Rumors deny friendliness of the French
I was once in the middle of Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon. There was some jostling at the crosswalk, and a young lady said in a rude voice, "Oh, New Yorkers are so rude!" She did not have a New York accent, so I suppose she was new to the city.
A newcomer might not have noticed that the people around us were all dressed uniformly as tourists. It was very unlikely, given our location in front of Rockefeller Center on a hot Sunday afternoon, that there were any New Yorkers, rude or otherwise, anywhere near us.
My last six months have been spent on sabbatical, mostly in France. Under the legend of a country of people who pretend not to speak English and who disdain any foreigner trying to speak French, I might have expected rudeness once I stepped out the door.
Did I met anyone rude? Well, there was a supermarket clerk, rather young and having a bad day but who did not particularly pick on me. At another supermarket, there was a customer having a bad day who picked on the clerk and made her cry, but nothing was said to me. Otherwise, I did not meet anyone rude in the whole time.
I lived in a small village, and it would not be politic to be rude. But people there were not only polite, they were very friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. The son of the owner of the appliance store and his co-worker gave me hours of free time putting furniture together. I got laughs and free help with my French at the grocery stores. The monks in the book shop went out of their way to chat and even practice a little English. The people at the post office said hello in the street, bringing boxes of books and stashing them in the barn without my asking. The baker's wife and daughter, the manager of the appliance store, the monks, all asked about my mother, commented on how nice my dogs are and gave me tips about where to find a good vet and get bus schedules, concert information and a satellite dish to receive English news.
Only one man in the village could speak English, and he was very friendly, witty and knowledgeable about the ancient abbey church. He is originally from Paris but is retired there.
Only the monks knew that I am a priest. All the others just call me Monsieur Weidner. I have been in French towns and big cities, and people have gone out of their way to help, even in Paris.
The aloha spirit is alive and well in France. God is aloha and God is everywhere.
The Rev. Halbert Weidner is pastor of Holy Trinity Church.