To Each His Own

If I had to guess I would say that in my past life, I was a Day Timer. Not a Franklin Covey like my mother uses, but one of those with fancy flowers, Japanese haikus, and silly little encouraging phrases throughout. You can see the obvious evolution straight to my present form as a human being, day timers are an angelic, perfect, flawless, an irreplaceable invention; they save lives, keep people driving the speed limit (or in my case, faster than, because I try to fill my day timer with more than is humanly possible for SuperCatwomanSpiderHulkJollyGreenGiantman himself). It’s only natural that the next level of transcendence would be humanity. I am slightly surprised that I didn’t come back as Russell Crowe, but he was “before my time”. 

When things do not go as planned, when they don’t go “my way“, when my lengthy, unachievable to-do-list gets burned in a freak chalet fire (caused by my towel drying on the heater), when the store has no hummus, and the post office and all other surrounding stores literally CLOSE at 12, when someone says 7pm and they mean 7:20pm….I’m sure you get the point….

It is these life-or-death moments of unpredictability in life during which I am quite beside myself. In fact, if it weren’t for the plethora of odd stares and perplexed cross country skiiers passing by, I would have sat right down in a snowbank on that trail, next to myself, and melted every snowflake in the valley with my tears. At least until the cows came home.

I can tell you one thing is for sure, I did not predict some of the many differences and “predicaments” I would find here in this foreign land. These are from my own personal perspective, and only thus far. When I go to Paris, Dijon, and Nice, and see all of the vineyards of the French countryside, and my eyes are opened wider, I will have more than just appetizers for you.

1. The Toilette Paper. The first and most important phrase to learn whilst transforming oneself into a jet-setting chick (or dude) is, “Where is the bathroom?” I actually have not used this phrase because I am able to follow simple cattle-like herds of women which help me locate the bathrooms, but in my experience thus far, the toilet paper in France is pretty kick ass, if I do say so myself. They have a really nice system figured out and I hope they keep it up. They changers (proper name I am sure) have no springs, which makes a Chalet Girl’s job ten times less Tigger-if-ic and also less like a game of hide-and-go-toilet-paper-changer-seek.

2. They Speak French. This is one I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed, and it really caught me off-guard. But for real, while there are plenty of English-speakers and understanders here, as it’s a ski town and people come from ALL OVER the world, many people here speak in a foreign tongue and the locals speak FRENCH. They aren’t really keen on people NOT knowing their language either. It actually makes total sense, why travel here if you can’t have the decency or knowledge to speak to us in our language? We certainly did not CALL you up and invite you. “Oh, that’s really cute, you only speak French un petite peau?” “I guess we will let you through…but then we will talk to you really fast when you ask us the difference between two packages of butter, or when you are politely trying to figure out what the object you are holding is used for. Just know you probably DO NOT want to be holding it. Want to hear this latest joke that is really about YOU?” In America, we are used to people speaking English, most of the time, even if they are from a far. However, if someone speaks another language such as French or Spanish, or Uzbekistanian, we seize the opportunity to show off our foreign ambassador skills. Not so in France. “Tell me you want olives in my language or go home. And no, your smile is not cute so lay off the teeth whitening.”

3. The French Kiss(es). I have a feeling this is some coy way to add to the notches in one’s belt how many people you have kissed. Wait, does no one else have a belt for that? No, ya, me neither. The gesture seems so innocent and sweet and I sort of wish we did it in America, minus that my level of jealousy would be at an all time high. The French like to give you a little love peck on each cheek. If you’re a good candidate and have that smooth movement down pat. So you have to “kiss-up” in order to receive one.

4. Fashion Police and Other Police. The fashion here is to die for. I look at my tattered pauper’s clothing and wonder how I ever let myself out of the house in the U.S. nevermind, here. You can always pull of the ever-versatile ski attire look which is widely accepted. I suppose it’s pulling off the, “I spent half of what you have made in your entire life on this one glove” look that I am struggling with. I am not the kind of girl that thinks money buys love, nor the best clothing. There is something to be said though about those crisp, clean lines, and boots with the fur. Maybe the clothing is symbolic of trying to “cover up” something that is not there. Or maybe they just have better eyesight than most Americans (or the slurry of other countries we buy our clothes from) and the seamstresses can see better. Speaking of being arrested by the fashion police for looking like a walking “poo belle”, yesterday we got pulled over by the REAL police. The Genderarme (not to be confused with gender arm, which would be a weird name for ANY outfit) approached our car because Julie accidentally stopped where she wasn’t supposed to. Their tone reprimanded her for the overly cautious exercise of caution, I thought we were headed for the slammer. Which I have heard are awful here. I’m picturing endless bowls of cabbage soup, and French Water torture, maybe it involves Perrier. Another lesson learned, everyone must buckle up no matter what your age (and here I was, thinking they thought I was under 18 and SO ecstatic about the compliment). On the contrary to the luxurious life of American Prison Living (if you don’t get the magazine, I suggest you subscribe), French prisons, and take it from Julie, are not something I will be wanting to subject myself to while here. But it would make for a great blog…

5. Everything is Small! Emphasis on Social Class. The other night I went out to dinner and had four bites of tofu. And that was the entire dish. For some reason and perhaps it was the steak dinner I ate before, it was the perfect amount. I really liked the TINY carrots they gave me at the beginning to curb my appetite. I must master this art of appreciating and being satisfied with the small things. Shrinking my “aura” so I don’t crash into things and clutz around like a Taurus Bull in a China shop, and so I can fit in my bed without my feet dangling over the end. The other thing about going to eat was how everyone, regardless of their social class are on the same ground. Is it like this in America? I feel like we have much quicker judgements about who has how much money and speak to people accordingly. In fact, social class is largely ignored in France and you’re not judged by your occupation. You don’t ask someone “What do you do?” You ask them about their family, where they live, and where they learned to style their hair into a bouffant. You’re a person, and there are much more important questions to ask you. Just don’t you dare bring up feelings or emotions. Yikes! Suddenly I forgot how to make friends since I usually just make mine by telling them I just got a cosmic transmission from the universe and we’ll be friends for life from this day on.

A few other things that would be handy to know for my friends that are on their way to visit me right now: you can bring your dogs virtually anywhere with you, your car doors and house can stay unlocked (hollaaaa to the thieves amongst you!) you have to label and weigh your produce yourself –the cashiers love it when you label the lettuce as tomatoes. You can’t buy anything from 12pm-4pm because everything is shut down for skiiers, but don’t worry, just sink your teeth into the bread and cheese of the French lifestyle: Whatever you don’t do today, you really CAN do tomorrow. So throw away your to-do-lists, and I’ll show you how to Shavasana in the middle of a cross country ski path successfully.

I’m having a hard time ending this…similar to some of the awkward conversations I have had here that don’t end in the usual, socially standard methods. I usually just shiver and my lips turn blue, and they get the hint.

Sending you chills with all warmth and love,

— Emily —


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