One of the things that makes life in Europe so exotic for Americans is that it's so easy to go to another country. When I was growing up in Louisiana, the rest of the world felt so far away, like Mars. I did hear the old people speaking French, but no other foreign language ever. No one had ever been overseas except in military service, and everyone thought of my father's sister as adventurous because she took bus tours of Europe.
But Americans think nothing of driving a thousand miles for their holidays. From Paris, there are dozens of countries in that radius.
The Eurostar gets from central Paris to central London in two hours and 15 minutes. A far cry from the ordeals of the old days.
The train is delayed a lot, though. Last night I was waiting for some guests and their train, the last one, was supposed to get in at 11:15 p.m. They called to say it was delayed for an hour so I showed up at the Gare du Nord shortly after midnight with the car. It's quite hard getting a taxi from the station this late, and they had some heavy suitcases so the metro wasn't very practical.
When I got there, my heart sank. A crowd of people was milling around looking at their watches and up at the announcement board, which read "Delay, 1:15."
"What happened?" I asked a chic black woman with a Vuitton purse, who was standing chatting at the rail with a French-Indian family-- one girl in a sari, another with an American-flag scarf knotted around her neck.
"The train before this one hit an animal on the tracks and had to stop, so they stopped all the traffic," the woman said. "But I think the train will get here sooner than it says on the board."
Soon the train did arrive, an hour and fifteen minutes late rather than at 1:15 a.m. "We all got vouchers!" my guests said. "A free ticket for another round trip! It was worth the delay."
I led them outside to my car. Two of them were Germans. "You certainly park like a French person," one of them remarked. I laughed. It's true that I drive like a Parisian. My car was parked on the sidewalk across the street from the station. But it was after midnight, and there was plenty of room and a taxi parked in front of me.
In Paris there are three kinds of parking: legal, illegal, and really illegal. This was only the second kind, so I hadn't worried.