Cycling through France last week, my wife and I ended up Monday night on the terrace of a popular local restaurant: the usual French menu with the usual French charm. Small tables, hard wooden chairs, fair prices, good food served with self-confidence, regional wines, busy, crowded, noisy, yet colourful. No surprises. The terrace was full, seating more than twenty people. You could not help but overhearing everybody’s conversation. A British family was praising the curry mussels while a German couple were unsuccessfully perusing the wine list for great Bordeaux. We settled in and started to review our day while glancing over the traditional menu. While debating the comfort of the bicycle saddle and accusing the chairs we sat on of obvious conspiracy, the young couple next to us asked what language we were speaking. Flemish, my wife answered, explaining it was like Dutch but not really Dutch. They politely smiled. Having overheard their previous conversation, I asked what Italian region they were from. Calabria, a region at the toe of the boot, she manifested. You could see both her and him come to life talking about their place of origin. I asked what had brought them to Orléans, seeing they were not regular tourists: work, they shouted. She explained: we own an Italian restaurant in an industrial park just outside the city and are just enjoying our day off.
They continued to explain their schedule, when the restaurant was open, how they still managed to have a well-balanced life, how they liked what they were doing, etc. The conversation went on for a short while. Their dessert and our main course got in the way of a log conversation.
What struck me was how normal they both perceived their move to Orléans to be. They were not just young people with an open mind looking for their next adventure. Nor were they economic refugees. They were responsible young entrepreneurs, evolving in a market they understood very well. When looking to start their business, they not only picked a city in central France but also preferred an industrial area, allowing them to close the restaurant in the evening on weekdays to grant them family time. They fully live and act as Europeans: borderless minds with borderless plans. They could set up shop in every EU country tomorrow and still go home every day. Non-millennials are national by birth, some wanting to be European by choice. The people I met are European by origin, unlimited by their accidental nationality. They understand very well countries are a thing of the past. Their playground is a European nation.
When they finished up their evening at the restaurant, they called for the waiter, thanking and tipping royally for the friendliest hospitality they had received in years. The waiter was surprised but appreciative. I thought I had just met 2 of the most wonderful people in France.