To Be or Not to Be…Why Ask the Question?

Cultural Differences, Holidays in France, Life in General, Travel in France

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”  -Voltaire

Just last month, my husband (we’ll call him MB) and I were in Paris during the train (SNCF) strikes. During this strike something like 2 out of every 3 trains was cancelled and we arrived at the Paris Gare de Lyon to find that our train back to Grenoble had been one of the unlucky ones. After talking to multiple SNCF staff, it was explained that they could not issue us new tickets as ours were not exchangeable but we could board the next train with our old tickets and we were “sure” to get a seat. My reaction was something like this:

Uh, I’m sorry, what? You are not going to issue another ticket? I’m just supposed to take a chance that what you are suggesting will work out and that we’ll manage to get two randomly free seats in the middle of 3 train’s worth of people trying to board?!?

!!!!!!!!

Oui, apparently that is exactly what we were supposed to do.

So we sat and we waited, having no idea whether or not we would manage to get on the following train that was leaving in 3 hours. As the minutes ticked by, my anxiety grew, I was practically bouncing around with nervous energy. What if we didn’t get on, what was the plan then? Would we stay in Paris for the night? Did I need to start calling friends to try and find a place to crash? Maybe we should just take the hit and purchase brand new tickets? The uncertainty was making me crazy but to my surprise, when I looked around the jam-packed train station, most people seemed pretty zen.

“It’s amazing,” I said. “How is everyone so calm and quiet when no one knows what is going on? In the U.S. people would be flipping out or commiserating with strangers or…flipping out*.”

MB looked around and thought for a second or two. “Maybe we are just more philosophical.”

***

I do not deal well with change.

Now, I don’t mean change as in: “if only women hadn’t gotten the vote” way, but rather: “what do you mean we’re going out to dinner tonight?” When I have organized or arranged something and it changes at the last minute, my brain slams into overdrive, regardless of whether this is a positive change or not.

It goes something like this:

Stage 1: Panic.                                                                                                                                               

OHMEGAWD, what is happening? I’m spinning in circles? Why? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anyway, there is no rhyme or reason to anything in the world. Apparently, things just happen…(this thought then creates further panic)

Stage 2: Doomsday.

Well, it’s all over. I might as well just sit down. I mean, why do I even try anymore? Nothing will ever work out the way it is supposed to…EVER. Life is just one ironical joke.

Stage 3: Recalibration.                                                                                  

Recalibrating…recalibrating…recalibrating.

Stage 4: Epiphany/denial.

Phew…well, lookie-there, the perfect solution just presented itself. In fact, this option is actually better than the original plan anyway. Things always just fall into place, it’s a good thing I handle situations like this so well. I really keep a cool head and just go with the flow.

All of these stages are wildly verbal and come with gobs of explanations to whomever might be with me when said change occurs (usually MB who is shell-shocked by my range in emotions…never a dull moment with me, right babe?). He, on the other hand, accepts change with calmness and perspective, he becomes quiet and considers things before reacting. While I’m having a melt-down like this:

He is more like this:

Maybe this behavior is based on my need for control (whaaaaaaat…yeah, I’m a little bit of a control freak) but could it also be a cultural difference? Could it be that my French husband handles change better than I do because of philosophical edification?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I took philosophy at University so I guess I sort of know the basics but not like a French person. The French take philosophy to a whole new level. They have Descartes, Sartre, Camus…and that barely scratches the surface. For centuries they have been churning out one philosopher after another and, perhaps as a result, take the study more seriously.

Not long ago, during a visit from my Parents, MB happened to mention that when he was in high school Philosophy was a required class…required. My Mother (a teacher) erupted into surprised exclamations.

“PHILOSOPHY?!” She demanded.

Philosophy?!” She questioned.

“Philosophy…in high school?” She queried.

MB gave her a Gallic shrug. “Oauis…c’est normale, non?”

Non, my little cabbage, not across the pond.

My experience was that philosophy was encouraged only in higher education but not considered an integral part of one’s academic life**. So, I took my requisite course and was taught about questioning everything….blah blah blah. However, it didn’t really take, my general reaction to philosophy was a sort of mild disgust:

Why ask all these abstract questions? Can’t these people just make a decision already?  I mean, all this dithering around, it’s exhausting! Just CHOOSE something! Yes or no, right or wrong!”

It seemed the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake was lost on me. I didn’t want to pursue knowledge, I wanted to know.

Absolutes are where my happy place is, which is, perhaps, why change unnerves me so completely. I don’t want a world full of questions and unpredictability. I am the person who checks the weather obsessively, plans detailed trips 6 months in advance, who rarely makes last minute plans or accepts last minute invitations. I like to know what is coming and to be prepared for it.

My philosophy: Why inquire when you can answer?

***

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

-Camus

When they finally called for our train, MB and I ran towards it and hopped into the car that was listed on our old tickets. However, since the train had changed, so had the seating, and our old seats didn’t exist (cue more panicking)

“This looks good, non?” MB said, pointing at two seats.

