A Bachelor Showdown

Conversations with France, Cultural Differences

Last week, the French version of “The Bachelor” (“Le Gentleman Celibataire”) concluded and France and I decided to meet for aperitif to discuss it.

France: Alors, what did you think? Much better than the American version, non?

I let out a sigh and take a big gulp of my kir.

Me: Why do you have to phrase everything like that? I mean, don’t tell me something is bad and then ask for my confirmation, it is so antagonistic.

Now France lets out a sigh.

France: Mon dieu! It is you who is being antagonistic right now, non?

I give France a flat look and decide that the irony is not going to be recognized.

Me: Yeah, it was good. MB and I enjoyed it, we watch the U.S. one as well. BACHELOR NATION, WOOP WOOP!

France is nonplussed by my display of enthusiasm.

Me: Anyway, it was cool to see all the funny cultural differences.

France: Like what?

France pulls out a cigarette and takes a sip of pastis.

Me: Hmm…well, like some of the basic behaviors of the women were really different.

France: Mais, bien sur, French women and American women are not the same.

Me: Well, we are all women…

France gives me a look as though that is questionable.

Me: BUT, we were raised in really different cultures, so guess that is part of it. Like, the French women were so much more reserved, hardly any tears during the whole season. I also couldn’t believe how some of them complained about the “Gentleman Celibataire” not being that good-looking! It cracked me up, you would never hear that on the American version. Our women are always so excited and eager.

France: Oui, this is true, you Americaines do not know the art of playing hard to get.

Me: Apparently not! I mean, I couldn’t believe the one girl who wouldn’t get out of the car to meet him, but instead sent him a note telling him to come and retrieve her from the vehicle. Blech! I was so surprised that he kept her around after that.

France: But of course he did! This was a very charming thing for her to do.

Me: Really? I don’t get it. In the U.S. that would be considered high-maintenance.

France: Soooo…??

Me: We don’t consider high-maintenance to be an attractive quality.

France: Ah bon? C’est bizarre. Americain societé is so confusing. Okay, so what else did you find different?

Me: Hmmm…well, it seemed that, overall, the women on the French version looked more natural than on our version – you know, less make-up, messy but nice hair, the girl who came out in overalls the first night…stuff like that.

France: Ouais, mais bien sur! You American women do not have subtlety. The art of being understated, this is what is truly sexy. In France, you do not need to have all this maquillage on your face and every single hair brushed into place. Americans always think that to be attractive you must have the tight, revealing dress but the French, we are not-

Me: Oh, let’s pump the brakes for a minute.

France: Quoi?

France is all innocence and takes a drag off the cigarette.

Me: I mean, I will agree on hair and make-up but you can’t claim that the “naked dress” was an example of French subtlety. That was like the least subtle dress I’ve ever seen in my life.

France: I don’t know what you are talking about, I’m sure it was very nice, you just don’t understand style.

I pull up a video on my phone and hold it up, France turns red before quickly looking away.

France: Okay, so there was one dress that was, perhaps…a bit much.

Me: And the rugby game in string bikinis? I mean, women wearing next to nothing running around a field and tackling each other? Was that subtle too?

France scoffs.

France: Oh la la la la…you make me so tired sometimes. You can’t even understand the subtlety of what I was trying to say, huh? And please, in U.S. you are constantly showing things much more vulgar than this.

Me: Alright, fair enough. I’m just saying that “people in glass houses…”

France: Shouldn’t walk around naked?

Me: Something like that.

France: So, what else was different? Because of course, I wouldn’t know, I have never watched it; I try not to watch American television.

I roll my eyes.

Me: I don’t know. I mean, obviously, I missed our host. He has been on the show since the beginning and is just part of the experience, I guess. In the French one, the host wasn’t really around too much.

France: But why should he be? He just needs to be there to move things along.

Me: Meh…I don’t know, I like having the host be more involved.

France: Pfff…it is too much…this Chreez ‘Arrison.

Me: I thought you never watched it? How do you know his name?

France looks away and takes a long drink of pastis.

France: Quoi? I don’t know, maybe I have seen one or two episodes.

Me: Ha! You love it, don’t you?

A look of irritation is thrown my way.

France: Anyway, this is not the point, the point is that it is much nicer without this American host always butting his nose in, huh?!

My hands ball into fists.

Me: You better watch it, France. Don’t nobody talk trash about Chris Harrison! You got that?!

France tries to shrug but I can tell that my message got across.

France: Well, there is no argument that the Bachelor himself was much better in the French one, huh?

Me: Why does there have to be a winner and a loser? Can’t we just compare the differences?

France blinks at me uncomprehending.

France: Je ne comprends pas.

Me: Why does every conversation have to be a competition?

France: Because, then what is the point?

