My Journey from Arizona to France
Thursday, November 08, 2012
In 1993 I found myself back in the Arizona desert, having been deported there by one disillusioned Frenchman. Jean-Marc and I had tried to live together—lasting a full ten months—but all that sizzling chemistry that fueled us in the beginning eventually fizzled out, and our Franco-American romance was over. Jean-Marc's mind was set. To prove it, he bought me a one-way ticket back to Phoenix!
Back in Phoenix, I busied myself picking up the pieces of a life I had quickly left behind. The cold, current reality was I needed to find a job, illico! But what was I qualified for? I had a French degree... but no skills!
I didn't want to go back to being a receptionist, and I hated working at the department store... though I loved my customers, who bought both girdles and g-strings from me (I wasn't personally familiar with either culotte before going to work at Dillard's lingerie department). My customers taught me so much and, just before leaving my summer job--to begin my semester in France!--I received a touching letter of recommendation from the most eccentric, glamorous, and mysterious of my clients (see the "complicité" chapter--you can read it for free by doing a search inside feature, here).
No, I didn't want to go back to those jobs. Come to think of it, if I could somehow sidestep the employer thing altogether... that would be ideal!
I wanted more than anything to avoid a train-train or run-of-the-mill existence—especially in regard to employment, which represents the largest part of one's waking hours.
Self-employment, then, became my goal. Yes! Only by working for oneself could one experience freedom! Only by being one's own boss could one work creatively! Only by calling all the shots could one, say, skip out early for a double matinee, large popcorn with extra butter, and a coke.
Suddenly, I had an inspiration...
I could be a "girl Friday". Better yet, I would be my own girl Friday!
A girl Friday got to do a lot of things. No two days the same! Variety would be the spice of this new (if newly failed...) life.
I had a car, which was about all I needed, along with the adrenaline of a fresh warrior! Now all I had to do was to decide what I had to offer: what to put on my Girl Friday menu? Just what, after all, was I capable of? So far I had been good at failing a relationship, but never mind... time to pull up those bootstraps (even if the heartstrings needed a good tug, too!).
Let's see, what were my skills?...
I could help type up papers
I could clear out one's clutter room
I was good at washing cars
I might walk someone's dog?
I could run errands...
And I sure knew how to apply make-up! (Perhaps offer makeovers???)
....Not to forget that I had a knack for complaining—I had been good enough at it to "win" a one-way ticket out of France!—so perhaps I could offer to "argue one's case" somehow—that is, without having to go to law school. No time for that. I needed to earn some cash!).
I might not be skilled or trained in any one area, I thought to myself, I might have even neglected these chores in my very own home, but no looking back now!, there were many things I could do! and, in the doing of them, I might just forget, petit à petit, all that I had left behind in France. I might even forget him. (Would Jean-Marc ever give me a second chance?)
Bon. Never mind. I was set! All I needed was a name for my company" (My very own company!!!) But what to call it? It should be something French, non? Never mind my French dream had come to an end, all too suddenly....
Because, as Girl Friday, I would be proposing to carry out a variety of jobs, it occurred to me to call my new enterprise "Anything At All". Better yet, why not be fancy—and use the French equivalent! But just what was the equivalent? Would "Anything at All" translate to "N'importe Quoi"? I'd heard the term somewhere before.
N'importe Quoi seemed to mean something along the lines of "You Name It!" (perfect for a service-oriented company, non?), but I still had vague doubts about the actual translation. What's more, was it prudent for a 24-year-old woman to offer "Anything At All"? Even in English the meaning might be misconstrued....
Despite any doubts, I thought to go ahead with my business-cards order. I could just see the finished product! The card would read, in bold print, "N'importe Quoi!" and there, to the lower right, my name: "Kristi Ingham" with the title "Your Girl Friday".
What my business card might have looked like... Yikes!
Some girl Friday! I never even got around to my first errand: visiting the printer. Instead, I took the first paycheck job I could get, and spent my run-of-the-mill existence in a quiet airpark office, nursing a broken heart.
It would take another decade or so (a move back to France—which would come sooner than expected, and the foundation of a French family) before I would fully grasp the meaning behind "N'importe Quoi".
Today I sit here at my desk, a self-employed writer, and shake my head sympathetically at the would-be Girl Friday of two decades ago. What a mistake that would have been to call one's company "A Bunch of Baloney" or "Rubbish!" (I cringed when I finally realized the exact translation of my would-be company's name!).
And what folly that would have been, for that failed girlfriend, or girl Friday, to have offered "anything at all"--when what she really should have offered was to share her dream.
