It’s not always easy living in France (or any ‘other’ country).
We don’t really understand ‘them’.
They don’t really understand ‘us’.
Most cultural mores are ingrained in childhood and we don’t understand our own let alone someone else’s.
So, we all get frustrated at times…which is what makes it interesting.
A lot has been written on the rudeness of the French; but, they can be very nice, overly helpful, even.
It was the summer of 2004, shortly after we moved to our place in the Vendée and it was time to pick the grapes; make the wine.
We decided that we would like a new oak barrel for the white wine. I looked up wine-making in the ‘pages jaune’ and found a likely looking address for supplies. Off we went.
Of course, we couldn’t find it.
We drove around for a bit, having the the usual marital discussions that take place when lost, then stopped at the local tourist office.
I did the required ‘Excusez-moi pour vous deranger mais j’ai une petite probleme’ and proceeded to explain, as best I could, that we had just moved to the area, had wine grapes that were almost ready and we needed to buy a new wine barrel. (I’d been told it helps to give personal information about the problem so that the person you are asking for help ‘knows’ you).
Then I showed her the name and address of the shop we were looking for.
‘Non, non’ she said. That is a commercial site and they only sell very large, professional equipment.
I gave her a smiling ‘Merci’ and we headed for the door.
She called us back and said her cousin made wine, maybe he would know where to buy a barrel. If we would wait a minute, she’d call him.
She called the cousin, who wasn’t home.
His wife was, though, and she suggested that the mayor’s secretary might know.
So the nice Tourist Office lady called the mayor’s secretary, who didn’t know of anyplace either, but hang, on…the mayor ought to know.
Well the mayor didn’t know where to buy the barrel, but he wanted to know if we knew anything about making wine. The question was relayed and we admitted complete and total ignorance. ‘Mais non!’ How could they (being Frenchmen) allow us to mishandle the vendange! We must be helped! The mayor knew of a friend of his nephew’s that might be of help.
We had been in the tourist office, trying to leave, for 45 minutes. The tourist lady now tried to explain about the friend of the nephew and what he could do for us and my French had a complete collapse. I, smilingly, thanked her profusely and once again we started to leave.
As we got to the door a young man walked in. The lady behind the desk greets him (as required) and asked him if he spoke English as she was trying to help us but we had reached a language impasse. He looks at us and smiles, which requires greetings all ’round.
He then explained that he didn’t speak any English, but his girlfriend did and if we’d wait right there he’d go fetch her.
10 minutes later he is back with the girlfriend, who speaks less English than I do French – in other words, no help at all.
We struggle on, but the quest has changed: Now we are no longer looking for a wine barrel but are looking for someone to instruct us in the fine art of wine-making. The situation has gotten totally out of hand but I can’t think of a nice way to stop it.
It’s like a runaway train with no brakes!
Every time I think of a way to say thank you and leave someone else has a friend of a cousin of an uncle of a friend that would be happy to help. The Tourist Lady has the phone permanently attached to her ear. My only hope is that it’s getting close to 1:00 – lunch time. No French person ever misses lunch.
Life, traffic, everything comes to a halt.
We have now been in the tourist office over 2 hours.
The lady, finally puts her hand over the receiver and joyfully tells us that she has found someone who will come to our house (45 minutes away) that very night and teach us how to make wine.
Now what do we do?!?
Mon mari is absolutely no help – he’s over staring out the window, having clearly established that he speaks no French. I manage to think to tell her that we had something planned and then, finally, a thought entered my feeble brain (in a timely enough manner that I could express it in French before the subject changed):
I just remembered (I told them) that the nephew of our neighbor’s friend’s father (it seemed important to make and/or express the relationship in the most complicated way possible) would be visiting on the week end and he spoke English. I’m sure that our neighbors would then be able to answer our questions/properly instruct us.
It was happily agreed by everyone that it would be much better for our neighbors to help us than an outsider. We all exchanged the 4 Vendéen kisses (we’re all friends by now), we promised to stop back at the tourist office and tell her how the wine turned out and we are free to leave.
Nearly 3 hours later we are back on the road, exhausted….and still no clue as to where to buy the new wine barrel….
From the archives, summer of 2006. We did eventually find a small oak barrel, at the garden store… Where else? Grapes grow on vines in the ground, right? Stuff that grows in the ground is a garden…..
Salmon with Lemon and Herbs, Lightly Smoked
3 salmon fillets, 8 oz each 2 for dinner, 1 for the starter the next night
2 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme leaves
1 tbs snipped fresh parsley
1 tsp rock salt
wood chips for smoking – apple is nice
In small bowl whisk together lemon and oil, it should get thick. Add herbs. Spread marinade evenly over salmon and allow to marinate 10 – 15 minutes.
Soak a small handful of wood chips in water for at least 15 minutes.
Charcoal: Put some charcoal in the barbecue, off to one side and light it. When the coals are glowing, add the salmon, either in a basket or on a grill mat, to the other side – in other words, not over the coals. Throw some wood chips on the coals and cover. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes
Gas grill: Only light one side of the grill. Wrap the soaked wood chips loosely in foil. Poke a few holes in the foil and place on the grill. Keep the fish off of direct heat and the grill cover closed and vented or propped open an inch or so. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes.
In all cases, fish should flake easily but not be dry. Slightly pink in the center is perfect. Remove from heat and serve, sliding it off the skin if needed.
Prepare lettuce – wash and spin dry. Tear and put into a medium bowl. Add 1 – 2 tbs dressing and toss to coat. Arrange on 2 plates. Slice tomato and arrange around lettuce. Cut or crumble feta and add to plates. Flake or cut salmon and add to salads, arranging nicely. Drizzle with a bit more dressing. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.
Creamy Herb Dressing
1/2 cup (4oz, 125ml) Greek or plain yogurt
1 tbs Dijon-style mustard
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs fresh snipped chives
1 tbs fresh snipped tarragon
2 tbs olive oil – the good stuff
Snip tarragon and chives with scissors. In small bowl whisk yogurt, mustard and lemon juice. Add oil, a bit at a time and whisk well. Add herbs. This will keep a week.
Now, back to packing…. Fascinating details of current escapades on Wed…..