Considering that these are the folks that gave us the word "avant-gard", the French sure have a thing for conformity.
Consider the lowly coloring book. In the USA, it's a tome that little tikes use to express their artistic souls. And if these souls declare that the entire page depicting the teddy bears' picnic is purple and scribbly, so be it.
French coloring books, on the other hand, come with model pages. One page has the black and white image to color in, but the opposite page has the same picture already colored in. The kids are supposed to copy it. And for Dieu's sake, whatever you do, DON'T color outside the lines!!! The preschool teachers come down hard on that kind of thing.
So, from early days, conformity is the rule and it doesn't take much to get labeled a freak around here. You will not be surprised to learn that Burkinamom already has quite a rep in the Vallée Verte for being a strange oiseaux/bird.
I learned this quite by accident the other night at the party down in the village. JP had been in deep conversation with M, one of our main allies in the village. After a while, JP turned towards me and said ominously "M. just told me what people in the Vallée are saying about you."
Frankly, I wasn't sure I even wanted to know. There's lots of mean things that people could say about me, many of them true.
Then I had a sudden thought about the headlice. Someone found out we had lice in Africa? Oh please let it not be the lice...
And then he said "You go barefoot at home."
And I said "????"
"Well, " he explained " remember when we had a cleaning lady in a few times 10 years ago, when the twins were born? She went around telling everyone how you didn't wear slippers at home. "
And I guess this shocking news item made the rounds of the Vallée for years and the echos are heard unto this day -despite the fact that I now wear slippers, just like a normal French person.
Really, I do. It's so darn cold here, I'd be crazy not too.
In an attempt to escape the deviant label , I made a special effort today when a local builder came by. I sort of tried to draw attention to my bright red slippers. Unfortunately, I think he came away with the impression that I have a severe motor problem involving my feet. And he didn't seem to particularly notice the footwear. But maybe it's a guy thing.
I'm expecting a package in the mail soon and our postperson is a woman. Maybe I'll have more luck with her. When I sign for the parcel, I'll be sure and find a way to make her notice my footwear. Maybe casually bring it up in conversation?
"Gee, cold one today. Your jacket looks warm, though. And I'm sure glad to have my slippers on ."
I feel that I need to get out from under the slipper problem because the villagers have other evidence of my oddness and I think I'm scaring them.
The problem is, I walked. That was the nail in the coffin of social rejection, right there.
It was a cool Tuesday evening, I had no car and I needed to get to a meeting at the school down in the village. So, I decided to walk it: 20 minutes along a country road. It was nice. Honestly.
But I arrived to generally incredulous cries of "You walked??!!" Really??!! "
And I could see they were all thinking "Barefoot, pedestrian, non-French freak".
And I thought Africa was a challenge...