My Paris Greeter

Paris Greeters form a puzzling organization. They meet you, they greet you and they take you around parts of Paris, and they do it for free. There is no fine print, there is no catch. Indeed, I found this to be rather fairy-tale like, that I at first, refused to take their services seriously and only signed up a couple of days in advance to my Paris trip, purely as a lark. I told them in my registration form that I wanted to “see Paris like a Parisian” but that my french was limited to “Bon jour” s which usually made the French ask me “Madam, do you speak any English maybe ?”

And it was a pleasant surprise when I got a reply from M, who sounded like a sweet old school teacher and spoke quaint, romantic English the way only sweet old school teachers can, and we agreed to meet in front of the Notre Dame at 10:30 in the morning and “walk around”. My guided tours in the past always had me walking around in a crowd of people, which almost always had chafing commenters, camera clickers, and crying children. This time around, it was just me. And M.

M, who by the way, indeed turned out to be a sweet school teacher was jolly, jolie, and excited to be taking me around. To give you some material to form a mental picture,  M was largely dressed in pink with a very pale yellow sweater, wore glasses (a given, of course) and had blue eyes and a beautiful smile that only grandmothers who make very nice cakes have. I was wearing a crumpled T shirt, stretch pants and by no stretch of imagination could be taken for viable tourist material.

“Oh, you’re here already! That is good. Sometimes people have trouble getting ready and are half an hour to one hour late”

We sat down in front of the Notre Dame, while she got out of her rolling backpack, meticulously prepared files with newspaper clippings, photos, drawings which took me back to my school days and history projects, and started our “walk”. I think it was about 4 when we decided we were done for the day, and in between had had a delicious lunch in one of M’s favourite cafes and chatted with the owner there (who incidentally showered me with candies and apparently also told me in graphic detail about some children on the streets stealing croissants off her customers’ tables), had seen some historic underground caves, revisited Victor Hugo’s house and a museum, visited predominantly Jewish areas and walked down lanes which apparently twenty years ago had been filled with Indian cloth merchants selling their wares, which now harbours chinese merchants selling their goods.

M, whilst giving me history lessons, also told me about her childhood memories, war times, and tips about where to find free clean bathrooms in Paris. She also kept putting sweaters on whenever even a slight breeze wafted by, which seemed unusual for a Parisian to do in summer. It turned out that she had just had surgery a week ago,  and might still have a possibly cancerous tumour sitting inside her, and if I understood right, this might have been due to some technical errors by the doctor in charge.  She has had cancer before, and has a mentally challenged daughter. She also taught me a tune which she loved, found a gift shop which sells chimes which you can wind so that they play these tunes out and said “Bah” when she caught sight of tourist post cards with the Eiffel tower, and looked ready to disown me if I as much as looked at them.

“I’m a history teacher, and this is what history has taught me. That in all races, all countries, there are some generations which are good, and some, which are very bad. We are all alike in our faults, more than anything else, so we can never claim to be better than someone else”.

It amazes and also slightly bewilders me to meet people, actual normal people who handle what life throws at them in such a graceful and admirable fashion. Heroism to me, now, is living with grace. I probably won’t meet M again, I don’t really recall what she looks like exactly, but to me she shall always be Grace, personified.

 

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One Comment on “My Paris Greeter”

  1. sb Says:

    happy that you had this experience. travels to different places should be more for such experiences rather than having photos clicked in front of famous tourist spots.


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