Sunday, October 26, 2008

French Hospitality from a Stranger

On one of my trips in France, I was walking through the 15e looking for an obscure junkyard based on a tip from a fellow dealer. I had left my pied-à-terre at 5am as this was said to be the witching hour to locate the best of the best at the treasure trove of a metal yard. About an hour into the walk I realized to my horror that the jet lag from the previous night's landing was more severe than I had originally thought: I had on two different pair of boots! Given that I had on a knee-length skirt, the mistake was glaring! Faux Pas enough in the States, but in Paris?! Quel Horror! I wanted to crawl away and hide, but was too invested in the thrill of the hunt.  To make matters worse I had dribbled coffee all over the front of me...ok, not so much dribbled,  as much as SPILLED.  A frumpy American stared back at me at every turn of each window shop's reflection.

Lost and confused on winding one-way streets unfamiliar to me, I focused on enjoying the opportunity to discover a part of Paris as if opening a vibrant, perfumey pomegranate. Layer by layer, each pod revealing a bit more of the bounty. Each seed offering a variety of color and shape.

An hour or so had passed and  I soon stumbled upon a wonderful petite stone house surrounded by several pockets of lavender bush. The faded grey stone had a magic patina to it and ironically seemed just perfect upon realizing this sweet home doubled as a hardware store. Gingerly walking in so as not to disturb or create glare over my garb, I approached the sweet silver-haired Madame and asked for assistance in my very best {broken} French.

To my disappointment: unknown dialect. The communication couldn't have been more missed.  I quickly pulled out a wrinkled napkin from my tote and drew out a makeshift map. After several minutes, the woman abruptly got up, rushed the only patron out the door, shouted something to her husband, and grabbed me by the hand. With three of us now walking towards the door, they turned the sign hanging to read FERMER (shut/closed) and proceeded to walk me towards my intended destination all the while clutching my hand....

Despite my obvious lack of understanding her million-miles-a-minute French, Madame jabbered on and on without pause. Monsieur interjected nods and "hmmms" when he felt it warranted. I smiled, laughed,  looked agreeable and frowned in solidarity when I felt it warranted.
"Ok, Kath, how much longer can you fake your way through this one-sided, intense conversation? Did I just laugh inappropriately? Oh good, she's smiling and nodding so timing was right.  Wait, WHAT was that word? Did this sweet little woman just say......Oh God she DID, didn't she?! Oh my, did she just use that word again? I just know I'm blushing. How juvenile of  me"
It was exhausting and funny and charming all at the same time! After many turns lefts and rights,  the chain link fence surrounding the infamous junk yard stood before me.
"Viola Mademoiselle!"...and a bunch of unrecognizable other stuff"

Warm hugs were exchanged, and this girl practically ran through the gate to see what metal objects could be unearthed. 

Tell me now. Really. Can you imagine any merchant in the States actually closing their doors in the middle of the day just to help in a similar situation?

75 vintage Champagne buckets and various pails later, I remember thinking:

French Rudeness?
Severely blown out of proportion.
French Hospitality?
Like No Other.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for tellig this story. I was born and lived in France until I was 13. The warmest and most giving people on hte planet. French people are just like NYers and tell it like it is, especially around stupidity :), but are some of the warmest you can ever meet. Merci.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I live in France parttime (ille de sur). People ask all the time how, as Americans, we are treated when in France. Some of my most fave people are French! Like many in the world, they just don't like the American president or wasteful, rude people which come from all countries around the world.

Anonymous said...

What a heartwarming story. I love the part about two diffrent boots and dribbled/spilled coffee down the front of you. I bet you really looked "tres chic". That cracked me up!!!


Anonymous said...

Great story, Kathy!
Loving the buckets shown to hold some Christmas Firs!

Anonymous said...

You told this beautifully.

Lisa & Alfie said...

A story to smash an unwarranted stereotype to smithereens. Heartwarming!
Lisa & Alfie

Anonymous said...

I so loved this story!! Warmed the heart!
Lisa Jay

Anonymous said...

Tout peut arriver, même en France !
Anything can happen, even in France.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful story
Sandra, living en France