lundi, novembre 07, 2005

05.11.06: Le déjeuner de six-heures

Can you actually spend 6 hours at lunch, and enjoy it?

We have been given a lot information about social customs here and cautioned about a certain level of formality that is not typically practiced by us new world folks. So, with a just a slight touch of anxiousness I accepted an invitation to a Sunday lunch at a colleague's home.

Appointment for noon on Sunday, and I assumed we would not be watching the NFL on the TV.

I drove down to Bois-le-Rois, only got lost once enroute (not bad for me, actually) and arrived generally on time with a nice bouquet of flowers for the hostess.

They asked me if I wanted something to drink, and I said: "Well, if there is coffee available that would be nice, or just a glass of water". They looked at me like I had a W sticker across my forehead, or something. What was I thinking? Coffee is only for aprés-dessert (and well, it's café, not coffee). And they were seemingly uncomfortable with the notion of giving me a glass of water. After they finished harrassing me for being too américain, they explained that despite the fact that it is noon, it is time for an apéritif, and I should have a glass of champagne or a beer. Well OK then, beer for me it is, and what time does the football game start?

This is then followed by 'pain surpris', little sandwiches of several varities as a little entrée, then a move to the dining room table for the main plat -- beef bourgoignaise served with homemade spaetzel, accompanied by a nice bottle of red wine. A little break, some nice conversation, then a plate of cheeses (yes, you know the kind), a little more nice conversation, followed by a homemade chocolate cake with sauce anglaise, and in acquiescence to my american ways, I was allowed to have café with my dessert. All of this was accomplished in just under 6 hours! Actually, when I looked at my watch after dessert I was a little stunned. We had just had some great conversation all afternoon and the time passed very pleasantly.

So what's on the mind of regular folks in conversations with Americans?

  • Well, invariably I get to hear the opinion-du-moment of the W thing, as expected.

  • Also, almost everyone that I have a decent conversation with eventually wants to know if Ohio has the death penalty. So, that is a big curiosity here (from the folks who invented the guillotine). I have tried to explain the state / federal court systems and appeal processes that result in changes in the death penalty implementation, but this is apparently not well understood. Federalism, state's rights, local rights, etc. is not a concept that France has experience with (Evidence the current situation, where after 12 days of rioting the national government finally gave permission to local mayors to impose curfews. Give permission after 12 days of chaos, excuse me?)

  • Many people also are confused over the notion that the Supreme Court can have an influence on abortion rights. The typical response is: "why is this something that the court is even involved with?" Well, that's not really a question I even try to answer.

  • Sunday we spent some time talking about employment contracts. They were absolutely stunned when I told them I have had probably 20 jobs in my life, and never had an employment contract (until now, at any rate). The whole notion of not having every detail in an employment situation explicitly defined and agreed to in writing made them very uncomfortable. I guess we are just living on the edge. Crazy new world people.

So, a Sunday afternoon in November with no Who-dey and no Hudy D-Lite, but all in all, very enjoyable. Welcome to the Jungle, really.

mercredi, novembre 02, 2005

05.11.02: Resto Pensée

I think it was just over 100 years ago that Pavlov won the Nobel Prize for his work on conditioned response. The thing I don't remember (from the only psychology course that I took in high school) is, what did the dogs do after he rang the bell when he didn't give them the damn food? OK, so we know that they salivated, but how angry were they when they didn't get the food, and what did they do next?

I was thinking about this last night (OK, almost every night) when I was waiting for a glass of water, which seems to be a big deal over here. After 40 years of restaurant service in the U.S., I have been totally conditioned to expect a glass of water delivered, without my asking, (and independent of whether I need it or want it) within about 2 minutes after I sit down. Moving here I get to experience the conditioned-response-meets-denial side of the experience spectrum. And on more topics than just a glass of water.

[Sidebar: So anyway, as I'm wondering how many times to request water before it is considered embarassingly rude (by local standards), the woman at the table next to me plops her baby on the table and changes her diaper (the baby's) in the middle of the restaurant dining room. Which gives me another thought ... do people do this in the US and I just never paid attention, or have I just discovered another quaint local custom? I think it might be the latter. OK, aprés-change, a very cute little baby]

I am coming around to recognize that what is so much perceived rudeness between foreigners is just a lot of seemingly common situations (but from independent perspectives) and the participants have vastly conflicting conditioned responses. For a glass of water in a restaurant -- not a big deal. The handshake thing they got going on over here -- hopefully not a big deal in the long run ('cause I cannot just keep it straight every day exactly who I have seen already today, and who I haven't). But, on the other hand, two unfortunate deaths in the suburbs leads to burning 1,000 cars a night in Paris for twelve nights and counting. And 'splain to me again that thing where we end up in Irak. Who rang the damn bell?

For my part, I am trying to pay attention to what I have been conditioned to do vs. what it is that I either really want or need. I hope that's not too french-y for the long haul. It may be a good strategy for holding onto some sanity.

Oh, and did I mention ... hold the H2O, forget about the damn dogs ... the côte du Rhône with the fusilli au saumon is quite excellent, merci.

(The photo is the local Italian restaurant where they do serve water, have a pretty good lasagna, and they keep very polite smiles on their faces while I butcher the french language, mercilessly.)