The days of 30C (86F) and nights of 27C (81F) are back on the island and it’s such a difference from the 22F (-5C) days and 12F (-11C) nights of Minnesota that we just experienced over Christmas break.
Before we left Mauritius, the Frenchman and I were actually very excited to be leaving the heavy heat of the southern hemisphere for the refreshing shock of the northern one. And Minnesota, as always during the long winter, didn’t disappoint.
The snow came on the 23rd and lasted until the 25th of December. Fluffy, white and gorgeous to look at as it fell and clung to the tree branches.
I had mentioned to my parents that I wanted it to snow while I was there and that I didn’t want a piddly, light dusting. I craved a real heavy snowfall, the kind that I remember having as a kid growing up.
When the predicted large amounts of snow actually did arrive, my family, as well as those friendly folk we saw on Christmas Eve at church, said it was my entirely my fault. No matter. I was in a winter wonderland filled with nice Minnesotans and plates and plates of homemade Christmas cookies. If they wanted to give me the power to direct and control the patterns of the weather, so be it.
Minnesota nice. You really don’t notice it when you live there. You hear about it and you participate in it, but you can’t really define it – at least I never could while living there. This time back, I noticed it in a big way and I just kind of stood there gob-smacked by the all the niceness.
First there is the absolutely zombie-like precision in which Minnesotans line up at check-out lines or lines for movie concessions or lines for anything. It is absolute perfection. No one is shoving anyone, people form an actual line vs. a mob or jumbled mass and people stand contently until the line moves.
I have had the exact opposite experience while in France. Standing in line was one of my favorite things I did while back in the States. It was so peaceful and gentle.
And then, there were the random displays of Minnesota nice. The Frenchman and I were at one of the numerous malls in the Twin Cities metro area doing some last minute Christmas shopping. While we were in the men’s coat section, a pleasant-looking, very blond woman started talking to us.
Woman of probable Scandinavian decent (holding up a Northface fleece jacket): “I like this coat. Do you think my son would like it? He’s a teenager and doesn’t like wearing coats and I think this would be a good one because it’s like a coat, but not a REAL coat.”
Me: “Oh, hi. Um, ya. I guess so. [Frenchman] could you try this on?”
The Frenchman takes off his coat and slips on the one the woman has been admiring.
Me: “Ya. It’s cute and not really coat-like as you say.”
Frenchman: “I like it. I think I will buy it.”
I roll my eyes at the Frenchman. The man has more coats than me and really does not need another one, but I must admit, he does look rather good in it.
Woman of probable Scandinavian decent: “Yes, I really like it. Are you from around here?”
I then launch into the story that’s been told a thousand times before and explain that we’re only in town to visit family for the holidays.
Woman of probable Scandinavian decent: “European men are just so much more fashionable than American ones. I bought this for my boyfriend.”
She then removes from one of her shopping bags a set of men’s cologne to show us.
Woman of probable Scandinavian decent: “The sales clerk at the men’s fragrance counter said this is really popular in Italy and in Europe for men right now. See, it’s a bunch of different, little fragrances that men can mix and match or wear alone if they want.”
Frenchman: “Yes, that’s cool. In France, where I come from, the men’s parfum section is as big as the women’s section.”
Woman of probable Scandinavian decent: “Oh great! I’ll be certain to mention it to my boyfriend when he opens this gift.”
At this point, I was starting to get a little too warm and it felt like we had been standing here talking to this total stranger for far longer than we actually had.
Me: “O.K. Well, I hope he loves it. Merry Christmas! We better get going if we’re going to finish all of our shopping.”
And this was said with the fakest, biggest smile I had done in months. It was so cheesy, that I thought for sure she would call me out on it.
Woman of probable Scandinavian decent (also displaying a bright sparkly smile [side note: Americans have the nicest and whitest teeth – positively glowing!]): “Oh ya, me too! Merry Christmas! Thanks for all your help!”
Frenchman (not really noticing anything about the conversation anymore because he was too busy checking himself out in a mirror): “Where is the checkout? I am going to buy this jacket.”
I ended up buying him the jacket as a Christmas gift because I said it was just silly to buy something for yourself two days before the actual holiday. It also felt silly to be buying a winter jacket when we lived on a tropical island; but, as the Frenchman put it, “you never know where we’ll end up next.” True enough.
So nice. So very, VERY nice. But, is it too nice and is it real? The entire time we were in Minnesota, I kept waiting for a waiter to get fed up with a customer and storm away or for an angry driver to honk and whip up the finger. But, it never happened.
Did the blond women leave the men’s coat department and whisper under her breath, “What a bunch of snobby tools?” Did she go back to the men’s fragrance counter and thank the sales clerk once more and share her new European approved cologne tale?
As a fellow ex-Minnesotan, I take a certain pride in this nice polite behavior; however, now, I also have a new-found respect for people that can really express true emotions without being judged to be overly-dramatic, nasty or rude.
This is one of the things I love about the French. They are angry and they show it. They become passionate and they show it. They aren’t afraid to disagree with you or to get into a heated conversation with you. And if they don’t want to listen to you, they simply don’t. And no one takes it personally. It is simply humans being human.
But, I didn’t always have this attitude. My Minnesota nice self was all a-gasp and in shock the first few times I visited France. I always thought everyone was fighting with each other during dinner parties and I found the Frenchman to be a bit too righteous and proud during some of our discussions.
If a modern-day colony of French citizens were to plant down in Minnesota, there would be some serious misunderstanding in the beginning, I’m afraid. During the break-the-ice dinner, the Minnesotans would sit quietly, engage in polite conversation (always keeping it going because silence would be too awkward to handle) and politely smile.
Then, when the French had left the building to go smoke one of their cancer-sticks, the hearty folk from the North would do the dishes (“No, no. It’s fine, we’ll clean up. You just go outside and slowly kill yourself”) and whisper about how completely rude and obnoxious those la-dee-da newbies are.
The Frenchman’s family had a great time in Minnesota and commented about how nice everybody was and how it was really a pleasant experience to shop when the sales clerks were friendly and helpful.
They do have a point. In France, the clerks in the shops are not the most helpful and act like they really all have someplace better to be and something much better to do than to help you and your undecided self make a purchase. Buy it or don’t buy it. They do not care.
I find myself sitting on the fence post in the middle of the field watching the Norman and mid-west cows nibble on grass. My preference is a mushed up version of the two.
It would be cool to have French waiters and sales clerks actually smile and look happy to have you in their establishments and Minnesotans who aren’t afraid to disagree and raise their voices every once and again without thinking that either they (oh, the guilt) or the other person are being nasty.
Since I’ve already mastered how to control the weather, maybe my next super-power feat will be to get the Frenchman to not rush the crowd while boarding the airplane or to stop giving the evil glare to motorists who merge. My apologies to those Minnesotans who found him rude and obnoxious.