How does it feel to be invited by a French family?And as a disabled Chinese woman
How does it feel to be invited by a French?
Before I could answer this question, I want to ask how long does it usually take to be invited by a French to their home? To me, the answer is 2 years and half. However, I am sure I am more than the average.
I met a British guy at an international conference three years ago. He was in his forties, white, educated and professional. When he learned that I studied and lived in Paris, ?he showed an incredible and complicated complexion.
"Oh, really? I also studied in Paris over twenty years ago and I lived around Montparnasse too. Is it easy for you to make friends in France?"
"Well, not really. In fact, it is very hard, especially when I cannot speak French very well."
He seemed to totally understand and agree, "You see, I am a white male and it still took me one year to receive an invitation from a French friend when I was in Paris."
Yet, I, in distinct contrast, am - a shy Asian, woman, and in a wheelchair. So it must be normal if I find it difficult surviving socially in France.
To me, language and culture is one problem, while, accessibility is another.
Paris, as it is known, is a city with long history and a lot of structural barriers in the ?architecture.
Just as the above pictures show, in Paris, there are a lot of places that can be classified as "disabled people forbidden " due to the structural inaccessibility. A lot of French people are living in small apartments with a lot of stairs and without an elevator, and as a result, they are not able to offer an invitation to their home even if they want.
It was only until two and a half years following my arrival in France did I receive an official invitation from a French family.
Similarly, the first time I met with Madame Francoise Salama was at a meeting in Edinburgh last year. I was invited to speak about my experience as a Chinese youth, though quite old youth, living with a rare disease and how I used new media to advocate for patients' rights. Madame Salama, board member of several major patient advocacy groups, including AFM and EURORDIS, was sitting in the auditorium.
She came to greet me after my session, and told me that she is also a graduate from Sciences Po Paris, where I studied, and has a son living with DMD. I live with a subtype of muscular dystrophy called CMT disease.
Thus, MD, or muscular dystrophy, turns out to be the invisible bond connects me with the Salama family. And the connection continues after the conference ended.
Madame Salama sent me a message after our meeting in Edinburgh and proposed that we must find some time to meet up again since both of us live in the same city. However, neither of us found a time together until April this year.
Francoise's son Louis has suffered from an infection so we delayed our meeting several ?times, but she finally managed to squeeze some time from her busy agenda when she accompanied her son to study Japanese in the 13e arrondissement.
Unlike other French people I meet here, Francoise is always punctual, detail-oriented and does what she promises. In comparison, I was late when we met in Paris, as I thought that French people would always be late.
We sat in a café not far away from the tram station so it would be easy for Francoise to "escape" if ?her son in need had any problem. She offered me Parisien gourmet, and bought me a box Easter chocolates. We talked about my journalism project in Europe and other MD patients. In the end of the meeting, Francoise invited me to her home for a brunch and offered to directly drive me to her house in Fontainebleau ?so that I wouldn't worry about the transportation, which is not quite accessible.
I was surprised but ?exalted, as it was the first time I had ever been invited by a French family, and thus accepted the invitation with much pleasure. However, I was worried that she might not be serious, as to be honest, I don't trust the French very much.
Francoise took some notes in her agenda, paid my bill, and promised me that she contact me again to confirm the time for our brunch.
I thanked her and prayed silently that she wouldn't forget about it.
I will detail my visit to her home in the next post, but here is a picture.