Of Lipstick and Tennis Shoes

“That is awesome!”  I am looking in the direction of an older gentleman (like octogenarian old) and his two similarly aged female companions.

“What about them,” asks MB, taking a bit of his andouillette; we are in Lyon for a day trip.

“Are you kidding,” I ask back.  “Look at his outfit.”

MB turns to look back at the man walking down the street in a Kelly green blazer and light green pants with a pink tie.

“He looks great,” I continue.  “I mean, don’t you just love how old folks always dress up?  Look at the women, both in heels, both in hose, hair done and it is just a weekday lunch!  I mean, if I had my way I would wear workout clothes all the time and just forget about make-up and I have way more energy than them.”  (I have no idea if I have more energy than them, they are looking pretty spritely)

“I like you like that,” MB says smiling at me, “natural.”

I mentally give another high-five to the universe for putting this man in my life then smile before continuing on my tangent.  “They just put in so much effort – I respect it, ya know?  Like these ladies got up this morning and said to themselves: “yep, we are stepping out” and really took time to put themselves together.  And the dude, I mean, honey, how can you not give props to a man pulling off a jacket that color.”

MB smiles at me indulgently, “ouais, they look good.”

BABE,” He is clearly not getting this.  “Her blouse is even sheer with a black bra underneath.  That sweet little octogenarian over there is both sexier and trendier than me.”

MB laughs and then changes the subject and we continue our lunch.  I know MB would be happy to spend the rest of his life in jeans, t-shirts, and flip-flops, never donning a suit again.  We are just not a particularly “formal” generation.  We are Generation X of greasy hair and plaid shirt fame – the generation that went into an Urban Outfitters craze, snatching up $100 pairs of ripped up jeans (this was in the 90’s – $100 was a huge amount to spend on jeans), something that my Mother never understood.

“I am NOT paying that amount of money to buy you something that is going to make you look trashy.”

“MOM,” insert appropriate 14 year old screech.  “They are not trashy, GAWD, they are everywhere, everyone wears these now!!!!!”

“Not everyone.  I’m not wearing them; your Father isn’t wearing them.”

I give her a flat, emotionless expression.  I mean, she is kidding with this, right?

She gets my drift and continues.  “Look honey, it just isn’t going to happen.  If you want to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a half-way destroyed product, be my guest, but I’m not doing it.”

So, I did.  I saved my money and bought an on-sale pair of Urban Outfitters ripped up jeans for $76.  They were so hot, in fact, if I still had them I would happily wear them now…unfortunately they fell apart after about 3 months and became completely un-wearable.  I’m sure there is a lesson in there somewhere.

The point is, my Mother couldn’t understand why we would want to buy new products that were designed to look like old, thrown away products; which is crazy because it makes perfect sense (wait, what?).  She had been raised by a generation of people who put themselves together and made an effort when they left the house…heck, even when they stayed in the house.  A people who 60 years later, while surrounded by jean-wearing messy-haired young people still proudly sport their Kelly green blazer to a weekday lunch.

My Grandmother was a perfect example of this generation – even when she was in the nursing home she would remove her oxygen mask for photographs.  HER OXYGEN.

Several years back when I was home for a visit, she and I made plans to go to the movies together (pre-nursing home days).  The night before I went out and tied one on with some friends and was therefore pretty tired the next day.  I got up and put on some yoga pants and tennis shoes with a t-shirt and just threw my greasy hair into a pony-tail; I mean, come on, it’s just a midday movie with my Grandmother!  I went to pick her up and we went to the movies and everything went fine…or so I thought.  About a week later I called her to see if she wanted to have lunch.

“Well okay, sweetie, that would be wonderful but maybe you could make a little effort this time,” she croons into the phone.

“Huh,” I say back to her.

“Well, last time we went out you didn’t look very good and it was a little embarrassing; I’m glad I didn’t run into anyone I knew.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At this point, I just burst out laughing, “Well okay, I’ll make sure to tart it up for you next week!”

“Well, don’t go too far,” was her only response.

My Grandmother wasn’t raised with “exceptions” on how you presented yourself.  It wasn’t okay to “dress down” just because you were going to be sitting in a movie theater; she was raised (and therefore my Mother as well) that you didn’t so much as buy a gallon of milk without putting on lipstick.

Somewhere along the line we have lost this sense of pride in appearance, maybe in longer work hours and busier schedules, in homes with two working parents and children to take care of…maybe by the time you have finished a 14-hour day you just can’t be arsed to put yourself together for a casual dinner out or a drink with a friend.  I don’t know what the reasons but it kind of makes me sad.  We’ve lost some of the glamour and maybe a little bit of magic – that thing that made you want to dress up in your Grandmother’s old clothes and wear her costume jewelry or try sporting an old fedora that is still in the attic.

