In 2002 Sarah Turnbull (an Australian reporter/author) wrote a book called ‘Almost French’ about her ‘new life in Paris’ with her French boyfriend. When I read the book back then I found many of her observations rang true for me (such as learning to appreciate interminable meals). I rediscovered this book when opening cartons of our belongings (that had been in storage for 2.5years). I was curious to see how Sarah was coping with her life in Paris these days…..but as it turns out, she and her (now) husband Fred are now living in Australia!
After the 32-hour trip back to France from Australia I was excited to see the sun shining on the first day and then whilst walking to the center of town to stumble upon the local ‘Foire a l’Ancienne d’Autrefois Challans’ (Old fashioned Festival of Challans of another era) . This event takes place 4 times during July and August involves a large number of locals dressing up and re-enacting the way of life in the early1900’s.
With the enthusiasm of an excited puppy I approached a group of young girls dressed in period costume and asked them if I could take a photo to which they gave the surly reply that I hadn’t said ‘please’.
I was immediately flung back to a time – 15 years ago during my first year of life in France – one afternoon I’d lost my way whilst walking and had asked a passer-by for directions (in my very broken French). In an indignant tone he said that he did not wish to be spoken to in the informal manner ‘tu’ but with the formal manner ‘vous’ (which involves more complicated verb conjugations). I don’t recall if he gave me directions.
Being ‘polite’ – in the formal sense – is very important in France. Now whilst I believe that how one says something is as important as what they say and that being ‘polite’ extends way beyond just words and grammar, this is not a time for arguments…I should (just suck it up Jenni!) have said ‘S’il vous plait’.
My intention is to keep my mind and heart open and not to use the useless concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’…..AND of course…… remember to say please. I might also keep in mind Sarah Turnbull’s observation; “ To be a true insider you need that historical superglue spun from things like French childhood friends and memories of school holidays on the grandparents’ farm and centuries of accumulated culture and complications.”
As my husband grew up in Challans, we have enjoyed time spend with his family and some of his childhood friends (some of whom recognized him as he was jogging down the street). We do however (and this is surely to be expected) feel like we are outsiders.
Also as expected, the food has not disappointed me. We have enjoyed home-cooked meals with melons (cantaloupes), mussels, pipi shells (pignons) freshly collected from the beach at low tide before being lightly cooked in butter and garlic, mouth-cutting baguettes with a huge assortment of cheeses, and fruit tarts with plums and or apricots.
After an initial adjustment period of a few days staying at my mother-in-law’s (time to recuperate from the voyage, reconnect, be fed and to buy a car) the next 2 weeks were spent 15mins away right on the west-coast of France in the beach-resort town of St Jean de Monts – enjoying the beach and coastal forests (until our permanent home became available).
During this time I felt the strongest pull to be close to the earth –I found myself lying down on the fine sand, the carpet of pine-needles, the prickly lawn…..to feel the breeze move over my body, to watch insects scamper/fly and to listen to the birds/waves crashing. Living in Shanghai over the past 2 years taught me many things, one of which is to be particularly grateful for fresh air, clean water and blue skies.
We are now in our little ‘permanent’ home. When I met the neighbors (a retired couple) the first phrase that they used was ‘c’est calme ici’ (it’s quiet and calm here)….I’m not sure if this was a warning (ha ha ha). We still have no internet nor land-line telephone and we are without most of our belongings (which are still in a container somewhere between China and France) and are reminded yet again that we don’t really need most of them.
I feel like the ‘honeymoon’ period is nearly over and I’m eager to look into possibilities here (such as employment, associations, yoga etc.) but in France, like much of Europe, nothing really happens over the summer period of July and August.
As Confucius advises (in the book that I just read during our holidays ‘Confucius from the Heart’ by Yu Dan): ‘Do what is in front of you as well as you can; there’s no need to worry about most things, so dont’ worry about them‘.
Ps. Mum is still in hospital but she is now in the rehabilitation ward with a goal to move back home at the end of the week and then to receive palliative cancer/chemotherapy treatment once she is strong enough. She and dad sound positive and strong. Thank you everyone for your well wishes and positive ‘vibes’ which are greatly appreciated.