The Chicken Dance

Learning French

“Chicken happy can you monkey dance a cheese?”

“Quoi?”

“Chick-en happy can. You. Monkey. Dance. A cheese?”

“I am sorry; I do not understand what you are saying.”

I have decided that it would be hysterical to have my own English subtitles, you know, just a little screen in front of me to translate what I say in French into English.  Mind you, this would not be to help other people understand me, but so that I could see what it is that I am actually saying.

Lately, I have become more confident in my abilities to speak French (generally fueled by one of those extra-long aperitifs).  I speak rapidly and say multiple sentences at a time.  I do that whole “thoughtful pause” that foreigners always do that makes them look so casual and smart as they try to find the right word to use.  All in all, I look like the super-cool, multi-lingual expat…as long as you don’t speak French.

I remember going to Costa Rica with a friend of mine a few years ago.  Her family is Costa Rican but she was raised in the U.S.

“Wow,” I told her.  “Your Spanish is so good!”  To me she sounded like a local.

She laughed.  “That is only because you don’t know what I am saying.”

It is the same for me here in France.  If you don’t speak a lick of French and you hear me conversing you might think, “Wow, she has really got a handle on the language”; however, if you are French and you hear me speak French you will probably think “quoi?”

For example, I know the word for “good” and I know the word for “walk” but I didn’t know that when you put them together they don’t mean “good walk” but instead mean “cheap”.  These types of little confusions combined with my tragic pronunciation are why I often find myself staring into the baffled faces of French people.  They try to be nice and pretend they know what I am saying, but having been the foreigner for so long, I know what those smiling nods mean.

Maybe I should start asking trick questions to see if my sentences are coming out right:

“So, you love American food?”  I will ask in French.

“Oui, absolutement” they will reply, giving me an encouraging smile.

BUSTED!  Clearly no French person would ever say such a thing.*

Or maybe I could try…

(in French)

“While the French make some decent wine, Americans wines are much better, yes?”

“Ah oui, d’accord.”

DOUBLE BUSTED!  Come to think of it, this could become a rather entertaining little game.

But then again, is it such a bad thing for people to placate you?  Is it so horrible that they want to encourage instead of discourage?  It’s good to be given some motivation to keep trying, to have people pretending through the sentences they don’t understand so that they can piece together the ones that they do.  Of course, it would be nice to know whether I am asking if they enjoy the flavor of the fromage or if I am saying “happy chicken can you monkey dance a cheese”; but I guess I’ll just have to wait for the subtitles.

*Not only would a French person never say that they loved American food, they would be utterly confused as to what was meant by American food.  My repeated experience has been that most of them think that everyone in America eats cheeseburgers three times a day.

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Santé Death Stare

Cultural Differences

LASER EYES!

Muhahahahaha!  I will over-power you with my vision!   (queue evil laugh again)

In my mind, I see myself in a sort of Wonder-Woman-esque costume, hands on hips, with red lasers shooting out of my eyes.

“Why you do it like this?”  MB is rolling his eyes at me.

“Huh?  What?”  I am snapped out of my role as super-villain.

“Pfff, nothing…santé?”  MB looks at me patiently, glass in hand.

“Oh, right…santé!”  We raise our glasses to our lips as I continue to stare at him psychotically.

MB smirks.  “You are reedeeculous.”

“Hey,” I spark up in my own defense.  “I’m just following ze rules!”

You know that whole saying about breaking a mirror and having seven years bad luck?  Well, try this on for size…in France, if you “santé” incorrectly you get seven years of bad sex (leave it to the French).  So, it is no surprise that this was one of the first things that I learned about French culture.  While, getting a tutorial on the kissing thing* would have been infinitely helpful; instead, my first tutorial was on toasting.

I was in Australia with several of MB’s French friends (ex-pats tend to flock together).  We had all just poured wine and I did my usual American all-glasses-in-at-the-same-time “cheers”!

“What?  No, you cannot do eet like theez.”  His friend Pierre says to me.

“What, are the toasting police going to come and get me?”  I’m so funny.

“No, I do not think so.”  Pierre is not amused.

“So you are telling me there are rules for toasting?”

“They are not rules; it is just the way eet eez.”  Pierre says this matter-of-factly, like, “why weren’t you aware, American?”

“Okay, so what is the way eet eez?”  For some reason they are not charmed by my French accent.

“No crossing,” says Jean.  “This is not okay, if your glass goes in, it must go directly to a person.  Do not cross arms with someone else.  This is very bad.”

The other Frenchman nod emphatically and I start to wonder if I should be taking notes.

“Also, you do not start until everyone has their glass,” says Stephen.  “This is very rude, yes?”

He looks at me pointedly.  I think he could tell that I was about to pull the trigger on my wine glass during the tutorial.  I lower it with a disappointed sigh.

