Paris Layovers

Back Story

To keep my skills sharp for my job, I consume a large amount of French media. When I lived in France in 2004-2005, I watched a great deal of TV. It was all part of the immersion experience! I would have loved to have attended the taping of a show. However, most (all?) shows in France are taped in and around Paris, and I lived far away in the Haute Loire countryside. My favourite program was Star Academy 4, a singing competition and reality show. I even went to the concert in June 2005 when the cast visited St. Etienne. That concert is one of my fondest memories of an extremely happy year.

Ever since that magical time in France, I’ve been following French media from a distance. I first stumbled across clips of Touche pas à mon poste (TPMP for short) while falling down the YouTube rabbit hole. At first, I was unimpressed. Here was yet another show on French TV with a host and people sitting around a table talking about stuff. Geez, hadn’t they beaten this format to death already? But then I found a clip of the cast playing a spontaneous game of hide and seek, and I changed my mind immediately. Grown-ups who don’t take themselves seriously and who are willing to do virtually anything to entertain us? These are exactly my kind of people, and this is my kind of show 🙂

I’ll provide some background on the show for everyone not from France. TPMP is a daily live talk show hosted by Cyril Hanouna and his team of chroniqueurs. (We don’t really have “chroniqueurs” on English TV. The word can be loosely translated as “commentator”, but it can also mean expert, specialist, columnist or journalist. I’m leaving the word in French on this blog because I simply can’t abide a bad translation!) The chroniqueurs discuss and evaluate other shows on French TV and anything related to media figures. They often play trivia games as well.

Cyril teases everyone—chroniqueurs, production team, fans—absolutely mercilessly. No one is spared. But he torments them with all the love in the world. In that way, he reminds me of my own darling brother! The chroniqueurs are constantly getting into heated arguments, but at the end of the day they all seem to have a genuine affection for each other. Their chemistry is a huge part of the show’s appeal.

Each member of Cyril’s team has a strong personality. Gilles Verdez always speaks with a tremendous amount of passion, whether he’s ranting about a documentary or the terrible casting choices for Koh Lanta, the French version of Survivor. Quick-witted Jean-Luc Lemoine can break tension in an instant with his one-liners. Sweet and lovable Isabelle Morini-Bosc regales everyone with her hopelessly long anecdotes, animal obsession and eccentric dance moves. Jean-Michel Maire is known for his love of women and partying and for his fabulously filthy sense of humour. Thierry Moreau has the ratings and numbers for every show on French TV on hand whenever Cyril asks for them. He also tells terrible jokes that often get him temporarily banished into the audience. (I happen to like his jokes, which frequently involve puns. Perhaps it’s because I feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction whenever I understand wordplay in my second language!)

Two chroniqueurs in particular stand out for me. Enora Malagré has strong opinions, and she is always willing to fight for them. Her fiery style is so different from my own modus operandi, which is to avoid confrontation at all costs. I admire her pluckiness so much, and I wish I had some of it. Plus, she’s a fantastic singer and dancer, and she bravely takes on any challenge Cyril lays out for her. Her accomplishments include shooting up like a rocket in a chair and walking on a tightrope across two buildings dressed as a meatball. (Personally, I would be thrilled to do either of those things!) But my all-time favourite chroniqueur is Valérie Benaïm. She has a constant smile that lights up the screen and an incredibly infectious laugh that functions as an instant mood-booster. Best laugh in the PAF, I’d say! Her comments and observations are always intelligent, and her criticisms are thoughtful and constructive. She sets a wonderful example for the viewers. She also has a nifty blog that’s definitely worth a visit.

Several other chroniqueurs occasionally appear on the show, and Cyril does a good job of picking interesting characters to complement his team. While the gang consists of completely different types of people, they all have three traits in common: kindness, generosity and a great sense of fun.

I liked what I saw of the show so much that I organized a layover in Paris on my way to Jordan. I wanted to attend a taping so that I could finally cross that item off my bucket list. It was very easy to sign up online and reserve (free) tickets at myclap.tv, and I was over the moon when the email confirmation arrived in my inbox.

Paris Take 1

I flew from Montreal to Paris and landed at Roissy at some ungodly hour, then took the train into the city. I arrived at the Gare du Nord at the height of rush hour, and struggled to get my bearings. Man there are a lot of people in Paris! I put to use all the “stealthy ninja backpacker” skills I’ve acquired over the years and avoided clobbering anyone with my bags in the crowded metro.

