The French are a rather quiet people. When you walk into a shop or restaurant you are greeted with a quietly mumbled “bonjour” from the back. You are expected to respond the same and in similar decimals.
Before I left for Paris my friend, Anne, gave me this tip: Don’t talk or laugh too loudly. You’ll be pegged as a tourist and be targeted by pick pockets.
“Don’t laugh too loudly.” I read that part a few times. I have a loud laugh. It’s typically a burst and sometimes a cackle, sort of like Snoopy’s laugh. Where a Julia Roberts type outburst of laughter may be endearing here in the States; in France it’s obnoxious. I knew right away that this would be my albatross.
As mentioned in my previous blogs, the land lady of Juliette had recommended a café/bistro located at the tip of our Ile called St. Regis.
After settling into Juliette we headed for St. Regis for sustenance and bevvies.
We were greeted with a hurried and mumbled “bonjour” and given a table near an open window. This is a floor to ceiling window so it was the best of both worlds as we were inside but still could be a part of the action outside.
We pretty much stayed there the rest of the night. Restaurants and bars there close at 2:30. We nearly closed the place down that first night. I wouldn’t describe the staff there as “friendly” but they are kind and they are patient while you butcher their language. After several hours of our being there our waiter did become a little more engaging. His co-workers joined in too but they stayed in the perimeters.
“I look like Keanu Reeves. No?” he asked us as his co-workers leaned in for our answer.
He really did! It was not the first thing I thought of when I saw him but now that he had mentioned it, there was an undeniable resemblance. Shorter perhaps but same exotic eyes, similar mouth. Our Keanu had a trim build, broad shoulders, small waist, and a cute bum (it must be said.) Really, he was built a lot like My Man. Actually, most Frenchman are built like him.
Then there was the waitress we referred to privately as Sinead. She was named so due to her shaved coif. She was quite friendly and a little loud for a Frenchie. There was another waitress who was this cute little thing with short, wavy, dark hair. We called her Pixie also because of her hair style and because she looked a tad Elfen. Her English was not especially good and so she did not speak with us much but every now and again she would try.
St. Regis is managed by a dark and handsome gentleman. He always wore slim fitted dark shirts. His hair was long-ish, black, curly and slicked back. For a long time we called him Pit Boss but he later was christened Gaston. It suited him to a tea. Gaston did not fraternize with us often but he was ever present and ever aware of everything everyone was doing.
St. Regis was mostly frequented by French but now and again we would over hear American conversations. They were typically loud enough to hear and full of indiscreet laughter. My trio kept our conversations low and private but…we couldn’t help the laughing. We laughed so much on this trip my stomach muscles were sore! Tipsy or not, we were cracking it up the whole time!
On our second day of exploration we had dinner at a place on St. Germaine, another island in the Seinne. After dinner we walked the 4 or 5 blocks back to Ile St. Louis. When one crosses the bridge one could pretty much walk into the front door of St. Regis and so we did.
As we approached, Keanu saw us coming. His eyes grew wide in mock horror as he ran to the door to shut it and lock it. We all of course crumpled in laughter. Keanu smiled, unlocked the door and gave a sweeping gesture inviting us in. Gaston gave us a nod of acknowledgement as he made his rounds around the restaurant. Sinead and Pixie were working as well.
Our table from the previous night was available and so we took it. Wapi ordered her beer and Caren and I ordered a carafe of Cote du Rhone called Antoine, as we had the previous evening. Also frites (french fries). We had frites at most every place we dined but the St. Regis frites are the best.
“And what did you do today?” Keanu asked us as he set our table with placemats and silverware.
We gave him a briefing of our day and asked him what he suggested we do the next day.
“Well…there’s la tour Eiffel…Louvre…Montmartre…”
“Oh! I love Montmartre!” Caren said. “I’ve been there before. Isn’t that the place where there are a bunch of artists sitting out in a plaza selling their paintings and things?”
“Oui, that is near there,” Keanu replied.
“Michal would love that,” Caren said.
We had some dessert that evening. Tired from adjusting to the new time zone and from walking all day, things were pretty low key.
Every time we went to St. Regis, Keanu would ask what we had done that day and asked if we had been to Montmartre yet. We had not and he seemed to be out of suggestions for us to do. One night the topic of music came up. We asked him about French music that we should maybe look into and he suggested Francis Cabrel. When we got home that night we looked up Francis Cabrel. It’s not bad. His sound is kind of folksy I suppose. We also decided it was high time that we found out what Keanu’s real name was.
