Twenty years ago in 1994, I had a severe allergic reaction in a small village outside Saint-Lo in Normandy, France. The village doctor saw me and treated the head-to-toe hives and stomach pain cheerfully. And entirely in French. When we went to leave, there was no price listed for non-French patients. It wasn’t a tourist destination so no need to have such a list. When pressed how we would pay, the doctor asked, in French, if we had seen the signs in the village. Did we misunderstand? What signs? He explained further, still in French, that he meant the signs and banners that read “Bienvenue à Nos Libérateurs” (Welcome to Our Liberators). He stated clearly but warmly that he couldn’t charge us because 50 years prior our country had saved his country. This is what I remember when anyone claims the French are rude or arrogant.
St-Lo, known for its hedgerow (bocage) region, was destroyed. Its Catholic Cathedral was half-standing by August 1944. They chose to not rebuild it as it was but to make it usable again but leave the destruction as a reminder. Just as a scar is a reminder of what one has endured and, eventually, overcome, this architectural scar reminds them they survive with strength. This story was conveyed to me by the locals, but is touched upon here.
A few years later, I lived there for a couple months and got to know the locals better. It was a remarkable experience and one that changed my perspective greatly. While there, I spoke no English and ate anything that was offered to me. In my 20-something mind, that was the only way to completely immerse myself. Each week, the local newspaper reported on one of the events I attended, and I never escaped a mention. Though I think the family friends I stayed with were most proud that I ate everything and always enjoyed a second serving, even the stranger things like exotic cheeses, Manta Ray, Monkfish, or fruit I had never heard of. And though Americans are not instantly loved everywhere we go, Normandy is one place where there is a history of brotherhood that lasts beyond one war well into future generations.
A good time to take a moment to appreciate our freedom and what we can accomplish when allies work together.