Friday, August 15, 2008

When I checked out my blog stats yesterday, I was pretty surprised to find that my month-long hiatus didn't cut off any traffic. In fact, there were just as many readers as ever, mostly reading really old posts. I guess I'll have to leave this blog up for a while, so people looking for in-depth info on what expat life in Burkina is really like will still have something to read.

Not that France isn't exotic in it's own way. The natives are kind of odd and have strange ways. Here too is fertile turf for the anthropological researcher.

For example, my quest to blend in as a French housewife (participant-observer is a classic research technique) nearly came to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago. My über-French mother-in-law had come for a visit six days after we arrived in France. I had invited her down, as I feel that she has spent the last nine years unfairly deprived of her charming grandchildren. She is very kind, in a brusque sort of way, and we get along really well, but she has definite ideas about how things should be done. I know that is in the nature of the creature that is the MIL, but still...

One afternoon, she asked me what I'd be making for dinner. I hadn't been to to the market lately, so it took a minute or two to come up with an idea.

"Cauliflower, I guess. And pasta..."

"Pasta?!" "With CAULIFLOWER?! exclaimed the French MIL in exactly the same tone of voice that she'd have used if I'd said that I was going to serve the cauliflower that night with a sidedish of poison, while wearing my underpants on my head.

Now, in my younger, newly-wedded days, I would have backed down in an instant, begging her to reveal the "real" way to serve cauliflower. But I am older now and less inclined to let people make me think I'm an idiot. I just looked at her.

"You would do that, you? Serve cauliflower and pasta??!!!!" She was looking sort of pale and panicky. This was obviously a big deal.

"What's the problem? What would you serve with it?" I asked, just because I didn't want her to have a heart attack right there in my kitchen.

"Well, I don't know. But not PASTA!!" She said "pasta" just like a non-French person would have said "snot". srsly.

Now, I'll admit that pasta would not have been my first choice. It would sort of make a very bland, monotone color scheme on our plates. But Yvette obviously found something far more sinister in the combination of foods proposed. It was just not "how things are done" or "comment il faut faire les choses" in France.

There's all kinds of moments like that here. There you are confidently cruising along in life, thinking you have it all figured out. Then suddenly you find someone staring at you, jaw dropped by your "shockingly bizarre" un-French behavior.

Despite my French passport, I still feel like a foreigner in many ways. And iIm guessing I'll never really "blend"- I'll always have a funny accent, be five inches taller than most other women here and have crazy ideas about what can and can't be eaten together...

1 comment:

La Framéricaine said...

Congratulations on having completed your move back to France.

I love the way you have illustrated the classic case of culture clash. Your MIL could be my SIL of 20 years--count 'em...

I'm Halfway To France and one of the reasons that I'm not all the way there yet is precisely because I have a strong reaction to being looked at as if I have just spewed a paragraph in Chinese when I know quite well that I have spoken a perfectly correct sentence in Sarko's French. And, of course, that's only the beginning.

Congratulations on having matured from that newly-wed into the more objective cultural anthropologist that you have become. Gawd! I hope I will be able to pull that off. I feel fear at times because I'm already 56. I can't afford to mature much more or they'll be fitting me for an urn!

Thank you for your post. Just today I wanted to broach the subject of being a misfit in France regardless of what one does, but I didn't have the heart to continue because the person to whom I was writing has French stardust in her eyes and wouldn't have appreciated my particular slant on things.

I'm going to try to take a page from you play book! And keep checking in on you to see how the re-acculturation is going.