Paris in the Springtime, 2001

A life in progress
by Rick Swallow

Frequently Asked Questions...And Their Answers

Here you will find answers to questions which should put you at ease about your visit to Paris
and make your trip more enjoyable.


What do I do if I Loose my Passport and/or my wallet is lost or stolen?

First things first

Before you even leave on your trip, write down the overseas contact phone numbers for any and all credit cards that you may be carrying.
Be aware that many 800 and 888 numbers are NOT valid from outside the US, so get the right numbers! Make copies of that paper and
copies of your passport picture id page. Put a copy in each piece of your luggage. On the paper also write down your destination and
home addresses/phone numbers and a phone contact number for a person at your home end. When luggage is lost in an airport it is
often unclaimable because the airline tag has been pulled off. The officials will have to open/break into your luggage to find other forms
of identification as to proof of the owner. Stolen or lost...

Immediately upon your discovery that your stuff has been lost/pickpocketed/or otherewise stolen, go to the local Police and have them
fill out a theft report. They'll give you a copy of the report which you will need at the Passport office and/or for your credit card companies as
proof as to the date and place of the loss.


Replacing a lost/stolen passport is relatively easy--as long as you can still prove who you are by drivers license or certified birth certificate.
If none of that is available to you, you'll have to have another person who knows you vouch for you and present their passport. Simply go to
the American Passport Office at 2, rue St. Florentin 75001, Paris, (Tel. which butts into Place de la Concorde's Northeast
corner. There will be a long line there of people applying for visas, but you can go to the head of the line and tell the guard that you are
going to the Passport Office. Currently (2001) you'll need to have $60 to pay for the new passport. Credit card, Travelers Checks or Cash
of about any kind is accepted, but no personal checks. The office WILL NOT lend you the money. There's a picture machine in the lobby to
take the 2 pictures required for a new passport--if you have 3 francs--no change will be given, so go prepared. You'll fill out some simple
paperwork, turn in your pictures, and then wait about 2 hours while they process and make up your new passport.

Credit Cards

If your wallet/purse/fanny pack... is stolen and it contains your drivers license and credit cards, thieve(s) may order cell phone packages,
apply for credit cards, have credit lines established to buy virtually anything, receive a PIN number with which they can apply to the DMV
to change your driving record information online (in some states), and more. Here's some critical information which may help you limit the damage:
  • Cancel your credit cards immediately using the phone numbers you copied before leaving on your trip.
  • Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and SS#. The alert means any
    company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.
    The numbers are:
    Equifax 1-800 525-6285
    Experian (formerly TRW) 1-800-301-7195
    Trans Union 1-800-680-7289
    Social Security Administration also has a fraud line at 1-800-269-0271

    Finally, it is a excellent idea to have some money, perhaps $100 or more in a completely separate place from your other funds so if one
    source is lost or stolen, you have at least enough funds to help you survive until you have repaired any damage because of the incident.

    What is this term "Aérogare" on my ticket?

    Some airline tickets landing or departing Charles DeGaulle Airport list "Aérogare" 1, or some other number, which refers to the terminal
    number you will use, not the gate number. Remember the terminal (Aérogare) number to give the bus or taxi driver when you again use
    the airport so they stop at the correct terminal for you as they go to and past several Aérogares enroute.

    Do I need to know any French to enjoy my visit in Paris?

    Short answer: No. Longer answer: No, but if you learn just 5 expressions, you will get along better. They are:
    "Merci" [Thank you] Pronounced like "hair see" only with an M in place of the h. "S'il vous plaît " [Please] Pronounced like "see two play" only with V in place of the t "Pardon" [Used alone, where we say, "Pardon Me"] Pronounced like par-dough with the "dough" spoken nasally. Don't say the N. "Au Revoir" [Goodbye] Generally shortened and pronounced as "oh-v wah" "Toilettes" [Toilet. "Bathroom" is not used] Pronounced "Twah-let"
    Reading French phonetically as you would English does not work, so don't try to pronounce it as you read it. If you need something that
    is written, as in a book, just pointing to it will do, but you know, making a stab at it would go a long way toward building a working
    relationship with someone you want to help you.

    What about changing my money or using travellers' checks or credit cards?

