Monday, February 06, 2006

French Guests

The first few weeks we were in France, we lived at the guest house at Jeff's lab while we waited to get the necessary things set up for our apartment. The guest house worked sort of like a hotel--we paid to stay, but also had a kitchen and clothes washer to use. We would take Lucy for walks in the nearby area, which convinced us that this particular banlieue (suburb) was not the place for us. It was populated by many junk yards guarded by mangy, scary dogs, a large cemetary, and little or nothing to do besides go to the hardware store. Lucy got barked at by many a teeny, scruffy purebred who was very concerned with "guarding" his tiny yard.

However, on one of our walks, we met a sweet little dog by the name of Daysi who was fun to play with, snuggly and friendly. Her owner, a man named Jean-Claude, was very friendly and invited us over for coffee.

We went, and he and his wife invited us in, fed us dinner, and talked with us for hours. They were going on vacation the next day, and would be gone until after we moved into Paris. They were the friendliest French people we've met to date, and we gave them our address, as we didn't have a phone yet, and hoped we could get together in the future.

Well, OK, that's what I'd like to say we felt. Dr. B was a little suspicious. His French, at the time, was very limited, and mine was still stilted, so he wasn't quite sure that these people were not going to turn out to be serial killers or something. His imagination can get the best of him at times.

During their visit to Italy, they sent us a postcard, and after Christmas they sent a traditional French New Year's card. This time, they included a return address (I kept hunting online and in the phone book, but couldn't find their address) so I sent a reply.

On Saturday morning, Yveline called.

"Ronica? How are you?"

"Fine! Fine. And you?"

"Oh fine, yes. We are doing well. Did you have a good holiday?"

"Yes! Lovely. It was very nice. And you?"

"Yes. The grandchildren were here. It was nice."

"So you received my card?"

"Yes! Could we come and see you tomorrow? Around 2, 2:30?"

Whoa. Didn't expect that.

"Sure! Sounds nice!"

"Ok, we'll see you then!"

Dr. B was considerably freaked out.

"They're coming here? Oh, no. Oh no oh no oh no. I wanted to go to the museum, the Pompidou, and now we can't. Because these people we barely know are coming. And we'll have to speak French. The whole time. In my house--my sanctuary. I'll have to speak in French and I don't know if I can do it. But what do we really know about these people? Who are they? Why do they want to be friends with us? What if they are serial killers? Or robbers? Or something even weirder???"

"Jeff. We'll have coffee and a dessert and talk. That's it. Now calm down. I'll protect you. So will Lucy."

Dr. B's way of coping with nerves and fear is to remain in his pajamas and sit with his computer, basically doing nothing productive and pretending time does not exist.

Mine is to clean the entire apartment, top to bottom, get dressed and cleaned up and run errands, and make sure everything is ready.

As you can see, the two rarely meet. He gets irritated because I am doing all this stuff and I get irritated because he is not doing anything.

We compromised on Saturday. I didn't complain (much) and he helped take down laundry, fold it (I had to put it away, but that's not too bad), sweep, and he ran to the boulangerie (bakery) for me. I dusted, straightened up, mopped the floor, ran to buy groceries, a tarte to serve, and a new coffee maker. (I had broke our coffee pot by accident, and it was cheaper just to buy a whole new maker. I did put the old one in the recycling, though.)

That night, after dinner, I settled in to knit while he worked on his computer. After a while, he decided we would take a break and watch some old Dr. Who episodes.

Sunday, we went to get ready for our guests. We made the bed, set up the table in the main room (it folds out to be bigger, but there's no way to fit more than 2 people in our dinky kitchen) and put on the tablecloth I had brought from the US. We set out chairs, I got the coffee ready to brew, set out the plates, napkins, etc.

Then we waited.

2 o'clock.




Dr. B was getting nervous. He started picking at me. Complaining. He had to be irritated with something.

"You drive me nuts, you know. Getting ready for guests--you make it such a big deal! And always late at night, I mean, like you were cleaning and going crazy at 1 in the morning! You could pick a better time!"

"Um, honey? No, I did pick a better time. If you'll remember, I cleaned the house at 3 in the afternoon yesterday. By 8 I was watching Dr. Who with you and knitting. We went to bed before 1 AM."

"Oh. Well. You usually wait until late."

"Uh huh."



Dr. B was getting pretty antsy by this time.

"Oh NO! Now they'll come late, and stay for dinner! What will we do? We don't have food for 4 for dinner! (I had planned soup, bread and cheese.) What if they stay really long? I won't get any more work done. I have to work on my papers, I promised Claude, and I have only done a few minutes on them, like 20 minutes, maybe 1/2 hour..."

"No. You've worked about 3 hours on them already. All day, so far. Calm down. It will be fine. They won't stay all night."

He couldn't stand the waiting, so hooked up Lucy to take her for a little jaunt around the neighborhood.

A few minutes later, I hear him at the door.

"Honey! I am back, and I brought friends!"

So Jean-Claude, Evelyne, and their son Olivier were here. They greeted us with bisous (french cheek-kissing), and gave us a gift. Evelyne had brought a Tarte Tatin (a delicious apple tart) she had made that morning from apples from their garden. They apologized for being late, saying that traffic was horrible and their was some sort of protest going on, so streets were blocked off. Jean-Claude joked that they might have to sleep on our floor. Luckily, I don't think Jeff quite caught what he was saying, or he might have lost his marbles right then and there.

We drank coffee, ate, and talked for about 2 hours. Jeff was surprised that his French was good enough to follow the conversation and make himself understood, most of the time, anyway. He asked for a few words from me, but for the most part, he held his own.

They were very pleasant, kind and fun to talk with. Their son Olivier seemed very excited to meet some Americans, and took pictures of us with his cell phone. He loved Lucy, and said she reminded him of Rex, his dog who had just died recently. They invited us to come back to their place for a BBQ sometime, and said we are welcome anytime, just give them a ring, and that we should bring Lucy so she can play with Daysi.

And at 10 after 5, they said their goodbyes, gave us more bisous on the cheeks, and headed back to the banlieue of Vitry-sur-Seine.

Due to all the coffee and sugar, I was feeling a bit over-energized, so we went for a long walk through our arrondissment to burn it off. Jeff complimented me on how much my French has improved, and noted that he actually understood most of what was going on. He was still surprised that some random French family would want to be friends with us, but seemed more willing to accept that they weren't going to boil us for dinner or kidnap us or rob us blind, and thought that maybe, just maybe we could go out there and have a nice BBQ with them when it warms up a bit.

We're making progress. Little by little.

And the best part? Yveline left us the rest of the tarte.


I know what I'm having for breakfast.



At 10:30 AM, February 06, 2006, Blogger MagE said...

Mrs. make Dr. B sound paranoid... he's just cautious dearie!
but some French are very friendly... (had a french family next door to us growing up and they had dinner for us all the time - why I am not sure to this day). They were from somewhere non Parisianne and evidently they did this all the time with their neighbors at home. Sounds like you found some very friendly french. Its nice when that happens.

At 4:52 PM, February 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How great that your grandparents are trying the computer!! So nice for you to be in touch. Also don't you just love tarte tatin??? B

At 8:25 PM, February 06, 2006, Blogger Chelee said...

Yeah for new friends who won't eat or rob you!

That tart looks so yummy!

At 9:42 AM, February 07, 2006, Blogger Kat said...

That's so nice. What cool people. I would be suspicous like Dr. B, but my husband is like you, a little bit more willing to try things out :) Makes for good balance.

At 12:25 PM, February 08, 2006, Blogger Oz said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful story!


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