Age of Ignorance: The Enviable Heathens

This post is the second installment of my half-baked series about the year my best friend and I spent living in Tours, France. In case you missed it, you can read the first part here.

Becky and Assorted Exchange Students with Water, Coke, and Wine

Good Catholic girls that we were, Becky and I had been warned that France was morally bankrupt, but it wasn’t until we moved in with our host family on Rue Victor Hugo that we were able to witness it firsthand.

The first thing we discovered was that you could drink wine every night with your dinner and nobody batted an eye. The family we boarded with hosted a motley crew of exchange students year round and each night when we gathered at the large dining room table for our main meal, we were offered water, wine, or Coke.  After a brief period of false virtue, I picked wine every time. It would have been a crime not to, and I didn’t want to offend.

Le vin worked like a charm to loosen up my tongue so I could yammer on with greater facility about how embarrassing my countrymen were. Though I wasn’t 100% sold on the French yet, I felt it necessary to differentiate myself from the loud, obnoxious, sweatpants wearing breed of American at any cost. Of course, I learned more French sipping Rhone red at that dinner table than I ever did from any book, and it remains in my mind’s eye the lasting image of my junior year abroad.

One evening shortly after our arrival, a striking blonde joined the family for dinner and was introduced to us as Sophie, our host “brother’s” girlfriend.  Arnold (“Arghhh-No“) was only our host “brother” in name.  He was our age – about twenty – but had been a disappointment from the very start with his awkward appearance and pointed indifference toward us. He didn’t like Americans – that much was clear – and probably wasn’t crazy about sharing his home with a gaggle of over eager exchange students who butchered his mother tongue and imposed their cheap neophyte culture on his ancient Gallic roots. Becky and I had crossed him off of our potential boyfriend list as soon as we’d arrived.

Me, trying desperately to look all frenchy-french-french. Too bad I never got the memo about NOT TUCKING YOUR SWEATER INTO YOUR PANTS.

Arghhh-No largely ignored us and, when directly addressed, would purposely answer in slurred street language to ensure we didn’t understand a word he’d said. Sophie, on the other hand, spoke to us in a friendly, lark-like tone of voice. She wasn’t interested in us as individuals, per se, but at least she treated us as diversions instead of lepers, like Arghh-No. That night after the evening meal, Sophie horrified and profoundly impressed us by pulling a pack of peach Gauloise cigarettes out of her pocket and while Becky and I stared with mouths agape, proceeded to light one up in plain sight.

Scandale!

It was clear that Sophie had a death wish, because everyone knew cigarettes were something you smoked secretly, behind your boyfriend’s parents’ backs. And yet here here she was, sipping wine and blowing smoke rings right under our noses like a young Catherine Deneuve.  I waited in gleeful anticipation for la merde to hit the fan, but the only thing that happened was Monsiour Host Father got up and brought her an ashtray.

Sophie was a total badass and I decided I’d do anything to become her friend.

The next morning while Becky and I we were eating our meager French breakfast of black coffee and a single slice of toast with jam, the enigmatic and unabashedly bed-headed Sophie descended from Arghhh-No’s bedroom in pajamas and sat down at the table like a person without mortal sin upon her head. It was inconceivable! Had she actually spent the night? And if she had, didn’t she have the good sense to make a run for it before the rest of the family woke up?

France was clearly a country full of sex-crazed heathens and therefore glamorous beyond compare.

My Adorable Host Parents, and Hadid, our Kuwaiti Housemate

Not only did Sophie continue to sleep in Arghhh-No’s socialist lair for the next three nights, she also wore the same outfit for the remainder of the week and, by my hawk-like calculations, only showered once during that entire time.  Becky and I, who made it a point to rotate our limited wardrobe of quintessentially French blazers, jeans, and scarves daily and who would have rather died than worn the same shirt twice in one week, were totally aghast. Not only were the French godless alcoholics, they really didn’t bathe.

Naturally, we began to alternate between homesickness and an intense desire to become one of them.

(To be continued . . . )

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5 thoughts on “Age of Ignorance: The Enviable Heathens

  1. Jennifer von Durckheim

    Rima- I remember the peach cigarettes!! My host parents never offered us wine with dinner! I think we were lucky to get water.

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