Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 22, 2013

Visitors find warm welcome in France

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

Annonay, France — We have been welcomed in France with open arms and, of course, the traditional kisses on each cheek by everyone we meet. From the moment we arrived in Paris, our experience has been one of generosity and goodwill.

In Bourgoin and in Annonay, the two Rotary clubs we have visited so far, our hosts have opened their homes, hearts and community to us. Each of us has been taken in as if we were family. French hospitatlity is akin to Southern hospitality.

Despite our ever present anxiety and fears that the language barrier will be too much to overcome, in each place we have found that with the help of a dictionary, a smartphone app or a little charades, we do just fine.

Although they can be at times slow and painstaking, and at others fast-paced and simply comical as we act out our words, through our conversations we’ve found that we share much more than the handful of words we can understand in one another’s language. We have common joys and common problems.

Our families are the greatest source of joy and where our dreams are centered. In each home I have visited, families are the first topic. As at home, many French live far from their adult children. They have left the little towns and villages of their ancestors for work and love in other places. I have been surprised to learn how many French live abroad.

In both countries the economy is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. There are concerns about closed factories, dying industries, and unemployment. There is grave worry in both places about the path forward for our respective democracies and debate over it abounds.  But there are more reasons to celebrate, than to lament, in France as at home.

Our visit seems to be a great source of joy and opportunity to share all the wonders of their country and to learn anything all all they can about ours. Every landmark is carefully pointed out as it whizzes by — driving is certainly faster here. Our itineraries are chocked full of the highlights of each place, whether it be food, drink, an ancient church or a modern invention.

Our hosts are as excited to explain and share their history and culture as we are to learn about it.  They seem delighted too with every tidbit we share about Kentucky, our cities or the U.S., which only enhances their own understanding. Their curiosity abounds and is genuine. That is one characteristic that has impressed us all. They want to know everything they can and seem very educated on so many things.

Although it has just begun, our trip is truly an exchange of ideas, friendship and understanding that is proving itself to be an experience that will only continue to benefit both hosts and guests, long after we have departed.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH, a reporter for The Independent, is on a four-week exchange program to France through Rotary International. She will be sending postcards from France every Friday. Reach her at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com