Friday, March 30, 2007

Where ARE You From?



I’m not the type to be homesick. For whatever reason, I never have been. Genetics or environment, who knows, but whenever I packed a bag or a truck and left home, I rarely looked back except to wave a hello to old friends and see how they were doing. To be honest, I’m not sure I really know what it feels like to be homesick. Weird. To think fondly of someone you haven’t seen for a long time. To reminisce fondly about experiences you had in a certain place and time. Those are concepts I have experienced. To be sad about missing someplace and have a longing to go back to where you were before? I somehow misplaced that part of my personality.

But this morning I was struck with a pang of nostalgia. At least I think it was nostalgia. I was avoiding work on a client’s kitchen design with problems that have me (temporarily) stumped. So in typical procrastinating fashion, since I was already on the computer... I started reading blogs. Chez Loulou was just getting back from Spokane, Sam de Bretagne is obviously blue and missing Minnesota, and then Living the life in Saint Aignan threw in a photo of San Francisco. All of which made me think of the 22 year old “boy” that arrived at California’s Golden Gate, all agog, in his VW van.

Was I ever really that young...

Along with the rest of his baggage, he arrived in San Francisco with a rather distinctive accent honed on those formative, rural years in Kentucky and Virginia. That is to say it had a certain farm-bred “southern edge” to it. So the first question everyone asked was “Where are you from?” That is WHERE are you FROM spoken with a sort of incredulous intonation. And this was the bane of my existence for at least a couple of years until I managed to soften it enough to pass without endless comment. (Although, I did learn along the way that there were instances when you could use that accent to advantage - which I did, mercilessly - and felt that it was justifiable revenge to do so.)

Now I’m back in the South, and once again my accent is often a topic of discussion. Are you English? Are you Dutch? American is usually the third guess, not because my French is any better than any other poor American struggling to make himself understood, but there just aren’t that many Americans flooding this area of France. It’s that Not Paris - Not Provence syndrome. I guess it is better than the old stupefied look followed by the where (in what godforsaken part of the country) are you from of my youth. Only this time, there is little hope of losing the accent.

And now with the miniature Franco-Americans running around the house, I can see the cycle starting all over again. Different generation, different South, same story. Regardless of what we try to do, they are blossoming into true Languedociens. They pronounce pain meaning bread like Americans pronounce pain meaning ouch. I kid you not. How funny is that. “Si tu plais, encore du ‘paeen’.” They are asking for more bread, and my mother would think they were asking for a whippin’. Please, more PAIN. No Mother, there is no S&M in this family. Not even when they ask for it politely.

PS: For the completely NON-French-speaking person who happens to read the above...
In "proper" French, and I use the word proper in the loosest of terms, the "n" in the word "pain" is absolutely not pronounced. It is a "p" then an "a" like the "a" in "and" but you don't close on the "n" UNLESS you grew up in a family in the southern region of Languedoc. Languedoc did not readily give up its occitan "langue d'oc" and numerous "peculiarities" linger on in the speech of the natives. Do I hear tom-toms beating in the distant hills?

9 comments:

Loulou said...

I hate to have to correct you, but Spokane is in Washington State. :)
Our neighbors say "encore du vaang" when they are at our maisong.

wcs said...

Did you go to Cal, by any chance ? Just wondering; I got my BA in architecture there.

Pardon My French said...

What -- you never got homesick for what I'm assuming is southwest Virginia?! It's heaven on earth, man, no matter what that John Denver says...he obviously forgot to put "south" in front of the "west" in the song. Even if we do say things like "It's back-erds bee-hine you" and "Run along and get me a poke to put them beans in."

I spent quite a few entertaining moments with my husband's uncle discussing the "dongs" of wooly mammoths last summer. Finally he tapped his teeth and the picture became clear. My MIL grew up in Montpellier and the FIL in a small village not too far from there, so I should have known.

Mary said...

I just found your blog and had a good laugh over your pain. Thanks.

Mary said...

Blogger doesn't link my name to my site, so I'll introduce myself. The above comment was left by me, Mary, of www.ceresandbacchus.com.

mpabner said...

I really related with never feeling homesick. Except one time. I was living in Colorado and driving back home to South Georgia. There was this typical October sunset over the pineforest and I just suddenly had a longing to move back home. Then I got home and realized why I had moved. I also, with no guilt, have a southern accent that gets a little more southern at times. It comes in handy.
Have a good one!

Ken Broadhurst said...

I've never really been homesick either ... except for France when I was living in the U.S. Like a lot of Southerners (and others), I'm bi-dialectal. When I go home to coastal N.C., the old way of talking just comes right back. Ask Walt, who's from upstate NY!

Rachelle said...

I can relate to never really getting homesick, but every once in a while, I get a smell memory (sure there is a name for that...), that remind me of Carmel Valley. Something to do with mix of heat, mist, the sea, and pine trees. Doesn't happen often, but stops me in my tracks when it does!

My 4 year old speaks already like a true enfant du midi, with all of her ehs and demaings, and even though I know she sounds like a hick to Parisians, it sounds lovely to my ears!

I had to put up with the withering 'where are you from?' looks when I lived in the UK with my husband. The amount of times I heard that I couldn't teach English because I was American....

Glad to have your blog; keep up the good work!

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