⪧ We left our life in New York City to make a new one in Provence ⪦

October 6, 2009

Last Night.

My friend Kendall was here visiting Paris and he came my way yesterday. We spent time meandering and talking and talking. I was telling him it is always gratifying to spend time with friends from my original cultural context. There are many layers to that - place, people, religion, references and of course, language. France has been challenging on levels I never expected it to be. Socially, for instance. Generally, I flit about and have the impression that I please people around me. Generally, that is, in my life - until I arrived in France (alright, I'll be honest - I wasn't as staggering a hit in Oxford as I thought I would be either). I've been startled by people's reaction to my approach...when my extended hand on their arm while I speak is met by what looks like repulsion on their face. While teaching English, I was told more than once, "You cannot touch people when you talk." I've also tried consistently to charm people with warm eyes or a big smile - effortless at home - sometimes totally ineffective here. Humor is another struggle for anyone who is not in her own language. Xavier does a great job with this, but even he, I think, would admit that there is something that just catches right - timing, references, tone - in your own language. I've become more malleable in all of these senses since coming to France. I mean, now the lady at the boulangerie meets my gaze and we've even had a good laugh together. With time, I think you basically learn to read people, and on their terms rather than your own. Still, you are always reading. So, when I laughed wholeheartedly at Kendall's stories or finished sentences or ideas for him - or him for me, I felt the social grease that seems to have often ducked out for me here in France. All in all, great conversation - plunging far, no context needed. Ahh.

Now for the picture above. The bird-woman, singing away in her red canary dress, was our entertainment when we took a break from talking. She was a character. She was part of a performance at Madeleine - the end of the long line of trees below. It was relishable, even if it was fashioned for the tourist in Paris...Ave Maria, Pachelbel's Canon in D, Mozart's Night Music and Vivaldi's Four Seasons - easy listening, if you will, in the field of classical music. Nonetheless, she was something to watch. She kept us tilted forward. Her voice was lovely but little, almost elfin. In such a grand space as that church, I think she would need to put on 25 pounds to have the mass necessary to project properly. The thing that got me was that while singing, her inhale was frantic. She was unconvinced that she would make it, so naturally, so were we. Unhinged she was. Ah well. The dress was a sight.

And then we had a stop at Fauchon, of course, for some lovely bread, cheese, honey, tea and chocolate. We were instructed to place the cheeses in the fridge for 25 minutes before serving. "Not more or they will lose their gelatinous quality." I love that kind of French specificity. That little jar of honey was 15 euros - and, yes, the honey jar is smaller than the cylinder of chèvre perched nearby. I think three big tablespoons would empty the jar. Heaven. Three tablespoons of heaven.

(Photo from their site. You've got to love their branding - effulgent and then mad as a March hare).


Jill said...

I was so jealous when Kendall said he was going to visit you. I would loved to have been there, enjoying that honey and laughing with you. I'm so glad you enjoyed his visit.

I can't wait for him to get home so I can press him for all the details!!

Shelli and Gene said...

You know, I keep hearing that Americans who behave in the ways you describe, American cultural interactions, are looked upon askance by the French. And so I find myself wondering if the French friends I have made think of me as some sort of pet, someone who's accepted only on very specific terms. I hope not. That would make me sad. I prefer to think the stereotype of both types of cultural interactions is just that, a stereotype, and not in fact true.


Emilie said...

yes, shelli - i suppose i must come off sounding rather categorical, trying to group people and their actions a lot here. there are differences between cultures - that is unequivocal. but stereotypes are only as useful as they are. i am pleased to hear that you manage to be much more nuanced in your approach with the french and don't find yourself lacking 'social grease' as i do at times.

Shelli and Gene said...

Emilie, it's not that I have any more 'social grease' than you, I'm quite sure. You've been here a lot longer and are deeper into the fabric and I think you probably are right in your observations.

I really am wondering if maybe what I assume is acceptance on the part of French friends is something closer to tolerance of my foibles as an American. Just another example of American insecurity, no doubt.

I'm going to miss your blog when you leave Paris.


Emilie said...

oh no shelli! stay really positive with the french. i think our interactions have so much to do with what we give off first, so it is a cycle. we give off generosity and we get it back. it is one thing i've had a hard time doing here sometimes and if i could do (could have done) anything better, it would be that. i would really try to assume less and just be open - not to box people before i interact with them. i value that so much and at times, i've been caught up in stereotypes and differences more than in really trying to connect. i admire that you are doing that...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...