Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Free wi-fi in Paris

I've been trying to invent a shortcut term for the expression "free wi-fi". The French pronounce "wi-fi" as wee-fee. So, the term free-fi is almost acceptable here, except that there's already a French ISP [Internet service provider] named Free, who's not involved in the Parisian project. Besides, free-fi doesn't sound too good in English. In any case, free wi-fi is about to become a reality in Paris, under the auspices of the left-wing mayor, Bertrand Delanoë [pronounced deu-lah-no-way], and the municipality. Starting in September, there will be 400 hotspots, located in public parks, municipal premises, libraries, museums and employment bureaux.

That's a nice promotional image of a fellow seated (I think) in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, using free-fi, but it doesn't look too realistic. Balancing a portable computer on your outstretched leg is not exactly an ideal ergonomic position. The user probably wouldn't be able to read much on his screen, because of the sunlight. And I don't see the carrying case in which he brought his computer to the park.

Talking of hotspots, I'll never forget my first visit to a McDonald's in Sydney, last year. They seemed to be employing a team of recently-trained school kids as staff. I ordered an apple pie and Coke from a young guy who had most likely just started his McDonald's career that very morning. Then, since it was the first time I had ever set out to use wi-fi in a McDonald's, I asked him: "If I understand correctly, there's a hotspot in this restaurant." He froze, speechless, as if I had just told him that there was a rat in my apple pie, or a snake in the toilets. Or maybe he thought I was using exotic language to request some kind of rare McDonald's dish that the employee-training program had neglected to mention. All he could do, still without saying a word, was to call over the adult female in charge of the restaurant, who confirmed immediately that all I had to do was to sit down, anywhere, and turn on my MacBook. It did, in fact, work perfectly.

So, you might say that using the Parisian free-fi system will be exactly like a McDonald's hotspot, but without the apple pie and Coke.

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