How do you say “aloe vera” in French?

November 5, 2011

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Prompt #5: One of the greatest joys of travel can be the random acts of kindness you’ll receive from total strangers. Have you ever found kindness from strangers in unexpected places?

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” –Seneca

So much of traveling is relying on the kindness of others, and it’s amazing how kind and helpful complete strangers can be. While I’m naturally a bit suspicious of a total stranger’s motivation to help me, more often than not, it’s just one human seeing another in need.

My first experience with random kindness while traveling occurred in Marseilles. I had gotten a sunburn the day before and couldn’t seem to find any aloe vera at the giant Monoprix grocery store (which reminded me of a Fred Meyer because they had home/beauty etc departments). I don’t speak French, so my 5 phrases and ability to count to 10 wasn’t helping me find aloe vera for my scorched shoulders. After unsuccessfully looking in the lotions and potions area, I decided to ask a woman and her daughter for help.

“Bonsue… Parle-vou anglais?” (this question was always met with kindness in the south of France. I was sad to find it was not as successful upon reaching Paris, where it was met with “what are you saying” spoken back to me in English). The teenage daughter said no, but the mother spoke a little English. So I asked them about aloe vera, sun burn, hand motions etc. and they had no idea what I was talking about so I was going to just be like “ah nevermind, merci”. But this woman wouldn’t give up. She then gets all excited and whips out her mobile, calling her son. So then she makes me talk to him. He was like “so it’s some kind of ointment for a sunburn?” and I replied “yes” and so he asked me to spell it, and as I was saying “A-L-O-E…” the mother screeched what was the French equivalent of “aloe vera gel”. After a bit of giggling by all three of us, she explained that aloe is found at the pharmacy. So she had her daughter take me across the street to the pharmacy, and help me find it there. We were both laughing and all I could do was say thank you and smile.

It made my day that a complete stranger would take the time out of their busy day and grocery shopping trip to stop and help a poor sunburned American girl find aloe. So incredibly sweet and a great memory. :)

How have you experienced random acts of kindness on the road?

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