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Tourists make restos touristy?


phrederic
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[This post is a reply to a digression on Paris midrange restaurants thread that probably should be its own thing]

Methinks you are being disingenuous here, Menton! But mentons? I'll bite, in good faith, and pretend to accept the gauntlet lying lonely on the ground.

"You are simply a tourist, as a skunk is a skunk, a parasitic variation of the human species, which exists only to be tapped like a milk cow or a gum tree."

-Robert Byron

Tourist bashing is one of the great old noble sports with origins going back at least as far as Strabo. And still thriving.

(Tourist baiting, on the other hand, is a slowly dying art; probably due to the quality of the prey. It also doesn't pay so well anymore. The Florentines and the Romans still practice it some. Ask directions in front of the Duomo for, say, Oltr'arno or the Piazzale Michelangelo. Make sure you have an attractive female in tow. Approach that group of well-dressed young men lounging by the sacristy. Ask them if they speak English, French or German. Do not let on if you speak Italian. You are likely to spend an amusing afternoon. As they guide you through town you will learn much of dubious educational value, but watch closely the faces of your indigenous friends. They will not smile or laugh. Tourist baiting is serious business. That the Signoria was a debtors' prison and is now a municipal girls boarding-school will challenge your basic ability to swallow anything, but persevere! You are the tourist, it is your role in this time-honored practice. When told that the Ufizzi was built as a torture-chamber by the Holy Office and recently converted to an amusement park by the Walt Disney corporation, nod, smile, and say something innocuous like, "interesting, that explains the long lines". At the Ponte Vecchio, accept appreciatively the information that those houses on top are built so that at the time of the yearly flood, when the Arno rises, people can cross the river by scampering across the rooftops. If you have played your part well by this point, a suggestion from you to stop at that delightful winebar--just next to the gate which opens on to the path of the more circuitous way up towards the Piazzale Michelangelo--will be accepted. And after a bottle of Montepulciano, or maybe the Tignanello if you're flush, but NOT the Sassicaia, or two, someone will proffer the nugget that this very ramshackle building in which you sit was designed by none other than DaVinci. Solemnly but deferentially suggest that it might have been Marcus Agrippa. Or Virgil. Someone will smile. And someone else will state categorically that this VERY building was built by Julius Caesar. Da Verro! And more players will begin to smile and even giggle. The session of tourist baiting will end with much laughter and goodwill all around. Probably with drunken toasts to increasingly improbable historical figures punctuating the early evening. Ah, the fine old tourist baiting of old. The moments of daring and courage. The Neapolitan graduate student guide, with a straight face, intoning in the middle of the Cloaca Maxima of ancient Neapolis, that this was an underground road for moving evil Roman soldiers in an out of an oppressed Naples. How charmingly ironic what with all of the excrement that once flowed through that passageway. The Turkish curator and the footprint of the Prophet. The Spanish professor at Ronda and the bullfighting costume of Hemmingway. Oh, so many memories of a great art. I'm sure you have your own.)

Tourists. Gods be praised I'm not one of them! I'm a Traveller, YOU are a tourist. And vice-versa of course. Those damned sneaker-wearing, flourescently-garbed, loud-mouthed, gaping hordes of befannypacked barbarians clogging the sidewalks of Paris and Manhattan. They engender such pedestrian road-rage that coming home from work or doing your shopping becomes a frantic obstacle course fueled by barely repressed fury. They create havoc in the Metro by persisting in having 22 of 'em lining up together to buy tickets while the leader spends 32.6 minutes trying to negotiate some kind of deal with the teller. "Bahnjehr Mersyer, Avez Vous une Discount pour groups? Ou Seniors?" They mill cluelessly around the top of stairs blocking ingress and egress, immune to every plea of "Pardon, Excusez-Moi, Pardon, J'AIMERAIS BIEN SORTIR S.V.P!" They dine at unreasonable times, en masse, so if you arrive at table at 20h00 your entrées don't come till 21h00 because there are 37 of the pesky creatures clamoring for dessert at the same time. Even in small numbers, their aesthetic crimes are heady. Labeled with North Face and Patagonia, brightened by unlikely brash colors, they make a semi-civilized urban landscape look like an assisted-living snowboarding expedition. We're not like them. No way. Not ever. Right. Well, hmm. I try not to be. At least I try. I mean, well, there are tourists and then there are tourists. But I remember a trip to Arizona over the christmas season a few years ago. Wearing the necessary Paris drizzle protection dark overcoat. Real shoes. Walking--not driving--along the road. People looked at me like an alien. Our friends were all starving by the time we were willing to sit down to dinner and we were invariably the last people in restaurants (how very weird for us to be last in the restaurant when finishing our meal often as early as 22h30). I was a tourist. Traveling insulated from my environment, peering out at it, oblivious to the effect my strangeness had on it. How many people had to swerve around me on their daily motorized commute? Did it irritate them? Probably. So okay. We're all tourists sometimes. And the hordes bring in money, and keep things we like, such as restaurants and winebars, in business. So what's wrong with tourists?

