Before coming to France, I had a vague notion about how French people would be. I thought the women would all be thin and fashionable with perfect skin and je-ne-sais-quoi hair. The men would be also be stylish, with tousled hair and a scarf draped just-so over a jacket–but no one would look like they were trying too hard. In my mind, no one was really old, or poor, or suffering in any way–French people, as they existed in my mind, were just a giant fabulous stereotype.
It has been really healthy for me to have this stereotype shattered, and to see for myself that people are people are people. I have definitely seen some very fashionable people in France, and I have also seen some very unfashionable people in France. Most people just want to be comfortable wearing basic jeans, sneakers, and a puffy coat–just like back home. And it has been wonderful to see real bodies of all shapes and sizes.
Beyond just appearances, I have observed people in a myriad of different life situations. There have been mothers trying to cope with special needs children who were having a hard time. I have seen sons and daughters caring for aging parents with mobility issues. Early mornings in big cities bring people hurrying to work. There are rude people, and polite people. There are those who are for the vaccine, and those who are against the vaccine. I have passed people on the street who were obviously very rich. I have also encountered people who didn’t have anywhere else to sleep but in an alcove on the sidewalk.
I feel very connected to French parents when their children are throwing tantrums. My children are out of this phase, but I nonetheless remember it well. Just yesterday my husband Matt and I were out for a walk when we encountered a mother who was trying to go for a walk with her dog and her son. The boy, probably about 3, was all bundled up in a sweet little hat that had bear ears and a bear face on it. He was also wearing yarn mittens that dangled out of his coat, black rubber boots, and (of course) a puffy coat lined with fur. He was adorable. He was also adamant that he did NOT want to go on a walk. He was screaming at the top of his lungs, stomping his feet, and flailing about. As we passed, his pitch grew higher and louder.
We were chuckling to ourselves, because as young parents we had been there so many times. And even though our children did not throw their tantrums in French (which was so cute), everything else was so familiar. Because we are all human. We’re all just doing our best to love our families and make lives for ourselves. Some days are hard. Some days are exhilarating. Some days are just plain boring. We are all living through the mud and the rain and the sun and the flowers, and trying to help each other along the way. Hopefully we can do this with some measure of kindness, patience, and grace. Because no matter what flag we fly or what language we speak, when it comes down to it, we’re all just people.
For more thoughts, visit 25 Reflections: Traditions.