Photos and Text by Corey Amaro:
(1988 when I first arrived in France.)
The box of assorted chocolates circled around the room. When the hostess offered her guests the box of chocolates the guests would take the chocolate closest to them without hesitation, nor reflection, as if the chocolates were all the same.
As the guests carried on with their conversation, I had one ear listening, and one eye on the hostess as she continued to offer the chocolates. I leaned to French Husband without looking obvious and asked him if it was my imagination or was it rude to select a chocolate you wanted verses taken the one closest to you when offered?
He smiled that smile that said, "We shouldn't be talking about this now." Yet he offered a quick response. Without drawing any attention to our conversation he nonchalantly said under his breath, "In France when offered a dessert, or chocolate, a glass of champagne or whatever, it is polite to accept the one closest to you."
"But what if I don't want the one closest to me, but instead want the one in the middle? The white chocolate one for example?"
He gave me that look again-- and then because he is ever so polite, even to the point of being rude to me, he said nothing.
When the hostess offered me the box of chocolates the one closest to me was a praline. I do not like pralines. So I said no thank you and felt my mouth watering for the white chocolate one instead.
My eyes must of spoken differently than my words, because the hostess said, "You don't like chocolates? Are you sure you do not have room for a little bite?"
I tried to smile politely but as soon as I looked over at French Husband a naughty child grin came upon my face. With that I threw the French etiquette lesson over my shoulder. Then brought my hand to my lips while pinching my pointer finger and thumb together and said, "Maybe I have room for a white chocolate."
As I popped the white chocolate into my mouth, sheephishly savoring the taste I looked around the room and thought who really cares?
French Husband glanced at me, and in that glance I saw more than than the white chocolate in the middle of the box. I saw that he cared.
And in a flash I learned that this new country I called home had customs, traditions, culture, attitudes.... very different from my own place of birth and that if I wanted to fit in I had to gain respect for those ways before I could adapt them.
I swallowed hard my tasty faux pas. It was the first of many small lessons that taught me that the French way is to act instead of reacting.