Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Nicest People in France

Today I had some errands to run and was travelling through Paris via the Metro (public transport, like the Subway in NYC). If you've ever been to any major city and taken these types of underground trains, you know that to get down (and then back above ground, once at your destination) you will see lots and lots of stairs. We have friends here who have lived in NYC or Chicago and they agree that by far, Paris is the worst... more stairs and very few escalators. I would say on my average journey (like today, one stop and back), I encounter about 5 sets of stairs. What would you say if I asked how much I am usually helped up and down these stairs with my stroller? Maybe 40% (hopeful) or even 20% (realistic). Well, on average, it's about 0%. Yes, that's right, 5 sets of stairs and not a single person helps me. This goes right along with my experience of being pregnant last year... I rarely got a seat either. Of course, young, French men would be sitting in rows of seats, but no, me, 8 months pregnant, has to stand. And once, when I was pregnant, I gave a seat to an older nun, because no one else would. I know that many aren't practicing Catholics in this country, but who doesn't have respect for nuns? And as you see below, it was obvious that I was pregnant to everyone around me as I stood for her:




Sadly... I still had two months to go in this picture! And my face (I had given up on the rest of me) was already getting too wide to fit through the doors...





So, on with my story...

Today, I got out of the metro at my stop and was about to walk up two smaller flights of stairs and who jumps forward to help me after I give them a pitiful "help me" look? Two young, North African men. They were wearing baggy jeans and wild t-shirts. These are the same guys that were avoided on the metro and platform by most other people. But not me... fortunately, I know better. Most of the cities we lived in and schools I attended were very diverse, and I learned that you can never judge anyone by appearance, culture, religion, or even accent.

And let me tell you this... I knew they would probably help me. The only people who gave up their seats on the metro when I was pregnant were African men also. And please don't think I see a certain skin tone and assume anything (plus, who cares since I would be assuming something positive about them anyway?). Most people who aren't French are really obvious, because it's a hard country to fit into. You can tell by their accent, their dress, and their mannerisms... just like I probably look and sound obviously foreign to everyone too.

I wish my daughter was old enough to understand these things. I wish I could use moments like this to teach her that it's never right to treat somebody different (like avoiding them on the metro) because of how they look. If you treat everyone with respect, you'll be surprised. We've been all over the world and people are really very nice... just about everywhere you go...

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