On the Father’s Day weekend I went to visit the in-laws*. They live in the Cantal area of Auvergne in the middle of France – what I like to call the French Outback (not to their face).
When I say ‘outback’ it is in the broadest sense of being fairly uninhabited and remote. The cows wear bells without irony, and in winter the cottages higher up in the mountains are inaccessible because of the snow.
Present this weekend are Vincent’s entire immediate family – Mother, Father, brother and sister in law, step daughters, nephews and nieces. So this is kind of home for me, but not the home I’m used to and for me there are a few hurdles.
The mother-in-law. I must say up front that she’s delightful. She learnt some words of English in school 50 years ago and searches for them when I’m there to make me feel more comfortable. But of course there is that thing where Vincent thinks that everything that she does is better than what I can do (see Hurdle #4 below). Mostly because I don’t want to. I have adventures, I don’t cook or clean!
The father-in law. He is quite a character. By trade he is a retired school teacher, but he grew up on a farm in Auvergne and they seem to make people extra tough. He has displays of knives on walls, and still climbs mountains and skis even though he is getting closer to 80 than 70 years. Their house is semi-suburban but he has a few sheep and chickens and grows all his own veg. We bond because we are the only ones drinking too much champagne. Vincent’s brother and sister in law hardly drink alcohol, and the others do the French thing of having one glass and that’s it. Pffff!
The step-daughters, who I do see more frequently but still there is the special bond between fathers and daughters that as a late addition to the family I am excluded from.
Any family celebration that is not your own has its own traditions, and in this case the traditions are French. Vincent and I have an ongoing argument about the correct way to cook beans. I prefer a more ‘stir fry-sear them to take the edge off’ approach whereas he prefers the ‘out of a tin’ soggy approach. His mother cooks the soggy variety, and he happily draws my attention to it at the meal.
There are the many courses. I’m more used to this now, so when we sat down to a healthy helping of ham, saucisson and melon for the starter I held back, knowing what was coming. The roast chicken main course was served, with the monster chicken being previously alive in the back yard. Then came the ‘salad’, which in my view is should be called ‘lettuce with a dressing’. I filled my boots with the lettuce. Then cheese – slabs of local Cantal, St Nectaire and Tomme, and after that the gateau and finally coffee.
I hardly speak French and the only one that speaks English is my partner who declines to speak English when he is with his family because it is his time to relax (fair enough). On this visit I want to push through and start to communicate, so I put myself in situations where I have to speak French. Using my iPhone and Google translate, I offer to help. I set the table, and we are short one wine glass. So I try to ask if there is another. Then there is a conversation about how the father in law only needs a water glass. Is it because he has big hands? I’m pretty sure he’s going to need both a water and a wine glass. So I go back and say ‘ten year old, come with me’ and point to a wine glass and saying ‘is this a verre?’. Sigh.
They are all nice people. In fact the sister-in-law speaks English quite well, but she is so entertaining even in French that I enjoy listening.
Because we are in Auvergne, I ask about a visit to a ferme so that I can see how the Cantal cheese is made, and get some material for a blog. I ask the family about this in French, reasonably successfully but Vincent is asleep in a post-lunch food coma. He didn’t get the memo about the cheese making and thought I meant cheese buying. We went to the cheese museum, bought some cheese and then left before I realised that there was no stop at the museum. I’m suspicious about his intentions, but he lets me stop every 2km or so on the way back to the family home to take photos of the special cows, so I’m happy.
Do you have in-laws? Are your experiences similar when you go ‘home’ for a family celebration? Or maybe you have views on how beans should be cooked? … Let me know.
* Father’s Day in France and the UK is in June. In Australia it is in September.
The topic for this blog was prompted by the July 2016 Travel Linkup. Get back to the Linkup here.
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I can’t comment on how to cook beans but I can say that relationships with the in-laws are more complicated than current relations between Britain and the EU.
In case you haven’t read ‘Almost French’ I think you’d get a good laugh out of it.
Ha! true re. Britain and the EU. Yes, I’ve read ‘Almost French’, it is very accurate, and funny. Thanks 🙂
Sarah Bence says
Hilarious. Beans, special cows and in laws make an interesting home away from home!!
Ha, ha. Yes! I showed the blog to Vincent, and he said ‘I sound like the worst boyfriend in the world’. I said ‘Yes. You Do’. :). Thanks for commenting.
Marcella ~ WhatAWonderfulWorld says
Loved this little insight into this visit ‘home’.