I’m standing on the tram on my way back from French class as I notice an elderly gentleman step into my car (I am always keeping an eagle eye out for the oldies to make sure they get a seat if they want one).  I smile to myself as I notice that he is wearing a full 3-piece suit, complete with hat but is also sporting his grocery bags with wheels.  This man suited up for the grocery store…the grocery store.  I look down at my tennis shoes and blue jeans feeling like the ultimate slacker.  Maybe I’ll put in more effort tomorrow; maybe I’ll actually fix my hair and put on proper make-up…wear shoes that don’t have rubber soles.  The tram lurches off, rattling down the line and I watch the old man straighten his tie and vest, flattening them down as he prepares to descend at the next stop.  I feel an unexpected, maybe even bizarre, twinge of affection for him.  “Thanks for keeping it classy,” I want to say to him.

Then the tram stops and he is gone, disappearing down the road as I strain to follow his form as long as possible.  I grab the rail as the tram jostles me forward unceremoniously and I sigh; I’ll probably wear tennis shoes again tomorrow…but maybe I’ll manage a bit of lipstick.

P.S. I realize this isn’t a strictly French post – I like to deviate every now and again.  I hope you don’t mind indulging me!

Cultured Insolence

“Wit is Cultured Insolence” – Aristotle

So last night while watching “The Walking Dead” there was a moment when our heroes drive by a frantic and lone hiker on the highway without picking him up.  It is heart-wrenching as the hiker runs after them screaming in stark desperation and eventually falls on his face as they silently drive on unwilling to stop and help.  Even now, just thinking about this scene makes me want to start crying.  Now, of course, I realize that this is a fictional television show about a zombie apocalypse (yes, even writing that out makes me roll my eyes at myself) but I’m telling you – it was a compelling moment, a moment that made my core of humanity shiver at the possibility of ever being so completely turned off.  Even in such a wildly fictional world it was painful to watch a cold and cruel moment.

MB, however, smirked.

“Oh my god,” I shriek.  “That is so depressing, what is wrong with you?  How can you find that funny?!

He’s laughing a bit when he turns to me, “mais non, I don’t think it’s funny, it is horrible.  I mean, it’s crazy!”

“Then why are you laughing?”

“Because it is not funny otherwise.”

“huh?”

He shrugs; this makes perfect sense to a Frenchman.

The French have a little bit of a “mean girl” sense of humor.  It is something I noticed when I first started dating MB and he showed me some classic French films.  I watched in horror while he and his friend (also French) held their stomachs laughing during “Dîner de Cons”, a film about a group of people who have a dinner party in which they are each required to bring a moron for the rest of them to make fun of.  I sat there in shock, confused as to how anyone could find such a cruel premise funny; and even though our leading “mean boy” finally receives his comeuppance I couldn’t reconcile the meanness of the jokes with the slap on the wrist at the end.  It is a type of humor that just doesn’t work for this happy-ending-loving American; where were my birds and squirrels sewing ball gowns, where were my “Bad News Bears?”  Probably being kicked in the head by “La Chevre” (another “make fun of well-meaning morons” French film) before being sent to 18th Century Versailles pour le “Ridicule” (this French film leaves out the moron for the more heavy hitting insults).

And it isn’t just in the films that this humor exists but in day to day life as well.  This week in my French class our teacher reviewed the vocabulary for qualities and faults.  In order to work on class participation, she opened a group discussion in which we all listed a few qualities about ourselves.  After I listed my qualities she turned to the class and said, “okay, now, what do you think that her faults are?  Who would like to take a guess at some of her faults?”

(Crickets)

I looked at the other foreign students in the class who all sat silently, looking at each other questioningly as if to say, “oh my god, do we actually say something?!”  I started laughing.  It was so absurd; none of us are from a culture where we could conceive of listing out a stranger’s supposed faults publicly and to their face (that last bit is put in for those of us who have no problem listing faults behind someone’s back…what?  I wrote “us?”  Well, I don’t mean me, obviously!).  The teacher shrugged and continued the lesson without forcing us to affront our new classmates…but I suspect she would have liked us all a lot more if we had made a go of it. 

This is not to say that the French are mean; they aren’t…but they do enjoy a well-played witticism (read: not-too-mean-insult).  Now that being said, they may dish it out but they can take it as well.  I have often sat bemused at dinner parties watching the hardcore “ribbing” that goes on at the table; they all think it is hilarious and are just as quick to laugh at themselves as at someone else.  It is like a formal fencing match – you don’t throw a fit when you opponent makes a hit but instead you respect and congratulate them.  It is a delight in wickedness rather than mean-spiritedness.

Here is a perfect example from the film “Ridicule” – I like to call this “aggressive word play”.

So prepare your thick skin before entering the French sphere and make sure that you have a sense of humor about yourself, for as they say in the film “Ridicule”, “wit opens any door” and you wouldn’t want to end up in a French zombie apocalypse with nothing clever to say.

