I’ve heard it said that the French are impolite and unfriendly, a stereotype I wondered about when I was planning my trip to France.
When I first arrived in Perpignan, I bought a bag of unfermented green tea, hoping to make some when I got home. Later I stopped at a café and treated myself to a strawberry smoothie. I chatted with the café owner for a few moments and listened to her tales of medieval French civilizations, Catalan culture and smoothie production.
Four hours later, once I returned to my hotel, I realized my bag of tea was missing.
I shrugged off my carelessness. I wasn’t going to let one missing bag of tea ruin the ultimate European experience. Plus, I’d already hiked through every inch of the city, resulting in pancake-sized blisters and shin splints that had somehow migrated to my lower back.
My tea could have been anywhere. I figured it was probably long gone, sitting on somebody’s counter top somewhere waiting to be brewed.
A couple of weeks later, I was browsing through some of the boutiques in the center of the city. One particular café framed with pink striped awnings, Café D’Elfea, looked inviting and familiar.
I went in to greet the owner, hoping she might once again regale me with the tribulations of royal dynasty in Southern France. But because it was hot outside, a smoothie would have been sufficient.
When she saw me, recognition spread across her face. Before I could utter a single word, she said, “You forgot your tea. I have it here.” She walked toward the back and pulled a familiar bag of tea out from behind the counter.
I think the fact that she held on to my costly tea for three weeks trumps any enthralling tale she could have told.
A surprising act of kindness has a tendency to stay with you. So it’s possible the French are rude– but not at a particular cafe located in Perpignan with pink striped awnings and a smoothie sign hanging in the window.