Bus drivers have a special place in my heart.
No, I'm not talking about the average bus driver with a superiority complex, barking out "Pay on exit!" to public transportation newbies boarding his precious conveyance. I'm talking about Isabelle--my bus driver in France.
Actually, she wasn't a bus driver--she was a conductrice du car, which in French means "motorcoach driver". I was told that there is a distinct difference between the words bus and car: One is able to both stand and sit in a bus, but in a car, one may only sit. Since my bus went back and forth between Tours and a small group of villages about 30 minutes away, it was a car, used for longer distances (with comfier seats).
Isabelle is special to me because she was my first "friend" in France. Yes, I lived with a family, but they never used the familiar form of 'you', tu, with me. They always called me vous, which is more formal and made me feel as if I was not really welcomed as part of the family. Isabelle was the first person to ever call me tu, and I remember that day as one of the happiest I spent in France. It was the same feeling I had the first time I realized that I could understand every single thing a French person was saying without having to translate it into English first; it's this incredible feeling of acceptance and belonging, which is important when one is alone abroad.
Isabelle came to call me tu because I called her that first, by accident. I thought she would be offended by my mistake, but instead she just laughed and insisted that we call each other tu all the time. Befriending a stranger in France is definitely not an easy feat (which I will explain in further detail in a future post), and so her reaction was somewhat shocking to me. She really was so sweet to me; she would pick me up early so I could ride with her to the beginning of the route and we could chat before she picked up other passengers. She'd listen to the problems I was having with the family, answer questions I had about the city, and introduce me to people. She is the one who introduced me to my best friend in France, Caroline. In addition to all this, she'd tell me about her own plans for the future.
She always talked about how much she loved Brittany and wanted to live there. When I left Touraine, the local suburban bus line was having some troubles and the future of Isabelle's job was in question. I'm happy to say that she and her husband recently moved to Normandy to open up a tabac (newsstand).
I'm so grateful that Isabelle came into my life; she really made all the difference. She isn't driving buses anymore, but I'm sure her new life in Normandy is much more fulfilling than she had in Tours. She certainly deserves that.
Photo: Isabelle (left) and Caroline standing in front of our bus at the Fil Vert station in Tours.