After six weeks in charming Paris, having dinners with my inspiring landlord, sharing some laughs with people who lived just outside Paris, and, of course, chatting from time to time with locals in coffee shops, restaurants, and stores, I already liked the French a lot.
But when UK Immigration treated me like a criminal, denied me entry to their country, then handed me over to the French police (more on that later)…I realized that I don’t just like the French. I friggin’ love them.
Let’s start with the French police.
By the time the nasty, power-hungry British border officer handed me over to the French police (again, more on her soon), I was a mess. A tear-stained, shivering, panic-attacky mess. And, in stark contrast to the smirking British woman who had just fingerprinted me and strongly suggested I was a liar and a criminal, these straightforward, stoical French men treated me with kindness and consideration.
When I muttered that I couldn’t believe I’d gotten turned away at the border, they smiled kindly and said not to worry: I was welcome in their country.
Then they took down my info, copied my passport, and walked over to the Eurostar ticket lady to ask her to write something on my ticket that would allow me to get a refund.
I left the train station, as you might expect, exhausted and still emotional, but grateful to the French police for their kindness. And then, after finding that my friend was not at her apartment, I dragged my things and the dog to a small café near my former Paris rental.
When the young French man came to take my order, I stumbled over ordering a cappuccino. He asked if I was okay and, when I started to cry, ran into the back room and emerged with a handful of tissues.
“What’s wrong?” He asked. And I gave him a couple-sentence version of my tale.
He said he was sorry and then told me a funny story of being trapped in the wilderness due to unforeseen travel hassles. He said I should tell him if there was anything he could do.
And then the handful of people in the café, who had obviously seen me sniffling and heard what I’d told the French man, offered their support as well. This was a room mostly full of expats who live in Paris, so not quite French. But I love them as well. So this ode—it’s also for all of them.
After a few hours spent formulating a plan, researching things online, getting in touch with friends, and slowly drinking my cappuccino, I headed to my lovely expat friend’s home where I would spend the night, print out proof of everything under the sun (proof of conference tickets, proof of funds, proof of emailing to cancel my pet sitting), and attempt (fairly successfully, thanks to their kindness) to stop feeling completely horrible.
My friend met me at her apartment with fancy foi gras—a dish I’d been wanting to try for years—and her French husband fussed over which knife we used to cut it, which bread we ate it with, and every other detail you can imagine.
This, friends, is one of the things I love about the French and it’s also one of the reasons they get a bad rap. They love their food and their language—and those two things must always, always, always be perfect. You cannot try foi gras with the wrong knife or the wrong wine. You cannot pronounce a word imperfectly. Language and food must be beautiful. And they’ll do everything in their power to make sure that it is. This is why they correct the grammar of random strangers and frown over special orders. Because they care a whole heck of a lot.
The next day, I woke early and went to the train station to refund my Eurostar ticket and buy a ticket to Calais, where I hoped to take a ferry to Dover.
The man at the ticket desk was kind, quick to refund my ticket, and helpful with instructions about my train. When I told him I was heading to London, he said, “but why? Don’t you want to stay in Paris? Stay in Paris, dear!”
That’s when I promised that I’d be back.
So this is the part where I dedicate this ode to all of these people—these kind, wonderful French and expat people who live in and love Paris. On one of the worst travel days ever, you treated me like a friend, a sister, a human being.
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