What's wrong with tourists? In restaurants? Often quite a bit. Even if the situation is as complex as tourists everywhere else. Sure, as everyone here already knows, Tourism helped create the climate for Gastronomy and serious restaurants. The once-useful and still influential Guide Michelin was written for tourists. In many parts of the world, even some parts of western Europe, it is still primarily tourists that allow higher end restaurants to exist. Until recently locals in Southern Italy and Languedoc-Roussillon wouldn't--or couldn't--support better establishments. While cooking at home was of a very high level, good restaurants were hard to find. This is still strongly the case, in my experience, in Turkey, Greece, Malta, the former Yugoslav states. The best restaurants cater mainly to tourists. (It is similar to another egullet discussion thread about restaurants in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Home-cooking and Street-fare are great, restaurants much more seldom so. Those few that are cater to foreigners.) But in France, Italy, Spain, the UK, and Germany, we have large local subcultures searching for various types of, for want of an easy expression, Gastronomy, that are willing and able to support a large number of good restaurants without being solely dependent on tourists.

In France, due to the astronomical number of tourists we receive each year, the effects of various kinds of tourism on restauration is enormous. In Paris even more so. One of the more obvious problems associated with this is what I'll call relative clienteles. If a restaurant has a large percentage of revenue coming from a clientele, a market niche, it will tend to pay most attention to that group. If more and more of the clientele is made up of tourists then it will bend towards serving what tourists want and what tourists like. "So what", one might say, since we are all tourists at some point then it doesn't matter. But it does. Because the one commonality for tourists is that they are not from here. So the things they like will not be the things from here. Yes, some tourists, and particularly culinary-minded ones, will order the Os a Moelle, the ris de veau, the rognons, the pigeon, the sanglier, the langue, the biche, the pieds et paquets, etc. But not very many. And places that depend on tourists will serve fewer and fewer of these things. Similarly, simply because they aren't from here, their taste will take time to develop for things from France. A lot of restaurants with a healthy tourist population will stay away from serving the stronger cheeses. French and Anglo-Amercian taste in beef tend to differ a bit. With the Anglo-American side prizing tenderness, and often requesting their meat more well done, a restaurant that has many of them as guests will naturally tend to buy more of the cuts that work that way. Few chefs can afford to keep buying cuts of meat that don't sell. Another thing that follows from "tourists aren't from here" is that they aren't at home either. So many tourists, (particularly these days the English football fans, ouch) don't behave the way they do at home. Or maybe just the way they do at home, but more so. That's normal. If you're on holiday, you're going to relax. But you also are eating new things and sometimes not adapting well to the local schedule or practice. This can create other problems. From the large loud tables of bickering yanks to the boorish roast-beef footballers. Imagine what often happens to service when a clientele becomes primarily touristy. If most of the customers are unfamiliar with both the food AND the language? I've barely scratched the surface here, but I'm not trying to invoke anti-tourist sentiment. I'm only saying that, yes, tourists can change a restaurant. Sometimes that's actually a good thing when it encourages a restaurateur to make better things, find fresher ingredients, push his staff to a new level. If the tourists are egulletiers? Great. But often, simply the existence of a large customer group, with money and low--or just foreign--expectations can make the restaurant patron feel like the Robert Byron quote above.

