Thursday, February 09, 2012
Love the intelligent discussion more than the blog post itself. Myself I would like to share some of my experiences. I'm not British or North American, for that matter.
The French way of life is definitely distinctive and worth getting to know and appreciate, but personally, what makes me feel much better as a traveller is for the native people to understand and respect the Tourists as well, something more noticeable in many other countries I have been to. Not hating on any country for that, but a warm welcome always draws me to a place so much more.
It was my first trip to Europe, and on the plane I was given different seats from my family (two seats back). So when we touched down in Paris I asked a French middle-aged couple politely in English to let me pass through. I did not get to explain I wanted to attend to my young son, because the lady immediately cut in and said something like "Do you have the keys to the airplane door? Do you? If not, sit down." She then proceeded to converse with her husband in french and give me the famous dirty glance French stare-down. I think they were annoyed I did not 'Bonjour' them, or maybe airplane fatigue. The man (who was big-sized) stuck his body across the aisle so as to further prevent me from passing them. I was really offended. I remember I thought to myself, "Wow, French hospitality even before I step onto French land proper!" I wanted to explain I needed to get to my family, but their French-speaking ears wouldn't have any of that English coming out of my mouth. Excuse me when I say I wanted to punch them, it was my first experience in Europe and not a good one at all. Now, I regret letting that couple spoil my first day in France.
The other thing is that the Parisians were always in some sort of stare-frown expression on the street. It was imposing, actually. But I was ready to look past that. An old lady at a shoe shop said something in French like, "Don't sit here! It's for people trying on shoes!" We vacated the seat for her thinking she needed it, but she just walked off and cussed. I mean, customer service is not exactly what they pride themselves on.
Another thing funny was this man who was managing those pay-by-token 5-minute back massage machines in the shopping centres. He was walking up and down in a huff and when we got near to have a curious closer look at the machine, he chased away our potential business. What's the point of having machines there if you're not going to let anyone use or even see them. He literally stands there and dusts and mops the sides of the machine for hours. We found it funny because it's just a machine, not a very stressful job, yet he is acting like he is Sarkozy's bodyguard! Again, this shows how the French take so much pride in what they do, whatever job it is. It is a lifestyle, definitely.
I went to Dijon and Mont-St Michel too, which were expectedly less hostile. I can only wish I stayed long enough (only 4 days) in France (Paris for that matter) to change my opinion of them because up to now I still cringe at the thought of The City of Dreams/Romance taglines my local newspaper always deems as Paris. Having read many blogs and articles on this, I now can't wait to go back and rediscover Paris in its "more polite(?)" side. I hope I will get to change my opinions of the place.
Interestingly, I found Barcelona much more lively and hospitable. It could be the nature of the Spanish, who, if I may generalise, are more warm at heart- when giving directions, I found the Spanish always did it with a smile and didn't mind conversing fully in English. We even approached a jogger on his running route to ask for directions, he immediately stopped and marked them out for us, while still panting! I felt so bad. They are also not afraid of starting a conversation, "Where are you from?" being the most common and genuine starter that I have received.
Or maybe, after all this I have said, it may just boil down to perception. I went to Spain 1 year after the France trip, with lowered expectations and a jaded mindset, always believing the people of the region are cold and unwelcoming. Of course, I was nicely surprised on my 2nd trip in Barca. I do remember my fair share of rude people in Spain which, though less than in France, are in no way less rude. A common interesting point I experienced is they get offended when you do not speak Spanish/French/their language, they pretend not to understand your clear articulate English and brush off helping you with a shrug of their shoulders and an "I told you so" lip purse. Yet this was only a very minority in Spain.
No props for guessing which visit I liked more, but my opinions are ever-changing and I do actually want to go back to places I did not like previously, and to set the record straight and reevaluate Parisians for who they really are.
Now, 3 years have passed. The things you learn as you grow older. Thank you for the article.
Ike yiked at 11:37 am