It feels awkward. How do I start? Perhaps by describing my immediate environment. A HP computer set on a do-it-yourself blue desk, next to an old kitchen cupboard inherited from my father, where a home-made earthenware vinegar pot stands with a bottle of oil, a mustard jar and a homemade garlic container. This is situated just under the inside eaves of a loft, above a derelict old house built some 2 or 3 centuries ago. Swallows occupy the bottom part of this house where a not so famous rebel Christian reverend was born in 1860. I was born next door in 1944. Outside, complete silence. The village has 3 streets and the traffic is mainly of large farming machinery going past full blast at times.
I am French and I live in France. The point is that I spent many years of my life in various English speaking countries, mainly in the South Pacific, and therefore my French identity can appear somewhat blurred to some. But I was indeed brought up as a French kid in the 1950's in a well-to-do family of farmers, forresters and industry owners. My deep sitted manners come from that upbringing.
The basic essence of being French is:
1. to be an aesthete, i.e. a person who has a highly developed appreciation of beauty (Collins dictionary) and
2. an epicurean, i.e. a person devoted to sensual pleasures as per the philosophy of Epicurus.
It means in real life that I was taught to do nothing without making it look beautiful, e.g. setting the table with care and taste, wrapping my school books with care and taste, looking after myself and my belongings with care and taste. It means also that taking pleasure in eating or resting or listening to music or admiring a landscape was far from frowned upon but actually encouraged. Making the best of a pleasurable moment was not frowned upon. I came across puritanic ways much later in my twenties in foreign lands.
Why do I write all this actually?
Because I've had 3 different sets of visitors recently and 2 of them have been downright painful. In my 50 square meter loft I have my bed at one end and 2 bunk beds at the other end. When I have visitors we share the middle part with a table and kitchen facilities as well as the bathroom at my end of the loft. It is always hard to share one's abode with strangers. In one case it was really nice. In the two other instances it was unpleasant, awful and quite disturbing.
Strangely the nice instance was with a young woman who could have been my own daughter, not a native English speaker and not knowing much French but of a continental European nationality. We spent a month together in harmony, respecting each other's ways and curious of each other's national identities and cultures.
The two painful instances came from people of my own generation... of Anglo-saxon background. I am not writing this post to throw fuel on the ancient hatred between the French and the... Saxons! I just want to explain how I felt so very insulted by their lack of curiosity of my ways, in my own country in my own house. How can I be more precise without sounding nasty?
In my teens I used to spend my summer school holidays in the family of my German or English penfriend. It went without saying that in somebody else's house I was to behave with respect and humility. I had to learn anew how to behave at the table, ask about kitchen manners and so on. I would never have dreamed of taking over or demanding what I was used to. It was a great school of observation actually. When I arrived at my in-law's in Australia much later I found I had to adapt to yet another set of rules. In Australia in the 1960's other than British immigrants were not happily tolerated. The request to comply to their ways was very heavy. I did comply but it was a heavy twist on my personality and I ended up leaving the country in the end.
This experience makes me touchy to anybody entering 'my world' nowadays. I do expect anyone under my roof to be respectful of my ways and not take it for granted that I live like they do.