I looked around, frantic, trying to think if there was some way to beat the system, to be organized about this, but we were trapped. There were hoards of people getting on and it was only a matter of time before all the seats were gone anyway…so we sat. Every minute felt like an eternity, as one person after another was ejected from randomly found seats, such as ours, by rightful ticket-holders.

“We should have bought the new tickets, we should have just BOUGHT the new tickets.”

My blood-pressure was through the roof. Each new person who entered the train was a threat. Whilst I was internally losing it, MB was unpacking…seemingly certain that we would remain in our seats. How could this be? There was no way of knowing! We didn’t even know what we would do if we got booted off the train, we didn’t know where we would go or how we would get home.

So many questions and no way to have an answer.

I jumped when the doors to the train finally slammed shut, sweet relief flooding through me. It was unbelievable, we were sitting in the only two seats in our entire car that hadn’t been booked by someone else. We had made it…even though there hadn’t been a plan.

And what would have been the major drama if we hadn’t kept our seats? We would have sat in the aisles or by the bathrooms like all the other poor people packed on our train or we would have waited for the next one. As the denial/epiphany stage washed over me, I felt a great sense of calm. Perhaps in future, I should be more contemplative before having a melt-down, perhaps I should embrace the French philosophical perspective instead of going straight into panic-mode. I should start asking questions and searching for the meaning of life, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in cafés while reading Neitzsche…

Meh. Seems like a lot of trouble.

I may never bother in asking all the questions but perhaps I could manage to follow Camus’ advice and quit searching so hard for the answers. Afterall, there is one great American philosopher whose words I have always valued:

* There were, in fact, people flipping out at the Gare de Lyon but mainly just the ones who were trying to rush onto trains that were leaving, most of the others were pretty chill and calm.

** This was just my educational experience. I know there are people in the USA who study philosophy in high school or more intensively in college.

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Merry Christmas Part II: Wassailing (repost)

Holidays in France

Hi y’all – yes, another repost for Christmas.  I hope you will still enjoy it!  Thank you so much to all of you who helped support Bread is Pain in the Expat Blog Awards – we took home first prize for France which is pretty darn cool!  I hope you all have wonderful holidays – I will be back posting again at the end of January (a brief sabbatical).

Happy Holidays and have a wonderful New Year! 

***

“Quoi?”  MB calls out from the kitchen.

“Quoi what?”  I say this before the redundancy of it computes in my mind.

He steps out of the kitchen and into the living room where I am dancing like a maniac and going through my Christmas songs on Itunes to sort out a playlist for our upcoming party.  I grab his hand and make him dance with me which gets a laugh…one of his classic laughs in which I can tell he is trying really hard not to but can’t help it.

He kisses me on the cheek which is my cue to stop.  “What is this wassailing?”

“Oh,” I respond, putting “Here We go a-Wassailing”* on mute.  “You know, it’s to… “wassail.”  This seems like a totally logical answer to me.

“You don’t know what it means, do you?”

YES, of course I do, I sang this song when I was a kid!  Gaw!”  I have no idea what it is to “wassail.”

“So, what is it?”  He puts a hand on his hip and stands over my computer.

“Hold on…” I say, as I google it quickly.  “Huh…it is: 1 : an early English toast to someone’s health 2 : wild drinking : REVELRY.”

“So it is a Christmas carol about getting wasted?”  He asks me this with amusement on his face.

“No way, it can’t be,” I look up “wassailing” as opposed to the noun form “wassail” hoping there is some translation change; it isn’t much better.  “”Wassailing,” I read, “To go on a wild drinking spree.”

MB bursts out laughing.

“It also means to drink to someone’s health!”  I will defend “wassailing” forever!

He pats me on the head and walks back to the kitchen.  My whole childhood has just morphed into an old English drinking song.

When I was little I was a Girl Scout.  We had meetings once a week and events like camping (okay so camping in cabins not in tents but get real…we have bears in Tennessee) and selling Girl Scout cookies throughout the year.  I remember learning how to light a match, how to sew a button (quit giving me that look, Mom, just because I don’t do it well doesn’t mean I don’t know how), and I can still pick out poison oak.  Somewhere in the attic there is a sash with badges on it and I still keep in touch with a few girls from my troop and one of them even came to my wedding this year.

Every Christmas my Mother (a “forever” Girl Scout) would get the girls together over at our house and take us caroling in the neighborhood.  My Mother an avid…dare I say “hardcore”, caroler loved the tradition and so did I.  It was awesome and SO much cooler than it sounds…I swear.  We would all meet at someone’s house and dress up in super warm clothes and drink hot chocolate and afterwards we would have a cookie party.  It was fun to go out into a cold wintery night with all your best friends and sing songs to strangers.  Carolers are often made fun of in movies or on sitcoms but let’s face it – in this day in age it is pretty amazing to have a bunch of strangers show up at your door and sing songs to you for no other reason than to spread some cheer.

