Walk into a café or restaurant and order a beverage…a coke or an iced tea…yeah, that’s a good one…order an iced tea. Garcon will give you a suspicious look and, sensing you are American, will ask you if you want ice with that.
“Why, hell no, I don’t want ice in that,” you think. “I’d much rather have my iced tea at room temperature!” But you don’t say that. You just smile and say, “Oui, merci.” Garcon walks away, and you swear you can hear him muttering something about “les Americains.”
Shortly thereafter, he shows up with your drink, and sure enough, there, at the bottom of the glass is your ice. One single, solitary, lonely ice cube, and if he’s really feeling wild and crazy, there are two.
Out on the town, or back at Chez Nous, you find the French have a weird thing about ice, and specifically, ice cubes. There is this underlying belief that ice is inherently dangerous, and too much at one time can cause death or injury. When you utter your first words in French and they immediately know you’re American, they also immediately know you’re going to want more ice with your drink than is healthy. They won’t actually warn you, but they will look at you funny.
Ice cube trays? Nah, not happening. You need to go on a hunting expedition to find ice cube trays, the rectangular devices that allow you to twist and set free up to a dozen of those little beauties in one fell swoop. Specialty items. Hard to find. These go on the list of “Things We Need to Buy In The US To Bring To France.”
And here’s where you run slam bang into one of the contradictions that make you scratch your head. The French, you see, are extraordinarily conscious of being ecologique. It is top of mind almost everywhere you go. Until you see how they deal with ice cubes, because the standard method for creating ice cubes in the French home is to use a blue plastic bag that is neither eco, nor logique.
You’re supposed to buy this plastic bag, purpose-made to create ice cubes, and then through a small opening, drizzle in water to fill a dozen small compartments. Once filled, you close it like a Ziploc bag, and carefully, hoping the Ziploc will hold, place this water bomb into the freezer. When you want a cube…or two or three, for two or three drinks, you have to tear open the plastic bag and fight with the cube, in much the same way you struggle getting those Individually hermetically sealed pills that are sold welded to a cardboard backing.
So, when you’ve wrestled out the last of the cubes, what do you do, with this shredded, single-use plastic bag? Why, you throw it away! C’est ecologique!
And then there are trash bags.
Beloved Wife Karen is much calmer of demeanor than me, I’ll readily admit. She is not of short fuse and Mediterranean temper. But if you wish to see Polish rage in full flower, watch her deal with what the French euphemistically refer to as a Heavy Duty Trash Bag. These things have the tensile strength of moist Kleenex, and tear open under the weight of table scraps. Thus, in order to just get them out of the trash bin you often need to use two or even three, and put one inside the other. C’est ecologique!
When I groused about “those damned French trash bags” Anthony nodded strong agreement.
“I know,” he said, “They are terrible, but I have something for you! I have a friend, he was in the Foreign Legion, and he gave me a bunch of their trash bags. I’ll give you some!’
Hot damn, I thought. Trash bags from Le Legion Etranger! They’ll be body bags! They’ll be great!
Oh, they were a slight improvement, and you only needed two instead of three, but they sure weren’t going to be hauling bodies in them. Or even a lot of garbage.
And so we added another item to the list of “Things We Need to Buy In The US To Bring To France,” and on the next trip I stuffed a five-pound roll of Hefty trash bags into my luggage. I wasn’t all that concerned about the ice cube trays, but I was concerned about what French Customs might think about me hauling five pounds of trash bags into the country.