I love a good dinner party. The food, the wine and the conversation, whether silly or serious, always gives me a buzzing energy that helps me feel connected to people. With everybody sitting around talking, eating, drinking and having a good time – it’s such a simple and enjoyable way to spend an evening.
Unfortunately, that buzz is quite literally a bzzz-zzz-zzz when I attend dinner parties with the French. Before anyone dusts off the ol’ guillotine, let me explain by saying that it has nothing to do with the individuals involved and everything to do with my lack of comprehending the French language and, at times, the French culture.
I always start these evenings out positive and full of ‘can-do’ energy. I force myself to listen and if I think I understand a word here or there, I try to engage in conversation. But really, in these social situations the only French I can contribute is to throw out various food vocabulary or commands about passing the salt and pepper. This will get a person only so far.
I have now decided that my Frenchman needs to sit next to me at French dinner parties so he can, at least, toss me a bone of English from time to time. This particular action could ruffle some feathers because in some French etiquette circles couples should not sit directly next to one another. But, desperate times call for desperate measures and without the few precious English bits I’m passed, I could quite possibly end up with my face in the cheese course having fallen asleep from the bzzzz-zzz-zzz.
Ah, the cheese. The fabulous French cheese. And the wine. The appetizer. The main dish. The dessert. The coffee. And let’s not forget – The bread. Without the bread there would be some sort of riot. These are the basic elements that are always present at the French dinner parties I have attended. When I first started dating my Frenchman, I was so over-stimulated by all the courses, all of the food and the fact that the bread was just ripped apart with bare hands (how very Gaulish) that I didn’t really notice the conversation around me. But now, I want to participate. I want to contribute. I want to make people laugh with my witty remarks and have people ponder my wise musings.
But, all I can say are things that a 3-year old toddler would say. And if the toddler was French, she would say things with a better accent and, therefore, be all the more appreciated and understood. Personally, what I’ve discovered with the French language is that it really does seem to be all about the accent, and this accent is quite difficult for me to replicate. There are all of the ‘uh’, ‘uuh’, ‘uhh’, ‘u’ sounds that, first of all, sound exactly the same to me and, second of all, do not want to come out of my American mid-western mouth. I really have to force my mouth and face into what feel like ridiculous positions, but whenever I do this, I seem to be that much more understood.
So, I always start out ready to go at these dinner parties, but by the main course I really have to force myself to stay in the groove. Growing up a PK, I developed this amazing ability to sit quietly still and zone out for long periods of time while my father preached the weekly sermon. I tend to call upon these special powers during these dinner party moments and attempt to blend into the table.
I know the only way to ultimately break through will be to keep practicing my patience and to keep practicing my French. With time, I hope to be able to be able to say something in French that is actually fully understood. I’ll go for appreciation and belly laughs further on down the line.
My first day of work was also the Friday of the dinner party and so the majority of the prep work was placed on my Frenchman’s mother and our housekeeper. They did an amazing job. The Frenchman’s mother made not one, but two desserts. I arrived home to a beautiful table with flower arrangements, a white tablecloth freshly pressed and all the table places fully set. Certain food courses were ready and waiting to be warmed at the time of serving. The punch for the starter cocktail was made and chilled. The only thing I was responsible for was the BBQ.
We had purchased a new Weber grill one week prior to the party and I had done two test runs leading up to Friday. I was feeling pretty confident about things, but I was still nervous about not getting a quick enough nor a hot enough heat to BBQ approximately 60 giant sea prawns with the heads still attached. I had discovered during the test runs that keeping the head attached meant longer time to grill. I also had to time my lighting and grilling to fall within the course structure of the meal.
In America if I was in charge of the BBQ, I know I would not be the only one standing by the BBQ. There would be at least one or two other people with drinks in hand, standing around, poking around and offering their opinion about grilling techniques. Not at this dinner party. I started out alone at the grill, while the remainder of the guests sat at the table waiting for the main course. There is nothing more nerve-wracking than a bunch of French people waiting for the next course. They love their food and the last thing you want to do is to disappoint them.
When it became apparent that I was being over-whelmed by giant sea prawns, my Frenchman, his mother and the housekeeper came out to assist. I do not remember eating any of the prawns that night so I couldn’t tell you if they were good or not. It’s all just a smoke-filled haze. I do know that we grilled way too much, but no one fell ill and I suffered no serious burns, only minor smoke-inhalation.
The next time we have a BBQ there will be long-neck beers, a bowl of cut-up melon and a pile of paper plates. Heck, I might really shake it up and even break out some buns.
— Tropical fruit juice rum cocktail with orange twist
— Hand-mixed Salmon on crackers
— Gateau Piment (hand-made by grinding yellow dal, chilis and spices into little balls that are then deep-fried)
Numerous bottles of Bordeaux and Burgundy that the visiting French had brought with them were consumed with all remaining courses.
— Fresh seasoned Calamari
— Green salad with tomatoes
— Grilled Sea Prawns
— An assortment of three cheeses
— Home-made Tiramasu
— Home-made Pineapple Charlotte (we actually didn’t serve this because people were too full)
Coffee & Tea