French Friendliness

25 Jun

First of all, I want to say that I am very proud of myself that I made it to where I’m supposed to be today. Even back home, whenever I go someplace new, I tend to mess up at least one thing. Though, in those situations, I suppose it’s because I want to figure out everything myself. I got over that train of thought VERY quickly in France, because this is not someplace where I want to be lost. And I remembered one of the culture lessons from my French class that said people always ask for help in France, and you betcha I did that. Once I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, I expected to have a nice, relaxing ride on the train to Lyon (where I’m spending the night before going to Arles). I got to the station and learned there’s a strike. Because of this, I had to hustle from train to train in a totally unfamiliar city. No idea where I was going. And that is why I needed so much help today.

There’s a stereotype I’m sure everyone is aware of. Everyone always says that the French are snobbish, the French hate Americans. I never believed that. I knew a good handful of people who have been to France before, and they told me this wasn’t true at all. Now, here I am, and already on my first day, I am really impressed with how friendly people are in France. I know I really stand out as a tourist right now. On occasion, I maybe detected a vibe that the French were wary of giving aid to an American tourist, and would proceed to help other people before they got to me, even if I had been there longer. Or maybe I just need to be more assertive to speak up before others do. Either way, once I spoke French to them, they seemed happy and a bit surprised that I am able to speak the language, at least decently enough to make myself understood. Most people picked up that I’m American and even started speaking English to me without me even having to ask.

Aside from simple asking for directions, there were a couple outstanding moments I wanted to point out… So, I have this mammoth suitcase. I know everyone said people regret that they packed too much rather than too little, and I really, really tried not to do that, but somehow, everything ended up getting packed into this gigantic suitcase that’s half my size. I was trying to lug it up the stairs in one of the train stations, and this guy just picked up the other end and helped me carry it!

Next, was when I was trying to get through one of the train station gates. Up until that point, they had all been open, but this one was shut. People had little cards they scanned to get through, and I had this big ol’ paper train ticket. No idea what to do. One guy came along and noticed I looked confused, so he asked if I needed help, and I told him what the problem was, and he just scanned his card for me and let me through. How nice!

The third moment I want to mention is when I finally got to the train, and I was trying to figure out where I was supposed to go. It was a long train, and my ticket gave a class number and a coach number. One person said go one way, another person said go another way… But then one man said, “Oh, that’s a far way down. Just come sit in this car.” …Really? I was so scared that I was going to steal someone’s seat, or a conductor would come and see that wasn’t where I was supposed to be, but everything was fine!

I just can’t really imagine people helping each other like that in Chicago. Sure, I’ve given help to people who have asked me, but in the United States, I rarely ever see someone lend a hand to a stranger just out of nowhere like that. I don’t mean to say it’s entirely unheard of. Just that this is something I’ve never had happen to me until today. It really helped me out on what was otherwise a fairly stressful day.


One Response to “French Friendliness”

  1. Kai June 28, 2010 at 4:34 am #

    Oh, wow. I shouldn’t say I’m surprised that you got so much help, but really, that’s awesome! I’m so glad that everything worked out for you, and I hope that you get to your French family alright, and that you above all, have a fantastic time in France!

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