I remember one year in particular back in the late 80’s.  After the adults made sure we were all warmly attired in our totally cool purple, green, and fuchsia winter wear (I’m just assuming…I did say late 80’s) we set out with our song books into the wily streets of High Point Terrace in Memphis (this will be funny to anyone from Memphis).  We went to house after house singing our songs and generally being “ooh’d” and “awe’d” over by all the folks in the neighborhood (perhaps another reason we all loved Christmas caroling…a nice little ego boost if I do say so).

Only a few doors down from my house we came and knocked on a door.  Now let me give a little lesson in caroling for you novices out there, it’s not like you ring the doorbell and wait to take requests; you ring or knock and then get going with your song – if the people living there don’t like it then they are scrooges, plain and simple.  At this house my Mother whispered to us to start singing “Silent Night.”  The porch stayed quiet as we began our song and we started to wonder if they were going to open the door; we could see people in there.  Suddenly the door swung wide and the whole family was standing there.  I remember having a very odd sensation of seeing so much light around them as we stood on the dark porch.  While we sang I noticed their arms going around each other and hugs being given, heads rested on shoulders, a couple of the people even cried.  We had never made such an impact.  Later my Mother explained to us that the man who had lived there had died a few days ago and that the family was there comforting each other.

It was a special moment in my life, maybe it was a special moment in theirs.  Maybe it is a story that they still tell in their family about the night that Grandpa died and little girls showed up at the door during the wake and sang “Silent Night.”  We didn’t understand while we were singing what had happened and we only sort of understood later but I understand now and it can still bring a tear to my eye thinking about it; thinking about the fact that the simplest acts that you commit in your life can bring a sense of peace, a sense of thankfulness, a sense of joy and love to a complete stranger…and sometimes when they need most to not feel alone in this world.  I understand that often God or the Universe or Mother Nature, or whatever you believe in will use you as a tool for good even when you aren’t trying.

When I asked my Mother about this story to make sure I was telling it right she was so pleased that I remembered caroling and had happy memories of it.  She told me that the reason she always hosted this party was because of a memory she had when she was a little girl.  “It was probably only once in my life – one year,” she wrote, “The cold, the holiday season, the thrill of singing with others, the smiles on the other side of the doorway.  I still recall the intense delight I felt.”  It’s funny, isn’t it?  That two women in different stages in their life still think about and remember fondly singing to strangers a few times when they were children.

My Mother said that when we would go caroling sometimes people would try to give us money.  They would want to know why we were caroling, they assumed we were doing it for something.  Well…we were.  Maybe it sounds cheesy and maybe it is too trite for some people but we were just doing it to spread cheer.

So, “Wassail” my friends!  Drink an extra glass of egg nogg or vin chaud, be unnecessarily cheerful, sing songs too loudly, and allow yourself to be used in the crafting of someone’s happy holiday memories.

*Note – there are two different “Wassailing” songs around the holidays and neither is for Christmas but for the New Year.  There is “Here we go a –wassailing” and there is also (my favorite) “Wassail, Wassail”. 

Happy Holidays Everyone!  I’ll be back in the New Year!!

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!

On the Road to Nowhere

Holidays in France, Travel in France

“Are you looking at the map, which way do we turn here?”  MB is talking to me while driving as I search both the map and the road for a sign.

“I’m looking,” I wail, “but I’m telling you I can’t even figure out what road we are on!”

MB sighs and pulls over and I can tell he is blaming this confusion solely on the fact that I have…meh…not a great sense of direction (seriously, it is a miracle I can make it out of walk-in closets).  

“Let me see,” he says, relieving me of the map and scanning the page.

I wait as he looks at the map, then looks up at the road, then down at the map, then up at the road, over and over again.

“You look like a bird eating bird seed,” I say.  I’m so helpful.

“Quoi,” he says with irritation in his voice.  I realize he has not heard my statement at all…he is “in the map.*”

He steps out of the car and walks toward the intersection, searching for a street sign, looking on sides of abandoned sheds.  Finally he spots something and I see him throw his hands up in frustration before returning to the car.

“(French expletive),” he says, shutting the car door. “I mean, this is ridiculous.”

I shrug and smile at him smugly serenely.  Mwahahahahaha!  Now who has no sense of direction, huh?!  (yeah, that would still be me.)

“I mean, how can both directions be correct,” he says angrily as he points to the only apparent sign.

I burst out laughing as I look at the signage: TOUTES DIRECTIONS = all directions.  Beneath these words are arrows, one pointing to the left and one pointing to the right.  It might as well say: make something up.

“ARGH!!!!”  MB gives a shout of irritation and I have to force away a smile.  (Sometimes it is really funny to me when MB gets angry because he is usually so calm.  Does this make me a bad person?  …possibly.)

After a few minutes of debating with himself and looking further down the map MB decides to just pick a direction and hope for the best…I mean, it’s not like it would be the first time.