I’m lucky to have an amazing mother-in-law, but the language thing was so tough at first as I spoke no Spanish and she doesn’t speak any English. Now, thankfully, we can converse 🙂
Thanks Marcella. I’m hoping that I can have a better conversation with my mother in law soon. She is very patient with me when I try. Great to hear that you have overcome that ‘hurdle’. 🙂
Jessi (Two Feet, One World) says
Ha wow, that’s quite a few hurdles! Such an interesting opportunity to experience another culture through another family though!
Jessi (Two Feet, One World) says
And thank you for joining the Linkup 🙂
Hi Jess, yes it is very interesting and these, and most people are so friendly when the opportunity comes up. Thanks for organising the Linkup!
Tanja (the Red phone box travels) says
oh yes, family!interesting post! we all have similar issues:)
Hi Tanja, yes I think the issues are the same :). I was talking to a friend (hello to A. if you are reading this!), and she said her mother learned some Spanish so she could speak to the parents of her new daughter in law. I think mothers-in-law mostly try to be nice.
anna parker says
being at home in someone else’s home is never quite the same, even with inlaws!
So true .. thanks for commenting.
Eppie Shepherd says
Such a different view on the travel link up! So fun and interesting to read, a lovely insight. Well done on coping with the language barriers too!
Thanks Eppie! The actual subject of ‘where is home’ started to get too maudlin :). And thanks for the encouragement re. language barriers! A daily challenge at the moment.
Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi says
In-laws really can he hard, let alone trying to speak another language with them!
Hahaha! Indeed. The favourite son … Thanks for dropping by.
Harriet Springbett says
Yes, I know exactly how this feels. Thank you for sharing and bringing back memories of my first family dinners with my in-laws, before I spoke French.
Aaargh. It seems like an experience in common for many people. I don’t feel like such failure now that I realise this :). Thanks for dropping by.
Emily Commander says
This sounds very familiar. When I first started visiting my husband’s French family, it was both the French, but also the long lazy eating that was particularly daunting. I could not work out why French families spent so much time together at the table. Several years later, and I am one of the worst offenders, and yes, I too now know to HOLD BACK on all the courses. It looks idyllic in the Auvergne.
Hahaha! Yes, I agree it is a nice thing to adapt to. My first experience of it was at the wedding of Phoebe of Lou Messugo fame. There was a french half (his family & friends) and a non-french half (her family & friends). The non-French half went too hard too soon due to inexperience, and the fell asleep under the table at about the fifth course and the French half were only getting started. Thanks for dropping by.
Phoebe | Lou Messugo says
So funny! Pretty much all “my side” had gone to bed before the cake came out! You had an excuse though as you’d come from Australia and were fighting jet lag not just cultural differences
Ha! Yes, and I remember that I was wearing an embarrassing hat because I panicked about the cold weather.
FrenchVillage Jacqui says
You’ll get there with the French soon, I’m sure. The more you try and use it, the more you’ll remember, but also the more you’ll realise you still have to learn!
Thanks for your encouragement Jacqui! I know you are right, and I am starting to have conversations with people.
We just love the Cantal, which is just over 2 hours’ drive from where we live in SW France. The countryside is stunning and the food robust, rustic stuff – just what you need after a day’s hiking. We try to get there as often as we can. I no longer have in-laws but can empathise with your experience. My husband is Swedish, his mother spoke no English and my Swedish was, and remains, minimal. Our exchanges were of the “Isn’t it a nice day” variety. She was a terrific cook, though, so food took the place of words.
P.S. I’m with you on the beans…
Thanks Vanessa. I agree, Cantal is amazing and I’d like to be able to spend a bit more time there, but work commitments mean that to date I havn’t been able to. it is nice to have a connection there. Were you able to pick up any cooking hints / lessons from your mother in law?
Not really, but my husband did and he inherited her scrapbook, into which his mother pasted all her recipes. Her meatballs were to die for!
Phoebe | Lou Messugo says
As you well now I’ve been there done that! The language is no longer a problem 20 years after that infamous wedding you mentioned above, but cultural differences will always be there. I have exactly the same thing with beans and the MIL though luckily JF is with me on that particular issue! I do love a good long lunch but if I’m brutally honest, one with good friends rather than in-laws! I find meals at the in-laws tough even to this day and get frustrated when we spend the whole day inside eating rather than outside enjoying the area. As we only go to the in-law abode for short times and in their eyes it’s a celebration that we’re there all we do is eat! I could go on, and you know that, so I’ll shut up before anyone gets hurt! Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance
It does seem like a common theme. Nothing sinister about it – just different traditions compounded in my case by the language barrier. Thanks for commenting 🙂