being friendly in France

Bob and Carole

Bob and Carole circa 1967?

Sept. 24

Carole and Bob are coming in 4 days!  Yipee!  (This is the only picture I have of them on my new computer- isn’t that a riot!)  Everyone in Antibes has their own little friendly group, happily chatting away and I’ve been the odd man out… sitting by myself, watching.  And trying to join in every now and then but usually just getting a cursory pleasant (be gone with you!) comment, and then my fickle friends turn back to their group and chatter away, not including me, in a language that isn’t familiar.  So finally!  I’ll have my own little click and I’ll be one of those people that someone else can bother… to be pulled away from all my Antibes 9.24 008fun and offer a poor loner a little bit of my valuable pleasantry if they happen to interrupt our private, lively discussion.  Sounds like someone’s being a sour-puss, but that has been the way it’s been!  People are just all wrapped up in their own little worlds and don’t easily bring in an outsider.  It’s different than the culture I’m used to- those smiling, out-going, goofy Americans!

But, I need to get to the store and buy a list of things before Carole and Bob get here.  The first thing is mouthwash.  Oh my god!  So many people in France have…  bad breath.  There, I said it.  It seems mean, but it’s true.  Oh, my is it true!  The few people that have talked to me I haven’t been able to get close enough to them to join in on the conversation.  I’ve had to back far away.  I’m not kidding.  An older neighbor came up to my outside window to chat.  Usually I’d welcome anyone who was willing to give me a little time for a friendly conversation, but this guy’s breath was SOOO bad that I had to back away from my window!  And as I backed away, he kept coming closer.  Thank goodness I have those metal bars on my windows- I couldn’t stand the smell.  When he left I opened the other window to get a cross breeze in here to air it out. I’m not kidding.  His breath hadn’t been like that last week when he chatted with me.  What could’ve happened in a week?  And how could one section of the world have such bad breath?  And the other thing that is actually sad is that people in this area haven’t had good dental care.   They have dark or missing teeth, sometimes the front two teeth.  Right there in the front… an attractive person, dressed nicely, pleasant, opens their mouth and smiles and there are those dark, unattractive teeth.  Even young people.  Why wouldn’t a nation put more emphasis on the aesthetic appearance of their teeth?  And then that breath…

But, I can’t be one to talk about breath… not today.  Last night I went to a restaurant that I’ve wanted to go to for some time. Le Brulot Pasta, a place that is supposed to have real Provencal cooking.  But I’m not sure what that means, because as far as I can tell all places here have real Provencal cuisine.  It’s like being in Ocean City, MD and getting good seafood- just pick a place.  I first noticed this restaurant one evening while I was walking down a dark, skinny street.  I walked by a window well and there was a whole world in the cellar!  Lively diners, bright white stone walls; it looked so inviting!  So

Dining room in Le Brulot Pasta

Dining room in Le Brulot Pasta

last night, I decided to go and it was totally up to my expectations.  I descended down a grand spiral staircase which decreased in width as it went deeper into what felt like would be a dungeon, that suddenly opened into a beautiful, white stone walled room, that opened through stone arches to another brightly-lit arched-ceiling stone room.  It was

the %#$ GARLIC *$# cream sauce ravioli

the %#$ GARLIC *$# cream sauce ravioli

absolutely breath-taking!  But not nearly as breath-taking as that garlic cream sauce ravioli I ordered!  Whew!  G-A-R-L-I-C being the key word.  Very, very good, but the main thing on my list of things to buy before Carole and Bob arrive is mouthwash.  I seriously don’t know if I can get rid of this garlic breath in the next four days!  I felt myself biting into large chunks of garlic last night, not the cooked soggy kind, but the pieces with a nice little crunch.  And every bite had a few garlic surprises.  Garlic is one of those foods that seems like you’re not really supposed to eat and then only in tinyAntibes 9.23 (11) pieces.  So it’s a real treat when you’re served it in a dish in a nice restaurant and feel like you have permission to eat bite after bite of big chunks of garlic.  Exciting and special.  Not even the wine could cut through that garlic bite last night.  Thank goodness I was by myself.  I brought half the pasta home- it was just too rich to finish.  But I think I’m just going to throw it out.  I can’t let myself go back to round 1 fighting this garlic breath.  I’m just going to have to start now, this morning, trying to get rid of it before Carole and Bob get here, or they’ll think I’m just like all the other Frenchmen.  Now I know where they get that horrible, nasty breath.   

