The French are intensely aware of and impacted by America and things American, from food and culture to geopolitics. The average French folk has America top of mind far more than does any American similarly think of France. And two places they will mention most often couldn’t be more contradictory : Texas and New York. Even folks who speak virtually no English will often manage to mention something about wanting to go to Texas or New York.
When the French say Texas it rarely means the area within the boundaries of the Lone Star State. Most often it means, generally speaking, the Great American West; anywhere there might be a cowboy on a horse. It’s more a state of mind than a state; it is the icon for all of the American West. There is a deep interest and fascination with the American West, with Native American culture, with cowboys and western movies.
One of the most prominent American-themed restaurants is the chain of steakhouses called The Buffalo Grill. There’s a faux American Indian totem pole outside, and inside hardly an inch of wall space isn’t covered…positively festooned with images of the American West; Indian teepees, dusty cow towns, cowboys, bandits, even images from Custer’s Last Stand. It’s all “Texas”, and any American speaking with any any kind of southern accent..from Virginia, to the hills of West Virginia to Mississippi is assumed to be from “Texas”.
New York, on the other hand, is equally omnipresent here. From Paris to the most provincial towns, anywhere you go you will see people wearing shirts that proclaim “I Heart NY”, or “Big Apple” or “Brooklyn”. And baseball caps with the NY logo of the New York Yankees are everywhere, although not one in a million knows it is the logo of the Yankees. It is the New York that is important.
So, here we are in the rural area of France called the Sarthe; as provincial, as un-cosmopolitan as it gets; it’s a region where relatively few people speak English. In the nearest large town there is a big grocery store, called LeClerc and, like most grocery stores back in the US, outside there is the obligatory kiddie ride. We all know the kind. It might be a space ship or a horse, or a fire truck. They all do the same thing, they bounce up and down and make a noise and make the kiddie happy. So, what’s the kiddie ride at the LeClerc ?
Well how about that?.
Driving in France is generally similar to driving in the US, as opposed to driving in England where they just have it wrong. Some of the things the French do are a little nuts, but at least they drive on the right side of the road, which is the right side. And no, nothing can justify the insanity of priority a droit for which even the French can’t muster a logical defense.
But once you get used to roundabouts every 300 yards, it’s pretty much like driving back in the US. And so you can understand my surprise after driving around la belle France for quite some years (I shall not say how many. I’m not really proud of this) when I discovered there is no “right turn on red” in France. Which means (and not to put too fine a point on it) “right turn on red” is illegal. Got it.
There are likely tens of thousands of gendarmes who by some miracle I have not had the pleasure of meeting over the years. But it does explain what I have perceived as the surly nature of many passing drivers.
For the past several years, even while living in what has been an almost perfect environment here in the village, we have thought about looking for another place. Our apartment is on the second floor, and the steep 16 step stairway is an annoyance now but will become a challenge as we grow older. But we have a garden and a barbecue area in the back and we are smack in the heart of the village, only a few steps from Manu the butcher, and from the boulangerie. Our fantasy wish list would be a one-story place with all of the above, but with two bathrooms and two bedrooms so we can have a guest room for our slacker friends to finally come visit. It is a near-impossible wish list. At least it was on a Monday. That was the day we casually mentioned it to Alexandra, aka She who Knows All.
” Oh,” says She, “There’s a place !” And here’s how it went:
Jean Pierre, one of The Usual Suspects with whom we socialize and play petanque, had discovered a house right in the heart of the village that was just about to be available for a long term lease. His daughter was interested but when that didn’t work out he said to Alex, “This place would be great for Tom and Karen.” Next day we walked over to it (4 minutes from where we live now) and discovered it has ALL the boxes checked, is the absolutely perfect place for us to lay down roots and exceeds all of our wishes, but for the hoped for second bathroom ( and thus, Beloved remains doomed to sharing a bathroom with moi). We immediately struck a deal with the homeowners, a positively charming couple, with plans to take possession on the first of the next month. We were wildly excited.
Next day we stopped by Manu’s butcherie for something for dinner, excited to tell Manu and Magali our news, but we needn’t bother. Barely had we got through the door when they both broke out in huge smiles and began congratulating us on having found a new place, Magali going on and on about how great it was that it’s all on one floor, and how Karen has a place for her tomato garden, and Manu telling me how I have a place for my barbecue. All we could do was look at each other, laugh and shake our heads in amazement, as Magali looked at me and shook her head to say, “No Secrets”.
It remains, in retrospect, a little wacky and yet heartwarming that they knew, and to recall their smiles of happiness in knowing we have a place of our own, still only steps away from their shop. It is one of those things that lets us know we are indeed home here.