Correspondence from France

by Emma Wood

It’s not my calendar but instead my grammar teacher, Madame de Pous, who serves as my measure of time. Blue eyeliner brightens her leathery face as each Monday she reminds us: “You’ve been here four weeks now … five … six. If you haven’t started speaking French yet, it’s time. You didn’t come to France to go out drinking with other Americans.” Yeah, that would be stupid, I scoff—forgetting that other Emma who spent her samedi soir on a marathon tour of the downtown bars.

Seven weeks it is now. No longer a vacation. I’ve been here to watch the trees at the Fac transform into red-hued beauties (oh! I was scared they didn’t have fall in France). I’ve been here for a birthday—my 20th!—a day full of “joyeux anniversaire”s from people who didn’t exist in my world last August. I’ve been here long enough that I suddenly, magically, understand the benediction my Very Catholic family recites each night before we eat.

Scariest of all, like the Velveteen Rabbit, the people here have started to be real. I miss them when there’s a day with no “textos.” I have people with whom to eat too many croissants, take bike rides, watch clouds. People who write me fairy tales for my birthday, about papillons and all things magic. I don’t know when it happened, really. Seven weeks of tram rides and confusion and feeling too American and ashamed of my Chacos and deprived of “your mom jokes”—and suddenly this place is my own. I’m scared to come home. The tiny French roots have finally sprouted, and I’m in love with my Franco-Brazilian capoeira instructor, who chants and frowns like an Indian chief, with the girl in my lit class who packs picnics for lunch, even with Madame de Pous. And that creepy guy in my art class who stalks around while the rest of us stay still, feverishly sketching from every angle—damn it, I’m going to miss him too.

But, to stay here? To miss the fluffy pink Walla Walla spring? And that moment when, with the trees, the Venus statue looks almost passable … and my grandmother … my mother. I, the utterly-independent college student, have thousands of threads to draw me back home! Poof poof … (that’s the French form of eeny meeny miney moe) … poof poof, time will tell.

I have one last thing to teach you: “He loves me, he loves me not,” en francais. “Il m’aime; un peu; passionnement; a la folie; pas du tout.”


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