I feel like I’ve just stumbled across a major part of the French psyche. But moving on…

Me: Okay, whatever. So yeah, I liked your Gentleman Celibataire. He was good-looking and he seemed pretty nice. Although, his clothes were a riot, eh? Like, the yellow pants? What was that about?

France looks at me like I am crazy.

Me: No, they were nice, just, you know, different.

France: Ah ouais, these stupid khak-eez that you all wear are so much better. Pfff…

Me: France, I was not trying to be ugly and you know it, I was just saying that he had a fun, colorful style, not that he-

France cuts me off.

France: Don’t worry, Americaine, EES OKAY!

I shriek in horror and clap my hand over my mouth.

Me: Is that a Juan Pablo reference?!

France shrugs but has a knowing smile.

Me: How dare you?! That was a dark time for Bachelor Nation…I can’t believe you would bring that up!

France: No, but really EES. O. Kay.

Me: Alright then, that is how it is going to be? At least Juan Pablo and Nikki are still together…your fabulous little Bachelor couldn’t even stick it out until the “Girls Tell All” episode, he had already broken up with her!

A flash of anger crosses Frances face.

France: He chose the wrong girl, huh? Everyone could see it. She was charming, of course, but there were no complications with her, she was no challenge, she was too enthusiastic and available. He should have recognized that this would become boring quickly.

Me: Oh, now you are just talking crazy. She was the nicest one on the show, in fact, she was my favorite from the beginning!

France: Oh la la, of course she was and doesn’t that just say it all?

Me: Awwww…France…don’t worry…ees okay.

 

 

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Merry Christmas Part 1: Joyeux Noel

Conversations with France, Holidays in France

*This is a repost of a Christmas post I wrote my first year in France.  I hope you will enjoy, more Christmas Posts coming soon. *

 

Before leaving for the United States, I saw France out at the Christmas Market in town.

France:  Hello!  American friend, hello!!

France is waving wildly and jumping up and down.  I turn behind me to see whose attention is being sought…surely not mine.

France:  Oui, for you, so silly!

France laughs gaily and waves me over.

Me:  Ah…bonsoir, France.

France:  Bonsoir, mon amie!  It has been a long time, yes?

Me:  Yes, I guess so, not since the “Total Eclipse of the Heart” situation.

France:  Ah yes, this was very funny.  We always have such a good time.

In my mind I think, “do we?”  France gives me a friendly slap on the back.

France:  And what will you drink?  A vin chaud?

Me:  Oui, yes, sounds good!  You are in a very good mood today.

France pauses and gives me an exasperated look.

 France:  Is this okay with you?  Pfff…always the same, never satisfied.  It is the Marché de Noël, eh?  Maybe you can try to not ruin a party for once, uh?  Pfff….

Me:  Sorry, sorry, it’s just so – are those animatronic bears?

France:  Mais oui, they are very nice, yes?  Luke (look) at them playing their instruments, I love eet (it)!

I look over at the four animatronic polar bears playing a string quartet with wonder.  This seems very un-French. 

 Me:  You know, I didn’t think the market would be so festive.  I mean, this is really hardcore.

France:  What do you expect, American?  Ronald McDonald with a Santa hat?

France says this with an eye roll.

 Me:  No, it’s just, you know…

France looks at me questioningly.

 Me:  Well, in the U.S. we really celebrate things intensely, lots of decorations, lots of costumes.  I mean, they don’t even have to be our own holidays – St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Bastille Day even…we don’t discriminate.  So, in France it is a bit more subdued; I just didn’t expect the Christmas decorations to be so over the top!

France:  Over the top?  It is a few lights, a market, this is normal!

Me:  Yes, yes, it is all very normal but –

I am interrupted as an accordion player wanders through the crowd playing Christmas carols.  She passes out sheets of paper with the music on them and the whole crowd joins in to sing with her.  France joins in loudly.

 Me:  What is happening?  Strangers are breaking out into spontaneous musical numbers together…and they are FRENCH.  Is this a joke?

France:  Stop being so, ah what is this word…SCROOGE!  Oui, stop being so scrooge!

Me:  I’m not being a Scrooge, I am just very confu-

France hands me my glass of vin chaud. 

 France:  Now, I will go and get us some foie gras sandwiches.  Here, you can sing.

France thrusts the music into my hand and goes to the stand to get the sandwiches.  Once in line, France gives me a ‘thumbs up’ and waves at me and I must smile. 

 Christmas really is a magical time of year. 

Joyeux Noël and Happy Holidays to all!

The Roast Beef Betrayal

Conversations with France

After a weekend trip to London, I open my door to find France standing there.

ME:  Why bonjour, France!  I didn’t expect you to be dropping by today.

France shrugs and leans in to kiss me on both cheeks.

