To have the munchies, in French + We have a party, I learn a few more lessons...
hommage

cross-cultural awareness: say it in French, do it often

Moroccan Woman (c) Kristin Espinasse

I made a lovely acquaintance. Don't miss her in today's story. Picture taken in Morocco, where my mother-in-law once lived and where we celebrated her 70th (in 2011).

la conscience multiculturelle

    : cross-cultural awareness

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Comment développer la conscience multiculturelle et le respect des autres régions du monde?
How to develop cross-cultural awareness and the respect for other world regions?

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A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Clumsy? Ignorant? Afraid?: On not letting your mind talk you out of enlightenment

Driving alone toward Marseilles, my pint-size Citroën was whipped to and fro by the Mistral wind. Passing a semi-truck was a chilling experience, but when cars swept by to my left, au même temps, I gripped the steering wheel in terror.

Wouldn't it be ironic to crash on the way to hospital? Just when I began picturing myself in bed beside my mother-in-law--sporting the same drip system as she--I shook my head, putting the brakes on an overactive imagination. I was not destined to be Michèle-France's hospital roommate. I was going to be her visitor!

Only, arriving at St. Joseph's réanimation wing, I learned visiting hours were over....

In the salle d'attente, I waited to know whether hospital staff would make an exception. After all, I'd travelled far to get here--and even kept calm looking for parking when the hospital lot was complet!

Flipping through a fashion magazine, waiting for the staff's answer, a murmuring of Arabic tickled my ears. Two women seated en face were in a lively conversation. Every so often their sentences were peppered with French. 

The older woman wore a traditional dress and a head scarf and her daughter (?) faded jeans and dyed blond hair. She looked my age, en le quarantaine...

I set aside the magazine. Why look at models when you could admire the real thing? Authentic women

"You are mixing languages," I laughed, entering the conversation.

The blond smiled and her mom lit up. Thick gold fillings in Mom's teeth sparkled along with her smile.

"I do the same," I assured them. "Only in French and English--when I talk to my kids."

My waiting room friends giggled, and I thought to tell them about the wonderful movie I'd seen the night before: La Graine et le Mulet by Abdellatif Kechiche. Only I was quickly riddled with doubts. To  suddenly bring up an Algerian-Tunisian film... wasn't that, after all, assuming? Or dumb or ignorant or flippant? Along the lines of "Hey, I notice you're North African and I just saw a North African film!!!

Et alors? As if guessing or alluding to another's culture was a no-no. The tricks the mind plays on us to keep us silent and alienated one from the other! So what if I put my foot in my mouth? What was important was to reach out. 

"Where are you from?" I blurted, only to die a twelve-second death when the daughter hesitated.

(One-thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three....)

"Algeria."

"Oh, I hear Algeria is beautiful." 

One-thousand four, one thousand five... my new friend was looking at me silently. If she was seeing my thoughts, she was now picturing my great French aunt, who carried around a razor blade in her pocket! A war bride in Algeria, she was poised to slit her childrens' throats, then her own, rather than be killed by a native during la guerre d'indépendance Algérienne. It was a matter of dignity.

The shocking thought was but a flash, part of a great Kaleidescope of images that churn in my mind as it sifts life's experience. Here, now, with the bottle blond and the gold-toothed grandma, a new set of images swirled into the technicolor machine, a mind ever hungry for understanding.

Soon (back in the waiting room) a lively conversation began. As barriers quickly dropped talk turned sentimental. "I don't understand why we all can't get along," the bottle blond from Algeria said. Live and let live. We need only respect one another's religions.

Hallelujah! Inshallah! This was my kind of conversation: away with the small talk, get right down to matters of the heart. But just when we were getting to the soul of things, my telephone rang. It was my mother-in-law trying to talk me out of coming to the hospital.

"Too late," I said, "I'm here. Now if they'll only let me in to see you! I'm waiting to see if they'll make an exception to the rule."

When I hung up the phone, the women across the room were in an excited conversation as they turned to me. "But you should have told us your situation. Come!" said the younger woman, pulling me over to the door where a note had been posted to the wall."

"You need to call this number and they will let you in!"

"But I've missed opening hours..."

"Tell them you've come from very far away!" And, with a smile and a wink, my new friend added, "Arizona, you said? Yes, tell them that!"

Our eyes embraced as we said goodbye to one another. We had so much in common, least of which our homelands in the desert.

 *    *    *

Update: my mother-in-law is doing much better after near kidney failure. She was her regular feisty self when I visited, yesterday, and she swore she'd kick me in the butt -- me donner un coup de pieds aux fesses, if I hung out in her room any longer! So scram, she said, get lost... and bring me a few madeleines next time you visit. This hospital food is for the birds!

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 New rental in Provence. In the charming village of Sablet--this spacious home is the perfect place to return to after sightseeing, bicycling or hiking. Click here for photos.

Paris window (c) Kristin Espinasse

A picture (taken in Paris) that reminds me of my mother-in-law. I can almost see the stylish interior, inviting us inside for a taste of some delicious olive tapenade. Read a favorite story "Mal Barré" (Up The Creek) about my French mother-in-law. Click here.

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