    In most restaurants, and larger shops, hotels, etc. you can use your VISA and MASTERCARD just as you do at home. Many smaller shops hesitate to accept Travellers' checks, or Credit Cards for small purchases.
    Few places will accept American or other foreign currency. 1. Inside the Louvre on the lower level there is a "Change" facility. It does not give you better than street rates.
    2. On the streets, especially where tourists frequent, you will enounter "Change" shops with the exchange rates posted outside about
    every hundred yards, and I kid you not! The rates they offer vary just a little bit. For example, today the exchange rate was officially
    7.6 French Francs to the US Dollar. Walking along the streets I found rates anywhere from 7.25 to 7.51. Granted, that's only a few cents
    on the dollar you can lose (or gain if you look a little first) but that can add up over the period of a trip during which you may change
    several hundred dollars or more.
    3. ATMs are located outside every block or two in tourist areas. Be sure you bring a card that has a PIN number such as you use at your
    local ATM at home. Text on the ATM is in English and French so that's no problem.
    4.You could go to a bank but that is a bit more time consuming.

    Bathrooms: What about them?

    Imagine a stranger walking about your town looking for a restroom and not having a good grasp of the language. Well, you could have
    the same problem. You don't just walk into a restaurant and use their restroom at home, and you shouldn't do that in Paris, either.
    Bathrooms, as we call them, are called "Toilettes" here and most often will be marked with the traditional male/female stick figures and/or
    WC or Water Closet. Yes, that's British for a toilet facility, and it's used here. "McClean" is a toilette facility in the Gare du Nord and
    elsewhere but costs 6 francs!
    In the Louvre there are ample facilities available without having to have a Museum ticket or entering the museum itself.
    1 in the underground parking level at the far side of the information booth--look for the stick figures...
    1 at the base of the escalators that lead to the exit on the North Side (rue Rivoli) from the shopping area
    1 to the right in the passageway behind the ticket booths in the main lobby under the pyramid
    1 in the eating area on the mezzanine
    There are also pay restrooms, currently 2/12 francs to use, in underground areas all over the city, such as the one at the side of the plaza
    in front of NotreDame, as well as the 2 franc "kiosk" style toilletes found on the sidewalks every few blocks in major tourist/business areas.
    The problem is, they close up in the evening! Paris, known for its nightlife, has no public bathroom facilities in the evening! The kiosks, for
    example, operate only from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., closing up at the very hour when things start happening! In the summer, it's still light at that
    time, people are still eating dinner in the myriad restaurants, walking the Seine, taking in the sights and enjoying the night life, and there
    are no restrooms available. What is with that? What can these French be thinking? What?
    It just isn't fun to be in a strange city anywhere, Paris included, and not know where to find a bathroom when you need it. I mention the
    Louvre's Toilettes in particular here because the Louvre tends to be rather central and you'll find yourself hanging around there or just
    passing it frequently, so it's a good place for a convenient pit stop. Up until 23 heures that is.

    How about transportation?

    Paris is actually a fairly small city as area goes, and you can walk between most all the places that tourists usually like to see in a fairly
    short time, enjoying the scenery as you go. But since you asked:
  • The Metro runs under the city convenient to within a block of virtually anywhere you might want to go. It's cheap, and if you plan to use it
    several times a day you can purchase an unlimited use pass for the day, week, or month. Its schedule and map is easy to use and is
    posted all over the city. A monthly pass is 285ff currently--that's about $39 US dollars, and cheap, as things go.... Be sure to ask what
    kind of "package deals" they have for Metro use, because there are others. You can buy a "Carnet" (booklet--NOT) of 10 one-way tickets
    for 58 francs currently, and in other amounts for more.
  • The RER, an underground railway is available, but unless you are good at reading schedules, stay away. You should be aware, however,
    that your metro pass is good for the train, too, and if you go to the Gare D'Orsay or Invalides station for the RER you can get all the way to
    Versaille! You'll have to buy a 15 franc "auxilliary" ticket to get out at the Versaille station, though, and a 15 franc ticket to get back in the
    station at that end. Not expensive.
  • The Bus system is elaborate but again, unless you know what you are doing, pass it up.
  • Taxis are found on the main drags, as anywhere in the world, but that's an expensive way to go.

    And yet even more rail travel.

    What is a "Carte Musée" (Museum Card)?

