It took a French girl to make me feel even more a patriot!

I mentioned life in Paris and the myriad stories I could write about it and Kid asked me yesterday, in comments, to blog some of them….here’s one you might have read already.  If not, I hope you enjoy it….I published it first in January 2008.   It was written halfway through our four wonderful years in Paris.   Z

At ten thirty, she sweeps up the torn Metro tickets, the crumpled, empty cigarette packs, and paper sugar cube covers. I watch her every morning, as my husband and I have our morning café crème and baguette with butter. That is to say, as my husband has those delicious things, and I have a bitter, black café served with a glass of cold water, a taste combination I have grown to savor. We say “bonjour” to everybody who’s behind the counter as we walk in, to the proprietor, Serge, the black-vested barman, Brigitte, the blonde woman with a braid down her back which brushes her waist, and a little blonde woman with overly pinked cheeks. Every morning, this overly pinked face says “bonjour,” or “merci,” “au revoir”, when we leave through the crowds standing at the bar getting their morning fix of caffeine and nicotine. She never leaves the back of the bar except to sweep, and we’ve never come to know her name.

We do know the names of our favorite servers we have come to know well in the 2 ½ years we’ve lived near the Place Victor Hugo in Paris. We have felt like family for the last year, with Jean Paul, Mayda, and Jean Claude. They kiss our cheeks, or my hand, as we come in every morning, or on the evenings when we have dinner there. We talk about recipes, discussing the benefits of adding an egg yolk to mashed potatoes, or chestnuts to red cabbage at Christmas (Jean Paul went almost down to his knees in rapture when he talked about that!).

In the 2 ½ years we’ve come in to the café, I know the little blonde woman with the rouged cheeks has learned we’re not French…one only has to listen to my ‘Bon Jour’ to know that. I like to think that whatever else Jean Paul or Mayda might have said about us is kind. We have deep affection for these people and I think they do for us, too.

This morning, the blonde woman and I spoke for the first time. My husband and I sat fairly close to the bar and she had to sweep around our table so I lifted my purse off the ground to get it out of her way. “Don’t move, Madame, it is fine there,” she said in French. My husband made a comment about the mess on the floor, “there are ashtrays on the tables, why are there cigarette butts on the floor?” he complained. “The Parisiens,” she said. We laughed, my husband and I, but she was very serious. “No!” I said, “not just because they’re French…people from other countries are messy, too!” She looked at me and said “I knew you’d say that, I knew I’d get that reaction!” Apparently, Jean-Paul has told her what a fan of the French I am! “I’m from Normandy. You won’t see this there. Have you been there?”

“Normandy,” I said, “yes, we have been there. There are so many beautiful towns, and I love the specialties in Normandy, all the wonderful butter and cream, the blanquette de veau.” She looked proud. Tell the French you love their food, they’ll be yours forever. “Ah, oui, blanquette de veau…c’est magnifique!” She dragged her broom around floor under my chair and then stopped again. “In Normandy, we like the Americans,” she said, smiling.

“OH, I don’t think so!” I said to her..“I thought the French don’t usually like Americans,” I said, baiting her a bit but enjoying the compliment. She stopped sweeping, held the broom straight up in front of her, and looked directly into my eyes. “In Normandy we do…we will never forget what the Americans did for us. In Normandy, we like the Americans very much.”

I watched as she continued sweeping. She looked up from the floor and caught my eyes again, “very much.” I was almost moved to tears. She stopped again, leaning the broom stick in the cradle of her arm. “In Normandy, we have a statue of Patton….THIS high,” she gestured to about 7 feet in the air. We will never forget what the Americans did for us. Maybe in Paris they forget, but never in Normandy.” Suddenly, I felt seven feet tall, too.

I watched the blonde woman as she finished sweeping and brushed everything into the dustpan and into the trash. She put her broom away in the corner and went back behind the bar where she, again, became a one-woman perpetual café machine……never stopping, never ceasing to be pleasant, to offer a croissant, telling people to have a good day “bonne journee!” on their way out.

