When we were dating, my wife-to-be made the mistake of mentioning that it would be nice to stay in the Four Seasons George V hotel with me in Paris. I took this idle chat as a mission.
Twenty years went by, but I remembered my assignment. I had some business in Geneva and suggested that we stop in Paris for a few days just for fun. My wife agreed.
I made a big show of the usually male ineptitude at administrative mattes. I asked my wife to find a pension in Paris at a reasonable rate. She did, but at the last moment, I snatched the project away from her, claiming to have to combine it with business bookings.
I secretly booked the first night at the George V, and subsequent nights at the less expensive walk-up pension in Montmartre.
Off we flew. At Charles de Gaulle (the airport, not the General, who is still dead), we caught the bus for Etiole, the metro station near the George V and also called Charles de Gaulle (why not?). The area’s noteworthy feature is actually the Arc du Triomphe. As we are arriving, I hand the receipts for the pension and such to my wife and ask her to note how to get there.
Her face lit up like Christmas morning and noted the reservation at the George V. The bus driver told us it was a two-block walk from the famous arch.
We had arrived in more ways than one. The front desk manager was chagrined to say that our room had not been properly inspected. It was mid-morning, after all. We were ushered into the lobby restaurant to wait.
The lobby restaurant was like your rich aunt’s living room in Saughanessy, Westmount or Rosedale – except with flowers. The George V not only has flowers everywhere, it has them mounted and posed in an unusually way. The stems are at a 45-degree angle so that passersby see the front of the bloom at eye level.
In the comfortable love seats in the lobby we were offered baguette, jambon, fromage. Fine.
“Do you have a nice Chardonnay?” I asked.
Of course not! Why would a Paris waiter, even in the George V, have either what you asked for, or a banal Chardonnay.
The man had a nice wine from the other side of the Loire Valley, no doubt the sunny side. It was a Sancerre. One doesn’t want to embarrass oneself in front of the waiter in the lobby bar in the George V hotel, does one? We ordered what he wanted us to order without incident.
After the flight and time zone change, one crisp glass got us smashed. Luckily, the Parisian civil servant responsible for such things had stamped approval on our room’s readiness, and we went for a nap.
After the nap we found a great steak frites restaurant. I noted the small portions, but also noted I was larger than the average Parisian man. But then our waiter came by with second helpings of both the steak and the frites.
Back in the hotel we fell asleep early and rose early. About 6 a.m., we had coffee and chocolate croissants. We walked around the neighbourhood, toured the hotel and had another nap to get rid of jet lag.
With all the naps, it felt as if we’d been in the famous hotel for a week. But, in reality, about 24 hours after arriving, we were back with the front desk manager. I don’t know why he was so nice to us, but it could have been that he noted I’d stayed in the original Four Seasons hotel on Jarvis Street in Toronto for three weeks. It was right across the street from the CBC, where I’d just been transferred. Since I was from Toronto, perhaps he thought I was a spy from the head office of the Four Seasons.
At any rate, he showed me the bill. I noted it was missing our lobby bar snack and Sancerre wine. The manager said in that wonderfully dismissive French way, “Oh we don’t worry about these details.” He also said the same thing about the room service charge they forgot.
This was a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of treats on a bill for a thousand or so.
Then the manager asked me if we’d like a cab to go to the airport. I almost panicked. I couldn’t tell the front desk manager of the George V hotel that we were going to a far less expensive Paris pension.
“No . . . we’re . . . ah . . . going to stay with friends.”
Off we went – grateful for the snacks and the subterfuge.
When he’s not travelling, Dr. Allan Bonner, MSc, DBA, is a crisis manager based in Toronto.