Summary: Night bus/ferry by way of Dover/Calais, cellphone death, Paris from 11éme to 1ér, Holocaust Memorial, Notre Dame, “mo ee TOE” = mojito, escargots and frogs legs, Musée Rodin, Jeu de Palme, Tour Eiffel, Basque food, castle and forest Fontainebleau, hearing the cuckoo, Normandy, Dday beaches, amazing Normand cousins, Cherbourg, the end of the earth, insanely long meals, Mont St. Michel, high tides, Brittany, French cheese, cider, calvados, OYSTERS, possibly also eels (…yes, I just checked. Eels), family Sunday, a walk in the American Cemetary with the French family, Paris again.
My French experience in 5 expressions: Prend son temps (take your time). Faut le gouter (you have to try it)! Vas-y (go ahead, your turn). Profiter (to enjoy, to benefit from). En fait, c’est aussi un/une cousine (actually, he/she is also a cousin).
Wow. This was really a very, very special experience. I’m going to enjoy the other countries on my trip, but it was really something pretty amazing to be able spend a week getting to know more of this branch of the family that miraculously rediscovered us in the 80s. That sentence made more sense in French in my head….quand la famille française et la famille américaine se sont retrouvées, when the two branches found each other again.
Condensed highlights that I hope to expound upon more in additional entries:
- The French are really very serious about their food. I know this doesn’t really come as a shock to anyone. But seriously, it’s not just a stereotype. (I was at one point privy to the ultimate in European caricature: listening to a group of French people make fun of English food. Really.) Young, old, male, female, urban, countryside, everyone knows the names of the cheese on the dessert plate and the region where the wine came from. And if they don’t, they’ll ask, because it’s important to know. I love that everything here takes the name of where it comes from–Camembert is a type of cheese, yes, but it’s named after the village in France where it comes from. The French are so much more connected to the earth of their own country that way.
- Meals, similarly, are not a brief affair. They are all decidedly 3 or 4 courses, albeit small ones. The two longest dinners I had here, including drinks before, lasted at least 4 or 5 hours. We did snack (grignoter) during this trip, but always sitting down, and always slowly.
- In general, if you like being in a big rush, don’t come to France. You won’t get it.
- You will also not be a fan if you really really like to know the name of the street you’re on, or the number of the highway you need to take. In fact, if those are requirements for your travels, you probably don’t ever want to go anywhere in Europe by car.
- Don’t try to keep track of which king was in charge when. Fruitless.
- Castles are like cathedrals: the first one is impressive. The fifth one is boring.
- If cigarette smoke really bothers you, you should probably find a face mask before coming to France. I’ll quote our Normand cousin’s husband Jean Vincent on this, who said to Antoine and Sylvan apologetically, as we entered his house for the first time: “Smoking down here in the kitchen is fine! No problem! But not in the bedrooms…sorry.”
- The stereotype that the French have bad manners, in my experience, is absolutely not true. And I don’t think I’ve gotten this impression because I speak French. The French always, always say “bonjour” or “bon soir” entering a shop or before talking to someone, they always thank them, and they always leave with “Bonne journée/soirée/weekend! Au revoir!” They always ask in the morning if you slept well, and they are quick to ask if you are feeling okay, have eaten enough, want more coffee, etc. I know these are all common courtesies, but the French are really diligent about saying them. Story: at maybe 11 or 12 at night, we were driving around trying to find the right street to take us back to Port-en-Bessain in Normandy. We were starting to feel a little worried when Antoine saw someone walking on the street and decided to ask him if he knew the right road. He rolled down the window and began, “Excusez-moi, connaissez–” Excuse me, do you know… Then he caught himself and began again, “Bon soir, monsieur,” (good evening, sir) before posing his query. I loved that.
I know, not enough pictures yet. Soon. I promise.