44.Maison BorDo you talk to strangers? Offer unsolicited advice or compliments? End up in a conversation with someone whose name you don’t even know?

Even though I consider myself shy, I like to help. When I see tourists scrutinizing a map or stoically walking, their luggage in tow, away from town, I stop and offer directions. This drives my family crazy. Overall, I love people, and I love crowds, but I was brought up not to impose myself, not to speak unless spoken to. So generally I observe and enjoy.

The other day at the market, I finished shopping before my carpool duties kicked in, so I stopped at a café. It was raining and my usual haunt, Le Carnot, was packed inside. Usually I sit outside, the better to catch the stream of friends passing by, who also tend to congregate at Le Carnot. The servers are efficient, friendly and easy on the eyes, so what’s not to like? However, I didn’t want to navigate my loaded shopping caddy through the packed café to search for an empty table in the back.

Maison Bor, across the square, looked less busy. A big awning sheltered the outdoor tables, but even one smoker is too many for me, so I went in. The server saw me coming and opened the door. I felt welcomed.

P1030308
Not nougats. But you’ll soon see the connection.

I parked my caddy next to another by a table full of nougats, the house specialty, and got a table near the back. More people came in. A couple to my left talked to a guy reading the newspaper to my right. An elaborately coiffed and made-up older woman came in and sat at the table right next to me. “Oh, my! It’s crowded,” she crooned as she unpeeled layers of coats, scarves and such. She set a plastic container on the table and opened it.

The couple got up to say hello, with double kisses all around, to another couple at a table farther away. The newspaper guy joined their conversation without getting up from his table. A woman came in, found all the tables occupied, and asked to join the table (for four) of the newspaper guy. I just sat and listened to it all. Somebody had gotten out of the hospital. Grandchildren were visiting this afternoon. The headlines in the paper. The awful weather.

The server came to take the order of the woman next to me. The first couple were back at their table and asked for the bill. The server said “€2.40,” and the woman of the couple said, “What? Not free?” To which the server replied, “Oh! It was free yesterday! But I didn’t see you yesterday!” Their joking was light, friendly banter. The server was a big, burly guy, in his late 30s maybe. I grew up thinking that being a waiter was something you did when you’re young or in between other things, but in France it’s as legitimate a career as anything else, and certainly servers are extremely professional. I like that. Work of any kind deserves respect–self-respect and respect from others.P1080699The woman next to me started talking to me about the weather. I said it was cold, but that where I was from it was worse. My brother had sent me a video of instantly freezing boiling water. The woman looked me over and said, “Ah, I thought I detected an accent! I LOVE American accents!” She went on to lament the state of U.S. politics and to mourn  Obama’s departure. This happens every single time somebody finds out I’m American.

The couple began to bundle up to head out. The guy with the newspaper teased them about overdoing it. The man of the couple said they were heading out into Siberia. (It was about 4 Celsius, or not quite 40 Fahrenheit, miserably cold for these parts, where it rarely freezes.) The newspaper guy replied that he had just read about the polar vortex (he called it la vague de froid–cold wave–I haven’t heard “polar vortex” used yet), with temperatures of minus 38 (turns out Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same at that point). He described the instantly frozen boiling water trick.

The woman next to me piped up, saying I was a native of true winters and that my brother had frozen boiling water. This led to an animated five-table-plus-server discussion of weather, culture, politics and food (I challenge you to talk to any French person without one of you bringing up food. Impossible).

The couple finally extricated themselves. I nursed my coffee a while longer, chatting with the woman next to me. She asked the server for a piece of lettuce, for her snails. That was what was in the plastic container! She tilted it so I could admire the snails. One had already escaped and was cruising across the table.

escargots
With butter, garlic and parsley. They were in a huge skillet, about 3 feet in diameter. I passed.

I asked whether she was going to eat them. She was aghast. Bien sûr que non! They were mignon (cute) and she was going to give them a new lease on life in her small garden. I told her I had an surplus of snails in mine, no need to add. (I didn’t tell her that I put on rubber gloves after it rains and collect them for release into the prairie where they have plenty to eat and can leave my parsley alone. Yet no matter how often I do it, they are everywhere.)

P1080697
Not my yard! Where I exile snails.

She picked up the escapee and with perfect red fingernails held it about an inch from her nose. It stretched its head and feelers around, a bit like a baby that’s held up in front of its parent. She brought it toward her lips (which matched her nails) and gave it a kiss. “Si mignon!” (so cute!) she assured me.

