The census-taker came to our house today.
I've never been interviewed by a census-taker before.
I've definitely not been interviewed by a census-taker in French before.
She was a very nice young woman and she brought her darling little daughter with her.
It's Wednesday, you see, and in France young children don't go to school on Wednesday.
The little girl had pretty pink glasses on, her hair in a pony-tail and had recently lost both front teeth.
She came in the house (puppies were in the pantry) holding her mother's hand. Once inside she dropped her mom's hand, took a step towards me, very quietly said 'Bonjour' and presented her check for the obligatory two kisses hello.
I am constantly amazed and impressed by the manners of the French, from tiny little girls to crusty old men.
Everyone is always greeted properly and with a certain amount of ceremony. No one walks into a room and tosses off a general 'hey'.
No one hangs back.
We were once at a village picnic, with about 35 people, mostly related to each other.
The teenage son of our neighbor came to borrow his dad's car.
This was in the Vendée, and, in the Vendée one does four kisses, rather than the two that is more common in other areas.
The young man came into the group and greeted every person there with at least a few words and 4 kisses, right, left, right, left…..
Even us, and we had never met him.
He spoke to his parents and a few other people for a few minutes, got the keys and then went around to say good-bye….
Every person exchanged 4 kisses with him and said good-bye.
He spent five minutes in conversation and fifteen minutes saying hello and good-bye.
It's a little confusing to us foreigners…. I never know at what point the handshakes stop and the kissing starts.
There is a protocol, I just am not sure what it is.
Children always offer a cheeck to adults, and young people offer to older people.
When I meet another adult we normally shake hands the first time.
Sometimes we shake hands the second and even third time.
If one is greeting a stranger, such as when one walks into a shop, a simple 'Bonjour' is adequate, but when one is introduced, human contact of some sort is required.
I'm never quite certain what triggers the change from handshake to kisses.
Oh, and if your hands are too dirty to shake? You offer an elbow.
I met the local farmer for the first time while he was working on his tractor engine. He offered me his right elbow – which I was supposed to, more or less, touch with my right hand.
I hadn't a clue why he was shoving his elbow at me.
Now I know.
The other thing I know is that once kisses are exchanged, kisses are always exchanged. One never goes back to a handshake – or fails to offer a cheek.
One can only get by so long with the 'I'm an American and I don't know any better' excuse.
Especially when a 5-year-old understands it all…..
I'll comfort myself with some nice stuffed chicken breasts.
These are easy to make: slice a pocket, fill and tie.
They're baked with a drizzle of olive oil to make a crunchy crust. I snipped the string in a few places to make it easier to remove but left it on when serving: they looked nicer! Get breasts that are on the large side.
Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Ham, Spinach and Cheese
2 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
1 – 2oz (50gr) Gruyère or other hard cheese, sliced
2 slices Prosciutto (about 2oz, 60gr)
6 – 8 small spinach leaves
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
2 tbs Parmesan, grated
1 tsp plus 1 tbs olive oil
With a sharp knife make a long slit in the edge of the chicken breast – cutting horizontally and being careful not to cut through the other side. Make the cut on the 'straight' edge of the breast. You should have a pocket the shape of the breast with 1/2 inch of 'uncut' chicken around 3 sides. Slice the Prosciutto and cheese to fit inside. You will have 2 or 3 layers of Prosciutto, 1 or 2 of cheese, then the spinach on top of the cheese. Wrap the entire breast with kitchen string to hold it together – and keep as much cheese inside as possible.
Lightly whisk egg and put into a shallow bowl or deep plate. Mix bread crumbs and Parmesan and put on to another plate. Lightly oil the center of a baking sheet, a large enough place for both breasts with an inch or 2 in between. Dip the tied breasts into the egg, coating all sides, then into the crumbs, coating all sides (use your fingers). Lay on the oiled sheet. Drizzle the tops with the rest of the oil and bake, 400F (200C) for 30 minutes, until the crust is golden and the chicken done. Remove, snip the string in a few places, and serve.
Au revoir… kiss,kiss