The TV3 Interview…

Okay, so I am being a slacker this week and instead of writing a post I am just going to post the link to the TV3 Interview that featured BreadisPain last November.  Please enjoy my television awkwardness and inability to pronounce “par” correctly (seriously, every time I hear it I cringe).

Now, that being said this was a really fun and cool experience to have and I hope it will give you a laugh!

I’ll be back next week with a legit post…but until then, enjoy the long weekend darlings!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P3JDgJwzXQ&noredirect=1

Anxiety on the Death Star

The airport these days can be a scary and intense place…almost anxiety-attack-inducing.

Is all metal off my body?  There is an underwire in my bra…I really hope they don’t try to take my bra, I mean, that’s just going to be uncomfortable.  Would I have to go back to my gate and check-in my bra?  Can an underwire be used as a weapon?  I doubt it but then they have also confiscated my nail scissors before…

Are all my liquids in the regulation size plastic bag?  What about my eye cream?  Is eye cream a liquid or a solid…what…oh my god, I have no idea.  Is eye cream a liquid or a solid, people?!  LIQUID OR SOLID?

Which line am I going to be in?  Is that the normal one or the scan your naked body one?  Wait, no, don’t wave me over there, I don’t want the naked body scan, it’s so awkward.  I act like I’m cool with it to the TSA people but guess what?  I’m NOT – it creeps me out.  Sh*t – I’m definitely in the naked line.

Alright, smiling at everyone, trying to hurry to get all my stuff in those bins as quickly as possible…don’t want to be that guy.  Wait, what?  I can’t put my coat in the same bin as my laptop…uh…okay TSA…I didn’t know that coats were impenetrable by X-ray machines.  Unzipping my boots, trying to not have my butt hang out the back of my pants while I bend over to do this, geez, there really is no graceful way to pull this off.  Okay – ready to go…oh my god…this is the worst…there is a hole in my sock.  I can’t BELIEVE I didn’t check my socks…I mean; this is the one time in your life when your socks get a lot of play-time, come on!

These are the thoughts that are generally running through my mind as I hurry to wipe away the water that has dribbled all over my face while I was chugging my water bottle that I forgot was in my purse. Thoughts that are the result of years of U.S.A. Homeland Security combined with years of New Zealand and Australia customs (see what happens if you try to enter New Zealand with a bit of mud on your boot…I dare ya)*.  So, on my recent trip to Munich you can imagine my nerve level trying to pack for JUST carry on.  I measured all my liquids and checked and re-checked the Lufthansa rules (while constantly considering how to properly pronounce “Lufthansa”).  The most difficult aspect was that I knew I wanted to bring my friends that I was visiting some treats from France.

“I don’t think I can take these carry-on,” I hold up the camembert and paté to MB that I had purchased to bring them.

“Quoi?”  He looks at me and blinks.  “Why not?”

“Well, on the website it says I can’t take food products more than 100ml.”  But for some reason I need a second opinion on that vague and ambiguous regulation.

“Ouaaaaais…but it’s not like it’s a bottle of wine, uh?  I’m sure it will be fine.”

“I don’t think the rules work that way,” I say to him.

He shrugs and I can almost hear his inner dialogue, “rules? Pffff….”

Now before I go any further perhaps I should explain that I am an obsessive rule follower…even jay-walking makes me itchy.  I would like to say that it is all because of my strict moral code but let’s face it – it is mostly my abhorrence to getting in trouble.  I HATE being called out for having done something wrong and I’m such a nervous rule-breaker that I ALWAYS get called out…always.  MB, on the other hand, is French.

The French seem to enjoy seeing what they can “get away with”.  I don’t even think that they are trying to “challenge” authority but rather that they all believe that authority doesn’t really apply to them (for further information read this previous post: https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/duck-a-lorange-in-an-ashtray/).  So, I decide to try it out and see what I can get away with – into the bag goes the camembert and paté.

As I stand in the waiting line I watch in horror as the security video plays the directions and restrictions for getting through security – there on the screen are, no joke, a jar of paté and a wheel of camembert with big X’s on them.  At this point, my palms start to sweat, maybe I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.  I’m not a rule-breaker; I’m a dork!

My nerves are on high alert as I go through security, knowing that there is something contraband in my bag.  I waltz through the X-ray and wander out to the other side to wait for my bag.  Everything seems to be fine until suddenly I see the uniformed woman walking towards me with her hand on my bag.  I hear this in my head:

(“The Imperial March” for those of you too lazy to click on the link…and if you don’t know what “The Imperial March” is, I can’t help you, you are lost forever).    I can just imagine myself walking over to her, “please Lord Airport Official!”  Then, I begin choking as she says, “you have failed me for the last time, Admiral.”  …Or something like that.

