Monday, January 19, 2009

Why France is like a train station sandwich

I found this forgotten passage in a notebook I carried with me while I was travelling this summer, and it made me smile, a bit, remembering...

I'm in a café in the Gare d'Austerlitz, and it's like a Hitchcock film in here. Birds everywhere, and they're tenacious, anxious to get my crumbs, not even flinching when I swat at them.

Ever get the feeling that everything you do is wrong? Here was my exchange with the waiter. First I plopped my bags down at an empty table and went to the counter to inspect the offerings, where I was told sternly, "Installez-vous," it's table service. I ordered a tomato mozzarella sandwich and a Perrier. Would I like the menu? It comes with a dessert. Well, ok. Which dessert? Tartelette aux fruits. Il n'y en a plus. Ok then, poire. (And somehow I still ended up with abricot). Having set off to place my order, not seconds later back the waiter came. Actually, Perrier is not included in the menu, only Vittel. Ok, Vittel, ça va. Off he scurried, but within minutes he was back again. My sandwich, did I want it hot? No, I said, cold was fine. Was I sure? I was sure. Again he scampered away, only to be followed several minutes later by another concerned-looking member of the waitstaff. Was I sure I wanted it cold, because really, it's much better hot, he said anxiously. Ok then, fine, hot, I said.

And so I ate my hot tomato sandwich and drank my Vittel, when all I really wanted in the world was a cold sandwich and a Perrier. Oh France, you slay me. So eager to please, so close to perfect, but so not quite there. But there is still time.

Seven months later, and there is still truth in this. I have come to realize that France is and always will be maddening, beautiful, confusing, exciting, and disappointing, all at once, and I wonder if I ever will be able to truly understand it. But, for now, there is still time.


  1. So true, that's France in a nutshell. My question is, why do we love her despite all that??

  2. Saw your pic on the blogher it, you are so darn cute.