Saturday’s D-Day commemorations and salutations on Facebook and other social media reminded me of my first visit to France, in 1997. We saw Ugly Americans treating the French poorly, and on one or two occasions we experienced anti-American sentiment. Mostly, we learned the French will treat you wonderfully if you merely extend the simplest courtesy. As in saying, “Bonjour!” and “Merci!”
My most compelling memory of that trip was our cabbie who drove us from Paris to CDG for the flight home. Catching a cab that morning proved to be a challenge, but as we laughed it off in the back seat, our driver turned to us and said, “Americans?”
“Oui,” I answered, somewhat guardedly. But we obviously weren’t Germans, so what could I have said?
“I am from Normandy,” he said, in good if somewhat stiff English. “I was five years old on D-Day.” Then emphatically, with a period after each word, he proclaimed: “I. Love. Americans!”
Vive la France!
On our visit to Normandy in October 2013 we had the misfortune to see an older American man treat a young ticket clerk at the Utah Beach museum in the most offensive manner. Her English was halting but enthusiastic. This grizzled 60-something, in his US Navy cap that maybe he earned, maybe he didn’t, got impatient, and when it was his turn, he immediately chastised her and said she should speak English better. Mind you, we are in France. “If it wasn’t for us, you’d be speaking German.” Of course, he wasn’t born when these events took place. And, how about if the French didn’t come to our aid in the Revolution, we’d be under the British monarchy for a hell of a lot longer. I still regret not saying something. I was so embarrassed. But, as you said, the treatment of Americans in Normandy is humbling. My father was a WWII vet, but he served in Alaska (can’t trust those Russians); my family did nothing to liberate Europe. Yet, they treat you as honored guests. More Americans need to experience that.
In Alaska, it was the Japanese that they were worried about, not the Russians. After all, the Japanese had occupied Attu and Kiska. The fight for Attu was especially brutal – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Attu
Concur so much with your post, Dave. Knowing just a little French, or simply knowing polite greetings, softens every shop owner. In four different two-week trips to France, we’ve had perhaps half a dozen less-than-entirely-pleasant encounters. I’m not sure I’ve had two months like that here! Consistently, shop owners, cashiers, hotel staff, vignerons and waiters have gone out of their way to help us get what we wanted and make us feel welcome.
Je suis d’accord!
This made me cry. Hope you are well. I am off to the Big Island with Pat on Monday.Love to all,Sue
My choral group, the Encore Chorale, had the privilege of singing the National Anthem at the cemetery in Normandy in 2013. It was a highlight of a river cruise from Normandy to Paris. The French people could not have been nicer all the way up the Seine — including the famously snotty Parisians. We wound up in Alsace, home of Route 68 — the Route de Vins. Went back to Alsace this year, and enjoyed some more excellent whites.