FRANCE:  I am out of butter.

ME:  Um…okay, so you came all the way over here for some butter?  It’s not like you live in the building.

FRANCE:  I am France, huh?  I am everywhere.  Mon dieu…toujours le meme.

ME:  Sorry, sorry, come on in.

France marches into my apartment and starts scanning the room.

FRANCE:  It looks like you have been on a trip, non?

ME: Quoi?!

I begin to feel a little uneasy.

FRANCE:  I see your baggage is out.  So you have been on a voyage, I believe.

France pulls a cigarette out and starts to light it.

FRANCE:  I can smoke in here, oui?

ME:  Actually-

France lights the cigarette and walks further into the kitchen.

FRANCE:  I think oui.  So, where is it that you visit on this voyage?

I walk over to the fridge as a trickle of sweat begins to roll down the center of my back.

ME:  Let’s get you that butter.

I curse myself for my shaking voice.

ME:  Nothing but good Breton butter in here…

France stares me down and takes a drag off the cigarette, blowing the smoke back in my face.

FRANCE:  Is that so?  Well, then I must see for myself.

ME:  No, I can get it, don’t bother, it’s nothing-

I’m too late, France is already standing at the door of the open refrigerator, staring in open hostility at one of the shelves.  The cigarette drops to the floor and I hurry to pick it up…France does not seem to even notice.

FRANCE:  AMERICAINE.

ME:  France, just calm down a minute, I can explain.

FRANCE:  I welcome you to my country and this is the thanks I get?!

ME:  Well…I think “welcome” is a strong word-

FRANCE: ҪA SUFFIT!

France leans into the refrigerator, pulling out a bottle of ketchup.

FRANCE:  As if theez were not bad enough, theez monstrosity-

ME:  Oh come on, let’s pump the brakes here for a minute.  Americans use ketchup on burgers and fries, but I’ve watched you pour in onto a plate of spaghetti, I mean, you want to talk about gross.

France turns slightly red before getting angry again.

FRANCE:  It is not zee point and you know it!  Always, you are changing subjects.  Let’s talk about the “hippopa-tame-moose” in zee room!

ME:  elephant.

France glares at me and lights another cigarette.

FRANCE:  What do you have to say for yourself?

ME:  It was just a weekend.

FRANCE:  Pffff…I have heard this before.  You think I was born yesterday?  UH?!  For centuries, it is like a “rabb-eet” on my back.

ME:  monkey.

France gives me an irritated look before continuing.

FRANCE:  Once, it was even 100 years straight, do you even know what that is like?  Pfff…of course not, you Americaine.  You have a problem with another country and then you become best friends the next year.  So fickle…perhaps I should not be surprised.

ME:  Aren’t y’all like BFF’s with Germany right now?

FRANCE:  Arret!  You can never just listen, maybe it is true and you do all have this deficit of attention disorder.  We are discussing your betrayal, uh?

ME:  France, come on, I just wanted to check it out.  See what all the fuss was about.

FRANCE:  Just “check it out?”  Well, then what is theez?!

France reaches back into the fridge and throws a wax paper package of cheese at me.  I stammer in response, holding the guilt-ridden cheese.

FRANCE:  FROMAGE!  BRITISH FROMAGE!  You can explain that?!  I cannot explain it, it shouldn’t even exist!  I am so upset, look, you have made me raise my voice…disgusting.  I need a pastis.

France raps on the counter as if ordering a servant.

FRANCE:  Something French, toute suite!  That is, if you still keep French things in your house, TRAITRESSE!

I try to stop myself from rolling my eyes as I reach for the pastis. 

ME:  Don’t you think you are being a little bit dramatic?

FRANCE:  MOI?!  Dramatique?  Pfff…I am France, not LES ROSBIFS!

I can’t help but start laughing at the name the French use for the English.

FRANCE:  I see nothing amusing.

ME:  Roast-beefs?  It’s so funny, come on…you know it is.

France shrugs and takes a sip of pastis.

FRANCE:  Maybe you would like to be a rosbif, huh, yankee?  You two, with your “special” relationship.

ME:  It’s not like that, France.  You know how I feel about you, you read my blog.

France almost spits up a sip of pastis.

FRANCE:  I do not read your blog, you think I have time to read some little blog.  Pfff…

ME:  Then who keeps commenting as “FRANCE #1 4 EVA?”

France looks away and takes a drag off the cigarette.

FRANCE:  How I would know, huh?  Sounds like a name that many people would want to use.

France takes a sip of pastis.

FRANCE: So, what did you do in that horrible, rainy place…Londres?

France says the name with disdain and I bite my tongue as I consider the weather patterns of Paris.

