I had first to get to the south coast port then board a ship to cross the Channel and finally to take the train to Paris. British passenger trains were divided into compartments and I had my porter find me one with an empty seat. I was by then used to the reserve of the English, so was not surprised that not a word was said in the whole trip to the coast.
When we arrived, I hailed a porter who took my bag and politely saw me through customs and then a seat on the ship. When I tipped him, he slipped the money into his pocket without looking at it, tipped his hat and was off.
I don’t remember sailing across the Channel so the trip must have been uneventful but I will never forget our arrival in France and the noisy chaotic scene on the dock as porters vied with one another to pick up a job. My porter flung my bag onto his shoulder and beckoned me to follow him as he fought his way through the crowd to the train. I barely kept up but did recognize my bag as he handed it in a window and waved to me to come. He held out has hand for his ‘tip’, one that I thought ample, but he looked at it in distain and proclaimed loudly ‘pas assez’ [not enough] and even after I added another bill he hurried off without a nod.
The railway car was full and crowded and I was fascinated with the animated banter back and forth, the food every group seemed to produce, the casual way they were dressed [one woman even had curlers in her hair] and how indulgently they treated their children. I spoke some French and was engaged in conversations several times.
I was met by my fiancé, who eventually found us a taxi. It turned out, however, that the driver was not willing to take us to the outskirts of town near the student residences where a small hotel room had been booked for me. A furious argument ensued with menacing gestures and threats of calling police. Finally the cabbie acquiesced and off we went with him actually whistling happily – no hard feelings. Next came a late lunch in a tiny restaurant on a side street where I had the best mushroom omelet I have ever tasted – before or since – bar none.
Paris has continued to earn its reputation as an exciting city to visit and the England back then lived up to its name as a ‘Tight Little Island’. Rie