Pouvez Vous M'aider?
Say what you will about Parisians, that they're snobbish and rude and cold, and they can be, but they're also kind and caring and warm. The best way I can think to prove this is that in supermarkets they have signs everywhere saying that if you're pregnant or handicapped you should go to the front of the queue instead of waiting. Perhaps unfairly, I think if we had signs like that in England, most people would ignore them and only let people in front if they asked, begrudingly. Maybe that's just because it's not part of our culture (hello welfare state cuts), but everytime I've been queuing and someone pregnant or handicapped has moved to the front of the queue, people move back more than willingly with smiles and if they see someone hovering, scared to budge in, many a Parisian will start shouting at people to move back and let them past. Everyone does.
I think it's a lovely concept. Not only that, but their attitude to homelessness is inspiring. Did you know that according to the Guardian a "2009 poll found that 75% [of French people] felt "solidarity" with rough sleepers." (My french A-level didn't go to waste!)
Whereas in my hometown last year, adverts popped up urging people not to give money to rough sleepers, implying they would spend it on drugs or alcohol. Living in quite a poor area of Paris, there are a lot of homeless people, two particularly who sit on the road down from my apartment. When I walk to work I see people purposefully going over to cash points for the sole purpose of giving the money to one of these men, both of whom are missing limbs. In my hometown most people walk straight past homeless people, eyes straight, ignoring them but in my neighbourhood I've seen men in business suits, municipal works, mothers with their children sitting down to talk to these homeless men. They are known in the community, and instead of being outcast they are accepted, with SAMU (a homeless charity regularly coming round with food and blankets) helping them out too, although I think they sleep in shelters at night as I never see them in the evenings.
I mean of course bad things happen, and there are nice and horrible people everywhere but I feel in Paris there is such an overall sense of community . Again, on my way to work yesterday I was walking through the ticket barrier, headphones in not really paying attention until a man ran past me knocking me to the floor. Immediately I took the earphones out, looking behind me but he'd disappeared being chased by three or four men. An older lady in her 80s was screaming, it was horrible I've never seen someone so distressed. It turns out what happened was he grabbed her handbag from her and knocked her over, but what happened immediately afterwards is strangers went to run him down, people gathered round comforting her, someone grabbed a police officer (they're in abundance in my neighbourhood) and everyone rallied round helping this lady.
So bad things do happen, but there are always good people, there are always Parisians.