Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Unhappy Crepe Story

One of our many shopping tasks while we were in Paris involved buying fabric to make curtains.  M. at the rental agency told us that the fabric district in Paris was at something called the Saint Pierre market, in the Montmartre district.  For those who don’t know, Montmartre is a little neighborhood at the north edge of Paris, built around a hill on top of which is the Sacre Coeur church, which has a beautiful view overlooking the city.  Long ago it was a separate village, and it still has a charming small-town feel.  It is a very popular tourist destination.

The Saint Pierre market was not touristy at all, and not really a market per se.  It is a couple of blocks filled with fabric stores, the way Seventh Avenue in New York was years ago.  We walked around for a while and picked one, and CAM spent the next hour dickering with the proprietor while she picked out fabric.

Fabric-picking is not the greatest activity for kids or husbands, so we all waited semi-patiently, and when we were finally done it was time for lunch.  Years ago, CAM and I had been walking around Montmartre, and wandered into a little creperie which we loved.  It was mostly random, it just turned out to be a moment when we had an unexpectedly nice time, a cute little place with a nice dog who hung out there.  I had always remembered it, so now seemed like a good time to check it out again.  And there it was, just like we remembered, same dog and everything.

It was fairly busy, and the waiter, who I guess is a half of a husband-wife team with the wife in the kitchen, was hustling around, and seemed a little hassled and busy.  We ordered, and after some delay the crepes arrived, they were once again delicious, and we ate.  We were headed somewhere across town next, and when the waiter came over, she asked him in French if he knew if the 80 bus stopped nearby.  To our surprise he snapped at her:  “I don’t know anything about the buses, don’t ask me about transportation.”  Ah, said Carol, so you walk everywhere?  No, he said, I have a car and drive to work.  Oh, said Carol,  Vous avez de la chance (You’re lucky).  He briskly walked away, and a couple of minutes later reappeared, obviously furious.  He was speaking loudly to a couple of French people at other tables, saying those Americans are so rude, they will say anything to anybody!  It was weird, and obviously time to get out of there.  So I got up, asked for the check, and said, “We won’t be back.”  Good, he said, and slammed the dish with the bill on the table.  “You American’s think that anyone in France who has a car must be rich, but I have to get to work at 530 in the morning and I work for 17 hours a day, I need a car to get to work!”

Wait a second, I said, who said anything about being rich?  She did, said the waiter, pointing to Carol, when I told her I had a car she said, “Vous avez de l’argent.” (You have money.)  Ah, there’s the problem, and Carol spent the next ten minutes convincing the guy that he had misunderstood her.  He sort of apologized, offered to buy us a drink, etc, but the damage had been done.  It didn’t really matter what he thought she said, it just isn’t right to go off on a customer.  So we split.

The whole thing was sad.  Here is a guy who sits in this beautiful little restaurant in this beautiful neighborhood in this beautiful city, just waiting for a tourist to come in and piss him off.  It gets to a central dilemma of traveling.  Just by going somewhere, you change it, and if enough people go somewhere on some level it ceases to be the place that attracted the tourists in the first place.   And I don’t doubt that some American tourists are clueless or rude, or even that in some ways it was nice when he only served crepes to the local French people.  But of course the other side of it is that the tourists make it possible for Montmartre to exist, if there weren’t any tourists it would probably be all chain restaurants and warehouses by now. 

CAM will want me to conclude by saying that the vast majority of our encounters with Parisians are great.  We don’t experience the classical arrogance of waiters, who are universally supportive and professional, or the French distaste for listening to less-than-perfect spoken French.  But it is certainly the case that you have your best experiences if you make an effort to get off the beaten track a little, where there are fewer tourists around.  That happens to be a great characteristic of the 15th, by the way.  It is a very bustling and active neighborhood, but except for right around the Eiffel Tower it isn’t touristy at all.  If you go into one of the cafes at la Motte—Picquet Grenelle in the morning you will generally be the only non-French person in the place.


Here is a picture of the new kitchen…. the blue is a plastic covering over the cabinets and the dishwasher.

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