Frehel Diaries: Chez Nous
That night, the Sauvage explained that all of us, Nana included, would be going to dinner with extended family. The nature of that extension, because of the language barrier, was typically obscure. I think it was the family of his grandmother's sister or great aunt, on the other hand they might just as well be the people who accidentally killed his aunt's dog and thus became friends of family somehow. Who can tell? This is the fun of not understanding your boyfriend clearly.
Still, from the beginning the reception was warm. Our host, the Patriarch was a bit older than the Sauvage with a bit of graying hair. He had two teenage children-a daughter about 16 and a soon closer to 13. There was his wife, a housewife-y looking woman with short blonde hair, glasses, and no make up, and then his mother, a woman with a penchant for dark clothes and make up. After a brief conversation in the living room, we headed to the long dining table.
This dinner reconfirmed my belief that you don't really need to understand language to understand what is going on. Or more accurately, language is only what happens on the surface, particularly at a family dinner, what you really need to know is disclosed in seemingly secret looks-the subtly of a lifted eyebrow, a curl of the lip, an involuntary flinch. Nana was seated next the host's mother, La Mamie, much to Nana's displeasure. While Mamie fussed over Nana, Nana was extremely rude-smacking her hand away, blatantly ignoring repeated questions about what she wanted to drink. Instead, Nana remained focused on her gameboy with a serial killer like intensity I hadn't witness before. The brother and sister exchanged looks. I could tell, with relief, that Nana's spoiled ways were known and acknowledged by this family. I caught their look with half a smile. Nothing had been spoken, so I couldn't let them know that I agreed with their assessment of her character. They looked at the Sauvage with something like pity and disdain. Clearly, they thought he was at fault for indulging her. Meanwhile, the Sauvage was too deeply engaged in conversation with our host to realize this silent exchange was going on.
Then, of course, the attention shifted to me. The Sauvage hadn't quite cottoned onto the fact that in these circumstances I just want to disappear and observe, I don't want to be the center of attention. Mainly because the center of attention has to speak. He told them all what I did and that I lived in NYC. I could feel the interest in me exponentially increase. One of the strange things that the French ask me when they find out that I am NYer is about TV. I suppose it's the one thing they know about the US, so they ask me about their favorite shows: do I know CSI (known as les professionels)? the Simpsons? the Dukes of Hazzard? The X-files? NYPD Blue? (Police procedurals seems to be as popular there as they are here, an interesting issue.) In this case, I was asked about Desperate Housewives, a show that I am unfamiliar with. After that the Sauvage wanted them to know where I had traveled, so I had to rattle off the short list of countries I had been to in French. While I know L'Angleterre and L'Italie, I wasn't too sure about Jamaica and Belize in French so I abbreviated the list.
What became clear to me during this exchange was to the Sauvage I was a bit of trophy. A girl who had traveled so much of the world AND was an intellectual. I was a bit of "Look see what kind of woman I got on MY arm" swagger, which made me uncomfortable. Taking pride in my accomplishments is one thing, using my accomplishments to boost your own ego-not so much. The response of the brother and sister was palpable as they exchanged, "What the fuck is this chick DOING here?" looks. And our host, although polite, was a bit curious himself. The host tried to speak to me, but I had difficulty understanding and the Sauvage explained that I could read French better than I could write French. Immediately a tablet of writing paper was produced and our host began writing me messages (the first being about how Sarkozy is good for the young), and an almost immediately inviting me back to stay with them "Vous reviendriez chez nous lorsque vous revienriez en Brentagne. Nous vous recevions avec plaisir." (In retrospect his use of "vous" is interesting as it was clearly a very informal environment. It again reinforces that etiquette is still a very elaborate and challenging issue for visitors. See: the kissing problem)
Dinner moved on-conversation ranged to their friends, stories were exchanged, more notes were written to me including one telling me that next time I needed to demand a translator from the Sauvage. As dinner wore on, and more and more dishes were exchanged (even informal dinner parties are more decadent than the average Roman picnic) more butter was consumed, more wine poured, the language barrier seemed to melt away. There was laughter, although I can't remember any specific points of discussion.
The only issue was that Nana continued to be amazingly rude to Mamie who did nothing but dote on her. I was struck by this. If I had manifested this kind of behavior, I would have been summarily executed. I caught the brother and sister looking and giggling, I joined them. They seemed delighted to include me in their "joke." The hosts looked over their faces and then onto mine, realizing that I understood what was going on. He smiled at me with one eyebrow raised, and I felt like I was one of the family, a part of these people, despite everything.
Eventually, though, the night had to come to a close. Nana was tired and being particularly cranky as being rude had not gotten La Mamie to lay off the fussing at all. After another flurry of kisses were exchanged, we walked out to the car. I genuinely thanked the Sauvage because it was one of my favorite nights, and the good feeling carried over into another night of lovemaking;As I fell into happily exhausted slumber, I remembered why is it I had come to Frehel.
Bad Bunni posted at 6/26/2008 02:08:00 AM