When I speak French, I know I’m not speaking the greatest French. But hey, at least I’m trying. Usually when I’m over there, the Parisians indulge me. When they come back at me in English, I ask them to please speak with me in French because, obviously, my French could use some work.
For the most part, I haven’t encountered too many rude French people, not since my very first trips there when my French was even more rusty. (By way of explanation, I began studying French in the sixth grade and continued all the way through college. I minored in it. I was pretty fluent when I graduated, but time takes its toll, even on foreign language skills.) I don’t know what the French dislike more, Americans butchering their language or Americans being good at it, or maybe just Americans in general, but last week we got some excessively rude French waiter treatment.
Maybe it was my bad French, or that their tolerance was low, it being the beginning of the high tourist season and all, but I haven’t been treated that horribly by a string of French waiters in years. I shrugged it off and did what I always do, consoled myself with the fact those assholes would all be speaking German right now if it weren’t for millions of Allied soldiers, including American soldiers—men like my father, who went over to Europe during World War II and fought for their freedom, some of them—millions of them, actually—paying the ultimate price.
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Don’t get me wrong, I love France. I love everything about it. I just don’t like the way I was treated last Wednesday by three (yes, three!) waiters. (We left one café, we were ignored so resolutely.) I suppose I shouldn’t care, but I could never, ever imagine waiters in the US treating tourists that way, although I suppose it happens.
The day after Rude Parisian Waiter Day (Hey, maybe it’s a French labor holiday we were unaware of!) our flight home cancelled, No one feels sorry for you when you get stuck in Paris. We made the best of it, planning a trip to Normandy, which has been on my bucket list for years, but since it’s a three-hour drive from Paris, is not possible during a normal layover.
“I’m gonna cry,” I warned my crew. I knew this would be the case because I can’t even look at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. without choking up, same with Arlington. Nothing prepared me for this.
We approached from the ocean, turning the corner to see the thousands of crosses of the young American men who’d died there. An overwhelming amount of crosses as far as you could see. I read their names, American names, understanding these soldiers had not been much older than my fifteen-year-old sons. Everyone of them probably scared out of their minds. I marveled that somehow my father had managed to make it back, so I could exist, and so many, many others did not.
It’s such a beautiful place, Omaha Beach, on a beautiful sunny day like the one we had, it’s hard to imagine the atrocity that happened there.
Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. As one of my crewmembers, we'll call her "Mila", said when we turned that corner and saw all those graves, “Every person in France needs to see this.”
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