Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cultural differences

Our first trip to France was in 1998.  As international travelers, we were completely clueless. One of the things I did wrong was to bring my jogging stuff. Honestly, who goes to France for one week and wastes time jogging?  Well, I did. With those pastries and desserts, it probably helped, but not much.

We stayed at a condo in Port Cogolin, with my parents. Port Cogolin is a little harbor off the Gulf of St. Tropez, about halfway between St. Tropez and Sainte Maxime, on the Cote d'Azur. The furnishings were spartan, with the most noticeable problem being the absence of screens on the windows, in a somewhat marshy area. Mosquitoes were a problem, but they must have sprayed around there some because it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The condo was close to a park, with a trail that was excellent for jogging. I would run there in the mornings, while everyone else was cleaning up. One thing I noticed is that there were lots of people with dogs. And for the most part, the dogs were unleashed. As a jogger, just about nothing bothers me more than encountering unleashed dogs; I think I’d rather be caught in a downpour. But these dogs were all different. They ignored me. When has a dog ever ignored a person running? These did.

After a couple of days, I sort of got used to it. The dogs weren’t leashed, but they were trained not to chase people.  We also noticed that dogs were allowed in restaurants.  The dog would sit at the owner’s feet, and sometimes the restaurant would put out a water bowl for the dog. And it seemed like everybody had a dog, and the dogs were exceptionally well behaved. My Dad even came up with a business idea - 'Rent a Dog', for Americans who want to pass as French. A cigarette and a cell phone would seal the deal.

Near where we were staying was a ‘hypermart’, called Géant. It was a short walk from our condo. This store had everything imaginable except cars and boats, and called to mind De Gaulle’s complaint about trying to govern a country with 400 kinds of cheese. It seemed like they had a lot more than 400.  My wife and I were just looking for some stuff to bring home as gifts. This store was like a League of Nations, with so many different languages being spoken. A few Brits, but no other Americans. After we were done, we crossed the street, and came to a bus stop where there was a line of people waiting for the bus. In the line was a woman with a young boy, maybe nine or ten years old. The boy was being hateful and giving his mother a hard time. Evidently it had been going on for a while.

She hauled off and smacked him in the face.  We were shocked – if this happened in the States, someone would probably have called the police. Maybe everyone would have called the police. But there, nobody even looked at her. Well, the kid was asking for it, and he got it. It's what would have happened when I was a kid.

As we walked on towards our condo, I turned to my wife and said “I love this country. Their dogs behave and they beat their children.”

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