The Long Goodbye

Adjusting to France

“Um, I think I’ll just wait in the car.”  I say this to my American friend who is in town visiting.  We are in Chateauneuf du Pape and she and MB are about to go inside and pay the nice family who owns the B&B we stayed at.

“Are you sure?”  My friend asks me.

“Oh yeah, I’m good here.  You two go ahead.”  I smile at her.

“Alrighty, we’ll be back in a minute!”

“Oh, I doubt that,” I think to myself.  “I seriously doubt that.”

French goodbyes are not what I am accustomed to.  I am American; there, we just get up, say thank you, and leave; if it involves friends or family then there could be hugging.  That’s about it; conversation happens in advance of the goodbye.  In France, they do things differently.  No one is worried about rushing off, so they take their time…sometimes, a very long time.

Often, when I do finally manage to extricate myself from these situations I am sweating slightly and have an increased heart rate, possibly the beginning stages of a panic attack.  These long, drawn out goodbyes make me crazy.  They test three inherent parts of my personality against one another:  1) my absolute abhorrence to being rude, 2) my complete and utter lack of patience, 3) my intense hatred of boredom.

A typical scenario might progress somewhat like this:

We get up to leave and our hosts follow us to the door.

“Boh…bah merci, huh?”  MB says to our hosts.  “It was so good to see you, we should get together more often, blah blah blah (insert: the stuff you always say when you leave your friends).”

They return the sentiment.

We kiss them and any other remaining guests goodbye, they kiss us goodbye.  We open the door.  We stand in the doorway.

NOW –This is the moment when an American would depart…but we are in France.

“I Hope it’s not raining outside,” says the host.

“Ugh, did you see that horrible April we’ve had,” says his partner, chiming in.

“I know,” says MB.   “March was great but April, what a nightmare!”

I am standing around waiting, wondering what is happening.  We’ve just finished a four hour evening of cocktails and dinner; couldn’t we have covered this earlier?  Finally, I walk through the door in order to give MB the signal to wrap it up (he is still discussing the weather).

“Alright, well bye then,” I offer once more, cheerfully.  “This was really wonderful; I loved everything!”  I throw in a little extra niceness so that I can assure myself I am being super polite.  I mean, I did have a good time; I am just ready for it to end now.

MB is still inside and is about to join me.  I can taste the freedom; suddenly, another guest from inside pipes up.

“By the way, how’s work?”  He is looking at MB.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! 

MB turns to him and begins, yet another, conversation.  I stand politely, listening.

“So, how have you been?”

ACK!  I’ve been attacked!

“You like France?”

“Are you joking,” I think to myself, looking at the party guest speaking to me.  “You haven’t spoken to me the entire evening, why now?  When I am literally half-way in the hallway!  I would have loved to chat with you earlier and make friends, you seem nice; but not at 2am, in a hallway, after a four-course extravaganza!”

… 20 minutes later.

MB and I have both completed our conversations and are once more heading towards the exit.

“Before leaving, you’re gonna take a bit of that chocolate cake with you, yes,” our host asks.

I start to wonder if we will ever get out of here.

“Nooo, no, no, it’s fine, really,” says MB.

“No, we insist! Jean! Cut a bit of chocolate cake and put it in a ziplock bag; what do you mean we don’t have ziplock bags anymore? Find something!”

… 10 minutes later.

We are both outside the door, cake in hand.

“Okay, so goodbye then,” call our hosts.

“Bye,” we say.

“Oh, and don’t forget to vote on Sunday!”

“Did you see this campaign,” MB returns.

What is happening

What do you think is going to happen there?”

Several voices pipe up, speaking in animated tones.

If I still had the energy I would give MB my santé death stare lasers eyes but it is too late.  I crumple to the floor and pass out from “goodbye fatigue” while the French people stand around continuing to talk.

*A big thanks to MB who provided many of the ideas for this post!

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Dirty Old Men Give Love Too

Adjusting to France, Cultural Differences

So, I am at the grocery store down the street from our apartment, being sulky.  I’m having one of those days when I hate living in France.  I’m feeling frustrated by language barriers and sick of being a stranger in a stranger land.  As I am standing in line a new register opens and the clerk that I know well waves me over.
“Yes,” he says.  “You can come and see me!”  He is grinning.

I know this clerk well, a slightly older gentleman, he is always very friendly and always eager to chat in English and encourage me to speak in French.  I never get away from this store without him chatting with me.  I groan inwardly, and smile outwardly as I make my way over to his lane; I am so not in the mood for this today.  As he is ringing things up, he asks if I want a sack for my items and I say “no thank you”.  I have my purse and can fit most of the stuff in there.  “Okay,” he says.  He then pulls a bunch of bananas from under the counter and hands them to me.

“You would like some bananas,” he asks.

I smile weakly.  “No, thanks so much,” I say.  I like bananas but I’m feeling too pouty to be cheered up.

“You don’t need a sack, you don’t want bananas.  This is no good,” he says with a mischievous look on his face.