Antony. Of course!
The next day we decided that we simply MUST go to Montmartre.
“I really think Antony gets disappointed when we say we haven’t been,” Caren said.
It was certainly a place we all wanted to go anyway, it just hadn’t fit the agenda for whatever reason. So finally we went. It was one of my favorites! The plaza of artists is not actually in Montmartre but one passes through there on the way. Moulin Rouge is also there but we never found it. The cobble stone streets and all of the buildings with balconies were charmant. Just adorable! As much as we love Juliette we agreed it would be super fun to stay at a place in Montmartre one day.
When our day had ended we were happy that we would be able to go to St. Regis and tell our new friend that we had listened to Francis Cabrel and had been to Montmartre!
The day had been long again. We were considering going to Regis early that evening.
“If we go in there, I don’t think I’ll be moving from that spot the rest of the night,” Caren said. “So are we going to eat dinner here?”
I decided to flip a coin. That night we let the coin make our decisions. The coin said we would dine at St. Regis.
When we walked in Gaston knowingly raised his eyebrows and nodded hello. Sinead was working but Pixie was not. We were greeted by a new guy who we called New Guy. Antony was there too but he was busy. Regis was packed. Our table was occupied. There was a couple of two tops but nothing where three could comfortably fit.
“If you’d like you could sit at the bar until a table becomes available,” suggested New Guy.
“Sure! We can do that,” we were happy to oblige. As we headed toward the bar, Antony suddenly rushed up.
“No, no, no,” he set down his tray and began pulling up chairs and asked a woman dining alone to move down a spot as he was taking her table to create a table large enough for the three of us. We stood there surprised by such a welcoming gesture and embarrassed to cause such a stir.
“Voila!” said the American woman that they had moved down.
“Merci! That was really very kind of you! I’m so sorry,” I said as we ladies took our seats.
Before we had settled into the table; placemats, glasses and silverware appeared.
Antony took our usual order. Earlier that day Caren and I had ordered our Cote du Rhone but couldn’t remember the label that we enjoyed at St. Regis. As he poured our wine I pointed it out to Caren.
“Antoine,” I said and gestured toward the bottle.
“No. Antony,” answered Antony.
“Ha ha! Yes, I know! I was referring to the wine. We couldn’t remember the name of it,” I laughed. Poor Antony blushed.
“And what did you do today?” he asked us.
“Montmartre!” we told him.
His eyes brightened. “You like it?”
“Oh we did! I liked it a lot!” I said.
“Tres charmant,” replied Robby.
“It is. It’s cute, huh?” Antony encouraged us to go on.
It was busy though and so he was in and out of our conversation. Sometimes Sinead would bring us our order. The bartender, New Guy and even Gaston helped to service all of the tables. The American woman next to us got very flustered by it and was unsure of who to ask for the check from. She eventually flagged down New Guy.
“I asked that lady for my check,” she said referring to Sinead, “but he took my order,” she now was pointing at Antony, “but sometimes he would bring me things or she would bring me things. I just want the check!” she said in frustration.
New Guy responded that he would get the check for her and he said something else that now I can’t remember but in his accent the woman misunderstood him and thought that he told her she should just get out. “To the door,” is what it sort of sounded like. She was aghast and angry. As she loudly began to scold him Antony was already arriving at the table with her check. Gaston came to help smooth things over as well.
Once she left Antony came by and looked annoyed and surprised. We assured him New Guy did nothing wrong and that the woman just misunderstood his accent. I really think this is the real reason people think the French are rude. Yes, they speak English but not well. Their quiet manner makes them seem aloof and uncaring but really why try to talk to someone who doesn’t speak your language.
There was as a similar misunderstanding at the bakery. They order differently in France and you don’t put your money in their hand but on the counter. Most shops have a little tray next to the register where you can set the money. They will set your change there as well. Anyway, this lady in the bakery was having a hard time communicating her order to the baker. As she got more and more agitated and I saw the baker matching her agitation I stepped in and helped. My French is bad and very minimal so…that just goes to show you how a little can go a long way. I think though that American’s hear that “they all speak English” and so when they are struggling to interpret and understand your accent the American’s get pissed and think they are being treated rudely.
