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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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. 

To Err is Human

Learning French

“ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL…, ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR…repeté s’il te plait!”

“ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL, EAIIIRRRRRASDKFLJSKDGLJKSRRRRRR”

“Non, non!  Attention!”  My French professor claps her hand and points to me.  “You! Watch my mouth, yes?  ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL, ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR…okay?”

I look at her helplessly and place my tongue on the top of my mouth.  “ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL,” then move the tongue to behind my front teeth, “EAIIIRRRRRASDKFLJSKDGLJKSRRRRRR…”

“I do not understand,” she looks at me with irritation.  “Why you cannot do this?  ERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.”  She says it even more slowly as though somehow I was confused.  The letter “R” is written on my worksheet and on the board and coming out of her mouth…I get it…I just can’t pronounce it.

You might think that learning the French language is the hardest part, and it is difficult, but the accent presents a whole new challenge.  In attending French classes, I thought that we would be studying vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and we did; but I had no idea about the amount of time we would spend doing things like repeating, “ohhhhhh….ahhhhhh….ehhhhh” in order to retrain my American mouth to make the right shape.

In many countries, you wouldn’t bother to even try to perfect your accent.  It is considered “cute” to have an accent and makes you more attractive and appealing…but this isn’t many countries, this is France.  And while there are some French people who will tell you that your accent in French is adorable, more often than not they will spend copious amounts of time correcting each and every pronuncial (yes, I just made that word up) infraction that you make, no matter how great or small.

This isn’t done in a rude way or a mean way, just a very matter-of-fact way:

“Oui, mon copain aider (ah-day)—,” I might begin.

“Aider (eh-day).”  They will say this correction swiftly before you have even managed to finish your sentence.

“Ah oui, pardon, eh-day moi avec le lecon (less-on).”

“Lecon (loose-on).”

“Ah oui…avec le “loose-on” une (ahhh).”

“Une (ahn).”

“Quoi?”

“Tu dit une (ahhhhhhhhh) mais c’est une (ahn).  C’est obvious, non?”

No.

By the time this rigmarole is over you have either a) forgotten what it was you were trying to say or b) lost your motivation to try to speak.  While this can be an extremely exhausting practice, I continue to press on…bad pronunciation and all.  I know that I’ll never be able to make the ERR sound properly but that’s okay, because after all, “to err is human, to forgive, divine” and maybe someday the French will forgive me.

Santé Death Stare

Cultural Differences

LASER EYES!

Muhahahahaha!  I will over-power you with my vision!   (queue evil laugh again)

In my mind, I see myself in a sort of Wonder-Woman-esque costume, hands on hips, with red lasers shooting out of my eyes.

“Why you do it like this?”  MB is rolling his eyes at me.

“Huh?  What?”  I am snapped out of my role as super-villain.

“Pfff, nothing…santé?”  MB looks at me patiently, glass in hand.

“Oh, right…santé!”  We raise our glasses to our lips as I continue to stare at him psychotically.

MB smirks.  “You are reedeeculous.”

“Hey,” I spark up in my own defense.  “I’m just following ze rules!”

You know that whole saying about breaking a mirror and having seven years bad luck?  Well, try this on for size…in France, if you “santé” incorrectly you get seven years of bad sex (leave it to the French).  So, it is no surprise that this was one of the first things that I learned about French culture.  While, getting a tutorial on the kissing thing* would have been infinitely helpful; instead, my first tutorial was on toasting.

I was in Australia with several of MB’s French friends (ex-pats tend to flock together).  We had all just poured wine and I did my usual American all-glasses-in-at-the-same-time “cheers”!

“What?  No, you cannot do eet like theez.”  His friend Pierre says to me.

“What, are the toasting police going to come and get me?”  I’m so funny.

“No, I do not think so.”  Pierre is not amused.

“So you are telling me there are rules for toasting?”

“They are not rules; it is just the way eet eez.”  Pierre says this matter-of-factly, like, “why weren’t you aware, American?”

