(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

a miniature breakthrough.

On Armistice Day I wandered into my village, drawn by the endless clanging of the oldest bell tower in France. I'd been told that any variety of activities would be occurring throughout my new land ... most coordinated by the local mairie.

I went to our war memorial ... which is where I suspected the action would be. There a surprisingly small group was gathered, listening to a wizened man in uniform speak of the horrors of war. Also in attendance were a small cadre of men in uniform, and what looked to be a unit of some sort of French youth group associated with the military.

My village has a woman mayor (zut alors!) and she was in attendance, being saluted and shaking hands.

I stood off a distance, observing but wanting to signal my recognition that the proceedings were not for étrangers ... out of respect.

I spotted and was recognized by a woman in the audience. She is associated in some way with the socio-cultural committee of Brantôme, she attends my yoga course and collected the fee from me. She has always been very serious with me, a bit cool and aloof in class which until now is only where I've encountered her.

Well, on this day she smiled and nodded at me. Quelle surprise!

Once the proceedings concluded, the attendees made their way as a group through the village ... a short walk over the picturesque L-shaped bridge and past the old moulin that is now a hotel ... up the cobblestoned streets past the monastery turned mairie ... and then down to a large hall where I gather the mayor hosted aperitifs and conversation. I didn't attend that part, feeling a bit of an outsider.

During the walk, Madame approached me and greeted me more formally with bises! I exchanged a few halting sentences with her, I was taken aback and it seems my french flew out my ears and into the atmosphere! I ended with a 'well, I think I'm going to have a walk around town' and she bid me a 'bonne promenée' ...

I was quite surprised by this turn of events and brought it up at my Friday french lesson. My professeur, Laurence, pondered my tale and told me that fewer and fewer French seem to honor the veterans, but pass the holiday by. She felt that the reason Madame approached me was, since she obviously considered the day important to observe, perhaps she was touched by the fact that an étranger would exhibit such respect and show up.

Well, even though it is all mere speculation ... I was happy to be recognized by a local in this manner.

Isn't it funny, that? I mean, Americans are such a seemingly happy-go-lucky lot ... with few traditions and a Labrador-like style just ready to wear their hearts and opinions on their sleeves.

I'm continually struck by the similarities and yet vast differences in human nature as I press forward with my new life. There's the social ones (like my story today).

There is also a veritable rubik's cube of possibilities presented with the male and female interactions. I'm pretty much without a clue with most of it, stumbling my way with a cadre of misconceptions and assumptions ... many of which I'm convinced are completely out of line and yet all I have to go on.

C'est trés drole! And it is very droll as well.


amy said...

I missed your whole comments conversation! (and that's another question, is it okay to refer to a previous post in a more recent one - maybe this is taboo, sort of like "toplisting" on Craigslist or something?)

I think your instructor must have it right, Madame was touched by your attendance at the memorial. Also maybe just needed some way to break the ice - it's funny how even a simple comment (about the weather or roadworks or whatever's going on around the village) beyond the standard greetings is all it takes to break through - but it has to come from us, the newcomers...it's almost a kind of politeness to leave people to themselves.

Anyway, missing France and your post brought a little of it back to me this morning.

Valérie said...


"is it okay to refer to a previous post in a more recent one - maybe this is taboo,"

I hope not, or it won't be long before I get kicked out of here, LOL!

"but it has to come from us, the newcomers...it's almost a kind of politeness to leave people to themselves."

You are very right. The etiquette here is still very old fashioned. Maybe you have noticed that when you go into a small shop, everybody says "bonjour" to everybody else, and all kinds of details like that.


La Framéricaine said...

It is touching to hear about your social interaction with the woman whom you've known in other contexts in Brantôme. Congratulations on the mini-breakthrough and may you have many more like it!

Oddly enough, I love the ceremonies associated with WWI and WWII because I feel like so much of what we experience as the character of the French today was formed between 1914 and 1945. Have you ever seen Un long dimanche de fiançaille?

One of the things that I have always liked about loving and living with Le Framéricain was the fact that it was totally clear that I didn't know anything at all about what his cultural expectations about relationships between men and women were. I didn't have time to study up on it before we were knee-deep in a "relationship."

Consequently, it was much more liberating for me than an American/American relationship because I had always felt that there was an assumption that there was an agreed upon way to proceed in an intra-cultural relationship (which was never true for me and which I was delighted to leave behind as I jumped into a relationship--FrancoAmerican--where I was positive that I had absolutely no idea what the rules were, nor could he, and we were going to have to make it up as we went along. Which, I must say, has suited me just fine.)

Randal Graves said...

Bit by bit you'll weave yourself within the fabric over there.

with few traditions and a Labrador-like style just ready to wear their hearts and opinions on their sleeves.

I imagine the Armistice Day events are a bit more somber over there than the Veterans Day ones back here.

Non, Je ne regrette rien said...

Amy- I KNOW and it was my most popular post ever! go figure! as far as blogetiquette goes, beats me! I prefer the free-for-all approach so have at it ...

Yes ... reaching out in small ways is the answer I believe. small steps.

Valerie - I love the bjr to one and all as well as the mercis ... there is a politesse here that should never go out of fashion.

Laf - I'm stumped on it all - the relations thing ... befuddled and stumbling - that's me. lol.

Randal-yes, well just imagine the enormity of the death impact here and on home soil. WWI lost an entire generation of men. It is hard to imagine ... and of course the resulting impact on the population. terrible.