***

You remember the movie Labyrinth?  If not, I would be happy to give you a one woman show BECAUSE IT IS AWESEOME (David FREAKIN Bowie).  Anyway, I digress…do you remember this scene – go to about the 2min mark:

That pretty much sums up what it is like to drive around on back roads through France (minus the hot androgynous fairy king).  On the highways it is no problem, even the smaller national highways are great and well-signed but once you get off the beaten path, you are on your own.  Street signs may or may not exist and the indicated directions often have an “all roads lead to Rome” style.  Even for MB it can be a struggle.

“OH please, she is just being silly, I mean, doesn’t she know everyone has GPS these days.” 

HA!  I scoff at your GPS…and so does France.  Do you remember that episode of “The Office” when Michael drives into a lake because the GPS tells him to?  Yeah, well, that scenario happened to us in Provence (incidentally, we chose not to drive into the large tree indicated).

“Yeah, but I’ll still have my IPhone, I can pull up maps or call someone.”

No you can’t, France will take away your cell phone reception too.  When you are traveling through the countryside, cell phone reception is spotty, to say the least.  Basically, consider back roads as a personal challenge issued to you from France.

FRANCE:  HA!  You want to go on a nice weekend road trip?  That is fine but don’t think it will come easy – you have to work for it!

ME:  But France, WHHHHHHY?!

FRANCE:  Don’t question me – I am France, I am full of enigmas!

That is pretty much how the challenge is issued.

So, when that moment arrives and your GPS tells you to drive into someone’s barn, dust off those wilderness skills (Girl Scouts 4 EVA), pull out one of those old-fashioned paper things with directions on it and figure out from the placement of the sun which way is North…

…or stop and ask for directions – the answer can’t be nearly as confusing as trying to figure it out yourself.

 

*In the Map!  Remember this from “Friends?”

When You Have Paris

Holidays in France, Life in General, Living Abroad, Travel in France

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

There are some cities that work on you like a potion (I was going to say like drugs but potion sounds so much prettier – even Lewis Carroll knew that).  I find my energy and attitude changes depending on these types of towns.  In New York, my god, I can’t help it I just feel COOL.  All the time, the whole time, no matter how un-cool what I am doing is…like riding the elevator to the top of the Empire State building…the city just infuses me with a sense of coolness.  In New Orleans, I feel zany, almost child-like, always ready to have a party, someone who doesn’t just stop to smell the roses but stops, smells them and then buys them a drink (who knew roses were so boozy?).  Wellington, NZ makes me feel like a hip adventurer: “Go swimming in Orca infested waters that are near arctic temperatures, you say?   Pfff…that’s just a Tuesday.”  In Sydney, I feel sophisticated and laid-back all at once…and for some reason, more attractive – must be something to do with being surrounded by surfers.  The point is, all these cities have big personalities, the type of personalities that can impart themselves upon you when you visit and bring out some inner part of your being, they affect you when you are there walking the streets and taking in the views.  They can shift your perspective and, in turn, your sense of self.

There is something quite delicious and exciting about this shift that occurs when you travel and I think it is a reason that we gravitate towards, and love, certain cities – it isn’t necessarily for the cities themselves but, instead, what happens to us when we are in them.

I remember, very distinctly, the first time I was in Paris alone.

MB and I were there for a long weekend and he went in to work that morning.  I, a new resident of France and of speaking French, got myself up and put myself together…more carefully put together than usual because Paris can do that to you, make you feel as though you should dress for her.  I slowly made my way down the stairs of our hotel and out into the crisp autumn air, my map carefully concealed, for whoever wants to be a tourist?

I turned right and then left, unsure of which way was best to make my way down the Seine towards the Louvre.  Unwilling to consult the dreaded carte, I turned left and soon realized that it made scant difference which direction I went as I could always cross over at some ridiculously gorgeous bridge or other in order to turn around.  I pulled my iPod out of my purse and switched it on, strolling slowly as Billie Holiday crooned in my ear.  Occasionally, I would stop and look at the posters and books displayed on the green stalls lining the sidewalk, sometimes I paused to lean onto the concrete barrier and take in a view…blue sky mixed with some piece of a man’s soul that had been carved into a thing so beautiful that it made my heart hurt.  At one point, I popped into a café and had a tea, sitting in my chair facing the street…allowing myself a moment to be an observer, no longer a participant, of the world.

It all felt desperately romantic.  And I, more romantic for being there.  I found myself reminiscing about things I hadn’t thought about in years, happy things, sad things, sweet moments of my life that tend to remain forgotten and dormant under layers of practicality and daily doings.  I felt as though my soul was sighing contentedly…I wasn’t stopping to smell the roses, I was the roses.

Later that evening, I met with MB and we sat at a café and shared a bottle of wine.

“How was your day,” he asked.  “I hope it was okay on your own.”

I took a sip of wine, wondering how to explain what I had felt like that afternoon.  “It was fine,” I say, pausing, searching for more words.  I find that none will come so I say the only thing I can think of.

“It was Paris.”

I love this little movie; it fully realizes my Paris.  If you would like to see more of these lovely films check out: http://oliveus.tv/   They are all deliciously charming!