20 years later and I am sharing my dream... of writing and living with my French loves (family, dogs, friends and readers). Thank you so much for reading!
n'importe quoi = nonsense, rubbish; whatever
illico (illico presto) = right away
une culotte = panty
le train-train = life's treadmill
petit à petit = little by little
I managed to win him back... and to get him all the way to the alter in a centuries-old cathedral near the sea in Marseilles. Just look how scared he looks! Petrified! And I've got that jackpot winner expression on my own face. To comment or to read the comments, click here. (In all fairness, there is one more way to interpret that look on Jean-Marc's face: relief! His would-be bride arrived so late to the wedding that the priest was waiting for her out on the church curb, finger-a-wagging! I tried to put the blame on the cultural misunderstanding (see the marriage chapter, around p. 15) that had occurred the hour before, but there was no time to mess around. There was a French man waiting to marry me!!!!
Please forward this story to a friend who is trying, and sometimes failing, to follow a goal... and remind them never to give up their dreams! Il ne faut jamais abandonner ses rêves!
A Message from Kristi: Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.
Ways to contribute:
1. Paypal or credit card
2. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.
Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety
This is certainly my most favourite entry ever! Loved it, loved it, loved it!!!
I will definitely pass this one on to others!!!
I do have your book and have not yet had a chance to read it... after reading this part I am definitely getting it out to read from cover to cover!
Posted by: Janet | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 01:26 PM
AHHHH. I love your happy ending - scratch that - beginning. Even though you still have to use that list of skills: decluttering rooms, typing papers, washing much more than cars, walking dogs (and all without pay, I might add) - it's the best job ever when you do it for love.
Posted by: Karen Whitcome (in warm and rainy Towson, Md) | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Your comment really touched me today. I am in the same position of not knowing what to do for work. Thanks to you, I will not call my business "N'importe Quoi!."
I liked your comment so much, I ordered your book. Thanks for the inspiration.
Posted by: Diane | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Thank you so much for your final words. I am now living in France, following my own dream to learn about French wine regions and wine by living and working in different places. I started in the Rhône Valley, and now I'm in Champagne. I'm also a writer/blogger, and a wine educator, but I am at a crossroads at the moment, just as you were in Phoenix (minus the car!). It's easy to get discouraged in the face of the unknown, but I will follow your advice and not give up! Who knows, perhaps I'll even find my own adoring French husband someday!
Posted by: Sharona Tsubota | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Humorous and heartwarming at the same time! Yes, a true work of "heart" that could only come from your pen. Thanks for a good start to a difficult day.
Posted by: Tom from Detroit | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 01:59 PM
.......interesting use of apropos.....??
Is that American vernacular now? An adjective - in the sense of "suitable/relevant/applicable?
Posted by: Maureen | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Your wedding photo is priceless and adobrable! Your joyous grin of success in not only getting that lovely man back into your life, but in joining that life to yours, should have a prize of place setting in your house. It´s one of the loveliest, most graphically happy photos I´ve ever seen. And... I don´t think Jean-Marc looks so much scared as coming to terms with what marriage means.
Thanks for sharing the moment with all of your readers.
Posted by: Sndra Fuenterosa | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Always enjoy each post. Suggestion-Could you possibly put a space between the French sentence and the English translation, so those of us who use it for practice won't automatically see the answer. merci mille fois
Posted by: Ken Scupp | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 02:12 PM
I just like you so much!
Posted by: Terry Fardon | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Merci Beaucoup!!!! I'm new to your site thanks to a friend trying to help me with my own learning of this wonderful language. I love your stories and how you put the french words into the mix....
I've just returned from Lyon & Paris and cannot wait to return. My language learning is slow but I will get there and I thank you for your part in it.
Posted by: Kate Sirkin | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 02:43 PM
I love that wedding picture. I think JM looks like he's thinking "Finally! I've tamed her." but your look says to me "That's what he thinks." Great post!
Posted by: Bill in St. Paul | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 03:02 PM
".......interesting use of apropos.....??
Is that American vernacular now? An adjective - in the sense of 'suitable/relevant/applicable? ' "
The use of "apropos" as an adjective meaning "fitting or appropriate" is hundreds of years old, in French and English.
Great post, Kristin!
Posted by: Jan (in Edmonton, Canada) | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Kristin, reading your blog of late feel as if you are going through a transition and to read all this is both exciting and sad for me.Lots of change in 20 yrs but you did what you dreamed and it all has worked out for you.Many people dream but never chase their dreams.You have done this and BRAVO to you!!!!!Change is good but needs time to jell. A move yet again, kids adjusting, a happy husband now hes back at the sea,and where do you fit yet again? Embrace the change as you always have,CHANGE is AWESOME!!!!!