ME:  A lot of touring about, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge, The Tower-

FRANCE:  Ah, ze Tower…now this is something that is okay.  You know who built it, oui?  Guillaume the Conqueror – a French man.  Very important, perhaps the most important King in English history, you know?  Really, he practically started the whole country.

ME:  Uh…yeah, sure.  But really it was quite impressive.

FRANCE:  Oui, mais bien sur!

I smile to myself, sensing that France has been mollified.

FRANCE:  Alors, theez cheese…what it is like?  Disgusting, non?

I look at the super delicious Welsh cheese that my husband and I bought in London and know that I can’t tell France that we loved it.

ME:  Nothing compared to French cheese.

FRANCE:  Hmph.

France picks it up and smells it, then opens the package and takes a look.

FRANCE:  Ouais.

France sounds nonplussed but I notice a slight uptick of one eyebrow.

FRANCE: Then, you won’t mind if I just take it.

ME:  What?  Why?

FRANCE:  I thought you didn’t like it, you are now attached to it?

ME:  No, it’s just that-

FRANCE:  I will take it to throw it away, of course.  Pfff…what else would I do with it?

France grabs the cheese and walks back towards the door.

FRANCE:  A bientot, Americaine.

I watch from our front window as France exits the apartment and places the cheese into a jacket pocket while walking past a trash can…and I smile. 

Fall-N-France

Conversations with France, Cultural Differences, French Food, Holidays in France

I am walking through the neighborhood market when I spot France picking through a basket of Girolles (Chanterelles).

ME:  What up, France?

I put my hand up for a high five but all I get back is an eye roll.

FRANCE:  Bonjour, Américaine.  Why is your hand up?  You are going to hit me or what?

ME:  Like you don’t know what I am doing.

FRANCE:  Knowledge is not the same as compliance.  Bise like a normal person.

ME:  Didn’t you read my last post about that?

FRANCE:  Quoi?  Of course I don’t read your blog.

France looks indignant before leaning in to look very closely at a mushroom.

FRANCE:  …as though I would care what you write about me…

ME:  What?  I couldn’t hear you.

FRANCE:  Of course you couldn’t!  I wasn’t speaking four decibels too high; I am sure your Américain ear can only hear sounds that shatter glass.

I sigh and start to walk off.

FRANCE:  Quoi?  I thought we were having a conversation and now you just walk away without a word.  You know, I don’t know why you call me rude… vraiment!

ME:  Incorrigible.

FRANCE:  What was that?

ME:  Nothing.  So what are you getting?  Going to have something special for dinner tonight?

FRANCE:  I haven’t decided yet.  You will have a cheeseburger, non?

ME:  Yeah, I eat cheeseburgers all day every day.

I am being sarcastic.

FRANCE:  I know you do.

I give France a look but France just shrugs and lights a cigarette.

FRANCE:  This is the month of your “Thanksgiving”, yes?

ME:  Yep, in two weeks, I’m surprised you remembered that.

FRANCE:  Yes, well it’s hard to forget about a holiday based on you massacring a people and then celebrating it year after year by overeating and giving yourselves diabetes.  Sort of sticks in the mind.

I roll my eyes.

ME:  You know it is actually a really nice holiday.  You have all your family around, maybe your friends as well and you take some time to contemplate the things you are grateful for in your life.

France puts out the cigarette and continues walking towards the cheese vendor.

FRANCE:  Why do you need a holiday for this?  Can’t you just be grateful all year long?

I sigh again.

FRANCE:  Do you have a breathing problem?  Today you sigh very much.

ME:  Maybe it’s all the cigarettes.

I smile sweetly.  France smirks and gives me a look of approval.

ME:  But yeah, of course you should be grateful all year long – Thanksgiving is just a reminder to really think about it and talk about and share it with those that you love.

FRANCE:  Sounds exhausting, you Américains always needing to talk about your feelings.

ME:  So you don’t want to tell me anything you are grateful for?

FRANCE:  Pfff…I’m grateful to be French, quoi, so I don’t have to go through this stoopeed ritual every year!

ME:  MB is French and he is excited for Thanksgiving.

FRANCE:  Ah, you mean this man who lived in Australia for 6 years and is now married to an Américaine.  Oui, of course he is excited.

ME:  We’re going to have a big party you know…

I look at France with my eyebrows raised in a question mark.  France ignores me and looks into the cheese display.

ME:  If memory serves you had a pretty good time at the 4th of July party.

FRANCE:  WHAT?!  I did not!  It was average at best, huh!  A good time, who do you think I am?  Brazil?!

ME:  All I’m saying is that you stayed pretty late and seemed to get along well with everyone.

FRANCE: pffff…

ME:  So….?

FRANCE:  Quoi?  So?  What?  You are so tiring, why you must drag everything out?

ME:  Maybe I like to watch your squirm?

