Thursday, April 9, 2009

How French Have I Become?

Unless otherwise noted, all materials on this blog are (c) 2009 by Madeleine Vedel

In what ways have I become French?

In what ways am I still American?

I’ve lived more than a quarter of my life in France. Do I have any clue what it is to be American now? Fifteen years after my departure? Am I even up on what current American culture is? Social mores have no doubt shifted. For example, when I came to France, I carried with me the belief that you should get married before having children. This point of view was greeted skeptically by numerous friends here. I also put milk in my coffee, to the horror of many a Parisian friend who assured me quite seriously that the combination is poison for the liver. I like open windows in a car. But, I was told, air currents are very bad for your health. Hmmm. In the beginning I went overboard trying to adapt and Frenchify myself. But with time, I've moved back a bit to center. I've in some ways chosen certain behaviors that are simply me, no matter where I live. And, I've accepted that I'm an oddity now, belonging -- perhaps?-- nowhere, and thus anywhere?


If I drink coffee, it is espresso.
I hang my laundry out to dry (or on a rack in the bathroom in winter)
I care about meal times and have salad and veggies, plus a glass of wine, at nearly all (excepting breakfast).
I can, will, and enjoy discussing politics with most anyone.
I know my wines and my wine regions, and have friends and neighbors whose bottles fill my cellar.
I can whip out a simple fresh fruit tart with any and all fruit I find at the market, on a tree, on a bush.
I wear sneakers for playing tennis or hiking. Never in town.
I have my hair done on a relatively regular basis (and if I had the budget, pedicures would be on the list too).
I eat cheese at the end of a meal.
I can wax poetic on cheeses, bread, chocolate and wine.
I can live in small houses built of stone.
I don’t need the latest technical device to be happy.
I believe in long vacations for all.
I believe in shorter work hours that allow me to be at the family dinner table every night, and even better, to pick up my kids after school.
I love the idea of a single payer medical insurance system.
I think it’s normal to be able to drive less than an hour to the sea, and 2-3 to the mountains.
I find myself humming along to George Brassens, and recognizing French songsters. However, I draw the line at Johnny.
I know the names of most of the major politicians in France (thanks to the news, and the Guignols).
I’m beginning to think it’s normal to take kids to modern art exhibits on a Sunday.
I wait patiently in line at the market, and take the time to search for the right change.
I zoom through traffic circles.
I drive my stick shift like a pro.
My dessert portions are small.
I make my own mayonnaise rather than buying it in a jar.
I can keep my voice down in restaurants and cafes, and enjoy a tête à tête.
I’m on a first-name basis with my chocolatier, my baker, my cheesemakers and my beekeeper.
I think shopping in open air markets is normal.
I think paying 1E/litre of diesel is normal.
I prefer not to drive, but to take public transportation when possible.
I bring my dog with me to restaurants, cafés, the hairdresser...
I think jeans should be cut to accent my figure, and a t-shirt is best when slim and form-fitting.
Sandals should be comfortable but elegant.
I don’t wear Birkenstocks.
I no longer say “um,” I say “euh.”
I call my gynecologist a gyneco (ji ne ko).
I wear two piece bathing suits almost exclusively.
I’ve invested in elegant under-things.
I haven’t seen a baseball or an American football since univeristy.
I prefer to bake with grams and milliliters.
I like little cars.
I think it’s normal to make salads with only one vegetable, like green beans or tomatoes.
I care about my children’s penmanship.
I find “do, do, l’enfant do” much easier to sing to a baby than “rock-a-by baby.”
I (try) to serve grown-up food to my children.
Sweet butter is a staple in my house.
Ice cream is not a staple in my house- though it is an occasional luxury.
Herbal tea = lemon verbena, mint, liquorice, orange blossom and chamomile.
I don’t do televised sports.
I know that broccoli grows in the winter, asparagus in the spring
I can handle the topics of sex, religion and politics at the dinner table (though I probably won’t launch the discussion).
A quick & easy dinner is either a quiche or braised meat with veggies in wine.


I love breakfast: pancakes, French toast, waffles, omelets
I put milk in my coffee (even if on occasion it is soy or rice milk)
I put chocolate in my coffee (love that mocha!).
I belly laugh at Jon Stewart, but only chuckle at the Guignols.
I laugh out loud with my mouth open – not quite a guffaw, but, it does carry.
I am optimistic, enthusiastic and willing to take chances.
I cried at the inauguration of Barack Obama, and sang along with the American anthems.
I love Bonnie Rait, Joe Cocker and Bruce Springstein.
I speak English to my boys, and express disappointment with “bummer.”
References to Star Trek and The Wizard of Oz riddle my speech.
I love hamburgers with all the fixings.
I eat potato peels.
I put ketchup on hamburger and saucisses.
I make biscuits.
I make muffins.
I put cinnamon in lots of cakes and cookies.
I read Little Bear, The Wild Things, Clifford the Big Red Dog and other childhood greats to my kids.
I read the NYTimes, the New Yorker and Newsweek to get my news.
I’m learning to use facebook and blogging as business and social tools.
I bake my own bread.
I like cornbread and carrot cake.
My boys are dressed nearly always in t-shirts, jeans and sneakers.
I buy my boys clothes at the Gap, and US Outlet malls when possible.
I like to acquire kitchen accessories and tools.
My main source of books, cds and dvds is
The vast majority of my movie and literary history is American and English.
I connect with Friends and Meg Ryan movies.
I like happy endings.
I do my yoga with American podcasts and videocasts.
I vote in US elections.
I am willing to shout after my kids in public, no matter who will hear me.
If I’m tired, I’ll bring my kids to school in yucky sweats (but I won’t get out of the car!).
I think it is normal to wear yoga clothes in public.
I am known to respond to questions and statements with a version of “unhunh.” Or “hunh?”
I don’t believe one should suffer to be beautiful.
I like to have guys as friends.
I wear clogs.
I still use my measuring cups and spoons.
I keep maple syrup in the house.
I’m not too sure what an iron is for, and in any case, I like that wrinkled look.
I adore Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie.
I’m not really interested in learning the Marseillaise.
If they could choose, my kids would live on pasta, lasagna and fried rice.
I like to chat with the postman, my waitress, etc.,
I compliment people sincerely, and praise them when a job is well done.
I believe in positive reinforcement.
I love to hug.
I like nice.
I like gentle.
I like friendly.
I like cities where pedestrians have the right of way (and cars stop for them!)

No doubt I'll keep adding to this list as time goes by.

1 comment:

The Sabbatical Chef said...

Bonjour Madeleine!
May I put a link to your blog on mine?
I enjoy reading your musings, especially this one. I mentally put check marks next to the items on your list. It's cool to know all the places and people you are talking about. Well, most of them, anyway. I miss Arles...