The most common question we’ve received since we returned from Paris was: “How were the people?”
Parisians seem to have a reputation among Americans for, if not rudeness, then maybe being a bit frosty. I listened to podcasts before we left to learn more about the local culture and heard many warnings to not expect the kind of friendliness Americans are accustomed to. So I went to Paris expecting to be charmed by city, but not the people.
But to my surprise, we only encountered one person during our time there with a bit of an attitude—and she was American!
When we first arrived at the Gare Du Nord train station, we waited in a rather long line to buy a metro pass. When I got to the window, I said to the harried looking woman the one phrase I knew in French: Parlez-vous anglais? Do you speak English? And she actually smiled kindly and said, “Yes, a little.” I figured it was a good sign when the public transit worker was pleasant.
A few minutes later we were transferring at a Metro stop and had no idea where we were going. We had stopped in a tunnel with our luggage and were agonizing over a map, looking like the picture of confused tourists, I’m sure. And that was when a nicely dressed man approached us. (Of course, nicely dressed describes most Parisians.) Paranoid of pick pockets, I clutched my purse—but it turned out he was just being helpful. Even though he spoke little English, he was able to point us in the direction of the right train platform.
And that first hour in Paris turned out to be a harbinger of nearly all the locals we met: courteous, patient and kind, in their own unique Parisian way. Maybe we were lucky. But it seemed that just being polite and respectful of the fact that we were visitors went a long way. Scott and I speak about 10 words of French combined, but we did make an effort to exchange pleasantries in French: bonjour or bonsoir and merci. Nearly everyone we met spoke at least some English and was willing to use it.
One afternoon we were in a chocolate shop picking out flavors. I would make an attempt at pronouncing each flavor I chose, and the woman behind the counter would repeat it the correct way. After butchering one flavor particularly badly, I said, “I wasn’t even close!” and Scott joked, “Par-don!” in his best French accent. She got a real laugh out of us poking a little fun at ourselves.
With the terrible news out of Paris yesterday, my thoughts are definitely with the Parisians and their beautiful city.