In the UK we are very wary of inviting perfect strangers into our car, partly a culture issue but more likely the result of fear; of ending up being the victim of a crime. However, in France thumbing a lift to get home or just as a means of acquiring transport from A to B is not unusual. As a result people are very willing to pick up perfect strangers without any qualms and are very relaxed about this casual method of transport.
I have to admit to still retaining the English reluctance to casual invitations to strangers who desire a lift, however the other day I was caught off guard and an interesting scenario transpired.
It was the day of the first of this years snow showers in Brittany and I had volunteered to pick up a few extra groceries in case we found ourselves snowed in. The supermarket in Lannion was very busy with similar minded shoppers equally engaged in panic buying before the winter set in. I carried two heavy bags out of the supermarket heading determinedly towards my car the snow falling thickly blurred my vision. As I approached my car I became aware of an elderly woman also carrying shopping heading towards my car. In a typical English manner I tried to avoid eye contact but to no avail.
In French she said how bad the weather was and then without hesitation, could I give her a lift home!
In a moment I considered the suggestion, a strange woman alone with me in car! Everything in my English upbringing told me this was not a good idea.
Seeing the look of panic in my eyes she sought to assure me, "I only live a kilometre distance from here."
It was too late, elderly woman, heavy shopping, bad weather, I had no choice so I invited her into the car. I immediately tried to ascertain were she lived and she gave me an address I have never heard of, but thought it must be one of the small hamlets on the outskirts of lannion.
So off we go and at the exit to the car park , "à la droit ou à la gauche?" I enquired, to which she gave a concerned look and it was immediately clear this was someone who walked everywhere and had no idea of the road layout. Possibly right she thought, so of we went with me making further requests for directions at every junction and turning. I could tell by the look on her face that this was not looking good.
After reaching the Lannion bypass without any signs of local recognition I suggested we return to the supermarket and try to retrace her journey from there. So we duly arrived back at the start and started of again using a different route; but you guessed it, no recognition!
After three returns to the supermarket I was beginning to panic. Had I offered a deranged women a lift? Did she pick on drivers at random for a ride around the town? I decided I would have to take some sort of drastic action; perhaps take her back to the supermarket and seek help or take her to the nearest Gendemerie and report her lost.
It was on this final return to the supermarket that she suddenly recognised a landmark and indicated a right turn was needed. Part of me (the desperate part) said it was going to be just another diversion but having taken yet another right hand turn she declared she lived in the flats, second road on the right.
Hallelujah! I cried to myself, as I drew up outside the flats. I opened the car door and assisted her out after which she reached across and squeezed my wrist, looking directly into my eyes and said, "Vous êtes très gentil Monsieur."