“Okay, so what is the way eet eez?”  For some reason they are not charmed by my French accent.

“No crossing,” says Jean.  “This is not okay, if your glass goes in, it must go directly to a person.  Do not cross arms with someone else.  This is very bad.”

The other Frenchman nod emphatically and I start to wonder if I should be taking notes.

“Also, you do not start until everyone has their glass,” says Stephen.  “This is very rude, yes?”

He looks at me pointedly.  I think he could tell that I was about to pull the trigger on my wine glass during the tutorial.  I lower it with a disappointed sigh.

“But, the most ahmportant thing eez that you must look into the eyes of the person when you touch their glass, like theez…”

Pierre lifts his glass towards me and looks briefly into my eyes.  I widen my eyes and give him the laser stare.

“I think you are a beet dramatique but theez is better than nothing.”

And then, we toasted…one by one, with eye-contact, and no crossing!

Now you have been given the official tutorial.  So take notes, rehearse, and be ready for your next French apéro!

*I still get the kissing wrong sometimes…sometimes three kisses, for children sometimes just the one. What the heck?  How are you EVER to know?!

BAM! Frenchman Impressed!

French Food

By many, it is considered impossible to impress the French; I have, however, found a loophole.

During my most recent trip to le boucherie with MB, the butcher started chatting to me about being American.  Apparently, he had been a butcher in San Francisco for a stint (I’d love to know what that visa was).  After discussing the prerequisite things: where are you from, what are you doing here, etc.; he moved on to every Frenchman’s favorite topic…

“In America, you eat this?”  He said as he held up the groin of a pig.

As if he didn’t know.

“Not so much,” I responded.  “We are a bit precious about what we are willing to eat.”

He looked at me sadly.  “Oui.”

I think there is nothing that depresses a French person so much as someone who doesn’t enjoy good food.

Quickly, MB stepped in, “She eats everything though; she is very good.”

I looked at him with an amused expression.  Apparently, this was a point of honor for him.

“Ah, mais c’est bon!”  The butcher says, smiling at me.  “Pour vous, mademoiselle…”  He says as he cuts a healthy slice of a gelatinous, multi-colored terrine.  “I want to present this to you.”

“Merci beaucoup,”   I say without flinching.

“You know what this is?”  There is a devilish smile on his face.

“Oui,” I return, pleased that I could get this one right.  “ Fromage de tete!  I have already tried it before and I like it.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_cheese)

The butcher grins from ear to ear; a look of happy approval spread across his face.

BAM!  Frenchman impressed!

Upon my arrival in Paris, I ordered not one but two steak tartares on the first day.  At the restaurant of the second steak tartare, the waiter tried to get me to order something different.

“Does she know what it is?”  He asked MB.

“Of course, it is her favorite!”  He told the waiter.  “She already had one for lunch!”

I smiled up at the smug waiter sweetly…waiting for it.  Slowly his smug look was replaced with one of surprised appreciation.

BAM!  Frenchman impressed!

Everyone knows that the French love their food but not everyone knows quite how excited they get about it.  MB still tells people about the first time we met and how I told him that cassoulet was one of my favorite dishes; this is what piqued his interest in me…an American girl who loved food (BAM! Frenchman impressed).  I remember him looking at me dreamily from across the table as I described how good a hot bowl of cassoulet is on a cold, wintery evening.  To this day, I don’t know whether it was me or the thought of cassoulet that put stars in his eyes.

On my first weekend to meet and visit his parents I know they must have been worried; what would this American girl be like?  Would she turn her nose up at stinky cheese?  What if she is a vegetarian?! * At the first dinner, I could feel the tremor of apprehension in the air as food was set on the table…will she eat it?  Foie gras, homemade pate, pickles from the garden…

I almost passed out from excitement.

I pleased them immensely by devouring, fully, everything that was set before me and having no problem accepting the ‘seconds’ that were offered.  They were ecstatic.  (BAM!  Frenchmen impressed!)

