French Friday: We Are ALL From One Place

Of all people immigrants have an acute sense of what straddling worlds means. But the importance of the place that has seen us grow leaves permanent prints all over our heart and defines our beliefs and misbeliefs, regardless of being or not an immigrant. This place that shapes us – whether with good or bad events – matters to anyone of us.

Over the last ten days I read one memoir, a young adult novel and watched a movie, realizing only lately that despite the first impression all three treat of worlds that meet and collide, ultimately forcing the characters to face the importance of their first home.

In Hillbilly Elegy the author J.D. Vance writes about his childhood and youth spent between Middletown, Ohio where he was born and has lived most of the time, and Jackson, Kentucky where his family was from.

There are many reasons to love and to be wary of this book. The author has really lived among true hillbillies and has seen the worst and the best of the so-called Appalachian values. Substance abuse and violence counter balanced by unconditional loyalty and love of country make it for a confusing upbringing. But as a conservative, Vance shows little patience for the ones who have nothing, often making them responsible for their own misfortune. He claims his hillbilly-ness and seeks responses to the crisis that affect the American white working-class in this part of the country, but his ties to some of the bigggest Trump’s campaign donors can only trigger legit questions. The topic of his memoir is serious but the writing is approachable and I highly recommend the book so you make your own opinion. Here is a New York Times review of the book and here an opinion published in the Jackson Times-Voice. You can also hear the author’s Ted Talk.

The core of the memoir remains about the importance that geography plays in our lives, also the aspect that moved me most when I read it.

No one chooses her/his place of birth. Like one’s first name it is a pure accident and yet so powerful. So powerful that in fact most of us either spend our lives where we were born or close by or leave for an entirely different region, country, or even continent, sometimes to come back much later.

J. D. Vance for example couldn’t wait to leave the poverty of Middletown, a now-decaying Ohio steel town filled with Kentucky transplants. But he still spoke with obvious affection of his family living there and of the physical beauty of eastern Kentucky.  Lately, after living in San Francisco he has returned to Columbus, Ohio, where he studied at Ohio State before going to Yale Law School. Columbus is the city he calls home.

The author’s journey from poverty to professional and personal success is fascinating and very rare. He thanks his grandparents for being the reason behind. Despite their own excesses, they poured constant love inside little J.D. when his mother was abusing drugs and creating havoc around her with numerous temporary boyfriends. His grandmother was particularly loving and pulled him through. And four years in the Marines completed the transformation from a pure hillbilly to a guy who could venture in the world, says Vance.

He  drank, though, sparkling water for the first time at Yale, thinking it was Sprite lacking sugar. This is also at Yale that he learned how to dress for interviews, realizing that what looked extraordinary to him was banal for most of his classmates. Growing up in a hectic environment where conflicts were dealt with fists and not words, he also learned to express his feelings with honesty and not anger. Not an easy task!

Thanks to my parents, I have not lived an abusive childhood neither witnessed domestic violence or the consequences of substance abuse. But Vance’s discoveries of a sophisticated world echoed some of my own.

A whole pear served on my plate for breakfast as I stayed at a middle school friend for a sleepover puzzled me once. As I started to bite inside as I did with apples, I realized that everyone was using a fork and a knife to peel the fruit and then cut it in pieces small enough to be eaten without juice dribbling down the chin.

In my first year of middle school, located only a few miles away from my small village, I also pretended to be fluent in music notation when I understood that I was the only one who had not studied sight-reading. My one-room elementary school teachers had taught me how to read and gosh did I read! But musical education was not for working-class or rural kids.

Years later, a set of unknown cheese knives confused me, too, while they seemed so familiar to a college friend of mine.

In The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas writes about sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who lives in a poor black part of town by night and studies in a posh private high school by day. Her life is distinctly separated between these two worlds, creating from the very beginning issues in her neighborhood where she still has friends and at school where she has made new friends, primarily white boys and girls. Even her clothes and language are different whether she’s in one or the other place.

Starr is deeply aware of straddling two worlds and already struggles with the notion of allegiance. When one of her closest childhood friends, someone she sees less now that their worlds rarely meet, is shot by a policeman in her presence, these two worlds must meet.

The Hate U Give is first and foremost a novel based on the numerous police shootings of unarmed young African Americans, tragic events that triggered the movement Black Lives Matter.

The same question through the entire novel, however, is: Can you straddle two very different worlds and still remain the same person? Can you stay loyal to your kin while living away? Starr often finds herself in such different settings that she wonders who she is. In the white comfortable world of her school friends she is tempted to defend her neighborhood, her people, her tribe. At home, she also realizes how impossible it is for her people to understand that everything white is not always bad.

In the end, she has to find her voice and tells the truth about what happened the night her chidlhoood friend was shot. From a girl split between two worlds she becomes an activist or at least someone keenly aware of the deeply disparate lives people can live, only miles away from each other.

Lady Bird aka Christine McPherson is also a high school student in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut movie Lady Bird. The story tells of the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence and of Lady Bird’s exceptionally strong but butt-headed relationship with her mother who we imagine being exactly like her daughter at the same age.

Since the story is set between 2002 and 2003, in Sacramento, California it is also a film about the power of a birthplace on human’s psyche. Anyone who has lived in post 9/11 California has also lived the rapidly changing American economic backdrop, largely due to the end of what was called then the dot.com boom.

Lady Bird’s family is directly impacted when her middle-aged father loses his job. They already live on the other side of tracks, as Lady Bird puts it. Her home is not set along one of those tree-lined Sacramento streets where the wealthiest residents live. Her mother can be a hardworking nurse, clothes are bought at thrift stores and money is tight, moreover since Lady Bird’s parents have sent her to a private catholic school – no doubt to get a better education. There, she meets economically and financially diverse kids.

Opinionated but big-hearted and impossibly likeable, Lady Bird has one dream: leaving Sacramento and California. She has harsh words against the city and the state. The delta has always been frowned upon as being agricultural. People there often argue that they are not part of Central California, a region even less desirable for many. Sacramento is still quite diverse and greatly benefits from the proximity of UC Davis, located about fifteen miles away. But as local kid, Lady Bird doesn’t want to attend UC Davis but study in “a place filled with culture.” A dream that I could easily understand as someone who has also lived in a French region considered rural and remote from cultural life.

Lady Bird sometimes lies about her address and even pretends living somewhere else. She goes great length to avoid being seen with her parents, mostly because they don’t drive a recent car. Again, these details rang so many familiar bells. I was so impressed by some of my middle and high school friends’ homes that I prayed they would never show up at my much smaller and less comfortable house.

I don’t want to brandish the Spoiler Alert flag, so I won’t go into more details, moreover since there are countless small details in this movie that tell so much and show the talent of the director.

As an example, just a brief conversation between Lady Bird and a boy she meets at a party, toward the end of the film when she has just started college.

“What’s your name?”

“Christine.”

“David. So where are you from?”

“Sacramento.”

“Where?”

“San Francisco.”

It is when she is in New York City that Lady Bird takes back her given name. This is also there that she understands the importance of place for oneself. And where she considers her mother’s feelings about Sacramento, a city that will forever tie them.

This short dialogue moved me since I also lied on occasions after realizing that the name of my hometown resonated with no one but me. Much later, of course, I understood that it shouldn’t have mattered.

We are ALL from one place. And even though we may leave it behind we are still from there. There is no particular pride or shame to draw from it, only perhaps respect and affection for a small corner of earth that shaped the person we became.

Besides the common theme of home that serves as a crucial backdrop, the role that one or more persons plays in a child’s life is very important in these books and movie. Whether it is J. D. Vance’s grandparents and particularly his grandmother or Starr’s mother and father but also uncle or still Lady Bird’s mother, each of the characters receive love, sometimes brutally bold, sometimes embarrassing, always unconditional.

Ultimately, as seedy or posh home is, love is still what defines it and what matters most.

From my home to yours

 

French Friday: Christmas in the French Quarters

At my local grocery store, there is a young friendly cashier. He often strikes a conversation about the weather, food, sometimes about France or still the American holidays.

Three days before Thanksgiving, he admitted loving that day and the fall season in general.

“I feel bad,” he started. “Now Christmas decorations show up in the stores the day after Halloween.” He lowered his voice as if other people could listen and disagree with him. “Even here,” he went on. “We start selling the Advent calendars with the pumpkins and cranberries.” He half-shrugged. “I guess that for business purposes.”

“I’m totally with you,” I said. “Way too soon. November is not Christmas. This weird trend started a few years ago.”

“First, it was just a few people  who put their Christmas decorations for Thanksgiving,” he agreed. “Now it’s like so many.”

Way too soon,” I insisted. “Well, Happy Thanksgiving to you! Enjoy the fall season, also my favorite!”

****

When our children were small there was a technical reason why my husband and I deliberately pushed the Christmas decorations closer to the big day.

“Is it Christmas today?” can be as frustrating for the kids and annoying for the parents as “Are we there yet?”

Also, we never understood how people could manage to cook an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner and put a Christmas tree up the following day.

Our upbringing of course helped. French people in their right mind would never have displayed a Christmas tree in their home in November. At least, when we lived there. I’ve noticed that fall tends to blend into winter, too, in France, moreover since Halloween is not celebrated everywhere and there is no Thanksgiving.

Even though my husband and I agreed that most Americans embraced the Christmas spirit much earlier than the French, we realized that we had not celebrated Christmas exactly in the same way when we were children either. So we mixed and matched our personal traditions, borrowing from each other, adding some distinct American flavor, to create our own family celebration.

* We were in total agreement about putting our shoes under the tree, a French tradition that we had both followed.

