What is with the Stereotypes?

Well, I’m back from my European adventure and I have many stories to share with you in this and future blogs.  This is the third time I’ve been over to Europe and every time I come back amazed by the ancient historical buildings there and how different the culture is from North America.  I can never get enough of that wonderful continent.

A common stereotype of the French people is they’re rude and snobby.  Articles such as Common French Stereotypes and French Stereotypes allude to this stereotype, I would like to share some of my thoughts on France.  I have just visited this country for the third time and I cannot say enough good about this beautiful country and its citizens.

Over the years, and not long before leaving on this trip, I had many people tell me how rude they found the French people, especially the Parisians.  People often would tell me to expect the French people, especially in Paris, to be rude and snobby.  Well, I can tell you in all honesty that I have never experienced this during any of my three visits to France, and yes I was in Paris all three times.  In fact, I found French people to be most kind, welcoming, and always helpful.  Let me give you some examples from our most recent trip.

IMG_1207While still trying to “get our bearings” on the first day in Paris, we stopped in a wine shop to ask for some directions to the Metro.  Since neither my wife or myself speak the French language, the first words we would articulate would be, “Parlez-vous anglais?” that is, do you speak English?  Almost everyone we asked this question, replied, “Qui”, and then proceeded to speak to us in English.  We were always very grateful for this.  Anyway, this particularly kind man in the wine shop told us where to find the Metro, how to use the Metro, and where to purchase tickets.  Now that doesn’t fit the stereotype.

On another occasion, while making our way to the Palace of Versailles, we were helped by a very nice young man.  To get to Versailles you take the RER, which are the Paris commuter trains as the palace is about 28 kilometres away. Commuter trains are like the Metros in the sense that they make numerous stops along the way. Anyway, the stop to get off at is a stop called Versailles Rive Gauche, Chateau de Versailles. Knowing that the stop was Rive Gauche, when we arrived at the Viroflay Rive Gauche stop,  we panicked and got off;  two stops too soon.  Standing there wondering if we were at the right place, likely looking like confused tourists, a very nice young man came up to us and asked us something in French.  My wife responds with, “Parlez-vous anglais?” and the nice young man responds in English, “Can I help you?”  We explained our dilemma and he quickly got us straightened out.  We got on the next train, and were in Versailles in no time. This young French citizen didn’t fit the French stereotype.

The previous evening, while in the Paris Metro, my wife and I were discussing how to get to the Palace of Versailles. My wife is very meticulous and has a need to know exactly where she is going before embarking on an adventure.  While we were standing there, looking at a Metro map on the wall, some random older lady walks up to us and says something in French.  We gave our usual response and then speaking in English she explained to us how to get to the palace.  Keep in mind that her actions were of concern for us as we did not ask for help.  She explained to us to take line C of the RER to Versailles, and to get off at Rive Gauche.  We thanked her and started walking to our exit.  A minute later this kind lady comes running up to us and asked us if we wanted to go to the castle or the city of Versailles.  We clarified and she explained that she wanted to make sure she gave us the right stop.  This Parisian lady took time out of her I’m sure busy day to run and catch us so that we would not get lost the next day.  That was an action of kindness, not snobbishness.  We were very thankful for this lady did not fit the Parisian stereotype.

Outside of Paris was no different.  We were always greeted with kindness and friendliness.  Allow me to share some examples, again from our recent trip. When we arrived in Bayeux, France, a city near the Normandy D-Day Beaches, we were tired and hungry. We ventured out on foot to find a restaurant.  Using a map to navigate to the city centre, as was often the case we got confused and therefore lost.  A man, obviously a local, along with his daughter and dog were walking towards us.  We stopped him and asked if he spoke English.  Thankfully, he did and he directed us in the right direction.  He was most kind and most friendly.  He didn’t fit the stereotype.

IMG_3359While driving from Bayeux to Lievin, France, we stopped in the French village of Aumale as  my wife liked the town.  We parked and walked toward the huge church, which every village has.  As we turned the corner around the church, we discovered a market.  Walking about the market we came across a table with croissants on it so my wife asked if she could have one.  The lady at the table spoke no English, but understanding what my wife was asking, answered, “Oui”.  Then the lady points to the coffee urn, says something in French,  and looks at me.  Understanding that she was offering me coffee I said, “Oui”. This pleasant, friendly lady then pours my wife a juice.  The people of Aumale were most gracious and hospitable to us, the strangers in town.  The people of this French village certainly did not fit the French stereotype.

