Finding a Way to Make New Friends in France

img_4653We’re here. We’re in Paris. I’ve already overcome my initial fears: to find my luggage, secure a taxi, negotiate the language barrier, put in the correct codes to the building, and turn the key in the right lock of the right flat, and figure out how to use the toilet. I was afraid to face a bidet. I don’t quite get it.  After 24 hours of flying, sitting, and eating food I normally wouldn’t eat, I need a glass of rose and a salad.

I look haggard in the mirror. I mean bad. I slather on my new Estee Lauder makeup, and I recognize my face begin to take shape. We decide to go out and find some food, so we press the elevator button—impair, meaning the odd floors—and wait for it to arrive. Paul looks at me and cocks his head.

“You don’t have any lips.” He sounds lost. We abandon the elevator and go back into the flat. I find lipstick and carefully outline my lips and fill them in.

“That’s better,” Paul said and pressed the button for the elevator.

I think of our other trips to Mexico, Canada, South Africa, Spain, Italy, Malta, Sicily, and Tunisia. Not for a minute did I worry about not fitting in in any of those places. I was the usual Lesley—marching through the streets, looking over my shoulder at Paul lagging behind, engaging with the locals, smiling, and making new friends.

So, what is different about France?

I’m afraid that my big approach to life will be too much. I’ll offend the sensibilities of a measured society filled with subtle cultural norms that I could blow out of the water without meaning to. img_4656

So, we arrive at a bar called Barracuda, and I couldn’t help myself. “Do you speak English?” I sputtered to the hostess. I intended to lead with classic “Bonjour, Madame”, but the true Lesley rocketed to the surface.

“Of course,” she said with a big smile. I had to stop myself from hugging her. Over a simple meal of salad and bread and cheese, we chatted with the bartender/barista, hostess, waitress, and patrons at the next table. I advised them of Airbnb’s new “Experiences” offerings where photographers, historians, tour guides, chefs, and artists could design a class—an experience—and market it on the website. A female photographer from Finland who speaks four languages, squeezed my arm and said,

“I am so glad I met you! I’m wanting to find direction in my life. You’ve given me a new idea.”

Me? I helped a woman who speaks four languages and knows how to use a fancy camera? img_4657

Paul and I walked around the block looking in on boulangeries, bistros, little grocery stores, and spas. We were almost back to the flat when I walked past a store window and screeched to a halt.

“Paul,” I said miffed. “Look.” I gestured at my clothes.

“What?” He was so tired his eyes were glazed over and deep red.

“Did you notice my dress?” He shook his head and then looked down at my legs. My tights and the dress were glued together with static electricity and they bunched up around my waist like an inner tube.

“And you were worried I didn’t have any lips?”

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