Monday, May 19, 2008

"What's hard for Americans to realize in France ..."


Liam and I whisked through the Marche Bastille yesterday, looking for spring produce for Sunday dinner. We found sticks of rhubarb a meter long, our weekly eggs fresh out of the nest and white asparagus for 7.50 euro a bunch (pictured) that I insisted we get, "this is the kind of thing you can only get in France!"

Adjusting to living here has come in bits and pieces. I spent most of the winter saddened at the loss of chiles and corn and cupcakes and much of the spring yearning for our CSA box and an end to the rain.

After my recent trip to New York, I returned a bit more calm, a bit more adjusted. I don't think it's just the prospect of moving back, or the comfort even that I have now with two job offers in my pocket, but also the idea that one thing I had to realize about living here is that it's temporary, so many times to say "we can only do this in France!"

So I was saddened today to be interrupted as my writing group and I sat drinking cremes in a cafe at the tip of ile St. Louis, giggling over life changes and exploring issues of genocide and questioning whether the protagonist of a yet-to-be-published-novel would ever catch his Moby Cat.

Three American girls sitting in a corner, appreciating our walk over the Seine to this place, acknowledging the beauty of a sunny May day where we can review each other's work and give feedback and determine the best place nearby to get a French lunch, when an American man approaches us.

We'd noticed them, other Americans. In fact, the cafe was full of us this morning, appreciating the tops of Notre Dame sneaking outside of our horizon while we sipped our boissons. We had even shared that we are sometimes embarrassed as we heard a woman next to us ordering more and more loudly in order to make her herbal tea order heard.

So when this man approached us with a good morning, a small bow, "it's a beautiful day" - there was a collective pause.

"I need to share something with you ladies. The thing that we Americans don't notice is how loud we talk," he began, "in France you will notice that Parisians are very quiet, it's just something you come to learn...... " He went on for a minute while my adrenaline and anger battled each other as I tried to think of something to say.

"Are we bothering you?" Andrea asked incredulously, since we were tables and tables away from any other patron.

"Oh no," he backtracked, "but in a place like this your American voices can really carry. Anyway, thank you for taking time to listen to me. Enjoy your day." Another bow.

"It's internalized anti-Americanism!" Emily said, wanting to shout all the ways she's confronted the American stereotypes in her two years here.

"It's historical," Andrea countered, sharing the theory of space.

"He's just insecure," I added, "he's trying to let us little ladies know how to be more parisienne!"

We were determined to continue to sip our cremes and set up a date for next week, hoping someone might stop by and offer us another reprimand, now that we'd written out our responses, our angers, our ability to articulate what is really hard for Americans to realize in France.

2 comments:

granjan said...

Over and over in Switzerland I realized how much louder I was talking than the Swiss, no matter which language they were using! I, of course, and to my chagrin was only speaking in English.
What are the 2 job offers? We are dying to know.

brazista said...

ha! SO rude. but think about how this story contrasts with my own café nightmare (with loud americans in foreign lands). very funny...