to bother Parisians much. Nearly everybody is willing to give directions even if they don't know where anything is. A Parisian, in a hurry, might offer this light rebuff - translated - "I'm from out of town too."

More than half the time, Parisians use this phrase on each other. If they are both from 'out of town' they may become a twin-pack of pathfinders and end up becoming lifelong pals; recalling their 'how we met' story every time they meet again.

'Tourist Trap' Or Service?

I started out to think up some 'tourist traps' here. This caused me to remember there are some hawkers up on Montmartre. These are - usually kids and men - who have buckets full of ice cubes with cold drinks in them.

They are up at the top, right where they're supposed to be - waiting for you to make the climb and be in a devilishly thirsty mood./p>
Continued on page 2...

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