I was asked recently, by someone heading for a short stint in France, if I could think of any obvious cultural pitfalls to try and avoid when she arrived. The need to greet all present before launching into the nitty-gritty of the reason for being somewhere, and the 'bise', (the delightful French custom of greeting by way of a kiss or kisses), came to mind immediately.
A little later, I was preparing myself a tisane, a herbal tea, made, in this case, exclusively from the plants in the gardens of the Talloires Abbey, when I remembered an awkward moment that I had experienced many years before.
Then, employed by the French government as an English-speaking assistante, my rather vague job description was to help out the English teachers with their classes in two French collèges. It was a nine-month position and, as I was young and carefree, it seemed like an excellent way to experience first-hand living à la française.
As luck would have it, I was posted to Grenoble, where the only person that I knew in France, lived. My friend suggested that she meet me at the train station and take me back to her parents' house for a couple of days until I found my feet. Hugely relieved at the idea, I accepted. Breakfast had finished for the family when I arrived, but the mother busied herself with preparing me a cup of tea ... only the cup was not like any cup that I had drunk tea from before. In my limited experience, soup would have been a more suitable liquid and I looked around for a spoon, thinking that it was strange that no-one in all my years studying French at school and at university had prepared me for drinking tea like the French. But, there was no spoon and I wriggled uncomfortably, hearing my own mother's voice concerning soup-drinking etiquette. "Don't slurp." "Tilt the bowl at an angle away from you and use your spoon to get the last drops." "No, Catherine, do not pick up the bowl with your hands." What was I to do? I procrastinated, waited until my host left the room, grabbed the bowl with both hands, downed the tea and slipped the bowl quickly back in place... precisely as I should have done, minus the haste and embarrassment.
And now, for a bit of cultural confusion in reverse.
Back in Australia, my daughter took a packet of Mini Bites (bite-sized brown rice crackers) to school to eat at recess. Hoeing into them, there was a loud guffaw from the boy to her right. Said monsieur then reached into his pocket for his iPhone. Still laughing, he took a photo to send back to his classmates in France. His language background took him on an altogether different mind journey ... if further explanation needed click here
Monday, 27 June 2016
Saturday, 28 May 2016
|First...and last coffee of the day. No time!|
I had a lovely Saturday recently on the Central coast of New South Wales attending the French Country Market, held on the grounds of the Chertsey primary school. I booked and ran a stall and it was a pleasure to spend the day chatting to fellow francophiles about my book and our French house, which we have on holiday let.
|French Country Market - Chertsey|
|Our little stall in Chertsey|
We were clearly the amateur stand alongside the well-polished stalls! The last time that we had done something similar was when we were living in France and we participated in the Talloires vide-grenier, literally 'empty attic', the equivalent of a whole village garage sale.
|Vide-grenier - Talloires|
- Both days were in May and, for us as stallholders, they started at the crack of dawn, were amazingly tiring but were brilliant fun.
- We sold more than we were expecting!
- Both were friendly places where people happily stopped to chat and swap stories.
|Our little stall in Talloires, looking out over the Annecy Lake.|
- The weather... A few days out of winter here in Australia, and despite the fact that I started the day wearing a coat and jumper, by 9 o'clock I was wishing that I had dressed in shorts and tee-shirt.
- The setting - as the photos attest - French village v. Australian bush.
- Australians don't haggle like the French do!
Wednesday, 11 May 2016
Highs or lows; reds or blues; g'days or bonjours; same spiritual connection...
My husband returned from a work trip last night. He had been to far central west Queensland and, from Sydney, it had taken him 28 hours to get there by car, 3 planes, car, an overnight stop and then a 6-hour flat bitumen and dirt road trip. Along the final leg of the journey, a distance of nearly 400 km, he passed a car - one. There was a bit more life at the only roadside shed/pub, where he stopped to have a Diet Coke and was gently ribbed by one of the, well, I presume, locals, for "living it up, mate!"
Job completed he turned around to do the whole lot again that same afternoon, hoping to make it past Winton to Longreach for his next day's flight out. There were no rooms to be had at the inn or anywhere else. A rugby league carnival had come to town.
Undeterred, he took a room in Winton and shared it with the thousands of bugs that commandoed their way into his room around locked door and window frames, to keep him company. Astute he is, my husband. He calmly turned on the air conditioning until the flying insects could shiver no more and got a few hours of rest, before completing the last 180 km to Longreach and his next plane.
I thought I'd share his journey with you.
From the French mountains to the Australian desert plains; the bright blues and greens of the Annecy Lake to the many shades of outback red; the sensual sounds of the French oh là là to the slow, unhurried Aussie drawl - you can see for yourselves how we live our different lives.
Talloires photo credits: https://www.facebook.com/annecylavenisedesalpes/
Sunday, 24 April 2016
April 25th - it is ANZAC Day.
It is a special day in Australia and New Zealand.
We remember fallen soldiers from past and present conflicts, give humble thanks to our serving men and women and try and imagine a world of peace and love.
Here is an excerpt from the Australian War Memorial website, describing what took place, 101 years ago: (https://www.awm.gov.au/commemoration/anzac/anzac-tradition/)
The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months. At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated from the peninsula, with both sides having suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. More than 8,000 Australian soldiers had died in the campaign. Gallipoli had a profound impact on Australians at home, and 25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who died in the war.
Although the Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, the actions of Australian and New Zealand forces during the campaign left a powerful legacy. What became known as the “Anzac legend” became an important part of the identity of both nations, shaping the ways in which they viewed both their past and their future.
It is now 9 o'clock in the morning, here in Australia, and our dawn services, emotional, poignant and attracting ever-growing support, are over. But, in a little village on the other side of the world, another ceremony will take place in a couple of hours.
In the west of France, in Villers-Bretonneux, liberated in WW1 by Australian forces, the local school is called l'école Victoria, in honour of the Victorian school children whose fund-raising attempts helped re-build the school after the war, rows of graves of Australian soldiers are perpetual reminders of sacrifice, maps of Australia are strung in the corridors of the secondary schools, 'N'oublions jamais l'Australie' is chalked up on primary school blackboards and Australian visitors are treated as part of the family.
There, ANZAC Day will soon be commemorated. It will be in French, but another language, that of love and mateship will assist with the translations.
Let us not forget.
Saturday, 2 January 2016
We slowed occasionally to watch as the cows, straddling the main highway and unaware of their priority status, crossed in front of us to paddocks more desirable, unconcerned about timelines, variable property prices, drought-affected incomes or our need to 'just be there'.
Changing speed limits marked our entry and exit to the small, and getting smaller, towns; one of which I used to call home. It was hot, too...but that, opening the car door from our air-conditioned comfort and stepping into a veritable furnace, we expected.
It was all coming back to me, how, divorced from the distractions of city living, I used to feel. If I was lucky, being there, in the Australian outback, brought with it a calmness, a sense of peace. But, that sentiment floated, as it always had, dangerously close to a darker push and pull - attraction and dissatisfaction. If I had had the choice would I have loved the land, happily lived the entwined lifestyle of land and farmer, oblivious to the bigger world out there? Or, would I have known that, despite sincerely wishing that it was, that it would never have been enough?