Friends from France

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Labor Day has come and gone. The kids are back in school, or getting ready.

Pretty soon, the foreign visitors will fade from Hollywood Boulevard and the 3rd Street Promenade, returning the city to its year-round owners.

I've talked before about how I enjoy the summer tourist invasion. It's fun and sometimes a little enlightening to see what they choose to do in L.A.

This summer, I was able to conduct my own personal focus group. Friends of friends showed up from Paris. We set out to show them a good time, and to pick up on how they saw L.A.

This was no typical French family. Two teenaged sons were born in New York, carry U.S. passports and have familiarity with more languages than are offered in most local high schools.

The oldest one, asked which language he enjoys reading in, answered that he always prefers the native tongue of the author. But of course.

He worked part of the summer on the beach in St. Tropez. The other boy spent a month in the French countryside before his trip to America.

Their father is British, a banker who does considerable business in the Arab world. Their mother is French and has worked at magazines in Paris.

Given everything, I wouldn't have been surprised if they had arrived in LA a bit … jaded.

They had already been to Yosemite and were suitably awed by the granite cliffs and the giant sequoias. They had ridden cable cars in San Francisco and ogled the sea life at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Down highway one they took in Big Sur. In Santa Barbara they went sailing on the channel.

In a week they had appreciated more of California than some people who have lived here for decades. And they were thrilled by Los Angeles.

By staying on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, they got a quick lesson in L.A. architecture and city planning – looking down on the back yards of houses right up against the tall towers on Wilshire.

Some kind of Hollywood experience was mandatory for the boys. So they began at Universal Studios. Not as authentic as the less touristy studio tours, perhaps, but they got to walk on Wisteria Lane – a fun little bonus for kids who watch Desperate Housewives back home.

After Universal, they stayed on theme by hitting the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese and wandering through the Hollywood Roosevelt, soaking up the movie lore.

They only had two full days here, so the evening we met for dinner on the beach in Santa Monica they had already been to the Venice boardwalk. And loved it.

Same for Muscle Beach.

At the Getty, they were simply blown away. Before visiting, they had no idea L.A. had a museum of such importance.

I asked if they were bothered by its locale, up and away from the city. They would have none of that.

They caught a day when the air sparkled and adored the vantage point over the city from every window and terrace.

I was relieved that the Getty provided a more delicious pleasure than Hollywood, at least for the adults.

At dinner they wanted to talk about Barack Obama and Antonio Villaraigosa.

L.A. was clearly a place that loomed large in their imaginations. They knew enough to realize that their view was limited, and it sounded as if they they hoped to make it back for the whole package someday soon.

Our new friends missed last week's big fires by a day. I found myself wondering what they would have thought of the pyrocumulus smoke clouds soaring over the city.

I think they would have been suitably impressed.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.