Anxiety on the Death Star

Adjusting to France, Cultural Differences, Holidays in France, Travel in France

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.

Wassailing

Holidays in France, Uncategorized

“Quoi?”  MB calls out from the kitchen.

“Quoi what?”  I say this before the redundancy of it computes in my mind.

He steps out of the kitchen and into the living room where I am dancing like a maniac and going through my Christmas songs on Itunes to sort out a playlist for our upcoming party.  I grab his hand and make him dance with me which gets a laugh…one of his classic laughs in which I can tell he is trying really hard not to but can’t help it.

He kisses me on the cheek which is my cue to stop.  “What is this wassailing?”

“Oh,” I respond, putting “Here We go a-Wassailing”* on mute.  “You know, it’s to… “wassail.”  This seems like a totally logical answer to me.

“You don’t know what it means, do you?”

YES, of course I do, I sang this song when I was a kid!  Gaw!”  I have no idea what it is to “wassail.”

“So, what is it?”  He puts a hand on his hip and stands over my computer.

“Hold on…” I say, as I google it quickly.  “Huh…it is: 1 : an early English toast to someone’s health
2 : wild drinking : REVELRY.”

“So it is a Christmas carol about getting wasted?”  He asks me this with amusement on his face.

“No way, it can’t be,” I look up “wassailing” as opposed to the noun form “wassail” hoping there is some translation change; it isn’t much better.  “”Wassailing,” I read, “To go on a wild drinking spree.”

MB bursts out laughing.

“It also means to drink to someone’s health!”  I will defend “wassailing” forever!

He pats me on the head and walks back to the kitchen.  My whole childhood has just morphed into an old English drinking song.

When I was little I was a Girl Scout.  We had meetings once a week and events like camping (okay so camping in cabins not in tents but get real…we have bears in Tennessee) and selling Girl Scout cookies throughout the year.  I remember learning how to light a match, how to sew a button (quit giving me that look, Mom, just because I don’t do it well doesn’t mean I don’t know how), and I can still pick out poison oak.  Somewhere in the attic there is a sash with badges on it and I still keep in touch with a few girls from my troop and one of them even came to my wedding this year.

Every Christmas my Mother (a “forever” Girl Scout) would get the girls together over at our house and take us caroling in the neighborhood.  My Mother an avid…dare I say “hardcore”, caroler loved the tradition and so did I.  It was awesome and SO much cooler than it sounds…I swear.  We would all meet at someone’s house and dress up in super warm clothes and drink hot chocolate and afterwards we would have a cookie party.  It was fun to go out into a cold wintery night with all your best friends and sing songs to strangers.  Carolers are often made fun of in movies or on sitcoms but let’s face it – in this day in age it is pretty amazing to have a bunch of strangers show up at your door and sing songs to you for no other reason than to spread some cheer.

I remember one year in particular back in the late 80’s.  After the adults made sure we were all warmly attired in our totally cool purple, green, and fuchsia winter wear (I’m just assuming…I did say late 80’s) we set out with our song books into the wily streets of High Point Terrace in Memphis (this will be funny to anyone from Memphis).  We went to house after house singing our songs and generally being “ooh’d” and “awe’d” over by all the folks in the neighborhood (perhaps another reason we all loved Christmas caroling…a nice little ego boost if I do say so).

Only a few doors down from my house we came and knocked on a door.  Now let me give a little lesson in caroling for you novices out there, it’s not like you ring the doorbell and wait to take requests; you ring or knock and then get going with your song – if the people living there don’t like it then they are scrooges, plain and simple.  At this house my Mother whispered to us to start singing “Silent Night.”  The porch stayed quiet as we began our song and we started to wonder if they were going to open the door; we could see people in there.  Suddenly the door swung wide and the whole family was standing there.  I remember having a very odd sensation of seeing so much light around them as we stood on the dark porch.  While we sang I noticed their arms going around each other and hugs being given, heads rested on shoulders, a couple of the people even cried.  We had never made such an impact.  Later my Mother explained to us that the man who had lived there had died a few days ago and that the family was there comforting each other.

It was a special moment in my life, maybe it was a special moment in theirs.  Maybe it is a story that they still tell in their family about the night that Grandpa died and little girls showed up at the door during the wake and sang “Silent Night.”  We didn’t understand while we were singing what had happened and we only sort of understood later but I understand now and it can still bring a tear to my eye thinking about it; thinking about the fact that the simplest acts that you commit in your life can bring a sense of peace, a sense of thankfulness, a sense of joy and love to a complete stranger…and sometimes when they need most to not feel alone in this world.  I understand that often God or the Universe or Mother Nature, or whatever you believe in will use you as a tool for good even when you aren’t trying.

When I asked my Mother about this story to make sure I was telling it right she was so pleased that I remembered caroling and had happy memories of it.  She told me that the reason she always hosted this party was because of a memory she had when she was a little girl.  “It was probably only once in my life – one year,” she wrote, “The cold, the holiday season, the thrill of singing with others, the smiles on the other side of the doorway.  I still recall the intense delight I felt.”  It’s funny, isn’t it?  That two women in different stages in their life still think about and remember fondly singing to strangers a few times when they were children.

