The other morning we were out early to get our daily baguette when we walked by a brasserie that was open for breakfast. As we passed by, a gentleman was leaving so we exchanged bonjours and continued a few steps down the sidewalk when the strangest thing happened. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him turn around and then we heard him call out to us “You’re the Americans I read about in the newspaper”. A short and pleasant conversation followed regarding the article and about being new in town before he said “Welcome to Carcassonne” and then we wished each other Bonne Journée (Good day) with smiles all around.
Although several friends had commented about the story in the paper, this was the first time a stranger had said anything. It was not, however, the first time we’d been welcomed to the city by people we’d only just met. That began on day one when we explained with faltering French to our new neighbors that they would be seeing a lot of us over the next year. It didn’t take long for invitations to parties, dinners, concerts, and excursions to neighboring villages to arrive from these former strangers. I find it interesting that the French word étranger is generally used when referring to foreigners.
That same warm greeting was extended to us by almost everyone else we encountered shortly after we arrived. We could be at the bakery, the market, the grocery store, the wine shop, cheese shop, bike shop, you-name-it shop, and the patient, helpful attitude was there. Even at government offices that globally seem to have a bad name for customer service, we’ve been treated kindly and with understanding, even if we didn’t understand everything. I’m happy to say that as our first year anniversary in France rapidly approaches in a few weeks, we still see those smiles and hear those welcomes. Looks like 2017 is getting off to a great start!