She looked up through the crowd and smiled at me, as she leaned forward, wiping off the bar top with a towel. How proud I felt this morning, like I’d actually helped the French myself! Who was I to take the compliment, I thought? Who am I? I wasn’t even born then. But I am an American. And, this morning, it felt even better than usual.

Our building in Paris…..BLISS…I can barely look at it I miss it so much.


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24 Responses to It took a French girl to make me feel even more a patriot!

  1. jerrydablade says:

    Wow. Thank you far sharing theses great memories. You paint such a beautifully vivid picture of a place I will never know. lt felt like I was in the chair next to you two, enjoying a cafe with you and sharing a dozen baguette’s with Mr Z.


  2. jerrydablade says:

    …And nothing better than a burst of patriotism and American pride. Loved it!


  3. I remember you sharing this before and I’m glad you did so again.
    The scene you describe reminds me of scenes in the movie Amelie, one of my favorites.
    In the seventies, when I lived and worked in Europe, it was a similar scene in Italy, where and when the survivors of that war were still alive.


  4. Linda says:

    What a great memory! It’s too bad our whole country doesn’t have patriotism like this! I love America, and will probably never get to visit other countries, but I’ll enjoy your stories!


  5. cube says:

    I find it sad that you never got her name.


  6. bunkerville says:

    Never have so many owed so much to so few… I am glad to hear at least some are willing to remember what we have done to keep the world free.. thanks for the memory!


  7. cube says:

    She was a bigger patriot than many americans are today.


  8. Kid says:

    Such wonderful images you created with your story ! And the Normandy story even put some dust in my eyes..


  9. Adrienne says:

    Lovely story, Geeez. Thanks


  10. geeez2014 says:

    Thanks SO much, everyone!!

    Cube, I probably heard her name finally…we were there 2 more years, and it’s not my nature not to get things like that…but I didn’t know it then.

    EVERYONE: At Christmas 2001, I didn’t want to fly so we stayed in Paris. Two friends who’d lived there, from Montreal, came back to spend it with us, and Christmas Eve, I had little filo triangles with cheese in them in the freezer, so I cooked them and the four of us carried the tray to the cafe, where we knew our favorites had to work that night for a while, and you should have seen their faces that I’d brought food to them!! The husbands ordered 2 bottles of champagne and we had a little Christmas party with the staff and I have great pictures of that. such Fun!


  11. Imp says:

    What a wonderful memory Ms.Z. I and my family also liked the local cafe in the mornings with “American” coffee….black for me and I was looked at as if I was a Martian…LOL

    But..”In Normandy, we have a statue of Patton…” Not that I doubt that but Patton was stuck in England across from Calais with his totally bogus “army” because Ike wanted to punish him for his outspokenness and bad behavior. And the Germans bought it because they were convinced that Patton was our best General, and of course would lead the invasion of France. And The German High Command remained fixated on the Calais area. Yet it was his 3rd Army that he was given command of that broke the Germans backs in the Battle of the Bulge. Which was around December of 1944 near Bastogne Belgium well after D day in 1944. He was a hero and earned his 4th star there too.

    Yet…I loved Paris too along with Dijon. And I’ll never forget my 2 week trip by boat up the Doubs with the up and down locks we had to navigate through for many, many miles and the wonderful people in all the small cities, towns and villages we tied up in overnight and moored in. If we hit a lock at lunch time…forget it….we waited until the family or the woman or the man in charge was finished with their lunch and break time. The majority of them were operated by hand. We got lots of looks, waves and hugs as we were flying an American flag. As the boat ( a motor yacht ) was registered in ….Fort Lauderdale, Fla! And by God…we spoke French wherever we went too. And to our surprise…many many of the locals we met spoke English…and wanted to practice it more than they cared if we spoke French…badly! So I say…I hope with all my heart that France can be rescued once more from the jaws of a very vocal , dangerous enemy. Longue vie en France, toujours


  12. Mal says:

    When Patton landed on the beach of Normandy I was a 16 year old High School student so I remember it well. The loss of American lives was horrendous. We’ve probably all seen pictures of the cemetery for the thousands of G.I’s buried there so we can certainly understand her gratitude and respect of Americans. I would suppose the 7′ statue of Patton still remains today.
    it was a wonderful story, Z, and I’m sure you still have fond memories of a happier time in your life.


