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OPINION: An African welcome in Paris

I have just spent 10 days in Paris with my best friend Nicole, and it was amazing.

On our fourth day in the 'city of love', in the midst of a melting heat wave, we took the underground to Trocadéro Station, where we got off to go and see the majestic Eiffel Tower.

We were in awe as we walked down the steps towards one of the Seven Wonders of the World, passing street vendors selling Eiffel Tower paraphernalia.

One of those vendors was a dark skinned, tall, lanky man, with an incredibly wide smile.

"Bonjour," he said.

"Bonjour," we sang in response.

As he rapped on in French, we politely smiled and said "No thank you" when it seemed he was offering what he had to sell (we relied on hand signals and body language because we don't understand French).

"English?" the man asked, smiling even wider when he heard us.

"Yes," we sang, again in unison.

"I speak English," he said, "are you from England or Australia?"

"South Africa," we answered, still walking.

"South Africa!" the man shouted, "I am from Africa, from Senegal!"

He was bouncing on the balls of his feet now, his eyes glossy with excitement.

The two of us were a little confused at first, but stood still and watched this man struggle to formulate his questions in English we were able to understand.

He started fidgeting with his goods, unhooking a long metal-like cord that held hundreds of mini Eiffel Towers attached to key rings.

Eventually he said, "These are for you, my family from Africa".

We stared at one another, all three of us awkward, Nicole and I slightly taken aback by the gesture (the French are not widely known for their warmth and friendliness, are they..?).

"Thank you," we said, neither of us managing to say anything else.

As he loosened the little Eiffel Tower key rings, he asked what part of South Africa we were from, telling us that his sister, whom he hadn't seen in seven years, lives in Pretoria.

"I'm from Pretoria," I said.

When Nicole and I tell this story, we like to say 'the man lost it' after that, but actually, now, it seemed a lot more like a flood of emotion crossed over his face.

He stopped talking, put down everything in his hands and enveloped us both in a bear hug and air kisses.

"You're my family," he said.

He handed us six mini key rings each and let us buy bigger versions at a bargain price.

We said our goodbyes and thank you and were on our way.

It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, although now as I'm writing it, it seems a lot smaller.

As a South African, who comes from a culture of friendliness and warmth, I am proud a fellow African could make me feel at home outside our borders.

It was the pure heart of his welcome that kept us talking about and mentioning him to others during our holiday.

He never gave us his name, I wish I'd asked. And he never told us his story.

But he unknowingly made meeting a Senegalese man in Paris the best part of my holiday.

Tamsin Wort is an online producer for Eyewitness New s. Follow her on Twitter: @TamsinShawn

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