Monday, April 14, 2014

Another Salade Niçoise

I suppose it’s been a long time coming, but I had an “aha!” moment yesterday. We came out to Coullons to visit The Country Boy’s family. We drove from the train station to the tiny town that I’ve got no idea how many times I’m visited. TCB asked his mom to pull over so he could buy a pack of cigarettes before the Tabac closed for lunch. He joked that he was going to buy a lotto scratch card instead; he mentioned it by brand name, but I understood. Nostalgie radio was playing Michel Sardou. TCB and his mother were talking about the local mayoral elections, immigration politics and socialism. It was raining. We were parked in front of the red brick town hall.

I don’t know which combination of these elements sent me back to my time in Lille — the rain, the radio, the brick, the background noise of conversation — but I realized, suddenly, that that constant feeling of other-ness that I’d felt during my time in Lille and, to be honest, for most of my seven years in France — was gone.

The music, the buildings, the language… the things that had seemed quaint and new and intriguing when I first got here were now just… normal. Day-to-day. I wonder if I would find America less familiar, now. I wonder if there would be things that would shock me there, the opposite things that shocked me here: long opening hours, modern architecture, lack of smokers. I wonder if I would be charmed by things that I witness in America, the way I was when I first arrived in France and was charmed by the way that people always said bonjour and au revoir and gave bises and stopped to talk to each other in the street.

Things became even clearer in the evening, when we went to a friend’s house for apéro. Drinks were poured, and we sat for at least 20 minutes, just talking, no one drinking, before our friend’s mother finally reached for her glass and said, “Bon.
The rest of us followed suit, lifting our glasses and looking each person in the eye, saying tchin. It’s natural now. So natural that, for once, I didn’t look at it with the sort of navel-gazing other-ness that I usually have when I participate in routines that are normal for others and foreign for me. It was normal for me. So normal, in fact, that I probably wouldn’t have even written about it if our friend’s mother hadn’t looked at me and said, “Vous faites ça aux États-Unis ?” Do you do this in America?

I assumed she was talking about saying “cheers” and clinking glasses. I said that we did, but that it wasn’t quite as obligatory. They all laughed; I realized we were talking about apéro in general.
My answer still stands.

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