A British friend of ours, a very funny guy named Ronnie, who lives in the north of England, tells a very funny and self-deprecating story about his one and only trip to the US. He had nursed a desire to visit the United States for years, and with much excitement, managed to convince a buddy to join him. They flew non-stop from London to San Diego (Good Lord).
Shortly after touchdown the plane stopped at the gate and Ronnie, face plastered to the window, spotted the ground crew jumping into action.
“Look, look!” he sqweelled, “”Look, Americans, AMERICANS!”
“Of course they’re Americans ya moron, “ said his buddy, “We just landed in San Diego.”
In a way, we have had similar experiences here in France, especially in the early going. We were driving through a small village in Normandy one day on our first-ever road trip, when we came up on an elderly gentleman (I know, who am I to call anyone elderly?), riding a bicycle, wearing a beret, with a baguette slung under one arm. The two of us swapped simultaneous double-takes and had the same reaction.
“Oh, my God, look at that. It’s like something right out of Central Casting!” It was like every caricature we ever had of what it was like in France. Old guy. On a bike. Wearing beret. With baguette. It was a moment that drove home the fact that yes, we were indeed in France.
But of course it wasn’t a caricature. It was every day France. And that became clear as, over and over, we saw the same sort of thing in different villages, all over France. At one point I even wondered, “Hey. You think it’s the same guy wherever we go?”
But then one day it all became clear to me.
“I’ll bet you French Department of Tourism is behind it. All over France they hire old guys to drive around on bikes, looking picturesque for the tourists. Every morning they show up at work, they get issued bikes, berets and baguettes and off they go. They get extra if they have a Gauloises dangling from their lips.”
I was kidding of course. But just a bit.