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Meeting the French

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ABOVE: Do-it-yourself diplomacy begins at the dinner table. INSET BELOW: Laurence Monclard (second from left) founded Meeting the French after living and studying in the USA.

Getting acquainted with the locals can add a new dimension to travel, but it isn't always easy--especially in a country like France, where glad-handing isn't the social norm and being forward is considered a faux pas. Organizations sometimes offer cross-cultural programs that promote interaction between natives and foreigners, but these are usually geared to students and expatriates, not tourists.

photoLaurence Monclard, a Frenchwoman who learned to love Americans as a unversity student in Pennsylvania, has come up with a practical solution: Meeting the French, which offers the chance to enjoy lunch or dinner in a French home. For the price of a meal with wine in a moderately upscale restaurant, you'll get a custom-cooked déjeuner or diner with conversation. (All hosts speak French or English, and a few can handle German or other languages.)

Best of all, you won't be taking potluck. On the Meeting the French Web site, you'll find descriptions and photos of hosts who'll be offering meals at the time of your visit, along with menus and prices. For example, you might choose the "Victoire" menu of roast beef at an apartment in the Marais that has a view of the Eiffel Tower, or an Alsatian menu of sauerkraut with pork and sausages with a young artist couple in Montmartre. You book and prepay online, printing out an "invitation card" or voucher that includes your host's address.

Gourmet, pastry, and workshop tours

If  you're too shy to dine with strangers, consider booking a gastronomic walking tour (or even a non-gastronomic walking tour) with Meeting the French. Laurence Monclard and her associates offer a Gourmet Tour of traditional food shops and markets, a Pâtisseries Tour of the city's leading pastry shops and chocolatiers, tours of artisans' and artists' workshops, and custom-designed tours on themes of your own choosing.

See our Pâtisseries Tour article for a firsthand account of an afternoon with éclairs, macaroons, and chocolates.

Also read our Meet the Parisians at Work article, which describes low-cost tours that Meeting the French organizes in partnership with the Paris Convention & Visitors Bureau.)

Our personal recommendation

photoWe haven't tried mealtime matchmaking with Meeting the French, but we have taken the Pâtisseries Tour and two "Meet the Parisians at Work" tours. Laurence Monclard and her colleagues are delightful, intelligent, and genuinely nice people. We're confident that you'll enjoy their services.

For more information about Meeting the French, visit www.meetingthefrench.com.


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