Posted by: Jackie | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Dear Kristin, I LOVED this post!!! I bought your books as soon as I discovered your blog several months ago, but alas, I am in grad school, with much less stimulating reading material consuming my days. I can't wait for January, when I will have a break and can catch up with the rest of your life!
It's funny, but I had the same thoughts about you and Jean-Marc before I even read your caption. The joy on your face says it all! And I love that you're glancing at the camera, while JM has a look of nervous anticipation (but after your explanation, relief is probably right!)
You are a kindred spirit, and I love that you are sharing your hopes, fears, dreams with your blog readers. Your vulnerability is something I treasure. Have a wonderful cruise with your friend--you deserve it, and I am sure you will be blessed by this respite in the midst of your very full life.
Posted by: Karene | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Oops, just glanced at the picture, and saw that you are not looking at the camera! Oh, well, your expression is still one of unbridled joy :)
Posted by: Karene | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 04:06 PM
I enjoy your story so much, Kristina. After reading your pieces for a while I decided to tell my story—starting over a year ago. Not being the photographer you are, my site is not nearly so beautiful as yours. However I'm beginning to learn about inserting pictures, etc., despite my age (82) and allergy to technology.
The wedding picture would touch anyone's heart.
Thank you for sharing your heart, Frances
Posted by: Frances Raedeker | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 04:11 PM
The first time I heard that phrase was from a snarky goth girl in Aix-en-Provence. She was talking about Segolene Royale — whom she clearly did not respect — when she rolled her eyes and said the phrase. It was in that perfect American "what-ever" tone. I immediately got it.
Posted by: Maria Alexander | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Nice piece of writing...she's BAAACKKK...
Posted by: louis Plauche' | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 04:23 PM
A marvelous story and a marvelous lesson. One question, though: What the heck is an airpark?
P.S. re: the photo
Jeez Louise, what an insanely good-looking couple!
Posted by: Bruce in northwest Connecticut | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Reading your stories is my favorite part of the day. Getting all ten fingernails dirty in the garden is my second favorite part.If the parts were pearls, the string and clasp that join and hold them as a necklace is my precious husband.
Thanks, Kristin, for sharing your all.
Where do the little boxes in front of our responses come from? I like their designs and colors. -julie-
Posted by: julie camp | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Thanks for the reminder that we must all stop and think about our dreams rather than just getting by, day to day. Congratulations on being able to follow your dream!I enjoy reading about your adventures in France and will one day come and visit!
Posted by: Juli Parrott | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 05:02 PM
I have been reading your posts for probably five years and enjoy them so much. Your life seems like a fairy tale or a work of fiction! But I know it's got it's ups and downs.i love France and have been trying to learn the language for decades. I always thought n'importe de quoi meant "what ever" not "garbage." I keep learning from you!
Posted by: Carolyn Uyemura | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Charming ending to today's story. Thank you. And thank you for the beautiful first photo today. It's so beautiful!
Posted by: Julia - Falling Off Bicycles | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Beautiful picture of you two. All of us couples need to remember that Aisle/Altar/Hymn needn't turn into I'll/alter/him. Ha!
Greetings from sunny Georgia, U.S.A.
Posted by: Diane Heinecke | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 05:54 PM
I greatly enjoyed today's post.
Posted by: Sheila (WA State) | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Lovely picture---both your expressions are just too good!!! And a fun story.
Thanks for sharing it.
Enjoy your Cruise.
The Festival of Ligts in India--Diwali, is round the corner--so wish you and your family a Very Happy Diwali.
Posted by: Rina Rao. | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Lovely story. Your French phrase at the end reminds me of George Eliot's memorable quote: "Il n'est jamais trop tard pour devenir ce que l'on aurait pu etre."
Posted by: Ellen A. | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Hi dear Kristin,
Your gift as a (talented!) writer always shines through bright and clear--it'd be impossible to choose a favorite post,but today's post HAS to be right at the top of the list of favorites! Absolutely WONDERFUL!
You tell us about yourself without a shred of vanity,and that makes me want to wrap you in a big hug of THANKS for giving us inspiration to do exactly the same with ourselves.The second at the top of the list of favorites is your wonderful "Pourquoi Pas" which so captured my imagination that I remember it still. You've made our day!
Love, Natalia XO
Posted by: Natalia | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Kristin, As usual...a terrific story. I can only add a quote that I heard years ago and still try to live by...'what lies before us and what lies behind us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.' You always share with us - what is within you - and for that I am grateful.
Posted by: Pamela Harnois | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Thanks for sharing. Finding our way can be a challenge. bisous :)
Posted by: meredith | Thursday, November 08, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Thanks, Kristin, for touching us as always with such unbridled truth. As a writer, I know just how hard it is to strike the right "tone." You seem to do it with such ease, though I doubt it's really that easy!
