The middle of November holds two connotations under my nose: the sweet aromatics of Funfetti birthday cake with chocolate frosting and the savory scents of oven roasted turkey. November is not only my month to grow one year older, but my time to spend across the table with family too.
This year, my table wasn’t cozied in Illinois. It rather was here in Ile-de-France. Not a bad alternative, but alas, not the week of November I’d grown so accustomed to for twenty-plus years. So like all good vegetarians on Thanksgiving, this year I had to adjust*.
You’re not supposed toTamper with the evidence, but what about when you tamper with something, and it somehow makes things… better?
I pondered this while finding myself in Lille, one of the most delicious of cities nooked up in northern France. Having taken the roadways of northern France in the good company of Kahwehgi, we found ourselves in Lille’s Old Town at Tamper. A delightful wooden haven of chipper staff milling amongst patrons with foaming coffee drinks and budding green succulents as endearing as the coffee shop’s ambiance. Adjusting my glasses atop my nose, I tried to understand what Tamper could possibly be tampering with. To my accords, everything gleamed of wonderful. And then came the food.
“It can’t be,” Kahwehgi’s eyes widened in front of me after a cheese pancake and raw salmon adornments were served before him. “I’m dead.”
Somewhere between children leaping out of their seats and screams erupting in the back corner of the classroom, I truly felt indebted to all my former teachers of elementary school’s past.
Working with kids has always been my gig since my day one as a working woman. My résumé is spotted and speckled with jobs as a camp counselor, babysitter, student tutor, speech pathologist intern, and teaching assistant. All these categories tumble under “children.” And “children” is the genre I reckon myself to be good with. However, even if you’re good at something, you’re still allowed to pause. You’re permitted to reflect and think huh, how about that…
This brings me to the front of the classroom where I am today. And to the small child lifting his desk chair above his head.
I realized I was faced with a dilemma, one I could no longer avoid. If I continued down this avenue, it would only be a matter of time before gaining the feared and revered… Frenchman 15.
Paris is known for many beautiful things: from the Eiffel Tower to the Seine, take your pick. But for me, Paris hosts more than just a feast on the eyes and rather a feast in my stomach. Crusty artisanal baguettes, silky buttery cheese, juicy succulent figs… Dare I continue with frothy cappuccinos, fruity pops of wine, and bubbly sparkling water… Paris is not only delicious, it’s flat dangerous.
“We’ll speak only in French together, okay?” he said to me.
Nodding with a feigned air of oh, but of course! I strode alongside my new Parisian-Moroccan mentally equipping my brain for the next few hours to come. All French. All the time. This challenge was feasible, and not only that, totally reasonable. Here I stood in a foreign country amongst native speakers who let beautiful French roll off their tongues and into the ears of their Parisian counterparts. Of course as the fresh wannabe Frenchie that I am, I’m going to try to speak French.
But for those who’ve ever learned a foreign language know, communicating is much different than conversing.
The number one goal of moving to a new city – country, continent, culture aside – is you want to feel like you belong. Like those mismatched tables and chairs at your local Caféotheque, you want to be that chair with a coffee bean sack cushion that seamlessly blends with the quirky nature of the establishment.
But how does one know when they finally made it to be… accepted?
I took my seat on a wooden stool alongside the velvetine couch reserved for English assistant friends Le Roux and Souriant. Taking a small, philosophical sip of my fruity espresso, I determined there are phases and stages of being… accepted.
“Today I got accused of being French,” I excitedly blurted. Three weeks into living in Paris, this news had weight.
“How can this be true?”
My Frenchie American friend, whom I’ll call Chèvre, curiously asked. Chèvre was staying in Paris for the weekend before moving to West Coast France to teach English. During his first few hours in France, we already were conspiring in ways we could, at least minimally, appear French. Chèvre took the route of purchasing a chic, black reusable Monoprix grocery store sack and reclaimed it as a man-purse. I purchased a long red scarf and denim jacket. We both bought the bookThe Bonjour Effect. In hindsight, we both still had a lot to learn.
Paris has been a long distance relationship starting circa the 5th grade. As with most relationships, we share what one might call… history.
As riveting as French history stories may be, that’s not the kind I’m referring to. Stepping through the doorway of Café Lomi in the 18éme arrondissement, I reference the history I not only shared with this coffee shop but this city too.
So, why Paris? And why study French? To be honest to naysayers, I don’t really have a good reason. I chose French in elementary school because I thought the language sounded pretty. Maybe I had influence from the air of sophistication the word French carried when it rolled off my non-native tongue. Whatever be the case, French is what felt right. And there my relationship with French commenced.
Alone in a coffee shop, I took my seat closest to the bar. It felt like the first day of class at university all over again but in a different setting: I played “student” with my laptop in tow, sitting “front row” at the wooden table closest to the barista counter, and pleasantly nodded to “classmates” parking their laptops, notebooks, and coffee next to me. My professor, the barista. Myself, still myself.
In school, making friends can be a rather brainless agenda. Coining American terminology, everyone’s your friend – just regarded in different categories. You’ve got your friends from the sauna, friends from French class, friends from October Lovers Club, friends from summer camp… These circles mix and match but moral of the story: in college, it’s easier to make friends. You’re consistently surrounded by strangers who are friends you haven’t met yet.