Talking Windows: France 24/7
When I first arrived in Paris, getting something I needed when I needed it turned out to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated.
In the states, if someone should want something — just about anything, really — there is surely a 24-hour Wal-Mart or supermarket nearby. Living in Paris, on the other hand, one eventually grows as accustomed to not having 24-hour access to things as one is accustomed to having access in the United States.
Whether the object of my desire was banking services (I had always done all my banking at an ATM, at any hour of the day or night), groceries or medications on a Sunday (a difficult day to find an open grocery store or pharmacy here), or even a simple ink pen (can you believe that my local Champion didn't sell them, requiring a visit to a stationery store, a store whose opening hours were nothing short of ridiculous?), taking care of business in France, for its North American expats, is an art that must be learned.
Or it was, anyway.
But now in the land of the 35-hour workweek, where there is sometimes an unwillingness to work around the clock or on Sundays (and who can blame them?), the French have devised a multitude of ways to ensure that services continue, with or without the presence of a warm (employed) body.
Take gas, for example; now if you need it at an odd hour, you can get it. Unmanned pumps dot the city and you can pay with a card. (You can forget that Snicker's Bar, though.) Along the autoroutes, too, the stations themselves will usually be closed after a certain hour, but the pumps will remain available.
I've stayed in hotels where the desk clerk went home (one must have dinner and a good night's sleep, after all), leaving the 'vending-machine' in the lobby to take payment and dispense room keys.
Similar machines, on almost any street in Paris, will churn out videotapes and DVDs to after-hours movie-watchers. Others dispense literature. Need a classic novel or a Chinese cookbook at 3am? Never mind that the bookstore closed hours ago; you can get what you need — and at rock-bottom prices, to boot.
I appreciate the French efforts to mechanize these things. Why make someone spend the night behind a hotel desk, for example, when a machine can take care of the business for you?
Just this past weekend, in fact, I saw that the concept of '24/7 service' seems to have extended to real estate, as well.
See a picture of an apartment you like but the employees have long since gone home for the day? Afraid that someone else might get an appointment to check it out before you've had the chance?
Now you can forget your fears, because les vitrines parlantes will give you all of the information you need to make an informed decision, right then and there.
Simply punch in the code of the lodging that strikes your fancy – don't forget to choose French or English – and the agency's window will tell you what you need to know.
It looks like those check-it-out-yourself registers at our supermarket in Florida have nothing on the new Parisian concept of DIY.
Now the French, I learned over dinner recently, will argue until the cows come home that these things exist not to render superfluous paid employees obsolete, but for the sake of human welfare; only absolutely vital personnel should be required to work extended hours, or a night shift.
But whatever their line of reasoning, having access to, say, an emergency roll of toilet paper can't be all bad, can it?
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February 27, 2006
Subject: Living in France, blog