* I suggested including the stockings when I finally understood their role. The stockings, totally unknown to us when we arrived in the U.S., is now one of my family’s favorite Christmas traditions.

It’s definitely mine and I basically took over, overfilling my family’s stockings with small inexpensive gifts that vary from favorite candies to socks, from lip balm to funny or pretty Post-It notes…

* I accepted to open the stockings on Christmas Eve, since as a child my husband opened his gifts that night.

* He accepted to bring the other gifts under the tree only when our kids would be deep asleep. As they grew, it became a challenge 🙂

* We decided to build the suspense with phone calls from Santa, with bells that my husband rang from the backyard on Christmas Eve, evocating the sleigh, with carrots, cookies and a glass of milk that the children would display on a table before going to bed and would find half eaten and half full on Christmas Day.

* As much as most parents would love to keep their kids small and innocent just a little longer, we definitely agreed to tell them the truth when they would suspect that we could be Santa and Mrs. Claus.

* Naturally, our own Christmas could only be half French half American.

When we lived in Massachusetts, I fell for the New England candle-lit windows

* And we had a rule: Christmas would not enter our home before December 1st.

That day, the children could open the first window of their Advent calendars and eat their first chocolate piece.

Then, we would either go cut our own tree or buy one on a lot, usually not until the 10th or so.

Turning the house to Christmas mode took days, with holiday music playing in the background and countless cups of hot cocoa or tea to sustain us 🙂

Slower than Americans, the French-born were still ready by Christmas Eve.

****

But everyone knows that immigrants end up mimicking the natives. So, year after year, Christmas crept a little closer to Thanksgiving, even in the French quarters.

Until 2017, when it appeared for the fist time ever over Thanksgiving weekend!

 

 

P. S. I don’t think I’ll share the news with my young cashier, though.

Monthly Monday Miam-Miam: Food and Books to Be Thankful for

Only three days until Thanksgiving, and I’m in panic mode.

Last week, my menu was down and my grocery list made. So, late last night, I kicked my feet up and flipped through an old newspaper that was gathering dust on the coffee table. There, I read that you should NOT introduce the same ingredient twice in your Thanksgiving menu. For example, let’s say that you serve a pecan pie for dessert, then you should NOT offer glazed pecans as a snack.

I jumped up!

My menu included THREE dishes with the same ingredient. Not my fault if sweet potatoes are just so yummy. Besides, they are really healthy, as everyone knows.

So, I had planned to serve mashed sweet potatoes, a sweet potato casserole, and a sweet potato cheesecake. With brown sugar and vanilla the sweet potato casserole was acting as a side dish and dessert. Even better, had thought sweet tooth me.

Now, the newspaper article triggered second thoughts. At the same time, I also knew that there is no such thing as a Thanksgiving police. My years in the U.S. have shown me that if there is one day where excesses are allowed in the American kitchen it is on Thanksgiving Day.

Yet, as the newspaper was darkening my fingers, I realized that as much as I love sweet potatoes, as healthy as they can be, and even as crucially important as they are on Thanksgiving the journalist had probably a point. I also had to admit that I follow this one ingredient rule too, when composing menus.

But again a Thanksgiving menu is not any other menu. The cooking and baking possibilities are endless on that particular day, so unlike any other. Especially with sweet potatoes, the choices are just too mouth watering to settle on one meager dish.

With much internal debate, I decided, though, to cut. But how does someone choose mashed sweet potatoes over sweet potato casserole or still sweet potato and carrot purée (a classic in the family) over the sweet potato cheesecake recipe I had just found (I always introduce a new dessert at Thanksgiving)?

A dilemma, made even harder now that I had also bumped into a really cool recipe for sweet potato pie cupcakes that I was sure everyone would love. Okay, don’t get carried away, Mom, my son would say, there will be next year.

In the end, the sweet potato carrot purée won over the mashed and the casserole because it’s a classic. I also learned that traditions matter on Thanksgiving Day.

The good news was that I had to find replacements. So I went for mashed cauliflowers. Very hot this year the cauliflowers AND very healthy too, so all is good on the side dished front. I will have of course regular mashed potatoes because that’s a real classic, too, right? And green beans, of course, even though I still call them haricots verts.

Then, for dessert, I was hesitant between the Lavender Panna Cotta with Honey Poached Pears and the Maple Gingerbread Pots de Crème. I already had a pumpkin pie and since I had to cut my traditional pumpkin chai puddings because of the new rule of ONE similar ingredient I decided to do BOTH the panna cotta and the pots de crème.

We all know that the best of Thanksgiving are the leftovers.

 

Chrysanthemums, mums in the States, symbolize cemeteries in France, but to me they only mean fall

And because we also need food for the soul…

Among the readers of my blog there are many parents and grandparents, thankful to have children and teenagers in their lives, so here are four outstanding books, made just for them. I read them over the last two weeks while I was testing my Thanksgiving menu. They have nothing to do with Thanksgiving, but I find each of them a reason for being thankful to live in a world where there are so many creative, smart, funny, and goodhearted authors.

 

For Little Ones:

I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Even young children can feel overwhelmed. This picture book is perfect when calming a too busy mind is needed. The approachable and yet poetic text offers suggetsions to reconnect with the present when too many thoughts arise. The simple, gorgeous illustrations compliment the text to the perfection. Page after page, the child reconnects with the five senses, with nature, and the present moment. In the end, the young readers will also reach peace of mind, allowing them to offer peace to their surrounding world and ultimately to the rest of the world. The illustrator has illustrated Dot, one of my most favorite picture books, and the bestselling Judy Moody and Stink series.

We’re All Wonders written and illustrated by R.J. Palacio

The phenomenal middle grade novel Wonder triggered the movement Choose Kind. In Wonder, the main character Auggie was born with unusual physical characteristics and his loving mom calls him a wonder. With this picture book the author is reaching to younger readers. The sparse-sober and movingly powerful text shows young readers what it’s like to live in a world in which you feel like any other kid, but aren’t always seen that way. Beyond Auggie’s story, the novel and now the picture book tap into every child’s yearning to belong and to be seen as who they truly are.

 

For Middle Graders:

Yvain, The Knight of the Lion by M.T. Anderson and illustrated by Andrea Offermann

There are authors who never disappoint you because they write in a niche, so you expect their next book to please you as much as the precedent. And there are authors who surprise you each time they publish a book because you never know what it will be.

M.T. Anderson is of the latest category. He’s everything but predictable. He writes all over the spectrum and beyond. Though, each of his books being excellent, you are guaranteed to find a gem, whether for a child or a teen.

His latest caught my attention, not only because I am from France but also because I’ve really enjoyed learning about the Middle Ages when I was a kid.

This graphic novel is an adaptation of one of the first Arthurian epics, Yvain, le chevalier au lion written by Chrétien de Troyes, almost eight centuries ago. In fact, most of the tales we tell of King Arthur are derived from Chrétien de Troyes’ epic poems.

The text for this novel has been of course translated from Old French. And I must applaud the author for his impeccable research.

The illustrations are also absolutely terrific. The artist is from Germany and her work is stunning. Since I grew up in France and am accustomed to depictions of medieval scenes I was amazed by the accuracy of the costumes and décor at large. Impeccable research on the artist’s part too.

I recommended the book to my daughter, currently searching for material for seventh and eighth grade students studying medieval times across the world, because it is a highly accessible and thus enjoyable read, due to the striking artwork but also to the text filled with wit.

Doesn’t mean that it’s not deep. The middle ages were neither a peaceful period of time nor exactly feminist. However, it is interesting to note that it was not unusual for women to play crucial roles back then, as it is the case in this tale. In my French Friday post about the French écriture inclusive reform, I mention that women didn’t use to be as invisible as they became starting in the 17th century. In the medieval times, the feminization of professions such as poétesse for poète existed. We still have so much to learn from our ancestors 🙂

As a side note, I will add that I am familiar with the geographic area where the Knight of the Lion and the Arthurian tales take place in Brittany. I didn’t grow up very far from there, and my family vacationed several times near the forest of Brocéliande.

Reading this graphic novel was traveling along memory lane on several levels.

 

And last but not least, another gem for Middle Graders:

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig King

The author, who writes young adult fiction under the name A.S. King, is my all time favorite for her work in teen literature. So I was curious to read her latest novel, since the protagonist is an eleven-year-old sixth grade boy.

Obe Devlin’s nose bleeds often and at the most awkward moments, which triggers real embarrassment. Obe and his family live in the smallest house that’s left from the much larger property that his maternal great grandfather owned one hundred years ago. But as his mom put it, “he drank 175 acres of the Devlin land.”

And now the much smaller patch of land where Obe, his parents, and high school sister live is surrounded by lots of similar looking houses, built on his former beloved cornfield. The creek, which Obe cleans diligently, still runs at the bottom of his family’s property, but the woods now belong to the kids living on the other side. This separation is the consequence of an orchestrated fight between Obe and his longtime best friend Tommy. What happens during this fight is crucial to the plot of the book and moreover to Obe’s development, so I hate to reveal it. Let’s say that it ends the longtime friendship. Obe has, however, a new friend and fifth-grader Annie is as loveable as him.

When Obe meets the most unusual animal that doesn’t look like any other, he instinctively protects this creature that only feeds on plastic, either found in the creek or left behind by the crew workers who continue to develop the area for still more house building. Obe’s world has changed so deeply since the bulldozing of his land started that the strange and quite unattractive, stinky animal he names Marvin Gardens, for the Monopoly game he plays with his father and sister, becomes his secret friend.

