The good news: the French are really nice these days



I am always happy to report news that goes against a negative stereotype. A decade ago I returned from Sicily to declare that commerce was altogether efficient and honest at the level of tourism: reservations,cars, hotels, airports and ferries all worked well. And the island of Sicily has some of the best Greek ruins outside of Turkey (Asia Minor).

In the same spirit, I just returned from France yesterday. I had a terrific time. I chatted amiably in my Quebec-accented French to hotel owners, barkeeps, waiters, taxi drivers, civil servants and the public. There was none of this correcting of one’s language that used to characterize interactions with the French: “monsieur veut dire” as in “what you mean to say is”. We kept on speaking French long after they knew I was a native English speaker, which was in some sense an indulgence on their part.

Two things have happened. France is much more multi-racial and multi-ethnic than it was forty years ago, so that the proportion of French citizens who speak with African, North-African, and other European accents has multiplied beyond counting. The French ear has learned to cope with different ways of speaking French, just as in English we cope with many accents.

Second, they have understood that tourism accounts for about 10% of GDP, and that being nice to tourists is a good idea.

I am told this change of attitude has been going on for a generation. I was so annoyed by my treatment there in 1976 that I decided to travel everywhere else in the world for forty years before trying the hospitality of France again.

Now if only our Quebec compatriots could start treating speaking French as a vehicle of communication, rather than as a means of and excuse for excluding the alien.

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Nicola Timmerman

Love Sicily too. Cheaper than Italy, great seafood, incredible Greek ruins and a Roman villa. Visited three times and still haven’t seen all the island. Coastal area beautiful with lots of flowers; interior more shades of yellow and brown. Way too hot in July and August!

My son got ripped off in the metro because he had thrown away his ticket, even though my daughter had hers to show. Huge fine – when they protested they were told to go to such and such a place to complain. They were then told to go somewhere else. Anyway the money obviously ended up in the pockets of the functionaires who target foreigners.

Also coming back from Versailles the train was repeatedly stopped because of immigrant youths jumping on the tracks in the tunnel. The conductor said this happens all the time but is not reported. Best to stay at a hotel in Versailles and spend a full day there visiting.

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