I was in France – aka a country where English is not the first language. I knew very little French besides how to say “please,” “thank you,” “hello,” and “goodbye.” Other than those few words, I was clearly an English-speaking woman on holiday. I even looked English. The color of clothes I wore, my hair’s shade of blonde, the side of the sidewalk I walked on, and the way I ate my Nutella crépes all screamed “AMERICAN!”
Even though I was an obvious tourist in Paris, I had no trouble getting around because so many people spoke English in the city. In fact, I actually came across several Parisians who were intrigued by my American accent and foreign vibe. This worked in my favor as I was able to speak to the locals, find some pretty cool attractions, and locate some top notch patisseries that served plentiful and colorful amounts of macaroons. All of these positive and easy-going interactions made Paris so simple to navigate and quite easy to fall in love with. They say that Paris is the city of love because of its serene and romantic feel. I think the welcoming people (and delicious, irresistible food) also support that title.
After my roommate and I lived a dreamy three-day vacation in Paris, it was time for us to say au revoir to the Eiffel Tower and catch a train to Sallanches, France. Sallanches (pronounced saul-launch) is a small town on the border of Switzerland that happens to be a one hour bus ride from Geneva and a five hour train ride from Paris. Through the power of the internet, I had found a bed and breakfast in Sallanches for a decent price that claimed to have a nice view of Mont Blanc, offered free breakfast every morning, and was located in the Swiss mountains. I couldn’t resist my urge to travel, and my compulsory decision was to take advantage of the opportunity. Because, well, why not? When else would I have the chance to nonchalantly travel Europe?
My roommate and I arrived in Sallanches around 5 p.m., only to realize that we had to flag down a taxi to get to the bed and breakfast, and that absolutely no one spoke English in the town. Luckily I knew the name of where we had to go, and, with the help of a Tom Tom GPS, the taxi driver knew how to get us there. After loading up our luggage in the trunk of the cab and (literally) riding up a mountain, the taxi man halted the car at a beautiful log cabin that seemed to be freshly dusted with snow. A very petite French-speaking woman in her sixties, I’d guess, greeted us at the door of the establishment. She had the warm smile of a grandmother and a very soothing voice. However, she too spoke no English.
Despite not speaking our language, this woman went above and beyond to ask us questions, meet our needs, learn more about who we were, and ask what we wanted for breakfast. She would do so by printing out Google translations every few minutes and handing them to us with a smile. At one point she even asked if we had anything to cook for dinner, and because we did not, she kindly drove us all the way down the mountain so we could go to a convenience store to buy dinner. (FYI, this woman drives like Mario does in those old Nintendo Mario Kart games. I was frightened for my life at many times throughout this car ride. We made it safely and did buy dinner, nonetheless.) I was absolutely blown away by this woman’s generosity and selflessness. I was even more overwhelmed with joy in the morning as my roommate and I woke up to homemade crescents, homemade yogurt, eight different types of homemade jelly, and non-homemade coffee. Then, to make my morning even better, our hostess planned to drive us to the nearest bus station so my roommate and I could tour Switzerland. I honestly had never been so inspired by someone’s kindness in all of my life.
Here was a woman, named Monique, who knew not one word of English. Yet she took every moment she could to speak with us and try to understand our needs. She made time to drive us where we needed to be, at any time, at no extra cost. For both nights we stayed with her she wished us a good night, and every morning she would welcome us with a hearty homemade meal. Even as we left, she had written us a letter in English wishing us safe travels back to London and back to America in the future. Then, days after we had left, she emailed us, telling us how thankful she was to have met us. She called us her “American friends.”
I tear up writing this now, and wish I could have spoken French to hear more about her life story and her own adventures. It saddens me to know that it may be a long time before I see Monique again, if ever. Even so, I am so thankful I had the chance to meet such a remarkable woman. After leaving her bed and breakfast and catching a train back to London, I vowed to strive to be as kind and selfless to others as Monique was to my roommate and me. She truly had proven to me that, no matter where you are or what language you speak, kindness is universal.