Paris Greeters, a volunteer organization of amiable Parisians who look forward to welcoming visitors to their city are changing the impression that Paris is a less than friendly city, one tour at a time, every day.
As Linda and I make our away across the city from the broad perfumed boulevards of the Champs Elysee to the gritty, lyrical lanes of the Left Bank, we are giddy with anticipation. We are about to meet a new friend that we met a few weeks ago online thanks to the Paris Greeters organization. Our Paris Greeter / guide, Laurent, has volunteered to show us his city on this particular Saturday afternoon. We’ve been in touch by email to set a time and place to meet, discussed our mutual interests, and exchanged photos so we can recognize each other outside the Metro station.
Within minutes of meeting we are talking, laughing and already appreciating the nuances of Left Bank neighborhoods and seeing French culture through new eyes. Beyond a litany of Louis’ and their royal accomplishments (how DO they keep 18 Louis straight?) we stroll by a Pierre Herme´ pastry shrine (you really can’t call it a bake shop when there are 50 people waiting in line to get in the door!); then on to Gelati D’Alberto where the iced delights look like rose blossoms, and of course we can’t resist ogling the decadent cheeses and fragrant produce at an open market. Oh to be a Parisian on market day! Laurent schools us on choosing restaurants to dine in, “NEVER enter a restaurant that has ‘French Cuisine’ on the sign or menu”, he admonishes, “they are just for poor unsuspecting tourist!”
We spend three hours in the company of our new Parisian friend, talking about families, jobs, health care, education, favorite books, recipes, vacation destinations, all while being introduced to fascinating tidbits about life and leisure in the city of lights. Did you know a 100 year flood is expected ‘anytime’ now? Laurent explains, all residents of Paris have been issued an evacuation rating and specific instructions for leaving the city in case the Seine overflows it’s banks. And all those museums with precious works of art have been preparing as well. It’s sobering to see the high water mark still evident from the last 100 year flood in January 1910 – yikes!
As the afternoon comes to a close, we are of course reluctant to leave our guide – now good friend, Laurent. There are promises of keeping in touch, and we are hoping he will visit Boston so we can return the favor. We are totally amazed that there is NO COST to the Paris Greeters program. They are a dedicated group of volunteers who are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their city and take great delight in revealing their favorite Paris haunts and discoveries to others. On returning home we received a follow up email from Paris Greeters asking if we enjoyed our tour and inviting us to make a donation to their organization if we cared to. We will be only too happy to donate to this wonderful organization – our time spent with Laurent was one of the most memorable experiences we have ever had in Paris. Paris Greeters makes it very easy to donate as they accept both credit card and PayPal transactions.
To book your own tour with Paris Greeters, visit their website at http://www.parisgreeters.com a month or several weeks before your trip and fill out the online tour request form. And be sure to look for Greeter programs in other cities around the world. The trend is growing as more Greeter organizations form in cities worldwide. Lastly, stay tuned, we’ll be posting an article soon with a directory of all the Greeter programs around the world.
Au Revoir Mes Amis!