The New York Times published an opinion article yesterday titled “How to be French.” Though the article revolves around the strenuous process of becoming a French citizen, it delves into the–I think–deeper issues of whether your new nationality would finally allow you to know automatically what words are masculine and which are feminine, and, (I assume) give you the superpower to ease into the subjunctive flawlessly. As a psuedo-French citizen myself (I do pay taxes over here, kind of, I think) and sometimes disgruntled expat, I have a few more points to add.
Be prepared to wait. My grandmother once told me, embarrassingly in a Goody’s store when I picked up a shirt that said “brunettes do it better,” that patience is a virtue. Regardless, I grew up to have a short attention span and little to no ability to wait for anything, a concept which surely has been aided by my 3G network and constant access to Google. Anyone who has ever made bœuf bourguignon can attest that the French, however, have patience down to a science. From the man at the Monoprix who wanted to pay in pennies to my still illusive visa verification to waiting for paychecks to buses never arriving…most of my life in France is a waiting game, and ultimately a test of character.
Faire une pause. Every Monday, I have at least a two-hour break for lunch, sometimes three. Honestly, sometimes I go crazy because I just have so much time. Though occasional hour long lunches weren’t entirely out of the question in Washington, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to sneak away for three hours at a time to have a relaxing meal (sidenote–the school I work at is serving mousse de canard to the students for their appetizer on Thursday, which surely beats the slushies and chicken patties I was served in middle school). There are coffee breaks in between classes. Castles close for hours at a time, and as far as I can tell, it’s just because they can (which was detrimental to our Sunday plans).
Be crafty. This of course could just be because I am operating on a student budget, but when I notified my landlord of a leaky faucet and an electric stove top that may or may not have given me a tiny electrocution due to the also leaking ceiling, he said to wrap a towel around the faucet and “wait and see” if my stove electrocutes me again. I’m beginning to really wonder how Giovanni died. But, this isn’t the first French apartment where broken things have gone unnoticed–in Paris, we used our balcony as our refrigerator for weeks when ours broke down (this brings us back to the waiting game).
Eat well. This probably goes without saying. However, even with a fromagerie mere steps from my door, I found myself craving Velveeta shells and cheese last weekend (please mail me some, anyone). I am in a country with hundreds of local, runny, smelly, unpasteurized cheeses, and all I could dream of was cheese that may not even come from an animal (speaking of cheeses…David Lebovitz posted an extremely important blog today about camembert). In France, it’s imperative go to the market, buy the fresh food, and, perhaps more important, talk to the vendors and learn about where their products come from, whether it is saucisson or honey or cheese. The stories are often better than the food, though probably not by much.
Profitez bien. You are in France, after all. ♦