Merci, Polly Platt and thank you so very much for both of your wonderful books. My experiences in Paris were delightful. I traveled to Paris for the first time last year. Three trips in all. The delightful and helpful hints found in Savoir Flair were used daily. For example, on one trip last November when the presidential election in America was hanging on the Florida vote count-- I was just off the plane and had taken the RER and Metro into St. Germain des Pres. (I had no prob using the RER on my second time there. Just beginners luck, I guess. Or pehaps the tips from Ms. Platt which remained in my mind. And an elaborate map drawn on an airline ticket jacket by an American commercial pilot who firmly believed I would be lost and bewildered. I lost the map. All I really needed was to remember the word: Sortie) I floated into Paris transported through the galactic portal at CDG -- appearing pretty much as described by Ms. Platt. I found the circular design comforting -- I couldn't get lost. It was a loop.
Before 2 hours had elapsed I used Ms. Platt's information, again: I left my bag at the hotel and stepped out for a refreshing walk. The heel on my favorite (and only comfortable AND pretty) shoes had broken. Vanity more than need was driving me to find someplace to repair them. I didn't want to wear my ugly, but comfortable shoes. These cute little Stuart Weitzman black ankle boots w/black rabbit fur inside were perfect for the chilly, wet weather. They were three years old but still wonderful. However, I was slipping a little with every step (and it wasn't on dog poo.)
What were my chances of getting a repair while I waited -- not great, I figured. Probably impossible. Plus, where would I find a repair shop. Whoops, quite by accident I saw one and stepped inside. Guess what! As quoted by Ms. Platt: Napoleon was right, "Impossible does not exist in France." Following her solid advice on manners, conversation, banter and keeping things interesting: Not only did I receive a shoe repair from a St. Germain des Pres shop keeper who first declined to fix the shoes unless I left them. But I had a wonderful experience. "Bonjour Monseiur," I said -- and as you can see, I speak French as poorly as I spell it -- followed by the magic words Ms. Platt recommends we all use to describe my problem (and to find out what those are you must READ the book), "I know this is impossible, and I am sure you don't have time, but could you fix my shoe while I wait?" He had stopped a conversation with another man to address me. "You can't leave them?" he said. "They're my only shoes...." I said but paused and considered his request carefully and looked over my shoulder out the window and said thoughtfully, "Oh, yes I could leave them, but I would have to walk barefoot on the cobblestones...or sit here in my stocking feet until the heels were repaired..."
"What's wrong?" he asked. "The plastic on the bottom of the heel is off," I said. "Ah, you are slipping on the cobble stones!" "Oui!"
Ah, now he was engaged and wanted to solve my problem.
He held up five fingers, "Watch my store, I need to talk with this fellow. Five minutes." They left the shop and when he came back, he took my shoes and said to me, "So, who is your President, today?" I feigned an indignant tone: "Monsieur, we all know who the President is, it is the president-elect who is in dispute..." This made him laugh... He asked about my preference between the candidates and then I asked about his ten or so framed black and white photos of 1940s-60s American movie stars. He spoke about his favorite movies and asked me my favorite movies, "Oh, you like American cinema" I said to him, "and I prefer French film directors...Jaques Tati and ....." several names rolled out. He raised an eyebrow.
So, he glued and polished and made conversation with me for an hour while I sat feeling like Alice in Wonderland in a large, old rattan chair and enjoyed the scent of shoe polish and leather, the scene on the street outside, and the comments of the shoe repairman. He fixed my shoes AND polished them to look better than when I walked in.
I held the shoes for a moment and admired his work. I thanked him and asked how many French francs I owed.
He made a wave of his hand brushing aside my question, "The conversation was compensation enough."
Can you imagine any place in the world where a person would depart from his daily work routine, work for an hour on your behalf, carry on an intelligent and engaging converstion with you, do beautiful work, make the product look better than when he received it for repair, and then refuse payment?
I love Paris!
(And Ms. Platt's wonderful book. Buy it, enjoy it and by all means travel to France and collect your own wonderful tales of French extravagance -- an abundance of joy in life and each of life's moments!) My encounter at the shoe repair shop was just one of a multitude of wonderful examples of hospitality, wit and generosity that you, too, will find in France. By all means, go with some preparation -- and Savior Flair -- so that you will appreciate the banquet set before you.