For the Sunday Scribblings prompt "I have an idea:"
A charming American woman who's leaving Paris after many years has the perfect solution when it comes to entertaining out-of-town friends: she ensconces them in a hotel nearby, hosts lovely dinners, breakfasts or lunches at her home (assisted by her housekeeper) and occasionally escorts her friends to certain events or on shopping expeditions. At the end of the day, she has her peace and privacy and so do her guests.
Imagine how lovely that would be! Friends stay at hotels; one night they're invited to dinner at our house and other evenings we meet them for drinks or dinners in nice restaurants. During the day we take them shopping, to the flea markets or to museum exhibitions and leave them time to pursue their own interests. Everyone goes home happy, having spent an enjoyable time together. Best of all we're not stressed trying to insure our friends are well-fed, entertained and comfortable.
Now don't get me wrong: I like to entertain. Southern hospitality is a point of honour for me and I try to make guests feel welcome, whether they're here for an evening or staying for a week. Living in Paris, practically everyone we've ever met has been to visit us - when I say visit, I mean stay at our apartment. While they claim they're coming to see us, I'm sure Paris is the main attraction. I doubt they'd be leaping on a plane if we lived in the Middle East or even the Midwest. But we're always happy to see our friends. And flying to Paris from the US is expensive enough without them shelling out another 1,000 euros plus for hotel accommodations.
When friends visit us, they are treated royally. For most of them, it's the only time they'll ever visit Paris. So we try to make their visit as pleasant and worry-free as possible. Here's what they might expect:
I'll e-mail directions in French for the taxi driver to get from the airport to our apartment. Sometimes I meet our friends at the airport, because they find the prospect of arriving in a foreign country and getting a taxi too daunting. They'll arrive at our apartment to find a small but comfortable bedroom with nice linens, towels, soaps, fresh flowers, a plate of biscuits, a bowl of fruit, carafe of water, books, a guide to Paris and a metro map.
Because I don't work at an office, they think I have nothing but time, so expect me to guide them around Paris. I'll escort them to landmarks I've seen dozens and dozens of times, trying to muster enthusiasm when reciting their history. I will do my best to answer all their questions, because, as someone who lives here, I'm supposed to know all of it, right?
At the end of a long day, the visitors will be tired and want to return to the apartment to put their feet up and have a cup of tea. They'll say they're too tired to go out for dinner, so I'll go to the market, the boucherie, the fromagerie and the boulangerie to get things for dinner while they use my computer, phone the US and watch television. My husband will come home after working all day to cook a special dinner. And we'll do our best to be attentive hosts.
Around midnight, the guests will plead exhaustion and go off to bed. I'll still have to wash dishes and dry the porcelain and crystal by hand (the dishwasher blows a fuse whenever it's turned on). By this time it's 1 a.m. and I'm desperate for a moment to myself to read e-mail, write, whatever. So I stay up until 2 or 3 a.m., then sleep maybe four or five hours, get dressed and go to the boulangerie to get breakfast for our guests - because in Paris, they expect fresh-baked croissants or panne au chocolate, naturallement! I'll then have to wash those dishes before taking les visiteurs out again.
Occasionally I get a break, when guests summon the energy to go out to dinner. Sometimes more adventurous travelers can be persuaded to go off on their own for a few hours, armed with written instructions for the metro, metro tickets and one of our cell phones in case they get confused or lost. In their absence I might take a nap or catch up on writing - more likely, I'll again be shopping for dinner preparations and tidying the apartment. By the time our guests leave 9 or 10 days later, I will be irritable, exhausted and glad to see the back of them. And the chances of us someday staying at their homes? Unlikely.
Now I'm not talking about weekend guests - these are mostly European, seasoned travelers and a joy to host. Chances are it's not their first time in Paris, they have their own agenda and don't have to be led around by the hand. If they pursue their own plans during the day, typically we meet for dinner. Or perhaps we go together to the horse races or flea markets or a museum exhibition. As it's only for a couple of days, it's like a mini vacation and lovely to spend time with them.
And I'm not talking about family - they're always welcome. Last spring my mom, aunt and uncle came to visit and it was a treat having them here.
This spring we're expecting two sets of guests. While they have yet to decide on actual travel dates, we've offered choices of March or the first part of April. The problem is, both sets of guests have suddenly decided they want to come during the same period! Needless to say, the myriad delights of hosting friends for a week or longer have faded. Now it feels more like obligation, coupled with virtually round-the-clock chores. After they depart, I need a holiday!
Recently my husband and I were discussing how guests can be such hard work. I suddenly remembered my American friend's advice and realised I don't have to keep knocking myself out - I can say no to the effort, energy and expense involved in hosting overseas guests!
So I have an idea: as of April 15th, our little "B&B" is open occasional weekends only to select guests or family members. For long-distance visitors, we'll gladly arrange hotel reservations! For more ideas, visit Sunday Scribblings.