Just before arriving in the wonderful village of Aumale, we were stopped at an intersection.  Drivers around us were pointing at our vehicle and we immediately presumed that we had done something illegal or that something was wrong with our vehicle.  Then one man gets out of his car, comes running up to our vehicle and says something in French, while pointing down by the car door.  My wife, driving at the time, rolls down the window and looks out the window and to her horror discovers that her coat was hanging out the car door. This kind man had made the effort to alert us to our carelessness.  We were truly thankful for this man who was not stereotypically French.

While coming into Lievin, France, where our Bed and Breakfast (B&B) was located we drove to where our GPS said was our B&B, yet we couldn’t see it.  We walked down to the intersection and spotted a lady working in her yard.  Unfortunately, she didn’t speak English but we showed her the address and she pointed us in the right direction which was up the street.  It turned out that we had not walked far enough up the street.  She didn’t hesitate to help us lost tourists.

Our B&B lady was most welcoming and helpful.  She did speak English although with a strong French accent.  In fact, she kept apologizing for her accent.  We assured her that we could understand her.  She went out of her way to make us feel welcome and to help us plan our days.  She would even put addresses into our GPS of sites she recommended we see, such as the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.  Any time we tried to put in an address, our GPS could not find it.  It seems there is a certain way to put in French addresses. This lady was a fantastic hostess; not stereotypical at all.

IMG_3744While walking to a recommended restaurant our B&B person told us about, our GPS took us to a residential area.  The GPS said we were there, but there was nothing that looked anything like a food establishment. So we started walking back.  We first asked a random stranger standing at a street corner who also could not speak English where the restaurant was, and using gestures he pointed us down the street.  We kept walking, unsure of where we were going.  Seeing a lady in her yard, we asked her if she spoke our native tongue.  She did not so we showed her the name of the food place.  She rambled on in French and pointed us down the street.  We walked further down the road and lo and behold, there it was.  Those kind, non stereotypical people helped us move in the right direction.

Now I could go on and on with many more stories of experiences with friendly, kind and hospitable French citizens, but I’m sure you get the picture. The bottom line is the French people we encountered definitely did not fit the stereotypical mould of being rude and snobby.  Quite the opposite really. Ed Koch, an American lawyer, politician, political commentator, movie critic and reality television arbitrator once said, Stereotypes lose their power when the world is found to be more complex than the stereotype would suggest. When we learn that individuals do not fit the group stereotype, then it begins to fall apart”. That is so true. When you’ve been to France and see that their population is so diverse, you realize that not all citizens of France fit the stereotypical mould, although I’m sure they have some that do.

It just isn’t right to stereotype all French people as being rude and snobby, just as it isn’t right to stereotype all Americans as being arrogant and boastful, even though we did meet a couple of Americans who were.  Having said that, we met far more Americans who did not fit that stereotype. It’s equally as wrong to stereotype all Canadians as being extremely polite.  I have met my fair share of Canadians who are not stereotypically polite.

Advertisements

Let the Adventures Begin

To celebrate my retirement from teaching, my wife and I, along with another couple are off to Europe in a few days.  Anticipating our European holiday, we often get into discussions about the memorable adventures we have while travelling.  I personally have been to Europe twice. The first time was in 1986 when I backpacked and stayed in youth hostels. The second time was in 1989 with my then new wife. Our three children have all been to Europe as well on school trips.

1194985444514621050formichina_architetto_fr_01.svg.medMy son tells a good story of his time in Europe.  This occurred in Italy. As I understand the story, my son and his roommate checked into their hotel room after spending a day of travelling.  My son had a bag of chips stowed away in his bag and, naturally, brought them into the room, sat down and began to eat them.  After eating two or three chips, to his horror, he discovered his bag of chips was full of tiny black ants.  They must have found their way into the bag when the bag was on the ground.  Anyway, his spontaneous response to this discovery was to throw the bag onto the floor.  Needless to say, the ants were now everywhere.  As my son tells the story, him and his roommate spent the next hour or so killing ants in the hotel room as neither one of them was prepared to go to sleep unless every single ant was gone.

