I was recently offered the opportunity to travel to France. I had never left the continent, I didn't even have a passport for emergencies, I know, not very jet-setting playboy at all. But I said sure, I'd love the opportunity to take pictures, maybe try and find some European toys. I wasn't big on European culture though. If you asked me then, if I could go anywhere on Earth, I'd have chosen Tokyo where the giant robots practically grow on trees. But I did say yes to France, and now I am a changed man.
You're probably not considering France as the ultimate toy hunting destination, so let me give you one Millionaire Playboy's view on what to see and do in France. I'll talk about the food, the drink, the toys, the language and the ladies. And if you're not careful, you'll learn something before it's done.
Arc d' Triumph
Gettin' There You hear that? He was getting there. Son you wouldn't have known what to do with it even if you had gotten there.
Unfortunately, France really can't be considered a "weekend jaunt" unless you're absolutely loaded. There are different routes online for discounted travel, and you could try being an air courier; but free/cheap flights are hard to come by with either set-up. I'm finding most sites offering flights between DC and Paris for about $1,000 give or take. NY and Boston have more options, and if you're not near either, you may have to fly to one of these hubs first. Fareline.com had a flight for $880 *. Also getting hotel/air fare packages may save some money too.
We were in the plane for roughly eight hours, which was typical for a direct flight from DC to France. Since we left at 10 PM, we tried to get some sleep on the plane (the free mini-bottles helped); so we weren't too screwed up time-wise when we landed. Coming back, my sleep was a little off kilter, but I was fine after some heavy drinking and blacking out.
This means "Out of Order" Oui-oui!
Speaking the Language How do you say 'your mom' in French?
One of the things that I was most anxious about was the fact that I do not speak a lick of French. I mean, cordon bleu is about it. I am lucky that my wife, the Princess of Power, is pretty fluent so I had her to help me, however she seriously limited telling me the words I wanted to learn. I'd be asking her all the time, "how do you say Stinkhead in French?" or whatever and I'd get the look. I had heard that the French citizens were rude to Americans, much more so to Americans who couldn't even attempt French, so I was kind of freaked out. Here are the very most important things you need to know. After that, you can pick things up as you go along. This is pretty basic, but I'm explaining what I was soley armed with when I was over there. You can imagine how conversations went.
Audio Guide for your iPod
Pardon - (par-DOH)means "excuse me," like "pardon me." You will need it for the people who are always bumping into you, and as a small gesture of apology for farting on the crowded Metro.
Merci - (MARE-see)means "thank you," which you will need when talking to waiters, bar tenders, and the police who allow you to leave the station without the rubber glove treatment.
Oui - (wee)means "yes," I said oui to almost everything our not-very-fluent-in-English tour guide asked me. He knew I didn't speak any French, but that didn't stop him from having full blown conversations with me... in French.
Jouet - (shgoo-ay... 'shgoo' is more like the "ge" part of garage)Very important. This means toys. Now a lot of toy stores looked like toy stores from the outside, so that's cool, but when you're cruising around, or asking for help, this is very handy.
Tits Burger (really)
Cheeseburger - (sheezeburshger)the number one thing P.O.P. wouldn't tell me how to say was Cheeseburger. She wanted me to get a full "taste" of France and not get any American food while we were there. Well, little did I know that they love cheeseburgers almost as much as we do. So much so, they kept the English spelling out of respect for the Land of the Free. More on this in a bit.
Frite - (freet)French Fries... don't call them french fries over there, but you can get them even at respectable, up-scale restaurants. I tried dipping em in mayonaise. It's was alright, but not something I'd do in the states.
That brings us to the big word that has permanently permeated my vocabulary. I asked some of the other English travelers how to say "cool" or "sweet" while in France. The answer...
It's great! Because it sounds a lot like "sweet," you can get the full intonation depending on the situation. Cartman styled, low and slowschweeeeht; or higher pitched and excited Dude Where's My Car style - schwet!!
Yes, not knowing any French was a big disadvantage. Before I go back, I will at least cruise through French for Dummies or something. I also recommend the book Wicked French that is full of "useful" sayings. Actually it might get your ass kicked (haha... you could get your ass kicked by a French guy?! pbbbb) it's full of rude and borderline inappropriate phrases. Here's another important phrase you do need to know.
Parlez-vous l'anglais? - (par lay voo ong-glay?) means Do you speak English?
