Stereotypes

The oldest house in Paris, next to the Jardin de l’hôtel de Sens

Which makes the house, duh, l’hôtel de Sens. Since you’re curious, here’s a bit of the garden.

The garden and hôtel pictured are in the area of Paris known as Saint-Paul. You can call up a walking tour of the quarter on your phone and follow it around, which is what we were doing when we visited this garden, which is in fact a lovely park in a quiet neighborhood. The building is medieval, as you can see. Most of Paris was razed and redone during the 19th century at the behest of Napoleon III, but a few things, like this and Notre Dame, were spared. So it’s worth looking for.

While we were looking for it, and other parts of the quarter, we walked looking at our phones. Time after time a Parisian native would stop us and ask us if we needed help finding something. Of course, we didn’t, but this behavior was from people popularly thought of as snooty and unhelpful, on the good side. I’m here to tell you that such is not at all the case. Indulge me in another story if you will, this time involving motor fuel and cash.

Tami and I carry the same credit card, so when one of ours (nevermind) was lost on the bus from the airport to the Gare Montparnasse, we had to cancel it. This meant that we had no credit card with which to buy gasoline for our rental car. (We did set it up so that the card was valid for the rental car company, and nobody else, until the end of our rental period.) (Europecar. I recommend them.) We took a train to Angoulême, where we stayed for five days. Charente is a beautiful area (formerly a province, but long story,) and here’s the view out of our bedroom window to prove it.

A view to the East from Angoulême near the center of town.

From Angoulême we drove to Bordeaux, Saint Émilion, Cognac, Royan, and Chabonais over the course of several days. By that time we were low on gas. The station we found (there aren’t as many as we have here) was credit cards only at the pump. The kiosk where one can convert cash to a ticket with which to buy fuel was broken. Thing is, I had never really spoken French before, but when we decided to ask someone to use their card and I’d give them cash (our debit card still worked at least, but not on gas pumps) I looked around and saw only French people. It was raining hard, too. I asked the man at the next pump, “comprendez-vous Ainglais?” and got a “non.” Digging deep, deep into what I’ve learned from various sources (Duolingo is a great place to start) I then used my no doubt horrible French to ask him the favor. He was eager to help the poor American, and I gave him fifty Euros, after which he pumped fifty Euros and one cent worth of gas into our car. (Amazingly, that exactly filled the tank.) I gave him every compliment in French I could think of, and he smilingly said goodbye.

I ask you, is that rude and unhelpful? (Spoiler alert — no, it is exactly the opposite of rude and unhelpful.)

I’ve posted about this before, but whatever you do to other people is reflected back on to you. In France, we take pains to be polite. French polite. That means always say hello, please, thank you, and goodbye. To everybody. Sounds silly, right?

Not to the fine, friendly, helpful people of France it doesn’t. Votre santé, France!

 

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