  13. Since Imp mention the Battle of the Bulge, if anyone finds themselves in Belgium, looking for some history off the beaten path…’s possible to head out of Bastogne by car, pull off on a certain one-lane side road, and park near some trees. Moving into the small forested area, one can still see and sit in, some of the foxholes dug and occupied during the Battle by the 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division [of Band of Brothers fame].

    It’s eerily peaceful and sobering, but one of the best stops I ever made in Europe.


  14. Imp says:

    Mal….”Paton was temporarily removed from battlefield command for other duties such as participating in Operation Fortitude’s disinformation campaign for Operation Overlord ( D Day ). Patton returned to command the Third Army following the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, where he led a highly successful rapid armored drive across France. He led the relief of beleaguered American troops at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and advanced his Third Army into Nazi Germany by the end of the war.


  15. Imp says:

    CI…Never got there myself nor to Normandy. Although my brother who used to rent an apartment in Paris every year until 2010 when he said it just became way too unbearable with the overwhelming muslim presence. Decided to go to Normandy instead. And it would forever have an enormous emotional effect him. He being a Marine which never saw action in Europe. But it was that countryside with the near impassible hedgerows … that almost lost it for many divisions?


  16. Baysider says:

    I love this story! Thanks for sharing again. I can just picture Mr. Z sizing up the ashtrays and the floor, and making that comment.


  17. geeez2014 says:

    Imp, I have to admit the muslim presence doesn’t seem quite that overwhelming to most people who live or visit in France; it so largely depends on where you’re talking about in Paris. MANY of the stories about Muslims in Paris, as a matter of fact, are very old stories brought out again to make a point. Not that there aren’t problems, but…
    Normany is VERY moving…the German cemetery nearby is also very moving and very different…as bright and white and glowing as the American cemetery is, the German one is dark headstones with only red roses planted everywhere under the shade of trees. Quite a contrast and, the most important part is the sign above the gates “Here lie German soldiers, many of whom did not pick the cause or the fight.” Amen.

    Baysider, thanks.


  18. Bob says:

    Thanks for you memories, Z. I love that story, and could almost taste the bitter coffee and mineral water you drank. I would like to hear more stories about your travels. The one about throwing a party for the restaurant is priceless. You are certainly living a blessed life.


  19. geeez2014 says:

    Bob, just to say their faces when we walked in with home made food for them was definitely a blessing to US!~ THanks…I’ll put some more pieces from time to time!


  20. Mal says:

    Imp, I remember that all being covered in the film Patton. He got himself in and out of trouble all the time, too. I believe he wanted to continue the war by going after Russia and got himself in trouble over that, also.


  21. geeez2014 says:

    Patton is HIGHLY loved and revered in Normandy.


  22. Kid says:

    MAL, The movie had him chomping at the bit to take out Russia too. I wonder if our veterans were ready for another 5+ years of war with Russia. Tough war and I think most if not all of our forces were involved in it. I know my Dad was. Infnantry and walked from italy through most of Europe’s engaged countries. I don’t think he’d have been a fan of staying there and engaging Russia, and since (as mentioned above) most or all of our forces were already engaged it wouldn’t have been a rotation situation where those guys come home for 6-9 months then redeploy.

    I think Patton’s Russia idea was a bridge too far. Though it would have saved us trillions of $, but then $ are just pieces of paper eh? In the long run?


  23. John M. Berger says:

    Two of my uncles, 2nd generation Germans, fighting on our side, blown to bits. I’m glad to hear that [some] French appreciate that!


  24. Mal says:

    You’re certainly right, Kid, about the GI’s of WWll in 1945 not wanting to stay and fight another war with Russia……….or anyone else, for that matter. We’d all had enough. So had the Russians, too, I would imagine.


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