Stranger in a Strange Land

There is nothing more innocent than a tourist. The best version of person in most cases, someone willing to step out of their every day life and take a gander at how other people live. Living in Atlanta, Georgia, I run into tourists all the time. Mainly people looking for Piedmont Park or the Varsity (iconic hamburger hub) and I always try to be patient and kind because I love to travel and hope that’s how I get treated. Plus, come on, they are spending their hard earned dollars in our city, that’s revenue (I was in finance previously, I’m programed).

The French are rumored to be snobbish and unkind to foreigners, especially Americans. I visited France one other time with a girlfriend. We spent five days in Paris. I had an exceptional time and never once had issue with rudeness or impatience. It was one of the reasons when I isolated six weeks of my life that I decided to come back and do my spirit quest here. When I came back from my first trip many people shrugged at my experience and said, “you were two women traveling alone, of course everyone was nice”, so I was interested in how traveling with a man might alter my experience.

Not even a fraction. The French have been delightful, helpful, correcting out of kindness my faltering French and excited about sharing their craft/knowledge with us. Now here is the secret. It is an easy one and you probably already guessed/know it. It’s all in the presentation. You have two handy weapons at your disposal and if you use both I guarantee a good experience: learn key French phrases and smile. Smile big, like you are greeting your grandmother. It is hard to be rude when someone is innocently smiling back. Plus, they appreciate that you’ve attempted to learn some of the language. No one travels to America who hasn’t learned some English. We shouldn’t either. I am not fluent. In fact, I suck at languages. But I have been diligently using the free apps: Duolingo and 24/7 French in the upcoming weeks and even a few minutes every day while I am here. It helps a lot when you sprinkle in some French in conversation even when they have altered to English, and god bless them they all know it, even if they say they don’t. I have been amazed when a person says (with a sheepish smile), “my English is not good”, and then manage out several more phrases, usually enough to help with whatever I need. And do not underestimate the value of gestures. I have conducted 2/3rds of a conversation this way several times with success.

Another tool that both sides are using is Google Translator. It is a free app and has been exceptionally handy. Not only does it translate phrases and speaks them for you but you can hold up your camera and hover it over text and it translates in real time. There have been several instances where I’ve had my app out and so has my French partner. Dueling Google Translator apps made it possible to get a faulty stovetop working.

I don’t want to paint the picture that everyone in France is a beacon of human kindness and helpfulness, because there are a few rude ones too. And you will find these people anywhere: home, abroad, at work…there is no escape. Go in with good intentions, a big smile, and you will likely be rewarded.

Á bientot!

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