We talked a while more about such banalities that I don’t even remember them, but I enjoyed the conversation. It was time to fetch the carpoolees, so I wished her and everybody else in the café a good day and headed into the rain. Carcassonne is a small town and I don’t doubt I’ll see Snail Lady again.

Feel free to share your tales of spontaneous connections.

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35 thoughts on “Spontaneous Connections

  1. We have the perfect conversation starter in cafés. We have a dog and everyone wants to talk to him. They want to know his breed, his name and his age. That’s our conversation starter. We too have American accents and that opens up more conversation!

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  2. First off, I am fascinated with the snails en masse on the stems!!! Never seen anything like it!
    Secondly, I love jumping in to conversations if I have something to offer. It’s a wonderful way to meet peope and exchange ideas.
    I enjoyed the spontaneity of your experience.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Loved eavesdropping on your encounter! Best encounter recently was on the plane home from Arizona. A towering young man in a hoodie stamped “Hope Dealer” was standing in the aisle near me, and within a few seconds, there was a recognition and a connection so it didn’t even matter what words we were exchanging. And the dog on the floor behind my seat was so big that his wagging tail felt like a child kicking my seat – only I didn’t mind. His owner sang quietly yet criminally off-key through the flight, and this fascinates me: folks who can’t carry a tune yet love to sing. Before we de-boarded, a snout eased through the seats, and I leaned in for the kisses. Where hearts are open and tender…that’s my sweet spot for spontaneity.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like my mother would love it there too. She’s never met a stranger and talks to everyone. I need to buy more vanilla extract & my mother recommended a certain brand. But what brand is most popular in France to cook with? Or do french only use vanilla beans? What other staples in french cooking could you tell us about? Especially brands which I will look for.
    Thank you
    Chadlee

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am starting to see tiny bottles of vanilla extract in supermarkets, but I couldn’t tell you the brand. I worked off a stock of bottles that I brought back from the U.S., and since those ran out, I just diminish the sugar in a recipe and replace it with vanilla sugar or use vanilla beans.

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  5. I absolutely loved reading this, as it brought back a fun memory of our stay in Amboise a few years ago. We were at a tiny restaurant(La Fourchette)seated near one side of it. About 15 feet away sat a table of people from Montana who declared, “There’s only English-speaking people in here!” Then the couple seated right next to us against the wall piped up, “We are the French!” They were from Brittany, and we started chatting immediately with them to discover that the woman was a retired art teacher like me. For some reason, they thought we were from the UK.
    The following year in Strasbourg, we stopped for an outdoor lunch at a café, and a little sparrow was hopping around looking for crumbs. The French couple next to us started breaking off little bits of baguette for it, and we struck up a long conversation in French/English. When we stood up to leave, we got les bises from both of them! We never would have expected that, but what a wonderful memory of our stay there!

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    1. Great stories!
      I used to be quite a fan of the hammam at the Grande Mosquée in Paris. I’d go, then have a mint tea in their tea garden. Such a lovely, peaceful place. Well, one time, I was there rather early and got a table but I noticed it quickly got very crowded. I saw a couple, maybe a decade older than me, looking crestfallen when they learned that there were no tables. I invited them to share my table. They were thrilled. Turns out, the tea garden had just been featured on TV. They lived outside Paris and had driven in just to check it out and were so happy it worked out, and said they were kind of shocked i shared my table–that it wasn’t done. But I had the loveliest time talking with them. Win-win.

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      1. That was so nice of you! When we decided to visit Amboise, I came upon the blog, “Amboise Daily Photo” and followed it for several months before our visit. Stuart, the author, and his wife are American expats there. I emailed him, and asked if he might be interested in meeting up during our stay; and we ended up meeting them at the Sunday market by the Loire, doing a bit of shopping, and then back to their house for several hours for conversation and some absolutely amazing truffle cheese! His wife is a fabric artist, and that is one of my passions also. She gave me a complete tour of her studio upstairs and we “talked shop”. They even gave us the rest of that wonderful cheese to keep since they were going out of town the next day. We still email and send photos back and forth, and they have been very helpful with information that we will need when we plan to move to France for at least a few years! Hopefully, soon…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. A few years ago we were in Ikea in Toulon…it was a rainy day…we were having lunch and a walk around. I have been to Ikea in France more times than my whole life at home…meaning I never go. The gentleman at the next table having listen to us murmuring away in English started asking questions. He eventually moved to our table. He phoned his wife, he wanted to invite us for supper that evening to speak English to his children. We sadly declined. There have been other instances where strangers have befriended us and invited us for meals which we have accepted. I’m always upset when people generalize and say the French are rude or not welcoming. People are people everywhere…if treated with respect, it comes back to you.
    Ali

