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Strangers helped me in France

Dear Savvy Traveler:

I was in France for about 7 weeks last summer. I had heard stories that the French & especially Parisians hate Americans & generally are rude to tourists. Trying to find my way from the airport to RER & then to the Metro was scary. I had survival French & good pronunciation which worked in my favor. I asked a man on the shuttle bus if this was the bus to the RER & he was an Englishman living in Paris. He walked me through the process, showing me how the ticket machine worked & staying with me till I got off to switch to the Metro. He also gave me a few metro tickets in case I hadn't bought the right ticket & gave me his business card so I could call if I needed any other help. When I got off the RER luggage laden, I asked a woman in the Metro if I was going the right way. She picked up one of my bags for me, carried it to the top of a long staircase & patiently explained to me a few times where I needed to go & what to look for. Then another man helped me carry one of my suitcases within another metro station (I did have to ask for his phone number to get him to leave). I had only been in Paris for about half a day when I received all this help. None of these people were French though they all spoke French.

Several days later, I moved from my hotel to a studio apartment. I could not figure out how to make the key work so I could get back inside the apartment. Some French children who lived in the same building got their mother for me. She helped me get the front door open. I expected her to think I was an idiot for not even knowing how a key works (it works as a key & a handle simultaneously) but her attitude toward me was kind when I saw her later at a boulangerie.

One weekend, I traveled to Mont St. Michel. I "composted" my return ticket instead of my "going" ticket. I explained what I'd done to a young woman near me & asked her what to do. When the conductor came, she explained it all to him for me and there was no problem.

The same day, on the way back, I had made some friends (two Mexican teachers, studying French, also going to Carcassone) and we got on the train to go back to Toulouse. We could not find a non-smoking 2nd class compartment so we kept walking forward and finally found a place with room for 3 where no one was smoking. The man in that compartment looked surprised when we walked in but kept reading his newspaper. A while later, I looked up and saw that we were in a 1st class car though we had 2nd class tickets. I said that when the conductor came, we'd have to move. A little later, we engaged the man in conversation and after about 30 minutes, he confessed that he was the conductor & he would not make us move to another compartment. He visited with me until we arrived.

I found France to be far less un-welcoming that I had been told. Hope you find this encouraging & maybe amusing.



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