Taking French leave

French leaveTo take French leave (or go AWOL as we say in North America) is known in France as ‘filer à l’anglaise’. Like the humble condom (variously known in French and English as a ‘capote anglaise’ or a French letter), this is another example of something that neither side wants to take credit for.

As the year draws to a close, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on what’s been accomplished – and what’s been left undone. So I’m taking a time out – to recharge the proverbial batteries, spend precious time with my family over the holidays and think about where I want to go next year.

I started this blog back in January with the vague notion of sharing my experiences of life in the land of the Gauls while venting twenty years of pent-up frustration over culture clashes and feeling like a stranger in a strange land. It has been cathartic. Also educational: I’ve learned a lot – about myself and the wonderful world of blogging – along the way.

Living in a foreign land means there’s an endless supply of material. Especially one as rich and wonderful as France. I’ve barely begun to exhaust my treasure trove of humorous, embarrassing and sometimes outrageous examples of how things work (or don’t) in this country.

As I clear away some of the clutter from my mental shelves, I find myself struggling to distinguish very clearly what is of interest to anyone but moi.

I feel inspired to hold up different facets of life in France to the light. The tiny nuances of behavior, of mindset and of what makes the French, well, French. And the rest of us, well, foreign.

So, what do you think? Should I continue in the same vein, attempting to decode the culture cues? Do you find the observations of language as interesting as I do? Or would you like to see more positive examples of beautiful things and places that la belle France has to offer?

I would love to hear your thoughts, so please share them in the comments! And the meantime, bonnes fêtes de fin d’année!

Happy Old Year

The month-long New Year’s party is finally over in France.

I for one am relieved when the frenzy of clinging champagne flutes, kissy face and ‘bonne année, bonne santé’ finally comes to a halt in France at the end of January.

I never know what to say, for one thing. The French express their ‘voeux’ or new year’s wishes with uncharacteristic fervor. People you barely know will give you a little speech about how they hope this year will bring you both personal and professional success, good health, sufficient wealth and enough time to enjoy them all…along with your family members whom they will cite by name. My pathetic little ‘bonne année’ in return sounds so completely inadequate I hardly dare mutter the words. January turns into a month of avoidance while I hide until the wave has passed.

And for another, there is no point in making a resolution if you don’t put it into practice. For me the new year is a time to rest your liver, curtail the carbs and hit the exercise mat. If I don’t get January off to the right start, the entire year can quickly degenerate into serial excess.

While I truly love Christmas, I’ve never been much of a one for New Year’s. The hysteria around the change of date, arbitrary at best in the time continuum, leaves me indifferent. And the pressure to party seems, frankly, inane.

But the French get teary eyed and seem to sincerely believe in the promise of le nouvel an just as I still believe in Santa.

In an attempt to get into the spirit of things, here are my voeux to the French for 2013:

‘May this new year bring you a healthy economy, and enough wealth to ensure you keep your AA rating. May your politicians continue to provide les guignols with plenty of fodder. In particular, I wish Parisians the shortest of traffic jams, a minimum of strike days, and enough sun to warm your eight weeks of holidays in the Alps, on the Cote d’Azur or in Corsica.  May Gérard Depardieu live peacefully in Belgium or Russia or wherever he finds haven. Amen.”