I was on a flight from Northern Florida to L.A. Having just left my husband behind on the East Coast – he was on business – I was feeling a bit bummed. I genuinely like that guy. Two French sisters sat down next to me. They started gabbing away and invited me to join in on their banter. Slowly, my sadness turned to intrigue. These two had quite the story.
Their family lived in France. When World War II began, their father scooped them all up and fled to South America. I believe it was Argentina. After having secured his children and wife, their father returned to France to aide in the war efforts. Luckily, he served his people and still was able to return safely to his loved ones.
The sisters grew up happily, but always hoped to go back “home”. Their fresh accents proved that their French life was never truly left behind. Years later as adults, they decided to travel back to France and see their beginnings again. The beautiful countryside, the wines, the history, the architecture. Yet, something surprised them about their native land: the people – their people – treated them poorly. Having spent most of their lives in South America, the French no longer considered them to be “truly” French anymore. The cliché snobbery that has haunted the French culture came alive and these two sisters were shocked to find that they were technically outcasts in their hometown. More than that, their father even went back to France, put his own life in danger, and fought beside his fellow Frenchmen. He saved his family, but did not turn his back on his people.
Hurt and appalled, they left France and never went back. The sisters ultimately found themselves retired and living in Florida where total acceptance by their Stateside neighbors was never a question. They raved about American living and how they have never experienced such unwelcoming behavior anywhere else.
A few years ago, I spent a day in Paris. I enjoyed it. It was beautiful. Wine came with every meal. But I didn’t interact with the people or get immersed in the culture. I didn’t have a well-rounded experience and can’t honestly speak to any stereotypes. Thus, my disclaimer is that this story is only one story. Told by two friendly ladies looking to have a positive connection with their roots. This isn’t my story and it may not be yours if you go – or have been – to France. As with any travel destination, I say go there and find out for yourself what it’s all about. Besides, even if you have a similar experience as these two French sisters, it was still an adventure.
At first, I felt bad for them. They were shunned. Then I realized they needed that experience. They needed to know that this was not their real home and that the life that they had built for themselves was where their happiness really lived. Both ladies were jovial, open, and full of vitality. Perhaps, if they grew up in France, their outlook on life would be very different. Maybe they would have ended up close-minded and shunning someone else. Instead, they travel a lot, enjoy chatting it up with other random travelers (like me!), and have a great time doing it. The rejection forced them to see how fabulous their lives are and to not live in the past.
Towards the end of the flight, one of the sisters leaned over to me and told me a joke. It went something like this: God made France. He realized his creation was just too beautiful and too perfect. He had to find a way to balance out its magnificence. You know, muddy the landscape a bit. Thus, he put the French there.