The first time I was in Europe, I met an American from Alabama. So, having some things in common, we decided to travel together.  We ended up travelling together for two weeks.  On our way to Hannover, Germany, we had a two-hour lay over in Frankfurt. Since we had a couple of hours to kill, we set off to explore some of Frankfurt.  So off we went.  Now keep in mind that we were two naive North American kids.  As it turned out my travel mate and I stumbled upon what can only be called a “Red Light District”.  There were “peep shows” everywhere.  We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Walking by one x-rated place after another with shocked looks on our faces I’m sure,  then two attractive ladies standing in front of a peep show each took one of our arms and separated us.  The girl on my arm took me to a private table and wanted to have a beer with me. She was very persistent, I might add.  The same was happening to my travel mate elsewhere.  I refused to buy her one.  I told her I was short on cash.  She then got up and left.  The lady with my travel partner was a little more forward as she told him for twenty Deutsche (German) marks, she would please him.  He refused of course.  We eventually caught up with each other, shared our adventures and continued to look around.  We later learned that prostitution was legal in Germany.  Needless to say, I didn’t share that story with my mother.

When my wife and I were in Germany, we hitchhiked to Berlin.  This was 1989, and Berlin was still centred in communist East Germany and the wall still existed in Berlin.  I had hitchhiked to Berlin when in Germany the first time, so it was no big deal to me.  My wife, on the other hand, had never done such a thing before.  The place to hitchhike from, according to the travel books, is the border city of Helmstedt, West Germany.  We stood on a merging lane holding up our “Berlin Bitte” (Berlin Please) sign and waited.  Unbeknownst to me, my wife ran into the ditch two or three times to pee because she was so nervous.  We eventually got a ride and had a marvellous time in the intriguing city of Berlin.

During our hitchhiking adventure to West Germany, we caught a ride with a University of Berlin professor.  Since he was running late, instead of dropping us off in Helmstedt, he asked if he could take us into Hannover (a large city in northern Germany) where his meeting was.  We of course agreed.  This meant driving on the German autobahn. At times we were reaching speeds of 180 km/h.  I was scared “shitless”.  My wife, being the speed freak she is, was thrilled by the experience.

781619-tramThe adventure didn’t end there.  The kind man who gave us a ride dropped us off at the tram.  Unknown to us, this was the tram’s last stop.  A lady was literally yelling at us something like, “Dies its der letzte stop.  Sie müssen sich aus ” (“This is the last stop. You must get off”). We of course didn’t listen largely because we didn’t understand, so stayed seated and the tram door closed.  It then started moving, pulled into a dark garage  and stopped.  We were trapped. My wife, of course, freaked out.  The tram’s operator walked out, looked at us as if to say, “you stupid tourists,” and said in a few English words that the tram would leave in 15 minutes. Adding to the stress was the fact that we had not had a chance to purchase a ticket so if caught we could have been penalized with a fine.  The trains in much of Europe back then worked on the honour system.

It really makes me wonder what kinds of adventures we will have this time in Europe after 26 years. I am willing to bet that we will have a few. I’m sure I’ll have some adventures and comments to make upon our return home.  If you don’t hear from me as regularly as before it will be because I am just too busy taking in the European sites or I am just too tired to type.

Where are all the Good People?

I recently read a news story called, City cracks  down on bad behaviour in Calgary cabs. about a cab driver in Calgary, Canada who was being verbally abused by his clients.  Just recently in our local paper was a news story issued by the police warning citizens of a tax scam. The scam involves a person who calls saying that they represent a government tax agency and that the person they are trying to scam owes back taxes.  The caller then requests that the payment be made to an individual rather than the agency, and if the person does not pay a warrant will be issued for their arrest.  Apparently this happens in many countries as the article Tax time ‘ATO’ scammers indicates. Then there are the atrocities committed by the terror group known as ISIS or ISIL. The list of people being mistreated goes on and on.  When you hear these stories you begin to ask, “What is the matter with people?”  You begin to lose faith in the goodness of human nature. You begin to wonder is there are any good people in this world. I felt this way until I thought about it.