This sign had English
Surprisingly a lot of French people did speak English. One of the toy stores we found is called Le Grande Recre (larger than KB, smaller than TRU) and I happened upon a very helpful clerk in my search for Bat Signal Batman and we talked "shop" for a little bit. There's a 1:18 Batmobile that I was looking for, and he told me he had gotten his for €40 ($60 USD) he nearly flunched when I told him how much they were going for here.
Oh I almost forgot, you say "your mom" simply with ta mere (tah mare). However, the 'your mom' joke was not appreciated in France. Man, do we have a lot to teach them.
I think it means "visit the doctor with a friend"
The Chicks Etes-vous un modéle?
I didn't think you'd read much further in this article if I didn't start talking about the girls soon enough. Some will tell you that Paris is crawling with hotties. Well I won't lie to you. I can't say that it was elbow-to-elbow hot women, BUT, I can tell you, the most beautiful women I've seen in the world, were indeed in France. Good Lord there's something in the water. They're tall, and scrumptious, and mysterious all at the same time. You know that cheesy line Are you a model? Let's look at the last chick you thought about asking that to, and think about how dumb you would have looked. Well in France, you could ask that and not be far off base. This again, was something my wife would not teach me how to say in French, so I do not know how many models I was truly standing among. And you know something else? High occurrence of MILFs... damn.
Quick unbelievable story. The first day there we took the boat ride up and down the river looking at landmarks. It was Friday before Easter, and one of the first nice weather days since the winter. There were Parisians all over the shore, hanging out, waving at the boat. We saw one lucky man getting a little downtown service from his lady friend as the boat passed by. Paris, three hours... that's all it took.
I think it means Ooh la la
Ok, so on top of those girls (huh huh huh) there's naked wimmen everywhere. Yes, we did visit mostly museums and chateaus, where they decorate solely in naked women and dainty men, but the advertisements everywhere had ass shots and poses that were in that magic realm a little steamier than Maxim but not quite Playboy. These shots aren't really NSFW... but I censored the thumbnails just to be safe.
It's true, you can find naked chicks on TV. The first night there I caught a nice little movie worth my time. And I loved watching French commercials. There is very little in this world that is as hot as a hottie French fille, speaking French. I don't know what they were selling, but I wanted some. We also caught an episode of Law & Order: SVU, and no matter what, French dude voices don't sound manly at all. So French language Stabler was hilarious.
The Dudes That's why I have this outrageous accent!
For the most part, the French dudes were pretty patient with my attempts to communicate, and I didn't really get angry at anyone except for the people at our hotel that seemed racist towards Americans. Yes, they do smell differently. Either too much perfumey smelling cologne, or not enough. But here's something noteworthy. I am not gay. [Ed note: I'm not gonna touch this one.] I am not gay. I do not pay attention to shoes. I know that I only wear Sketchers because I can wear them either in a business or casual setting, and that's all I have to worry about. I only buy shoes when there's no more ways to duct tape together the ones I'm wearing. However the French dudes over there wore kind of stylish looking shoes that weren't gay looking. I know, this is a foreign concept to me too, but I went to France to learn.
The Food Nah man, they got the metric system, they don't know what the flunch a quarter pounder is
Literally means "Eat Me"
So I did end up entering France with an open mind about my empty stomach. I tried all kinds of crazy stuff such as duck, rabbit, and even escargot. (It's the texture that will gross you out... way more than the taste) But what is a guy like us to do for food? Listen man, the second greatest thing about France is that wherever you go, you can get a great, made-on-the-spot ham sammich. Not your standard plastic-wrap-gas-station variety sandwich either. Even the Metro had sandwich booths, big piece of French bread, some mayo and jambonham. I love ham. The French love ham. We hit it off well.
Crepes! I have a new love and its the crepe. Think of a flat eggy tortilla, wrapped up with ham, or egg, or melted chocolate. And they're everywhere. And they're not just a snack, they have Creperies, that sell crepes as meals. I had a melted Nutella and banana crepe and it was orgasmic.
What the Flunch?
Burgers There's an ample amount of McDonalds in France. I did get a Royale with Cheese, and you can order beer with your Big Mac. We also tried a place called Quick which was surprisingly a notch above McDonalds as far as food and service goes. There's a place called "Quality Burger Restaurant," no mystery there. But talk about mysteries, we did find Flunch. What the flunch? We think it means "Fast-Lunch" whatever... I'm not eating at a place called flunch because it sounds like something my bowels may do a few hours later.
