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January 15, 2005
Villers-La-Faye, Burgundy - France

P's and Q's and Kirs

All right – two new rules for myself. Always introduce myself on the phone when I call someone in France, and secondly, after drinking Kir, make no phone calls to anybody besides close friends and family.

Maybe a beret would help me remember
my phone etiquette.

It all started so innocently. Just a spontaneous aperitif at my sister-in-law’s house while the kids play upstairs. One Kir, and then, well, because it’s so darn good and Franck’s ninety four year old grandmother – the indomitable Mémé – swears it’s miraculous for rheumatism and many other ailments, maybe another one. It’s only white wine and crème de cassis, and after all it is the official drink of our neck of the woods over here.

Franck observes on our way out the door that I’m looking rather flushed and wonders out loud if I’m not a little drunk. I protest. Not drunk at all, actually. I simply had two Kirs, and moreover he must be forgetting that he married a Canadian lass who can hold her liquor.

When I get home I have many things to do, besides pointedly ignoring Franck’s insinuations that I may not be feeling quite up to doing them. Number one on the list is to call potential babysitter, Louise. I dig up a scrumple of paper in my pocket that has a phone number on it – what I believe to be Louise’s cell phone. I call it.

Voice on the other end. “Bonjour.”

Doesn’t sound like Louise, but then who else would be answering her cell phone? But better ask for her just to be sure.

“Can I please speak to Louise?” I ask in my best, albeit flustered French.

The voice on the other end takes on an affronted tone. “Bonjour,” it says, pointedly this time. “I am Madame…”  It's a double-barreled name which I don't quite catch, and now I’m really confused.

Why is this person telling me her name? Do I have the wrong number? Where is Louise? And, above all, why has Franck all of a sudden appeared beside me making frantic signs with his hands?

“Ummm, ahhhh, bonjour, I’m Madame Bradbury….ummm….Madame Germain. I’m calling Louise about babysitting,” I stutter.

The voice becomes gracious again, Thank God, and I hear Louise being beckoned over to the phone. I look down at the paper in my hand, which starts with 03 instead of 06 as a cell phone should. I must be calling her home phone – rats – and that must have been her mother. It’s something I normally should have picked up on…

My conversation with Louise is fine but a little stilted in that I can’t seem to make out what she’s saying half the time. Despite liking Louise very much, I get off the phone in a fractious mood, only to have Franck treat me to an exegesis about how it is extremely impolite in France to neglect to introduce oneself right off the bat, especially on the phone.

I say nothing, but go and make dinner, doing a lot more banging of pots and pans than perhaps necessary.

Halfway through our roti-de-veau with carrots Franck asks me what I’m thinking about.

“Rudeness,” I say. “And how what is considered rude depends on where you come from.”

“Oh?” Franck asks, faintly.

“Yes, for example, maybe the French never forget to introduce themselves on the phone, but they wouldn’t hesitate to provoke an argument with a complete stranger sitting beside them at a formal dinner party,” I say, getting warmed up. “And then, if the argument doesn’t go the way they like they would sulk for the rest of the evening.”

“That’s true.”

“A Canadian would consider that as the rudest of rude,” I continue. “So rude that it would make most Canadians, including me, feel like they want to crawl under the table.”

Franck nods his head in an uncharacteristically non-argumentative way for a French person. But then again, he’s also a very smart person – and one whose wife has had two Kirs earlier in the evening.

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© 2005, Story by Laura Bradbury  & Photos by Franck Germain - All Rights Reserved.

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