Again, I smile.  I don’t really know what is going on.

He then whips out a bag, puts the bananas in it and begins to pack the rest of my belongings.

“See?  See what I have to do?  I am powerless against you,” he says with dramatic flair.  “I love you, I can’t resist you!  You must take my gift!”

This is said loudly.  The middle-aged woman in line behind me snickers.  I burst out laughing.  What other reaction could there possibly be to such absurdity?

The clerk hands me the sack with profound satisfaction.  He is so proud of himself.

I couldn’t help but smile the whole way home.

This is not the only time I’ve had something like this happen in France.  I’ve been bestowed with free oranges, “for the beautiful young lady; to see her has been a gift to me so I must give a gift to her” and been handed tomatoes with suggestive winks.  There is a certain type of French male that seems to adore this type of ridiculous flirting.

At a recent market stop, the farmer engaged me in conversation.

“Ah, you are American,” he says.  “I was once in love with an American.”

He smiles at his friends.

“And you are so charming, you must take a gift,” he says this as he puts a courgette in my bag.  “Ah, you must be breaking hearts throughout France.”

I smile.  “No, I am engaged,” I say.

“Ah, but in France this does not matter,” he says in return with a wicked grin before kissing my hand and sending me on my way.

As an American, I love this type of over-the-top flirtation and it never ceases to make me giggle.  It perfectly fulfills my Captain Renault, Pepe LePew stereotype of the French Lothario but without making me feel creeped out.  Growing up, the words “French men” (or really just European men) would induce a general female “tsk tsk”.  I would listen to them talk about trips to Europe and was ingrained with a sense of: BEWARE, SEXUAL PREDATORS, NO YOUNG AMERICAN GIRL IS SAFE!

“Those European men will just follow you down the street and shout all sorts of things.”

“Oh, and the FRENCH, well, they just never will give up, will they?  So persistent.”

“You just have to be so careful with European men.”

And I don’t know, I guess some of this is still true for a young innocent girl going to Europe for the first time (assuming there are any young innocent girls left).  But I am in my 30’s, I am engaged; the young men don’t so much make runs at me.  Instead, I get the old-timers.  I get the men who are reclaiming a bit of their youth for a few minutes by making a girl blush and their friends laugh.  They are re-enacting a play and I am more than happy to participate.

At the end of the day, what can I say?  I’m a sucker for flowery language, hand-kissing, and dramatic proclamations of love from dirty old men.  It makes me laugh, it makes me feel irreverent, and it can cure even the worst of moods.

The Beau Reve

Learning French, Uncategorized

People say that when you begin to dream in another language that you are really starting to get it.   I suppose this shows that the new language has finally made enough of an impact on your brain to be able to seep into your subconscious.  Recently, I had just such a dream.  However, in my dream my subconscious and brain concocted a special little treat for me.

I can just imagine them strategizing:

Brain:  Okay, so what do we want to do tonight?

Subconscious:  Man…I don’t know, tidal wave?

Brain:  I’m so over the tidal-wave-coming-at-you-dream.  It symbolizes stress, duh.  I mean, if she hasn’t gotten the message by now then she never will.  I want something fresh, something different.

Subconscious:  Naked in public?

Brain:  Nah, it’s so lame, totally 1980’s sitcom.  Anyway, that one doesn’t seem to unnerve her that much.  I’m looking for something more entertaining.  It’s been slow lately.

Subconscious:  …sex dream?

Brain:  What?!  No way, dude.  You always end up putting some weird element in there.  It makes me uncomfortable.  I mean, Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years!  What was that about?”

Subconscious:  Whatever, we loved that show.

Brain:  All I know is that I ended up having to work out some serious guilt issues about Winnie Cooper.

My Subconscious shrugs.

Brain:  Hmmm…we could always do a dream with mean friends from the past.

Subconscious:  Ugh.  Please no, those are the worst.  They are always so painfully obvious and allegorical.  Vomit.

Brain:  Well, we have to come up with something.  We can’t keep her awake forever.

A moment passes.

Brain:  Haha, actually we totally could.  I could start coming up with lists right now.  She’ll never sleep!

Subconscious:  Ha, right?!  But seriously, it is so much easier when she just takes a Lunesta.  I could use some time off.

Brain:  Wait a minute…something new is coming in…something interesting, is that…no way, is that French?!

Subconscious:  You’re kidding?  It’s finally crossed over?  We can use it?

Brain:  Yeah dude, we got it if we want it.  What what! (my Brain sometimes masquerades as a character from Cougar Town) 

Subconscious:  Do people even say that anymore?  …Okay.  So, what are we gonna do with this?

Brain:  Oh, it’s gonna be so good.  This is what we do:  she’ll be in her dream, somewhere totally normal and commonplace in France.  Everyone will be speaking in perfect French but she won’t be able to come up with the right sentences.  She’ll respond to the perfect French that you and I are creating, – so in essence she is creating – , with the broken French that she uses in everyday life.