The French connection with food is spiritual, in the truest sense of the word.  It is an integral part of every man, woman, and child; it is an integral part of being French.  Now, you might be thinking that all over the world people get excited about, and love to share, their food.  And to that, I say, the French are just like the rest of the world, only more so.**

Therefore, it is possible to impress the French; not just possible but utterly satisfying…on a variety of levels.    So, go for it!  Don’t order the hamburger or the steak frites; try the fromage de tete, order the tartare.  You might discover something that you love that you never knew existed and hey, even if you can’t stand it at least you have the satisfaction of surprising a society that has perfected the art of being blasé.

BAM!

*I’m not sure that the French government would allow foreign vegetarians into the country, as for the natural born vegetarians…they are tolerated.

**subtle Casablanca reference for those of you in the know

 

 

 

 

 

The Girl in the Plastic Bubble

Learning French

“Foux da fa fa?”  Says one girl.*

“Feau de foux!  Foux da fa fa fa fa,” replies the boy she is talking to.

“Mais oui, a le feau de foux a fa fa.  Ceau le le le foux de fa fa fa.”

All of France has started to sound like a Flight of the Conchords song.

“Alors, foux da fa fa?”

“Baby?”  MB is looking at me questioningly.  I am bouncing my head slightly while singing internally.

“What?”  I look around startled and he nods his head toward the girl next to us.

“Oh!  Désolé,” I say to her, a bit embarrassed.  “Répéter s’il te plaît?”

“What is it that you do while you are in France?”  The girl replies to me in English.

I sigh.  I would have understood her question in French; I just wasn’t listening.

After six months in France, I have finally managed to perfect the ‘zone-out’.

Of course, when we first arrive to parties, there will be the obligatory conversations; just basic niceties that will last about ten minutes.  After the first half-hour of the party, however, fewer and fewer people are speaking to me so I just climb into my bubble.  It’s not a rude thing.  For them, it is frustrating to try to struggle through a slow conversation in basic French with the new girl (not exactly the recipe for a rockin’ time at a party).   And for me, it’s just as exhausting; all that concentration, trying to separate words only to understand the sentence thirty seconds too late and realize that the conversation has moved on.   In the past I would try to fake it, you know, nod when others nod or laugh when other laugh.  But eventually, that always ends up backfiring and you realize that you have just agreed that Stalin wasn’t all that bad and that actually the situation in Darfur is hilarious.  Talk about awkward.

Sometimes there will be children or teenagers at the party and that usually works out well.  They all speak perfect English and are usually pretty happy to practice with the ‘cool’ American (before the French hit adulthood, they still think we are cool).  They will sidle up to me at the table and give me that clear, quiet look of comprehension:  Yes, we understand; no one talks to us either. 

Therefore, until I perfect my French, I am relegated to my bubble or to the children’s table (not such a bad fate, the children’s table…beware, they pick up on everything).  So, if you speak to me and I seem to ignore you, don’t take it personally; I just don’t know what ‘foux da fa fa’ means!

*Credit where credit is due:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5hrUGFhsXo

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.

Genetics and Aperitif

Adjusting to France

“What are you doing ?’  MB has walked into the kitchen to find me scarfing down a bowl of pasta.

“What do you mean?  I’m eating,” I say as I shove another forkful into my mouth.

“Ouais…” he looks at me oddly.  “We are about to go to a dinner party.”

“I know.”

“So, why you are eating?”  MB looks thoroughly confused.

“Because I’m not French.”

I have decided that the French have a special gene that the rest of us (well, maybe Italians) don’t have; something akin to a wooden leg, something that allows them to consume copious amounts of wine without the slightest effect on their behavior.  While my French companions can blithely drink three or four glasses of wine on an empty stomach with no effect; I find myself clutching the table for support and hoping desperately that I can pull it together before dinner. 

