We flew back to the United States on September 11. We know, not a propitious day for flying but, on the other hand, the airlines have to lower their fares to induce people to board planes that day. And we flew on Icelandair, with a stop in Reykjavik. Icelanders are kindly, fun loving, innocuous folks, not likely to work their way too high up on terrorists’ next-ones-to-terrorize list. Although Iceland was included on the list of W. Bush’s Coalition of the Willing to deprive Sadam Hussein of his non-existent weapons of mass destruction, it turned out that only a single Icelander was actually willing to go to Iraq. (Check the Youtube video “The Loneliest Icelander” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk4rBQDxOEE, featuring the patriotic poster urging Icelanders to “Support Our Troop.”) So we’re back in Ipswich, Massachusetts (the “Other Ipswich” to you Brits, who keep reminding us that you have one also. Our Ipswich is next to Essex, near Gloucester, Rowley, and Manchester. Our kids live in Dover, Cambridge and Portland. Trying to figure out Massachusetts’s geography makes the Queen’s subjects dizzy.)
We arrived in France March 5, 2012, giving us a year-and-a-half of fromage, vin, baguettes and what to us has been the richest, warmest, most rewarding life styles of our lives.
To prepare for our departure from France and re-injection into America, we scribbled checklists. We thought we’d share one with you.
Things To Remember When Returning to the United States
- Americans believe in their heart of hearts that the United States is the Greatest Country in the World. Americans become upset if told they are wrong.
- The French believe in their heart of hearts that everybody else in the world believes that France is the Greatest Country in the World. The French become upset if told they are wrong.
- In America when a store has a sign saying it is open seven days a week, it is open Sundays.
- In France when a store has a sign saying it is open seven days a week, it is closed on Sundays. And maybe Thursdays. And Tuesday morning. And August.
– Open seven days a week does not include Sunday.
- In America, unlike in France, it is not considered polite, when entering a doctor’s waiting room, to kiss everybody sitting in the room. Or to shake their hands. Or even to make eye contact.
- At home, it is safer to walk down stairs facing forward, unlike on the barge.
- Dogs are not welcome in restaurants in America. Even if they can order for themselves from the menu.
- In France dogs are all over restaurants. Sometimes they have their own tables. With very low chairs. The drinking age for dogs in restaurants is two years. We were in a fairly formal restaurant recently when a waiter brought a silver bowl for a beagle sitting quietly under a patron’s table. The woman at whose feet the dog sat glared at the waiter and warned him, “Pas de vin blanc;” no white wine for my dog. He was still a puppy.
- The lunch hour in America is thirty minutes long. People work through their lunch hour. In France the lunch hour is two hours long. Nobody works. Even fully-automated, unmanned canal locks take a lunch hour. Trucks pull over on the highways. The sun does not move through the sky. Everything stops. Except lunch.
- Businesses in tourist areas in America make most of their annual income during the summer, when tourists are on vacation. Businesses in tourist areas in France are closed in August. Their employees are on vacation. And so are the owners. In August, we found a boulangerie in Saint Leger-sur-Dheune, in Burgundy, that was not closed for August vacation. We were excited until we saw a sign on the door. It was closed for the month because the owners had just had a baby, Justine. Her weight and height were on the “ferme” sign.
- We dig in our garden at home in Massachusetts and sometimes find 400-year-old Native American arrowheads. Our town is considered a pretty historic area. People dig in France and find 20,000-year-old Neolithic arrowheads. Four hundred years ago in France Moliere was writing Le Misanthrope.
- When taking a Sunday after-lunch promenade in America, unlike in France, it is not necessary to offer a barely perceptible nod to every couple walking in the opposite direction, nor to mutter a formal “monsieur-dame.” In France, this acknowledgement is mandatory. Nonetheless, the French expect their privacy to be respected, even in public, and they respect yours. In a gite – a sort of bed-and-breakfast place – at which we stayed, the couple at the next table at breakfast chatted in imperceptible whispers. They were polite. Or talking about us. We couldn’t hear them. Sandra was frustrated. Table eavesdropping is part of her French learning process.
- It is unlikely in America that the butcher shop walls will be covered with gold ribbons won by cows, the parts of whom are displayed in the butcher’s cases. It is even less likely the cow’s actual head will be in the case, next to the tenderloin and the sanglier – wild boar – sausage the butcher made himself, and probably shot himself. Wait, what are we saying. It is unlikely you will be able to find a butcher shop in your home town. Meat comes from the supermarket. In plastic. With an eat-by-date label.
- Bread . . . No, no, no. We crossed “bread” off our America-list. There is nothing to compare. You can’t compare French bakeries with American bakeries because American bakeries exist in only one place: our memories. We can’t think of a bakery within commuting distance of our Ipswich home. A cloud of doom wallowed over Harvey when our daughter Nicole attempted to console him about missing his daily morning pain au chocolate by saying that “at least you’ll have Marty’s Donutland,” Ipswich’s version of Dunkin Donuts. That distressing alternative almost led to cancellation of our airline tickets. Our first day home Sandra bought Harvey a baguette at the supermarket. It was wrapped in plastic (PLASTIC!!). The bread and the wrapper had similar tastes. And textures. We couldn’t finish it. And there were no swans swimming nearby to toss the remnants. Sandra promises to bake bread herself.
- Exercise. We’re planning on joining the gym at the Ipswich YMCA so we can work out on the bike machines and rowing machines and running and walking machines. In France, without cars and living on the boat, we lug our groceries back to the boat in the saddlebags on the bikes and walk wherever we don’t ride. Just moving around on the 87-year-old barge requires yoga-like contortions.
- The most important thing to keep in mind after returning to the States is to appreciate each day here, and the good things about being home – family, friends and the wonderful place we live. And to keep busy planning our return to France next spring.
Best of all, we rushed off to see all the kids and grandkids. Noah, our oldest grandchild, sprouted taller than Harvey. We were away too long.
So, Hoop Doet Leven is safely tucked away in Auxonne, all winterized and covered up. We’re in Ipswich, Massachusetts until April or so. Next summer should take us north to Alsace and Lorraine, Nancy and Strasbourg, maybe into Belgium. We have a cardboard carton on the floor in the bedroom into which we toss items that have to return to France, including the boat keys. Harvey squats in the box from time to time, waiting patiently.