And You Thought You Knew About Small Town Culture
The twisty mountain pass road from heaven ends abruptly into Cedarville: the tiniest of towns in the middle of nowhere. I pull in the fuel station, and busy myself with the task at hand when the guy on the other side of the column from me decides to start up a conversation. It takes but a couple of seconds and another guy from the column ahead of me goes: “French?”
Surprised (I never remember that I have an accent!), I look up and discover a giant man standing by his giant truck — overalls, baseball hat, big white beard, mid seventees. “Swiss” I answer, readying myself for the typical and unavoidable “oh Sweden, yes”, and get back to my business. “Ah bon, mais de où exactement venez-vous?” Wow: his French pronunciation is perfect! Luckily I had already let go of the pump or he would have been showered in fuel as I looked back at him in shock. THIS guy speaks French????
At that point I think I just decided I was done with pumps and gas and bikes. I don’t really know – I was in a daze. I left it all behind and walked straight up to him. “And who are you? WHY do you speak fluent French with a Swiss accent?” It turns out in 1962, his mother decided he would benefit from going to boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland, in a neighborhood where a good friend of mine lives.
Seriously??? WHERE am I again??? Cedarville, CA? What is Cedarville anyway? It is so small that by the time you’re done sneezing, you have missed it. How can it hide a Swiss giant?
Cedarville. Population: 514, and I already have met two of them; and half of them has lived in Switzerland and spent most of his adult life running a fruit and vegetable import business out of Belgium. Come to think of it, the total is “almost three”: I’m not counting the parked cop who would have loved to have met me two miles back, when I was crossing the double yellow line at high speed to leave the slow pokes behind. Twistees are sacred on a bike, you can’t let them go to waste by riding at car speed.
His phone rings. Clearly this awesome encounter is coming to an abrupt end. And once again, my “countryman” surprises me. In his delightful French he says “I’m talking to a Swiss, I’ll call you back later”. It was his daughter! Now what – half of Cedarville is French speaking???
It’s funny – I have this notion that I am mostly non-judgemental, clearly open-minded, definitely accepting, and above all, fascinated with people stories. I usually like to specify “ALL” people’s stories! But then I wonder – is that really so??? What did I really think, deep down, the kind of thinking that appears before you realize it is there? What did I think when I first saw David? I bet I had him pegged for a conservative American who had lived all his life in the West (not the Northwest, the “West”), hadn’t traveled, probably didn’t own a passport, and would have no interest in talking to a biker babe with pink hair!
So I’ve learned a lesson: next time I enter a small town, I’ll make sure to ask for the French speakers!