Just read an interesting article about French tourism. It's basically about how the people of France are learning to embrace the many tourists that flock to their homeland every year. Though people love France, apparently, they don't spend that much money there. And the folks in charge of French tourism have figured out it's because some people may not feel comfortable there.
Things have changed in France over the past few years. Some stores in Paris, located in "tourist zones", have started staying open on Sunday to accommodate tourists who may only have a day or two to stay in town. And the French are starting to realize that tourism can be a great source of jobs in an economy that is lagging due to a recession.
I know my first impression of France wasn't very good. It was June 1st 1995 and I was stuck at Charles De Gaulle's very noisy and confusing airport for about twelve hours. I found the people who worked in that airport to be singularly unhelpful and unpleasant. Though I had heard about how "rude" the French were-- and we had hosted a couple of teenaged French boys when I was in high school who also gave me that impression-- that first experience in the airport turned me against France.
But then I went there in 1997. I arrived by train and had a delightful time, starting with a stop in Nice and continuing with visits to the Loire Valley, Tours, Amboise, and of course, Paris. I got to see the countryside and met some people who were very nice and friendly. Indeed, I visited several countries during that trip and did not think the French were particularly rude or unpleasant. I've been back to France several times since then and can honestly say I love France. My husband, Bill, who used to disparage France's military, loves it even more than I do. We may be visiting France next, when we have the chance to vacation again.
I will say that CDG is still a pretty unpleasant airport. Bill and I flew there in 2009 for a whirlwind trip to Paris and found it very hard to navigate and quite uncomfortable. Just finding the bus into the city was hard and then once we got on the bus to the city, the trip into Paris took longer than the flight from Germany. Word to the wise. The train is a lot more efficient. We took the train from Paris back to the airport and it was a lot quicker and more pleasant. We even had some fun accordion music from a traveling busker.
Besides Paris, Bill and I visited Strasbourg, Briancon, Nancy, and Marckolsheim. We've enjoyed every visit and plan to go spend a nice "proper" vacation in France sooner rather than later. I'm hoping for the Champagne region or perhaps Burgundy.
Anyway, I think it makes sense for France to accommodate tourists more. However, I hope that doesn't mean France starts adopting habits that alter their national character. I doubt that would ever happen, but one never knows. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that most businesses are closed on Sundays. I don't know that businesspeople should feel forced to be closed, but it's not a bad thing to have a day of rest. And I think the whole point of travel is for people to experience new cultures and learn how to adapt. It's good when cultures accommodate visitors, but not to the point at which the visitor doesn't get an authentic experience.
As I'm writing this, I was inspired to take another look at European Waterways' Website and Bill said the more he sees of the videos posted there, the more he wants to barge. I don't know if or when we will, but it's now officially on the bucket list.