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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