I wanted to tell you about leaving the restaurant.  I asked for my l’addition (pronounced luh-dissee-uhn- it’s taken me three weeks to get the “sh” sound out of that tion and say it like an s.  I just couldn’t bring myself to drop the “sh”).  I put down the correct change plus a tip.  I know, tip is included, but I’m American and also can’t bring myself to get up from the table with no tip.  It makes me feel like such a schmuck.  I had been sitting across from a small spiral staircase going upstairs and noticed the green Sortie (exit) sign my entire dinner.  It just sort of stood there, out of place in that beautiful room.  Merci, c’est tres bonne (Thank-you, it was very good) I breathed on the waiter with my fire breath.  I needed to find a mint or ice cream or something!  I took one last drink of water and got up and started up the small stairs.  Cute, but not really practical.  They were really fairly small stairs.  And they got smaller and smaller as they got to the top.  And I had to step over a wooden wagon wheel, of all things on the top step.  It felt sort of like I was in a cartoon, and then at the very top, there was a small troll-like door, that I opened and stepped right out into the street.  That was odd, but really cute.  A short, fat door, I’m 5’2” and I almost hit my head.  And not the normal parade of Merci, au revoir, merci, au revoir (thank-you, good-bye) line-up of waiters, more gushing than leaving an airplane, that are usually present when you exit a meal.  Hmmm… I guess it’s all part of the atmosphere to exit this way, but sort of a cold send-off.   Odd.  I stood on the street by myself, near the kitchen of all places, away from the well-lit Antibes 9.23 (13)entrance and I thought… wonder what that other word means next to SortieSecours?  I pulled out my pocket-sized English/French dictionary, and looked it up… Guess what it means?  Emergency.  Imagine that…  emergency exit.  Now why wouldn’t I have known an important word like that?  Most descriptive or important French words have the same root word as in English… or something similar so you can figure it out.   Dangerous is dangereux, beautiful is beau, assist is aider.  So… secours?  What’s the root word of secours… ‘let’s fuck with the dumb- ass American’?   So the blonde-haired single woman, who was the only person in the entire restaurant dining by herself, having no one to happily chat with, gets up and makes a fast exit out the emergency exit.  Out the door that no one has probably used in years.  Well, well, well… now we all know it works.  Oh well, it’ll be better when Carole and Bob get here. 

It’s so inconvenient when you don’t understand the language.  Yesterday when I was checking out at Schlecker with my liter of coke, box of Kleenex and Kinder wheat chocolate bar (really, that’s what I was holding), I stepped up to the check-out lady right behind someone who had just finished paying.  The check-out lady smiled and said something I didn’t understand.  I thought she was being nice, but a little chattier than required.  So I smiled and sort of shook my head yes like I usually do, just trying to look friendly and stepped up.  No one asked for a non-french speaking person to come visit their country so I think it’s my duty to be polite and go with the flow.  She repeated herself, I guess, who knows, and I smiled and gently nodded my head.  And then she lifted her hands and shoo-ed me away!  Like I was a stray cat.  Shoo-shoo!  Hmmm…  that wasn’t very nice… How did I know she was saying her register was closed? 

But the sales people are getting to recognize me now.  I’m the only single person “on holiday” as they say here who doesn’t appear to be leaving.  They just see me walking around a lot, trying to be friendly.  Thank goodness I was pleasant to the crew in Dessange and didn’t put up a fuss with paying the extra 10 Euros for my hair color.  I walked past their shop several times yesterday and smiled and waved.  I even walked in once and scared the dainty daylights out of Christian.  I said “J’aime moi cheveux”  (I like my hair).  Which by the way sounds almost exactly like J’aime moi cheval (I like my horse, and he wouldn’t give a damn about my horse.)  He didn’t understand me and I repeated “J’aime, J’aime” as I pointed to my hair.  Then he let out a little squeal and put his hand on his chest and let out an exaggerated sigh.  He was so relieved I was happy!  He’s so sweet.

So today, I’ll go back into Schlecker and buy some mouthwash from the lady who shooed me away yesterday and smile and say Bonjour! in that sing-song voice.  And she’ll know I don’t harbor any hard feelings from her yesterday’s agitated behavior.  I might even get real close and give her a real long, breath-y, garlic-y Booonnn jjjoooouuuuurrrrrr.  Whew-wee!


 As a quick follow-up… I texted Sean about my hair. “My hair looks ok.  A little ash.  thanks for all your help”.   He texted back, “it will wash out and the ash will leave… it will be ok… still having fun?”  Isn’t he nice?  So calming.