France suppresses a laugh.

FRANCE:  Sometimes you don’t make me want to gag, Américaine.

I smile and give France a pat on the back.  France quickly shrugs me off and looks at me with disdain.

FRANCE:  Everything is so difficult with this relationship.  I have no idea what cheese to bring that will go with turkey!

ME:  Oh, but won’t you be thankful to find out?!

France gives me the first real smile of the day.

 FRANCE: Peut-être, Américaine…peut-être.

 

Fourth of July: for Lafayette

Conversations with France, Holidays in France

Me:  Hey France!!!  France!!

I wave trying to get France’s attention.

France:  Ah, bonjour.  It is the Américaine.

Me:  Yes, it is the Américaine.  Why do you say that like you don’t know who I am?

France lights a cigarette and shrugs.

Me:  So, Happy Fourth of July!!

France:   Ah oui, your independence.  Why do I care about this?  This is not my holiday.  Take your Américain enthusiasm somewhere else, huh?  It fatigues me.

I put my arm around France’s shoulders and keep walking.  France looks at my arm as though it were a poisonous snake. 

France:  Why are you touching me?  I do not eenjoy thees.

Me:  Well get over it buddy, I’ve allowed about a million strangers to kiss my face over the past 16 months and that hasn’t made me comfortable either.

France:  Such brutes, you Américains.  To kiss someone’s face is polite, gentile not like this horrible hugging business.  Why do I want your fat body pressed up against me?  (France shivers)  Grotesque!

Me:  What?!  I’m not even fat.

France:  Yes, but you are Américain so you might as well be fat.  I can’t help it; I hear the accent and this is what I see.

Me:  You don’t want to know what I see when I hear your accent…

I say this menacingly. 

France:  Pfff…this is what you will never understand, little Miss America, I don’t care what you see when you hear my accent.

Me:  You’re impossible.  I don’t know why I keep trying to talk to you.

France:  Because I am fascinating.

Me:  Irritating as well.  I’m just trying to celebrate my Independence Day and you have to bring me down.  I mean, you know that the French helped us significantly during the American Revolution.  You supported us.

France gives me an eye roll.

France:  Ouais.  It was a long time ago, non?

Me:  Yes, but you know even in WWI, we honored Lafayette who helped during the American Revolution.  There was even a Lafayette Squadron.

France:  Typical Américain, so overly sentimental.  Wasn’t he declared a traitor later?  I seem to remember that.

Me:  UGH!  YOU exhaust ME!

I start to walk off.

France:  Très typique!

France says this loudly to stop me.

France:   I am finally interested and you walk away.

This time I roll my eyes.

France:  So, what are you going to do for this holiday?  Talk too loudly and wear tennis shoes everywhere?

France casually lights a cigarette and sniggers.

Me:  Haven’t decided yet, what are you going to do for Bastille Day?  Feign boredom and wear scarfs in summer?

There is a momentary stand-off and then France nods.

France:  Bien joué.  You are learning.

Me:  I think we will probably have a party for the fourth.  You know, lots of food and decorations, patriotic music; I’ll probably wear red, white, and blue.

France:  Ouais, sounds like you, everything has to be over-the-top and too much.  Why do you need to decorate your houses all the time?  I don’t understand this.

Me:  Oh please, like you aren’t going to be running around screaming the Marseillaise and waving the Tricolore next week!

France:  I most certainly will not!

France is indignant.

Me:  Do I need to bring up photos from last year?

France turns bright red.

France:  What?  No!  I don’t know what you are talking about…I am France, I don’t act like that.  You are the reedeeculous ones.

I give France a smirk.

France:  Fine.  Maybe we decorate a little, certainly not like you tacky Americans.

Me:  Certainly.

France lights another cigarette.

France:  So, I am invited to this fête?

Me:  I didn’t think you would want to come.

France:  I didn’t say I wanted to come!  Mon dieu!  Everything must be a challenge with you always.  Pfff…

France looks everywhere but at me. 

Me:  Oh France, you know you are invited.

France:  Well, I should think so.

Me:  Wait, why?

France:  Pff…always the same.  You know we did help you to win, without us there would be no Etats-Unis, huh?

Me:  But I already sai–

France interrupts me. 

France:  So yes, I will be there, I will bring some good cheese, something French that will actually taste nice, you know, for Lafayette and all that.

A Visit from France on the Occasion of My One Year Anniversary

Conversations with France

France:  “Bon anniversaire!  Bon anniversaire, bon anniversaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaire, bon anniversaire!”

France is standing at my front door holding a cake with candles and singing.  I look confused.

France:  You going to let me in, huh?  I don’t know, maybe you prefer I stand here all day with this cake that I bring for you.  I mean, you know, it is warm out here, non?  Just February, just a deep freeze all through Europe.  No, it is fine; I will just stand here until you are ready, huh?

