Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Taxi Blues

I knew we were in trouble when the taxi driver refused to say "Bonjour."

My elder Frenchling and I were off to the clinic last week to get her severely impacted wisdom teeth removed.  I had reserved a taxi the night before but our usual company lost our reservation and we had to scramble at the last minute to find a local taxi.

I am not sure what set him off.  Her might have heard my daughter and me speaking English before we stepped into the car or he might have detected my accent when I greeted him and gave him the address.  In any case he clearly had us pegged as foreigners and waves of hostility radiated from his place in the driver's seat.

As we pulled out onto the avenue de Paris he began to talk.  From what he said I gathered that he was not only unhappy about us but he was irritated because we were not going very far, just across town, which meant only a modest fare for him.

"Je ne sais pas d'ou venez-vous, Madame, mais en France...." ("I don't know where you are from, Madame, but in France....") he repeated over and over and over.  Needless to say I did not inform him where I was from since I had no intention of discovering how he felt about Americans.

Instead, I decided to kill him with condescending kindness.  I thanked him for picking us up and for educating us about France. "Really, sir," I said, "After nearly 20 years in this country, I had no idea things worked that way here."  Then my daughter spoke up and he quickly picked up from her accent that one of these "foreigners" was, in fact, French.

By the time we pulled into the clinic parking lot, he was very quiet, my daughter was mortified and I was  feeling rather ashamed of myself.

This was a young man (mid to late 20's), clearly not well educated, doing a job that has little or no status.  His French was native but he made many grammatical errors and his accent was light years away from standard Parisian French.  Perhaps he had other problems.  Maybe he had had a bad experience with tourists.  Or, it may be that, on that day, after picking up what he thought were two foreigners living well in his country,  some of his anger and resentment at his own situation spilled over onto us.   And I made it worse through a complete failure of empathy.

"Quel connard," my daughter said as we entered the clinic.

Nope, I thought, just another human being having a very bad day.

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