A country that is, by many, considered the most romantic place in the world. A country hailed for their culinary tradition, a country that conjures up images of sunny vineyards sloping down into luscious green valleys, a country of castles and art, of literature and music. A place where everyone is chic and people are effortlessly cool.
It is also a country with a complicated and tumultuous history, a place with a reputation for sulky women, lecherous men, and a less-than-friendly population. A country riddled with stereotypes about cleanliness, hygiene, and what sorts of bizarre things they happily consume.
But what is the reality? I come here as a foreigner but I live with a native. I have one foot on the inside and one foot on the outside, an observer who must also be an adapt. I’m not here as a tourist; this is my life.
(An excerpt from an early conversation my boyfriend and I had while still living in Australia)
“So, I hear that bread is very important in France, yeah?”
My boyfriend’s face takes on a look of complete seriousness. “Ah, mais oui, baby. So, you know how to say ‘bread’?”
“Bien sur!” I’m so proud of my beginner’s French.
(disclaimer: the following will be spelled phonetically)
“Do P-ah,” I say with flourish.
“Deu paihrn,” he corrects.
“What? That’s what I said, do P-ah.”
“No, no deu paaaaiiiiihhhhrrrnnnn.”
“Do Paaaaaaaaaaaah-un.” I say with dramatic flair and not a little irritation.
“Deu paihrn,” he says again, quickly, as though perhaps if he says it matter-of-factly I will simply be able to change the way my mouth has been trained to make shapes and get it immediately.
“It’s not like you don’t know what I mean. What does it matter as long as I can be understood? Ugh. How is it spelled?”
“Ahhh, English alphabet, please,” I’m whiny now in my defeat at the hands of French pronunciation.
“I’m trying to help you learn.”
“I know! So please spell it for me so that I can understand.” I have fully reverted to a foot-stomping child.
“d-e for deu and p-a-i-n for bread.”
“Bread is pain?”
“Bread is pain? It is spelled like pain?”
“Oh yes, I never thought of it that way but yes, bread is pain.”
A metaphor for life in France? We shall see.