Here's an important note. The tip is included with the price on your bill in sit-down restaurants. At first I thought this was a bit presumptuous, because I still adhere to the rule that the tip is determined by the service I receive. However, the culture is different, and in Europe, being a server is an adult career. It wasn't high-school kids screwing up orders, the servers were very polite and professional. So I didn't mind this tip malarky.
The Drink Care to wet your whistle? I'd rather spit in your face, but since I haven't gotten any spit....
I don't like French beer.
It's true, in most cases, the wine is cheaper than the Coca-Cola or bottled water. The wine is terrific, and
cheap, and available everywhere, even at lunch. We did wine tastings, we bought wine, we drank wine, it was great. I do have to say (and some of you will want to smack me) by the third night, we saddled up to a bar and I ordered a Heineken. I'm sorry, my brain had been in "learning mode" for 4 straight days, I need to taste something I was familiar with. I had plenty of wine, so don't get your mime pants in a bunch, but I needed a breather.
Coke: €3.50 | Beer €3.00
A small bottle of wine is about €5 (Euros). A 12oz can of coke? €4.50. That's like $6 USD. For a coke. Now you know why we drank wine all the time. Also, when you ask for water, ask for tap water or l'eau sans gas (LUH sahn gas). Otherwise they'll bring you fizzy carbonated water, and that will turn you into a sneering Frenchman (or incredibly hot French woman) in no time.
The Jouet Stores Where does he get those wonderful toys?
You know that I'm a big time playmobil collector and that they're much more popular in Europe. Well holy merde! In the basement level of Le Grande Recre, I was greeted by this sight (right). Playmobil everywhere. Not only did most of the toy stores carry playmobil, they carried quite the load. In the US, if I am even lucky enough to find a place with playmobil, it's a 4'X8' section... two airports, a handful of Specials, and not much else. How do you say "over-dose" in French?
I was also on the lookout for MOTU, as you know that a couple of new variants were only available overseas. I did indeed find Ice Armor Skeletor and Snake Armor He-Man, which I thought, if I find them, they'd be cool to have... but not for €18. Yeah, that's more than $20. That wasn't even at a touristy toy store... action figures, even crappy action figures, are indeed close to $20 over there. Between that and the gas being roughly twice the price as it is here, I'm learning to complain a little less.
I cannot go further without mentioning Lulu Berlu. If you go to France at all, you have to make the trek. Good Lord, it's practically at the top of a Metro stop's exit. The clerks speak English, and they have more toys from the 80s, in mint packages, than I have ever seen in one location. Infact, so much so, I have a completely other feature about this toy store here. I've included large 1280 pixel wide shots so you can gaze long and hard like I did. Definately take a look.
So I mentioned Le Grande Recre check out their web site (in French, sorry) for locations. Also Lulu Berlu's site has an English translation. I opened up the phone book that was in my hotel room and found a whole host of toy stores. Call them first. I know this is difficult if you don't speak French, but at least learn "Are you open?"Est-ce que le magasin ouvert? (esk kuh luh magasin ooh vair)... we spent one morning tracking down toy stores and two of them were closed up for good. I was surprised that we found toy stores almost everywhere we went. I found five or six kick-ass looking stores in Tours, which is a big hot spot for drunk college kids. (Americans... puh!) There's a popular store in Paris called Monoprix, which is kind of like WalMart, but they don't have a toy section like you're looking for.
You know we love Stink Blasters, well they're pretty popular in Europe as well. At Toy Fair last year I got a German language Stink Blaster, at an outlet store I picked up a couple of Spanish language guys... so here I am in the land of stinky cheese, I want a French Stink Blaster dammit! Everywhere we went, they were hard to find. Infact, check this out, I didn't find any until I hit the toy store at the airport on the way to come home. That was close. Yeah, I paid €9 for a mini, but it was worth it for the packaging. I will teach my future children the languages of the world with my Stink Blasters.
Yeah, that stinkin' Bat Signal Batman... it's part of the Bane/Scarecrow wave, and when we went, they were allegedly only available overseas (to be distributed stateside later this summer). Everywhere we went, my wife was trying to translate "Bat signal" into French. It's not easy.
