Thursday, June 24, 2010
the kindness of strangers
I have found that there is a difference between being polite and being kind. I discovered this, of all places, at the Eiffel Tower. Yes, we have spent the past week in Paris, and as it is difficult to write about American national holidays when I am nowhere near America, I'm taking a break.
But back to the tower. A poor soul was attempting to take her beloved's picture on top of the Eiffel Tower, as beloved's everywhere are wont to do, but she could not keep the hordes of people from walking between her camera and her man. Seeing her predicament, I told her, “I'll block, you shoot,” and I stood in the way of the throng for a few seconds. She responded, “It's always the Americans who are the nice ones.” I thought that was amusing, coming in a country notorious for thinking Americans rude and vice versa.
But the reason behind Parisians thinking Americans rude is that Americans too often lack politeness, manners, and offend the Parisian sense of what is “simply not done.” Like talking loudly on the subway, eating on the run, or not greeting a shopkeeper. Or possibly wearing sequined tight T-shirts with “I Heart New York” emblazoned on them. And the reason Americans think Parisians rude is that they put this premium on manners, while we tend to place it on friendliness; more of a “help a brother out” sort of attitude that notices what someone needs and tries to fill that need.
Better, worse, just different, who's to say? There are pros and cons to both. I'm partial to friendliness because it's what I know. And, I guess I have to say, Jesus did command us to love one another, not be polite to one another. But that's another sermon. Rather than call one another rude, I find it more interesting and productive to determine why we feel that way and what the misunderstanding probably is.
In any case, I have not found the French rude at all, despite the rumors. I do attempt to speak their language, however woefully, and I think that helps. Sometimes I've had quite an amazing Franglish thing going on. Sometimes, to be truly confusing, I lapse into Spanenchlish. It's truly frightening. But at least they know I'm trying That earns points.