Anyway…off the Death Star and back in France she pulls me over and motions for me to unzip my bag.  As soon as I do she pulls out my zip lock bag of camembert and paté with an “AH HA” – Sherlock Holmes-y kind of move.  At this point, I realize I have a decision to make: I can come clean and just go on my way or I can try to be a cool French person and try to get away with it.  I decide to channel my inner-Frenchness.

I shrug at her and try not to smile (a French person wouldn’t).

“Ouais…” I say, before continuing in French.  “I wasn’t sure about these but, you know.”

She looks at me with narrowed-eyes and I’m not sure if a) she believes that I really didn’t know or b) respects the fact that I am bold-faced lying.  Either way, she continues.

“It is the size,” she says, “They have to be less than 100ml for the carry-on.  Do you want to go back and register them?”

I shrug.  “Pfff…non, they are just gifts.  It is a pity for my friends but not for me so, you know, who cares?” I laugh wickedly at this.

I see her apprise me once again, “the force is strong with this one.”  She then laughs at my joke** before leaning in conspiratorially.

“You know,” she says speaking in a low voice.  “If this was duck, no problem…it’s just the pork.  You will know for next time, uh?”

I smile at her and start to put my bag back together.  Ah well, so I wasn’t able to keep my contraband…MB probably would have managed it but that is okay; I am what I am…a rule-following nerd.  Breaking the rules is uncomfortable on me.  And who knows?  Maybe France is becoming more stringent about these things, I mean; it is the airport after all.  If there is anywhere that regulations are followed it is here, right?

I zip up my bag and turn to walk towards my gate but not before noticing the Airport Official with my bag of food.  I see her turn to put it in the “discard” bin and then stop suddenly.  An inner war seems to be waging in her mind.  She looks down at the bag containing my unopened jar of paté and full wheel of camembert and then she sets it next to the bin as opposed to inside of it.  I laugh to myself, we are still in France – all is not lost.  Contraband paté and fromage will be served on the Death Star tonight.

*For the record, Australia took not one but two packages of grits on two separate occasions away from me because they were suspect.  It’s ground corn…that is all!

** The French have a little bit of a “mean girl” complex.  They like mean humor and jokes – it amuses them.  I will perhaps write on this topic soon.  If you need further explanation rent: Le Dîner de Cons.  That is the French film that “Dinner for Schmucks” destroyed.

International Junk

Pizza Flavored Shapes.  Whittaker’s Chocolate Coconut Block.  Holiday Ham & Turkey Pimento Cheese.  TRISCUITS!

One cold and wintery evening while living in Australia I drew a nice hot bath, plugged in my computer at the edge of the tub (yes, yes I know this is the start to like 5 different bad movies and that if the computer had fallen into the tub I would have been electrocuted only to change bodies with my Mom or start hearing men’s thoughts or something) and climbed in.  Then I reached down and opened a box of Shapes (http://www.simplyoz.com/products/on_sale_-_limited_quantities/arnotts_shapes) and proceeded to eat the entire thing while watching Project Runway.  Was this kind of disgusting?  Yes, yes it was.  It was also totally awesome.

There are similar stories of mine about Whittaker’s Coconut Chocolate while living in New Zealand and certainly regarding HH&T’s Pimento Cheese with Triscuits when I’m back in the U.S.A (similar as in over-indulging not as in eating in the bathtub…that was really a one-off, over-eating while naked is kind of disturbing and really eating naked at all seems gross to me, maybe I am repressed, I don’t know…okay, digressing).  Point being, while I am not much of a junk food eater, when I find my junk food that I love I can go a little overboard.  Lucky for me, however, the aforementioned junk-food kryptonite doesn’t exist in every country and I have to travel long and expensive distances to get it.  However, this does leave a hole in my diet, an inner aching as my cellulite calls out to me in agony, “please, we need you to eat more garbage, we’re shrinking!”  Wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we?  So, it is only natural that I have found a new junk food addiction here in France.

Now, we have already covered the issue that while France is exceptionally good with food it doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own junk food as well (Exhibit A: https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/perfection-and-the-art-of-junk-food/).  And while I find things like apericubes and fully frozen hamburgers repugnant I do have my not-so-secret shame.  A shame deeper than apericubes and a little bit gross…crabssdlkjgkdlsjaktlja.

“What was that?  I couldn’t quite understand.”

“I wrote: crabstiflubidyblubber.”

“Huh?”

“CRABSTICKS, okay?  CRABSTICKS DIPPED IN BENEDICTA MAYONNAISE…and a LOT of it!”

“Ewwwww!  You mean those plastic tasting things filled with chemicals that aren’t actually crab but instead whatever poor fish was stuck at the bottom of the net that they stewed and then reshaped into crab legs?”

Yep.  That’s exactly what I mean.  MB was the first one who told me that I should try them with the mayonnaise so we bought them once and I did…from there the addiction

The EVIL Benedicta that promotes my crabstick addiction.