Subconscious:  Woah, what a mindf*ck.

Brain:  Right?

Subconscious:  So like, when she wakes up she will realize that she dreamed in correct French but that she still isn’t able to use it when she is awake.  Just wait until Conscious hears about this.  You are an evil genius.

My Brain lets out a malevolent laugh a-la Count Dracula. 

And Scene.

Yes, this dream did actually happen.

I actually dreamed in French, which was correct.  Everyone else in my dream could speak fluently and effortlessly except for moi; I was still speaking in my current level of French.  At first, I found this hugely unnerving but now I have decided that it should give me hope for the future.  Clearly, I’ve got the right components rolling around in my head, I just haven’t quite figured out how to put them all together.  I just hope that at the next strategy meeting my Conscious decides to show up.

Capitaine France!

Adjusting to France, Learning French

The French make a lot of sounds.  I’m not talking about pronunciation of their language, such as the elusive “r” sound or little things they say like “voila” and “oh la la”.  I mean, we all know about those because how else would we be able to make fun of a stereotypical French accent when we want to (and let’s face it, at some point in everyone’s life you will want to)?  No, I’m talking about noises; sounds that the French make constantly that are not based on any particular word.  There are three examples that come to mind:

“pffffff”  to make this sound exhale out of a barely opened mouth that is relaxed.  This is primarily used when one finds something irritating.  The level of irritation is irrelevant.  I will provide the following two examples:

Ex1:                                                                                                                                                   “The boss just called a meeting for tomorrow morning.”                                                               “C’est vrai?  Pfffff”.

Ex2:                                                                                                                                                     “The doctor says that we will have to amputate.”                                                                           “Merde.  C’est vrai?”                                                                                                                            “Oui.”                                                                                                                                                  “Pfffff”.

“uuuP” to make this sound basically just say “upsy daisy” without the “sy” or the “daisy”.  It’s like pronouncing “up” as though the word were going to continue past the “p”.  This is most commonly used at the completion of a task or perhaps mid-task.  Examples:

Ex1:                                                                                                                                                 MB is whining about not having any cheese, I go and retrieve it and as I hand it to him I say  “uuuP”.

Ex2:                                                                                                                                                             A waiter reaches across me to remove a plate, as he picks it up he says “uuuP”.

“pbt” to make this sound, blow air out of a stiff mouth that is just open in the middle, your tongue should go from the bottom of your mouth to the top, this should be done quickly (yes, I am sitting here making these sounds over and over again trying to figure out a way to describe them).*  This sound is used sort of like a punctuation, usually of a definitive statement.  Examples:

Ex1:                                                                                                                                                “I’m going to take this parking spot even though it is illegal. Pbt.”

Ex2:                                                                                                                                                 “Do you think that we should save the rest of the foie gras?”                                                “No, I will keep eating it until I am sick. Pbt.”

After a year in France, these sounds have even started creeping into my vernacular and it amuses me every time I let one slip.  I mean, Americans don’t have little noises that they make; unless you count general whoopin’ and hollerin’ (I go Southern with certain words) which is hardly as charming as “uuuP” or as coolly blasé as “pfffff”.  These sounds in French lend a cartoon-like essence to the language, and really, to the French themselves.  Sort of like an old Batman comic but instead of the sound bubbles saying things like “kapow!” or “zap!” they would say “uuuP!” and “pfffff.”.

My version would go something like this:

Capitaine France Strikes Again! 

By day he is just another disgruntled, chain-smoking Parisian; but by night he is Capitaine France!  Protecting the Parisian streets from vulgar tourists and chain restaurants!

A couple in tennis shoes walks by talking loudly in American accents.

“Well June, I don’t know where we should eat.  I don’t see anything I recognize.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake Carl, there’s a TGI Friday’s in the ninth-E-M, we can just go there.”

After stubbing out his cigarette, in swoops Capitaine France flying overhead.  He throws a stinky cheese bomb down at the couple.

 It makes a loud sound as it hits the ground,uuuP!””.

Suddenly a gaseous odor enters the air.  The couple both starts hacking and coughing.  After a minute, they both become high from the smell being emitted from the cheese; they walk off like zombies towards a cute French bistro.  Satisfied, Capitaine France begins to fly off but not before a sleazy promoter steps in front of the couple.

“Don’t go to this place, instead you should go to Café Americain, they serve burgers.  Here is a brochure.”

For a moment, the couple is snapped out of their trance.  Horrified, Capitaine France turns back and throws his lethal baguettes at the sleazy promoter.

He lets out a “pfffff”” as he throws them. 

The lethal baguettes do their job and the couple continues into the cute French bistro.  Capitaine France finally lands in front of the restaurant.

“Mon travail est fini,” he proclaims as he pour a glass of red wine.

“pbt” 

*In the movie French Kiss, Kevin Kline tries to pull of this sound multiple times; there is an example in the last few seconds of this trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TF9xsk3tmoA. Sadly, I can’t find a proper French example.