“Um... Where are we?” I wondered out loud. We'd been walking up and down a little side street for a while, utterly lost. After arriving at the Gare de l'Est train station in Paris, we had taken the Metro to Richard Lenoir, since that was the street our hotel was on. Of course, we didn't realize that Richard Lenoir was a large four lane boulevard that runs from The Bastille all the way to Ave. de la Republique, so when we got off we were nowhere near our destination.
I looked at my watch. “A half hour and we're lost. This must be some sort of new record.” We walked up and down the street for a while longer, but as we had just arrived and didn't even have a map yet, we didn't get very far. I was tired and hot and just wanted to get to the hotel, so I decided to try my beginner's French on a woman waiting for a bus.
“Je m'excuse, madame, parlez-vous Anglais?” (Excuse me Madame, do you speak English?) Luckily she did. I asked her for directions, but it turned out she wasn't familiar with that part of Paris either. Nevertheless, she was very friendly and tried to help us. She didn't know where our hotel was, so she went into a sidewalk cafe and asked an elderly gentleman working there if he knew its location. He did, and unlike most people, who would just point in a vague direction when asked for directions, he actually left his restaurant to show us the way. I told him that it was unnecessary, but he wouldn't hear of it.
We walked along the stone street, the sun beating down on us, passing bakeries with every sweet I could imagine on display in the windows, and cheese shops I could smell from a block away. As he led the way he asked in broken English where we were from and why we'd come to Paris. When he heard that we were from Canada, he couldn't say enough about how he loved our country and its people. The woman walking along with us joined in the conversation and helped translate. They were both pleasant, kind, and not at all what I expected. Upon reaching our hotel, we thanked them profusely and said goodbye.
I'd always heard that French people were snooty and cold, but that wasn't the case at all. I met a lot of nice Parisians. Maybe not everybody is as lucky as me; in fact I've heard some real horror stories about French hospitality, but every time I think about Paris, I think of those two lovely people and how helpful and neighborly they were.