French rudeness! (Or not.)

We do love our cultural stereotypes, don’t we? Germans are regimental and precise; Spaniards are passionate; Italians are argumentative; Russians are moody and unpredictable.


And the French, of course, are supercilious and rude.


On our second day in France, we took the train from Paris to Caen, and then took a cab to the hotel. Our driver was a big cheerful bloke who hoisted our suitcases into the cab’s trunk while grunting the word “Hop!” (I’d only ever seen it written. It’s closer to “Hup!” in English, but it’s also indefinably different. You kind of have to hear it to get the distinction.)

I struck up a conversation with him in the cab. He was very animated. He wanted to know where we were from, and when he found that we were American, he brightened. As it turned out, he had a brother in Sacramento, and visited him a few years ago. He went to Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon, and a place called Yosameet (I’ll let you figure that one out on your own), and he loved it all. He wants to go back, and he tells his kids that they need to go to the United States.

All that in a five-minute cab ride!

Then there were the concierges at the various hotels. All of them were cute, and most of them were funny. (But none of them had names. Even when they wore nametags, the “name” field was blank. Why? Are their names unpronounceable? Are they too high-pitched for human ears? Do they not have names at all?) One in Caen, a tall blondish fellow who looked like a slightly more soigné Jason Segel, turned out to be a passionate history buff, and regaled us with stories about Caen during World War II. (I’ll tell you that story another time.)

Then there was the saleswoman working outside the department store near our hotel in Paris (they had sidewalk stalls every day). I was pawing through the shirts, not sure what size I was, when she glanced at me and chirped (in French), “Forty-one.”

“You can tell just by looking at me?” I said.

“It’s my job,” she shrugged, grinning.

We went through the stack of shirts together. (They were only ten euro each, so they’ll probably melt in the washing machine, but – hey – I have shirts from Paris!) We both exclaimed over a nice pink one. “Rose!” she said. “J’adore cette chemise rose!”

Moi aussi,” I said, and we put that one aside.

The next two were bright red and dull gray. (The French, for some reason, are favoring dark colors this year; we didn’t see many people wearing bright colors in the streets.) “This gray is very nice,” she said.


“I like the red one,” I said.

She regarded me very gravely. “But the gray is very nice,” she said in an almost-stern tone.

Well, I got the red one, and the pink one. But I think the clerk was unhappy with me, a little.

How about the lady in the Deauville train station? I was buying tickets for Partner and myself for the next day, Caen-Bayeux, round trip. She regarded me with the famous Normandy deadpan. “May I ask your ages?” she said in a quiet regretful voice.

“He’s sixty-six,” I said. “And I’m fifty-five.”

She shook her head at me very ruefully. “You, monsieur, are too young.”

I exploded into laughter, and then tried to do the Norman deadpan back at her. “You, madame, are the first person who has ever said that to me.”

So Partner got his ticket at a reduced price, and I got a good laugh out of it.

Then there was the candy store next to our hotel in the Marais in Paris. I was browsing in there one day early in our stay, and a funny bright young man waited on me, and gave me a chocolate for free, and told me (in French – funny how much they open up to you when you speak French!) he’d lived in Boston for a year and a half, and been to Cape Cod (“Les baleines!” he said. “The whales!”).

We ended up spending over a hundred dollars in that store, and let me tell you, it was worth it. On our last visit, our clerk was a very sweet young woman.  “There’s a little ceramic tajine candy dish over here,” I said. “Can you tell me what it costs?”

“Oh, a couple of euro,” she said. She rummaged under the counter, and then she looked up at me slyly. “Is it a gift?”

“No, no,” I said. “It’s for me.”

“No,” she said. “You misunderstand. It’s a gift. For you

And she handed it to me with a very serene smile.

Don’t let anyone tell you the French are rude, kids.

They’re just fine in my book.


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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