The French make a strange sound when conversing that sounds for all the world like someone imitating a fart. They purse their lips and push air through to make a sound like, “brrrrrp.” It’s a sound that carries meaning like a word, and is part of the vocabulary. It can mean pretty much anything, but you know what it means from “context clues,” a wave of the hand, a shrug, or a head shift that accompanies it.
“We were making good time, then we hit traffic around Paris, and brrrrrp.” And you know what that means.
“I owe you 50 cents. Here it is.” “Brrrrp.” Meaning: Keep it.
“Is 6 o’clock too late for me to pick you up?” “Brrrrp.” Meaning: No problem.
“What did you think of the movie?” “Brrrrp.” Meaning: It sucked.
Our French has improved (on a scale of 1-10 it’s still like, -2 for me, and maybe 2+ for Karen), but we’ve found ourselves unconsciously inserting this French sound into our conversations…oddly, when speaking French or English. When it turns up while speaking French we silently congratulate ourselves on how well our French language skills are improving.
If our marriage ever goes on the rocks it may be because of potato salad. Not long after we met, the subject of potato salad came up. It has remained a point of contention for more than three decades, with no give on either side.
I grew up with Proper ‘Merican Potato Salad. The right kind, with hard boiled egg, lots of mayonnaise ( let’s not get started on “Kraft or Hellmann’s”), onion, celery. Proper Potato Salad.
Beloved Wife, bless her heart, poor thing, grew up mistakenly believing what she was eating was potato salad when, of course, it was not. It was some kind of potato-salad-like thing that included no hard-boiled eggs (strike one), a mingy amount of mayonnaise (strike two), and a first wave of “vinaigrette”‒which includes mustard, sugar, and vinegar (“Strike three! You’re outta there!”). Clearly not Proper Potato Salad.
Over the years we have both become highly territorial about our recipes. If I’m in the kitchen peeling potatoes and boiling eggs, Beloved Wife will enter and suspiciously ask, “What are you doing?”
“Making potato salad.”
“Want me to do it?”
In my defense, I am treated just as rudely when I offer to help her get it right. In order to settle this dispute we have even resorted to dragging unsuspecting friends into the house to suffer a blind taste test.
“Ok, no fudging here, none of this, “They were both wonderful” crap. You’re going to pick a winner, see?”
And they did. Mine won by acclamation and proclamation. Somewhat Beloved Wife says that is not so, that she won and is willing to call them up to confirm it. But I have no recollection of that. Not one bit.
Around the middle of June our friends Alexandra and Christophe announced that because of us they would hold their first-ever Genuine American Fourth of July BBQ. To make sure they got it right, they put us in charge of the menu. I’m sure you can see where this is going.
“Ahem. What are you doing?”
“I’m making potato salad.”
“Are you making The Proper Kind”
“I’m making it the right way, if that’s what you mean.”
“Like with eggs and stuff?”
“NO. I’m making my potato salad.”
“But you can’t do that! It’s July 4th! We’re ‘Mericans. You need to make Genuine ‘Merican Potato Salad.”
“But it’s our national holiday! You’re going to confuse the poor French with some kind of outlier, left-wing, pinko-commie, faux potato salad. Dear.”
She thought I didn’t see her reach for that knife, but I did.
“Love You!” Love conquers all. Well, a lot
“Ok, ok, I’ll do it your way this time, next time it’s mine.”
Came July 4th and all of the dishes Beloved Wife made were wildly successful, especially the Genuine Potato Salad. Alexandra’s teenage son Max hovered over the bowl, waiting politely for everyone to have some before snatching it away, announcing it would be his breakfast on the morrow. When I pointed out how much Max loved it, she gave me a “brrrrp,” a wave of the hand, and said, “He’s a teenage boy. He’ll eat anything.”
Later that evening we celebrated July 4th (and Proper ‘Merican Potato Salad) with a fireworks display orchestrated by Christophe. Ten days later we were at it again, and another border skirmish erupted.
Ten days later was Bastille Day, which is not what the French call it. They call it The National Holiday (sounds like some kind of political correctness has reared its ugly head). Once again Alexandra announced a celebratory BBQ, and would we bring more stuff like last time? Coming up: Round Two.
“Whatcha doing, dear?”
“Making potato salad, and don’t start.”
“You know what. I’m making my potato salad this time.”
They’re not going to like it.”
“Nonsense. You agreed, remember?”
They’re going to be really disappointed.”
“What are you going to say when they complain it’s not as good as last time?”
“Oh, for god’s sake, I’ll put hard-boiled egg in it, ok? Go away.”
And on the French National Holiday, we presented the gathering of unsuspecting French folks with a battery of delicious dishes, and somewhat-but-not-entirely Beloved Wife’s alleged potato salad.
During the meal I pulled Anthony over.
“Hey, do me a favor, will ya?”
“When you get a minute, slide on over to Karen and tell her you think the potato salad was better last time, and what did she do differently.”
“But it’s good.”
“I know it’s good. Just do what I said.”
“But it’s good. Why should I do that? I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”
“Look, you’re a guy. I’m a guy. We need to stick together, Just do what I said.”
“Oh, ok.” Heh.
A bit later Christophe hauled out the ordnance again, and in the glow of Roman candles I told Alexandra how much the French and Americans have in common.
“We both like to celebrate our holidays by blowing shit up.”
During the pyrotechnics (better than the ones on 4 Juillet, by the way) I sidled up to Occasionally Beloved Wife.
“So…Anthony said he thought last week’s potato salad was better.”
“Yes,” she said. “He told me.” She wasn’t pleased, and I started to laugh.
“What are you laughing at?”
“I told him to say that.”
“Yeah, I told him to say that. He liked the potato salad.”
For a moment she said nothing, but gave me a truly magnificent malevolent stare.
“You see,” she said, “I knew it was a success. The boys cleaned out the whole bowl.”
“Yeah, well” I replied. “They’re teenage boys. They’ll eat anything.”