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The Tao of Public Service: A Memoir On Seeking True Purpose

1 CHARACTER


Paris

In the summer of 2007 my wife and I spent a week in Paris. I won’t try and describe the experience of actually being in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But needless to say we had a wonderful time.

Yet, in other ways it was a quite curious experience because we repeatedly were mistaken for native Parisians. In fact, one afternoon, we were to meet the daughter of a friend of ours for dinner. She was attending school in Paris and offered to be our guide. It turned out that we didn’t need her guide services, but we decided to meet one evening at the Isle Lecite´ and have her show us the sights.

We arrived at the meeting spot first. So we decided to sit on a bench in a little park, watch the people walk by and wait for her. We waited and waited and finally here appeared Katy with her boyfriend. We watched them approach, looking curiously around. We tried to make eye contact and thought we had a couple of times. Then to our total surprise she walked right by us.

“Katy!” My wife called out. “Where are you going!”?

Katy turned, completely shocked, looked in our direction, focused and then finally the light of recognition shown in her eyes.

“My God,” she exclaimed a little embarrassed. “I did not recognize you guys. You look so French.”

We laughed and went on our little stroll. But that was already the third time in that week that we had been taken for Parisians.


A Little Help

Now I am not going to deny it. We had a little help in this regard. We were forewarned by my law clerk Holly, not to dress in a certain way.

“The French are very stylish,” she told me one afternoon before our trip. “They hate the way Americans dress.”

“Ok,” I said. “Enlighten me.”

“Don’t wear shorts and tennis shoes and white socks.” She said laughing. I laughed along with her. “Nice slacks for men with a shirt and a summery dress or slacks for a woman would be ok.”

So we accepted the advice. Our entire wardrobe consisted of apparel we purchased just for the trip to France. Actually, the clothes were nothing fancy, just slacks and polo shirts on my part. And my wife mostly wore comfortable skirts with a blouse and sweater. We mentioned this to Katy.

“Oh that’s part of it, I can see it now,” she said as she observed us. “But that is not the whole thing. There’s something more,” she said with a deeply thoughtful expression on her face. “I don’t know. You guys just look so comfortable.”

We laughed again. We thought the observation was completely weird. But we did feel comfortable. Yet we attributed it to being on vacation and finally having a time to relax. And then we visited the Eiffel Tower.

La Tour Eiffel

Our trip to the Eiffel Tower began about 3:00 p.m., in the afternoon. We had arranged to meet our son and his friends there who were on their way to play soccer in Spain. This was a side trip for the team to experience a little more of Europe before they began the tournament in San Sebastian.

This was our youngest son born when we were 36 years old. So at 16 years old we were some of the older parents on the trip. I had long since retired from coaching and chaperoning teenage boys. But we thought it would be nice to go along and shadow the team and be around if they needed us.

“Do what you want!” Peter told us after we waited almost an hour and a half. They were late. What he meant was that he did not want to hang out with his boring parents but would rather be with his friends. So off they went and we were on our own.

So we decided to do a few things ourselves. We went on a boat ride on the Seine, which took us by Pont-Neuf and Notre Dame. I had a new camera and I was able to take a photo of the Eiffel Tower framed perfectly between the gold statues on the Alexandre III Bridge. We went up in the tower itself after waiting for an hour – not bad that time of year. And when we were done we were very tired and wanted to go back to the hotel. However, again, my law clerk Holly had warned us that if we went to the Eiffel Tower not to leave until we saw it at night.

When we completed our tourist review of La Tour Eiffel it was dusk but not near dark. So we decided to find a place to eat and have a nice, quiet, comfortable, restful, dinner and then complete our sightseeing with a view of the tower at night. We found a beautiful little spot where we could have a meal outside on the sidewalk and watch people go by as we ate. Then we settled in. And that’s when it happened.

Shortly after they served our meal a family of Americans appeared. It was clear that they were Americans from their loud and unruly manner and the way they spoke English. Immediately our wonderful little dinner scene became tense as the locals bristled at the approach of these people. Beth whispered, “Please oh please not next to us.” But guess what! They took the table right next to us.

They were wearing shorts and tennis shoes. The father had on white socks and a baseball hat. They sat down without waiting to be seated and then demanded menus. Once the menus came they began to complain that they could not read them. When the waiter read the various choices to the parents the children began to complain that there was nothing they were willing to eat. Whereupon the parents began harping that they would eat what they were given and then proceeded to give the children whatever they wanted whether good for a child or not. The experience was excruciating.

We momentarily considered offering them some assistance. My wife is almost fluent in French and could easily have intervened. But when we tried to make eye contact with them they glared at us like we were the enemy and they were in an enemy land. And what happened next was extremely interesting. Beth began to speak to me only in French and I responded in French (the little that I could still recall from High School). Given the glare, suddenly we too were not willing to admit our solidarity with these rude people who seemed to have no manners, from parent to child, and who argued, fused and fumed all through the remaining dinner time – all the while making demands on the serving staff. They made a huge mess.