For a long time, I refused to subscribe to Facebook, Instagram or any social media. I hated the thought of having to put forward a perfect public image, because, no matter how many people tell me that that isn't what happens and that people post themselves warts and all, I don't see it.
We've been back in France for less than two weeks. For those of you who follow this blog, you would already know that our trip here was less than perfect. But, since then you would have seen snow, Christmas markets, skiing, restaurants, delicious-looking French food, nature walks and smiling, happy family pics. Now for the underbelly...four doctors visits, five trips to the chemist, weigh-you-down jet lag, cancelled trips to the CERN facility, which was to be the highlight of my son's first week, postponed social events due to illness and the thought that this year we will be celebrating Christmas as a reduced family troupe of 4, not the raucous extended family gathering of 15 of last year. But, still our FB and Instagram posts look pretty good.
This morning, my husband and I were at the supermarket. I was calm, strolling the aisles, reminiscing fondly about the time a few weeks after our first arrival in France (long before But you are in France, Madame) when my husband, knowing not much French, swiped a massive jar of cornichons (gherkins) off the shelf. With a resounding crash, it ended up in a puddle and it was only thanks to my daughter's robust lack of fear of making mistakes that the whole affair was sorted in her developing French.
He, my husband, on the other hand, was subject this morning to the invisible-man phenomenon...again. I'm non-plussed, but he can be standing in front of the yoghurt, cheese, wine or canned tomato displays, obviously making his selection, when frequently he will be forced aside as someone (usually a woman) will weasel her way into the narrow gap in front of him, to reach for her product. No 'excuse-me', no 'sorry', just a slide, grab and body contact exit. Today, though, two days before Christmas, the aisles were a parking lot of trolleys and trolley-pushers. Caught in a jam, he felt the first nudge from behind, turned, spied the woman behind the offending trolley and turned away, patiently waiting his turn to move forward like those he was jammed up against. He felt the second jab. Same trolley, same woman. Surprised, yes, but still with nowhere possible to go. Third jab from behind the laden trolley and incomprehension. It was very lucky that he is a veeeery patient man, otherwise her Christmas may have gone off the rails just like her trolley was attempting to do to my husband.
Some years ago and still living in France, we were showing friends around our special patch. We went into a gift shop, had a short browse and, with a chorus of overly grateful 'mercis', we turned to exit. "Thanks for nothing", in good-enough English, came back at us. I was horrified, mortified. I was a French devotee, doing all that I could to win people over to my side, taking them out, proud of where I was living and what I was doing. This was a personal affront, one which to this day remains with me and prevents me from ever stepping back into that store.
But - I was also at the doctors this morning - for the third time in 9 days. He may have been taken-aback initially by our presence, but laughed when I asked him as we were packing up to go, if he was "Le Père Noël". Not unkindly, especially when I elaborated that, as he was the village doctor and the village mayor, plus I had seen photos of Father Christmas at the village school that resembled him, that he could feasibly be 'him' too.
Off to the chemist and business concluded, I was asked if I had yet been given a copy of the store's Christmas calendar. "No". But, how lovely. I walked out with my festive tube. A quick chat with the friendly waitress at the coffee shop and it was starting to come back to me. That was what I missed. Not the pushy trolley pusher, not the distrust for any English speaker (who actually spoke French), but a sense of belonging. Living alongside people with whom I could share light-hearted moments, who acknowledged me, accepted my family and I as part of the community and who appreciated that we were there to give, not just to take.
Thanks for being a part of this virtual community. If you haven't already done so, but would like to read more of our family story, "But you are in France, Madame" here is the Amazon link for a Kindle copy.