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We have had people visit us from France, at home because of chance encounters, and have become dear friends. Actually more than once. I used to volunteer with our local Visitor Center and would invite people home for a glass of wine. Those are the things you remember when you travel….the contact with locals.
        Ali

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  7. This sounds like a wonderful way to start the day! I am an introvert and do not typically engage people at all, although I have spent many a plane ride chatting with people who strike up a conversation. My mother never met anyone who isn’t a friend, in fact once I picker her up at the airport and she was with an couple whom she introduced to me and had befriended on the the plane, she actually still gets Christmas cards from them 5 years later! And this summer while with my husband who is an introvert at a very popular restaurant in Bar Harbor, Maine we met the most interesting French/Spanish couple. The restaurant was very busy and crowded and there were no tables but I saw them standing nearby and I invited them to sit with us which while common is elsewhere isn’t really something people do here in the states(not sure why). They were traveling for 3 weeks on the East coast and had been enjoying Maine as we were. We bought them drinks and chatted while they waited for their food, we were almost finished with ours. We talked about our jobs, and theirs, he was a banker and worked during the week in Switzerland, she was an architect, spoke about politics, cooking, bbq ad more. But one of the things that they told us was that they were so surprised that Americans were friendly and not all fat, as they had heard that all we ate here in the states was Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a great story. Inviting stranded people to join your table is definitely a good move. The worst that can happen is they aren’t fun, and you never see them again and it’s only an hour or two. But the best is that you have a great time.

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  8. I am a talker and my husband is shy. It helps that his mother was a talker never met a stranger kind of girl! On our travels, even my husband agrees that it is the unexpected conversations with strangers that always end up being favorites in our mental scrapbooks. If we are dining, it is not usual for us to share splashes of wine with strangers and they with us. On our first lunch in Lyon, I toasted my father who was in Gen. Patton’s army, part of the division that liberated Normandy. Two older women who sat next to us but did not speak to us got up to leave. One said, “We will always be grateful to the Americans and bon appetite.” A most charming introduction to France.

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    1. What a touching comment in so many ways–the French women’s response, but above all the way your husband appreciates the benefits of your outgoing ways. It is so wonderful that you open doors that you walk through together.

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  9. It would be lovely to live in a town like yours. Sadly, my experiences in France are far less colourful. People seems to keep to themselves where I live. Carcassonne sounds like a friendly place!

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  10. What an enjoyable and memorable way to pass some time. Everyone sounded very friendly.

    Both my father and mother are very well versed in talking to anyone they happen upon about anything. My sisters and I are very much the opposite but I think my brother is like my parents. It is very rare that I will start a conversation with a stranger, even less so when I lived in France.

    When I lived in Nice I once had a women that I tried to buy a newspaper from tell me that she wouldn’t accept centimes as a form of payment. I felt quite discriminated against more than once when I lived there.

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    1. That’s awful! I have had negative encounters, usually with people letting their dogs off leash in a park clearly marked no dogs, but most of the time people are extremely friendly. In the café, the friendliness was just going on and had nothing to do with me, but they let me join in.

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  11. I love this. I was in a Carrefour in Nice trying to pick out a new beard trimmer, (my old one having succumbed to the 50 cycle menace). A gentleman started to tell me about the advantages and disadvantages of the one I seemed to have settled on. Unfortunately I did not understand his nuances about the amount of time to charge the trimmer versus the actual functioning time. (I speak French, but not at that level of technical fluency). Despite my telling him I did not understand his point, he persisted, with magnificent animation. That attracted other shoppers who were more than willing to offer their opinions of all similar products on offer on the shelves. The light went on and … I got it it! I thanked them all for their help and the original gentleman suggested we go for a drink. Strangely, we all gathered at a place around the corner, had a glass of wine, cheered my new purchase and discussed the arrival of poutine and what wonderful omelets could be made from them. We departed and I have never seen them again. But, I still have the beard trimmer and I think of them every time I have an omelet.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love the spontaneous conversation, but after years in reserved Norway I have become as reserved as natives, and struggle to keep a conversation flow. I have my total empathy with Norwegians now, it is not easy :))
    But I would love getting back to this, I like this feeling of connectedness to random people in your places. Working on it! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  13. YES, I like to talk to STRANGERS MORE than people I KNOW!I always engage people in line at the POST OFICE or grocery store!IT’s my Nature and I do like to give compliments too if I see something I like!
    GREAT REVIEW of YOUR LUNCH TIME?Or was it just a CAFE?!!
    XX

    Liked by 2 people

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