One day my little one and I packed our bags and were off to explore the city, as we usually do, whether it’s visiting a museum or discovering another one of the many parks of Paris. Walking towards the Metro, our little man is normally quite chatty, often explaining what we should do while we’re out (it almost always involves catching a train and a bus, visiting a park, shopping and looking for a police car or an ambulance – preferably with the siren on).
On this particular day, a lady walking by overheard his chatter and stopped to ask me in French how old he was. When I said that he was turning three in July, she shared that she too had a little boy who was turning three. It turns out their birthdays are only six days apart.
Moments into our conversation (we had switched to English by now), we started discussing schools as kids starts nursery school (école maternelle) once they turn three. The French Government claims that starting school at this age helps to focus on the acquisition of language and the development of the child.
This was something we had already started looking into; however, we still had few unanswered questions. We also knew it involved a visit to the local town hall and the thought of navigating through French administration when our French is barely basic, was a bit nerve-wrecking.
She kindly explained the process of how public school enrolments work in France and how after submitting copious amounts of paperwork, the local town hall provides a letter notifying you of your child’s school allocation. Then, and only then, you can visit the school you’ve been allocated where you’ll receive a whole other set of paperwork to complete and finalise enrolment.
Coming from Australia this all seemed a bit overwhelming as back home we could have done some of this work online, gone straight to the school and voila, that would have been the extent of confirming enrolment. But this didn’t surprise us either; within a month or so of living in Paris, we’ve already become accustomed to the French administration’s love of paperwork.
However, what happened next was truly a surprise. “I can come with you to town hall” – I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. She graciously offered to accompany us and be our translator for the registration process at town hall. I was so amazed by her kindness and generosity; making time for us – mere strangers she had met only minutes ago.
So we exchanged numbers and agreed on a day to visit town hall. She also shared all the information on the documentation we would need for our visit, which was really nice of her as some of the paperwork (there’s that word again) they needed seemed a bit random and we wouldn’t have thought to take it, which would have delayed the process further.
So a few days later, there we were at town hall and this amazing woman translated the entire meeting, and then voila, within a few minutes, we had our letter for the school. She then organised our appointment with the school director and even confirmed whether the director spoke English so she could work out whether she should join us for that meeting as well. What an incredible experience!
In a world where we hear of atrocities on a daily basis and receive constant reminders of why we shouldn’t trust one another, moments like these rekindle your faith in humanity. We have been so grateful for so many people here in Paris who in their own way have helped us feel welcomed when we’re so far away from home, and are navigating through a new country and a new language. But this moment and this amazing woman truly have taken acts of kindness to a whole other level. We hope that we too will have the opportunity one day to do the same for someone and give back to humanity… to keep the chain of kindness moving.
We are now planning to have a picnic with both of our families together soon to get know everyone better.
By Navneet Gupta