When I hear tables of Americans, Brits or Italians in one of my favorite restaurants. I smile. I hope that they're bringing new, good, repeat business to a place I like. When every time I'm back at the restaurant I hear more of them I start holding my breath. When I sit down, hear no French around me, see new Frommer's (or the like) stickers in the windows I pray.

Anybody have similar sentiments? A better analysis? I've got to buy a new fanny pack and some day-glow track suits for my next vacation....

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Tourism is big business here, and not just the big organized groups you describe. :smile: It depends, I guess, on whether a place was made for tourists, being a tourist trap or if a place attracts tourists due to reputation, international press, etc. People may seek to eat somewhere they read about, for instance, here, or they find a recently published list of the hot spots to go. There are always people who will try and be one step ahead, especially if being in the know while everyone else is not is their job. Sometimes the pickings in the press are slim, and sometimes, with groups like this and guidance the likes of John's restaurant news and reviews to make sense of all of the info, we are blessed with choices. We are able to learn from the experience of others that we trust, debate what makes one place better than another, and share stories and tables. I suppose this could make us tourists.

One always hopes that people will behave well, but sometimes we'll find people who haven't done their homework about local customs. When I'm traveling, I certainly follow what advice I can find from trusted resources not only about how to get the most of my experience by knowing what to expect, but also where to eat. :rolleyes:

I had a discussion of a similar topic with a friend recently, both of us now living in rather heavily toured European cities, whether we would publicly share news of the discovery of a little gem of a place we love on a forum like this. You know, tourist factor and all. We agreed - 'tis best to share the wealth. I guess I'm a little bit biased, though. About sharing the wealth. I think that's what life's all about.

On the 'contre' side of the discussion, someone at the table worried about stripping a suddenly popular restaurant of its cellar. This is a valid point, especially if the cellar is an old one and there's a question of the current sommelier's expertise and resources.

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Bleu-

You are quite right about sudden popularity being very dangerous for some restaurants cellars. When you mentioned it, I immediately thought of 5 examples which greatly saddened me. Only 1 was specifically due to a writeup in a tourist guide. 2 were because discovery by and articles in the Nova/Fooding young hip thing, 1 Patricial Wells and 1 Zurban. In every case they simply stopped replacing really good bottles when they were sold and reduced their winelist down to the minimum of easily obtainable négoce-like cheapish wines. Each of the examples that came to mind have remained very popular. Sigh. Serving all those vile bottles Sancerre, Muscadet, and Beaujo.

One of my hobbies is helping create winelists for restaurants that want to do a bit more. Often they don't want to. But, in a way, this is a tourist-like problem even if tourists aren't always the cause. Why go to the trouble of providing more when you have plenty of couverts without it?

Share the wealth is a good philosphy. I subscribe. But let's raise the bar on the wine lists. It is far too low already.

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Glad someone spoke up!

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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Do tourists make restos touristy?

No, restos make restos touristy. It's decisions on the part of the restaurant owners/managers that lead to good restaurants turning into crap restaurants. Or restaurants simply starting out as terrible, but succeeding because they meet the expectations of visitors from out of town.

This phenomenon is not confined to Paris or France. I live in Atlanta, and if you want to find poor quality, overpriced food I can tell you exactly where to find it: downtown, where the convention crowd dines exclusively.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Phrederic,

Your posts are probably the most prosaic, in the sense of Webster's first usage, in the world of egulletdom. I eagerly await your further participation, and am amused that you choose a quote from Byron who opined concerning your apparent city of choice that "Paris (and Vienna) left him speechless with repulsion, loathing, even resentment"; probably related to having to share it during the pre-war period with low life tourists like Joyce, Miller and that poet who abandoned upper case, as well as his tousled American friend Hemingway.

