“I’m sorry Momma, but I gotta stop and smell everything; I’m a beagle!”
Whaa…what is happening? Where is that voice coming from?
It is my first day back in Memphis, Tennessee and I am at the park walking my parents’ dog, Gudie*, who is stopping every two inches to smell something new.
“That’s what they do, you know,” continues the voice.
I turn to see a large (one might say redneck-ish) man standing next to me with jeans shorts, no shirt (and an impressive belly overhang), sporting field glasses **.
“It’s just the beagle way, they gotta smell it all. I’ve got a beagle/pincher mix, m’self. How old is this one? She’s still pretty little.”
Um…why is this weird dude talking to me? For a moment I forget that I am not in France anymore, then the haze lifts and I remember with a refreshing breath that I am back in the Southern United States. Why wouldn’t a complete stranger start a conversation with me?
“You know,” I begin, “we aren’t sure her origins, she’s just a little foundling but sweet as can be!”
As if on cue Gudie rolls onto her back in front of the stranger. He laughs and leans down to rub her belly…clearly Gudie is a much more trained up Southerner than me.
“Well, she’s a gudd’un (good one),” he says giving her a rub behind her ears.
“Yes sir, we sure think so!” Sir? What the hell? Where did that come from? And what is that insane accent you are using? Have I always talked like that?! Why does it feel so good coming out of my mouth?!
“Alrighty, well I best git goin’! Y’all have a bless-ed day!”
“You too!” I wave as he wanders off down the path.
Have a bless-ed day…wow, I haven’t heard that in ages. I love that.
I pause a moment before breaking into a smile with a small chuckle.
“Y’all”. He included the dog.
The rest of my day was charmed. The overweight country boy (sounds nicer than redneck) that wanted to check out my dog had reminded me of one of the most pleasurable things about being in the Southern United States, a little thing that I like to call “aggressive friendliness”. We WILL make you be friends with us and you will like it (in the South we are the most Doggie of all dog-like Americans: http://breadispain.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/the-truth-about-cats-and-dogs/ ).
This situation would never have happened in France. The French do not approach strangers with random pieces of information, nor do they provide personal details unless necessary. The French are a more conservative and reserved people. Sometimes this is construed as snobbish and I suppose that sometimes it is but mainly I think it is just a difference in social norms; it’s not that they don’t want to talk to you but they would feel super weird doing it (amirite? This is what I have decided to tell myself…ego, whatever). Usually, when I speak to a stranger in France, the response is honest shock, like I just pinched them, rather than aloof distaste (unless you are in Paris and then your odds are somewhat worse). So, I keep persevering, my Southern-ness or doggie-ness will have it no other way; I must keep fighting the good fight. FRIENDS 4 EVA! In fact, even though I lose some of my Southern intensity when I am in France, there is still enough to get the job done.
Just before my trip back home to Tennessee, MB and I were in Paris for four days. After a meal one night, we moved to sit at the bar and have our digestifs. Upon completion, MB excuses himself and goes to the restroom, leaving me sitting at a bar by myself, somewhat “in my cups” (doesn’t that sound nicer than “half-drunk”) after having just consumed a glass of what is, let’s face it Frenchies, gussied up moonshine.
So there I am, bored, swimming in cups, wondering what is taking MB so long. I smile at the person sitting next to me and get no response, I then try again with the person sitting opposite me. WHAT?! There is no shame in this game! But still…nothing. *SIGH*
Suddenly, the bartender makes a strategic error.
“Madame?” He walks over to me (we’ll discuss the “madame” issue later…I mean, is it too soon for botox? No?). “You both would like another drink?”
*This was all in French.*
“Oh yes,” I say, all doggie-charm and smiles. “Thank you so much, MB will have a digestif but just wine for me. More than one digestif is just too much!”
“Yes,” responds the bartender. “I am the same.”
Muhahaha! Conversation intiated, suckah.
“Right?” I am fully in the zone now. “I don’t know how my fiancé does it.”
Then the bartender says something unintelligible for me.
“So sorry,” I say. “I didn’t get that! The Parisian accent is very quick for me!”
“Yes,” a girl from down the bar says with a thick Russian accent. “It is very rapid in Paris. I have the seme (same) problem when I first came here.”
Oh, the game is so afoot. Multi-person conversation achieved in Paris by myself. I should win an award, nominations? Anyone?
“Oh, where are you from,” I ask her.
…And it went from there. Two hours later, MB and I finally left the restaurant after having been locked inside having drinks and cigarettes with the staff and their friends. Later that night, MB told me that he was thrilled when he was in the bathroom and could hear me talking.
“Because, I knew you wouldn’t be able to help yourself and when I came out we would have new friends!”
And why not? What is the worst possible thing that can happen? Someone chooses to ignore you or make you feel stupid? Pfff…it’s not high school, people; you won’t see them in homeroom tomorrow, who cares? Being friendly makes the world a little smaller and a little more cheerful…and, dare I say it, a little more doggie-ish. Embrace your inner dog or your inner Southern-ness because it is a great thing to be pleasant to everyone, to be happy easily, to be excited simply.
It reminds me of my last night in Memphis before coming back to France. My Father and I had taken Gudie in the backyard to play. We watched as she ran around with enthusiasm, stopping every once in a while to roll at our feet before continuing on her way.
“I love dogs,” I say to my Dad. “They are just so happy all the time; it is fun to be around them!”
“I know,” he says watching her. “Just imagine being able to get such joy from doing something so simple.”
“Yes,” I think. “Just imagine that.”
Y’all have a bless-ed day now.
*When “Rover” won’t do. Gudie is short for Gudrun…as in Norse mythology. She is so named because she was found wandering the streets in fairly poor condition and as she had clearly survived a harrowing journey it was decided she needed a strong name. Perhaps the only 25lb beagle mix in the world named for a Viking. Welcome to my family.
**This is what I mean when I refer to field glasses: http://www.ebay.com/itm/UNISEX-SUNGLASSES-DRIVING-SHOOTING-HUNTING-YELLOW-LENS-/300546365177. I am not referring to binoculars.