Tuesday, December 2, 2008

WiFi or Non Non?

While working from home has its up sides (easy commute, no dress code, no office politics), being holed up in your apartment day after day with little human contact can get to you. And while making lunch for my son and his friends (school kids get a two-hour lunch here in France) makes for a nice break, the table conversation, though sometimes quite stimulating, often focuses on Pokemons and who chased who around the playground.

So one day, a couple of weeks ago, I had an idea. I would simply pack up my laptop and go to Paris and work there. This is the modern world, after all. All I needed was a WiFi (pronounced “wee-fee” over here) connection somewhere, and I was set. I would work in a café, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of humanity, or at least by other humans. Fully aware that Paris is not quite as wired as say, New York or San Francisco, I did a little research before I left home, to make sure that I had a few WiFi hotspots to target. First I went to Cafés WiFi, a site that claims to have an utterly up-to-date listing of Parisian cafés with functioning WiFi, complete with interactive map and listing by arrondissement. A large number of the establishments listed are McDonald’s, which has cleverly realized that a) WiFi hotspots are seriously lacking in Paris, and b) the young Parisians who think McDonald’s is cool usually have laptops or some other web-related gadget on them.

Still unable to bring myself to frequent a McDonald’s in France, I picked out a regular café in the Latin Quarter. Then, just in case it was too noisy, I thought I’d find out if there were municipal buildings somewhere, like libraries, where it would be quiet (but I’d still be surrounded by humans). So I went to the Paris municipal website and found that the City of Paris has thoughtfully installed WiFi in libraries, museums, and….parks. As in, the lovely little green squares that dot the city and are usually equipped with a small playground and a couple of benches. Perhaps tiny Parisians are so precocious that they will whip out their laptops when they are tired of playing on the swings.

Armed with café and library addresses, I headed into the city, full of hope. It was a fine morning and when I left the Luxembourg RER station I hopped on a Velib’ bike and headed to my first destination, the public library. To my horror, on arrival I realized that it was Monday and all the public libraries were closed. I swallowed hard and got back on the bike. Next stop, the café. Le Mirabel looked like just what I was looking for: comfortable tables, a nice big window to look out of, not too many people. But their WiFi system wasn’t working. Trying desperately to remain optimistic, I got another bike and cycled to the first arrondissement, to a café that I knew would have WiFi, the terribly chic Fumoir. Finally, the planets lined up and I had what I was looking for: WiFi access, my computer, and a comfortable spot frequented by other human beings (albeit upwardly mobile ones). And it was lovely. And I got work done. And I didn’t feel like I had just crawled out of a cave at the end of the day.

I guess the moral of this story is that if you work at it, you can find WiFi in public places in Paris, but you’d better do your homework. When I was updating my guidebook a couple of months ago, my editor asked me why I was listing cybercafés, when in most big cities, like London, there was so much WiFi no one went to cybercafés any more. Well, Paris ain’t London. And besides, why would any tourist in the right mind bring along their laptop? Perhaps I am a Luddite, hopelessly out of synch with the times, but isn’t going on vacation about getting away from it all? By the way, most Parisian hotels do have WiFi, for those of you who can’t leave home without it. But come on…be brave…if you get a bad case of cyber-withdrawal, you can always head to a library and use their computers. Just don’t go on a Monday.


Starman said...

I always take my laptop when I go to France. I don't go to get away from it all, I go to join it. Someone has misled you about the availability of wifi in the US. As in France, your best bet is McDonalds or a library

doomed to be fabulous said...

Strangely, I've never had problems finding WiFi in Paris. The City of Paris's free hotspots are everywhere and they're truly a godsend (not even in my hometown of Toronto is there free WiFi offered by the city), especially during the summer when you want to be outside. Last summer, I frequently brought my laptop to the Place des Vosges to get a tan and surf the Net. Other hotspots are similarly well-located. You can surf the web at the place de l'Hôtel de Ville, for example.

Margie Rynn said...

Agreed, it's very nice of the city to supply hotspots in parks, but how do you see the screen? I guess I need to be inside to work, otherwise I get distracted...