I just finished this book, and I need to review it so that I can pass it along to my daughter-in-law, who sees France, as I do, through eyes of love. Americans either love France or hate it, for some reason France evokes strong emotions one way or the other.
This author is a New Yorker, and her experiences are not my experiences, because her culture is not my culture. New York is a culture all its own. On the other hand, her experiences as an expat are universal, and her insecurity with the language, the culture and the customs are magnified by her commitment to marrying a French man and living in France for the rest of her life.
For the record, I really loved this book.
Can you read a recipe and have a pretty good idea what it is going to look like and how it will taste? In my family, we read cook books for fun. The recipes Elizabeth Bond has included are great recipes, a great start on French cooking the simple and fresh way. Even someone who has never cooked French food can make most of the dishes she creates in this book. In my very favorite chapter, A New Year’s Feast, there are several recipes for North African dishes I have eaten and loved – and oh, I am eager to try these! Chicken Tajine with Two Kinds of Lemon! Tajine with Meatballs and Spiced Apricots! Oh, YUMMMM!
In one part of the book, the author talks about some very basic differences between how Americans approach life and how the French view life:
I watched the couples walking around the lake. “Maybe it’s the New Yorker in me. I’m too used to rushing around. But everyone here is so relaxed, it’s like they’re moving in slow motion.”
“Why should they rush? They’re not going to get anywhere.”
Sometimes I really have no idea what he is taling about.
“You will never understand. You come from a place where everything is possible.” We lay side by side on the grass, our eyes half closed.
“It’s Henry Miller that said, ‘In America, every man is potentially a president. Here, every man is potentially a zero.’ ”
And then he told me a story.
“When I was sixteen it was time to decide what kind of studies I would pursue. I was the best in the class in Math and Physics, but also the best in Literature. I went to the school library and the woman behind the desk gave me a book. It was called All the Jobs in the World. I looked through it. I found two things I liked: scientific researcher and film director. I brought the book to the front and showed her my choices. ‘Ah non,’ she said, ‘You forgot to look at the key.’ And she pointed to the top of the page. Next to each job were the dollar signs – three dollar signs if the job paid a lot of money, one dollar sign if it paid very little. Next to the dollar sign was a door. If the door was wide open it was very easy to tet this job, if the door was open just a little bit, it was very hard. ‘Regard,‘ she said, ‘You have picked only jobs with no dollar signs and a closed door. Tu n’y arriveras jamais. You will never get there.”
‘You should become an engineer,’ she said. My parents never met anyone who did these other things. We don’t come from that world. They had no friends they could call to get me a job. They were afraid I would fail and they couldn’t help me. They were afraid I would have no place in the society. And I didn’t have the force to do it myself. I didn’t want to disappoint them. So I became an engineer.”
“It’s just like that here. If you want to do something different, if you head sticks up just a little, they cut it off. It’s been like that since the Revolution. You know the saying, Liberte,’ Egalite,’ Fraternite,’ equality is right in the middle. Everyone has got to be the same.
Of all the stories Gwendal has told me, before or since, this one shocked me the most. Never in my life, not once, had anyone ever told me there was something I couldn’t do, couldn’t be.
Have you ever known an expat wife (a woman who has married a man of another culture and lived in his country)? Expat wives are some of the bravest women I have ever met. No matter how long you have been married to a man of another culture, you can still be surprised.
The expat wives I have known have been smart, gifted people, woman who have been blessed to see the world through the eyes of more than one culture, and it changes everything. Their children are amazing – most will speak – and think – in more than one language. They have a sort of international fluidity, as well as intercultural fluency. It isn’t everyone’s choice, but those who chose it often live lives you and I can only begin to imagine. Elizabeth Bond has opened the door a little, and shared some of those experiences with us.
The book I bought has Reader’s Groups questions in the back, and they are good questions. Read the questions first; it gives you food for thought as you read through her experiences.