Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Fellow Travelers

I have so many stories about meeting wonderfully nice and helpful people in my travels.

One of my favorite stories is from a trip I took recently with my mother to Paris. Despite all the jokes about how rude the French are to tourists, we encountered nothing by smiles and helpfulness.

When we first got there, we took the Metro from the airport to our hotel with no problems. So on our way back to the airport at the end of the trip, we decided to take it again, instead of a cab.

But this time, the trip was not so smooth. First of all, the escalator was broken at the metro station near our hotel. My mom is a small woman who travels with a large suitcase, and there was no way she could carry it down the stairs. So I told her to wait up top with her bag, and I would carry mine down and then come back for hers. By the time I got half way back up the stairs, two young men had taken her bag and were carrying down the stairs. (I'm surprised my mother didn't freak out and think they were stealing it, since she doesn't speak much French...)

We switched trains and unfortunately got on the wrong one (the first time this happened, throughout the many times we took the Metro!). Once I realized we were headed the wrong way, we got off, as did a young man who overheard us and realized that he, too, was on the wrong train.

When we got off, I asked this Amazon of a woman where we could go to get the right train. Not only did she tell us where to go, but she hoisted my mom's suitcase, balanced it on her head, and told us to follow her. She carried the bag up one flight of stairs and down another to the correct track--only to turn around and go back up and down the stairs to go back to the track she needed to be on.

By this time, my mom was close to tears. She hated feeling so helpless, and was cursing our decision not to take a damn cab. The man who got off the train with us came to the rescue, chatting with us about how he used to live in Paris, and now lives in Greece with his wife and kids, but returns for business sometimes. When our train got there, he helped me lug our luggage onto it (there's an awfully steep step onto some trains in Paris).

Then, when we got to the airport, he stayed with us until we found our terminal (which sounds easier than it is), using his flawless French to ask questions and get answers in a fraction of the time it would've taken me to struggle through the conversation with my limited French.

When he left us, we all hugged goodbye, and my mom kept calling him an angel.

When we got home, we told this story to my family. My brother asked, "Are you sure you were in Paris? You didn't get lost and go to Ohio or some other super friendly place by mistake?"

I love bashing cultural stereotypes, and only hope we helped bash that of the Ugly American when we were in Paris, trying very hard to speak French and honor their customs.

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keith hillman said...

When ever I tell people that I once lived in France. I always get asked about how I got on with the natives. I can honestly say that the locals in my village were some of the most welcoming and friendly people I've ever met in my life. I still keep in touch today - 12 years later.I intend moving back in the next couple of years and I can't wait!

TI said...

What a great story. I also found people in Paris to be more helpful than they were rumoured to be, but no one carried my luggage for me! You and your mom really struck gold that day.

gautami tripathy said...

you met a great soul!


Shari said...

It seems like those kind of people show up at just the right time to help.

Laini Taylor said...

I have had the same experience in Paris and other parts of France! Why this American animosity toward the French? Great story!

Redness said...

Ohhhhh you make me want to travle there even more! Lovely post, Thank YOU!

Tammy said...

I had to chuckle at the visuals you gave us. Well done!

January said...

I can't believe that woman carried the suitcase on her head.

Oh, and great post.

susan said...

I'm one of those bleeding-heart liberals always preaching diversity and multiculturalism, so I was very happy to read how you believe in breaking down ugly stereotypes and openly celebrated the goodness of people everywhere.

And you write well.

Frances said...

You're mother was right he was an angel - a guardian angel.
It doesn't take much to make a memory that lasts a lifetime does it?
Thanks for sharing such an uplifting story.
Frances who is freezing here in New York