Quirky Things I’ve Learned in France

Oct 5, 2005Find joy today, Write!

  1. Sometimes you have to learn things the hard way.
  2. Sometimes you just have to make a fool of yourself.

Those are the first two cardinal rules for cross-cultural assimilation in the book I’ll write entitled I’m an Idiot: Reflections on my First Year in France, a Nonsensical Rambling about Everything and Nothing. (This, of course, is a joke.)

So, what have I learned? A few thoughts:

  • Elbows are our friends. French people don’t like straight, orderly lines, particularly at post offices or grocery stores. They don’t bother with rules of propriety like who is first, second, third (particularly while driving). I once asked my church-planting French friend why the French don’t wait their turn. “I hate waiting my turn. I cut all the time,” he said. So, yes, elbows are important. They help you needle your way in between two cutting French folks. It’s a fun game, really.
  • Don’t convert. It’s hazardous to your wee brain. Especially when the thing in question involves two variables. For instance: don’t convert euros to dollars when trying to figure out what a gallon of gasoline costs because it involves both liters to gallons and euros to dollars. In case you’re wondering, we pay over 6 U.S. dollars for a gallon of diesel. So, quit your whining, already! I also learned that depression sets in when I convert my grocery bill to dollars. We’ve doubled our grocery bill since moving because of the bad exchange rate and the high cost of consumer goods here. It’s better to live blissfully unaware, living in euro-nirvana.
  • Don’t mix up your verbs. Patrick and I both said some very odd things because of this. Once Patrick wanted to say, “I know a little French.” He said, instead, “Je suis un petit francais,” which means “I am a little Frenchman.” But I fared far worse. When chatting with Julia’s teachers, I tried to make a joke saying that Julia liked to chase boys on the playground and kiss them (which you’ll know, if you’ve read my blog for any length of time). Instead I used baiser which looks and sounds like it should mean “to kiss,” since une baise is a kiss. Not true. I actually said, “Julia likes to chase boys on the playground and have sex with them.” OH MY!!! What kind of mother am I????
  • Laughing means you understand. I laugh a lot in France, not because I’m amused, but because I don’t always understand what people are saying. So I laugh, nervously. If someone laughs as they speak, I mimic. And nod. Who knows what I’ve laughed at, or agreed to.

So, there you have it. I have also learned this is an amazing country full of lovely, wonderful people. I’ve seen the Lord touch lives. I’ve experienced more of His presence because of my utter neediness. It’s been a great adventure so far. I’ve got sharper elbows, a better math brain, a more useful French vocabulary (knowing what to avoid), and an intact sense of humor.

Je suis une petite francaise.