As I reflected upon human behaviour, I started to realize  that with the exception of a few “bad apples”, the vast majority of humans are good.  It doesn’t matter where I go, there are good, kind, nice people everywhere. I would like to share some of my experiences with such people.

Earlier this summer, my wife and I were helping our eldest daughter who was preparing to move to a different place.  She had purchased a media unit that she found on an on line garage sale site.  We picked it up for her and took it to her apartment to unload it.  My wife asked, “How will we carry this heavy thing up to the apartment, which was located on the third flour.  The only solution I had was me on one end and my wife and daughter on the other end. I pulled the unit part way out of the back of the truck when young couple out walking their dog walked by.  The kind gentleman then turned around and said, “Do you need a hand?”  He then proceeded to help me carry the heavy unit up to the third floor of my daughter’s apartment.  Moments later, while my wife was preparing to carry up the middle section of the unit, two guys on bicycles stopped and asked my wife if she needed help.  It is reassuring to know that there are kind people willing to “lend a hand” when it is needed.

While visiting Toronto a few years ago, our experience with the its people was most positive.  We spent one day going to various places throughout the city using the subway or underground system.  Any of you who ever used these rapid transit systems knows how easy it is to get lost or to not know which platform to be on.  There were numerous occasions where we would be standing somewhere in the Toronto underground looking confused, when some kindhearted, random stranger would come up to us and ask us if we needed help. Thankfully, there are many kind, caring people in Toronto.

When I was backpacking alone in Europe in 1986, I had hitchhiked to Berlin with my American travel mate from Alabama.  The driver dropped us off at the Berlin University where we could catch the Subway to downtown.  When we got dropped off, my travel mate and myself both had to use the facilities, very badly I might add, and so we walked into a university building thinking that a public washroom would be easy to find.  We could not find one, so we asked a lady working at a desk.  She showed us the washroom and when we returned, she randomly asked us if we would like a sandwich and a coffee.  We graciously accepted her offer and had lunch.  I fell in love with Berlin right then and there.  I will always be grateful for meeting this kind Berliner.

Then there were those times when my wife and I were travelling in Europe 26 years ago.  We were making our way to Sarajevo in what was then the country of Yugoslavia.  We arrived early, 6:20 AM, at the train station in Ljubljana, in the former Yugoslavia in the hopes of making a reservation for a compartment only to discover that the train was full. Now when they say full, they mean it.  There were people everywhere. The compartments were full.  The hallway was wall to wall people. Having no choice to take the train anyway, we sat in a small area in front of the W.C (symbol for Toilet).  We sat on what looked like a heater, and had maybe three inches to sit on. It was hard and most uncomfortable on the butt. About two hours later, the train stops in some town and a young couple come onto the train, followed by about seven pieces of large luggage bags.  My first thought was, “There’s not even room for people on this train let alone seven large bags.”  A few minutes later, the lady of the couple said to us in Croatian, what I can only assume was “come” and pointed her finger at my wife and I. We of course followed them. They led us to a compartment that they located with empty seats.  Her husband then came and helped with our backpacks.  When we got settled into the compartment, the kind Croatian gentleman pulled out a beer and hands it to me, and then handed my wife a juice.  These were truly good, kind people.

On that same trip, travelling from the former Yugoslavia to Rome, Italy, my wife and I boarded an overnight fairy to cross the Adriatic sea.. We settled into our tiny room and then went up to the deck where we met a young couple from Switzerland.  Now since we wanted to go there, my wife struck up a conversation, as she is the talkative one.  In the process of the conversation the Swiss people invited us to join them in their home in Switzerland.  They said they would show us around their country.  They even bought us a drink that evening.  We graciously accepted their invitation and met up with them after visiting Rome.  The time we spent with them was fantastic.  They were most gracious and hospitable. We will always be grateful for these kind, sweet Swiss friends.smiley

Now I could go on with more stories, but I think you get the point.  I truly believe, based on my experiences, that there are more good people on this wonderful planet of ours than bad ones. So to all the numerous kind, wonderful people in the world, I salute you!