When I first moved to France, I was convinced that I would glide effortlessly into a group of French people, and these people would be my French friends. Co-expats, you may now stop laughing at my naïveté. Those who would move to France… sorry I burst your bubble.
The thing is, French people, in general, have a fairly hard exterior that’s tough to crack. There are, of course, exceptions, like the handful of girlfriends I’ve made who wanted to better their English, or the two French boyfriends I’ve had, one of whom had a grand total of 0% French blood (which does make a difference here), and the other of which I “met” for the second time when he was living in the States and had no French-speaking people to talk to. I was like a memory of the country he left behind, but let’s be fair, that’s what he was to me, back then.
For the most part, however, it’s tough to meet a French person who’s interested in you further than why you speak French and whether you teach English. And it’s not because they’re necessarily being unfriendly… it’s just that they already have friends, and the friendliness factor is low here as compared to my native country.
Case in point: this summer, when the Country Boy and I were visiting New York had met up with some of my friends for drinks at a midtown bar, we gained access to the roof, where TCB immediately lit up a smoke, as French boys are wont to do when the moment they are in a smoking-friendly zone. Soon after, other people came up to the roof, including one American boy in particular, complete with khakis (sorry American boys, but TCB has a feud with khakis, ever since I showed him a picture from the Polo website, and he, aghast, turned to me and asked, “Why would anyone wear anything that ugly?”)
But I digress. The khakis-wearing boy came up to TCB, a dollar in his outstretched hand, and asked if he could bum a smoke. Which to TCB sounded like gibberish, especially considering the dollar. He looked at me for clarification, and I explained that the boy wanted to buy a cigarette from him. TCB found this very strange, gave the boy a cigarette and refused his dollar, and they immediately began chatting. Now, this boy spoke no French, and TCB, while trying very hard, doesn’t really speak all that much English, but somehow, they had a nice little conversation about Sarkozy.
TCB found this entire interaction very strange.
I didn’t really know how to explain why it was appropriate, but it was. It didn’t bother him; it just confused him. Which is fair, I suppose, but it got me thinking about all of the social norms that I had to get used to, once I finally drifted into TCB’s very French social circle two years ago.
With my expat friends, parties were made for drifters. The host might have said 8, but unless dinner was being served, you could come at 10… under the assumption that everyone else would already be drunk. At French parties, even if people have started snacking, no one starts drinking until everyone has arrived. Overgeneralization is the rule when it comes to social norms; I do realize this, and I’m aware that every group has their own thing. But there is one norm that I will never, ever forget that seems to transcend any other rules in France. It is the rule.
When you arrive at an American party, it’s acceptable, even expected, that when you show up, you’ll mutter “Hi,” in the general direction of the room, maybe do a sort of windshield wiper wave, and then grab a drink. But at a French party, you say hello — and goodbye — to everyone. Individually. Handshakes between men, unless they are very, very close, and bises if a woman is involved. No exceptions. Even if you’ve been sick, you come stand in front of the person, say hello, and then apologize that you can’t say hello “properly.” Which makes for awkward exits when you stand up in the wee hours of the morning, suddenly realize you’re trashed, and try to sneak off quietly.
It also makes for interesting arrivals when, as in TCB’s family, giant parties attended by about a hundred people are thrown. Because you do go around and say hello to everyone, even if it takes you 45 minutes.
Perhaps the best illustration of this, for me, is a scene I witnessed a few weeks ago. TCB and I were sitting in his parents’ kitchen, watching as his father and sister made a fondant aux pommes (which is ridiculous and essentially apples suspended in butter held together with just enough flour… I endeavor to obtain the recipe soon). A friend of the family arrived and came over to shake hands with Thierry… who offered an elbow. I looked at TCB incredulous… he just smiled.
This pork roast recipe has become my standby… it’s easy to make and delicious. But it’s definitely the sort of recipe you wouldn’t want to be making if a French person dropped by; you might have to offer your elbow to shake, lest the visitor get a mustard-covered hand.
The side dish is what I really want to talk about, though. The delicious combination of potimarron (red kuri squash), chestnuts and sliced onion makes for a perfect autumnal treat.
Autumn Roast Pork, Potimarron, Chestnuts, Onion
1 2-pound pork roast
4 tbsp. grainy mustard
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, (I used 2 small onions) thinly sliced
2 cups potimarron (or pumpkin), diced
salt to taste
1 cup cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Brush the entire pork roast with the mustard. Place in a a roasting pan with a rack, fat-side up.
Toss the oil, onion, potimarron and salt. Place in the bottom of the roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, add the chestnuts to the bottom of the roasting pan and toss to combine. Continue roasting for an additional 30 minutes.
Remove the roast to a plate and tent with foil. Allow to rest 15 minutes before slicing and serving.