Me:  Oh right, so sorry, come on in France!  What is the occasion?

France:  Oh la la la la…you are serious?  All the same, you Americans.  I can smoke in here?

Me:  No, actually we don’t smoke in th—

France has already lit a cigarette and is walking around the apartment.

France:  So you don’t know what today is?

Me:  Uhhh…no?

France:  This is your one year anniversary in France!  I don’t know, maybe this is not important to you, I can go.  Enjoy your day, Americaine!

France says “Americaine” like an accusation.

Me:  Oh wow!  You are so right – I can’t believe I missed it!

France looks at me petulantly.

Me:  It’s just been so wonderful that the time has gone too quickly; it never seemed like a year already!

France is placated.

France:  Hhmmff.  Well, what do you have to drink?  Let’s have some wine, huh?

Me:  It’s 10am.

France:  You exhaust me.

Me:  I just (I realize defense is futile)…I’m sure I have something.

France:  What is this thing you people say, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”.

France starts laughing maniacally and chokes on cigarette smoke.

France:  (*cough cough* ) Sooooooooo (*cough cough)* stoopeede! (stupid)

I give France a very serious look.

Me:  You know, I can play the song for you if you would like.

France:  You have the song?!

More maniacal laughter.

France:  That is too good, that is great, I love you people!

I smirk at France’s amusement and pull out a bottle of red wine.

Me:  This is okay?

France:  Oui, parfais!  Vin rouge with a chocolate cake.  This makes sense.  Maybe we have some cheese first.  There is cheese yes?

France looks at me with narrowed eyes and suddenly I feel like I am being tested.

Me:  Cow, sheep, goat?  Which would you like?  Perhaps I put out some of each?

The side of France’s mouth twitches, threatening to turn into a smile before being consciously pushed back into a line of disinterest.

France:  Ouais, meexte (mixed) is good.

Me:  Ah – I don’t have baguette though!

France shrugs.

France:  Not a problem, of course I have baguette, huh?  I am France, non?

France pulls two baguettes out of the bag the cake came in.  Even though it is -7C (19F) they are still warm.

Me:  You know, there is some pate and cornichon as well, I can put that out too if you like.

France:  Ah ouais?

France seems surprised.

France:  Porquoi pas?

I begin to arrange the cheese on a board. 

France:  So…one year in France, what do you think?  You like eet (it); do you think you are different?

Me:  Why France, you never ask questions like this!  It’s so personal, so concerned, are you afraid that I haven’t had a good time here?

France:  WHAT?!

France appears horrified by the implication.

France:  No!  Of course not, you eembeceele (imbecile); only a philistine would have a bad time here!  Pfff…I don’t know why I ask thees (this) at all.  C’est obvious, you have not changed a bit.

France stubs out the first cigarette and lights another.

Me:  Oh France, don’t get your panties in a bunch –

France gives me a look of utter disgust at my phrase.

Me:  Of course I have changed!  You don’t scare me as much as you used to.

I smile thinking this is funny.  I get an eye roll in return.

Me:  I have eaten many interesting things.

France:  Ouais…

Me:  Horse tartare, fromage de tete, calf brains…

France:  Pas mal…

Me:  I’ve seen a lot too!  My first trip to the Mediterranean, the French Alps, 13th Century castles…

France: …13th Century…not that old…

Me:  …the Eiffel Tower!

France:  Pffff…the Eiffel Tower…ruined Paris, you know…

Me:  I’ve learned a lot of French.  I’ve realized that French women aren’t as intimidating as I first thought…

France:  …wait until you are here longer…

Me:  I’ve eaten Dijon mustard in Dijon and boeuf bourguignon in Burgundy!

FranceBourgnone, not Burgundy.  Pffff…what is it with you Americans and bouef bourginone anyway?  You are all obessessed because of this Julia Child person.  And why can none of you pronounce bouef properly, huh?  Boooouuuueeeeffff…c’est ne pas difficile!

I put my hand on France’s shoulder and give it a little squeeze as I place the tray of cheese and pate on the table.  France makes a barely audible sniff. 

France:  Well, this is good.  You realize the good things of France; I am happy for this.

France absently turns the wine bottle on the table, looking at the label intently and I detect the lightening rapid movement as a hand wipes an eye.  Then France crushes out the second cigarette and looks at the cheese tray.

France:  Ah mon dieu, what are you doing putting the epoisse like thees (this) on the tray, no, it must go in a bowl!  Pffff…what will we do with you?

I smile at France and bring a bowl over.

France:  Maybe we keep you for a bit longer so you can finally get things right, huh?

I lift my wine glass and smile to myself.

Me:  Yes, maybe.  I want to thank you for a wonderful first year, France!