I had booked a bed in a hostel dorm in the 15th arrondissement because I’m a glutton for punishment it was reasonably cheap and only a few metro stops from the TV studio. On the up side, this particular hostel had friendly owners and a delicious breakfast included in the price of the room. I also managed to snag a bottom bunk, which is always a major coup. On the down side, I had a golden opportunity to add to my constantly growing list of “Things I Have Seen in Youth Hostels That Can Never, Ever Be Unseen.” (This particular incident is really too gross for this blog. Ask me about it in person at your own risk!)

I spent the better part of my first day in Paris hanging out with my friend in the 10th arrondissement. He let me crash at his place for a few hours, then we chilled out alongside the Canal Saint-Martin and ate macarons, my French culinary obsession. My friend is always calling me “caribou”, as in “Viens ici le caribou” or “On fait quoi alors, le caribou?” He also tells me “Arrête de parler en caribou!” whenever I pull out a Québecois expression. I find this stereotype amusing and slightly perplexing. Whenever I helpfully point out to him that I, along with the vast majority of my compatriots, have never been far enough north in Canada to actually see a caribou in the wild, I receive a resounding “Bof!” in response.

After leaving my friend’s place, I headed across the city Boulogne-Billancourt, the suburb of Paris where TPMP is taped. I joined the line-up of people waiting outside the studio and did my best to look like I knew what I was doing. They gave everyone in the line-up a release form to sign, so at least I knew that I’d come to the right place. In these situations, I always have a desperate desire to blend in as much as possible. I concentrate with all my might when people are talking so that I don’t miss any instructions, and I try to say only “oui” and “merci” and “okay” so that my accent doesn’t make me stand out. (If medals were given out for worrying about nothing and overthinking everything, I would consistently win gold!)

We handed in our release forms at the door, and I left my precious passport with the lady who was taking IDs. We checked in our bags and electronics, then went through a metal detector into a holding pen. It was very destabilizing to not have my purse with me. I kept reaching for my invisible cellphone to check the time! We waited what seemed like forever in that pen, which eventually became quite crowded. Since we weren’t all glued to various devices, we started reverting to the ancient practice of…talking to each other. I came out of my shell and ended up having great conversations with really kind people during that endless wait. The show attracts awesome fans 🙂

My legs had started turning to jelly from standing for so long, so I was grateful when they finally let us on set. The people in charge of the audience seated me in a prime spot. I was in the third row of the stands, to Cyril’s right. I had a terrific view of everything, but I was still far enough away not to be seen on TV as one of the floating heads behind the chroniqueurs. That suited me perfectly! They gave us cushions, which I thought was a nice touch.

About a quarter of the audience was seated in another area for Il en pense quoi Camille, or IEPQC, a new show hosted by Camille Combal that airs right before TPMP. I couldn’t see that part of the set very well, so I watched it on the big screen. IEPQC is also a media review show, but with fewer chroniqueurs. Camille is a fabulous host, and I found the show thoroughly enjoyable, even from my awkward vantage point.

Cyril and the rest of the chroniqueurs took their spots just as Camille’s show was ending, and the ambiance turned absolutely electric. Cyril has a never-ending supply of positive energy that radiates throughout the set. People go bananas when he makes an entrance, and they don’t need any prompting!

It occurred to me that being in the TPMP studio audience is not a bad gig when you’re severely jetlagged and your brain isn’t exactly running full throttle. All you have to do is follow the instructions of Éric, the affable crowd warmer. Stand. Clap. Cheer. Ooh and aah. Yell “Poste” on cue. Sit quietly. Easy peasy!

These days, I’m far more accustomed to Quebec French than to European French, but I’ve been trying to keep up to speed. When I watch French media online, I hit pause whenever someone says a word or expression I don’t understand to look up the definition on my good friend wordreference.com. The drawback of going to a live taping was that I didn’t have that option. It’s not like I could put everyone on a Zach-Morris-from-Saved-by-the-Bell-style timeout to search for a word! Nevertheless, I think I understood about 90% of what was going on. Not bad, eh?

The guests on the show that night were Pierre Palmade and Michèle Larocque, two famous French actors, and Nabilla, a reality television star and former TPMP chroniqueur. I had only a vague idea of who they all were. I was the most familiar with Pierre Palmade, because he seems to pop up in virtually every talk show clip from France I watch on YouTube. And I now know all about Michèle Larocque, because she was featured in one of the excellent free monthly newsletters Valérie Benaïm sends out to her blog subscribers.

