Wednesday, February 8, 2017

americans, please forgive me if i don't apologize for bumping into you

A sure sign you're no longer in France where
most people use long-life "shelf" milk that
isn't refrigerated until it's opened. I'm a
dedicated milk drinker, so I'm always raiding
a grocery store's small refrigerated shelves
holding 0.5 L, 1L, and occasionally 2L
"fresh milk" containers.
I rounded a corner at Walmart last night and nearly bumped into a couple coming from another direction. I intended to apologize. But it didn't happen.

I was foiled by that slow motion thing that's happening in reverse during this visit stateside. That slow motion thing where my mouth starts to say something (in this case "Pardon," as one would in France, but this time with English pronunciation instead of French - go figure), my brain stops it before it's said aloud, then those hills and valleys in my head try to figure out what I should be saying instead and why I'm having so much trouble, and then the split second appropriate for polite apologies of this sort was past as the girl in the couple murmured a "sorry," reminding me that this is what my slow-motion brain was trying to come up with.

I've been stateside for about a month and a half now, and it's been an interesting visit for discovering the way French life has infiltrated me after four-plus years there. Despite the fact that I still have slow-motion moments abroad when my American brain tries to figure out some oh-so-French situation, I have finally crossed that threshold I've heard about where that's also happening in reverse.

I officially belong nowhere now, it seems. Or everywhere.

So in honor of slow-motion moments the world over, here are a few other things that have tripped me up so far:
  • I've apparently acclimated to the size of drinks outside the U.S. Many times now I've been subconsciously shocked over how huge "normal"-sized drinks are here. Twice I've been intentionally ordering a small drink and ended up being given one of the gigantic huge ones for free. This has made me chuckle. That other me--the pre-France one--would have felt like I'd won the lottery. The cheapskate current me is appreciative but really doesn't want to drink that much.
  • I'm internally shocked here when servers at restaurants show up with the bill while we're still eating. It feels incredibly rude to me - like we're being asked to leave, rather than that they are just trying to provide good service and keep us from waiting. Apparently I've adjusted to the leisurely pace of most French dining (which works well for slow-eating me), where lingering long around a table is totally normal, where you almost never feel rushed out of a restaurant, and where you need to plan to start trying to get your bill about 20 minutes before you actually need to leave.
  • I'm still adjusting to the fact that here it's not a mark of rudeness not to say goodbye to servers/salesclerks when you walk out of their establishment. It's okay to do it here, but it's not a cultural norm like it is in France.
  • I had the hardest time the other day not using the 24-hour clock that has taken me forever to adjust to. So if I text you about meeting at 18h instead of 6 p.m., I hope you'll appreciate the little math exercise.
  • I'm still kind of shocked inside when people speak nonchalantly of running to the store to pick up some sort of food product or other necessity on a Sunday. My insides want to gently remind them that stores aren't open on Sundays, especially not after 1 p.m. And then slow-motion-brain finally realizes I'm back visiting the land of Sunday-shopping-is-a-thing-here.
  • On the up side - I was able to stay at a Starbucks the other night working on a proofreading project until 11:30 p.m.!!!! Such establishments in most of France are typically closed by 7 or 8 p.m.
  • And a friend and I were able to enter a restaurant and order food within about 30 minutes of their posted closing time! Kitchens are often closed at French restaurants well before closing time, so this felt like a huge treat and the height of good customer service.
Et voilĂ ! Reverse-slow-motion-brains-R-us.

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