|The perfect hostess. . .|
You are probably thinking, “she’s about to launch into some ‘profound’ drivel.” Not at all.
I thought I would simply tell you that when one lives in a country that is not her own, the learning process never ends. Experiences can be trip-wired with cultural traps that I at least seem to step into from time to time even after all this time.
Earlier this week for example, December 31 to be precise, I went blithely about my pleasant chores wishing all of our boutique and shop-owner friends a très, très bonne année. Before My-Reason-For-Living-In-France could stop me, I had covered a good deal of territory: pharmacy; boulanger; patisserie; bookstore, our lovely fish man, Laurent; the vegetable man who gave me cheek kisses (first asking my permission); Babette, owner of my favorite clothing boutique; Patou, who manages the shoe store next door — well, you get the idea. . .
Here’s the problem: You’re not supposed to say, “Happy New Year” before the new year. You are supposed to say, “Bonne Fin d’Année” — although it’s perfectly logical, I didn’t realize that some people are superstitious about even good wishes when they are not chronologically correct.
Another lesson learned.
More than 20 years ago, I miscalculated a cultural crossover. This time it wasn’t a faux pas, but rather an unexpected revelation. As many of you know, one of the most appreciated invitations is the one that invites us to an “Open House” on January 1. It means, among other things, that we do not have to worry about rustling up a meal on that day when some of us may be feeling a little delicate, but it also gives us the opportunity to see friends. And, the idea of an open house is that we can pretty much arrive when we feel like it, stay as long as we desire and head out.
It made sense to me to do the same thing here. MRFLIF had his doubts, but finally conceded he “might” be wrong. He wasn’t. We laid out a buffet feast, bottles of wine were uncorked, champagne was in a bucket, more in the refrigerator, the house was still decorated of course — I was ready. I had even donned a sort of hostess get-up. You get the picture.
Our friends showed up. So far so good. However, for them the holidays were over. They had been eating, drinking and celebrating since December 24 and they had had their fill of excess. Not a drop of wine was drunk, almost no food was touched and litres of water were consumed. Everyone was back on track, the two kilo holiday allowance was about to be paid back.
So much for cultural exchange programs.