Do You Like the French?

OK, OK, I just can’t take it anymore.  Every time I am preparing to go to France, at least one of my friends or relatives pipes up with something along the lines of “Why are you going to France? They are so rude.  And anyway, they don’t like Americans.”  I have smiled gamely and dismissed such remarks for several years now, but lately I have observed that the disease is spreading.  Now, whenever I go to Italy, I get “Why are you going over there?  Everyone knows they don’t like Americans.”  And a little while ago, when I indicated that I was taking the Chunnel for a quick trip to London, I got “Do you really want to do that?  The British are really mad at us right now.”  Gee, I thought the British were on OUR side!  What’s next, negative comments about Antarctica? I have a very Republican (adult) son who cannot understand why his equally Republican mother wants to visit “them.”  He was not so uncomfortable with London, having been there himself and thus able to reassure himself that, after all, they were on the “correct” side, at least as far as things military were concerned.  However, the rest of Europe was fraught with danger (hmmmm, ever walked the streets of New Orleans?), full of terrorists (let’s see now, that Nine Eleven thing DID happen in the USA right?), and just plain loaded with all sorts of people who would like to “do in” Americans one way or another.  Oh yes, and besides all that, they are rude, at least to Americans. Believe me, I am not picking on my son—many friends and very many acquaintances and not a few perfect strangers listening in on conversations about traveling to Europe evidently feel the same way.  Karen Fawcett has tried her best to dispel this negative notion in several articles for BP. Since, unlike Karen, I do not live in France, I can offer only what would be called “anecdotal evidence” to counteract the spread of this disease, and I certainly cannot speak for every American visiting abroad.  But maybe, if you are on the fence about venturing into the “wilds” of France, some of my anecdotes will encourage you to jump down off that fence and take a chance.  So here goes. On one of our trips to Paris, my husband and I had managed to rent a small apartment near the Eiffel Tower. Of course we were very tired when we arrived at the doorstep, having endured a nine hour trans-Atlantic crossing, plus a five hour wait in the airport to board that plane after our connecting flight arrived in Atlanta.  We knocked on the door.  No response.  We checked the address.  We knocked again.  No response. Since the establishment appeared to be a sort of complex, I then went in search of whoever was in charge.  To do this, I just knocked on a bunch of doors, thereby disturbing people who were simply inside their own apartment minding their own business.  At no door was I greeted rudely.  One elderly gentleman took me in hand and pointed out another door I should try. The person in charge was not there.  At this point a mother with two young children in tow appeared in the courtyard.  Even though she was carrying groceries which she must have needed to put away, she asked what the problem was, then put her bags down, told her girls to sit on the steps, whipped out her cell phone and proceeded to begin calling to find some help. Meanwhile, the elderly gentleman, concerned for my husband, had come out into the courtyard to keep him company. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him chattering away with my husband.  Amazed, I saw my husband nodding and agreeing with him.  I was amazed because the gentleman was, of course, carrying on the conversation in French, and my husband does not speak a single word of French (not even bonjour). Nonetheless, they seemed to be doing well so I turned back to the mother who had the phone. She tried several numbers to no avail and then asked if we would like to come inside to wait.  At that point the concierge showed up, full of apologies, and said she had misunderstood the time our flight was arriving.  The mother with the phone smiled at me and gathered up her groceries and her children, and the elderly gentleman proceeded to tell my husband that now everything would be fine.  My husband just nodded and grinned as if he understood every word.  We thanked everyone and went inside, and that was the start of a wonderful trip. Then there was the time I couldn’t find the post office.  We were renting a very tiny apartment in the Marais.   I am so “directionally challenged” that my husband requires me to carry a compass at all times, but I had walked out and about in the area enough so that I thought I knew at least the general direction to go.  Carrying a bunch of letters and postcards in my hand, I started off.  I made it to the general vicinity, but nowhere could I find (a) an entrance door or (b) a mail slot.  I circled around several times, evidently looking frustrated.  Finally an elderly woman, seeing the mail in my hand, asked if I needed to mail some letters.  I nodded. She took my arm and walked with me around the corner to a spot she pointed out.  Sure enough, there was a rather well-hidden slot for my letters.  She then pointed out the entrance door, which was recessed and out of view.  Then she smiled as she said, “We think they…
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