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Meeting the Future In-laws - more telling than I suspected

Meeting the Future In-laws - more telling than I suspected

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Published by Michelle Nott

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Published by: Michelle Nott on Oct 21, 2011
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10/21/2011

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Third Culture StoryMeeting the Future In-laws – more telling than I suspected
 by Michelle Nottwww.gn-st.comMy first “Third Culture Kid” was a young Englishman/Frenchman/American whom I met in NorthCarolina. He had grown up in three different countries. When he decided to stay in Paris for hisuniversity studies, his parents and siblings were relocated to Belgium. I knew his family was “mixedup,” in a sense, even before meeting them. How does a family of British, French and American origin(he and his brother were born on US soil) live in Belgium? As I sat on the train from Paris to Liege,finally to meet his family, I had no idea just how much I would learn...how much my life would start toresemble theirs.My then-only-a-boyfriend drove us to his family's home. The door opened and I saw a sweet, smiley, brown-haired Frenchwoman greet me with an enthusiastic, “Bonjour! (bisous, kiss, kiss) Vous avez fait bon voyage?” At the time, I was a graduate student in French studies at a university in the Loire Valley.I took on the cheek kisses, then a deep breath, then exhaled the start of my pleased-to-meet-you-etc.speech in my best French only to hear a hardy, “Hello! Nice to see you!” My future father-in-lawappeared behind his wife. Being completely caught off guard, I tripped over my English words, notknowing what to say, to whom, nor in what language.I was then ushered into the living room as I tried to look at one person and answer in a particular language then at the other and respond accordingly. To complicate the affair, a brother and a sister cameinto the picture. In my head I asked, “Good Lord, now what do I say?” Given that the siblings had beeneducated mainly in France and French-speaking Belgium, they both greeted me in French. All right, Ithought, “English to the dad, French to everyone else.” By the time we headed to the dining room for 
 
lunch, I believed I had it all figured out – right, as figured out as knowing which fork to use.My now-husband's mother prepared a perfectly gorgeous several-course lunch in the french manner. Iwas flattered to be treated so well. Then a dreadful thought crawled into my mind, “Will I have to knowhow to do this, too?!” While I was fearing my culinary future, conversation began. My now-husband'sfather spoke to his children in English and they responded in English. His wife addressed her childrenin French, they responded in French. To each other, they spoke in their respective languages. “Pass methe bread, please.” “Voici. Encore des haricots?” “Yes, thank you.” I tried to discreetly watch thislinguistic tennis match until a funny story came up about my husband as a boy.Everyone had a version. Forks were put down. Everyone began to speak atop one another. Knives wereraised. The laughter rose. The voices got louder. All faces were staring at me as they tried to get their words out in between the pauses. My head started to spin as if in a bizarre dream.
UNE langue et UNE personne à la fois!
” (One language and one person at a time) It just cameout...loud and clear. The silence conjured up the image of my mother shaking her head pitifully at myrudeness. I had just risked any future with this family. What possessed me speak up like that? Mysanity. I honestly cannot remember exactly what happened next. I think they probably laughed atme...they still do.To paraphrase, the said story came out like this. When my husband was about 10 years old, he and hisyounger brother and sister went to visit their uncle in Bristol, England. Their English uncle was under the impression that all French kids drank wine. In fact, this was and is a false assumption. However, onvery special occasions, the children were allowed a very watered-down drop of champagne for toasting.And so, the uncle asked the children, to which the answer just about made his eyes pop out of his head,“Would you like red wine or white wine with dinner?” Being the eldest, my-husband-as-a-boy assumedthe role as spokesperson and replied, “No thank, Uncle. We only drink champagne.”That day in Liege was very telling in many ways. I have to look back in amazement really at theforeshadowing. Among other sights in Belgium, I visited Brussels' Grande Place that very weekend.

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