    The Museum card can be bought at most museums, but then you have to stand in line to get it! It can also be bought at many Bus
    stops, major metro stops, and in the Visitor's information center (as can Metro passes) in the bottom floor of the Louvre. Look for it near
    the inverted glass pyramid downstairs. You'll know what that is when you get there....
    There is a real advantage to having the "Carte Musée". Many museums often have long lines, but those are ticket lines. If you already
    have a Pass, you just bypass the line. Don't hesitate to show your pass to gate guards. Sometimes there are so many people in lines
    that it can be hard to determine just where you have to go to get in with your pass, but be persistent!
    And, by the way, entering the Louvre via the above ground Pyramid is often slow because of long lines. Only a neophyte would stand in
    that line--often in the hot sun or rain. There are entryways on both sides of the Carrousel Arc de Triomphe. This Arc is seen just a few
    yards to the WNW of the traffic circle in the center of the Louvre area. Oh, get a Map! There is a fourth entrance with escalators going down
    into the Louvre on rue Rivoli (runs along the North side of the building) about midway down the building. These other entrances never
    have lines and at least get you out of the sun or rain.
    Consider this, however, when planning which day to visit a specific museum. As the Louvre, for example, is closed on Tuesday, all the
    tourists/visitors who arrived late Monday, or Tuesday, will be there along with the new Wednesday visitors, so Wednesday lines are often
    quite long--even the line for those with passes (Lines will most likely not be marked---so ask.).

    What about drinking the water?

    Paris has safe drinking water right from the tap, though you wouldn't know it from all the bottled water they sell. But then, it's the same
    way in the US these days, now isn't it! Be aware that you will be hard pressed to find a drinking fountain in Paris--I've only been able to locate
    a couple. Here's the secret: Buy the smallest plastic bottle of juice drink that you can find (the 33 cl bottle is perfect) and keep it to use
    over and over filled with tap water for your walks. Otherwise you'll spend an inordinate amount of your play money on water. Now for
    some of you that may not be important, but I just won't spend--willingly--more for water (which should be free) than I do for gasoline.

    What about Tourist bureaus; English speaking help?

  • There is an excellent tourist bureau in the bottom level of the Louvre.
  • There is a tourist bureau on the Champs Élysée
  • There is even a better one with more stuff than you can carry at the end of Metro Line 1 in Vincennes. Just get out at Vincennes (you have
    to, anyway, as it's the last stop on that line) and exit onto the street. In that square is a large bus stop area which you cannot miss! If you
    were standing on the sidewalk with the bus stop to your back, you could look directly across the street and see the Tourist Bureau set
    back about 40 feet between two other small buildings. Knowing what I do now about that bureau, that's the first place I'd head if I were
    going to spend a week in Paris. Oh yeah, and while you are there, walk back across the street and visit Vincennes!
  • There is also the tourist/employment/housing, etc., help area for English speakers located in "The American Church in Paris" on the
    Quai D'Orsay (Left Bank--South side of the Seine) between Pont des Invalides and Pont de l'Alma.
  • Further, anyone under 30 speaks Engish anyway. They've all had at least 6 years of Engish in school, most of the songs played here are
    by American artists, and they deal with Americans and Brits all the time in their business lives.

    What about clothes and styles?

    In Paris, anything goes, from the garish to the ultra plain. There are so many tourist here, all the time, that every style of clothing
    (and shoe style) that you are familiar with--and some you are not--can probably be seen on any given day. But very generally speaking:
  • Although rain is not necessarily a daily event from June to September, at any other time of the year you shouldn't be surprised if you get
    caught unawares by a rain cloud, even if the sky was relatively clear an hour before. The more water resistent your clothes are, the better.
  • Rain gear: can be bought relatively inexpensively on the streets all over town. They go through a lot of it here at all times of the year.
  • June to September: Shorts and T-shirts are usually adequate, but carrying a light sweater is not a bad idea.
  • September to June: Long pants reign, and during the winter months--from October 1 to May 1 (from a So. Californian's perspective),
    a moderately heavy jacket or parka would not usually be a bad thing to have along.

    What about food?

    Well, strange you should ask. Some people actually come to France for the food. I, for one (and maybe the only one) couldn't care less
    about the food as I am a vegetarian with high cholesterol. I have eaten some meals to kill for here, but they were certainly not on my "diet."
    While it is true that most if not all restaurants post their menu outside for all to see, only some--maybe 20 percent-- translate the menu into
    English; and even if your favorite dish is "listed" you are unlikely to recognise it as such when it comes from the kitchen to your table if it's
    anything more than a slab of meat with a potato. I suggest that if you are coming to France for the food and are not really into trying foods
    you aren't sure of, get a very good French/English dictionary with a section dedicated to French food...and study it.

    I'll post more questions/answers here as needed..Email me with your questions,
    if you have any, and if I can, I'll answer them.

    Click here to go on to back to Week 1. (Using your back button is quicker if you came here from there.)
    Return to top of page

    Links Tried and True Home Page