So, after a pretty hectic work-filled week in Marrakech, I flew to Geneva to spend Easter weekend with my friend Jonathan (who was in NYC a few weeks ago you may remember) as his husband Michael is out of town visiting friends of his own. Yesterday we had a lovely dinner and hung out in Geneva, while today we crossed the border into nearby France to visit a very cute little town called Annecy, full of history and wine and cheese and lots of rain. Still, it was a super charming place to walk around, and we had a lovely time. Then this evening we were invited to a delicious home cooked meal by Jonathan’s friend Richard, and now we are back home where I am endeavoring to not feel like the fat pig I am for all I have eaten today. In case you want the rundown between lunch and dinner, there was escargot and tartiflette and jambon cru (salt cured ham) and vin blanc and vin rouge and gnocchi and steak and mousse au chocolat and some kind of lemon tart, and of course several coffees.
You forget how many little peculiarities go into making a culture what it is. They way someone orders in a restaurant, the way they get someone’s attention, stand in a queue, express mild exasperation or amusement, etc. Walking around Paris yesterday I was noticing once again all the little habits that make the French French, but also that which makes the Parisian Parisian. I realized how easy it is to stand out in a culture where the most subtle of actions are performed slightly differently. There was a time living here when I had really mastered them, and not a single person would ever suspect that I was foreign. It was all a great game to me, trying to see how long I could fool people into believing that I was from here. But after so many years away, it is obvious to anyone now that I am once again a foreigner, and it makes people behave slightly differently in your presence, despite themselves. This is just human nature. I think it would be fun to come back and spend a couple of months here to brush up on my language skills and relearn some of the cultural tics. And to stuff my face with croissants and pastry, which, let’s be honest, no one in the world can do as well as the French.
Last night I attended a birthday party dinner for my friend Fabian at a Belgian restaurant called Markt. I have to admit to being really surprised by how good the food was (I had the Carbonades, which is kinda like a beef bourguignon, but made with beer and tastier). Two of the people at our table (my friend Truike and some guy whose name escapes me) are of Belgian background and got all haughty about their national cuisine, feeling the need to disparage French cuisine in the process. It struck me again how similar the relationship is between them to Canada and the US. The larger, more culturally influential neighbor to the south always ignoring the neighbor to the north. The belief by just about everyone, upon speaking with a northern neighbor, that they are from the larger country to the south. These are some of the slights that both Canadians and Belgians suffer from, and it generally causes them to strongly declare how superior their culture is in a sort of reverse chauvinism. They usually toss out a mix of things that supposedly make them better, like lower gun violence or universal health care, which I totally agree with.