Last week, during the first week of March, we had one foot of snow. This was the first time it had snowed in and around our village for four years. This is not too important, in itself. I’m sure that the Ohioans and the Norwegians would yawn and roll their eyes after all of the snow they’ve seen this winter.
No, the really important thing was that our near neighbors, who are primarily winegrowers but who also have peach, cherry, and apple orchards also plant strawberry plants that they sell to market distributors. They plant the strawberries in December. A bit early, you say?
No, because the first seasonal fruits to reach the markets in France are called “primeurs” (“firsts”). This means that these fruits and vegetables command a premium price, so a grower is motivated to plant at the earliest possible moment. Which leads me to the subject of this post.
The plants were coming along fine, in rows, sheltered under low plastic tunnels that protect them from wind and cold weather. But – nobody counted on it snowing. So, the night it snowed – all night long – Monsieur, Madame, and their son who is in charge of the family business, took their brooms and continually swept the snow off of the tunnels to keep them from collapsing on the plants and, by extrapolation, ruining the strawberry plants and their chances of making a profit from the sale of these primeurs. And there were a lot of rows and a lot of tunnels.
We had invited our neighbors in for a visit (the apéritif in French) and they told us about it. You know, that event really made an impression on me. We are so very far removed from the actual act of growing the food that we buy and eat.
But I’m sure I’ll think about them sweeping snow off of their strawberry tunnels the next time I eat strawberries.
A bientôt – See you soon.
When you go into a store or a small shop in France, remember to say Bonjour!
This is another important part of the cultural code in France that should be number one on your list – whether you are a tourist or a newly arrived resident from “other parts” as we say in Texas. Y’all don’t want to be considered rude, or worse, lacking in “savoir faire” (knowing what to say or do at the right time, or the right way to act in any given situation).
Believe me, they know you’re not French by your accent, but using this one word opens the way to a positive exchange with the vendor or salesperson.
Turn this around and look at it from your own view of the French cultural code. You walk into a shop, and don’t say anything. Then, when you try to buy something or ask a question, you get a sort of stonewall response. You think “I heard the French are rude, and I believe it.” What’s happened? They don’t understand why you haven’t been polite enough/cultured enough to say “Hello”. The Hello/Bonjour acknowledges them as an individual. Think about it.
By the way, if this sounds “teachy”, let me just say that I learned the above by making the mistake.
Well, that’s what the song says. But…here in France I’ve learned that a smile is not such a simple thing.
Oh yes, everyone smiles when they’re happy – that’s universal. But, here in France, I’ve learned that the cultural code for smiling – that is, how it can be interpreted – is not so simple.
Example. As an American, we are “culturally programmed” to smile from birth. If you don’t smile, even when you don’t feel like it, people’s reaction tends to be “What’s the matter with him/her?” “Are they angry, not feeling well, or just plain unfriendly?”
But in France, people don’t trust the “American” smile – teeth showing. Why not? Because they think it’s not sincere, even fake.
Of course, it’s perfectly alright to smile pleasantly once in a while. But it is not a “tooth” smile, more an upward curve of the lips, and the smile is in the eyes. Even with friends or family, the French smile far less than Americans.
Don’t get me wrong. In fact, the French have a well-developed sense of humor. But, you start to pay attention to the eyes and the expression on people’s faces to understand what’s going on with them.
And you thought a smile was just a smile…