I think that to hope excellent restaurants can be hidden from intrepid American chow hounds such as our own Dr. Talbott is an exercize in futility; hope and reality are not likely to merge in this arena as there is a subculture of Americans who are dedicated to ferreting out good restaurants and when successful are genetically unable to resist sharing them with like palates. You make some marvelous points; can we only expect the Jean-Claude Vrinats to maintain an excellent cellar? I wish there were more Phrederics out there advising restaurants on the merits of maintaining a decent to excellent selection of wines.

Please grace our forum with more of your wisdom.

Edited by Laidback (log)
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Devils Advocate question. How many Paris restaurants from Bistros to the 3*'s would survive without tourists?

Having spent a very significant time in Paris over the last 8 years, eating in Bistro's to 3*'s, I am often surrounded by US, UK, Italian, Spanish et al diners. Do the Paris restaurants appreciate the business?

Any Parisian restaurant owners out there in Egulletdom??

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Since I am an American tourist who ventures to Paris every so often, I guess I'm part of the problem, so I won't comment. However, it might be interesting to know which restaurants in Paris phrederic has assisted with the wine list so I can avoid the vile Sancerres and Muscadets next time I do travel there.

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Refreshing post, phrederic. We take the good with the bad. But what I really object to are the bad wine lists in so many Paris restos. Why? There's no excuse for this. France has so many good wines in all price ranges. And I can't see how tourists can be blamed for this.

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Your terrific post deserves a less flippant answer. I think the tourist/traveler vs. local distinction is not relevant. There are only two kinds of diners: those who know how to eat in that particular restaurant or region, and those who don't. Some traveling eGulleters are better eaters than the natives.

A good restaurant knows how to please discriminating eaters. A tourist trap knows how to please visitors. Some restaurants manage to do both at the same time. Just because a restaurant has a high percentage of foreigners does not make it automatically a tourist trap, but there is always a dangerous slippery slope in that direction when a restaurant does not have to cultivate a repeat clientele of discriminating diners.

And obviously, there are diners with more money than others (no correlation to whether or not they can eat). If a restaurant manages to reach beyond the local clientele to the international audience for whatever reason (good food or tourist appeal), they can and do raise their prices.

Many 3-stars today would be extinct if it weren't for luxury global tourism.

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You are quite right Alex. The winelist thing is a digression and only tangentially related to the tourist thing. Some of us just think EVERYTHING has to do with wine.

There are many reasons for the winelist phyloxera. One of which is the slow but inexorable effects of a change in French tax law vis a vis restaurants in the early 90's. Another the demographic changes in restaurant-clientele which is, again, only distantly related to the tourist subject. We could start a new thread on this if anybody's interested enough.

But I'm really happy you recognize the sorry state of a lot of the cartes des vins. Many people don't even see that the winelists are poor; which is in fact part of why there's a problem in the first place.

"Aux Armes, Citoyens!

Sortez, Les tire-bouchons!

Ouvrons! Ouvrons!

Qu'un Vin très pure

Abreuve Nos Sillons!"

As usual, I got carried away with that last bit.

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Sadie-

I expect there are few Paris restaurant owners here. I have quite a few friends in the restaurant business here and most are either non-anglophone or so overwhelmed with the Rungis-Lunch-Dinner-repeat routine that they tend to say, "email, I've heard of that. Mais oui, I checked it last month".

But it might be a fun egullet investigatory project. If someone posts a thread and we get a good list of questions people would like to ask Paris restaurant owners? Then we take it to 'em and collect their replies. I'm sure Dr. Talbott knows people who would respond. I'd help out if needed.

Do you like the idea? Anybody else?

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Interesting post. Albeit a tad exaggerated.

Of course restaurants catering for a mix of locals and "tourist" has to adapt the menu and tone down the cooking method to suit the clientele for financial considerations to say the least.

But this is not applicable to all restaurants in Paris and even less the more you circle out from the egostronomic center.

It is a world of difference if one considers French dining as strictly an egostronomic experience or a lifestyle, a Joie de Vivre.

Now try explain that to your friendly "tourist".

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I don't like going to "tourist" restaurants becase, almost by definition, the food is lousy (though in both France and Greece, where I've spent time, it is dam easy to walk into a restaurant or cafe and be the only American in earshot, and still get a lousy meal). Beware the place that offers menus in English.

