Things I learned from visiting France

très grand chat domestique

Here are some things I learned from visiting France in May 2023. You world travelers likely already know some of these things.

Let me lay out the four places we stayed. We spent two nights at (#1) the Hotel Paris – Andre Latin Hotel, then two more at (#2) the Hotel Kyriad Auray (2), one night at (#3) Les Chtis Bretons, near Le Temple in Trédion (3), and the final night at (#4) Millennium CDG in Roissy en France. These were very different experiences.


When we got into room #1, I couldn’t get the lights to work. I asked the person at the front desk, and they asked if I had put the key card in the slot; of course, that’s how we got in.

No, the slot INSIDE the room. When the key is in that slot, the lights work. It’s a measure to keep people from wasting electricity. We also had to give the key to the front desk when we went out, then get it back upon our return.

It was good that we had three adapter plugs for European sockets.  Ours were called Travel Smart by Conair. We used all three. One was to charge my laptop, and another was for the white noise machine; we didn’t use it the first night, and we slept poorly even though I’d been up over 36 hours.

The third plug was to charge our phones and my watch. On May 9, days before our May 14 departure, I bought a SooPii 60W 6-Port Charging Station for Multiple Devices. It was advantageous.

I changed my phone carrier from Boost Mobile to TMobile nine days before departure. My phone worked everywhere we went in France except place #3, only five kilometers from the chateau, where we DID have connectivity.

I also got a Glocal Me hotspot and a 5G SIM card. This was not successful. So my wife could only use her phone when we were on Amtrak, the planes, three hotels, and the TGV TRAIN. Fortunately, our Wordle streaks remained intact.


I briefly checked out the television at hotels #1 and #2. Hotel #1 in Paris had a variety of channels, some in English, primarily BBC 4 and its spinoffs. There were also channels from Tunisia and, I believe, Iran.

The TV at Hotel #2 in Auray was all in French. The only English I heard was from Cannes. Michael Douglas was accepting an award, which was translated. But some offerings were American programs dubbed into English, including Grey’s Anatomy, Friends, and The A-Team. 

Radio was quite eclectic throughout the country. On the tour bus in Paris, between descriptions of the sites, the music ranged from Middle Eastern to the Parisian dance halls to hip hop lite. 


Food was abundant at Hotels #1, #2, and #4. They all served croissants and had machines dispensing coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. Mainly #2 and #4 seemed heated toward their perception of the American palate. Carrot cake and brownies for breakfast? I LOVE carrot cake but wasn’t ready for it at 8:30 a.m.

In the lobby of Hotel #2 was perhaps the largest domesticated cat I’ve ever seen. It would wander among the diners, walking under the chairs. When it was petted, it would linger for a time. 


Driving in the countryside, from Auray to Erdeven to  Trédion, wasn’t too demanding for my wife. However, there were a LOT of traffic circles, and the signage was not sufficiently large to know which way to go.

We were dependent on the GPS. I would navigate because it was hard for my wife to drive and figure out where to go. “In 500 meters, take the 12 o’clock, ” I’d say. (Or “nine o’clock” or “three o’clock.”) 

In particular, when we went from Erdeven, where the wedding took place, to  Trédion, where the reception was 45 minutes away, was held, we would have never found the place. We were directed to caravan with other vehicles, but by the third circle, we’d lost the car we were supposed to follow.

Conversely, driving in Paris appeared to be insane, with bicycles and motorcycles cutting in between lanes. The fact that we never saw an accident was remarkable. The motorcycles rode on the lines between lanes. My wife was happy not to be behind the wheel there.

The reasons I don’t drive

I can burn out a clutch in a minute

I don't driveIn response to this post about being reluctant to ask for help, Lisa asked, “Have you ever written a post about the reasons you don’t drive?”

The reasons I don’t drive are… I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever fully addressed this topic. The answer is that while I have undoubtedly touched on it, I don’t know that I have come up with a definitive analysis. Or that there is one.

Growing up, my parents both drove. My grandfather Mac surely did and loved it; he was a real car guy. Both of my sisters drive.

But I never had any particular desire to learn when I was growing up. In Binghamton, I walked a lot; I used to traverse 2.4 miles to a church each week, coincidentally very near where my parents would eventually move to in Johnson City. Usually, I would walk back, though I occasionally got a ride.


