It may just be that the South of France actually is just as “southern” as the American “southern,” with the exception of one area, the beaches. I am a southerner, however, who visited the South of France with a non “southern” friend. She transplanted from Michigan, to Texas, and now to North Carolina, where we formed a fast connection, and travel easily together.
Having been raised in the Carolinas, I feel certain that I am aware of the culture there and can easily grasp the differences between American cultures, and others. When you leave this country, the differences can be more acute than the language. What is acceptable and normal in one country, can be shocking in another. Americans are prudish by nature, and are easily shocked by even the slightest behavior outside the norm.
My own acceptance of the differences was put to the test in France, and I still giggle to this day about our reaction, mainly my own.
We went to Paris first for a week long trip, and eventually planned a second trip back two years later, beginning in Avignon, then moving south towards the Cote D’Azur (the sea, for the French challenged), and then along the coast, all the way to within thirty miles of Italy.
My favorite place had to be the castle. We were hoping it was haunted, but it was merely beautiful, old, historical, very private, and built in the year 1223. They wouldn’t let us through the gates because we didn’t have the code. I learned that French families can irritate you and mess up a business deal just as quickly as an American family. The brother of the Manager had left town to go to China for a trip, and neglected to share with others that he had confirmed our reservations. A quick look at our drenched faces, and American desperation granted us an immediate upgrade to the top of the castle, in a suite with a lamp shade of feathers, no less.
We stayed in the castle for one night in the pouring rain, only to wake the next morning to the most perfect blue, cloudless, skies I have ever seen. They even bested the Carolina blue skies I am so in love with. They bested them because there were no castles built in the year 1223 in the Carolinas that overlook a port in the Mediterranean Sea. The pictures my camera captured couldn’t do the vision justice, but they remind me today of a morning of pure awe. Neither of us were able to comprehend the utter beauty we were witnessing.
Our trip was planned to the day, and in some cases down to the hour. We wanted to experience everything, and see all we could in a short amount of time. My camera was our memory bank, and I shot over four hundred keepers to remember our blurred sightseeing.
The parts that stuck out were typical for visitors to France. The markets in the morning offered flowers, soaps, even one-of-a-kind clothing from a young, French designer trying to make a name for himself. The shops were full of beautiful wares, and the food ranged from unrecognizable, to completely magnificent. All these options are similar to the American experience, especially the food. We were content to experience the good, the great, and the not so impressive.
The attempted mugging was one of the not so impressive activities. If I hadn’t already experienced a wallet grab in New York from another friend’s purse as we sat in a Pub, I wouldn’t have known how to spot the type as he saddled up next to my friend at the bar when every other seat was open beside her. I felt no shame saying out loud, in English, for her to watch her purse, as the young man eyed the contents behind her back. The minute he saw my face, and I didn’t flinch, he abandoned his plan.
The female bartender didn’t give us warning, so I assumed she was in on the plot. We left as soon as we could, and hustled back to our locked car only to be followed there. Since we were in the smallest car on earth, the U-Turn I took from a parked position offered us our quick means of escape. Once again, our cultures matched.
Our trip to St. Tropez was a lesson in “beautiful.” The ports restaurants and shops, filled with visitors and locals alike, made it seem more authentic than most well known vacation destinations. The view from the rocks out over the water to the houses on the far slopes, made us dream of coming back again and staying longer to truly experience the beauty.
Leaving St Tropez, I was bothered that I didn’t get a picture of the town itself from the water. I became obsessed with finding a spot to pull over where I could walk out to the beach, and take a few pictures. I found a spot to park the smallest car on earth, pulled over, grabbed my camera, and we took off down the sand in our boots and jeans.
There was a concrete wall to the left that extended along the sand path almost to the beach shoreline. We hustled out to the end, aimed back at the main town of St. Tropez, and starting clicking off shots. I took a moment to look around me then to see what else was camera worthy, and to my back was none other than a beach full of completely nude people lounging in the sun, up against the concrete wall!
I was so shocked and embarrassed at the obviousness of our lack of knowledge of the area, and appearance fully clothed, with a camera in hand no less, on a nude beach, that all I could mumble under my breath was “Look to the Left. Look to the Left!”
My friend was far calmer about the experience than I was, but she wasn’t holding a camera looking like a female pervert here to spy on the French nudies on their lunch break, either. She looked over my shoulder, and we both froze in place. I couldn’t help myself but to look at the group nonchalantly sunning themselves without the American shame of public nudity.
The next thought was, how do I disprove the pervert theory? I just turned the camera to the sights, and calmly starting making my way back down our path again towards the car. I couldn’t help but check out the people, and their different lounging styles. Some were laid out on blankets in the sand reading books, talking to others, etc. Still others were standing propped up against the concrete wall, one leg bent up, as if in pose. Mostly these were the men. That seemed to be the most popular ‘man pose’.
No one gave us any looks like we shouldn’t be there. I’m thinking some of them were hoping we would join them. So we did.
Just kidding. Again, the ‘southern’ culture jumped out and stopped my hand from unbuttoning my shirt.
The vision these locals must have experienced of two fully clothed American women racing to the shoreline, camera in hand, only to have 80 pairs of eyes staring at their backs still makes me giggle.
Not to mention the ‘man pose’.