Getting my French Fix watching "Breathless" on TV in the States tonight.
Merci. Au revoir....
Posted by: Ron | Friday, November 09, 2012 at 02:17 AM
your wedding picture is so adorable......what a brave and sweetly wonderful life you have!!!!!! you lift my spirit....and help me not to beat myself too much about stuff and/or relationships....perhaps it will all turn out well in the end after all!!!!! susan from alameda california
Posted by: susan standke | Friday, November 09, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Kristin, you lift my spirit,due to health problems I have't been able to travel to France this year, and I live my dreams through your stories. You will probably never know how much your weekly emails mean to those of us who are unable to live the "dream" Writing about your last 20 years and the indecisions you had you must now realise it was all part of the journey. I am so grateful you have shared "your journey "thank you June, Gold Coast
Posted by: june furey | Friday, November 09, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Something about your writing seems very different since you and your family have made this life-altering move...more heartfelt, more real. I'd like to read more about your childrens' adjustment.
Posted by: Catherine Noble | Friday, November 09, 2012 at 03:34 AM
That is a beautiful story. You are an artist. Your writing is insightful, subtle, and just plain delightful.
Posted by: Nancy | Friday, November 09, 2012 at 03:35 AM
You are such a joy to read. I dream of living in France one day, although right now I'm settling for the Central Coast of California in the beautiful wine country of Paso Robles. Keep the good blog vibes coming. Also, I just received your book and am so anxious to read it. Your Mother sounds divine, what a good soul. Cheri
Posted by: cheri | Friday, November 09, 2012 at 03:42 AM
I just got back home from an out of town funeral and saw your email. How nice it was to know I was reading a story with a happy ending!! I LOVE your wedding photo! Thanks for closing out my day with a happy smile!
Posted by: Cheryl in STL | Friday, November 09, 2012 at 05:23 AM
Would you agree that it's time for you to write a novel - you write so well and I think your skills applied to a romantic novel set in the vineyards of France, filled with joy and strife in equal parts, would be a wonderful thing!
Posted by: KendalShand | Friday, November 09, 2012 at 06:59 AM
Lovely story. In case you didn't see it, your Jean Marc got a nice shout out in the current issue (November 30) of Wine Spectator where the feature article is about the wines of the Rhone valley. Congratulation to Jean Marc!
Posted by: Michel | Friday, November 09, 2012 at 04:19 PM
This is one reason I love your blog. The dictionary defines "n'importe quoi" as "anything." Bing translator says "No matter what." But you provide the idiomatic translation that you probably just have to be there to learn. And a funny and touching story, too. Thanks!
Posted by: EL | Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Love your post! I giggled at myself because I initially read "griddles and g-strings" and thought, "wow, that must have been an interesting job" :)
Posted by: Heidi | Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 03:51 PM
I so enjoyed this post today! Thanks for sharing your dream and your life!
Posted by: Eileen - Charlottesville, VA | Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Ahhhh -- yes, one of your utmost best, dear Kristin, simmering with vitality! Can only second every one of the comments before mine! Your words fan the flame of life itself in us, you know.
Posted by: Kitty Wilson | Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Your experiences bring so much joy into my day! You are doing exactly what you should be doing, living in France, writing on your experiences, married to your wonderful Frenchman. Your children, your animals and occasionally Jules add spice to the pot! Thank you!
Posted by: Betty Tuininga | Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Okay okay! After reading your blog for a few months I am so interested to find out how you returned to France that I've just bought both of your books on my kindle!
Posted by: Susan - Scotland | Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 01:11 AM
What a gorgeous couple you are in this beautiful wedding photo... I recalled this story from your blog and loved hearing it again. Heart warming and inspiring.
Well we followed our dreams as you know and are in Antibes at the moment! What work to move and pack away and sell our belongings after so many years.
So worthwhile and we are grateful to be pursuing this long term dream of living in France. I was here as a student many years ago.
Looking forward to an opportunity to share a glass of wine with you and JM in the weeks ahead! We will be in the Bandol, Sanary area after Thanksgiving at some point we think.
Yes, follow one's heart! So important.
Posted by: Sandy Vann | Friday, November 16, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Loved your wedding photo!! And Love that you never gave up and you're now living your dream..my dream is to own a little cottage in the French countryside one day... we have quite a few more years of school fees to pay before it can become a reality !!!
I am one step closer next year now that I have booked myself into a language immersion school for one month in Ville Franche Sur Mer. If I am going to live there one day then surely I must speak the langauge!! Maybe I could come to Bandol and say 'hi'!
Enjoy your weekend!
Posted by: [email protected] | Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 07:14 AM