Website Aims to Make Paris More Accessible

A cure for Parisians' brusque, haughty reputation may be at hand. Take a Web site, add a hint of anise-based pastis liqueur, a game of petanque and international travelers ready to mingle.

Two young entrepreneurs are introducing visitors to Paris life a la francaise.

On a recent evening, they brought out the pastis, some water to mix it with, fruit juice and Coca-Cola for an international happy hour al fresco. With the Eiffel Tower in the background, people opened snacks and bottles and started chatting.

Remi Brichant, 25, and Guillaume Giler, 24, launched a Web site in May that organizes social events, The idea came from a personal travel experience. When Giler studied abroad in Australia a few years ago, he was put in touch with a local student who showed him around his new campus and introduced him to people.

Brichant and Giler thought Paris should have a similar service and decided to take the concept further by creating special events where international visitors could meet Parisians to talk, share and just have fun. In a few months, some 600 members signed up.

"In Paris, there are so many foreigners, and Parisians are known to be difficult to meet," Giler said.

As the sun set and the evening light grew pink, a group of approximately 20 people formed around the table, introducing themselves to one another, mostly in English or French. Aurelie Bernos, 25, poured drinks. She grew up in Paris and lived in Australia for a year while in school.

"It's fun, there are always new people," she said.

She brought along a work colleague, Fabien Huett, 28, from southern France, who lived in Paris for eight years. Like the participants from faraway lands, he says it has been difficult for him to meet Parisians.

Marcus Grambau, 24, was on a two-month visit in Paris from Melbourne. "I didn't want to spend two months here alone," he said. The first event Grambau attended was on Bastille Day.

For the national holiday, Brichant hosted a party at his parents' apartment, which has a view of the Eiffel Tower. When the fireworks set off from the Parisian landmark, the international group had one of the best seats in the city to watch the show.

"If I hadn't joined the group, I would have been standing in the crowd like everyone else," Grambau said.

Since meeting up with the crowd, he's made friends with three French people and regularly meets them for drinks and dinner.

On the pastis evening, Grambau and the rest of the group played petanque, France's version of bocce ball. Brichant and Giler randomly drew names to decide what the teams would be.

"We try to put them with people they don't know," Brichant explained.

On one side of the field, Perrine Le Guern, a 24-year old pastry cook from the northwestern city of Rennes, teamed up with Milli Bruck, 26, who was visiting from Germany. Bernos teamed with Harry Krakhofer, 23, visiting from Austria.

With the help of Le Guern, who translated into English, Parisian Augustin Fabre explained the rules. Brichant and Giler kept track of scores, but the focus was clearly not on who won.

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