France:  Ouais…

Me:  Santé!

France:  Santé!

France raises the wine glass but doesn’t meet my eyes.

Me:  FRANCE!  You know you have to make eye contact; it’s the rules!

France looks me in the eye and gives me a broad smile.

France:  Ha!  Americaine!

And this time Americaine doesn’t sound so bad. 

Joyeux Noel

Conversations with France, Holidays in France

Before leaving for the United States, I saw France out at the Christmas Market in town.

France:  Hello!  American friend, hello!!

France is waving wildly and jumping up and down.  I turn behind me to see whose attention is being sought…surely not mine.

France:  Oui, for you, so silly!

France laughs gaily and waves me over.

Me:  Ah…bonsoir, France.

France:  Bonsoir, mon amie!  It has been a long time, yes?

Me:  Yes, I guess so, not since the “Total Eclipse of the Heart” situation.

France:  Ah yes, this was very funny.  We always have such a good time.

In my mind I think, “do we?”  France gives me a friendly slap on the back.

France:  And what will you drink?  A vin chaud?

Me:  Oui, yes, sounds good!  You are in a very good mood today.

France pauses and gives me an exasperated look.

 France:  Is this okay with you?  Pfff…always the same, never satisfied.  It is the Marché de Noël, eh?  Maybe you can try to not ruin a party for once, uh?  Pfff….

Me:  Sorry, sorry, it’s just so – are those animatronic bears?

France:  Mais oui, they are very nice, yes?  Luke (look) at them playing their instruments, I love eet (it)!

I look over at the four animatronic polar bears playing a string quartet with wonder.  This seems very un-French. 

 Me:  You know, I didn’t think the market would be so festive.  I mean, this is really hardcore.

France:  What do you expect, American?  Ronald McDonald with a Santa hat?

France says this with an eye roll.

 Me:  No, it’s just, you know…

France looks at me questioningly.

 Me:  Well, in the U.S. we really celebrate things intensely, lots of decorations, lots of costumes.  I mean, they don’t even have to be our own holidays – St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Bastille Day even…we don’t discriminate.  So, in France it is a bit more subdued; I just didn’t expect the Christmas decorations to be so over the top!

France:  Over the top?  It is a few lights, a market, this is normal!

Me:  Yes, yes, it is all very normal but –

I am interrupted as an accordion player wanders through the crowd playing Christmas carols.  She passes out sheets of paper with the music on them and the whole crowd joins in to sing with her.  France joins in loudly.

 Me:  What is happening?  Strangers are breaking out into spontaneous musical numbers together…and they are FRENCH.  Is this a joke?

France:  Stop being so, ah what is this word…SCROOGE!  Oui, stop being so scrooge!

Me:  I’m not being a Scrooge, I am just very confu-

France hands me my glass of vin chaud. 

 France:  Now, I will go and get us some foie gras sandwiches.  Here, you can sing.

France thrusts the music into my hand and goes to the stand to get the sandwiches.  Once in line, France gives me a ‘thumbs up’ and waves at me and I must smile. 

 Christmas really is a magical time of year. 

Joyeux Noël and Happy Holidays to all!  I will return in the New Year!

Eclipse Totale Sur Mon Coeur

Conversations with France, Cultural Differences

Recently, I was out at a bar with France…

Me:  Oooh!  I love this song!

France:  What song?  (France looks around the bar casually, I suspect trying to find someone better to talk to)

Me:  You know this song – Bonnie Tyler?

France makes a blank face.

Me:  Every roller skating party for the entire 80s?

Nothing.  France simply pulls out a cigarette and lights it.

Me:  You know: ‘turn around, every now and then I get a little bit lonely and your never coming ’round!’ (I am singing passionately, complete with faux microphone)

France looks at me wide-eyed and chokes on a lungful of smoke.

France:  What air (are) you doing?  (France says this quietly, but in a panicked voice)

Me:  ‘turn around, every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears!’

France:  People are starting to look at you.

Me:  They can’t embarrass me!  (I continue singing)

France:  Pff…you embarrass yourself. (France pours a glass of wine, trying desperately to look relaxed)

I stick my tongue out at France.

France:  I hope you know that you look completely redeeculous (ridiculous).

Me:  Oh come on, just a little bar singing.  Live a little!

France:  Oh la la, you are tres Americain.

Me:  Word.  I know.  (I say this as I add some interpretive dance moves to my singing)

France:  What are all these people going to think of you?

Me:  That I’m super fun?

France rolls its eyes.

France:  What are all these people going to think of me?  This is not the kind of reputation I have.  I am very serious and cool.  When I go to bars I talk about world politics, global warming…Proust.

Me:  Oh.  Is that fun?

