Pat and I have discovered the secret to making France work: women of a certain age. After some days of frustration booking hotels, looking up trains, trying to be flexible using the Internet, we have discovered that if you want to do something simply and cheerfully, go the desk (train desk, hotel desk, post office desk …), find the woman who does the work, explain what you would like (in execrable French) and she will make it possible quickly and easily, all while making pleasant conversation.
Some examples. At our hotel in Paris, we were delayed one night because the plane was cancelled, and needed to book an extra night. On the Internet, this proved impossible, of course. Calling and making arrangements was complicated, but only because we were talking to the wrong person, a man, affable but ineffectual. A package to be delivered, but was refused; it might be drugs! or a bomb! On the last day there, the reception was manned (sic) by a lovely efficient woman, who was all but willing to refund some of our money because of the inhospitable way she thought we were treated. All things were possible: extending the stay, arranging a cab.
At the post office: Pat had been given a 50 Euro note that was damaged, and no one would take it. After trying a few banks, we found an efficient woman at the Post Office bank, who cheerfully took the note and commanded one of the men to find a replacement. This he did while making faces, but obviously knowing better than to make any comment to his commandeur. A few cheerful au revoirs and we are taken care of.
Hotel in Chartres: extra night? Pas de problem. Thank you for communicating directly; booking on the Internet, travel sites charge the proprietress 18% overhead! And compliments on the home-made breakfast.
At the train station: after wrestling with a website that insisted that it should deliver TGV tickets to an address in the UK sometime in the next week, we walked to the train station and found the woman of a certain age. A little cluck-clucking that we didn’t try in French, and she cheerfully reserved and printed tickets for us for far less than said website. I had to double-check that we were actually going where I thought we were, the prices were so different.
I consider the theory adequately supported by the evidence. From here on out, if we want to make arrangements, we will: locate the address and phone number of the institution in question, and either appear in person or call. We will find the efficient woman who makes things run, and we will, with her help, get exactly what we need. We will not fumble with unresponsive Internet sites, nor try to solicit help from useless and officious men. Problem solved.