Parisians are known all over the world for their less-than-courteous ways. I was once told “One of the best things about France is Paris. One of the worst things about Paris are the Parisians.”
In fact, a study was done among non-Parisian French residents to understand their feelings on the capital-dwellers. The results showed that 68% actually have a good opinion of Parisians, BUT… also find them significantly more arrogant, aggressive, chauvinistic, snobbish, and self-centered than other French. If you can read French, check out the study, here.
During my time in Paris I’ve certainly witnessed my fair share of rudeness and bad attitudes, but I tend to write it off. For one, these people are living in the most visited city on earth, meaning that they are constantly dealing with tourists haphazardly wielding cameras and maps, asking them questions in foreign languages, clogging up their national monuments and perhaps would-be favorite restaurants that are now avoided due to crowding. And since I am already walking around with an apology at the ready to excuse me for my non-French fluency, the Parisians I encounter seem to take mercy (or pity) on me.
So although I haven’t been the victim of any outright acts of vehemence (knock on wood), I do appreciate when I notice the contrary: people being nice. And yesterday as I was preparing for my fourth trip to London in as many months, I was bestowed with the gift of politeness by not one, but an entire group of people.
It was a very early Tuesday morning for me, and I started my day by waiting in line at Gare du Nord train station to pick up my tickets for London. Having arrived early I was second in line, so my stress level remained low because I knew I’d be helped promptly. Or so I thought.
After more than half an hour in line (and half an hour closer to my train’s departure time), a security agent told all of us in the queue what I assume to be a new location to wait in a new line. Of course with my lack of French I was the last to catch on to his instructions, and therefore was the last to be standing in the new line. Starting to get panicky, I began going through my bag to find any and all documentation I might need to present to the ticket agent so that I could get what I needed and head to my train as fast as possible. At this point, I still needed to go through customs and security before boarding, and time was running out. Before I had time to realize exactly how close I was to potentially missing my train, I heard a rumble of conversation in front of me. Looking up, I see the entire line of people looking at me and waving me to the front of the line.
Regaining my spot as second in line, the man who was first turned to me and made a joke about travel-related stress. In French. The confused look on my face prompted him to ask “English?” and we began talking. He asked the usual questions – where are you from, where are you going, do you speak ANY French – and then proceeded to offer his help should I have any difficulty retrieving my tickets in English. Though I declined his offer, I couldn’t help but be struck by how a potentially nerve-wracking situation had turned into one of the best examples of kindness I had experienced in a long time.
The thought crossed my mind that maybe the man in front of me wasn’t Parisian. It’s very possible, of course, given that we were all in a train station heading to who-knows-where. But I think that at least one of those people in that long line at the ticket window was a local, and I’m happy enough with that.