“But, the most ahmportant thing eez that you must look into the eyes of the person when you touch their glass, like theez…”

Pierre lifts his glass towards me and looks briefly into my eyes.  I widen my eyes and give him the laser stare.

“I think you are a beet dramatique but theez is better than nothing.”

And then, we toasted…one by one, with eye-contact, and no crossing!

Now you have been given the official tutorial.  So take notes, rehearse, and be ready for your next French apéro!

*I still get the kissing wrong sometimes…sometimes three kisses, for children sometimes just the one. What the heck?  How are you EVER to know?!

In Remembrance

In Remembrance

I am three years old.  We are careening around a twisty, two-laned mountain highway in eastern Tennessee.  My Mother is white-knuckling the arm rest; and looking at her two little girls in the backseat.  Why did I let my grandfather drive, she thinks to herself. 

It was an unusual family trip; just the girls up to visit Grampy in the mountains.  Daddy had stayed home to work; and we were off on an adventure.  Every visit with Grampy was an adventure.

“What’s that mean?”  I ask, pointing at a sign on the side of the road.

My sister and Mother are still clinging to the car for dear life; I am having a great time.

“Oh, it’s a sad story,” says Grampy, as he takes a hair-pin turn at 45mph.

“What happened?”

“Well, there was a big, important Indian chief named White Eagle.  He was very famous and very brave and everyone respected him very much.”  He turned around to make sure I was listening.  “He had a son who was also a brave warrior and they were very happy.  One day, White Eagle and his son got into a big fight and his son ran away and has never come home.  But White Eagle will never give up looking so that is why he puts the signs up everywhere around the mountains so that we can all help him look for his son, Falling Rock.  Are you going to make sure you keep an eye out?”

“Yes sir!”

‘WATCH FOR FALLING ROCK’   We pass another yellow, triangular sign.

“There’s another one!”  I kept my eyes peeled for Falling Rock the rest of the journey.

My Great-Grandfather had been in France during WWI.  He had fought in the trenches and saw many warriors who were lost, never to be found again.

On this day in 1918, we can only imagine what must have been going through his mind as he woke up, packed, and began marching back to the trenches to relief the last group of men.  He must have felt a sense of dread or maybe just a feeling of acceptance; we’ll never know.  Somewhere along the way, somewhere in the road, they heard the news; the unimaginable had happened.  A cease-fire was called; it was over.  It was over.

It wasn’t even noon.

My Great-Grandfather lived a long and full life; full of hard-work and happiness.  He worked for Congress in Washington, DC and was at Arlington Cemetery for the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  My Grandmother, only a little girl at the time, stood next to him and held his hand as they sang “My Buddy”.

It is easy to forget the men who sacrificed so much and managed to be brave in such a scary time.  Many of them came home.  But many of them are buried here in France, in unmarked patches of earth, tombs that we will never know are there.

So today, I would like to remind you all to continue to keep an eye out for Falling Rock and other lost warriors.  They are still missed and remembered.

Are the French aliens?

Cultural Differences

I have now sweated through my totally rad, hot pink sweat band; and droplets of moisture are starting to roll down my forehead.  I grab on with one hand and reach for my towel, mopping my face.  My god, how long have I been running?  I look down at the LCD screen on the treadmill – 8 minutes.  I have been running for eight minutes; and already I am drenched.

Maybe if there was air-conditioning…like a normal gym. 

But then again, there are no normal gyms in my town.  Gyms, in general, seem to be a rather new trend in France; not like in the U.S. or Australia where four-level monoliths are on every other city block.  So when I decided to join one, my choices were limited.  There was the one that had no treadmills or free-weights (how can this even exist?) or the one without air-conditioning (again, how can this even exist?).  Foolishly, I thought treadmills were more important.

So now, I sweat, heartily, every time I go for a workout.  The disturbing thing, however, is that I seem to be the only one.  While half my body weight is being absorbed by my gym towel, everyone else is dabbing at dry brows (and looking at me judgmentally).  Is this some other freakish French trait, akin to their ability to consume an extremely high-fat diet without becoming obese?

For the girls, there is an easy explanation.  Most of them waltz in wearing trendy clothes, full make-up, and their hair down, flowing around their shoulders.  They climb onto an elliptical or a stationary bike next to one of their friends; and sullenly push at the pedals for a while (yes, French girls can be sullen even while working out).  This type of girl exists at every gym though; we all know them, the girls who just come to look attractive in a tight outfit and try to scam on the guys who could be Jersey Shore rejects.

It was the men that gave me pause.  How can you possibly run for over half an hour at level 10 or 11 with no air-conditioning and not break a sweat?

Maybe the French are aliens.  Think about it, really, this would explain so much.

Until that conclusion is reached, however, I will have to continue to be the gross, sweaty girl at the gym (who runs while listening to trashy romance novels), existing in a world without air-conditioning and with a people without sweat glands.