This morning I got up, woke my kids up, and took them to school. Between emptying the washing machine and filling the tumble dryer, I called a friend to check if she was ok, because I knew she had a tough day in store. Then I sorted out a run to the supermarket with my retired neighbour: we both hate the food shopping ritual, but we always manage to have a whale of a time when we go together.
When I got home, I dumped my shopping bags on the table and switched on the radio, just in time to hear that today is apparently « national kindness day » in France. I was surprised, in the same way as when it was « Women’s day » (I couldn’t help wondering if the 364 others had been bagged for « Mens’ days »).
However commendable this initiative may be, I wonder if I am alone in finding it depressingly inane to ask people to think about their fellow-man on one particular day of the year. Doesn’t this imply that the instigators of this « kindness day » consider that society today is overtly individualistic and selfish? Hardly a positive view of humanity….
The word « gentil » in French means « kind » or « nice » (a word my mum hates and always asked me to replace by a « real adjective », and I agree. Sorry, Mum). However, it is also used in a much more pejorative form, implying that a person is one can short of a six-pack; in other words, simple-minded or lacking in intelligence. I have always wondered whether this double-barrelled definition linking kindness with stupidity hides a Gallic conviction that if you are kind, you’re going to have the wool pulled over your eyes and be considered a gullible twerp within very little time.
The French personality in this neck of the woods is direct, latin, and passionate, and this sugarcoated, over-the-top and Care-Bearish « show-everyone-you-love-them-day» concept just doesn’t seem right here. I see smiles everywhere, every day, and people gladly communicate if you send the right signals. Some people are so anxious to get their message through that the conversations are spiced up with regular squeezing of hands and prodding of arms, making the interlocutor feel like an unripe melon on the local market place. However, the same passion can apply to those who don’t send positive signals and want to be left alone, and it’s their right.
There are of course the ones who don’t give a monkey’s uncle about anyone else unless the latter can provide something interesting. Today, these unscrupulous individuals may even presume that as it’s « kindness day », other people will have to roll out the red carpet for them. Imagine the scene in the crowded supermarket car park:
Q. « Excuse me, sir, but I sincerely believe I was waiting for this parking space before you arrived. And you know, today is « national kindness day ». So would you mind terribly if I took the space and you found another one ?»
A. « If it’s national kindness day today, then you can be kind and back off, before I am generous enough to give you a broken nose. Oh, and for what it’s worth, thanks for the parking space ».
Ok, I’m exaggerating a tad (although I have actually seen the exact same thing happen in a car park here) but I don’t think that the people really concerned by this initiative will bother making an effort today.
As for those who aren’t bad eggs as such, but just don’t seem to see or need the gazillions of people milling around them in over the course of their everyday lives, why bother being a hypocrite for just one day? Someone who prefers to barricade himself within the comfort of his headphones in the bus after a long day at work rather than talk with strangers isn’t going to make an exception. Let’s face it, not everyone sitting on a park bench is a potential Forrest Gump with a box of chocolates to share and breathtaking stories to tell – and less and less people in our urban jungle are interested enough to hang around to find out when the last bus home rounds the corner.
The other thing that I object to with this «special day» business is the underlying implication that on the other days of the year, it simply doesn’t matter. People who are kind do it automatically, I think. And those who aren’t kind react in the same way – they are naturally either unpleasant or simply anesthetized against other people’s needs from an early age.
I was laughing with my neighbour yesterday about « neighbourhood day », the date when French neighbours all over the nation are supposed to get together in the street for a huge party. Every day is neighbourhood day in our building: not a day goes past without a quick coffee, a chat, or finding a bag of homegrown vegetables hanging on the kitchen door handle. We all watch out for each other. Ok, all except for Gargamel, who would rather gouge his own eyes out with his garden trowel than partake in mundane chat. So we just let him be.
So I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that people don’t change. You either have the happy, people-orientated, look-out-for-others instinct, or you don’t. And if you don’t, then it’s certainly not « special days » spun by the media that will change you….