Skilled as she is, the author manages to squeeze one hundred years of American immigration, real estate, banking, and housing development history in barely more than 10 pages, all printed on gray paper and woven through the book which tells of Obe’s current story. These pages, short chapters all titled One Hundred Years Ago, illustrate the deep and frighteningly inevitable weight of wars, government’s decisions, and greed on people’s lives. A real tour de force since the novel remains seamless and highly readable despite these brief flashbacks in times.

It’s impossible to resist Obe. The eleven-year-old demonstrates loyalty, wisdom, and a sense of purpose that few adults believe young kids can possess. Of course, Obe is also caught between his desire to remain a child and the pressure of his ex best friend and the new kids to act as teenagers. In the end, Obe makes the hardest choice each of us has to make: being oneself.

The book pays also homage to good teachers, to strong moms, to cool loving big sisters, to girls with ambitious dreams, and boys with big hearts. I LOVED every word of the novel.

P.S. As a child, the author has also witnessed the bulldozing of a beloved cornfield in southeastern Pennsylvania where she grew up. If you’ve also seen a place that was home demolished for development intentions the novel and Obe’s emotions will deeply resonate, I guarantee you.

And even if you lucked out, you’ve still be eleven once, and you’ll find yourself tearing up, laughing, cringing, and everything in between as you’ll live with Obe for 240 pages.

As I read this book, I was back to the own fields of my Normandy childhood, thousands miles away from those of Pennsylvania, and yet knowing exactly how Obe felt facing daunting changes.

This novel alone deserves a whole blog post and I will introduce it again early December when I write about books as holiday gifts.

From my kitchen to yours, I wish you all a very happy, peaceful, and loving Thanksgiving Day and extended weekend.

Regardless of the state of our country and the world, it is okay to be merry on Thursday and absolutely mandatory to be thankful for the lives we have and the people in these lives. Life is not always easy and living feels sometimes daunting, so I am thankful for my family and my friends to pull me through, whenever it gets harder.

I’m certainly thankful for you who visit me in my small home that is my blog. Due to the holiday, I will skip my weekly French Friday post and see you the following week.

PERFECT Leftovers from my very recent birthday!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 

 

 

French Friday: L’Écriture Inclusive or a French Reform that Goes Beyond Grammatical Changes

This post is much longer than any of my typical French Friday post, since I wrote an English and a French version. So you can skip to your favorite one 🙂

As always, thank you for reading me.

The other day at yoga, I spoke with another member of the studio who told me that it was exciting and frightening at the same time to go through a real revolution for the first time of our lives. We are about the same age, too young to have experienced first hand the big changes of the late 1960s but old enough to be grateful to these changes that have made our lives as women more equal to men’s.

The viral #metoo campaign has shown that there is still a lot to do in order for girls and women to be as respected as men at work and in the street. This campaign has resonated beyond the U.S. France, among other European countries, has followed in the steps with the # balance ton porc.

As a side note, I will say that I am partial to the American #metoo which doesn’t have the denunciation inference of its French counterpart. The verb balancer means rat out.

What my partner and I realized at the yoga studio was that the late 2017 shift didn’t look like a fade. We had seen the power of women at work after the American presidential election and inauguration. Many felt that these marches were only the beginning of a larger movement, but who would have thought that the shift would be much wider and that women would speak up in such great numbers and that stories of sexual harrassement and violence against them would pile up, affecting every industry, every social class, and not only in the U.S.? I certainly didn’t envision such a movement.

I certainly didn’t envision either that a reform affecting the French spelling and grammar would eventually reflect these changes.

Anyone who has studied a little bit of French knows that French nouns come in two genders, either feminine or masculine. Any adjective describing this noun will then take either the feminine or masculine form. But when an adjective describes two nouns, one in each gender, then the masculine wins over the feminine. Always.

Example #1: Le garçon et la fille sont intelligents. The boy and the girl are smart.

The adjective Intelligent takes an E when it defines a feminine noun and an S for the plural. In the above sentence, it is clear that the adjective took a masculine plural form.

Example #2: Le garçon et les filles sont intelligents. The boy and the girls are smart.

In this case, we have one boy versus more than one girl, and yet, the same rule applies.

The masculine always wins over the feminine in French grammar.

I was in first grade when I read in my textbook that, regardless of quantity or the proximity with the noun, an adjective always took a masculine form since, “Le masculin l’emporte sur le féminin.” As a French native speaker I had already assimilated this rule, by habit. But seeing it in written took a whole different meaning. It felt unfair.

“Why does the masculine always win over the feminine?” asked one of my classmates, also a girl.

“C’est comme ça,” answered our teacher, a middle-aged woman.

“But why is it this way?” the girl insisted.

“I told you, c’est comme ça.”

“Because boys are stronger that girls, dummy,” shouted one boy.

Which triggered peels of victorious laughter from the other boys and outcries from the girls.

“Enough now!” said our teacher.

She was strict, so we all calmed down. But this is with words as simple as “This is the way it is” that the world is made different whether you are a boy or a girl.

My elementary school is on the left past the church (Photo Google)

How would have I known that decades later, thousands of miles away, in another continent I would use the exact same words to answer the exact same question?

I found myself unprepared to justify this particular French grammatical rule to my own children. Talk of the weight of education.

“Why is that?” they asked.

“C’est comme ça,” I replied.

“But Maman, it’s so-o unfair!”

This rule had not always ruled. Until the 17th century the rule of proximity applied. Meaning that the adjective took the gender of the closest noun.

Back then, the sentence above would have been: Le garçon et les filles sont intelligentes.

So what happened in the land of Liberté, égalité, fraternité?

“The masculine gender is more noble, alone a masculine noun is superior to one or more feminine nouns, so regardless of proximity an adjective will always take the masculine form.” Dupleix, Liberté de la langue française, 1651

“The masculine gender is indisputably more noble simply because of the superiority of the male over the female.” Beauzée, Grammaire générale, 1767

Yep. Here we are. This deliberate decision affected, of course, much more than grammatical choices.

I’ve never met any girl or woman acting as a victim. But I’ve met tons who knew at a very early age that there was a difference between being born female or male, including in France. My paternal grandfather, for example, uncorked a bottle of champagne when his first great grandson was born. He had six granddaughters and I still remember of my disappointment mixed with anger when he proudly cheered my cousin’s little boy. I’ve also met tons of adult women who admitted that they had wished to be a boy at some point, particularly when very young.

I’m one of them.

 

Maybe I also wanted to stop wearing stripes and plaid 🙂

 

Fast-forward several decades to jump to October 2017 in the U.S.

Over breakfast my husband annouced that he found a great topic for my French Friday post. I’ve made no secret on my blog that he and I have known each other for a very long time now. We’ve been through a lot together. We still do as any couple, as any parents of four kids. We stick to each other through sunny and rainy days, sometimes annoyed at each other, often unbelievably grateful that our paths met, always émerveillés that we’ve lasted so long – it’s amazed in English, but the translation doesn’t cut it 🙂

But when he mentioned l’écriture inclusive, we quickly realized that we didn’t see exactly eye to eye.

My husband doesn’t believe that this reform will bring more equality between men and women and ultimately serious issues such as harrassment on the work place or in the street – a real problem in France.

I believe that he cannot possibly understand why I care about l’écriture inclusive, simply because he was born male. No more his fault than mine to be born female. We cannot see the world exactly in the same way. How could we, even though we were once seven years old at about the same time? The rule “The masculine won over the femine” could not have the same resonance for him. Maybe he didn’t even notice the rule.

 

So what is l’écriture inclusive?

The reform holds three points:

  • The names of professions, which don’t come with a feminine version, should, in order to include women, now working in every industry. Most professions in French have indeed only one male version. For example: un docteur, un professeur, or still un auteur. A doctor, a professor or an author. So far, most people say, “Mon docteur,” regardless of the doctor’s gender. Years ago, many people started to add an E at the end of this type of words. Docteur/docteure. Professeur/professeure. Auteur/auteure. The reform would ascribe a feminine equivalent to each profession. Even for this decision French people are divided. And believe it or not, including some feminists who argue that feminizing professions mean that women cannot hold the same status as men. Some want to remain écrivains and not become écrivaines or writers, for example.
  • Le point milieu is probably the most controversial part of this reform and I’m not convinced it can work. I find it very distracting and have a hard time imagining reading a novel written this way. The idea is to add an E – the mark of the feminine in French – between two periods, so each word can be read in a masculine and a feminine version. When the noun is plural there is an additional S at the end. For example: les candidat.e.s for the candidates or les président.e.s or still les citoyen.ne.s for the citizens. I highly favor the use of the personal pronoun ils and elles for they.
  • No more Droits de l’Homme or Droits de la Femme but only Droits humains or Human Rights.

 

This reform wants to bring more equality between the two genders. It is a complex reform, not really with its technical aspects, but because it is signaling a shift in the way people think and see the world. And we all know that any shift triggers reactions, always related to the way we see the world. And we see the world through the person we are. Primarily defined by our gender.

For many women and also men, especially young, this reform is a step toward a more inclusive world, a world where everyone, regardless of gender, has a place and a valuable role to play.

The Académie Française, the pre-eminent French council for matters pertaining to the French language, is vehemently opposed to the reform. If you read French, here is the link to their statement, published on October 27, 2017.

As a personal note, I add that currently only five women among the forty members belong to the Académie Française. And only eight have been members since Richelieu founded it four centuries ago.

For the other opponents to the reform, they describe it as futile and even distracting. These opponents argue in defense of the French language. They insist that it will be impossible for teachers to apply these changes, particularly now that they teach a more diverse population of students.

Of course, things have changed a lot between my first grade and now. Has a language to change to reflect the progress made in terms of equality between men and women? Has a language to go through more reforms to trigger more necessary changes?

