Saturday, June 02, 2018

Finally, Friends

After a fairly isolating five months, meeting the occasional British couple or reuniting with friends from the past, this week has been a bonanza for Earl and me.
We’re coming up on our second week in Quillan and when we arrive at the cafe along the river, I stick my head in the door and Monsieur says, “Deux café crème?” and I nod yes. 
We aren’t in a place where everybody knows our name, à la Cheers, but the waiter does know our order. 
We sit in the sunshine listening to the rush of the river, admiring the wildflowers that spring from the stones of the old bridge and sipping our coffee with steamed milk. Earl never drank coffee before, being a tea man, but the taste and the tradition has grown on him.
The cafe by the river

The flowers curve upward, sending their roots into the old stone bridge
Excitingly, for the first time this week, we ran into new friends at the market and exchanged cheek kisses. It’s a French tradition that we’ve only shared with old French friends, but we met people Tuesday night, and the next morning when we encountered each other, we exchanged the traditional greeting. 
Beautiful flowers adorn the market
(As I write this, we’re sitting on a public bus, and high school boys are climbing on, sharing cheek kisses to greet each other. I find it delightful.)
If you know the French, you may have guessed these newfound friends who shared the traditional bisous with us, were not French friends. 
We went to a quiz night at a local bar and met a handful of British, Australians and Americans. This American couple has been in Quillan since February. 
The quiz night required a bit of chutzpah. We had seen the signs so brazenly walked in. We stopped to ask a crowd of people drinking outside if this was the place. 
Walking through the bar to a back room, we saw tables of teams all chatting to each other. That could have been the moment we chickened our, but surveilling the scene, I seized my courage and interrupted two women to ask if this was the place. They eagerly explained the quiz and invited us to join their team, knowing we would be no help. 
You see, it was a British quiz night. One of the categories was Sit Coms and the term Friends did not come up. The emcee read a list of characters and the Brits apparently recognized the shows. We'd ;never heard of any of them.
There were a couple of American questions— how many colonies declared independence in 1776? Earl thought it might be a trick question but I stuck to 13 and was right. What Caribbean island did the US invade in 1983? Grenada, obviously. 
But we didn’t stand a chance with questions about which British cities had greyhound racing. 
Our team consisted of Julie, an American from Michigan, and Lou, a Brit who runs an Airbnb. We drank red wine or gin and tonics and ended up in 9th place out of 10. 
The team we beat was Julie’s husband Jack, a retired college basketball coach, and a couple from Wisconsin. See, we Americans were definitely at a disadvantage. 
But we shared some jocularity and can now recognize much of the English speaking community in Quillan. 
Two nights later, we had our first dinner guests at our new home. Again we exchanged cheek kisses as they arrived with their little dog Scooter. Our guests were Jenny and Dennis, Australians who run the bed and breakfast where we first stayed in Quillan. 
We bought way too much cheese, but managed aperitifs, a starter of melon, followed by penne rosa, a cheese plate and homemade brownies, my first attempt at baking in France in a convectione oven. Then we drank more wine on the terrace, admiring the mountains as we laughed. 
So for the moment we’re feeling satiated with new acquaintances. 
Before I moved here, I had criticized the Americans and Brits who befriend each other rather than the French, but the French don’t jump into friendships the way we do. I can continue to say Bonjour to each French person I meet on my walks and runs; I can compliment beautiful gardens and stop to pet cute dogs, slowly building an acquaintance with the cautious French people around me until one day, maybe the woman who weighs my vegetables in the market might step around and exchange bisous with me. Just this week, when she rang up my fruits and vegetables to 10.93 Euros, I handed her a 10 and a 5. She handed me the 5 back waving off the extra 93 cents. 
Market produce temptations.
Can cheek kisses really be far behind. 
For now, we’ll happily engage with our new English-speaking friends. 

6 comments:

Emily Taylor said...

So nice to read this latest update! I hope you continue to make inroads with the locals, no matter their place of origin.

Catherine Berry said...

You are doing so well to have your order at the café known after only 2 weeks. It took us much longer than that! PS If this comment goes through, please know that I have read and followed your adventure from the beginning but have never been able to leave a comment. I wish you both much continued happiness in France

Paulita said...

Emily, Thanks for following along. I think about you and Zeb often when I find things in France that I know would delight you both.
Catherine, Thanks for following along. I know that you've been through all of this plus more since you moved with your kids. Of course, the kids give you an extra connection to France too, so pluses and minuses.

jlphil said...

Paulita, we continue to follow your adventures with a lot of delight (and for myself, some jealousy!). The "befriending French folks" issue has always been tough for us on our extended stays. They are sure wary of casual personal entanglements! Finding some English-speaking expats sure makes it more comfortable. Is Quillan going to be your home base now? What a cool location, near the Pays Basque and the Pyrenees & all those national parks. Keep seeking the bisous! John P.

Paulita said...

John, Yes, we're here until December We plan a slow infiltration into the French community.

Jeanie said...

Oh Paulita, I'm so glad you are finally making friends. That will make a world of difference in your experience -- and they sound fun!

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