In college, my girlfriend, the Okie, had a car, a blue Saab station wagon with standard transmission. She briefly tried to teach me how to drive it but almost immediately started screaming, “You’re burning out my clutch!” That was the only time I tried that.

I had, as I’ve noted, seven different driver’s permits over a nearly 20-year period, six in New York and one in North Carolina. Not incidentally, I know the rules of the road better than most drivers. People threatened to teach me but only took me out on the road once or not at all.

Once, I took the Okie’s next car, a red thing with a push-button transmission. I was trying to go forward but went in reverse instead and hit a full-size Dumpster, knocking it over but doing no apparent damage to the vehicle.

I did drive once from Schenectady to Albany at 3 a.m. because the driver was too drunk. Going straight was fine, but my right turn was… a little wide.

The lesson

In 1987, a friend of mine told me about a job in the music business they thought I would be well suited for. But it involved having a license and a car. So I decided to go to a driving school.

As I noted here, “As directed, I was driving south on Watervliet Avenue… He told me to turn left. So I turned onto Livingston Avenue…, but he wanted me to have taken 3rd Street. Inexplicably, he started screaming at me. Livingston was a 90 left turn, while 3rd street was more like 120 degrees.

It’s one thing for your friends and family to decide they don’t want to teach you or don’t have the time. It’s quite another for a paid stranger to decide you’re doing it all wrong ten minutes into the lesson.

The mind

But this doesn’t really answer WHY I never felt particularly compelled to learn, except for that one time. I really don’t know. When I was a kid, I had a recurring dream about being in the back seat of a car that crashed through the Court Street bridge in Binghamton and began sinking into the Chenango River. Now that I think of it, I don’t think there was any driver.

A friend of mine wondered if I feared Driving While Black. Not consciously, but as I learned about more incidents, including at least one in Albany, it did make me more comfortable being the passenger.

Maybe it’s because I never thought I would ever pass the driver’s test. It’s that I was convinced I could never learn to parallel park since turning the steering wheel while going backward in the car totally bollocks my brain. I also have terrible spatial recognition in reverse, even with the mirrors.

In any case, if I DID have a license, I wouldn’t drive after dark because my night vision is increasingly deficient.

On the other hand

The positive of not driving is that I am very good at negotiating most transit systems. I tend to judge cities by how good or awful I can get around without a car.

When my daughter and I visited two colleges on Long Island and in New York City in the summer of 2021, we took Amtrak to Penn Station, then the LIRR; later, back on the LIRR to NYC. The next day, we took the subway, and when one line was going to be delayed, we hopped on another train. We could have taken the CDTA to the local train station if we had needed to.

One of the things my daughter has realized is that when you leave your house in your car five minutes late, you usually get to your destination five minutes late. But if you leave to catch a bus five minutes late, this could make you 15, 30, or 60 minutes late, or totally stuck, depending on the schedule.

Something I’ve used at least thrice this year is Uber. On my daughter’s prom night this spring, with her mother asleep at 3 a.m., I retrieved my kid via two Uber rides.

When you don’t drive, you figure stuff out.

10 and 2? 9 and 3. No, 8 and 4!

used to be auto safety gospel

8 and 4 steering wheelMy wife recently took a defensive driving class. It cost $25 for the six-hour course over two weeknights. (Note to self: remind my wife, when she decides to take a class again, to avoid weeknights during the school year.)

The purpose of the class is to learn things. But the motivation for taking it was to save money on car insurance. Frankly, most of the information she found familiar and/or boring. She did, however, learn two things.

Once upon a time, you were supposed to hold the steering wheel at 10 and 2. By 2012, experts were suggesting 9 and 3.

“As cars have become safer over the years, ‘the steering wheel and associated mechanisms (have) changed dramatically,’ meaning the familiar driving maneuvers ‘needed to turn the wheel have all changed.’ Principal among them is the incorporation of airbag modules in the steering column, which are designed to deploy upward to protect your head and chest.

“That means the higher up the wheel your hands are, the more likely they are to be directly over the plastic cover when it opens — that is, when superhot nitrogen gas flashes and inflates the bag at 150 to 250 mph (241.4 to 402.3 kph)”

8 and 4?

But the instructor is suggesting using 8 and 4. “The jury is very much out. Many state’s driving handbooks recommend this position as an alternative to the 10 and 2 position when driving a vehicle fitted with airbags. Hand position 8 and 4 has a slight advantage over 9 and 3, in that it is a more comfortable position to maintain for longer periods.

