Wednesday, August 05, 2009

French Bred - Ch 2

Maison de Mama

We arrived in the suburb of Le Pre St. Gervais and the apartment building of Josy's mother, Yolanda. Josy pushed the button to buzz her mother's apartment, and a slightly distorted "oui?" came out of the old speaker on the wall. "C'est nous," was my future wife's response; "It's us". Even with my limited French, I understood that. Did Yolanda just have so few visitors that she knew who nous were? Or was she just in expectation of our arrival? In any case, we trudged up a couple of flights of stairs to her apartment and there she was: La Mama.

If you ever had in mind a very general picture of what a Sicilian grandmother looked like, it would probably come very close to Yolanda. She was not thin by any stretch of the imagination, and she had wavy grey hair and glasses. Not short, but not tall. She greeted her children with a firm kiss on each cheek and greeted her grandson with an over-exuberant bear hug, which he desperately tried to escape. Then it was my turn.

At the time, I wore glasses and not contact lenses, and was still unaccustomed to the French habit of kissing on the cheek. Oh, I understood the fact that it was a custom in France. What I didn't understand was that there didn't seem to be a precise number of times one moved from cheek to cheek. In the short time I had been in France, I had seen two, three, and four motions from one side of the face to the other. How did you know how many? How did you know when to stop? Did you just keep going until you needed Chapstick? I stepped into the batter's box and waited for the pitch. Here it came, low and to the right. I did the wrong thing...I tried to anticipate where the pitch was going to wind up. In doing so, my glasses clanked against Yolanda's glasses on each swing of the face. I also tried to anticipate the number of kisses, and guessed one too many. Nice start there Mr. American Man Who's Stealing My Daughter Away to a Foreign Country. Here's a tip for first-timers: move forward gently and in a limited way. Then, let the native move his or her face to each side and just make the kissing sound in the air. When the native stops, you stop. Easy, right? No counting. No eyeglass on eyeglass battle. No wetness on the cheeks. It works! However, I didn't find that out until later, and started to mentally kick myself around the room for my first major faux pas. Still, Yolanda didn't seem to mind, and shuffled everyone into the small living room / dining room combination.

No comments: