Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Celebrating all things French today (except French fries, which aren't French anyway)

Today is Bastille Day. I'm always reminded that, on this day in 1989, my friend Kevin and I went to our high school French teacher's house unannounced and drank wine with her in celebration of the holiday.

I give Madame Whitehorn credit for being so gracious to us. She was under no obligation to invite two former students (who showed up unexpectedly on her doorstep) into her home on a mid-summer Friday morning.

Yet she did, and she remains one of my favorite teachers ever.

As I've mentioned, I took 14 years of French classes between the Wickliffe City Schools and John Carroll University, so I have a deep interest in French language and culture. It also doesn't hurt that, as a First World War buff, I have a relatively detailed knowledge of the geography of Northeastern France, where so many battles were fought.

By the way, contrary to what you may think you know about France's military history, the French army was a tough out in WW1. The Germans had deep respect for their tenacity and fighting capacity.

I've visited France twice, and both times I was in Paris. I've only scratched the surface of things to see and do there, but I do also someday hope to make it "en province," as they say, and experience some of the non-Parisian parts of the country.

The closest most Ohioans get to all things French is visiting some part of Francophone Canada. I have been to Montreal four times, and while it's lovely, it's not the real thing.

Nor should it be. It is a wonderful city with a mystique and culture all its own.

French people have a reputation for being rude and snooty, and I'm sure many are (just as many Americans are). But in the combined four days I've spent in France, the people I met were nothing but kind and gracious.

That includes the French woman whose job it apparently was to stand in the men's room while I peed at the Gare de Nord train station in 1999. I don't know if she kept any notes on customer behavior, but if she did, I'm sure she noted my exceptional cleanliness and respect for French urinals.

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