My Mother said that when we would go caroling sometimes people would try to give us money.  They would want to know why we were caroling, they assumed we were doing it for something.  Well…we were.  Maybe it sounds cheesy and maybe it is too trite for some people but we were just doing it to spread cheer.

So, “Wassail” my friends!  Drink an extra glass of egg nogg or vin chaud, be unnecessarily cheerful, sing songs too loudly, and allow yourself to be used in the crafting of someone’s happy holiday memories.

*Note – there are two different “Wassailing” songs around the holidays and neither is for Christmas but for the New Year.  There is “Here we go a –wassailing” and there is also (my favorite) “Wassail, Wassail”. 

Happy Holidays Everyone!  I’ll be back in the New Year!!

Holiday Season Part II: Spreadable Meat and Hot Wine

Cultural Differences, French Food, Holidays in France, Uncategorized

Alright, so we already know my favorite USA Christmas things…now for France!

7) Animatronics.  Yeah, that’s right…animatronics, love ‘em.  A merry band of robotic, glassy-eyed zombie bears playing Christmas Carols = awesome!  (maybe I’ve been watching too much Walking Dead)    This is something that I discovered last year during the Christmas season in France and that I found very random/charming.  I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s not like I’ve never seen animatronics at home but I feel like there are more of them here in France during the holidays…which totally confuses me.  When I think of the French I think of them being uber-cool; I do not think of them as being animatronics people  (then again, Euro Disney has managed to survive) so it was quite a surprise when I started to notice Christmas animatronics all over town…at the marchés, at the magasins, at the malls, even at Carrefour.  Who would have ever suspected that the French would embrace something so…well, geeky?  Jerry Lewis probably would have guessed it.

6) The Chocolate Aisle ON STEROIDS.  In a previous post I wrote about the chocolate aisle at the grocery stores in France and all its glory (https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/chocolate-frogs-and-salty-dogs/).  Well, imagine that aisle winning the Tour de France 7 times on ‘roids and you would have the Christmas chocolate aisle.  (woah…did she just make an inappropriate joke about Lance Armstrong?  NOT cool)  Actually, once the holiday season arrives it isn’t even an aisle anymore but an entireSECTION of the grocery store, a section filled with mountainous towers of Lindt Truffles, Kinder Surprise, and Lanvin l’escargot (why shouldn’t chocolates be shaped like snails, don’t judge).  What’s even more nefarious awesome is that these sections are usually right at the entrance of the store…that’s right, the same masterminds at Carrefour (cue thunderclap and eerie music) who will only have three registers open on a Saturday afternoon have managed to figure out that forcing you through this chocolate mini-nation will effectively force you to buy some.  There is no defense against it…and I embrace that; if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

5) CRAZY Christmas Lights (part II).  Okay, so we have established that in the U.S. people go a little over the top decorating their houses…in France it is not like that, in France they keep their decorum at home and instead go over the top decorating their towns.  All over the city centres there are lights running up and down the streets, maybe hanging over the streets, dangling down the sides of buildings, and hanging from every light pole.  And it isn’t just the main streets; you can find light displays on the smaller side streets as well.  You will never walk down an un-festive street and it really makes going into town more fun…especially when that special Grenoble “icnoain” (that would be ice/snow/rain) is pissing down out of the sky (no bitterness).  The only thing that could make this more fun and awesome would be if they would take the decorations down during the rest of the year instead of leaving them up which violently murders Christmas spirit…evil.*

4) Spreadable meat.  Now, I realize that spreadable meat in France is not just attached to the Christmas season but I’m using it as one of my favorite things anyway because much like the grocery store chocolate it is just MORE at the Christmas season.  For instance, MB and I might normally have a can or two of pate lying around for a party or some such occasion but just last week we bought over 40euros worth of pates and foie gras creations (because you can stuff everything with foie gras and shove it in a can…including magret canard which we discovered is amazing) from a vendor at the neighborhood market because…well, it was there.  Do you remember what happens if you get the Gremlins wet (if not, rent the Christmas classic Gremlins and enjoy 80s ridiculousness at its finest)?  Well, that is pretty much what happens to pate in France during the holidays.  Normally, there might be one stand at your neighborhood market and a shelf or two at the grocery store; but during Christmas time, it multiplies.  Suddenly, it’s like you can’t get away from spreadable meat options – they are everywhere, taunting you with their fatty goodness, duck, goose, wild boar, rabbit, all of them mixed together.  Whatever kind of spreadable meat situation you want, you can have in France during the holidays…just remember to take your Lipitor.

3) Vin Chaud.  Wine is already tremendous.  It is fruity, it is alcoholic, it comes in a wide variety of flavors, and (saints be praised) it is even good for you…in moderate amounts blah blah blah…fine print…blah blah.  So how could wine possibly become any more comforting and awesome?  Not possible, right? WRONG – heat that b-tch up and make it spicy.  In England they call it mulled wine, in France it is vin chaud (hot wine…which sounds funny so I like to say it) and is basically red wine with a variety of spices in it, heated up.  Again, it’s one of those few things that makes winter worth struggling through and definitely one of my favs about being in France during the holidays.

