A few weekends ago, I traveled to Lyon, France with one of my friends (who is ironically named Joy; it was quite a hope and joy filled weekend). The third largest city in France, Lyon is basically a less touristy Paris. It even has a mini Eiffel tower! After an entire day of exploring, walking over 200 flights of stairs, biking, wandering around through the artsy Croix Rousse area, and even stumbling upon a children’s carnival, we realized we were so busy that we had forgotten to eat. Considering we were in France, we both wanted a crepe.
We walked along the main road of the Old Town area and saw four or five crepe stands, not sure which one to try. The first one had great reviews on Trip Adviser, but the line was long and the crepe maker was a bit pushy. About 100 feet down the road, the second stand had practically no line at all. Excited, we stood right behind the family waiting for their crepe and watched as the young crepe maker poured the batter on the griddle. After a minute or so, he grabbed his spatula to flip the crepe. Immediately, the crepe tore and a huge hole developed in the middle. The crepe maker’s face struck red, he quickly tossed the crepe components in the trash, and poured new batter. After a minute or so, he grabbed his spatula to flip the new crepe and redeem himself. He tore a giant hole in this one, too! The family waiting for their crepe looked down, embarrassed for him, and twiddled their thumbs. The son looked up at his mom, and somewhat under his breath said something that included the word, “quatrieme” (fourth). Clearly, this was not just his second time breaking the crepe. We stood, shocked, as he broke two more. My friend and I felt so embarrassed for him, and didn’t know what to do. The family, waiting for their crepe, weren’t sure what to do, either, as they had already paid.
I honestly wanted to cry; the pour guy was just trying to make some money on the side of the road, some kind people were trying to buy the crepes, but he simply couldn’t get it right. It seemed he didn’t have the right tools, as the “spatula” he was using was more like a long, sharp knife, and clearly the edges of the knife were catching on the thin crepe every time. Uncomfortable and unsure what to do, we smiled widely at the man to give him some silent support, and walked on to another crepe station. A little shaken up from the last episode, we walked past two more stations, not sure if we were even in the mood for a crepe anymore.
When we had almost circled through the entirety of the old town, we saw a sign for a restaurant serving eight different kinds of crepes. Outside, we saw a man flipping the crepes. It turns out he spends his entire day making crepes for all of the restaurant goers, and anyone on the street who walks up and wants one (and who pays at the register inside). We watched as he made eight crepes in five minutes, jugging four at a time on a large griddle. He timed all the different ingredients perfectly, cracking eggs as a topping on one, while letting the cheese melt on another, while stirring the Nutella to pour on the next. It was incredible. After witnessing at the last depressing stand how difficult it must be to keep a crepe intact, we were so impressed that he was juggling four at a time and treating his many customers so pleasantly.
There was a line, that was for sure, but all the customers were together. It was a group of tourists traveling together, all around our age, and they had all stopped at this stand just before us to get crepes. Each one ordered two, so the man was making sixteen crepes for all of them, and, like I said, had finished half of them in just five minutes. The group was incredibly impatient, however, and they kept telling the man to hurry up. They would grab one crepe as soon as the man finished, then angrily tap their feet and pace back and forth waiting for the next one. They even scoffed at how they believed one of the two Nutella crepes they ordered had more Nutella than the other one. Alarmed, he grabbed the crepe, dumped more Nutella on it, and handed it back, only for them to shove the crepe in their friend’s hand and demand for him, again, to hurry up.
My friend and I were shocked and downright angry. How could they treat this man with such disrespect? He spends his entire day making crepes, is absolutely a professional, and he is desperately trying to make his customers as happy as possible. Not to mention he was making them at lightning speed!
When the group had finally left with their sixteen crepes (It was actually unbelievable that they were each eating two; these crepes were ginormous and so filling), my friend and I decided this man needed some kindness and respect. Instead of immediately launching into what we wanted to order, we asked him how he was doing. Shocked, he stuttered, and then said, “well… well… I’m doing okay. How are you all?” We asked him all about his process, told him over and over again how skilled he was, and I saw the man gaining confidence again. When he grabbed the Nutella for my crepe, he doubled the amount, then winked at me with this sheepish smile. It was a beautiful moment, and my mouth was watering at the sight of this delicious crepe. We left him a tip, even though there was no tip jar, and he waved us goodbye (I must add that this crepe cost three euros. Yes, three euros. I would have paid ten!).
I was so excited to dig into this Nutella goodness that my friend stopped and took a picture of me freaking out with happiness (picture is below). The crepe maker laughed at that, and I like to think he felt proud that I deemed his crepe picture-worthy. In retrospect, I wish I had asked him to be in the picture, too, but by the time we walked away he had already finished three more crepes, so I would have hated to interrupt him too much.
We sat on the steps of the cathedral just a few feet away to eat. After just one bite, the Nutella started oozing out. It got all over my jacket, and of course all over my face. I just laughed and decided I might as well eat the whole thing and then go back and ask the man for napkins. Besides, I had no interest in interrupting my devouring of this crepe. When I finished the last bite, I quickly hopped up and ran over to ask for napkins. I pointed to my face, and my jacket, and he laughed and handed me a huge handful. He also motioned for me to put out my hands to receive some hand sanitizer, to which I must have said “merci” fifty times.
As I was walking away, he called out, “mademoiselle!” I turned around and he pointed at my hair, smiling and laughing. It turns out the Nutella had found its way into my hair, too.
It was just a simple moment, buying a crepe off the street, but I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget how that man stayed poised to deal with all those rude tourists, how he gave us extra Nutella as if it was such a rarity for him to receive kindness and respect. I’ll never forget the power in treating someone as a human being, in the beauty of just being goofy and passionate. What a moment of appreciating each other for who we each are as our raw selves: the girl who gets excited over a cheap, quality crepe and then gets the Nutella all over her, and the man who makes delicious crepes for hundreds every day, not expecting much of anything in return.