The EVIL Benedicta that promotes my crabstick addiction.

grew.  Now, I have to physically stop myself from being lured into the crabstick section at the grocery store (yes, that exists) as the chemically goodness calls to me, “But we are so tasty, we are SUCH a good vehicle for getting mayonnaise into your mouth!”  BWAH!  Quit taunting me with your siren song, Crabsticks, we all know that I will feel sick after I eat you!

*Sigh*

Even MB has his own international junk food shame.  If you refer back to Exhibit A, you will see that I introduced him to the world of Kraft Blue Box Mac and Cheese years ago.  Ever since then, he now gets excited when shipments come from the U.S. and always wants me to share them with him (which makes me wonder if I should have ever let him taste it in the first place – who wants to share their mac and cheese – Dad, I’m looking at you).  So, as a result of our relationship something unnatural has been created, something that could possibly be the first sign of the apocalypse:  a Frenchman who gets

THE CHEESIEST!

THE CHEESIEST!

excited to eat powdered chemicals cheese?!?!?!?!  (Somewhere the French Tinkerbell just

died and there is no amount of clapping that will bring her back.  Don’t worry Mme Tink, afterall…it is THE CHEESIEST! Har har har…she’s not laughing.)

But this is one of the unspoken perils of being an expat or in an international relationship, while on the one hand you gain a first-hand understanding of a new culture; on the other hand you gain a first-hand understanding of a new culture.  Meaning, when you are living somewhere overseas or with a someone from another country you can’t cherry-pick all the delightful things about the new culture…you get it all – the tournedos rossini and Quick’s, France’s major fast food chain, foie gras burger (check it out: http://www.fastandfood.fr/2012/11/28/le-burger-au-foie-gras-de-quick-revient-en-decembre/).  It’s the darker side of the expat life…and for now, I’ll just let you digest that.

No Flowery Dirt

My Mother is in town visiting and we are in the kitchen on her first night.  I’ve prepared some French treats and bought some of my favorite cheeses for her to try.  The first one I give her to taste is Brillat-Savarin à la Truffe (Brillat-Savarin with Truffles).

“What’s it like,” she asks me before trying it.

“Hmmm…” I ponder the best way to describe it.  “Well, Brillat-Savarin is like a breath away from being butter so it’s kind of like the best butter you’ve ever eaten with truffles in it.”

“What are the truffles like?”

She’s had truffles on multiple occasions but wants to know what these truffles are like.

“I don’t know,” I say, I can’t think of the right way to describe them.  “…truffles!”

This is a conversation that I have often and continue to fail miserably at; whether it is friends from overseas wanting to know what something tastes like or someone visiting who wants a description about what to order, I am often at a loss.  I mean, how do you describe a food to someone who has never tasted it?

You can go the literal route but that usually doesn’t get you very far:

What does fromage de tete (aka head cheese) taste like?  Pieces of skull meat in gelatin.

Not helpful?  So surprising!

There is the rico-suave way to do it where you try to sound very sophisticated…and are usually annoying and give no helpful details:

Horse meat?  Well, it’s similar to beef but with more depth of character while also having a playfulness.

Huh?  Is this horse wine we are talking about?

There is the literal comparison route:

So, frog legs do taste like chicken but then not like chicken.

What does that even mean?  Have you gleaned any greater understanding of the flavor of frog legs from this?

Then you can go the hard-core route in which you really break it down:

For example, when my sister was visiting last year, she commented on one of the cheeses we were about to try.

“Is this one of those cheeses that they like to say is “reminiscent of the farm?”  She asks this while sniffing the soft white round.  (This is the type of description that would be “rico-suave”)

“Yeah, probably, it is a super farmy one.”  I turn up my nose and she gives me a questioning look.  “MB likes them but I can’t handle it if they are too farmy.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know; if it is too farmy I feel like I’m licking a sheep that has been rolling around in hay and poo.”

Hardcore route.

So I never know exactly what to tell people.  If it is something I love I want to use the most flowery and delicious-sounding language to try to entice them to try it; I want to make them desperately excited to experience this new and exquisite flavor.  I want to impress upon them the utter amazing-ness that they are about to discover.  But is it necessary to try so hard?

I once had a friend tell me that his foie-gras tasted like buttered popcorn.  I remember looking at him and thinking “ACK – PHILISTINE!”  How could he describe the rich and magnificent flavors of foie-gras in such a pedestrian way?  …And then I tasted it.  I had to smile to myself; he had absolutely nailed it.  This particular preparation of foie-gras was definitely “reminiscent of the movie theatre”; however, my inner food-snob had been working so hard to make it sound impressive that I had missed the obvious.

Sometimes it is best to just describe things as what they are instead of trying to make them sound more sophisticated.  At the end of the day, everything comes from the same place anyway.  Why try to over-complicate it?

