Chatty Chats

Found: French dog*.

I am sitting on the metro, ready for my thirty minute ride on the way home from French class (ugh).  I always sit in the same seat on the second level with no neighbors**; I like to zone out on the tram and frankly I just don’t like being smushed up next questionable strangers, there, I said it.  About fifteen minutes into my ride an elderly gentleman sits down at the one-seater across from me.

He is all smiles and I can feel his eyes boring into me.  Keep looking out the window!  Don’t make eye contact!  I have the same feeling I have when I have just sat on the airplane with a book and I see an overly happy person walking towards the empty seat next to me.  My Southerness ( won’t allow me to ignore a potential conversation so I must concentrate hard on something else if I’m going to avoid talking.

The tram starts up again and I continue to ponder the window pane in fascination.  Then I slip and look at the time on my IPod.

He jumps, nay leaps, at the opportunity and immediately tells me my IPod looks like a wrist watch because of the case I have it in (that’s right, I still use my arm band workout case even when I’m not working out – what if I get the sudden urge to workout, one must always be prepared).  I smile nicely and laugh “tehehehehehehe”, yes, yes we are all polite, now I am going to go back to staring out the window because there are a lot of tram stops left and while I would normally embrace stranger conversations, I have just left four hours of French class and my head is swimming; there is no way I can sustain a chat in French right now.

A minute or so passes.

“Vous etes etranger?”  He is smiling at me expectantly.

Le sigh.  I surrender and take off my IPod completely.

“Oui, je suis Americaine,” I smile back encouraging him (damn you upbringing!).

“Ah!  Americaine!  Tres bien!”

He continues on, chatting amicably.  I tell him that I am learning French but am not very good, he tells me (in English) that he knows some English but is not very good.  We chat a bit about French class and the difficulties of learning other languages.  Finally he stands up to get off at his stop.

“Eet eez verwy nice to mit yew,” He says patting my hand as he descends.

“Enchante,” I say.  “Bonne journee, monsieur!”

“Arrivaderchi,” he laughs.  “Italian!”  He is so pleased with himself.

“Ciao,” I respond playing along.

He laughs again, “ciao ciao!”

Then he is gone, as the tram pulls out I get a last glimpse of him merrily running across the tram tracks to cross the street.  Spritely old fellow.

As my tram ride continues it occurs to me that I have just met a French dog.  I think back over the past month or so and realize that lately I have been meeting a lot of French dogs.  What has caused this change?  Has France read my blog and decide to be chattier?  Somehow I doubt it.  Instead, I think that it is because, due to my French class, I am now on the same schedule as the old-timers and old-timers don’t have the social hang ups of young people; if they want to chat, they are going to chat.  Maybe they aren’t dogs, but rather they are chatty “chats”!  (I slay me)

It reminds me of when I used to work reception at a government office and people would call to complain about various things; often after the complaint was made the old-timers would just want to talk and have a conversation.  Getting older can’t be easy; the world that you knew for most of your life is gone, society changes, rules change, people you know pass out of your life.  So whether you are a Cat or a Dog, don’t shut down when you run into a smiling elderly person on the tram or at the grocery store, give them a chat, a moment of your time; if you are lucky, someone will return the favor to you one day.

* Point of reference:

**That’s right; I’m that guy, the person who has my favorite tram seat.  Maybe when I am an old-timer instead of being nice and friendly I will freak out and rap my cane against the arm rest if someone else sits in it. 

19 thoughts on “Chatty Chats

  1. See, and there I have a completely different experience. When I lived in Paris for the first time, it was from the age of 18 to the age of 23. Then I left for the States. I felt I had become invisible. Nobody noticed me on the street, nobody whistled, nobody shouted “ça va, Mademoiselle” or “ohhh, la jolie robe” (or handbag or scarf…). When I came back (via Australia and SE-Asia) a year later, I left the apartment on a the first day, a rainy, grey day, not that happy to be back, and hurried to the métro. And then it happened, in my back I heard a whistle and “ho, Mademoiselle, vous êtes bien pressée”… I smiled. Back home. 🙂
    I always chat with strangers. In line at the supermarket or at the butcher’s. With the person sitting next to me on the train. Like you, I’ve met wonderful people just by talking to them on the street. But my (very French, very bourgeoise) grandmother used to tease me about it and also about what she thought was lack of discernment: “Toi, ma fille, tu parlerais à un chien habillé!” So there we go, you get chat up by a dog and I would talk to a dressed-up dog…:)


    1. haha – Love it, Pat! What a great saying for me to put into my French vernacular! Thanks for sharing your experience…I’m a little past the age of getting cat-called on the street but the old farmers at the marche like me and that’s enough! 🙂


  2. That’s a very sweet moral of the story. Once, though, I got chatting to an Italian gentleman of about 80 in Genoa. Normal chit-chat, with a few compliments thrown in, but I just thought they were harmless old man compliments, nothing too creepy. Then he goes “so, do you want to come in that alley with me?” Um, NO, hahaha! And then Genoa is pretty much all dark, narrow alleys, some complete with hookers in the middle of the day, so I had to figure out how to get away without him following me down one of them. I suppose if you’re a dog (in the usual sense of the word) when you’re young, you might still be one when you’re an old man!


    1. BWAH! That is awful – I hate it when something sweet takes a gross turn. So upsetting! AHH – seriously, you should have seen the look of horror on my face when I read that. haha! Glad you escaped!


  3. I love the little vignettes you portray, like a piece of theatre you’ve shared! The old guy probably left beaming that he’d had a chat with un etranger chat! Sounds like you should stop to have the equivalent of a Brunswick St coffee on your way chez vous.


    1. Thanks so much Deborah! That is exactly what I try to do – just give a little slice of life. I don’t know if i left him beaming or not but he made my day…it’s the little things, eh?

      You are a meanie to bring up Brunswick St. Le sigh. As long as you don’t mention Haigh’s I’ll be alright… 😉


  4. Nancy Kate, love your blog. I’ve been friends with your parents since YR days; am also friends with one of your teachers, Dawn LaFon, who told me about your blog. I have my share of Paris /”cat” people stories! Now I “get it” – eager for a second shot. Age is an attitude ladies! Enjoy every season.


    1. Hello!!! Thanks so much for reading and your kind words! I think just about every American who has visited Paris has a few stories under their belt…maybe I need to propose a contest and ask readers to send in their best ones. I can’t imagine the collection! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season back in Memphis!! 🙂


      1. Oh my gosh, that would be a hilarious contest! I was visiting with my daughter who had been living in London and was “cool”. I was probably just clunky and didn’t understand the mores, and boy they let me have it. We still laugh about that trip! Wishing you a delightful and interesting 2013!


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