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The Last Word

Le Blonde de Pain boulangerie.

Loren (center) and her
new French friends clown around at
le Blonde de Pain boulangerie, the gathering place for residents of

Everything will be different over there. You’ll have a lot of adjusting to do.”

“I’ve heard they aren’t very friendly toward Americans. They don’t really like us over there.”

That’s what people told me before I left for four weeks in France. But, with my mind full of the Eiffel Tower, flaky, buttery croissants and a whole month of touring around France with my close friend, Olivia, I had little space left for such practical and serious thoughts. In the flurry of packing and saying goodbyes, I pushed aside the advice and warnings and never once stopped to think about the connection between the two pieces of advice or how valuable the combination could be.

As I look back now, I see that the moment I stepped onto the Air France plane my mind and body began making small adjustments for me. Greeted with a smile and “Bonjour,” I returned in kind, my tongue switching over to “French mode.” Stepping off the plane at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, my eyes began to make the same adjustment. As they scanned signs for the word sortie, I did not consciously have to think, “Now, what’s ‘exit’ en français?”

In the days that followed, Olivia and I were bombarded with cultural differences that were not as easy to adjust to as the language. They required me to make a conscious effort to change my habits, and my first instinct was to reject this adjustment and stick to my “American” way of doing things. However, I quickly realized that if I were to fully enjoy my time in France, I would have to stop thinking, “But this is how it is done in the United States…” and begin to accept a new way of going about my daily life.

Normally, I am not a breakfast person. I don’t get excited about pancakes, and my family will tell you that I would take a sandwich over eggs or cereal any day. But French breakfast is different because of one delightful word: bakeries. Every village has one, even our “miss-it-if-you-blink” village, Villiers-sous-Grez. And what a place it was. We would wake up in the morning, throw on jeans and a tee shirt, grab our euros and head down the street, already drooling over what we knew we’d find: hot, crusty baguettes, fresh out of the oven; flaky croissants; tempting pastries of all varieties; miniature loaves of nut and fruit breads; brioches, perfectly browned on top. Our eyes could barely register it all. And then the dreaded decision making. Should I get a chausson aux pommes (an apple turnover)? A pain au chocolate (pastry with bars of melting chocolate in the center)? Just a plain croissant, so light it would melt in my mouth? We became accustomed to ordering in French, our mouths eventually familiar with forming the names of our favorites. Most mornings we would leave, a bag of fare under our arms that would be the topic of an Atkins Diet nightmare (or fantasy!) in the United States.

“We knew we didn’t always
get it right, but the gentle
corrections that followed made
us smile and try again.”

But the bakery, or boulangerie, played a bigger role in our village. It was, for all intents and purposes, the hot spot of village life. You went there to hear all the latest gossip, to talk about the news, to meet people. It was where Olivia and I met our neighbors, discussed the abandoned kittens we had found in the woods and learned that we, the “two American girls,” were quite the topic of conversation. Later, walking back to our house, we imagined elderly ladies peeking out at us from behind their lace curtains, just waiting for us to do something strange so they could rush over to the bakery, and say to the rest of the patrons, eyes wide, “You will not guess what those two crazy American girls did…”

But in all seriousness, we never experienced a harsh word or rude action. I think it may be largely due to the adjustments we made; we tried the different pastries, breads, pizzas and quiches and also tried to pronounce them. We knew we didn’t always get it right, but the gentle corrections that followed made us smile and try again. And our frequent presence at the boulangerie revealed to our neighbors that we were interested in the real flavor of French village life. It was clear that we had tried their way of life, found it to our liking and quickly adapted to it.
And while we may never have the chance to return to the small village of Villiers-sous-Grez, they may still be talking about us, and we about them, for a while to come. After all, I’m still having trouble keeping the words, “But this is how it is done in France…” from coming out of my mouth.

– Loren A. Morgan ’05
Loren Morgan
is an English/French major
and an intern in the
College Relations Office.

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