I turn back to my Mother in the kitchen, still struggling to think of the words to describe the majesty and the beauty of the flavor of Brillat-Savarin à la Truffe.  Words like “earthy” and “terroir” are running through my head when she takes her bite.

She turns to me with a look of excitement on her face.

“Ooooh,” she exclaims.  “It’s like really good dirt!”

I nod to myself and smile.  She is exactly right…and that sounds pretty damn tasty to me.

To Be or Not to…wait, what was that? I got bored.

I love television shows that have to do with food because I think that food is awesome and fascinating.  I enjoy watching people use their creativity to develop dishes and concepts; I enjoy seeing new techniques and ideas; however, I do not need it in 3-hour chunks at a time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to pretend that I have never watched 3 episodes of say…Top Chef at a time, because I have.  I have even watched a 2-hour one episode special because they usually only do that when it is action packed with disasters and people being sent home; but I do not need to see 3-hour episodes on a regular basis.  Who has the attention span for that?

Apparently, the French do.

Their episodes of Masterchef and Top Chef are 3 hours long and not because there are crazy out- of-control-fights and not because someone catches the kitchen on fire and serves raw chicken resulting in an epic outbreak of salmonella which ends up involving a spin off reality show about the CDC but just because 3 hours for a TV show is apparently normal.  It’s like watching a staging of Hamlet in which the director decides not to cut one line (ahem…Kenneth Branagh); I mean let’s face it – Hamlet can figure out whether “to be or not to be” in less than 3 hours.  Right?

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

“Quoi?!”

“I’m bored!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  This is said with a wail as I fling myself across MB, obscuring his view to his computer screen.

“EH!  I’m trying to do something, huh?  I’m organizing the hard drive so that we can actually find things*.  Here I will explain it to you.”

I pretend like I am already asleep and snoring.

“You are ridiculous,” he says to me.

“Whaa-?  Oh, I’m sorry, I feel asleep because that explanation was SO uninteresting.”  I grin at him impishly…it’s super cute and not at all annoying…probably…maybe…ehhhhhhh…don’t know.

He leans me back against him so that we are both facing the computer and puts his arms around me.

“I don’t know if I have ever met a person with less patience than you in my entire life,” he says before giving me two quick pats on my leg meaning “get up” (which by the way, always cracks me up because it is like I am a dog…wait, should I be offended?)

This little scene is a normal everyday occurrence in our household.   I need to be entertained, I need to be moving around, I need to be doing something fun all the time; even when I clean the house I listen to books on tape with my IPod .  NO TASK SHALL EVER BE BORING!

I can’t watch a 3-hour finale of Masterchef in which only 2 people cook…especially 2 people who are super polite to each other.  Give me some drama, some action, keep me enthralled!

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”

So where does this desire for constant entertainment come from?  Why do I have an inability to sit at a dinner table for more than 2 hours without getting itchy or watch a 3-hour episode of a show that I enjoy because there isn’t enough “action”?  Is this an American trait or is this a “me” trait?

I tend to think that Americans, in general, are action people/busybees/whatever you want to call it.  We don’t like to remain still…we take our coffee to go, we eat our lunches while walking back to the office, we tend to stand at bars instead of sitting at tables to converse.  And sure, we all know that Americans watch tons of TV but each episode better be no more than an hour and action-packed in order to keep our attention spans.

Europeans, on the other hand, are still slow to embrace the take-away coffee trend and McDonalds and other fast food restaurants are always packed with people because the drive-thru isn’t as popular as sitting in the restaurant to stop and enjoy your meal (as much as on can enjoy fast food…yeah, that’s right, I said it, I’m judging).  A 3-hour dinner in Europe might even be considered short by some standards.

So which is the better method?  Is it preferable to relax and take time and soak things in…you know, smell roses, contemplate life.  Or is it better to have high energy and be constantly engaged, cutting the roses and putting them in an arrangement to be smelled and enjoyed at a more convenient time?  MB would probably like it if I could slow down and sit still some of the time (something that he considers relaxing and I consider stressful); I would occasionally like it if he had some more frenetic energy.  I don’t know whether this is a French and American thing or just our own personalities.  And I don’t know if one method of living is better than the other.

So I’ll leave it to the wiser mind of Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  A mature philosophy, the philosophy of a reasonable and patient person, a person who thinks things through, a person who is not distracted easily…wait a minute…you know, he also wrote: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Meh…what can I say, kids?

“This above all: to thine own self be true”

 

*My computer is a disorganized nightmare that MB is constantly trying to take in hand.  I think it is a deep secret fantasy of his to get my files organized.  Oooh la la!

*Special shout-out to my old friend Billy Shakes…thanks for letting me steal so many of your lines – your words ever delight my brain!*

Of Hospitals and Cheese Courses

Yes, I am being a slacker this week.  MB is having some health issues and afternoons at the hospital have proved to be uninspiring…except for the meals.

