When I began to ask questions in my bumbling French, the lady answered me in French-accented English and then led me through the process of buying soap, loading my clothes into the machine and paying at a central terminal where you punch in numbers for the washing machine you're using and add Euro coins for payment. Outside it was raining, and people walked quickly through the tree-lined square on their way to work and school. Across the street, the white stone building of the Garde Republican (the local police station) was flying the French flag and had the motto of the French Revolution – Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite – etched into its stone entrance. Young women smoked cigarettes and drank "noisettes" – espresso with a dash of milk – in the café next door, which had a soccer game on the flat-screen TV.
After she collected all the coins and checked the machines, the blonde lady smiled and wished me a good day as she left. To anyone who still thinks that Parisians are rude and snotty as a general rule, I suggest that you do your laundry next time at the Place Monge in the 5th arrondissement.
Who knows? The person helping you might turn out to be Catherine Deneuve.