I don't like going to restaurants full of tourists, for the purely selfish and egocentric reason that it spoils the illusion of having broken the surly bonds bonds of the U.S. I prefer the local language: every syllable is a message that I am on vacation, far from home, immersed in mystery and delight...no matter if they're actually discussing plumbing fixtures or, having overheard my table, tsk-tsking about U.S. foreign policy. Any other European language is quite tolerable. Accents from the British Isles are acceptable, but not optimal. As for Americans -- if I wanted to hear American spoken, I'd talk to myself, or travel in the U.S. (which I do). :wink: Guests at my own table get a by.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Having spent a very significant time in Paris over the last 8 years, eating in Bistro's to 3*'s, I am often surrounded by US, UK, Italian, Spanish et al diners. Do the Paris restaurants appreciate the business?

Any Parisian restaurant owners out there in Egulletdom??

When I first arrived in Paris I worked in a small bistro/wine bar and still do when they are in a pinch. Our clientele dropped significantly after 9-11 and was even worse when the Iraq war began. Believe me, restaurant owners were thrilled when tourists started coming back. The first seating consisted mostly of tourists and the second seating was pretty much French; so it worked out nicely. We had a lot of tourists and it was never a problem. I don’t think the owner worries a bit what nationality people are, as long as the dining room stays full. It seems that the only people who have a big problem with tourists are other tourists or expats. I’ve certainly been guilty of it too. :rolleyes:

www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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Felice's insiders' view is interesting. I think that what she writes is very true. It also helps me to sort and refine my feelings as a diner.

I recall our early meals at an upstart restaurant several years ago. Exceptional food, darling service, lots of smoke but who cared; stunningly memorable evenings. The servers spoke almost no English and treated us with bemused respect, wondering, I suppose, how we found its outer location. We let them know our how pleased we were, and they responded with warm hospitality.

Our last visit saw a change in waitstaff, much spiffier now, and much more into speaking English. The attitude had drifted from our being exotic to 'here come more Americans'. There was nothing you could point your finger at that caused either our discomfit or dissatisfaction, but the joy of our early visits had evaporated. The food may or may not have been less good as the chef's initial offerings, but, taken as part of the evening as a whole, it failed to delight.

When I think back to many if not most of our most joyous dining experiences, they have been in dining rooms where as Americans we were intriguing curiosities. These include several places in Paris and in the country where we are warmly welcomed as regular returning visitors, but still oddments.

eGullet member #80.

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Having spent a very significant time in Paris over the last 8 years, eating in Bistro's to 3*'s, I am often surrounded by US, UK, Italian, Spanish et al diners. Do the Paris restaurants appreciate the business?

Any Parisian restaurant owners out there in Egulletdom??

When I first arrived in Paris I worked in a small bistro/wine bar and still do when they are in a pinch. Our clientele dropped significantly after 9-11 and was even worse when the Iraq war began. Believe me, restaurant owners were thrilled when tourists started coming back. The first seating consisted mostly of tourists and the second seating was pretty much French; so it worked out nicely. We had a lot of tourists and it was never a problem. I don’t think the owner worries a bit what nationality people are, as long as the dining room stays full. It seems that the only people who have a big problem with tourists are other tourists or expats. I’ve certainly been guilty of it too. :rolleyes:

Is that bistrot/wine bar,Fish? on rue the seine.If so ,is'nt the owner an amarican?

However irrespective of your answer,most restaurant owners are happy with

paying costumers.irrespective of their national origin.

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You are quite right Alex. The winelist thing is a digression and only tangentially related to the tourist thing. Some of us just think EVERYTHING has to do with wine.

There are many reasons for the winelist phyloxera. One of which is the slow but inexorable effects of a change in French tax law vis a vis restaurants in the early 90's. Another the demographic changes in restaurant-clientele which is, again, only distantly related to the tourist subject. We could start a new thread on this if anybody's interested enough.

But I'm really happy you recognize the sorry state of a lot of the cartes des vins. Many people don't even see that the winelists are poor; which is in fact part of why there's a problem in the first place.

