I just returned home from a long-dreamed-of trip to France and will tell you more than you want to know about it. For starters, though, I must puncture a stereotype.
The French are supposed to be aloof, disdainful of tourists, and unwilling to dampen their popped collars with sweat by helping clueless visitors. If those stereotypes are true, how do you explain the following?
We arrived in Paris on a rainy Tuesday evening and headed for a nearby café. At the end of our meal, Hubs paid the bill and fumbled to leave a tip. Our charming, red-headed server wagged her index finger. "En France, non," she said.
I struggled to buy a carnet of ten Metro tickets from a machine with my debit card, but it was rejected with the phrase "carte muette." In other words, the card didn't speak to the machine. Hubs tried his credit card and got the same response. My daughters fished in their wallets for the twelve euros needed for the machine, Alas, we didn't have enough coins for a carnet of ten tickets. Enter a Frenchman on his way to work and short on time. He offered to give us four Metro tickets. (Each one is worth roughly $1.25.) We thanked him profusely but said we couldn't accept such a gift. He then offered to buy us the carnet with his credit card if we paid him back with cash. Ah bon?! The Frenchman, named Alex, used his card, handed us the Metro tickets, accepted the equivalent cash, and told us his sister now lived in Nashville. "We must help one another," he said before dashing down the Metro station's steps to catch his train.
Travel writer Rick Steves touts the cheap thrill of sightseeing in Paris via bus #69, a public bus that travels from a stop not far from the Eiffel Tower to arrondissement 20, passing a bucket load of important monuments and sights. I insisted we take the bus. Hubs and daughters didn't see the point, but went along with me. We boarded some distance from the bus's start, but there were seats free at the back, and Hubs and I headed for them. My daughters, who were balancing shopping bags from H&M (wherever in the world they find themselves, they make a beeline for H&M), preferred to stand in the middle of the bus for what they thought would be a short ride. The journey turned out to be long, twisty, with many stops. The girls eventually got seats but gave them up repeatedly as older women boarded with bulging grocery bags.
Daughters directed a couple of murderous glares at me, but I ignored them as well as Hubs' squirming. What can I say? Bus #69 represented the kind of slice-of-life sight-seeing I like best. If my family couldn't appreciate it, tant pis.
We disembarked at the end of the line, walked through a neighborhood park, and then Hubs and daughters went off together in search of a café. I strolled to a bus stop where I consulted the route map. Evilly, I considered putting us on an even longer bus route back into the center of the city, but as I plotted, an older woman came up beside me and offered to help me find my way. I told her I wasn't lost, just confused, and pointed to my family now halfway down the block. We exchanged a handful of sentences before I realized she had understood the source of my confusion and was standing with me in solidarity—mother beside mother.
Now tell me: what stereotypes have you punctured in your travels?