Paris Tourist Tip # 73 – Know Your FOAF
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An FOAF is, of course, a “friend of a friend.” Although it can also be the “friend of a cousin,” or a “sister of a friend” or a “cousin of a sister-in-law.” But as these would gives us FOAC (verging on the obscene), SOAF (a dyslexic couch) and COASIL (an acne medicine?), we’ll stick with FOAFs.
Now, there are obviously two sides to every FOAF: the premeditating tourist and the Parisian. (Yes, I know it could be for any city, any country in the world, but my first writing teacher told me to write about what I know. So you’ll have to extrapolate if you’re going somewhere else!)
1) The potential tourist.
So, you’re going to Paris! First trip? I assume you have a checklist. Passport? Check! Airline reservations? Check! Hotel reservations? Check! Guide books? Check! But did you send out feelers for FOAFs? No check, right? Big mistake! Ask around! Don’t be shy! Unless of course you live in a red state. Then maybe you don’t want to admit you’re going to Paris. But then again, if you live in a red state, what in the hell are you doing going to Paris? Oh, you want Paris, Arkansas. Sorry, you’re on the wrong web site. Bye, bye. Now, you others. Yes, ask around. Mention things like, “It must be great to live is Paris,” in order to elicit the response, “Yeah, my brother lives there and he loves it.” Or try: “Didn’t you once have a French room mate?” Then, strike! “Well, since I’m going to be there, if you want, I could give him a message for you.”
Finding out FOAFs when planning a trip is not a new thing. Henry James wrote about it all the time. Well, not all the time, but often. Back then, they used what were called “letters of introduction.” Now we use emails or telephones. Personally, if someone showed up on my “pallier” with a letter of introduction, he would probably find me “not at home.” So phone or email first. We 21st century Parisians are usually a bit busier that Henry James’s dilettantes.
Maybe around this time, you’re asking yourself, “But why do I need a French FOAF? Why should I bother?” Knowing someone /admin/story/story/18150/who knows the ropes can be a huge advantage, especially if you don’t speak French. Sure, there are guidebooks and wonderful, excellent, beautiful, intelligent, informative web sites like Bonjour Paris, but a FOAF can give you a more personal view of Paris. Have you ever seen “l’ami de la concierge” in a guidebook? Or on a web site? I don’t think so. But if I were your FOAF, I just might show it to you on a tour of Montmartre. But whoever your FOAF is, he almost certainly has his own little Parisian secrets to share, his own stories about a banal looking building that will make you want to take a photograph, his personal favorite restaurant, that hasn’t made the guidebooks, but where the chef prepares something special just for your FOAF. And do you have any idea how long you’re going to be wandering around Pere Lachaise Cemetery looking for Jim Morrison’s grave if you don’t have a FOAF to show you the way? And for that, you’d better hope I’m not your FOAF, because I still get lost looking for it.
I even know someone, whom I shall call Cindy (not her real name), who has been known to open up her apartment to FOAFs! For that, I limit myself to Fs (friends), but who knows, you might get lucky.
2) The French FOAF
So why should an American, living tranquilly in Paris, decide to suddenly give up his comfortable routine and become a tour guide for someone he doesn’t even know? One reason is that we’re all secretly looking for excuses to go back to the top of the Eiffel Tower, or to revisit the Arenes Lutece, or even to go back to the Louvre (fess up, when’s the last time you were there? Without another American in tow?). After all, why did we come to Paris in the first place? After a few years of “metro, boulot, dodo” you tend to forget. Then there’s the interest of getting a feel for back home, catching up on that in-between friend, hearing some opinions not filtered through CNN. And sometimes it’s just a pleasure to speak English with someone who actually understands what you’re saying and. . . who speaks English back!
And, if your friends have taste and discretion, you may even meet some interesting people. A big if. My sister, Mary, has told me about certain of her acquaintances that were planning trips to Paris, but who left without my phone number. On their return, they reported: “We just couldn’t make them speak English.” Thank you, Mary. And Cindy had visitors who brought other unexpected friends, FOAFOAFs, and even FOAFOAFOAFs. She was “called into work for an emergency,” and left them with a map of Paris and a “good luck.” But I’ve also met many FOAFs who have become Fs, and even one who has sent me new FOAFs. So it can be a worthwhile experience.
And who knows, if the six degrees of separation really works, I’m already your FOAFOAFOAFOAFOAFOAF. So call me when you get to your hotel.