"Aux Armes, Citoyens!

Sortez, Les tire-bouchons!

Ouvrons! Ouvrons!

Qu'un Vin très pure

Abreuve Nos Sillons!"

As usual, I got carried away with that last bit.

phrederic. "winelist phyloxera"! Ah, an apt description of the malady. And I totally agree with your observation that "Many people don't even see that the winelists are poor; which is in fact part of why there's a problem in the first place." I don't know about the resto going folks here, but I would go so far as to consider the wine list just as important as the menu when rating a resto or dining there again. Perhaps, many foodies are simply ignoring the wine lists that's why there are so many underachievers? I can't imagine a terrfic dining experience in Paris or anywhere without a nice wine. And the resto-owning folks should realize that diners would come because of the wine list. Why, just look at Tan Dinh.

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I consider wine to be very important, and I have to say I haven't noticed the sad condition of Paris wine lists. Some places are better than others, of course, but in two weeks of dining last summer for instance, ordering anywhere from 2 to 5 bottles of wine with dinner each night (depending on how many we were), we were never without something interesting to order. I don't remember any clunkers, and many of the wines were excellent for the price. I mentioned a couple of examples previously, but there were other examples. For full disclosure, I have to confess to ordering Sancerre (and even Muscadet) with cold shellfish at Bofinger, and Moulin-a-Vent at Aux Lyonnais.

I think it would be worthwhile if we could hear some examples of wine lists that have disappointed, those that have not disappointed but were not that great, and those that were great.

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Jumping back to the tourist topic...I have always found the query "where can I eat where there won't be any tourists?" a bizarre question. People seem to want to go places where they won't hear any English spoken. I guess I can understand this to a degree. But am I the only one who sees the irony here? If you are part of an English-speaking couple or group, and you go sit down to eat at a bistro where no one else is speaking English, you have now just "ruined" the experience for the next "I don't want to hear any English spoken" patrons who come in. That's why I find the whole thing ridiculous. The very people who want this pure non-tourist environment have the potential to be the tourists that others want to avoid. And so on.

Just an odd thought to throw into the mix...

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Jumping back to the tourist topic...I have always found the query "where can I eat where there won't be any tourists?" a bizarre question. People seem to want to go places where they won't hear any English spoken. I guess I can understand this to a degree. But am I the only one who sees the irony here? If you are part of an English-speaking couple or group, and you go sit down to eat at a bistro where no one else is speaking English, you have now just "ruined" the experience for the next "I don't want to hear any English spoken" patrons who come in. That's why I find the whole thing ridiculous. The very people who want this pure non-tourist environment have the potential to be the tourists that others want to avoid. And so on.

Just an odd thought to throw into the mix...

Once again, "hear" is the operative word. I have no doubt that I share a dining room with Americans all the time. So long as I can't determine a table's nationality or language, it's all good. My niggle is with groups whose projected conversation dominates the dining room space, reducing the sense of 'place' for other diners.

eGullet member #80.

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Jumping back to the tourist topic...I have always found the query "where can I eat where there won't be any tourists?" a bizarre question. People seem to want to go places where they won't hear any English spoken. I guess I can understand this to a degree. But am I the only one who sees the irony here? If you are part of an English-speaking couple or group, and you go sit down to eat at a bistro where no one else is speaking English, you have now just "ruined" the experience for the next "I don't want to hear any English spoken" patrons who come in. That's why I find the whole thing ridiculous. The very people who want this pure non-tourist environment have the potential to be the tourists that others want to avoid. And so on.

Just an odd thought to throw into the mix...

That is exactly the sentiment I was trying to convey.

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Ah well.

In this argument, all roads appear to lead to hypocricy. Still, there's a diffident part of myself which wonders if it's OK not to want to be seated near certain kinds of tourists?

Once in Arpege, I heard the cranky wife of a couple from Texas say, when she was about to order: "Well Ahh don't want to have to open a lahbster."

Stuff like that just spoils the illusion...something busboy pointed out. If surrounded by the French, then every syllable reminds you you are in another place...which is the reason you endured a transatlantic flight.

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