Thursday, March 28, 2019

A French Social Life

When I returned from the States, I was determined to be in the moment wherever I am. Last year, I felt like I longed for the States when I was in France and longed for France when I was in the States. I needed to make the most of wherever I am living because I could become one of those perpetually unhappy people, always wanting the grass on the other side of the fence.
So I was eager to reconnect with all of our friends in France.
I set up coffee dates, dinner dates and even decided to hold a game night at our new apartment.
Add to that my teaching 4 hours a day on weekdays and 7-8 hours on the weekends, and my time in France has flown past.
Our new apartment is 1.9 miles from the town where we planned to live. Like an episode of House Hunters International, we couldn't find a house or apartment that offered everything we wanted. We had to compromise. We could have the apartment in the town that didn't offer any outdoor space, but had a nice open living/dining room and remodeled kitchen. The toilet situation wasn't ideal either because the toilet faced the door and it was so tight, I wasn't sure that someone with long legs could sit on the toilet and close the door.
Outside Quillan, up a steep hill that I used to run toward, was an apartment that the owner was just finishing with a new kitchen and bathroom. Two bedrooms, a great view, and some outdoor space.
The view out the window from our living room
We decided to take the place farther out of town, figuring that by the end of the year, we'd be in great shape by climbing up to our apartment.
So the first test of commuting to town à pieds came Friday evening, after I had arrived Thursday, we made plans to meet our French friends for dinner in Quillan. We walked. The sun was just setting as we traipsed down the switchback roads and into town. We realized as we went that we were both wearing black, not the best color to be seen by passing cars as we later would walk home in the dark on the winding road. The walk took longer than we anticipated, so we arrived late (en retard) and as we exchanged cheek kisses, they remarked on our cold cheeks, so we revealed that we had walked down from our new home. They were amazed and insisted on driving us back up the hills after our dinner. It was too dangerous to walk on the winding road at night, insisted the former police officer.
We ate at a crêpe  place, and we practiced our French as our friends practiced their English.
The only picture I got from our evening out was when one of the restaurant cats wandered through. He was a huge cat, and when Cedric got up to pay, the cat jumped up in his seat as if it was his rightful place at the table.
The cat rubbed himself against anything hanging off people's chairs. No one seemed bothered. 
Everyone has heard how difficult it is to make friends with French people. We lucked into Cedric and Valèrie. He was working as a bartender in a local bar and enjoyed speaking English and telling us about his adventures in the States. Luckily for us, they love the U.S. They were even married in Las Vegas.
Valerie doesn't speak very much English but she is trying to learn, so we hope to start meeting and practicing English for her and French for me.
As they dropped at us our new apartment, we invited them in to take a look. Valèrie, who has a certain sense of aesthetic (like most French women) gave a nod of approval to the decorations of the apartment with its bold black and white tiles in the kitchen and the open room that gives way to a view of the mountains, but on that night, we could only see the nearly full moon and the outline of the mountains.

Before they left, Cedric invited us to their home in a village about 15 minutes away. They were having a barbecue the next afternoon for their neighbors. The barbecue started at noon, but, unfortunately, I taught until 3.
Come after, he insisted. The soiree would still be going on.
So after meeting friends for coffee the next morning during the Saturday market, I taught until 3 and we texted Cedric. Yes, we should come, he said.
With our bottle of red wine in hand, we followed the GPS and pulled up to a table outdoors in the sun with several French people sitting around it. Cedric and Valerie made introductions and then gave us a tour of the house they are redoing. They've done a lot of work and are turning it into their dream house.
How to describe this gathering of French people? They were all very accepting of us. They shared some great stories, and I got into a discussion that was beyond my French abilities as I tried to describe the differences between Americans' freedom to and the French freedom from. Well, I'm not doing a very good job describing it in English either, but basically it's about the French security net. The entire outing was all very jovial as they counted how many bottles of wine they had drunk since they began at noon, and we realized that when going to a French person's house, perhaps two bottles of wine should be the gift. There were discussions about whether I looked more Mediterranean or Latin, which made me laugh since I have frequently been mistaken for Irish. It must be my wild, curly hair.
Earl and Cedric
The only hitch was the the woman who got sick because she drank too much wine, although her husband claimed it was because of the sun. Our hostess ended up having to clean up the bathroom afterward, and then when the woman later got sick outside, she cleaned that too. I had my hackles up, thinking the woman should have gone home to her house -- only two houses down. After another French couple excused themselves, I reminded Earl that we needed to stop by the grocery before it closed at 7, so we exited with me driving.
After we had dinner, we drove down to Quillan where a brew pub had blues music playing. We ran into more acquaintances there and were invited to join them. They had all the inside dirt on the inebriated French woman who was ordering everyone to stop talking so they could focus on the music.
To hear our friends tell it, she'd been thrown out of every bar in town except this one, and she had a famous parting line when she got ejected from a nearby bar, but I won't share it with you because I'm sure I'll be able to use it in a novel someday and you'll think I'm awfully clever rather than simply quoting someone.
On the weekends, I teach a lot, starting at 7 (or 6 when I get the time change wrong) and going to 3 or 4, so I've been trying to schedule some down time during midmorning to enjoy my French life. Sunday mornings there is a market at Esperaza, a nearby artsy town. I meant to schedule 9-11 off work, but got 8-10. France hasn't sprung forward with their clocks yet, so that messed up my calculations.
We were too early to meet with friends but wandered into the market anyway, buying a new scarf to replace the one I lost in the States, and a blue one for Deb, because she always tries to steal her husband's.
We got vienoisseries (breakfast pastries) at the bakery and took them to the nearby cafe for coffee and pastries.

The sun in our face as we enjoyed a coffee at the Esperaza market
There we ran into some acquaintances we'd met the year before. We ended up chatting for quite a while and exchanged numbers so we could get together.
But even before we ended our chat with the new friends, some other friends showed up and we wandered through the market catching up. It's just a pleasant surprise to find people I enjoy socializing with at every turn -- not that there weren't wonderful people in the States, but I guess we didn't have as much time to socialize because we were running to kids' events or had to get decent sleep before going to work the next day.
By the end of the weekend, I felt sated with socializing, but that gave me time to gear up for game night. We made a go of it with one American couple and two British couples, so eight total and lots of food, drink and conversation. My team did not excel at the games, but it was great to have everyone at our new place, which isn't so bad, once you duck to get in the door.

An attempt to get everyone in the picture at game night

I think I've kept my end of the bargain, promising to live in the moment, as I continue to meet with friends, making new connections and renewing old ones.
I recently saw an article about how it is difficult for women over 50 to make new friends. I recommend moving to a new country and not being shy about showing up for quiz night and market days and town dinners. It certainly has grown my social circle. 


sillygirl said...

I have a feeling you would make friends wherever you go - it is the open attitude and your willingness to put yourselves into the society and language that makes people want to know you. Perhaps people that find it difficult in another culture to make friends don't do that? Your "rich" life is growing by leaps and bounds!

Noreen said...

Oh my, what a VIEW!

It certainly sounds as though you've got "living in the moment" down - such a delightful life!

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