Tough time to be an American in Paris

Eleanor Beardsley Apr 16, 2008

Tough time to be an American in Paris

Eleanor Beardsley Apr 16, 2008


TESS VIGELAND: While rice prices were soaring to an all-time high today, the dollar hit yet another all-time low against the European currency. It costs just shy of $1.60 to buy one euro. For Americans in Paris, that means a lot of window-shopping in one of the world’s fashion capitals, but at least tourists have a roundtrip ticket home. For Yanks living abroad, the dollar’s free-fall demands a whole new mind-set.

Eleanor Beardsley reports.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: I’m one of those unlucky people who earns her living in dollars and spends it in euros. I lose about 35 percent of what I make, just by bringing it over here. Here on the streets of Paris, there are beautiful boutiques and department stores, but I don’t shop anymore. I don’t even allow myself to window-shop. I just can’t, and as a rule, I don’t check the exchange rate everyday. That would be way too stressful. Ah, but the moment of truth comes when I go to the cash machine.

Let’s see, I’m going to get out 300 euros.

Every euro now costs nearly $1.60. The two currencies were equal when the euro was born in 2001. Since then, the Iraq war, record U.S. deficits and now the credit disaster has sent it nosediving, and no one seems to know where it will stop.

When I get home at night I go onto my bank account online to see just how much those withdrawals are. That was 300 euros I got out, so that is — yikes, it’s $487.73. That’s frightening.

Paris is still the world’s number one tourist destination. It had 27 million visitors in 2007, but the tumbling dollar is beginning to scare Americans away. The Paris tourist board says there was a 10 percent drop in tourists from the U.S. in 2007, but the wimpy dollar didn’t keep my friend Joyce from visiting.

JOYCE: I’m curious. Is it reasonable to be paying 260 euros for a VIP deluxe room, and the room doesn’t even have a clock?

Sitting in a cafe sipping champagne, Joyce told her friends how disappointed she was in her hotel room, but she nearly fell over when she realized how much she was actually paying for it in dollars.

JOYCE: My calculation is that 260 euros would be approximately $410 per night for a room with a double bed and no clock.

Now when friends like Joyce come to town and ask me where they should shop, I tell them forget Saint-Germain or the Champs-Elysees, and I take them to a Paris street market. There are hundreds of outdoor markets every week around the city, and they’re a feast for the senses, offering a smorgasbord of cheeses, sausages and live seafood, but you can also find some pretty nice clothes and jewelry, and most importantly, you can haggle.

One vendor gives me a great deal on a silk scarf and a leather handbag after I tell him I’m a poor American. Craftsman Frank Strueli, who sells his chunky, silver bracelets, says he sees fewer Americans now, and those who do visit his stand have changed.

FRANK STRUELI: American people in general, they used to spend without normally negotiating even, and the big difference is that now you can tell something is happening because they are beginning to negotiate.

Strueli, like many vendors here, will usually cut Americans a deal. They admit that while times are tight everywhere, it’s really rough being an American in Paris.

In Paris, I’m Eleanor Beardsley for Marketplace.

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