A French friend of mine told me about an Iranian journalist who commented that Farsi has no gender and yet the countries where it is spoken have still a lot to accomplish in terms of gender equality. English and American English don’t either and at least in the U.S. we also know that exact equality between men and women hasn’t yet been reached.

So will this French reform be helpful? Women know first hand that changes come with education. Many teachers support l’écriture inclusive since they see more than anyone how boys and girls react in a classroom. For them, this reform, which makes the feminine gender so visible, in your face we would say here, is a huge step toward equality. Only the future will tell.

If you read French I invite you to scroll down, below the French part of this post. I linked to several websites where you can read more about this controversial reform that creates heated debate across France.

What do you think? That the French are even more complicated than you thought? That a language being alive must reflect the changes that affect the countries where it is spoken? Tell me…

 

“Le masculin l’emporte sur le féminin.” Au nom de ce principe, on dit “les garçons et les filles sont intelligents.” Mais il n’en a pas toujours été ainsi. Ce n’est qu’au XVIIe siècle que le masculin est imposé. Avant cela, l’usage était à la “règle de proximité.” Elle consiste à accorder le genre de l’adjectif avec le plus proche des noms. Cela donne : “Les garçons et les filles sont… intelligentes.”

Le changement arrive avec des grammairiens aux idées très égalitaires comme vous pouvez en juger vous mêmes :

«Parce que le genre masculin est le plus noble, il prévaut seul contre deux ou plusieurs féminins, quoiqu’ils soient plus proches de leur adjectif.» (Dupleix, Liberté de la langue françoise, 1651)

«Le masculin est réputé plus noble que le féminin à cause de la supériorité du mâle sur la femelle» (Beauzée, Grammaire générale…1767).

Ben voyons. C’est donc bien un choix idéologique qui est fait quand la dominance du masculin sur le féminin est imposée. Les conséquences ne seront pas négligeables. Si vous êtes née fille en France vous en savez quelque chose.

Ma copine de classe qui a pris la parole en CE1 pour demander à la maitresse d’expliquer pourquoi le masculin l’emportait toujours sur le féminin se souvient sans aucun doute de ces mots qui en disent tant, « C’est comme ça. »

J’ai voulu être garçon pendant mes années d’école élémentaire. J’aimais la personne que j’étais, mais je n’aimais pas la définition d’être une fille, ni les limites, ni les moqueries que naitre fille imposait sur moi et mes copines. A la ville comme à l’école. Y compris dans nos livres de grammaire.

Mon école élémentaire est le bâtiment au fond à gauche (Photo l’Orne Combattante)

La réforme appelée l’écriture inclusive est donc un pas vers l’égalisation entre le masculin et le féminin.

Cette réforme n’est pas vraiment complexe, mais elle suscite des opinions très tranchées du fait qu’elle bouscule des siècles de « c’est comme ça. »

Voici la réforme si vous n’avez pas ouvert un journal or un website français ces derniers temps.

Ses premiers opposants sont les membres de l’Académie Française qui ont voté à l’unanimité une solide mise en garde contre la réforme. Composition de l’Académie: Cinq femmes et quarante hommes. Depuis sa création par Richelieu on ne compte que huit femmes parmi ses membres. No comment. Si ce n’est ce lien vers un article relatant l’arrivée de Marguerite Yourcenar dans ce club ouvert à tous et à toutes.

Voici la déclaration de l’Académie Française du jeudi 26 octobre 2017.

« Prenant acte de la diffusion d’une « écriture inclusive » qui prétend s’imposer comme norme, l’Académie française élève à l’unanimité une solennelle mise en garde. La démultiplication des marques orthographiques et syntaxiques qu’elle induit aboutit à une langue désunie, disparate dans son expression, créant une confusion qui confine à l’illisibilité. On voit mal quel est l’objectif poursuivi et comment il pourrait surmonter les obstacles pratiques d’écriture, de lecture – visuelle ou à voix haute – et de prononciation. Cela alourdirait la tâche des pédagogues. Cela compliquerait plus encore celle des lecteurs.

Plus que toute autre institution, l’Académie française est sensible aux évolutions et aux innovations de la langue, puisqu’elle a pour mission de les codifier. En cette occasion, c’est moins en gardienne de la norme qu’en garante de l’avenir qu’elle lance un cri d’alarme : devant cette aberration « inclusive », la langue française se trouve désormais en péril mortel, ce dont notre nation est dès aujourd’hui comptable devant les générations futures.

Il est déjà difficile d’acquérir une langue, qu’en sera-t-il si l’usage y ajoute des formes secondes et altérées? Comment les générations à venir pourront-elles grandir en intimité avec notre patrimoine écrit? Quant aux promesses de la francophonie, elles seront anéanties si la langue française s’empêche elle-même par ce redoublement de complexité, au bénéfice d’autres langues qui en tireront profit pour prévaloir sur la planète. »

Mon mari est le premier à m’avoir suggéré un billet sur le sujet. Ce qui a suscité quelques discussions animées au moment de l’apéro 🙂

Nous ne pouvons pas voir le monde exactement de la même façon puisque nous sommes nés fille et garçon. Il n’a sans doute pas entendu la phrase, “Le masculin l’emporte sur le féminin” exactement comme moi. Mais j’ai trouvé son idée de billet excellente.

Il me semblait cependant important de connaitre l’avis d’un français ou d’une française qui vit actuellement en France. Et qui d’autre mais mon amie Simone? Non seulement elle écrit merveilleusement bien à propos des livres qui la touchent et lui paraissent importants, mais elle s’intéresse à l’évolution de la langue vivante qu’est le français.

Je suis assez contente de constater que même si un continent nous sépare nous sommes sur la même longueur d’onde.

  • Comme moi, elle est en faveur de parler des droits humains plutôt que des droits de l’Homme et des droits de la Femme.
  • Comme moi encore, elle est favorable à la règle de proximité, qui n’est qu’un retour à une règle très simple en vigueur jusqu’au 17ème siècle.
  • Bien sûr, nous sommes aussi en faveur de la féminisation des fonctions, professions et grades hiérarchiques. Depuis longtemps, j’ai remarqué que Simone écrit “auteure” ou “écrivaine.” Elle pense que le travail de féminisation est déjà fait dans ce domaine parmi les français. Je l’ai aussi noté en regardant quelques séries télévisées françaises où l’on dit « la cheffe » ou « la juge », par exemple. Par contre dans la série Call my Agent! le mot Agent reste au masculin, même si l’agence comporte des agents de sexe féminin. Agente? Mouais. Est-ce l’habitude de certains mots? Est-ce la peur de trop de changements? Ou simplement une raison esthétique, comme mon amie qui me dit très nettement préférer le mot « poète » à « poétesse, » vraiment moins beau. Je reconnais que le mot « doctoresse » dont je me souviens enfant me semble péjoratif par rapport à « docteur. »
  • Quant au point milieu, mon amie et moi pensont que son usage rend la lecture difficile. Sans doute moins pour des documents administratifs mais lire un roman ou un poème coupé par des points qui ne sont pas des points marquant la fin d’une phrase nous parait franchement compliqué. Utiliser les pronoms ils et elles en se référant à un groupe est sans doute une meilleure façon d’inclure féminin et masculin.

En conclusion, comme me le faisait remarquer la même amie, le persan ou farsi en Iran et Afghanistan n’a pas de genre et pourtant il y a beaucoup de chemin à parcourir pour l’égalité hommes femmes dans les pays où cette langue est parlée.

Est-ce que les français auraient les soucis frivoles ce ceux qui ont trop de temps sur les mains ou sont-ils vraiment soucieux d’un équilibre plus juste entre les deux sexes?

Je n’ai pas voulu corriger cette phrase car elle prouve à quiconque en doute que le poids de l’éducation et d’une culture ne disparait pas en un clin d’œil.

Ce qui clôt ce billet, qui je l’espère ouvre les portes à vos commentaires sur le sujet de l’écriture inclusive.

P.S. La presse couvre ce sujet depuis la publication du manuel de CE2 paru chez Hatier. Le Monde a publié un certain nombre d’articles comme celui ci ou encore celui . Slate et France Culture également. Le Figaro a largement couvert le sujet aussi. Ici vous pouvez lire la pétition des 314 enseignants en faveur de la réforme et un autre article à ce propos. Et vous pouvez même télécharger ici le manuel de l’écriture inclusive.

 

Alors, maintenant à vous! Que pensez-vous de l’écriture inclusive? Étes-vous favorables ou opposés à cette réforme? Avez-vous des enfants et particulièrement des filles qui ont un avis sur le sujet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: Everything Was SO-O Big in American Supermarkets

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Besides learning about American cooking when I clipped recipes from magazines and newspapers, my field trips to American supermarkets were true hands-on experiences that taught me a lot about my adoptive land.

In the months that followed my move to California I spent a lot of time inside supermarkets and any grocery store, even when I didn’t really need groceries. Remember that the early 1990s had yet to see lots of changes, in all areas. The contrast between countries was greater. Paris and the San Francisco Bay Area had little in common back then. Since so much was totally new or just different I had to satisfy my curiosity.

The cereal and freezer sections as well as the products’ sizes impressed me the most. I had never seen as many different types of cereal, although when I looked more closely, they seemed very much alike, except for the name of the food company. I stuck to Cheerios – the list of ingredients was the shortest – and to Muesli – there was something reassuring about a Swiss product.

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The frozen products took at least two full aisles in most supermarkets. I realized, with a mix of admiration and wonder, that Americans could eat frozen meals from breakfast to dinner, including countless snack options. Microwaves had entered French kitchens only recently. My neighborhood store had carried a selection of frozen, traditional French dishes, which were really close to the “from scratch” version.