Being in the TPMP audience is really a game of chance. For Cyril’s birthday last year, the entire audience joined him at Disneyland Paris after the show. This year, everyone flew down to a night club in Spain with him. Sometimes, the audience will receive theme park tickets or other freebies. The night I went, the big treat was we all got to smell surströmming, fermented Baltic Sea herring. My timing is truly exquisite 😛

Lately, videos of people opening cans of the fish and reacting to them have become viral hits. This evidently inspired Guillaume Pley, one of the chroniqueurs, to recreate the folly on the TPMP set. The chroniqueurs played a trivia game to determine who would be the lucky people to open the tins. Jean-Michel Maire and Thierry Moreau ended up being the chosen ones. I was secretly relieved that they happened to be on the opposite side of the set from me, but my relief was short-lived. There would be no escaping the horror!

Cyril did a wicked job of ratcheting up the tension before the big event. He went on and on about how it was one of the worst smells in the world. He told the audience that we could leave, which I thought was sweet of him. Benjamin Castaldi, another chroniqueur, turned around and reassured us beautifully by saying “You’re going to die!” I felt a mixture of curiosity and dread, but my curiosity won over so I stayed put.

All the chroniqueurs except Thierry and Jean-Michel came to my side of the set, and we braced ourselves for the grand opening. Those lovely cushions now served to protect us from the incoming assault on our innocent noses. The opening was accompanied by a cacophony of shrieks as the smell permeated throughout the room.

If you pause the video below at 1:35, you can see a decent shot of yours truly (in the royal blue t-shirt) when Guillaume Pley runs into the stands with the tin. That was when the odour really hit me. It was pretty awful!

The smell remained as we waited to be cleared outside back into the holding pen. I could still catch whiffs of it while I stood in line to pick up my bag from coat check. The stench even followed us out the door. It was actually quite impressive!

Luckily, the smell didn’t manage to kill my appetite. After leaving the studio, I found a random terrace near my hostel and asked the waitress whether they were still serving food (it was almost 11:00 p.m.) She seemed almost surprised at the question. In Ottawa, if I want a meal at that hour that isn’t shwarma or poutine, I’m SOL! In Paris, I could easily order a delightful plate of steak, potatoes and salad. That’s one of the many reasons why I adore this city.

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View from near my hostel

The next morning dawned beautifully sunny, so I went on a walk to have a closer look at some notable local architecture.

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Imposing metal structure in the centre of Paris

I hung out all afternoon with my friend in the 10th, then made my way back to Boulogne-Billancourt for TPMP round two. This time, I was again seated third row back, but to Cyril’s left. I was delighted to see Cyril and all the chroniqueurs again, and I was especially pleased that Enora Malagré was there that night. She seems to be one of cast members who interacts the most with the studio audience during the commercial breaks. She even joined Cyril in the impromptu conga line he created by pulling up people from the front rows of the stands. It was funny watching her scramble back to her spot just before the show went live again.

Guillaume Pley returned and gave a debriefing of the surströmming event from the night before. He showed some clips of the audience, and I could see myself in giant form on the big screen. That was pretty trippy! Guillaume also brought back one tin of the fish for Thierry Moreau to eat, and Thierry bravely took a bite. Apparently, it tastes like normal fish. I’d be totally willing to try it as well, if I every get the opportunity. I just wish I didn’t need to smell it first!

I loved watching the chroniqueurs interact with each other. Even though they talked about shows I will probably never watch, I found their discussions riveting. No matter the topic, the dialogue always goes down about the same way. Gilles Verdez rants, then Enora Malagré gives her opinion. Jean-Luc Lemoine says something witty to lighten the mood and bring things into perspective. Isabelle Morini-Bosc chimes in with a completely irrelevant story, and Cyril teases her. Jean-Michel Maire makes a hilarious comment, and Valérie Benaïm gets the giggles, which is always magic. Thierry Moreau throws in a dad joke, then retreats into the audience after cries of “Tu sors!” initiated by Éric, the crowd warmer. It all makes good telly!

The guest that evening was Thierry Ardisson, a talk show host whose career spans several decades. I’d seen some of his work over the years, but he doesn’t hold the same legend status for me as he would for someone from France. The friendly girl sitting next to me in the audience was super excited that he was the guest, so I was happy for her.