“Though, the 8 and 4 position receives equally wide criticism from driving experts who are not convinced it gives drivers sufficient leverage on the steering wheel.” The instructor posits that at 9 and 3, the driver’s hands if the airbag is deployed, could hit the door and the passenger.

Also, new info for the wife is the notion that driving a car length apart for every 10 mph (16 kph) is outmoded. It used to be part of the automotive safety gospel. With all the congested highways, the instructor suggests two-car lengths when traveling at 60 mph (86.5 kph).

Lydster: Working Girl, per Melanie G.

stolen t-shirts

Coverville.CokeShirt-frontThe fun facts in our household this season:
1) I’m no longer working; I’m retired
2) My wife is not currently at work; she’s a teacher and it’s the summer
3) My daughter IS working

For some reason, the youngest among us seems to be irritated by this situation, the ONLY person employed. For instance, she’s been grilling me about MY first job, which was delivering the evening and Sunday newspapers in Binghamton, NY when I was 12 and 13.

“No, what was the first job when you had to Deal With Other People?” That’d be working as a page at the Binghamton Public Library when I was 16.

She’s involved in this Summer Youth Employment Program conducted by the city of Albany. While I know where she works, I haven’t quite sussed out what she DOES. Something about being a non-profit co-ordinator? Wha?

They’ve been teaching the teenagers some life skills. The teens have been wrangling smaller kids. My daughter noted that she kept running into one young girl and smiled at her. The girl brought my daughter a cup of water.

I did not expect that my daughter would start stealing my clothes. Specifically, my T-shirts. To be honest, my tees are more interesting than my wife’s. Mine tend to be about social causes (AIDS, peace), sports, and especially music.

I haven’t let her steal my green Beatles T-shirt yet, but I have allowed her to purloin my Coverville shirts, and I have about a half dozen of them. She doesn’t even listen to the podcast yet. I ought to just go out and buy my daughter her own set!

I understand that she likes earning money so that, one of these days, she can buy a car. I’m assuming she has no sense of the expense of owning a car beyond the purchase price and maybe the gasoline. You know, the maintenance, and the insurance.

Fortunately, a 20 hour/week job for five weeks won’t get her there THIS summer. Then again, she’s still too young to get a driver’s permit. Oh, and who’s going to teach her to drive? It can’t be me, and my wife and I agree that it oughtn’t to be her.

A problem for another year, thank goodness. Do they still teach driver’s ed in high school?

Don’t pass a car that’s waiting to turn left

I had some choice words for that driver.

At a level FAR greater than in previous years, my family has been involved in several near-collisions in 2017, specifically in March and April. None of them involved the weather, and most of them took place in the daytime.

A majority fit into the category of the title, which I stole from the Monday traffic column in our local daily, compiled by Tim O’Brien. He, like several folks with the Times Union, is leaving for greener pastures after dealing with the parsimonious Hearst Corporation daily rag for years.

ITEM: The Wife is turning left; we’ll call her car A. The car facing her is also turning left, car 1. A vehicle behind her, NOT the car immediately back, but the car behind THAT, car 3, gets impatient with the wait, passes car 2 and 1 on the right. Car A sees car 2, but barely breaks in time in the turn to avoid getting hit by car 3.

ITEM: The Wife is turning left. The car facing her is also turning left, car 1. She doesn’t see, but I do, the bicycle passing car 1 on the right. If I hadn’t called it to her attention, it was likely that she would have T-boned bike 2, the rider of which, BTW, was not wearing a helmet.

ITEM: I’m riding my bike, going straight ahead; I’m vehicle A. Car 1, signaling left, is patiently yielding the right of way to vehicle A. Car 2, however, is having nothing to do with THAT, and passes car 1 on the LEFT, across the crosswalk and practically into my path before slamming on its brakes. As it tuns out, it was a nice day, and car 2 had its windows down. I had some choice, albeit repeatable, words for that driver.

Not all the near-collisions involved left turns. The Wife was turning right from a one-way street onto a two-way. But the driver coming from our right apparently thought he too was on a one-way, because he wasn’t staying right. IF she hadn’t aborted the turn at the last moment, we would have hit him for sure. The Daughter, in the back seat, got pretty shook up about this, and understandably so.

There are a couple other traffic examples in recent months, but you get the gist. As Phil Esterhaus used to say, “Be careful out there!”

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial