An Ode to the French

by gigigriffis

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.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.


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12 comments

Bev Genevish April 8, 2013 - 5:06 am

Aaaawwww, Gigi! You had me teary eyed, too. How horrible! But how wonderful to have such a super support system there for you. I hope your future travels are much more peasant. XXX

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gigigriffis April 8, 2013 - 8:07 am

Thanks, Bev. I was so lucky to be in Paris when that happened!

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Brandi April 8, 2013 - 5:47 am

I’m afraid the Brits are a bit hard when it comes to immigration/border control. They have their reasons but they should never make you cry. :(

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gigigriffis April 8, 2013 - 8:14 am

Agreed. I get that they have to turn people away sometimes, but I don’t think it’s okay to treat people like garbage. Will publish the whole story soon.

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Gina April 8, 2013 - 8:44 am

I’m so happy I’m not the only one who has “crying-while-traveling” stories! I’ve never spent extended time in France, I’ve often been intimidated by stories of ‘the people’, it’s lovely to read something otherwise!

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gigigriffis April 8, 2013 - 8:55 am

You’re definitely not alone with the crying-while-traveling thing. And I’m so glad to have put in a positive perspective on the French, and particularly the Parisians.

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Rebeca April 8, 2013 - 11:03 am

Wow who would have thunk that the French who are rumored to hate US actually treat a person from the US better than the British do. Wow I am so sorry I really hope that you get everything straightened out and that the UK no longer gives you a hassle. I am glad that you made some friends and had some support.

I am with the ticket agent stay in France. So much better.

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gigigriffis April 8, 2013 - 11:17 am

Thanks, Rebeca. Things got (sort of) straightened out and I’ll definitely share more soon. And you and the ticket guy are so right: next time I’ll stay in France!

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Christine April 8, 2013 - 4:20 pm

So glad you made it through this little adventure, created for your Chronicles of travel!!

Sorry I missed ya when this all happened as I was in Guadeloupe but happy that you were welcomed. I agree with you… the French in general are misunderstood when it comes to “the details” and I think they are getting better, realizing that customer service and forward emotions are key.

Anyway, you and Luna are always welcome! Love you!

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gigigriffis April 9, 2013 - 3:51 pm

Thanks and love you back!

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) April 10, 2013 - 7:40 am

Glad you survived your ordeal. I get that there are rules. I get that the Brits may have their reasons. but it is never ever ok to treat a person in a power hungry way. I get that a lot from the American security officers. OMG what is with those people? seriously?! No I am NOT putting my dog through the x-ray machine thingy in fact I AM NOT going through it because tests are inconclusive on the long term effects and some of us travel more than once in a lifetime. So smile, pat me down and let me be on my way. *ahmmmm sorry*

In any case, I am glad that the french and expats were there. i can,t even imagine the stress level. As a person who also travels with her dog – because of anxiety – I would have been terrified of what would happen to Luna should they decide to lock you up … what good reason could they possibly have anyway??

Awaiting that story. Glad it is over and you lived to tell the tale. :)

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gigigriffis April 10, 2013 - 7:45 am

I hear that. The US, UK, and Australia are so ridiculous about their immigration stuff. I think the problem is arrogance – we’re assuming everyone wants to live in our country or do it harm, when the majority of people just want to visit or pass through.

And, yes, one of the worst parts was definitely worrying about Luna. When I went back through on my way out, I had numbers for several London friends who were willing to come pick up Luna in an instant if something bad were to happen. Luckily, I never had to use those numbers.

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