July 2003 The French
our trip to Lyon, we bought a book entitled "Au Contraire! Figuring
out the French." It's published by Intercultural Press, Inc.
and is apparently one of the "Interact Series" of books
dealing with cross-cultural (mis)understandings.
of the first things we read was that all Frenchmen know that their
country is shaped like a hexagon. "There is nothing vague about
the notion of the hexagon in the French mentality,
it not only sums up the physical shape of the land but also shapes
The clarity and precision of geometric borders
are reassuring for the French.
I think that France is the
only country in the world that thinks of itself as a geometric figure.
And it is important to be a geometric figure."
seemed a remarkably forceful statement, so when we settled into
our seats on the TGV from Lyon, we asked the Frenchwoman seated
across from us, "what geometric shape is the country of France?"
Without a second's hesitation, she replied, "Hexagon."
She didn't add "bien sur," but it as clear she thought
it. So, we thought that the book had some merit. And it does.
of the attributes of French culture, according to 'Au Contraire',
is a general lack of regard for other individuals (as opposed to
a feeling of responsibility to other people collectively, which
is quite strong, and a regard for friends and family). We vividly
recalled the behavior of the French in ski lift lines, where they
not only cut across in front of you but stomp on your skis with
their sharp edges as they do so; we think this is what the authors
are talking about. On the water, it manifests itself by a total
disregard of other boats in anchorages. If an English of American
boat is (in our opinion) anchoring too close to us, we get up from
the cockpit, stand on the deck and simply stare at them. Embarrassed,
they pull the hook back up and try again. With French boats, our
behavior has absolutely no impact. They simply don't care what we
think - and wouldn't care if we were French, either.
just saw another example in the Calvi, Corsica, when he went to
the waterfront one morning to buy some fish for a bouillabaisse.
The fishing boats arrive at around 10:00, and they sell their meager
catch right out of the boat. Rob showed up on the wharf at about
9:45, and a German couple arrived shortly thereafter. The boat didn't
arrive until about 10:20, and as it approached the dock a woman
drove up, double-parked her car, got out, and walked directly between
Rob and the edge of the pier, where he was standing watching the
boat moor. As soon as the boat was moored, the woman called out
her order to the fishermen, who immediately filled it. In fact,
the fishermen didn't turn to Rob until after they had filled about
three other orders -- and the Germans didn't get served until after
fish alone cost more than $12 -- and what fish! Ugly, some red and
some brown, with spiky dorsal fins and big mouths, bottom feeders
all. But, that's what makes a bouillabaisse.
used a recipe in our cruising guide, which claims to be the 'real
bouillabaisse', given to the author by the grandmother of a friend,
or something like that. It's not a lot like the recipes we're familiar
with. It goes, basically, as follows: Sauté a medium onion
and two cloves of garlic, add 250 g. of skinned tomatoes (this poses
a question, as you'll see later), some fresh chopped parsley, a
couple of bay leaves, thyme, fennel, and about a pound of rough
fish, gutted and scaled. Cover with water and simmer for an hour
or so, until it's a gruel. Sieve it to produce a thin stock (so,
why did we skin the tomatoes?). Now add a decent fish, a tablespoon
of rouille (which in our case we bought in a store), a heaped teaspoon
of saffron threads, and cook over high heat for another five minutes
or so. Remove the fish and serve separately.
'chowder' part is served into individual bowls, then croutons are
floated in it. On top of each crouton, put a little rouille, then
some grated cheese. Bon apetit!