2) Easy Presents.   Okay, so this isn’t necessarily a French Christmas thing but it is a Christmas thing for me while living in France so I’m using it.  Living in a country that produces some of the yummiest food products in the world makes Christmas shopping ridiculously easy.  While other people back home are searching to find those perfect gifts for their loved ones, all I have to do is buy some cheese and spreadable meat and we’re all good.  And the best part is that everyone always loves it, in fact I don’t think anyone in the history of the world has received a gift box of French food and not been happy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Roman provincial governors were sending back parcels of Gallic goodies home.

Two Roman sentinels are stationed in Gallic territory and standing outside the praetorium shooting the breeze.

Gaius:  So, what are you going to send Aurelia and the boys for Saturnalia?

Sextus:  I don’t know, you know, the boys want some swords but clearly that is better bought in Rome.

They kick a passing Gaul and laugh to each other.

Sextus:  I think Aurelia wants a new dress.  I’ll probably just get a gift certificate.

Gaius:  No way!  It’s not personal – Helena tells me it’s tacky so I’ve never gotten her one.

Sextus:  Well, alright tough guy, what are you sending?

Gaius:  Gallic Gift Baskets.

Sextus:  Huh?

Gaius:  You know food from the region, specialties.  I make my slave put it together – it’s awesome.  Always a hit!

Sextus:  Really?

Gaius:  Yeah, everyone loves Gallic food, come on.  It’s better than having everything taste like garum!

SCENE.

I’m pretty sure that is exactly how it all went down.  However, the point is that not only do I not have to fight holiday shopping crowds but I also have the assurance that the gift will be well-received.  High-five, France!

1) Marche de Noel.  In the U.S. we have Marchés de Noël…they are called malls.  In France (and all of Europe really) most towns have these ridiculously adorable Marchés de Noël that do not involve Forever 21 or Taco Bells**; these marches, on the other hand,  are like delightful little alpine villages that crop up in the middle of your city centres.  The marchés have little pathways that weave around small stands with vendors selling a variety of games, toys, etc (most of it is crap but you know…still cute), there might be some musicians (they may or may not be animatronic) and people selling Christmas carols, there will definitely be a large variety of artery-clogging, delicious food (did anyone say foie gras sandwich?), and there will undoubtedly be plenty of vin chaud.  Basically the Marché de Noël manages to combine almost everything I love about Christmas-time in Europe.  It is Christmas spirit and liveliness, cheerful people and music…and an unhealthy dose of booze and high-fat foods.

*I could go on about this subject for a very long time as it is something that has irritated me the entire time I have lived in France.  WHY oh WHY can they not take down the decorations in the off-season?  I mean, won’t that give people jobs…not to mention make it possible for me to see them without screeching in annoyed outrage?

**This is not a diss to Taco Bell.  I love Taco Bell with every fiber of my being, yes, I know what is in it and no, I don’t care whatsoever.  I would eat 5 burrito supremes right now if I could.

Holiday Season Part I: A Few of My Favorite Things

Cultural Differences, Holidays in France

I love Christmas…possibly to an annoying degree (definitely if you ask MB).  I love the music, I love the movies, I love the decorations, I love the food, I love the whole holiday spirit.  In fact, even winter (which I hate with every fiber of my being) becomes somewhat tolerable during the Christmas season because everything is just so darn cute!  So, with that in mind, this week kicks off Bread is Pain’s Christmas Season!

First off, I am going to share my favorite things about Christmas in USA.

7)  24 Hour Holiday Radio.  MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  This is the bane of so many people’s existence during the holiday season.

Oh, I think I’ll just flip on the radio….BWAH, Christmas Carols on the pop station, negative, let me try again…Mariah Carey Christmas album?  She isn’t even the right genre for this station; this is the hard rock station.  Maybe Jazz will save me, let me just tune the dia-Bing Crosby?!  COME ON!”

While others desperately try to avoid holiday tunes; I actively search them out.  Midnight on Thanksgiving is a happy happy time for me and those like me because I know at that point there will be at least three, if not more, radio stations that will play Christmas Music 24 hours a day until Christmas.  At no point during this time period do I have to run an errand “festivity-free”; I will always have Nat, Elvis, and Dolly keeping me company and excited about Christmas.  AND as an added extra bonus, I am able to gleefully torture those around me who hate it and what is more Christmasy than that?

