October 18, 2014

Local or stranger?

Is this the most or the least intimate country in human history? Tough to know. For almost a year, many of the 1500+ citizens of our small town have categorically refused to acknowledge me. No waves, no hellos, no nods of friendship. It's not a problem, just an observation. 

And then there are days like yesterday, where you enter in the local café and stand at the bar with your drink with three other guys. Suddenly, a young woman comes in, trailed by two middle-aged females. I had never seen any of them before.

They gave les bises, the double kisses, one on each cheek, to the assembled clientele, using the first name and the informal "tu" with each person they encountered. That is, until they encountered me. I stared down at my glass, sure they would understand that there was no need to share my personal space...and felt the presence of Woman near me. 

Glancing up, the youngest was halfway in for les bises. I happily reciprocated, uttering "Bonjour." The next woman danced the dance with me as well, and the third, shrugging her shoulders and saying, "Ma foi," or "Well, why not!" made the smooching sounds in each of my ears. While I prefer the female version, it is also common to be in a café when a man enters and walks the entire room, shaking the hand of every other client in the joint.

And the best part? When you see any of these people outside the café, we are right back to no recognition: no hello, no handshake, and, ma foi, no little kisses from the pretty ladies. Good luck figuring out the rules.

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