The big event of the night was a debate featuring chroniqueur Matthieu Delormeau and a nudist. In a previous show, Matthieu had argued that nudists are usually unattractive and that they get naked only to draw attention to themselves. Naturally (teehee), this didn’t sit well with the Fédération française de naturisme, and the organization sent a spokesperson to the show to provide another perspective. The chroniqueurs had to judge the winner of the debate, and to no one’s surprise, they picked the nudist. As a consequence, Matthieu had to walk naked on set, accompanied by the nudist. I found the whole thing incredibly entertaining, and Matthieu’s utterly indignant expression made me laugh a lot.

I left the studio completely satisfied with my decision to devote almost my entire layover to attending the tapings. Even now, I get all smiley when I think about my TPMP experience, so I think I can file the whole thing under “Excellent Travel Memory.”

Later that night, I took the metro back to the 10th, and my friend and I searched for a place for me to eat another ridiculously late dinner. We found a reasonable-looking bar that also served food. I ordered chicken and rice, and the waiter brought me enough meat to feed an entire family. What service! I managed to almost make it back to my hostel in the 15th before the metro closed. By that I mean I watched my last connecting train gracefully chug away from the station just as I arrived on the platform. D’oh! I had to walk for another half-hour through the empty streets of Paris in the middle of the night, accompanied only by my magnificent homing device (the GPS on my phone). It was all very romantic. Except when it started raining. Okay, even that was romantic 🙂

The following morning, I took the train back to Roissy and hopped on a plane to Jordan for some fun in the desert sun!

Paris Take 2

On my way home from Jordan, I stopped over in Paris for one final night before heading home to Ottawa. When I landed at Roissy and opened my phone, I discovered a flood of messages from my mother. My sister-in-law in British Columbia had gone into labour! I squealed a bit and did a happy dance as I waited to pick up my luggage.

I took the train into the city and dropped my backpack off at the Gare du Nord, so that I didn’t have to lug it around town. Finding the luggage room was a bit of an ordeal. Let’s face it: the Gare du Nord is a complete mess. Signs are plastered on every surface and they only make things more confusing for silly tourists like me. I wandered around like a hamster in a maze, then got fed up and went to the info booth. I asked the nice gentleman at the booth in perfectly good French where I could leave my bag. He gave me an exasperated look, then provided directions in perfectly terrible English. Sheesh, what an ego buster. I didn’t think my accent was that bad! Not bad enough to deserve the old switcheroo, in any case. I realized he was just trying to be helpful, but I was still miffed. I went all passive-aggressive Canadian on him (i.e. I said thank you, but didn’t use my friendliest voice!)

I spent a lovely afternoon with my friend in the 10th. We sat by the Canal Saint-Martin again, and I happily fed my macaron addiction. That evening, I picked up my backpack and met up with my good friend Virginie, whom I hadn’t seen since my last visit to Paris three years ago.

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Back in Paris! Yes, I know my pack makes me look like a giant turtle. No, I don’t care.

We were joined by our other friend, Solen, and we ended up at a pizza place. The updates from my mother kept coming in, and eventually we got the joyous news that my niece was born and that everyone was doing fine. I was beyond ecstatic!

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Virginie snapped this photo of me when I learned the baby was a girl (my brother and sister-in-law had chosen to wait until the baby was born to find out the gender)

After supper, Virignie’s sister Hélène and her friend showed up, and we found a terrace. I had also spent time with Hélène during my visit in 2013, and it was wonderful to see her again.

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Drinks and gabfest on a terrace

Virignie kindly let me stay with her at her apartment near Montmartre. The next morning, the last day of my trip, I hiked over to Sacré-Coeur.

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Sacré-Coeur on a beautiful September day

I was on a mission to buy the kitschiest possible souvenir onesie for my new niece. Of course, Montmartre delivered 😛

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Hannah Marie Zemanek, who arrived on September 23, 2016. Je t’aime fort little nugget ❤

I took the metro over to the Tour Montparnasse area and met my friend Mikaël for lunch. We had met in Southeast Asia in 2013, then saw each other later that year in Paris.

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It occurred to me that we should take a picture to commemorate our reunion, like normal people do in 2016. We tried to find an interesting background, but that particular street corner in Paris was fairly uninspiring. Anyway, Mikaël looks great. I, on the other hand, look like I always do when I’m travelling: disheveled and giddy!

We wandered together down Rue de Sèvres, and I stopped every once in a while to stare longingly at the pretty dresses in the fancy shops. I followed my friend Katrina’s example and visited La Grande Épicerie de Paris. I indulged in one final macaron and in a raspberry tart thingy before taking the train back to the airport and flying home to the Great White North.

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Quel voyage magnifique!

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