France:  What?  (France looks confused by the question)

France:  Fun is not the point; you Americans and your obsession with fun!  This is your problem!

France is getting irritated now and furiously stubs out one cigarette only to light another.

France:  Always singing and dancing…with your stoopeed (stupid) television shows and all your stoopeed hollywood movies...’oh, what do you think will happen?’  I think they will all have some implausibly happy ending that makes no sense and is not representative of the true reality of life!  Pfff…fun.

Me:  Oh puh-leeeeeeese!  At least if we make up implausible endings they are happy, instead of ridiculous French movies that make up ways to be depressing for no reason whatsoever – you saw the ending to Les Petits Mouchoirs!  I mean, they all gave eulogies, REALLY?  Unecessary, France!

France:  You’re unnecessary.

Me:  No, you are.

France:  I hate you.

Me:  I hate you more.

France is fuming (literally, cigarette in hand) and refuses to look at me.

I start to feel bad.

Me:  ‘Turn around, every now and then I know there’s no one in the universe as magical and wondrous as you.’

France sniffs and turns further away.

Me:  ‘Turn around, every now and then I know there’s nothing any better, there’s nothing that I just wouldn’t do…’  Oh come on, you can’t stay mad all night!

France:  Ah non?  (France takes a drag off the cigarette and blows it in my face)

Me:  Look, we’re different, it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.

France is quiet for a minute.

France:  ‘your love is like a shadow on me all of the time’  (France sings this so softly that it is almost imperceptible)

Me:  You probably could have picked a nicer line of the song.

France:  Tres typique!  What do you want, uh?  You ask me to sing; I sing and now you complain.  Pff…maybe you are a bit French.

A momentary look of mischievousness flashes over France’s face before returning to looking bored and slightly peeved.

I look at France suspiciously but with a smile.

Me:  You know, (I say this with my best Humphrey Bogart voice)

Me:  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

France rolls its eyes again and puts its head in its hands.

France:  Oh, mon dieu.

A Month of Sundays

Conversations with France, Holidays in France

This is a transcript of my most recent conversation with France.

Me:  Bonjour France!

France:  Oui, bonjour.   (France takes a sip of Pastis)

Me:  Guess what?!

France:  Quoi?

Me:  My semester ends the first week of August; I’m so excited.  I’m going to catch up on my workouts at the gym, read lots of books, work on my cooking; its going to be great!

France:  Ah oui?  Very…ambitious.  (France looks suspicious when it says this)

Me:  Yep, in fact, I think I’ll start by going to the gym right now!

France:  No.  I don’t think so.

Me:  Whaaa?  Why not?  MB is out of town for 3 weeks.  He’ll come back and I’ll be buff!

France:  It is so hot.  Do you really want to go?

Me:  Yes, I don’t care that the gym isn’t air-conditioned (actually I do, but that is for another post).

France:  Well, it is August; so I think that I will just close the gym.  (France says this nonchalantly but won’t look me in the eye)

Me:  You can’t do that!  I live here; I have a year membership!

France:  Pfff…not for the next 3 weeks, my little American friend.  (France pulls out a cigarette and lights it)

Me:  Fine, I will just hike in the mountains and take picnics.

France:  I will make it rain.

(I give France a face)

France:  C’est la vie.  (France says this matter-of-factly)

Me:  I don’t think you are using that phrase right, its meant to be a good thing, you know, ‘c’est la vie’!

France:  It is my phrase, huh?  I will use it as I want to use it.  Pfff…

Me:  Fine, I will sit inside with lots of good books from the library.

France:  (France takes a drag of its cigarette and exhales leisurely)  You think so?

Me:  Yes, I will get lots of cheesy romance novels about English speaking foreigners coming to France and falling in love…they will all have happy endings!

France:  (France rolls it’s eyes)  You think the library will be open?

Me:  YES.  I know they have vacation hours; I have checked.

France:  I hate to tell you, but I have closed the library too.

Me:  Seriously?

France:  Très sérieux.

Me:  So, I can’t go to the gym and I can’t go to the library…is the market open?

France:  Sometimes, but I will not disclose all the hours and days ahead of time.  I prefer for you to guess.

Me:  (I sigh loudly)  Well, maybe I will go to the sea!

France:  HA!  (France spits out a mouthful of Pastis)  Enjoy all the tourists!  Enjoy the backed up traffic from Paris to Cassis!  Are you CRE – ZEE (read: crazy)?!

Me:  So how am I supposed to fill up my month?

France:  Just relax, enjoy your life.

Me:  We’ve talked about this.  Remember Sundays?

France:  I know but you have to get over this need to be busy all the time.  (France motions to the waiter to bring another Pastis)

Me:  Okay, so what can I do?

France:  Its August, my friend, you can sit with me and have a drink.