A Lesson in Kindness from a French OAP

P&O Cruises Azura Northern Europe Cherbourg Port

One of the things I love most about travelling is the huge variety of things you see- when you travel to another country yes you’re meeting local people but you’re also meeting other travellers from across the world and you almost always come away with unique memories that you’d never experience back home. But when you’re travelling by cruise ship you never quite know what’s going to happen. In some places you’re welcomed with open arms, hoping that you’ll open your wallet in return. In other places they’re sick of their hometown’s population growing by 4000 people for the day, and that attitude is unfortunately made known quite often, which means you probably won’t want to come back. 

If there’s one town where you could understand people not being so friendly it’s Cherbourg on the North Western coast of France. Receiving 9 ferries a week as well as multiple cruise ships you could forgive the residents for being less than welcoming but it was the complete opposite - I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at home. 

Stepping off MV Azura’s gangway I was offered the hand of a French port official who welcomed me with a cheery “bon matin, madame!” - I was quite taken aback as usually port officials aren’t known for their sunny disposition. I didn’t realise but it was a sign of things to come, when on the 15 minute walk into town I was greeted by every French person who crossed my path.

Surprisingly, for a town that receives so many visitors from UK ports, very few people spoke English and even though I used to speak French well I’ve absolutely neglected it over the past few years as I tried to recover my long-forgotten Spanish, so arriving in Cherbourg was a baptism of fire. 

As I walked through the streets, stopping to be greeted by more locals, I met a lady sat on the street with her dog begging who once again welcomed me with open arms, referring to me as “La Belle Fille”. If I’m being honest I felt a little uncomfortable - here’s me arriving on a cruise ship being welcomed so warmly by a woman that had so little. We talked for a while as I butchered their beautiful language, she gave me a few recommendations of where to visit and then sent me on my way. 

P&O Cruises Azura Northern Europe Cherbourg Port

Well, when you’re walking through a French town on your own you have to do the cliche thing and go for lunch, so I found a pretty little cafe and headed inside. I was instantly reminded just how much I’d neglected my French when the waiter asked if I was dining alone and I stood there gawping as the words didn’t even register in my mind for me to try to respond.  Undeterred, I got my table, placed my order and sat down.

About 5 minutes later an older lady came to sit at the table next to me - I tried to move my things but she told me not to worry, sat down and started talking - she didn’t speak a word of English and I was desperately trying to dig through my brain to find any French vocabulary I could possibly remember. Despite the struggle to communicate we spoke like we were old friends, talking about my travelling and her life in Cherbourg.

Our food arrived around 20 minutes later and we were still talking, at which point she said “you can’t just eat salad!” and started piling some of her chips onto my plate as we carried on discussing our opposite lives, and laughing at my awful French when a woman asked if she could take the spare chair and I said “no, it’s free”, sending her away with a bemused look on her face.

After an hour of almost-coherent conversation I had to leave to get back to the ship. She hugged me and thanked me for making her day so special, then asked what time my ship was leaving. On the walk back I met “La Belle Fille” lady who asked the same question, said goodbye to her and her beautiful dog and got back on board.

P&O Cruises Azura Northern Europe Cherbourg Port

As Azura sailed out of the port I noticed some people waving frantically from the pier so I zoomed in on my camera to see “La Belle Fille” and my French grandmother-for-the-day waving, just in case I happened to be watching.

I’ve been very lucky to visit a lot of places - some of them more friendly than others - but I’ve never felt like I could just not go back and be quite happy in my new home. I was in port for 6 hours but I felt like I was leaving behind friends and family from my adopted hometown for the day.

Living and travelling to cities that get a deluge of tourists every year I can understand the irritation some people feel and it’s easy to get annoyed at the strangers that get in your way all the time, but have you ever stopped to welcome someone to your home? I only saw Cherbourg for the day but because of the actions of a few local people I feel like I left a part of me behind, like I’ll always be connected to this beautiful seaside town full of people as warm as the sun that shone on it.

At some point I will go back to my little French paradise, and when I do I’m going to sit in Cafe L’Etoile and hope to find my lovely French grandmother again so I can thank her for reminding me that one of the most important things you can do is show kindness to strangers.

Have you read about my experience while on board MV Azura yet? 

Love and Feathers, 
 The Owlet 💜 
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