It's not my fault that I have to spend a lot of time in Paris, eating and drinking my way around the city. It's a tough job but..... it's not all joie de vivre.
Given the exchange rate fun we're having with the Euro, last week was more pain than joy, prices being calculated UP the way rather than DOWN, so much so that one night I decided to stay in, which I can't ever remember doing before. Admittedly I was in a suite with a large plasma screen TV, free peanuts and a very comfortable sofa.
So I went to the local traiteur, a grocer which makes Fortnum and Mason look like Aldi.
I was escorted from counter to counter by a small lady wearing an apron who cut, sliced, wrapped and generally prettified everything I bought. Some ham, celeriac remoulade, pate, egg and vegetable terrine, etc. Little bits of this and little bits of that. Parisian delicacies rather than a vast takeaway curry or somesuch. She managed to avoid the question "how much is that?" every time I asked.
At the final counter, where one is given a slip of paper which is then taken across the floor to the cash desk, I was smiled at by the manageress as she totted it all up.
"Fifty two euros monsieur" she said sweetly, still smiling.
"Fifty two euros". Her smile was beatific.
There wasn't even any wine. It would have been cheaper going out. Possibly.
Admittedly there was a sliver of foie gras maison which was €25 itself (I later looked at the price tag - €250 per kg - gah!)
I left feeling slightly miserable, wondering how I was going to explain this back at the ranch. I then walked into their wine shop and asked if they had any sauternes.
"Certainly sir, " the man said with a flourish, "This half bottle is €140. Would sir be looking for a full bottle?"
No, sir, would be looking for the exit, rapido, pronto, it's hot in here and I'm looking for the nearest offie where - thankfully - we come back down to planet earth with a jolly little beaujolais costing €8.
I was then introduced to the current Parisian scam du jour, which involves the mug (me) looking down at the gutter while waiting to cross the road and seeing a large gold wedding ring, at which point the perp (small weasely person) picks it up looking both astonished and quizzical, and then asking if it belongs to moi (the mug). Conversation then ensues in which you offer to buy the stupid thing for €10 or something. First time I couldn't be arsed even talking and walked off. Second day I laughed and the third - when the variation was a large shiny watch, I said (in English) while pointing at my forehead - "does it say stupid on here?"
Caution is rarely the watchword in Paris, but it was for the rest of the week. Until after dinner on Friday when I was persuaded to go to our favourite nightspot, a scruffy little jazz cafe I've been going to for years because the music is excellent. I had a cognac and a coffee. Then another cognac before making my excuses and leaving, citing an early Eurostar.
I offered a €20 bill. But our patron advised that there was now a €10 'entrance fee' which I remarked he'd never charged me before. He just looked at me. I rummaged around my pockets and found a €10 bill - the only one I had - and graciously offered that, the man has a living to make after all..
"Non, monsieur," he explained, pointing, "It is €30.50"
I stared, disbelieving and said. "You are joking, aren't you. It's only 50 cents"
He looked straight at me.
"Non. Do you have a card?"
He took my card and processed the entire €30.50. The handset asked 'Gratuity?'
I stamped in 'Non' and left rather deflated.
The Eurostar back to London the following morning was unusually comfortable. Thankfully next time I'm going back to slightly scruffier parts, you know, the ones where they have the riots.
At least the food will be cheap.