Now granted, I haven’t been in the hospital in the U.S. since the 80’s so my information isn’t at all up to date but what I remember of the food was pizza and jello (I was also 8 years old which might account for what stands out in my mind).  At the hospital here in Grenoble, however, MB’s meals are somewhat more sophisticated.  There is a potato soup, there is a tuna pasta, a freshly baked roll, fromage blanc.  These may show up all at the same time but this is basically a 3 course meal…in the hospital.  Yesterday he had saucisson…how is that a healthy choice?

Pfff…it is not healthy, it is good, you philistine; I am sick, not dead, eh?”   This is what I imagine France saying in this scenario.

Basically, what this means to me is that the French never surrender when it comes to food.

“You may take my life but you will never take my cheese course!”

It is a charming quality that I love.  I’ll never forget MB telling me how their school lunches consisted of three parts: a salad of some sort, a main dish, and then a bit of cheese.

“You had cheese courses in elementary school,” I asked him, incredulous.

“Mais oui,” he says as though it is the most normal thing in the world.  “What did you eat?”

Hmmmm…deep fried burritos?  Butter cookies that had so much butter that they would soak through the wax paper.

“We didn’t have cheese courses,” is the only response I can muster.

He looks at me baffled.

So, with these thoughts in mind I invite you, fair reader, to give me your favorite food moment involving France (I say involving because I don’t think you need to be IN France to have had a French food moment).  Whether it be your first French cheese or trying calf brains or just your first time at a French restaurant – let’s take the day to think about France’s most charming quality…their love of food.

*If you would like updates on when I am going to post each week please join my facebook page – I usually post a few little notes throughout the week!  🙂

Bringing up Chien

The French LOVE dogs (literal dogs not all my figurative dog-talk).  Dogs can go on the train, on the tram, in a restaurant…just about anywhere that doesn’t have a sign indicating

No dogs allowed!

No dogs allowed!

otherwise.  A dog being out and about in public is so prevalent that at my favorite restaurant they even have a “dog’s menu” underneath the children’s menu.

As a life-long dog lover I embrace this; I like realizing that there is a canine friend at the table next to me in a restaurant or having a large furry beast relaxing under my feet on the train, it’s charming and friendly.  In the U.S. we are dog-banners; I’ve seen a dog get kicked out a post office line before…I mean, the POST OFFICE for heaven’s sake…what is the dog going to do that could possibly be more unpleasant than what your postal worker will do?  (har har har – I slay me) 

Could this difference in policy actually be a difference in behavior?  While I have seen no evidence whatsoever to convince me that French children behave better than children of any other nationality (sorry, I’m sure I’ll get skewered for this since it is all the rage…but there it is…kids are kids the world over and I see just as many crying, screaming temper tantrums in public here as I have in any other country I have lived in) I WILL say that their dogs are appear to be more attune to social etiquette.

A friend was recently visiting from the U.S. and commented on the fact that the canines

Doggie public toilets

Doggie public toilets

about town seemed to be much better behaved.  They sit patiently if left outside a “magasin” without barking or putting up much of a fuss, while giving imploring looks they do not incessantly beg at restaurant tables, and they typically manage to “do their business” in the “espace chiens”* set up around town for this express purpose.

And so, the question is: Are these better behaved dogs or are they just French?  Let me explain by going into dog psyche for a moment.

A French dog is out and about in town with his owner.  This is the dog’s internal dialogue.

Pfff…look at that stoopeed bichon on a leash…so degrading.  I mean, you know, you should learn how to walk if you want to go out in public. 

“Hey Cotton Ball – yeah, you with the leash – it is not hard, you know, just walk with your human.  You are embarrassing us all!”

Well, it is hardly a wonder, huh?  The owner is wearing tennis shoes and MON DIEU picking up the poop off the sidewalk!  If my owner did this I would run away; I would rather live on ze street zen with a human who would disrespect themselves so.  It would be too shameful.  Picking up poop…it eez disgusting, non?  I don’t walk on leashes and I manage to get to a toilet when nature calls, huh?  I’m not a barbarian or an American…ha…Americans.

The owner stops in front of a bakery and leaves the dog waiting outside with another one.  Our narrator dog stops and looks around for a minute.

A la la la la…what is thees barking fool next to me? 

“You know, we are just waiting outside the “marche”; relax Kujo!”

More barking.

“Hey – Timmy hasn’t falled down a well, Lassie!  Have some dignity.”

Pfff…I would never behave in such a way.  I don’t need to bark all the time and act like I am having a heart attack of excitement each time my human returns.  …Rideeculous.  I have standards, you know?  I know how to comport myself in public.  I-

“OOOH!  My human, bonjour, bonjour, salut, salut, salut!!!!!!!!!!”

