Paris is burning! Or rather, it’s the blood vessels of the waiters, hotel staff and taxi drivers — the people who keep this city moving, having to deal with the universal irritation of a mass influx of tourists who have resumed their Grand Tour travel plans. They wield phones with LeFork restaurant reservations, Yelp reviews and mapped-out itineraries. Should a real mishap or human error get in the way, then hell hath no fury like a hangry traveller.
I’ve been here for a week for the haute couture shows where big frocks, mega jewels and super rich clients’ Covid-era surgery are on full display. But on the side of high-octane fashions, everywhere I’ve gone in Paris, I’ve been encountering the characters from The White Lotus in different scenarios, which just goes to show how on-the-nose Mike White’s writing is.
I’ve seen an emotionally wrecked Tanya (played by Jennifer Coolidge) at the entrance to the hotel spa, pleading for a massage. I did want to remark that a hastily built makeshift spa in the basement of an urban Paris boutique hotel isn’t going to give her the relaxational relief she so craves. But no, in that moment this woman wanted her back plied by hands of any sort, and she’d twist the hearts of the spa staff to have her way.
I’ve witnessed an odious Shane-alike character at the hotel front desk zooming in on a Booking. com photo on his phone and being absolutely confused as to why the reality of his room doesn’t quite match up to the clearly digitally doctored image. ‘But it says here it’s 24 square metres and I’m an architect and I can tell you that the dimensions of the room don’t really add up.’ Mate, the only thing not adding up is the fact that you took the time to walk into a room and analyse whether or not it was 24 square metres. I felt extremely sorry for his clearly embarrassed partner standing there sheepishly and potentially wondering if she had made a mistake in coming to Paris with a man who mentally sizes up rooms.
There are the ‘Karen’ characters, who must have had visions of a city filled with only croissants and confiture in wicker shopping baskets, but instead stumbled into a Japanese bakery in the 2nd, wondering why everything had matcha in it and where the palmiers and madeleines were. I wanted to come to the defence of the wonderful Aki boulangerie (four words — matcha melon crème pain) and their lovely staff when that Karen huffed and puffed about the ‘weirdness’ of the pâtisserie on offer.
Last week I talked about London’s baggage woes. It turns out most destination cities are all heaving post-Covid and people are frazzled. Patience on both sides is wearing thin. As tensions boil over, sad/red-faced visitors lament the lack of service and the people doing their bidding often happen to be newcomers learning the ropes and just trying to keep the peace. They’re fresh-faced waiters. Young guns trying to work the hotel room key card. New Uber drivers blaring French hip-hop and not dropping you off exactly where you want. Their predecessors have quit and gone, probably so they don’t have to deal with the Shanes and Tanya’s of this world. So tourists are compelled to lash out amid the heat and dashed holiday hopes. They will yelp on Yelp and leave one-star reviews. They will use loud and slow English to make their voices heard. Nobody is immune. The summer of tense and terse travel doesn’t look like it will let up but let’s make like Quinn Mossbacher, get on the proverbial canoe and ride away.