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?
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: 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 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.
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!
France: Bourgnone, 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 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.