The American frozen food section was far bigger, but the buttermilk pancakes, the hash browns, the egg-sausage-bacon muffins, the double-crusted pies, and the TV dinners couldn’t compete with the quality of their French counterparts. The French, though, lost when it came to ice cream. Who else but Americans could have thought of creating so many ice cream companies and imagined flavors such as chocolate chip cookie dough, banana split, rocky road, half-baked, or butter pecan? There was vanilla, natural vanilla, extra creamy vanilla, vanilla bean, homemade vanilla, and French vanilla. And every kind came in different sizes, the biggest one appearing gigantic to me.

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I was equally impressed to see that an American soda bottle was twice the size of a French water bottle and that a gallon – more than four liters – filled a typical American water bottle.

Evian is now easily found anywhere in the US. In pretty small sizes too.

Butter came in four sticks – each stick barely smaller than a whole French butter package. An individual yogurt container weighed eight ounces – almost 227 grams versus the French container at 125 grams. American fruits and vegetables weren’t bigger than their French fellows. I noticed that their life expectancy was also far longer. I stumbled on products sold in bulk. Where would French people have stored them?

Everything was so-o big in these American supermarkets.

Besides drugstores, supermarkets carried medicine. I noticed people in line, either dropping their prescriptions or picking up their medication. The pharmacy aisle was in fact the equivalent of a French pharmacy without a pharmacist behind a counter. This is how I learned the expression “Over The Counter.” In these American pharmacy aisles everything was sold without a prescription. In contrast, almost everything would have required one in France.

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Starting this year and only in two regions in France, pharmacists are allowed to provide flu shots

Don’t assume that French, though, take less medication than American people. France is a highly medicated country. But it’s impossible to get most drugs without a prescription from a physician and then by meeting in person with a pharmacist. In the 1990s, only a pharmacist could sell ibuprofen for example. Nowadays, the steroidal and anti-inflammatory drug is available over the counter in France for 200 mg, but the 400 mg is sold in much smaller bottles than in the US.

On the other hand, the American beauty products aisle in supermarkets and also in drugstores was prehistoric when I remembered my neighborhood Monoprix that carried dozens of face moisturizers, shampoos, and body lotions for women, men, children, and babies. However, I had never seen shampoos sold in such large bottles before moving to the US.

Over these first exploration/discovery weeks I was often alone with my one-year-old daughter. At night, my husband and I shared our discoveries du jour. My vocabulary grew faster than his in all things domestic and children related. His was vastly superior to mine in everything business and finance. Seems a little cliché and even archaic? I wasn’t able to work when we arrived, so we split the tasks. It wasn’t a bad idea to trade info. It was often funny too.

For example, when I found it strange to see a sign directing to a nursery along busy, commercial El Camino. Nurserie in French also designs a room for babies and infants, but never a place to buy plants and flowers. Or when I believed that a bodyshop was a spa. My husband, on his side, had endlessly searched for ground coffee at Safeway, until he spotted someone using the coffee grinder. In France, you either grind your coffee beans at home or visit your local torréfaction, a shop where coffee is roasted and sold. Now, of course, they have Starbucks 🙂

The French press and the American coffee grinder team up

This is around dinner that we traded our newly acquired knowledge and exchanged our impressions, our baby girl between us. Perhaps even more than food the rituals that surround meals matter to the French. This is why most French children eat with their parents and share the same food at a very young age.

In our sunny California bungalow, our daughter always ate dinner with us.

Miam, miam,” she said as we tied a bib around her neck.

When she learned some English, “yum, yum” was one of her first words.

She not only shared the same food as her parents but she also quickly used a real spoon, fork and plate.

Only smaller in size.

 

P.S. With Veterans Day falling on a Saturday this year, schools, many government agencies and court systems are observing the holiday today to honor anyone who served in the United States Armed Forces. In France, November 11 celebrates l’armistice or Armistice Day and mark the anniversary of the end of WWI. So whether we live in the U.S. or France, we can all relate to this holiday. 

 

French Friday: Beyond Recipes

Now that Halloween is behind us…

 

One Holiday. Two Interpretations for my friend and me.

I’m switching to Thanksgiving mode.

And when Thanksgiving is in the air I think in recipes. When I think in recipes I dig through my Manila Recipe Folders.

Which are filled with clipped recipes, the only reasons why I liked taking my kids to their pediatrician, dentist, and orthodontist. There, the waiting rooms were packed with the latest – and also very old – issues of women’s magazines. So, while we waited for the appointment, I leafed through Sunset, Real Simple, Woman’s Day, Martha Steward Living, Family Circle… and copied recipes. Sometimes, I tore the page, but only from the very old issues. I assumed I wasn’t the only one who didn’t buy these magazines but still liked the recipe section. I did the same with the San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, The Boston Globe, and the New York Times. But I bought some newspapers, so I could tear the pages.

Sometimes I glued them in a notebook. More often I filed them into my Manila Recipe Folders, which I labeled with titles. Some obvious: Appetizers, Main Dishes (still have a hard time with the American Entrées which are my French appetizers), Desserts, To Keep. Others more cryptic: To Try, Maybe When I Have Time, Too Complicated, and To Test.

No, To Try and To Test are not the same. My To Try recipes are really no brainers. I just need to try them. My To Test recipes, on the other hand, own equal potential for success or failure.

When my daughters are home they always tell me that it feels good to be back in a house that is spotless and tidy. But they always wonder how I can find anything in my messy Manila Recipe Folders. It’s true that I’m not someone who leaves her clothes on the floor or dirty dishes in the sink for two days. But to be organized is not the purpose of my Manila Recipe Folders.

Messy? Absolutely? Useless? If I consider that I’ve really used about a fourth of these recipes, probably. Should I get rid of them? Are you kidding me? These recipes are precious. They are part of my catastrophe emergency gear. I admit that the Too Complicated one should go. Maybe. It’s like a pair of pants or a T-shirt you’ve not worn in years. You know you should give them away. But you keep them. Just in case.

You could also argue that Google would be much easier than these magazines and newspapers clipping tradition, which is so 20th century.

First, my collection of recipes started in the 20th century, in the very early 1990s to be precise, still years before the Internet was a click away from us. Second, when I browsed through the magazines and newspapers I had no idea what recipe I would find. More importantly, my gathering of recipes was (is) much more than clipped recipes.

I am almost sure that millions of immigrants, in their first years in the United States, have similarly compiled recipes whose mysterious names evoke our new, even more mysterious land: Triple Fudge Brownies, Sloppy Joes, Red Velvet Cake, Deviled Eggs, Monkey Bread, Candied Yams, Casseroles…

Wow! What are these? Casseroles intrigued me since “casserole” means saucepan in French. Thanks to a magazine, I found out what an American casserole really was.

Not a casserole 🙂

My mass of unsorted recipes is the witness of my first steps in this country. Food and assimilation go hand in hand, I think. Eat what people eat and you’ll know a little bit more about them. When a foreign recipe became mine I was making this land mine too. Of course, anyone who has been through the experience remembers that the learning curve is rocky.

Once, I was invited for coffee at a friend of mine, a recent acquaintance really. Such invitations were very rare since I was recently arrived. Since French women never show up anywhere empty-handed, I brought a freshly baked batch of brownies.

“I never make my brownies from a mix,” said the hostess. “Always from scratch.”

I didn’t know what a mix was and had never heard the expression “from scratch.”

But I was fluent in tones of voice and facial expressions. My brownies didn’t cut it. I knew, though, that they were more than decent. My husband loved them. So I tried to explain that I had made them following Katherine Hepburn’s favorite brownie recipe. The actress had sounded to me American enough to have a legit opinion about brownies.

Later at home, I opened my dictionary and searched for “scratch” until I found the meaning of the expression “made from scratch.”

My brownies had been slightly burned, presented an irregular texture and small crevices. Yeah, 100% homemade.

I supposed that it was just hardfor this woman to imagine a French woman recently arrived to come up with a genuine brownie recipe.

To her credit it is true that American food was pretty much absent in France until I left. The first Parisian McDonald opened its doors in 1984, four years after the very first one in Strasbourg. A few American restaurants had opened, primarily in the Halles, in the very center of Paris. My American culinary knowledge was basic: hamburgers, Cobb salad, chili con carne, cheesecake, and yes, brownies served plain or à la mode.

When I arrived in California I already favored baking to cooking, so I was more interested by the desserts section when I browsed through magazines and newspapers. I mouth-watered when I scrolled down the list of ingredients. Some spices were new to me. Cinnamon was not a French favorite. Walking past a café that sold cinnamon buns or anything cinnamony felt so exotic! Even though I now bake with cardamom, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, matcha green tea powder, and other kinds of spices, cinnamon will always incarnate American baking. Smelling cinnamon away from the States is my Proust’s madeleine.

Back then in France, vanilla was mostly sold in sticks (gousses de vanille) or as ultra fine sugar flavored with vanilla and sold in mini pouches (sucre vanillé). I found vanilla extract much more practical, even though the sticks work better for some recipes.

At this time of the year, I return to my old, messy, stained Manila Recipe Folders. Will I spend an hour going through the To Test? Probably. Will I try one recipe? Maybe. More likely I’ll stick to a classic from the To Keep, one American recipe now a Holingue family heirloom.

Although, I’m thinking of arriving just a tad early when I go cut my hair next week. I’ll leaf through the forgotten pile of magazines while waiting for my hairstylist. Chance is I’ll discover a new recipe or a twist on a classic. Nowadays, people prefer their phones, so it’s okay to tear the page.

I’ll slip it into one or another of my Manila Recipe Folders. Which I keep disorganized in memory of my first American culinary discoveries.

From one recipe to another, I’ve walked quite a long road toward becoming an American.

Even though I’ve sometimes only scanned through them.

 

P.S. Like everyone else, I also search for online recipes. And print them.

P.S.#2 BTW, what I wrote about my Manila Recipe Folders is not 100% true.

I know exactly where is the recipe for Roger Toguchi’s Favorite Hawaiian Banana Bread – no idea who this guy is, but his banana bread recipe is the only one I’ve ever followed. I always find the one for the Blueberry Buckle.

And I will never lose Katherine Hepburn’s Brownie recipe.

From the very early 1990s

 

French Friday: Alien with Preexisting Condition

I was surprised the first time I heard an American dad call his child “pumpkin.” But after all, an American would be surprised, too, hearing French parents call their child “ma puce,” which would be “my flea” in English. More pumpkins will illustrate this post, to honor babies, young children and the season. 

 

As heated debate about health care in America is once again raging and dividing people, I bumped into one post that I wrote seven years ago. I revisited the post and slightly modified it for my weekly French Friday. Si vous préfèrez me lire en français c’est ici. Une version plus courte et aussi plus récente puisque le billet remonte à 2013.

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Our second child was due only five months after our arrival in the States. Most recent immigrants wouldn’t have bothered with health insurance, but we were French and it didn’t occur to us that we could raise a toddler and give birth without some health coverage. So we searched for our plan.

We found an agent, accustomed to people like us, young foreigners who spoke funny but armed with unlimited optimism. When we left his office, we had health insurance and I had become an Alien with Preexisting Condition.

I could now search for a pediatrician and found one in our neighborhood. One morning, my one-year-old woke up crying, her cheeks red and her small hands stuck to her ears.

Bobo, Maman, bobo, Maman,” she said.

I had no doubt she was in pain and took her temperature: 38.6. I called the clinic and rushed her in as soon as they gave me an appointment.

Colorful bulky chairs and a climbing structure for the children – there was even a matching one in a small yard outside – replaced the “Louis XVI style” chairs at my Parisian doctor’s office. The nurses wore tunics printed with teddy bears above pink cotton loose pants and they walked in rubber clogs. Nametags like the checkout clerks at Safeway were pinned on their pocket-chest. My little girl’s pediatrician was dressed in a crisp, long white coat above his polo shirt and khaki pants. In Paris, her doctor wore elegant suits and ties.

“Are you running a fever, sweetie?” The nurse sat my daughter on the exam table.

“She has 38.6,” I said.

The nurse gently slid a thermometer in my daughter’s mouth, less invasive than the barbaric French kind. “101.4,” she read.

“Oh non!” I exclaimed instinctively in French.

“Fahrenheit,” the nurse said, kindly patting my arm.

For a while I panicked when nurses announced that my children were not ill because their temperature was only 99F. And I would also feel much warmer when outdoor temperatures reached 100 F and not 37.7 Celsius.

“Nothing too serious,” the pediatrician said after he had fully examined my little girl. “Regular BM?” he asked

“BM?” I repeated, parrot-like.

French aren’t embarrassed when it comes to body functions, so it took me a while to refer to the contents of my daughter’s diaper as a BM. After many years in America, I would also say UTI, PMS and IBS, and learn that stomach for Americans covers a much larger territory than the organ used in the human digestive system.

“Here you go, sweetie,” the nurse said, presenting my daughter with a small basket overflowing with colorful stickers. “You can have one.”

My daughter picked a sticker that the nurse applied onto her T-shirt while the pediatrician scribbled a few words on a prescription pad.

“Antibiotics for a few days will do,” he said with a gentle pat on his young patient’s head.

“Do you do house visits?” I asked. “And do you take new patients?”

“I don’t do house visits. Unless your child is too ill to be taken to my office – then you dial 911 – you must book an appointment for checkups and immunizations. But yes, I take new patients and I would be very happy to meet your new baby after she’s born.”

“What about my daughter’s diet?” I asked when he slipped his pen in his pocket and handed me the prescription.

He smiled warmly. “She’s healthy. She can eat anything. Just avoid too much fat and sugar. Frozen yogurt is better than ice cream.”

I remembered the detailed instructions related to food that our Parisian pediatrician provided. He would have come to our apartment to check on my daughter, but he also expected his patients’ parents to obey his rules.

This new pediatrician, I thought, is cool. Like all doctors I’ve met here, actually. Way less intimidating than their French counterparts.

I had also immediately noticed how being pregnant in the States had nothing to do with the special status I received in France. With my first pregnancy, I entered the magic world of pregnant women. Perfect strangers of all age and gender would open the door for me and offer their seat on the bus or subway. I could cut in line since French pregnant women receive a priority card. After my daughter’s birth, I was entitled to free postnatal workout at a physical therapy office. No excuse for not having a six-pack after giving birth in France.

Far from my native country I became aware that French pregnant women had advantages and I missed the extra attention, yet I also questioned the rationale behind. Was it, for example, the role of a government to decide of its female citizens’ appropriate waistline?

In France, I had also read alarming articles about the high rate of Caesarian births in the US. My French obstetrician admitted that my chances of having a C-section were much higher than in France. I convinced myself that a Caesarian wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Being pregnant in the US turned to be a totally different business than expecting a baby in France. At my first American prenatal checkup I had, à la française, fully undressed. With an embarrassed smile, the nurse handed me the strange-looking paper gown she had left neatly folded on the exam table before leaving the room. I had dismissed it but now slipped on the thin material. In my haste, I mistook the back for the front, which offered limited body coverage.

In France, nobody cared about me being naked, but I was weighed every single month during my pregnancy, and sternly reminded to gain only a reasonable amount. Once my OB scolded me for two extra kilos. In the States, I couldn’t fully undress, but it didn’t matter if I got fat. My American physician, unlike my French one, didn’t obsess about my weight, but he urged me to take prenatal vitamins and seemed a little obsessed with my due date.

“Vitamins are very important,” he argued when I said I was eating lots of fruit and vegetables. “Also we cannot go beyond early May,” he insisted. I asked him if he had any specific concern.

“No. But we cannot wait indefinitely.” I reminded him that the baby was not late, not even due yet. “Still,” he said.

I had noticed that Americans ran on a faster clock than the French. Was it why American babies, unlike the French, couldn’t be late at their first rendezvous with earth?

Although it felt less theatrical to be pregnant the American way, one aspect worried me. My parents and in-laws had told us that they wouldn’t be able to take any days off at the time of the delivery. We had to find a babysitter who would take care of our daughter while I would be at the hospital. We were a few years away from the arrival of the Internet, so the Bay Area still relied on good old phonebooks. After many unsuccessful calls, I found Laura, a young woman who worked in Oakland with newborns whose mothers were crack addicts. Laura was also a masseuse and a babysitter. All positions fully accredited. Through Laura I discovered that many Americans worked two, three, or even more jobs. Laura was also kind and smart, and we immediately got along well.

Relieved to have secured someone, who could stay with our daughter when needed, lifted a weight from our shoulders. I spent the next two months soaking up California sun either in our backyard or at the playground, which had become our second home. This pregnancy seemed likely to end on a more relaxed note than it had started in France.

Still, on my way to the San Francisco Children’s Hospital, on a busy Saturday night, I wondered if delivering a baby in America would be as surprisingly different as the prenatal visits had been.

“Please, hurry up, it’s an emergency!” my husband begged the front gate attendant when we showed up at the Emergency Room entrance.

He wasn’t a first time father, yet he acted like one. He had zoomed through a red light, honking across the intersection while cars and buses pulled over. I suspected that he was living one of his secret dream moments: being Dirty Harry roaming San Francisco. Now that we were at the hospital, he was as anxious as I was to welcome our baby safely.

“Can we see your insurance card?” was the guard’s reply.

“Can’t you see it’s an emergency?” repeated my husband.

“I’m okay,” I said, breathing in and out like a pro as a young man pushed my wheelchair to the maternity wing of the hospital. In France you walk to your delivery room, unless you really can’t walk.

Our new baby took only a few minutes to travel from the dark cocoon of my womb to the brightly lit American world. It was such a fast delivery that the doctor didn’t even make it. I had delivered the year before in Paris, surrounded by my obstetrician, an anesthetist, the midwife who had taught me the tricks of the sans- douleur accouchement or the painless delivery, and two nurses.

In my San Francisco room, the word “delivery” was different. Only a nurse and a resident assisted me, giving to the event an intimate atmosphere I had missed in Paris. Yet it would have been somehow reassuring to see the obstetrician. Also since I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast I was starving. A vision of a delicious tray came to my mind and my mouth watered. A warm vegetable soup, then a tomato and mozzarella salad, a piece of crusty baguette and a slice of brie, and to end on a sweet note a mousse au chocolat would have been perfect. I envisioned a sparkling Perrier with lemon zest to appease my thirst. After all, last year in France, the food had been close to that in a four-star restaurant.

The nurse read my mind. “You must be hungry,” she said kindly. “But the kitchens are closed now. Let me see what I can do.” She returned with a huge grin. “I have something for you!” she announced cheerfully, handing me a can of freezing cold Coca-Cola.

That’s how my husband and I toasted our newborn. If the Coca-Cola didn’t taste like the Perrier I dreamed of, it was, however, cold and sparkling, and I polished off the can with the ferocity of a marathon runner.

“Congratulations and Happy Mother’s Day!” the nurse said. Our baby was born less than an hour before Mother’s Day. The nurse smiled and peeked at her. “She’s gorgeous and healthy. You can go home,” she added.

“In the morning, yes,” my husband said.