So that night at St. Regis was fun but…we got a little out of hand ourselves that night, not gonna lie. By “out of hand” I mean loud. Oh and Caren broke a wine glass. She wasn’t reaching for a glass and missing or anything, she just talks with her hands and she hit the glass wrong. She thought she may have even gotten a shard in her lip. That became a running joke the rest of the trip. We all had shards in our clothes or skin at one point or another.
“I understand,” Antony said as he replaced Caren’s wine glass with a paper cup. “You are on vacation.”
Despite the wine glass incident Caren asked if we should order another carafe. I flipped a euro. The coin said we should! The coin also decided to let Antony order my dinner for me. Suddenly there was a plate of chicken before me.
“What? I ordered chicken? Oh shoot…” I whispered. “I don’t like chicken.” I said as I tore off a piece and took a bite. It was DELICIOUS!
“Antony! This is the best chicken I’ve ever had!” I crowed to him.
“It’s not chicken,” he said. “It’s rabbit.”
Anyway, that night we were a little embarrassed of ourselves. What’s funny is in America our behavior would be thought nothing of, but we could sense it was not appropriate for Paris. We first thought that maybe we should not go back but then we decided that we would not let one loud evening end our relationship with St. Regis. We returned the next evening and behaved like ladies. Pixie was our waitress and the first thing she said to us when we took our seats was that Antony was not there that night. She said it in French because her English is not very good.
As much as we love Antony and were prepared for his ribbing, we were really there for Regis. Robby ordered her beer and Caren and I ordered café crème’s. Gaston raised a questioning brow at us and I assured him we would be angels that evening. Robby swore that she saw Sinead filling Pixie in on our bad behavior from the previous night. I wanted to crawl under the table.
“Nope. We will sit here with our heads held high,” Caren instructed.
There was no loud laughing. Just some giggling here and there. Eventually Sinead stopped by the table. She was on her way out for the evening.
“Just coffee tonight ladies?” she asked noticing Caren and I’s Not Wine drinks.
“Oui. Just coffee,” I said.
“We’re being good tonight,” Caren said. “Just coffee for us. Beer for Robby.”
Robby raised her glass to Sinead.
“Ah! Good for you! I’m off to grab a beer myself,” she said and we bid her adieu.
Our last night was no different. We ended it at St. Regis. Our table was available and we took it. Still no Antony. We were sorry we left him on the evening of our bad behavior. Pixie was working, Sinead, New Guy and Gaston. We ordered our frites, a half carafe of Antoine Cote du Rhone and a beer. We toasted the end of our trip and St. Regis. Gaston actually said more to us then expressions and gestures. He offered to let me go down into the wine cellar but we think he planned to lock me in there. Still, he spoke. We assured them it was our last night as we were leaving and they wished us well and hoped we’d return.
On the trip the ladies shared their old “war stories” of old boyfriends, dates and bad pick up lines. I had very little in put to these conversations, and that’s being generous.
“I’ve never even been hit on,” I told them.
“Oh please! Yes you have!”
“No I haven’t.”
“Remember that one guy at the Gorilla Run,” they recalled.
“Just because a guy talks to you does not mean he is hitting on you,” I argued. “I mean, like, no one has ever offered to buy me a drink or anything.”
“Well nobody really does that!” Robby said.
“Yes they do. I’ve been with my sister once when the bartender brought her a drink from a guy. And I’ve seen it happen with other friends.”
Well that night at St. Regis, while we ate our frites and replayed our favorite parts of the trip, the bartender came to our table with another half carafe of our Antoine and said that it was from the gentleman at the bar. We laughed at the irony.
“There you go Miss I’ve Never Been Hit On!” Caren goaded.
“Oh my gosh! You guys said this never really happens. What do we do? Can we drink it? I mean, I feel so bad that he’s buying us a drink and won’t get a thing for it,” Lola had apparently left St. Regis and Mildred was in the house.
“We totally drink it!” Caren said as she poured us a round.
“What if they come over here?” Mildred worried allowed.
“They aren’t coming over here,” Robby said. “Gaston is already eyeballing them. We may not be his favorites but he’s not going to let anyone bother us.”
It was a rather lovely way to say good bye to St. Regis. We were disappointed that we couldn’t say goodbye to Antony and to thank him for putting up with us loud Americans. Sad he couldn’t see us in our moment of triumph as we scored free bevvies, even if they were from a smarmy kind of Frenchman.
If you are ever near Ile St. Louis I highly recommend that you visit our St. Regis. Get the frites and rabbit. Oh and the goat cheese salad is really yummy! Tell them we sent you! Well….maybe not.