French National Treasure: Friendship


Cocktails for fourParis has the reputation as being one of the most beautiful cities in the world with the most inhospitable residents. Whether it deserves this label or not is still up for discussion. Needless to say, every visitor is not going to experience the same kind of reception. If you walk into a shop or a government office on a day when the desk clerk or sales person is in a foul mood – you might be caught in the fallout. Many unpleasant exchanges can easily be avoided simply by remembering to say ‘Bonjour Madame, or Bonjour Monsieur’ before you start to speak, and above all, don’t break into a conversation that’s already begun (including telephone conversations).

Friendship, on the other hand, is golden. If you plan on spending any time in France – or even if you spend a short time in France – and have the good fortune to be invited into a French home, do not take such an invitation lightly.

If, after the first visit, you and your hosts find common ground, there’s a good chance that you’ve found a friend for life (not a Facebook or Myspace friend). And with that friendship comes many responsibilities as well as pleasure. Friendships here are based first and foremost on natural affinities rather than ‘networking’. And it’s also about sharing. Sharing food, sharing laughter, sharing grief.

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For Americans (and possibly for British visitors as well), one really has to readjust one’s concept of time when it comes to socializing. Last night we were invited to a family home for cocktails. We arrived at 6:30 pm and stayed until 10 pm. Andre, our host, had spent the entire afternoon preparing the appetizers: puff pastry filled with goat cheese, melon nectar with mint from the garden, mini quiche lorraine, salmon mousse. There were just four of us.

If you’re invited to a family’s home, plan on spending some time. Leave your watch at your hotel. Likewise, if you invite French friends to your apartment, there’s never need to feel rushed, particularly in bringing out the main course for a meal. The most difficult part of any visit is how to say ‘goodbye’ which is why no one ever says ‘goodbye’ in France, but only, ‘until we meet again’ or ‘au revoir’.

Originally, we had met Andre in a snowstorm. He helped us move the car out of a snow drift. That’s how the friendship began. In fact, many of our friendships in France have begun as sheer accidental encounters. Another friend I met while jogging.

If you’re thinking about finding a good souvenir of France, consider the idea of making a friend and you may discover that friend to be a treasure more valuable than gold.