This clock is chouette
Cool Stuff This isn't life, it's just stuff!
Man oh man there was cool stuff everywhere we went. Here's something that will take some practice and intuition, knowing when something is only available in France, and when you can get it elsewhere. I saw lots of stuff I absolutely wanted to get but A) couldn't afford on the spot, and B) didn't want to risk on the plane ride home. Two examples for you. This clock is chouette. All the gears move as the clock moves. This would look handsome on my desk. It cost roughly €60 ($80). I had never seen it before, so I assumed if I didn't buy it right now I'd never see it again. But in the end, I let it go. Well after some Googlin' stateside, I found it for about $50 (US) here, so now I know it's available whenever, I can decide to get it later or wait for it as a gift. BUT you will come across stuff that is Euro-exclusive. This chouette-as-hell playmobil BMW is only in Germany, and this playmobil knight with cannon is hard to get here. Actually you can get this set in America, however the European versions of this toy still have the spring intact inside the cannon. In America, they "neuter" the cannons by removing the springp; you're expected to "flick" the cannon balls out. Weak. It's impossible to forsee all the cool stuff you will encounter, but try to trust your instincts. (Or ask them for a catalog, research it when you get home).
Besides not being a big shoe person, I'm not really a big car connoisseur. Yeah, I know a fancy sports car when I see it, but I'm not the guy to make a pic of a car my desktop wallpaper or anything. That all changed when I saw this beauty... this is the Smart Roadster. Yeah, they have those silly Smart cars all over Europe. They're tiny, and they certainly don't look like something you could get laid with. But here is the roadster, and I thought it was amazing. I did some research online, they're about $24,000 brand new, and they get 45 miles to the gallon... 45! (It can get it up to 100 mph) Here's some more info. Oh, when I took the picture with my flash, I saw the owner of the car high-five a buddy. That must be a great feeling.
Here's another cool picture I got. It's a large panoramic view of Montemartre, the staircase from the movie Amelie.
Millionaire Playboys this way!
Internet What, your mom buy you a 'puter for Christmas?
If you're reading this article, you'll obviously want to get online a few times while in France. The good news is that cyber cafés are all over the place, even in little towns outside of Paris. But the prices can vary quite a bit. Three euros for an hour of usage wasn't bad. We found cheaper, and we found much more expensive, so keep an eye out. Another thing, though the keyboard has English characters on it, they're all in weird places, not the standard QWERTY lay-out. So if you're better at touch typing instead of hunting and pecking, you can click the language change button in the Windows task bar. That'll make the computer think it's an American keyboard, and put the letter of the key you're used to. But don't look at the keyboard, that'll just piss you off. This pic on the right was taken at a Chateau in the Loire Valley, their Ye Olde Giftshop had a cyber café, and a bar!
Adapters Thinking of bringing a laptop or digital camera? You'll want to recharge it. Be sure to get the right type of plug adapter before you go. Many recent appliances have voltage adaptors built in. But you should check your product's manual or customer service line first. Also, most of the plugs we encountered were recessed into the wall, and had two holes going in, and one prong sticking out. So the adaptor I brought didn't work. A lot of adapters look like those AC chargers (big block with the prongs sticking out. Those won't fit. Get something that looks like this.
I have money in there, right?
Currency Right now what sucks is that €75 is about $100. Most places take credit card, so you can use your credit or check card in most transactions and it automatically deducts the money at the current rate, without a fee. (Check with your bank first however). You will need cash for a few things, like the Metro and quick sandwich places, but your card should work in any ATM machine. I called my bank ahead of time and they gave me a list of banks they're affiliated with, so there were no additional fees for withdrawing money. By the way you should contact your card companies/bank and let them know you'll be using the card in a foreign country on specific dates, that way they don't think you're making odd charges and shut the card down on you.
The city of love
Fin I had a much more exciting time in France than I thought I would. I thought I'd be doing nothing but eating cheese and sipping bitter wine. But I was wrong, and I loved it. So to recap, learn a little French, set a budget, and do a little research on some places to visit. Below is a list of some helpful resources. I've also included some additional pics I took in France that didn't fit into the article. If you know of any other places in France that I gotta check out, write in and let me know.
*You may find better results on your own, I'm not a travel expert, this is just meant as a means to get started. I have received no compensation to endorse this site in anyway, just some basic research yielded this one as cheapest for a randomly picked date.