Now normally, at a restaurant per se, you would just have one aperitif (often champagne) before the meal; however, it has been my experience that at dinner parties this rule is somewhat…flexible.  It would not surprise me to go to someone’s house for dinner and perhaps have wine for two hours before actually sitting down to eat.  Oh, but don’t worry, it is usually accompanied by something really substantive…like olives.  At one of the first dinner parties we hosted, I learned the dangers of beginning the evening in France with an empty stomach.  I will sum it up by saying at the end of the night I may have fallen off a chair, I definitely started a country music dance party, and I picked a ridiculous fight with MB a la “overly emotional teenage girl at prom”; there was crying.  The following 24 hours was spent nursing both a hangover and my ego. 

So what is a girl to do?  I can’t go into a dinner party and shovel all the olives into my mouth.  I can just imagine it…

“THE AMERICAN IS HERE!  Everybody run!!!!!!!!!!”  Accompanied by screaming, terrified French people pulling their children out of my way.

Nor can I realistically decline the offer of an aperitif.  1) Because I really like wine. 2) It would be considered quite an odd thing to do.

“This girl, she does not want the wine.”

“Quoi!  C’est bizarre!”

“Ouais, mais elle est Americaine…”

So, I eat snacks.  It may not be the perfect solution but until I figure out how to change my genetic coding, it’s the only one I’ve got!

Fromage Part II: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

French Food

The French attitude towards cheese is sort of like the porn industry’s attitude towards sex…no matter how bizarre your tastes are; someone out there is making something for you.

“Oh dear god, this is ridiculous.  MB – please, seriously!”  I have just opened our refrigerator and the smell of cheese has become completely over-whelming.  I am assaulted, almost knocked backwards by the pungent odour.    

“Quoi?”  He replies, as he wanders into the kitchen, unbothered.

“Are you really going to tell me you can’t smell this?”  I say, one hand on the refrigerator door and the other on my hip. 

“Ouais!!!  It smells amazing!”  I can practically see his tongue start to salivate. 

“Okay, I know, honey, but there is cheese from four months ago in there.”

“Ah oui?  Which ones?  They are probably perfect now!”

I can see my point is not getting across. 

“Okay, sweetie”, I say in my nicest voice, the same voice I would use if I were trying to coax a rabid dog away from a bone.  “The cheese is taking up about two-thirds of the fridge.”

“Ouais…”  He replies, nervously.

“We don’t have room for other groceries.”

He remains unphased, apparently a diet consisting entirely of cheese would be completely acceptable for him.

“I really need you to go through all this stuff and figure out which ones we are going to keep and which ones we are going to get rid of…please!” 

He looks like he’s been shot, and suddenly I feel no better than the Nazi officer in Sophie’s Choice.       

He gives me a sullen look, and then slowly begins to pull the cheese out of the refrigerator (it ends up covering the entire counter).  Gingerly, he opens each paper to see what treasure lies within.  There is brie from the market, the over-powering goat cheese that we bought from the farm in the mountains, the St. Felician that is almost completely liquid, the hard, soft, sweet, and bitter blues. The variety of mold is stunning.  I remember a cheese he once gave me that apparently had tiny little maggots in the surface which made it appear as though it were moving, ever so slightly.  Silently, I pray that we haven’t let that remain in the fridge for two months. 

He pulls out one huge round of what was once cheese and is now primarily a science experiment.

“Ah, okay, maybe this one we can get rid of,” he says, looking up at me. 

I stand stock-still and say nothing, not wanting to frighten away this inclination.

“No, what?  Am I crezee (crazy)?”  He looks relieved, as though he has just missed an incredibly close call with death.  “We can use this to make something great!  Maybe tartiflette!”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartiflette)

I think about this for a minute.  I mean, I really do like tartiflette.  Maybe we should go on and keep this cheese but others definitely have to go.

He continues on to the next one.  The mold is so thick I can’t even see the cheese underneath. 

“Oh MB, seriously, this ones gotta go!”

