Laundry day has to be one of the days I look forward to most on the road. After days on end, wearing a small selection of clothing – because travelling light is always cheaper – the thought of fresh, clean clothes is always an exciting one.
I found myself with this strange anticipation after about 10 days in France. With a flight to Morocco on the horizon, I knew a good batch of clean clothes were in order. Around the corner from my hostel was a small laundromat (or laverie in French) so I quickly gathered all my dirty clothes and purposefully made my way over.
What I did not anticipate was that the instructions in the laundromat – how to get detergent, how to operate the machines – were entirely in French.
There was a central operating system, with a numbers associated to different washers and dryers. I looked around confused, made out the word détergent on the machine and paid for it.
Knowing that detergent was a key component in the process of laundry day, I paid the same amount once more. I wanted that beautiful warm, linen smell after all!
But still nothing.
So with a sigh, I decided to pay once more. I heard the coin join the rest of my lost coins. I paused waiting for some detergent to magically manifest from the machine somehow.
But it didn’t.
Then a tap on the shoulder. I spun around and behind me stood a petit and elderly French lady. She gestured to a box hanging near the entrance, and sitting in it, the detergent. In my panic, I had paid for three washes worth of detergent – not the best of starts to laundry day. The lady sensing my helplessness continued to offer me guidance, navigating me around the various coin slots and machinery until my washing was finally spinning in a mix of soapy water.
Relieved we sat down, both now waiting for our laundry to, well, get washed.
The humming of the washers covered the obvious silence that had fallen upon the room. She spoke no English and I only knew how to say cheese (fromage), what is your name and ham (jambon) in French.
So I asked her what her name was.
“Tu t’appelle comment?”
“Madame Annalise,” she replied smiling.
Proceeding that icebreaker, came the most insane conversation I’ve ever taken part in. A mix of French, English, random sign language and google translate – we shared with each other our stories.
Madame Annalise told me about how she moved to Paris as a girl, how the city has changed in that time, how multicultural it has become but how cost of living has gone up. She smiled as she spoke about her family, beaming with pride when she mentioned her children.
Telling her I was from Australia, she said she to wishes visit one day, but that it may just be too far away. Which was fair enough, it had taken me just over 30 hours to get to France. Hearing about my own travels around the world, she nodded approvingly – seeing the world was important to her.
Deep in conversation, the machines came to an abrupt halt and let out a shrill beep. Madame Annalise smiled and headed to her now dry laundry, folded them neatly into a pile before waving goodbye.
Now I know what you’re thinking – why didn’t I just use google translate to work out how to use, navigate and operate the machines in the laundromat?
Having travelled alone for a bit now, I realised that my phone has come to occupy a paradoxical space in my life. The myriad of things my phone can do has made my life infinitely easier and better. But also, it sometimes becomes a wall and a distraction, preventing me from engaging and connecting with others. When hurdles come about, I instinctively pull out my phone – it’s familiar and provides a sense of comfort.
In the laundromat that day, I could’ve used my phone to get my laundry done as quickly as possible. But effort scares us sometimes, especially when effort is required with people we don’t really know. In that moment, I decided to navigate it on my own.
Yes, you may be laughing because I ended up staying there much longer than I had to, and paid for a lot more detergent than I needed. But if I had just whipped out my phone, I wouldn’t have had the absolute pleasure of meeting Madame Annalise.
And the lucky individual who came in after wouldn’t have had a plethora of free detergent to use.
So you’re welcome.
Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.
Get in touch ~