6)  Chriskwanzaka.  This just makes me laugh.  It is so purely American.  If you need more info: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Chriskwanzaka

5) CRAZY Christmas Lights.  When I was little, one of my favorite things to do during the holidays was to drive around and see all the over-the-top lights people had put up on their houses and now is no different, I still enjoy seeing all the insane displays that people have taken the time to put together.  (“God, it’s not insane, it’s just being really into the holiday spirit and making things pretty for people’s enjoyment, why is she so rude?”)  For instance, there is a house in my hometown that coordinates their outdoor Christmas lights to one of the radio stations (“I take back what I just said that is nutso”).  That’s right, their lights are timed to flick on and off in rhythm to the Christmas music being played on a particular AM station that I guess they highjack every year for this express purpose (Manheim Steamroller if you are curious and yes it is totally freaking awesome).  Each year traffic will be backed up around their house because people stop their cars out front to watch – this is going crazy over Christmas lights but it is also unbelievably fun.

4) Christmas Movies.  When I am in the U.S. during the holiday season there is no end to the amount of Christmas movies that I will watch.  I mean, I love the classics: Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas*; but if I am going to be honest, I’m not that choosy.  I will watch a lifetime original Christmas movie:  She was in an abusive relationship, physically injured, mentally depressed, and emotionally cold…until one foggy Christmas Eve when Rudy became Santa’s only hope and everything changed.  I will also happily sit down and watch a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie:  Their daughter Tammy has leukemia, the bank is foreclosing, and the world’s most unrealistically nice and honest people, the Cratchit’,s are starting to lose hope.  Can a brand new angel trying to find his way in our wacky world save their Christmas Spirit?  Tune in Sunday and then subsequently every day this week to find out.  In the meantime watch this advertisement about a Mother tirelessly working during Christmas and thinking that her family hasn’t noticed only to find the nicest and most sentimental Christmas card in the history of the world left for her by her daughters…then cry for a while and call your Mom, you a-shole.

Point being, I’m not picky, I just want uplifting and possibly stupid Christmas stories all season long.

3) The Salvation Army Santas.  I love spontaneous charity.  If I happen to have a random opportunity to give to a good cause I do it which is one of the reasons that I love the Salvation Army during Christmas time.  There is not a grocery store or mall that you can go to during the holiday season where these hard working volunteers aren’t standing out in frigid temperatures ringing their bells.  This provides me with the opportunity to feel like an awesome and virtuous person every time I run out to buy wine and cigarettes  milk and cookies.  Now, as if feeling morally superior plus getting rid of all of that pesky pocket change (and actual bills if you need an extra dose of superiority…sometimes I do) isn’t enough of a treat our Salvation Army Peeps also don Santa hats and the more occasionally and therefore super exciting full Santa outfit…and let’s face it; it is always great to see Santa.  Which brings me to my next point…except when it’s not…

2) Mall Santas.  When I was growing up in the U.S. during the 80’s we heard a lot about “stranger danger”: “never go anywhere with a stranger, never tell a stranger your name, in fact, screw it, don’t even TALK to them, definitely don’t take candy from them, and if a stranger wants you to sit on their lap then you run**!” 

Enter Santa.

Is it any wonder that we all have photos of ourselves terrified, crying hysterically while possibly wetting our pants on random Santa’s laps?  I mean, while Nancy Reagan was on TV lecturing me about “pushers” and “just say no” at no point did she say, “Except at Christmas, taking candy from that random dude who wants you to sit in his lap it totally cool.”  And apparently, the 21st century is no different.  I would be lying (although a better person) if I said that I didn’t laugh a little bit every time my friends post a Facebook picture of their kid crying on Santa’s lap; I mean, it is crazy, why are we still doing this?  Are their kids that actually like it or is it just to entertain miscreants like me?  Either way, I’m a full supporter of mall Santas…I mean, what would a holiday be without a little creepy mixed in?

1) Egg Nogg.  Egg Nogg is awesome.  In fact, it is so awesome that during the Christmas of 1826, the cadets at West Point smuggled in booze so that they could make their Egg Nogg and subsequently started a riot**.  If you are unfamiliar with this potent and wildly unhealthy drink, let me briefly explain:  egg nogg is a drink consisting of rum or whiskey, heavy cream, a bunch of sugar, about one million egg yolks, and then some seasonings like cinnamon or cloves so that it tastes like Christmas.  It is delicious but is also dangerous for a variety of reasons:  A) It tastes like super good milk so you don’t realize how much booze you are drinking.  B) It has an insane amount of cholesterol, fat, and sugar so it may induce heart failure.  C) As evidenced, it has been known to cause riots.  But you know what?  It is so darn good, I don’t care.  I’ve always said there should be more cholesterol in alcohol.

So, there you have it, a few of the things that I miss about being back Stateside during the holidays.  Next week, I’ll give you a list of the things that I love about being in France for the holidays.

What are your favorite holiday things?

*Speaking of, did they change the Charlie Brown voices?  Someone told me they did and I am horrified.  It’s like when they tried to colorize Citizen Kane and Orson Welles said “Don’t touch my film with your crayolas!”  Don’t mess with Orson Welles and NEVER mess with Charles Schultz!

** I am not making this up:  http://www.army.mil/article/49823/The_Eggnog_Riot/  I am also not making this up: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/duel/peopleevents/pande22.html  Americans don’t take kindly to people messing with their booze.

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.