PARIS -- The last time I saw Paris the tourists still controlled the main boulevards and sidewalk cafe's. Americans were smiling and the French were glum. Unfortunately all this has changed. Now the French are smiling and the Americans are glum.
"What on earth went wrong?" I asked the doorman at my hotel.
"Your dollar went soft and our franc went hard," he said. "Nobody pays attention to anyone who has soft currency dribbling out of his pocket."
"It's temporary," I protested. "We are working on a new chemical process to harden the dollar. Soon it will be as tough as the yen."
"If you say so. Did you want to take a bus or the metro?"
"I can afford a taxi," I said. "Americans may be poor but when it comes to taking cabs we are a proud people."
"Even if I got you a taxi you couldn't go anywhere."
"All the traffic in Paris is standing still. Nothing is moving. You see those cars out there in the street? They have been there since last Thursday."
"It's the hard franc. Everybody now has money to spend so all the French are trying to get to a store or a restaurant at the same time. They might be able to make it except the workers are on strike."
"Are they blocking the streets?"
"No, the police are blocking the streets to prevent the workers from jamming them."
"Why are they protesting?"
"They want more hard francs so they can be part of the traffic tie-up."
I said to the doorman, "I recall the days when the dollar was strong and every store had a sign, 'English Spoken Here.' "
"I remember that also," he said. "We even gave you discounts for your traveler's checks."
"And you sent our packages to the airplane as a courtesy."
The doorman said, "You Americans thought it would last forever."
"It would have if someone hadn't stomped all over the dollar. Tell me the truth, do the French respect us anymore?"
"They don't disrespect you. They ignore you. To them you are no better or worse than a Swedish tourist. Remember, there is nothing you can do for the French. They have everything."
I finally said, "There is more to life than hard currency, good living and gridlock."
"Why didn't you tell us that when the franc was soft?"
"I need a taxi."
"Where are you going?"
"To a fine French restaurant."
"What are you going to use for money?"
"I have a credit card that permits me to charge up to $2,000."
"That should do it if you don't order a fancy wine."
"Don't you worry about me," I said. "I know how to order a French meal. When I was here the last time I had the greatest dinner in the world at a bistro called Chez Bebe for $25 a person."
"Bebe is no longer there."
"Where is he?" I asked.
"He's out in the traffic, trying to take his mistress to Maxim's."