SCENE

Last week I was walking back home from the bakery with my baguette in hand.  As some bakeries prefer, the baguette wasn’t even fully enclosed in a wrapper but just had a wisp of paper for me to hold it around the middle.  As I was walking back to my house the baguette was down by my side…you know, about dog height…and a dog came walking by with his owner.  The dog didn’t so much as turn his nose in the direction of my baguette.

It made quite the impression on me that the dog didn’t even make an attempt; there was no tug of war with the owner pulling him back from trying to devour my baguette.  I thought to myself what a well-behaved canine he was but then again, the dog was French so maybe my baguette was just from the wrong bakery.

*The Espace Chiens are set up around the city and are little sandy or dirt pits (sort of like sandboxes) with some fencing around them for the dogs to do their business.  Yes, that is right, in France dogs have their own public toilets…gotta love it.  Furthermore, while these “espaces” are used regularly there is still a prodigious amount of poo on the sidewalks.  When you walk around France it is best to keep an eagle eye.

Who’s on French?

My brain at times has a devious nature (exhibit a: https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/the-beau-reve/).  It is not particularly cooperative…never wanting to remember the names of movies I like and always forgetting exact statistics. Not to mention the fact that my Brain is constantly enlisting the help of its comrades: Conscious, Subconscious, and Speech Filter…among others, to mess with me and leave me feeling utterly confused or embarrassed (especially when Speech Filter comes into play, I basically think that my Brain has given Speech Filter early retirement and that Speech Filter spends its days relaxing on the beach with a margarita while I perpetually say dumb, ill-timed, and inappropriate things…but I digress).

Lately, my brain has developed a new and nefarious form of torture.

Yesterday, I was at the pharmacy with MB picking up a prescription.  While the pharmacist was typing information into the computer I turned to MB and had a conversation in English before asking her a question in French.  She responded to me in English (obviously she had heard me talking) and I responded to her in French.

“Quoi?”  She said this while laughing.  “I was trying to speak my English but you speak back in French!”

“Huh,” was the dignified response that I mustered (thanks again Speech Filter).

MB quickly jumped in and explained to the pharmacist that I have a lot of conversations like that because I want to practice my French and the French people often want to practice their English, blah blah blah.  On the way out of the pharmacy I asked him what the whole thing was just about.

“I don’t get it,” I said to him.

“She just thought it was funny that she was speaking English and you were speaking French.”

“She was speaking English,” I asked him, confused.

“Uh…oauis.”  MB looked mildly concerned at this point.

I just continued walking scratching my head like a confused character in a Charlie Chaplin film.  I hadn’t realized that she was speaking in English.

Yeah, so that’s right, my brain has now decided to not always acknowledge the differences in language, meaning that people can switch back and forth and I don’t always catch on immediately which in the end leaves me more confused than ever.  Thanks a lot, Brain.

BRAIN: Oh please, I mean, like it matters, it’s all up here in the same place anyway.  Did you understand what was going on or not?  HUH?!  HUH?!

I tacitly state that I did, in fact, understand.

BRAIN: Right then…get over it.  Gawd…I try to make things a little bit interesting, vary some thought process and BAM…rejected.  You know, it is very high maintenance being your brain!

This whole thing started a few weeks back when a friend of mine was visiting us from the U.S.  During her trip we spent a few days with MB’s family and so there was a lot of French being spoken.  My friend doesn’t speak French so I did my best to translate back and forth what I could (I would love to see the transcripts on that tragedy).  This seemed to work okay for a little while but eventually I got confused and sometimes I would give her the French version and give his family the English version.  Uh…wait, am I talking to…who?  Who’s on First.

Basically my Brain has decided that it will be hilarious for me to be constantly scrambling to concentrate on what language is being spoken instead of automatically recognizing it…you know, like normal people.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to pull a Madonna (“I swear I can’t help my English accent) but it does get confusing up there in my head.  Basically my Brain is Abbott and I’m Costello.

ME: What do you call French?

BRAIN: Yes

ME: What?

BRAIN: Yes.

ME: What?

BRAIN: I said yes already. GEEZ.

ME: *SIGH* Okay, what do you call English?

BRAIN: What? Of course not, What is how I call French.

ME: I don’t know how you call French!

BRAIN: I don’t know’s how you call English.

ME: What?

BRAIN: Seriously?  This is exhausting.  What is how you call French.

ME: AGH! I don’t know!

BRAIN: I don’t know’s how you call English!!

ME: I don’t know how you call English!

BRAIN: Exactly!

SCENE*

So next time you run into me don’t be alarmed if I start spouting off to you in a different language; I haven’t gone crazy, it’s just my Brain having a laugh.

*For those sad people out there who have never seen this skit…pure comedy genius: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sShMA85pv8M  Also, here is the script: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor4.shtml