It’s one thing to learn French but the whole French culture issue is another story. I love our bi-cultural family and all the experiences it has afforded. However, Being an American married to a man whose Mom is French can be both a challenge and a blessing.
Moments that offended my 20 year old self now endear my 50 year old heart. We are the best of friends but some of the humorous things that have occurred over the years – oh my…
Here’s a snapshot of an afternoon from our recent visit to France.
When ma belle-mère told me this summer “Don’t order a wine,” I just smiled. I should start by saying that over the last 30 plus years, I’ve said to my husband a thousand times “I know that your mom didn’t mean to be rude, but…”
I can’t tell you how many times, she has said things to me that if someone else heard them they would cringe. But, I’ve learned that it’s just – what I’ve come to call lost in translation or LIT. Over the years I’ve watched for this in other non-native English speakers, and it really exists. It’s hard to describe, but in a nutshell as good as her English is, the little subtleties that occur in a language are LIT. You can translate words, but trying to translate a subtlety is extremely difficult if not impossible. I’m sure I’d have the same issue if I spoke French or another language, but I don’t – cause oh – I can’t – but I’m trying.
“Don’t order a wine,” she said as we walked out of the house one afternoon heading downtown to people watch. “Quoi?” I said. “Don’t order a wine, they’ll think you’re a drunk,” she responded. I’m sure the look on my face prompted her follow-up. “French people don’t drink wine in the afternoon – they’ll think you’re a drunk,” she grinned. “Okay… then what should I order?” I said, laughing dans ma tête. “A Panache,” she grinned.
Now, this was not my first or second or even third trip to France. I’ve been to France many times; I’ve been to French gatherings, restaurants, homes, etc… It’s different but it’s not that different. I’ve never been uncomfortable and I don’t ever recall anyone ever being rude to me. I usually just follow along and I’ve never had any problems. So, as I explain this, I don’t want it to sound like she was trying to school me in French etiquette. She wasn’t. She was really just trying to say, have a great time. No for real, that’s all she meant. Don’t read into it. There was no sarcasm intended. She just wanted us to have a nice time and of course to subtly remind us that the French don’t drink wine in the afternoon while people watching. LIT at its finest.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I planned on naming her Danielle. Until the day I got a letter in the mail from Ma belle-mère that said “I guess a name like Jennifer just wouldn’t be good enough for you guys.” What she really meant was – she liked the name Jennifer and she was tossing it out there as an option. My daughter’s name is Jennifer.
Just so you know, I personally would not have ordered a wine in the afternoon. Normally I would have ordered a grand crème to wake me up and my husband would have had a Belgian beer. But, this day I ordered a Panache.
Believe me there have been times that I’ve shaken my head thinking – wow that did not come out very nice. But there’s never any ill intent. It’s merely LIT.
I’ve learned to listen for what she is not saying – rather than to what she is saying. And it’s always with love and good intentions.
Bisous ma belle-mere.
Originally written as a guest blog for one of my favorite travel sites. Edited here to shorten.