When I hitchhiked in Europe, many Americans felt that the French lacked kindness. Even today many feel the French are rude and intolerant, especially toward anyone who fractures their language or disrespects their culture. My experiences in France in the sixties belied these stereotypes. Two illustratory examples:.
In central France–in the eastern part–a middle-aged couple picked me up and after only a little conversation invited me to dinner at their home in Anncey. Before dinner, their two teen-aged sons kept me in stitches, not an easy thing to do given the English-French language barrier. Soon, all of us sat down to a supper of sauerkraut and ham, considered a light meal in France. The mealtime discussion, on the other hand, was anything but light. The father—an executive for an aluminum company– had strong feelings about President Kennedy pressuring US Steel to keep its prices down. After supper, the boys gave me a tour of Anncey before dropping me off at the local youth hostel.
Also in central France, but in the western part this time, a Citroen screamed past me as I stood with my thumb out. Someone inside must have noticed me because a few minutes later, after I turned a corner, I discovered the Citroen waiting for me. I found out the driver practiced law in Poitiers and his wife made art and translated books (she spoke four languages fluently). Soon, the couple treated me to lunch at a small café which catered to intellectuals. We talked and talked over wine, radishes, Camembert cheese, and finally, beef steak. When we got to Poitiers, the couple invited me to their house which, despite being old and run down on the outside, was elegantly furnished inside. Without any fanfare again, the couple treated me to food and put me up for the night.
Read about other hitchhiking random acts of kindness (RAKs) in prior blogs on this site and in a couple of chapters in Cleft Heart: Chasing Normal – to be published soon by Wayman Publishing.
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