We idly chatted in FSI French for a bit, when, looking a bit nervous, he suddenly asked, “You are Americans?”
We steeled ourselves for the onslaught that would come. At the very least we would get a sad-toned explanation about how lamentable it was that our good friends the Americans had lost their collective minds; at worst, we would be called war-mongers and baby-killers. All we wanted was crepes.
“Yes,” we said proudly. We don’t have time for those lame-asses (or I suppose I should say “lame-arses”) who play the Pretend to Be Canadian Game abroad. If we were going to get it, we were going to get it, but we weren’t about to hide who we were, sullen crepe makers be damned.
“Well,” he said in heavily-accented basic English,”I thought so. I want to tell you something, but the words I do not know too good, so please excuse if I say it wrong.”
“No, it’s fine. We understand you well. Go ahead.”
“Well, it’s just….I want to tell you….” He looked around furtively, quickly.
“I want to tell you God bless President Bush and God bless United States of America.”
We stared, amazed, not knowing what to say. He went on, with more passion now; now that he had said that he had found his stride with his form of English and the words began to flow.
“When you get home you TELL the Americans God bless George Bush and God bless the United States of America. You tell them not to believe everything they read in the newspapers, and that there are plenty French who think this. He is the best man for the job in the dangerous time we have now. You TELL them.”
So we did.
I’m reminded of the summer of 1991, when I arrived in Cherbourg aboard USCGC Eagle for a weekend port call. The welcome in that part of Normandy cheered me, since we lowly cadets were forced to wear our uniforms on liberty. About a dozen of us found our way to a harborside bar, and found to our delight that none of us were permitted to pay for a single drink. Old men gruffly clapped us on our backs and shook our hands with surprisingly strong grips, and spoke fondly of 1944.
The next day, four of us rented a crappy Citroen hatchback and headed for an overnight stay in the City of Light. Although Paris in summer proved to be as snotty as I remembered it from 1984, a single landmark on the road through the bocage country between Cherbourg and Paris stands out in my memory. It was a totally rural stretch of highway, with farms on each side, and I happened to be looking in the right direction when we passed a grain silo that incongruously bore a flagpole at its top. There was a French tricolor there, but flying above it was our own Old Glory! I’ll never forget the sudden rush of patriotism and gratitude I felt as I shouted to my classmates to hurry and look before we drove out of sight.
The French aren’t all cheese-eating surrender monkeys. That farmer’s welcome in my home anytime.