Before my first trip out of the States in 1987, I was warned that the Parisians would be rude. I heard things like “Once you get out of Paris, the French are friendly.” And my first glimpses of the city made me think, “Oh, this is like New York, but they speak French.” For a Jersey girl, that’s no big whoop.
My arrival into France was less than ideal. The airline had lost my luggage and my ears felt like they were stuffed with cotton. On top of that, I had jet lag. Then I noticed a tear in my skirt.
So I must have been a pathetic sight in that little store where I was looking for needle and thread.
I found what I needed, approached the woman at the counter, and said in French what I thought was “I would like to buy these.” The shopkeeper, old enough to be my mother, gave me a puzzled look. I repeated it.
After a moment, a look of understanding dawned on her, and she said the word I had meant to say. At that moment, this teenage American realized that I had said I wanted to sell her something already in her shop.
I felt like an idiot, but this Parisian was very kind. When I removed the wad of money from my pouchette, she maternally explained francs, and that this purchase would cost only a few of them.
This was not at all the rudeness I was expecting. Perhaps, it was that I was 19, female, and harmless looking. Perhaps, it was at least an attempt – clumsy but sincere – to speak the language. Or perhaps it is that there are kind people everywhere.
So as I hear the news from Paris, my heart breaks for this magnificent city and the people who live in it.