He cuts off one thick side to reveal the clean part of the cheese, and holds it up to my nose.  I almost pass out from the intensity of the smell…at the same time; my mouth starts to water a bit.  Damn you, tastebuds, you traitors!

“Perhaps in a fondue?”  MB looks at me and smiles.  He can sense my weakening resolve.

As we move through the cheese on the counter, a scraping of mold here, and a little trimming there creates the appropriate excuses to keep all the cheese.  One by one, they all end up returning to the refrigerator, only better organized. 

Finally, we come to the last ones.   He finds two little rounds of hard goat cheese (MB’s favorite), they are stuck together, one on top of the other, glued by a layer of dense, black, gooey-looking fungus.     He pulls them apart, and removes the offending fungus, then attempts to plunge a knife into the middle of one of them.  The knife nearly breaks in the process.  He pulls out a sharper knife and through great struggles, finally penetrates the cheese.  He pops a piece into his mouth and I hear a ‘crack’.

“Woah!”  He sticks a finger in his mouth. 

“What?  Is everything okay?  Oh my god, did you chip your tooth?”

“No, ca va.  I thought for a minute, I had though!” 

“Okay, so this one we can get rid of then?”

“Mais no…it is perfect, you want a piece?”

I look at him like he is crazy.  This man wants me to eat something that he almost cracked a tooth on. 

“Well, maybe just a little one.”

They eat horses, don’t they?

Adjusting to France, Cultural Differences, French Food

Watch this clip from The Neverending Storyhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y688upqmRXo.

This is what went through my mind shortly after my first experience eating horse meat.  We had just bought if from the chevaline (horse butcher), and we came home and ate it as a tartare…and god forgive me, it was delicious.  Every bite was riddled with the flavor of forbidden fruit; I could hear the angels weeping as I gobbled it down, yet still, I couldn’t stop myself.  What would Atreyu have thought of me?  He never would have fished Artax out of the swamp of sadness only to eat him.  But then, The Neverending Story wasn’t a French film. 

I remember when I first found out that they eat horse meat in France.

“What, are you serious?”  I looked at MB incredulously.  We were still living in Australia…a country where this idea would be absurd (why would you eat a horse when there are kangaroos?).

“Ouais…c’est normal,” he responded nonchalantly, as we strolled through the grocery store. 

“No,” I said.  “No, it is not normal!  How is that even legal?  They are horses!”

He didn’t react.

Horses,” I repeated, as though perhaps this emphasis would make The Yearling all of a sudden flash into his mind. 

“Quoi?” 

This was the end of the conversation.

In France, Seabiscuit wouldn’t have been Horse of the Year; he would have been dinner.

Coming to terms with this was, at first, shocking to me.  In the United States, it is illegal to sell horse meat in most states; in the U.K. it is legal but basically no one sells it.  Eating horse had just never previously occurred to me.  Sure, I knew that in ancient times the Mongolians would throw horse meat under their saddle to tenderize it before eating it tartare style (which must have had an interesting raw-hide, sweaty essence to it); but that was in the olden days right?  Not so much.  Horses are eaten in lots of countries, all over the world; and really, how could one expect the French not to eat something that is edible?  They have practically made a national pastime of frightening Anglos with their various “delicacies”.  Why would horse be any different?  Why should horse be any different?  I mean, what is it that makes this animal less appetizing than a friendly cow or a cute little lamb? 

And so it began…the rationalization that allowed me, the girl who cried when Boxer was sent to the glue factory in Animal Farm, to commit my horsey betrayal.

I have now eaten horse on two occasions. 

I mean, it does make for the best tartare on earth, being both rich in flavor and essentially devoid of fat.  Anyway, I have nothing to be ashamed of; lots of people do it.  Stop judging me!  Whatever, I don’t care; I know its okay.  I’m fine with it; I don’t feel guilty…at all.  So what if I haven’t been able to look a horse in the eye since?  That doesn’t mean anything!