A familiar stranger

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 12. Strangers, Paris by Howard2 Comments

“Bonjour! Ca va?”

“Bonjour! How are you doing, bro?”

Every morning when I try to practice my French in the Boulangerie (Bakery) with this guy who works there, he always talks back in English to me.

I never got his name. Let me call him Tom for now, since he looks a little bit like the Tom in Tom and Jerry.

He speaks really good English, in French standard. Always so nice to all the customers, and is fun to talk to. He is not tall but looks very strong indeed. I have known him started from my very first day in Paris. His bakery is located a few meters outside the metro station. Two red tables outside always catch people’s eyes. I got in the first day because of those tables too. One just cannot ignore them.

A few weeks ago I just finished my early class, and went to the store for chocolate bread with one of my friends. It was to my surprise that the store obviously had an update over the weekend since they changed the red tables outside into glassy-black granite looking. I believe NYU students made a huge contribution to that. As I walked in, I greeted to Tom and told him that I liked the changes he made.

“Oh yeah! I know you’d like it. So now you can sit outside with your girlfriend!” Tom was making fun of me.

“I know you think that way, but… umm… we are just friends” I was suddenly speechless.

“Ok I understand. Your face is red like a tomato right now.” he continued and burst into laughter.

There was another time when I was checking out and realized that I got no money on me. How stupid I was! But you know what? He said he would pay for that.

“Don’t mention it. You always come back.” Tom added on.

That was that.

Last week when my friends and I accidentally got into the top of how nice the guy in that boulangerie is, they told me another story:  Two of my friends were buying coffee early in the morning. A random guy came in and asked my friend for the phone. He said that he needed to use it and asked in a bad manner. Both of my friends refused to lend him their phones, so that guy just got even closer to them and tried to rob their phones. Seeing all this, Tom, a 5 foot 6 guy, jumped out from his counter and confronted that hideous guy.

“Now you are making my friends uncomfortable, you need to get out of here.” He shouted.

That guy didn’t back off, but instead keep trying to get the phone.

Tom was enraged, “I don’t care if I lose my job here, but I will fight you.”

Hearing this, the hideous guy was kind of scared, and got out. But on his way out, he was still saying something to threaten Tom and my friends.

He’d do that for us. To people that only he has known for two months.

This is the part where I feel the warmest so far in Paris, by a guy that I don’t even know what his name is.

I feel really bad for not even knowing his name, but I mean, that really tasty bread with Nutella in it—I can’t remember the name either.


  1. Howard,

    I loved reading your post because it reminded me of my time in Paris! Oh, Paris me manque beaucoup! I remember always trying to practice my French everywhere I went, and meeting the challenge of people wanting to practice their English or Spanish. I did not want to be selfish but it was MY turn to practice French so I would also continue speaking in French even if the person with whom I was speaking did not respond in French. Your friend “Tom” also reminds me of other French people I met. The stereotype of French people being mean and critical of Americans seemed completely erroneous to me. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming me to me, in much the same way “Tom” is! I am happy to hear you made his acquaintance because having someone like him really grounds your experience and residence in your study abroad site. 🙂

    1. Author

      Maria Alejandra,

      I’m sure you totally can relate to my experience! I agree that the stereotype of French people of Americans is so erroneous. Before coming here, all I heard about Paris itself is that it is as dirty as New York; it is dangerous and all that. Now with my personal experience with the city, I realize that I can never learn something merely based on what ‘they’ say.

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