Sunday, April 29, 2012
More French Flowers
We arrived in Marseilles, France this morning – our last port before getting to Barcelona and heading home tomorrow. The excursion I signed up for was a ride through the French countryside to a town called Aix-en-Provence. It’s a beautiful city that was founded by the Romans more than 2000 years ago. After walking around the city and visiting the many bakeries and outdoor markets, I decided that I should make one last attempt at giving flowers to a stranger in Europe.
With all the outdoor markets, it was easy to find a place to buy a nice, yet inexpensive bouquet. This time I even knew what type I bought – yellow roses! Flowers in hand, I went looking for just the right person to give them to. Right away I saw a young girl (probably about 10 or 12 years old) being pushed in a wheelchair by her father. I offered her the flowers but her father declined, and moved past me. I suspect he didn’t trust me and was being suitably protective of his daughter. Undeterred, I continued my search.
I was looking for a single woman as I thought it would be awkward to offer the flowers to a woman who was with her husband/boyfriend or to two women since I only had one bouquet. After about 5 minutes, I saw a middle-aged woman who looked like she was visiting the markets alone. I walked up to her and offered the flowers. At first she declined them, not sure what I was doing. Thankfully she spoke a little English and I explained that I wanted her to have them and to have a nice day, at which point she asked, “Don’t you have a wife or girlfriend who would want them?” When I explained why I had bought them, she finally accepted them with a smile and her thanks. Then she said she wanted to give me a kiss on the cheek, after which we each went our own way, happier for the exchange.
While it’s admittedly a ridiculously small sample size on which to base any conclusions, I suspect that strangers probably don’t react to unexpected acts of kindness much differently in Europe than they do in the U.S. At first, most people are suspicious, not understanding what I’m up to and wondering what the catch is. Once they realize there is no catch, though, they typically accept it with a smile and sincere thanks.
One last observation: Once again, I was so focused on doing my act, that I forgot to take advantage of the potential “pay it forward” opportunity. I could easily have asked her to do something nice for someone else today in exchange for the flowers and I think she would have been totally fine with that. In fact, it may even have made it easier for her to accept them, as she would have been “paying” for them in some way, rather than simply accepting a free gift for no reason. Oh well. I’ll have to keep working on that.