Travelers headed to a destination where they don’t know the language can often have a hard time feeling plugged into the local scene. Communicating with locals can be a challenge, and so can finding insider information like thatoff-the-beaten restaurant that serves the tastiest food in town.
In Paris, at least, three new services are trying to break the language barrier sonon-French speaking tourists can get the most out of their trip. Two act as concierges while a third offers theater translation.
Insidr is a 4G smartphone and 24-hour concierge plus travel guide in one. You can rent one by the day, and it and works all over Europe. Unlimited calling and texting within France and to other countries in Europe is included in the rental cost while texting and calling to the United States and Canada is an additional three euros (about $3.70) a day. The phone is also equipped with Wi-Fi and works as a mobile hot spot to connect your other devices to the internet.
But Insidr’s most appealing feature is the on-hand team of employees ready to help with restaurant and hotel reservations, on the spot translation, airport transfers and more, all accessible on the Insidr phone. Another draw is the included app, packed with guided walks around town, and the live messaging app that connects users with locals ready to share a list of their favoritespots in Paris.
Travelers can reserve an Insidr phone online and pick it upat Paris Orly Airport or Charles de Gaulle Airport, or have it mailed to them anywhere in the city. The company was founded by Ben and Nina Forlani, a brother and sister team and Parisian natives. “We didn’t want tourists to Paris to feel like they weren’t getting an authentic perspective of the city because they didn’t know French,” Mr. Forlani said. Rental prices start at five euros a day, and Insidr concierges speak English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Spanish, Russian and Portuguese.
The City Helpline, a mobile app for Apple iPhones and devices running Google’s Android operating system,gives travelers access to a concierge, either via live messaging or by phone, who can help them with a variety of requests. The concierge, for example, can help them find the right bus and bus stop that will take them to the Louvre, recommend a guide who can give them a street art tour, connect them with a an English speaking babysitter and even share a list of restaurants that serve dishes suited to their gluten-free diet. Plus, they can also assist in emergencies such as if a traveler gets sick and needs to see a doctor.
Right now, the concierge service is available Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time, but the company has plans to have 24-hour service before the end of the year. A subscription to use the app costs five euros a day. Concierges speak English, Mandarin, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.
Theatre in Paris translates French theater performances into English in 10 playhouses in Paris, including Theatre Mogador, currently showing French productions of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and the musical “Grease,” and Theatre de Ranelagh, currently showing the play “Ruy Blas” by Victor Hugo, “Cyrano de Bergerac” and more. The company placed a projection screen above the stages in these theaters that displays an English translation of the words being spoken on the stage.
Those who buy a ticket through Theatre in Paris are assigned seats that will give them the best vantage point of both the stage and the screen; they’re also met at the theater by a company employee who gives them a program in English. Tickets start at about 25 euros. Carl de Poncins, the app’s founder, said that he came up with the idea for the projection screens because he had an Australian roommate who loved theater but knew little French. “He never used to go to performances because he couldn’t understand what was going on,” he said. “Why should language get in the way of seeing the incredible theater Paris has?”
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