Would you accept a Free hug from a stranger in Paris? Well this is exactly what I found myself roped into by my friend Muriel, on a recent visit to Paris along with Inga “the introvert” who initially came along as the photographer, but soon found herself with arms outstretched smiling at strangers and inviting them for a hug.. …it seems that giving hugs is infectious.
The FREE HUGS campaign was started in 2004 by a man known as Jaun Mann
Here is the introduction from Wilkapedia.
“The Free Hugs Campaign is a social movement involving individuals who offerhugs to strangers in public places. The hugs are meant to be random acts of kindness—selfless acts performed just to make others feel better”
The reaction from passers by was fascinating and often amusing. Mostly we got smiles, but some people were obviously wary of our “scam” and would hurry past, eyes down or looking ahead, completely ignoring us. Some people, who possibly knew about the campaign would run up to us for a hug. Some would initially, knee jerk reaction shake their heads, but then accept a hug when they realises we were genuine.
One man in a pink shirt, walked past and then came back for a hug from us all. A Portuguese lady, angrily berated Inga for several minutes and could not get her head around the fact we were not asking for money. She walked past and angrily watched from a distance.
The trinket men looked on suspiciously, until one bravely approached us and asked how we made the money. It took him awhile to realise we were giving hugs for free. He was a lovely chap, an illegal immigrant from Kenya, just trying to survive.
The nicest part was when a young man offered to give me a free dance lesson in exchange for a free hug, as a busker with an accordion had moved his pitch near us.
The surprising part was the number of South East Asian tourists that ran to us for hugs, as I always thought of them as reserved.
As an introvert myself, this exercise was mind opening. In fact my whole social scene in Paris is an education to me.
I had a wonderful weekend, meeting people from all over the world who have been brought together by the internet and a love of Paris . Somehow, stripped of all the usual clues of dialect and dress , that tell us Brits what class we come from, what education we have had and often what job we do, and unconsciously us Brits use to judge other people on sight, ( can’t speak for other nationalities) differences are put down to nationality and cultural differences, We accept each other far more easily. and also are able to fully be ourselves without fear of judgement.
Given this confidence, I watch and learn as Americans, initiate conversations with total strangers on the next table exchange emails and arrange to meet up.
Saturday was attendance at the Vendange (wine harvest) at Bistro Melac in the 11th arrondissement. An annual excuse for a local street party, as they harvest the grapes from the vine which grow around the building. Wine flows, young virgins climb up the ladder to pick the grapes, which are then traditionally trodden by the children, (except traditionally our party takes over these tasks. ) There is music and dancing, speeches and laughter and always sunshine.
Here is my report from two years ago.
Sunday morning saw me on a bike ride from Notre Dame to the Eiffel tower. Such fun and a wonderful way to see the city. We called at a local market to buy stuff for a picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens…and still the sun shone.
Private catch ups with friends I have made through this blog and the hugs exercise on Monday afternoon completed my weekend.
But then , thanks to the Air France pilots strike, my flight was cancelled and I must have been one of the few people walking out of the departure hall at CDG with a smile on my face as I couldn’t get a direct fight till Wednesday, so a bonus couple of days in Paris.
The whole weekend has made me re evaluate my life. I am so frustrated by my job, which I am only continuing for the salary. I dread going to work tomorrow, to again face the pressure and frustration of not being able to do what I signed up for….. which is care for people.
In Paris I met people who have given it all up, including good salaries either by choice or circumstance to live on a shoestring and pursue contentment in another way and to savour life and each day as it comes. .
Do I really need to have the apartment painted. Do I need to have the terrace professionally landscaped. Do I need a £10,000 financial cushion? …and on and on, there will always be something I can spend money on.
But it takes courage to take the plunge, retire, live in reduced circumstances. This is what I have been moving towards for the past two years. Meanwhile, life is happening.
What am I waiting for?
As my friend, Bradysmum said
JUST DO IT!