Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A post from last week

My co-worker wasn't too in to the idea of going to a French restaurant, so instead of going back to the Quebecois restaurant, we decided to eat at a Moroccan restaurant instead. It turned out to be a fantastic experience - we were the only ones there, so we got great service and the chef kept coming out to make sure we were happy with our dishes.
I also had an interesting conversation with the waitress - she was from Morrocco but had lived in Paris for several years before moving to the middle of Bretagne in the fall of 2008. I asked her how she was liking it and she hesitated, and I immediately recognized that hesitation. It had happened to me so many times before. I could almost hear her inner monologue, debating about how honest to be. When someone asks you that, do you say how you really feel? How lonely and isolating it can be to live in small-town Bretagne? Or do you give the answer people want to hear? ie. That Bretagne is a very beautiful region but it sure rains a lot, haha.

So before she could answer, I cut in with "It can be pretty tough being a foreigner in a small town here, huh?" And I saw an immediate wave of relief wash over her face. She agreed and said sadly that she hadn't expected it to be so difficult. So hard to make friends. So many stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding her home country. And she still hadn't gotten used to all the staring when she was out in public, that she often felt like she had two-heads. At which I had to laugh because it was a phrase I'd used myself many a time.

Unfortunately I didn't have any magic advice to give her on cracking the tough Breton exterior - it's a puzzle that I was never able to solve. I could only commiserate with her and reassure her that she wasn't alone, that it had been like that for me (and so many others) as well. So many of us asking the same questions - Why can't I fit in? Why can't I make French friends? What do I have to do to be accepted? Why am I not good enough for them?

I've found myself replaying our conversation in my head several times over the past week. My heart goes out to the poor woman, and I really hope she was somewhat comforted in knowing that it wasn't just her. Cuz it's something that took me several years to realize.

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Blogger Emily said...

is that the moroccan in Pontivy? If it is I love that place! xxx
Emily x

June 10, 2009 at 6:21 PM  
Blogger Ksam said...

Yep, it is - I actually thought of you while there, wondering if you'd ever been since she said a good chunk of her clients were British!

June 10, 2009 at 10:33 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

Ah life in a small town in France. I really cannot wait to get to Paris so that I can be "just another American" in Paris. For two years here I have been known as "THE American" in my neighborhood and I am tired of sticking out. Especially since being unique is intimidating to others here... which is probably why after living in this town for two years I still do not have any local friends. I cannot wait to get to Paris! :-)

June 11, 2009 at 8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good on you for reaching out to her, I'm sure she will remember your conversation when she's going through some tough times. When I was going through my bad times here it really meant so much to have people (usually online)commiserating with me, so I'm sure she really appreciated your words..

June 11, 2009 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger wcs said...

It must be a Breton thing. We have had totally the opposite experience here in our small town in the Centre.

Our town is less than 1,000 people, next to another that's just under 5, 000. We have many friends and acquaintances.

We are known as the two American gay guys... but we've never felt any hostility in that regard. There are other gay folks around, other anglophones, and other foreigners -- there's a large Portuguese community, for example.

So, again, is it Brittany? Or is there some kind of gender thing going on? I wonder.

I know it's not a language thing for you because your French is excellent. But that does have an impact for people who aren't comfortable in French.

Is a puzzlement!

June 11, 2009 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Zuleme said...

I read a number of the American (or British) in France blogs and there is a wide variation on how well the foreigners make friends. Anything from horrendous experiences with in-laws to fitting right in with the locals. Someone should write a book with stories from all the bloggers. Maybe anonymous stories.
I have my French girlfriend and her boyfriend coming in August and then we will visit her family in September. We're also meeting friends in Provence.
My first visit to Provence made me a Francophile, there is something in the culture I really love.
My husband is Swedish and we spent a year going to school there. Most of our friends were foreigners or his relatives, though we did become friendly with some Swedish students. We weren't there long enough to really settle in.
I think one thing that makes a difference is whether you have a house where you can invite people over for food. Food helps everything in my experience.
So Sam, are all your friends foreigners?

June 11, 2009 at 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to what you went through--it was the same for me when we lived in a small town here in Bretagne. After 6 months we moved to a larger town (Morlaix) and I'm so happy we did! I'm making friends with the locals and find myself stopping to chat with others far more than I ever did in the US. Of course, I have children so that helps to give me an in, I think. But yah, I can totally relate to how the lady in the resto is feeling. It's not a good feeling.

June 17, 2009 at 8:06 AM  

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