"Une cousine, grosse mais gentille…"

It is officially spring in Aix. It’s sunny and warm and the Aixois who were reluctant to come out in the harsh, bitter cold of February (=40 degrees), fill the streets, cafés, and parks. And so do tourists, which is both amusing and painful to see. I’m at least an extended-stay tourist, which I tell myself is more respectable. It’s interesting to see American tourists at their most stereotypical–comfy clothes, sneakers, et cetera–and, after being here for two months, understand why the French sometimes just don’t get us crazy Americans.

I’ve already enjoyed complaining about tourists like a true Aixoise. Now, I’ve never needed an excuse to be bitter about minor inconveniences in everyday life. But my hostmom is the champion. Marie-Do has done some top-notch complaining, guilt-tripping, and nagging that would be hard, even for me, to replicate. Marie-Do is a good host mom. She’s very interested in my experience here, she doesn’t make foods I don’t like, and she does my laundry. So it’s important to know, I wouldn’t write about her if I didn’t find humor in her antics and if I didn’t think my observations could give a little insight into the French mentality.

Marie-Do can talk forever about her health. The first time I met her she told me her glands were swollen. Recently it’s her right eye (it’s ‘pulling,’ she says, which I don’t quite understand). She’s a hypochondriac, as my program director says many French people are. The French are also more pessimistic than Americans. I didn’t really think of Americans as being optimistic, but Marie-Do has made an optimist out of me. When I came back from Nice and Monaco and was describing the Bataille des Fleurs, she said “Oh! It’s too bad you didn’t go to Venice for their carnival.” Same thing with Spain “Oh! It’s too bad you didn’t stay until Sunday.” The number of times I’ve heard Oh! C’est dommage que….

I’ve gotten used to having the same conversations over and over with Marie-Do, because it’s a courtesy, from what I’ve learned, to avoid silence or gaps in conversation. I think that goes for things like car rides, watching the news, and other times when Americans wouldn’t necessarily be uneasy with an extended silence. Marie-Do is constantly asking–a more positive characterization than ‘nagging’ that I use for my own sanity–about my class schedule, my social life, what I’m doing this weekend, even though I told her yesterday, or often earlier that day.

When I say Marie-Do guilt-trips, I know it sounds bad. But maybe it’s considered more polite to be passive-aggressive here. Okay, that doesn’t sound any better. It’s just something I’ve noticed, with Marie-Do and, to an extent, my host mom in Nantes, Roselyne. Maybe it’s a French mom thing. Anyway, our upstairs neighbor, when he’s home, constantly wears his shoes, which we can hear clicking on the floor. Marie-Do always says she’s going to bring it up with him but that he’s really very nice and she’ll just ‘mention it’ or ‘slip it in’ by kindly suggesting that he wear slippers around the house. I won’t recount the exact circumstances that led her to use this sneaky tactic to me, but it was artfully done, I must say. And, again, it wasn’t as affronting as it sounds; I just laughed it off after.

I’ll leave you with one amusing Marie-Do moment that happened just last night. Her ex-boyfriend took her out to dinner, but he came up to the apartment first to sit and talk a bit. This was the first I’d heard of him. This is not the ex-husband and father of her son, this guy was later. All I know is he is “very, very rich”. So Marie-Do is babbling at him about everything going on in her life, her health problems, her efforts at home decorating, and her recent trip to Corsica. She’s showing pictures of her extended family in Corsica, I couldn’t see them but I was in the room. She gets to one of her and someone else and says “C’est ma cousine, grosse mais gentille.” Translation: That’s my cousin, fat but nice. I couldn’t help but laughing, and neither could the very, very rich man.

That’s it for now. I have an idea, though. If anyone is curious about some part of French culture or language I haven’t written about, leave a comment. I’m no expert, but being in France means I can find an expert (okay, so maybe just Marie-Do) on whatever you might be interested in. So, comment!
A plus,
Maggie B.

3 thoughts on “"Une cousine, grosse mais gentille…"

  1. oh là là là. your post just made me laugh out loud. i love the way you tell your stories about marie-do–they never fail to crack me up. my host mom is always talking about her health too. yesterday she told me that she was mal au vente and so she only had a little dinner. but of course she made sure to have dessert. i love how chicken can make you ill but chocolate pudding with whipped cream on top is okay.

  2. I would like to hear the guilt tripping story – even though you intentionally left out the details. Maybe a fb message or chat would be better? From my experience, Marie-Do sounds a little Chinese, but perhaps a bit more subtle. Or not. I’m just saying that most of the Chinese people I know will not go out of their way to spare one’s feelings or be worried about being pc…

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