Archive for April, 2008

Another journey on Eurostar and another chance to catch up on some of my blog writing, which I never seem to have enough time for these days.

They are currently remodelling Gare du Nord, which meant that my outbound journey was absolutely chaos. They did not open check-in for the 08h07 train until about 07h45 – and with only five passport inspectors. I did a quick calculation, and figured that they were trying to process nearly 1,200 passengers in 20 minutes – the 08h07 train is nearly always full. Needless to say, it all ended in tears. My train pulled out ten minutes late, with hundreds of passengers failing to make it due to the huge delays at customs and security. Others have pointed out that I am anal to the point of being compulsive about arriving ahead of time for trains and planes – but I made my train, unlike the many stranded behind.

Had a good set of meetings in London. It was a good chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues, plus a chance to meet all of the new people they have brought on board while I was away in Singapore and subsequently in Paris. After our meetings (marred only by the fact that one of our guys had his laptop stolen – gallingly, from inside a church) we headed out to the pub for a few pints – a tradition that I really miss about the UK.

My office mate in Paris overhead me talking to a colleague about going out for a few beers, and he practically begged me to invite him along next time. So I will. Never let it be said I am not importing British best practice!

They have just completed the new Eurostar terminal in St Pancras. While it is lovely, I don’t find it terribly user friendly, and the location is very inconvenient for most of the places I need to go. I really miss the convenience of Waterloo.

Most annoying, though, are the new lifts they have installed. These are modern times. Most people are used to lifts, and how they work. A single “ding” to indicate the arrival of the lift is normally all the prompt we need, plus a flashing light if they are feeling really generous.

But not the new lifts in the Eurostar lounge. No, these are lifts with Tourette’s.

“Lift has been called. Please wait.”
“Lift arriving soon.”
“Lift has arrived. Doors opening.”
“Doors closing. Please stand clear.”
“First floor. Doors opening.”
“Doors closing. Please stand clear.”
“Lift has been called. Please wait.”

Bear in mind that this lift only travels between the ground floor and the first floor, a total journey of about 4 meters. It hardly requires the entire commentary included above. I’m surprised they didn’t insist on all the announcements being in French and English, just for the sake of completeness.

Jerome will be here for the weekend – in fact, I understand he is in the Eurostar just behind me. If I had known, we could have travelled together.

There is a family of American tourists sitting head of me. They are reading their guide book to Paris out loud. It makes me smile that the biggest concern they have about coming to Paris is stepping in poo. According to their book, it’s everywhere.

From my experience, I think the book is spot-on. Now please excuse me while I find someplace to scrape my shoe.

Don’t get me wrong. Aude is a pharmacist, so I know first-hand that pharmacists in France are highly educated, knowledgeable professionals. I know that the advice that they hand out is top-rate, and that they are genuinely interested in providing a good service to their customers. But they are driving me nuts.

First, you have to accept the premise that no one in France is expected to be responsible enough to look after themselves. From pensions to healthcare, the government assumes that you are too irresponsible to be left in control, so they issue enormous tax bills and take care of all the details for you, the taxpayer. And on one hand, it is incredibly helpful – there really is very little to do after you have received your paycheque each month.

But just like many other examples in France, the French pharmacy system is designed on the basis that customers are, basically, uneducated idiots who would kill themselves if left to their own devices. Never mind that the French take more medicine per capita than any other nation in Europe – they are pill-poppers extraordinaire.

The aisles of my local pharmacy are filled with shampoos and soaps, all of which I am trusted to select on my own. Two full aisles are filled with nothing but diet pills, and these are all considered safe for self-service. But heaven forbid I should need something as strong as a few ibuprofen or paracetamol. For those, I am expected to have a consultation with a pharmacist. And because the pharmacists have a total monopoly on the market, I am expected to pay €7 for a box of pills that would have cost me about €0.70 in the UK. This morning, feeling a little under the weather, I thought I would pop in to buy some vitamin C. No, even that is deemed too dangerous for me to purchase without a pharmaceutical consultation.

In the end, I gave up and bought a glass of orange juice. I’m amazed they allow me to buy something so potent on my own.

After more than two months of wrangling with various telephone providers in France, we are finally reconnected to the web. Hurrah.