The nurse looked puzzled. “Now,” she said.

“Now?” my husband repeated. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Your wife and baby are doing well. You can return to the comfort of your home,” the nurse said with another warm smile.

I was tempted. I had done my grocery shopping the day before and I pictured the loaded fridge and stocked cupboards.

“No way,” said my husband.

I felt fine now that I was wrapped as tightly as a mummy in warm blankets and my baby had already returned to sleep, but my husband with his pale face and red rimmed eyes didn’t seem ready for another ride on the One-O-One at two in the morning, with a newborn and her mother in tow.

So, that’s how I spent my first American Mother’s Day in the company of my satiated baby and my roaring stomach.

The morning cereal, whole milk, and weak coffee were close to the French first class service after the forced diet I endured until breakfast. Calliope was healthy and I was well, but I wondered why the only edible thing I had been offered had been a can of Coca-Cola when a French hospital had fed me for a week with gourmet meals. Yet I slurped my soggy Raisin Bran in a few spoonfuls as I had savored my grapefruit juice, yogurt with granola, croissants, and fancy tea across the Atlantic. Nothing better than a nap for a new mother, but I wasn’t allowed this small luxury.

“You are good to go!” the doctor decided cheerfully.

I expected some kind of French checkup but I only received a maternity bag filled with lots of goodies for baby and mom in place of the long list of recommendations the French doctors and nurses handed me when I left the maternity.

About an hour after I got home, my mother called.

“What are you doing here?” she said, expecting my husband to pick up the phone.

I told her that I had returned home after being instructed to leave in the middle of the night, a couple of hours after giving birth.

“I know that you like it over there,” she said. “Over there” sounded like a bad word. “But do you think it’s the proof of a great country to treat new mothers like that?”

I skipped the Alien with Preexisting Condition status and the Coca-Cola episode; she would have called the French embassy to require an emergency rapatriement.

My mother-in-law was as shocked. “What in the world are those American doctors thinking?”

It would have been a complete lack of etiquette to mention the Coca-Cola toasting to my mother-in-law having been born in Champagne, and her mother living in Epernay, the capital of the most renowned French Champagne brands.

I listened to both of them, sitting at my kitchen table as the fragrant scent of the eucalyptuses wafted through the open windows. France was so far. How could I tell my family that I was now living in a country where the cost of health care was so expensive that new mothers are sent home – escorted in a wheelchair to their cars – as soon as possible?

How could I also tell, without hurting them, that if I had only stayed for a few hours at the hospital, everybody had been supportive and kind, and that I had felt much more in charge than I had in Paris, where the medical staff had decided for me what was good or not?

The French social security system was only a word to me anymore. My mother and mother-in-law had lived for too long with the reassuring feeling of being taken care of to understand my new life.

I reflected on the paradox: in France being pregnant is not a pre existing condition but a pregnant woman receives extra attention and care while in the US expecting a baby is not a big deal yet health insurers providers are allowed to tag pregnancy as a preexisting condition.

In 1991 nobody would have thought that the American health care system would some day go through significant changes, the most important regarding the impossibility for health care insurers to deny treatment to anyone with preexisting condition. In 2017 nobody with a heart would want to go back to those days.

****

P.S. I couldn’t miss the single Like I received on the original version of this post 🙂

I was new to blogging and started as an exercise to improve my English, but someone stopped by.

Wow, Mona, my blogger friend, we’ve known each other for seven years! Thank you for your visit and your Like.

 

 

Monthly Monday Miam-Miam: Halloween Books to Devour

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere

We had been in the USA for less than a year when our first Halloween arrived. With a toddler and a baby at home we hadn’t even thought of Halloween until we couldn’t avoid the decorated front lawns, the store windows and the pumpkin patches all over the Bay Area. At the office, my husband overheard big party plans. On my side I read horrific stories about poisoned candies. We deducted that Halloween was a wild affair, probably not recommended for a family like ours. At that time we lived at the end of a country road, still within walking distance from a small downtown, but away from the more lively Peninsula’s towns. On Halloween night, we agreed to turn the porch lights off to avoid wild visitors 🙂

 

And witches…

Sounds weird and extreme?

We were born and raised in France where Halloween was not celebrated back then.

In France, we celebrate the dead on La Toussaint, a day where people flower cemeteries in memory of their loved one. The chosen potted plants are mums. Years later, while visiting us in California, my mother described my porch as morbid when she saw my beautiful colorful potted chrysanthemums.

Traditions can be quite different from one place to another.

Nowadays Halloween is celebrated in France, but mostly with costumed dance parties and some organized events in big cities such as Paris. Our childish trick or treat doesn’t have its equivalent in France. And pumpkins are not the stars of the season. The French use potiron, fleshier and sweeter fruit than the pumpkin to make soups or even jams, but the pumpkin-flavored month of October, is very American.

One of my kids’ original trick or treat “cauldron”

In memory of our first no-Halloween, a rather old picture book since it was published in 2000 that illustrates how newcomers to a foreign land can fear a cultural event, only because they know nothing about it. The book doesn’t have the same resonance now as more countries celebrate some sort of Halloween, but the story still illustrates how cultural differences can seem scary when discovered.

Shy Mama’s Halloween written by Anne Broyles and illustrated by Leane Morin

A moving story on the impact of a simple holiday on a family newly arrived to the USA. For the four children Halloween seems maybe strange but mostly fun and exciting. For their mama, though, it is a much greater step out into a new world. And as it is always with immigrants, the children become the teachers.

There are countless Halloween-themed children’s picture books. All are adorably spooky and will delight children as young as two.

For the little ones in your life:

Llama, Llama Trick or Treat written and illustrated by Anne Dewdney.

Told with only a few words the story describes little llama’s struggles as he searches for the perfect Halloween costume. Perfect book for the very young children and anyone who loves the other great books in the Series Llama Llama.

Spooky Pookie written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton.

I spotted the hardcover book while in line at Whole Foods. Like little llama, Pookie cannot decide what to wear for Halloween. Very young children will totally understand the piglet’s dilemma. Adorably cute.

Bonaparte Falls Apart written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Will Terry.

A French-native couldn’t miss the title 🙂

Although the book is not about Halloween, Bonaparte the skeleton losing its bones on the day before school starts will delight school-aged kids and make a perfect read-aloud story for Halloween night.

More pumpkins

For Teenagers:

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks written by E. Lockhart, one of the biggest names in American contemporary literature for teenagers. The novel has been widely acclaimed upon publication, and won the prestigious Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult literature and was a National Book Award Finalist.

Although the book is not about Halloween the pranks that Frankie, the high school sophomore protagonist, elaborates as a revolt against the school all-male secret society take place on Halloween Day. The novel will satisfy every teen girl who’s tired to be labeled adorable and harmless instead of smart and capable.

Told in the third person, unlike most novels for teens, and from a narrator addressing directly the reader, this is one of the most original books I read recently and I highly recommend it beyond Halloween to empower any teenage girl in your life.

My mini Halloween counter corner

For adults:

Cold Iron. Ghost Stories from the 21st Century.

This slim volume includes a collection of seventeen stories that pay homage to the ghost story tradition, while being very contemporary.

I bought it from Iron Press, the editor based in the UK, when I found out that my talented blogger friend Andrea Stephenson had written one story for this collection.

The Last Bus Home is set on a late night service bus and told by the bus driver. It’s a classic ghost story involving the mysterious disappearance of a young girl, now rooming the exact place where she was last seen.

From her blog, Harvesting Hecate, Andrea writes about the intimate relationship between nature and human beings and how seasons and landscapes influence our creativity and mood in general. In her short story the setting and weather play significant roles too.

Because something, somewhere is always on sale on any given American holiday

Special time of the year calls for special tea

My most favorite moment on Halloween night is to open my door onto costumed children. The youngest ones are of course the most adorable, sometimes led by older siblings, but most often by their parents or adults who watch from a safe distance their little trick-or-treaters pronouncing these simple and yet very strange words to any newcomer to America,

“Trick or treat?”

We are more than a week away from Halloween, so as you wait for candies and other sugary treats, I hope you’ll devour a book or two.

As for me, as you can see through this post’s photos, I want to enjoy every day of the fall,

my most favorite season of all.

 

From my front porch to yours

P.S. Pour mes lecteurs français plus récents j’ai retrouvé ce billet écrit dans notre belle langue à propos de cette fête d’Halloween vécue aux Etats Unis. Si vous fêtez en France cette année amusez-vous bien!

French Friday: A Moment to Cherish

I don’t think women support each other as much as they could and should. Also, women don’t always give credit to the ones who support them, sometimes only because they are too young to realize that these older women who support them have been once young, too.

It happened to me, decades ago.

I was fresh out of school, a Master in French literature in my pocket, and had decided that I would no teach but work in the publishing industry. Unemployment was high in France, and I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that I could find the ideal job right away. My hope was to search while keeping a pretty much full-time babysitting job, which I never really considered a job since the three-year-old I was watching over was an adorable, smart little kid. Unfortunately, due to big changes in his parents’ lives, I was no longer needed. Overnight my plans shifted. I had to find a job. Now.

I left my résumé everywhere but was told to garder les pieds sur terre or to live in the real world: hiring was low, especially since I had no professional experience. I figured anyone had to start somewhere, so I kept going. Two weeks passed and one day I found a message on my answering machine. I had to call back one of the largest French publishing houses as soon as possible.

The HR department wasn’t located in the Parisian editorial buildings but in the nearby suburbs, only three metro stations away and an additional ten-minute walk, also at the other end of my metro line, almost an hour from my apartment. But I couldn’t care less as I got ready for the meeting.

Though I had always worked as a student, I had never held a clerical job that would have required owning a business suit or at least a professional-looking outfit. To be frank, I didn’t really think about it. So I showed up in my best pair of pants, which basically were jeans, only a shade darker than my regular faded ones, a blouse, also retrospectively too casual, and my leather satchel that already looked vintage. I was not yet 22-years-old and spent most of my free time reading and listening to music, going to concerts and to the movies rather than shopping for clothes and makeup.

On that early June morning as I waited in the lobby for my appointment, I observed several men going in and out from the building. I understood they were employees considering how the receptionist welcomed them. They seemed so comfortable in their well-cut suits and expensive shoes. One day, I thought, I will also be known by my name. I will also wear a smart suit and nice heels and carry a briefcase. My blooming dreams were cut short when a young woman appeared and asked me to follow her. She knocked at a large door at the end of a long hallway and stepped aside, leaving me facing the closed door.

A confident female booming voice replied, “Come on in!”

“Go ahead,” said the young woman. “They are waiting for you.”

Two women stood in a vast office, their backs turned to large windows letting in the pale Parisian light. One was statuesque in her knee-length, long-sleeved stylish dress, and about then years younger than my mother. The other one clad in a conservative belted dress that accentuated the fact that she was slightly overweight was older than my mother. The tall one intimidated me right away, but I wasn’t fooled by her colleague’s grandmotherly look. As they scanned me from head to toe I was fully aware that they meant business. I also came to realize that everything about me was wrong or at least appeared as such.

I would never get that job. I was too young. That was something I could not change. I looked too young. And that was something I could have altered. With different clothes, with other shoes, with my long hair tied and not loose on my back, with a little bit of makeup, with…

But I was there and the interview started.

After the standard questions about my academic and “professional” background the two women who had sat across from me the whole time stood up. I jumped up, too, which brought a first smile to their red-lipstick mouths. I blushed. Should I have remained seated? I decided against.

Now that the two women had turned their backs to me, facing the windows, my thoughts matched my heartbeats. I felt like leaving, fleeing even. They were of course deciding against hiring me. They could only find me unfit. It just took them an excruciating time to tell me.

This is when I overheard this brief conversation:

“Don’t you think she looks awfully young?”

“She is very young.”

“Do you believe that someone so young can…”

I will never know if they suddenly remembered me, but they lowered their voices. Their whispering voices didn’t make me feel better. The verdict had been given: I was too young.

As it is the case in other situations in life – I would of course learn that many, many years later- we don’t always read people very well when we are directly concerned.

I got the job.

You’re filled with energy, said the grandmotherly-looking woman, and God knows how badly we need new blood.

I was temporarily hired to fulfill the position of a woman on early maternity leave. There was the allusion to the possibility of a full time job and later to professional fully paid training in the publishing industry. Another appointment was booked in the next few days. A contract would be signed. It was crucial that I could start working immediately.

By then my legs couldn’t resist a crazy dance. My arms couldn’t stay calm along my sides. I climbed down the stairs, not as elegantly as I planned to do when I had dreamed of my future, but in such a quick way that the receptionist nodded in my direction. She had obviously seen many people go up to the same office and leave in different states of mood.

When outside, I trailed my fingers along the letters carved into the plaque that read the name of the prestigious company. A little bit mine now. Then I threw my fists in the air. In 2017, I imagine I would shout, “YES!” I would take selfies and post on Facebook and Instagram, letting the whole world or at least my social friends know about this YES moment. Back then, my small solitary jig on this grey piece of sidewalk was solely mine and it felt bold enough.

I would work closely with the two women who hired me, particularly the grandmother-looking one who would slowly warm up to me. I loved listening to the stories of her early professional career in an almost exclusive male environment. She kicked ass and thus wasn’t very well liked. The HR lady was single and people imagined all kind of reasons for her singlehood. After all, it was still a man’s world.

Patricia Kass singing James Brown. In English with a French accent.

Later, at work but also in other circumstances, I will learn that many men and as many women need to tag whoever doesn’t exactly fit any box. For their own comfort because difference feels so unsafe to them.

Despite everything I heard about my bosses they held their promises. One day, after a fully paid year of training, I entered the editorial building. I would see them on rare occasions now, but when we bumped into each other we spoke. About my job mostly, but a little more as years passed. Based on my co-workers’ comments, both were opinionated to the point of being unflexible. I could understand their point of view.

But these women had been trailblazers, too. And they had believed in me and gave me my proudest, most jubilant professional moment.

One I now cherish, so many years later and so many miles away.

 

This post is part of the Cherished Blogfest. The blogfest is hosted by Damyanti Biswas, Dan AntionCheryl PenningtonPeter NenaSharukh Bamboat, Mary Giese, Kate Powell, and Paul Ruddock. It is open to anyone who wants to tell the world about something or someone they cherish. If you want to join, click here. The window of posting for the Blogfest has been extended and is open until Midnight October 22.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: Speak up

If there is one single thing I know about me is that I am a half-full glass kind of person.

Call me naïve but….

I refuse to believe that the news is only dark.

I refuse to believe that there are more bad people than good.

As devastating as 2017 has been on so many different levels so far across our planet, I refuse to fall into despair. Which has meant choosing to stay away from blogging about politics or topics leading to heated controversy, and thus contributing to the divide that’s killing the world.

However, earlier this week, I came to realize that being guarded edges too closely cowardice or at least a desire to remain in my comfort zone. Since my blog represents my French-American dual identities I couldn’t remind silent on two topics that are currently making the news in both France and the USA.

****

You would have to live without TV, a phone, and newspapers and to be very isolated to ignore the recent sexual assault and rape accusations against the movie producer Harvey Weinstein. No need to go into details. No need to name the women, mostly Hollywood actresses, who accuse the godly man. Some had accepted financial settlements in exchange for their silence. Others kept quiet for reasons most women can understand, particularly in an industry where fame can be built in one movie and destroyed with another, when success is almost always related to looks and age and almost always between the hands of powerful older men, but also simply because when sexual assault and rape happen girls, young women, and boys, too are convinced that they did something wrong. However, since the first accusations surfaced, more women are speaking up. Years later. Often as much as twenty years later.

Statements and declarations are also made. Some people, women and a few men, pretend not knowing what was happening. Others admit that they kind of knew but never suspected the extent of the despicable business Weinstein was running. Many, many more are still opting for silence.

The French Cannes Festival has issued its own statement denouncing the producer’s inacceptable behavior. Looks like, however, they still glorify Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, both accused of rape and sexual assault on minor girls who spoke up. Immediately.

****

Only a few weeks before the Hollywood scandal, a 28-year-old man sexually assaulted and then raped an 11-year-old girl in the Parisian suburbs. The sixth-grader who was on her way from school when she was coerced was in such shock that she froze and didn’t fight back. However, she told her mother. Immediately. Not twenty-years later, obviously. Yet the trial, postponed until February, will be hold in a French court that handles infractions and not crimes. The girl’s rapist is likely to be incarcerated for five years maximum.

The young woman looks older and more sexually precocious than an 11-year-old girl, has said the lawyer who defends the accused. On the other side, he added, my client looks younger than a 28-year-old man.

Please.

I suppose that by now most of you who assume that France is an advanced country on so many levels are getting uncomfortable. Read furthermore:

In 2017 the victims of sexual assaults or rapes must prove that their aggressor or rapist used force, violence, threat or total surprise. Otherwise, mutual consent from both parties is implied. The victims and aggressors’ age doesn’t count, unless the victim is younger than five. Only these children are automatically considered too young to consent.

This is the current law in France. Which lags behind most other European countries on sexual assault and rape.

Fortunately many French people are outraged and want the law to change. I suspect that most had just discovered this law. If you want to read more about the topic of sexual age consent in contemporary France, I recommended this article in the Opinion section of the New York Times. I back up the French journalist on all points.

****

In the end, it’s always a matter of power. Whether using physical force or not, age almost always matters when one human being dominates another.

It outrages me that no one, whether in France or in the U.S. is mentioning that in the first place an adult should never approach a much younger person, regardless of the gender, to obtain sexual favors. In fact, an adult should never even think of approaching a much younger person for sexual reasons.

I want to believe that real adults don’t.

That’s the note of hope I want to hold on as these two separate events have distressed me more than I first realized.

Real adults don’t see younger human beings as objects placed in their way for their sexual pleasure.

Real adults remember being young and eager girls and boys, full of hope and big dreams. Real adults see the future of our world in the girls and boys they meet. Not sex.

Shame on anyone who disagrees.

I spoke up once. I was 21. I knew the French law perfectly well, and although I could prove myself I also knew that the police but also some of the very, very few people who knew would question my clothes, my hair, my looks, me. I knew I would not win anything and I didn’t.

Yet I spoke up.

Because I would have lost myself if I had remained silent.

****

For a whole week, until this morning, I’ve debated whether or not I would hit the Publish button. Because in fact, despite everything I want to believe, I still deal with that eternal thought: What did I do wrong?

I owe the courage to speak up again, decades later, to my brave, loving daughter who told me that this was way too important to shut up about.

Sometimes, I dream that all of us would stand up together and that our number would be so overwhelmingly big that we would shame everyone who didn’t believe us, turned their head the other way, urged us to remain quiet for their own peace of mind.

Girls and young women but also boys and young men don’t win ANYTHING when they speak up about being sexually assaulted and raped, but we ALL lose when they don’t.

Speak up.

Tulips that my husband chose for me. A real adult. A great man.

P.S. Although I didn’t remove the Comments option, I’d rather not receive comments on this post. Your Like (don’t we wish for other icons sometimes?) will mean that you read and much, much more importantly that you believe the ones who speak up.

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