A Lanky Expat in the Hamlet
Updated: Oct 9, 2018
By Darcy Liddell:
Hi, I'm Darcy, one of Lizzie Gracen's good friends. She recently reached out to ask if I might be interested in blogging for her website, so here I am, taking the concept out for a spin. Getting my cyber sea legs, as it were.
Lizzie and I met back in the late 90s at a who's-who dinner party in a snotty Parisian restaurant. We thankfully were seated next to each other amid all the self-important madness and became fast friends. We both felt like, "New best friend, where have you been? I've been looking for you all over the place. About time you showed up! Let's blow this pretentious popsicle stand and go be friends together." So . . . we did, and we have.
I think the reason she asked me to do the blog thing is because I come from a long line of yarn-spinners, love a turn of phrase, and have been an expat living in France for some decades now. It's been an ass-over-tea kettle approach to life, but has so far worked out pretty well for me. All that to say . . . I 'gots' me some stories about being a lone expat wolf stumbling her lanky way through European life, and maybe you wouldn't mind hearing a few of them. Time will tell!
A Darcy Fun Fact: I'm unnecessarily tall. Six foot two and three quarters, to be exact.
Did I mention that I live in Europe? And not the Viking, Thor part . . . the Napoleon part. I lived in Paris for years, and now the countryside. Joan of Arc country. I dwell in, and regularly visit homes built by, people of yore. Diminutive people. That's the message I'm trying to get across. It means I spend a lot of my time hunched over, Quasi Modo style, avoiding low beams and door frames. You get used to it. Adapt or die or wind up with another bump on your noggin.
So, yeah, I have a lot of stories. Like peeing in cups to get work permits, passing a driver's test which takes two years and hanging out at a nudist colony where it is not just a nudist beach, but a whole way of life.
What? Too soon? Okay, I'll reel it back. Agreed. Too soon. We should really get to know each other first. Some background on me might be helpful.
I grew up in a dusty agricultural valley in the semi-deserts of Central Washington. A sweet town with not a single elevator. A place where tumbleweeds being dragged under cars and the combined smell of grapes, apple blossoms, hops, rendering plants, skunk roadkill, and cow shit were something you never even noticed because they were so ubiquitous. That heady perfume seemingly concocted by a (twisted, avant garde, olfactory-less) perfumist just for us. It was our signature scent, and we wore it with hometown pride. Kinda like a hair shirt.
You'd think a healthy, tall, small town girl would be the captain of the girls' basketball or volleyball team . . . and you would be wrong. I was an accident-prone klutz. A bit like Bambi on his legs for the first time or a St. Bernard puppy that has yet to grow into his Big-Mac-sized paws. Growing incessantly, I never seemed to get used to being in the latest, taller version of myself, so I tended to fall down a lot. Plus, I have a ball phobia, so getting my letterman's jacket was out of the question.
So, I became a model instead. I was handed a genetically predetermined meal ticket to ride on for a while, so why not? It was either that or work at the local Safeway as a shelf-stocker—specializing in only the top shelves. When those adult diapers go on sale, they need to call in the big guns. "Darcy to aisle 4. Darcy, aisle 4."
So, a week after I graduated from a class of 200 (go Grizzlies), my Dad put me on a Greyhound bus with tears in his eyes, and I went to carpe my diem. Seattle, L.A., NY, finally arriving in Paris when I turned 20.
I am now 50 and have lived in my tiny village of 1,000 people with my French husband and teen daughter for twelve years. It's as beautiful as you imagine. Throw a rock in any direction and you'll hit another castle. Yawn, I know. I'd love to share the wonders of these places with you, along with curious cultural traditions and local mysteries. If you'll have me.
But, for now, I will leave you with this. . . .
Back when I was that 20-year-old farm girl, walking around with mouth agape along the rues of Paris, muttering things like, "Gosh," and "Golly," and "Holy shit!" (I tend to cuss. You'll get used to it. My mom never will), I decided to confront two fears in one fell swoop.
Fear #1 : Eating in a restaurant alone
Fear #2 : Ordering my own food in French from a French menu
I had made friends by now, and as a PYT alone in Paris, was often invited out to dinner. People always kindly translated the menu for me, and in turn, ordered desired dishes on my behalf.
Well, not this time. It's down to me. You got this, Darc.
I headed to 'Le Gamin de Paris' ('The Kid of Paris') in the Marais, because I'd been there before with friends. Fun ambiance, and I absolutely loved their duck breast—thinly sliced and served with fig on a bed of potato puree: Tres yummy!
I took a deep breath before opening the door and walking in. I hate this part. Really, in any establishment I walk into in France, I'm met with this group gaze thing that happens—every time, without fail. I'm tall for an American girl in America. Take that same girl to France, and it's Le Freak Show coming to town. Cue the rubbernecking and loud whispers and less than subtle finger pointing as I make my way through the crowd to be seated at my table. ALONE!
I'll admit I cheated on my personal challenge a bit. Part of feat #2 involved me reading from a French menu. At that time, I didn't speak nor read French. But, I already knew what I wanted. When the indifferent waiter handed me the menu, I pretended to peruse it with discerning interest. The joint was loud and smokey and the stares subsided. I can do this.
The waiter came back with his pad & pen at the ready and said, "Foo, foo, foo. Ploo ploo ploo." My eyes widen. My heart relocates to my throat. The room spins. I say nothing. There is this awkward silence that seems to spill out to the tables nearest to us. Conversations simmer down to murmurs as eyes get all gazy at me again. I could feel them all over me like red sniper dots.
I suddenly blurt out, "Je voudrais magret de conard."
The room grew COMPLETELY silent. Literally, you could hear knives dropping on plates. Then, people burst out laughing. Something gave me the feeling they were laughing at me. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you, right?
Come to find out, instead of ordering 'thinly sliced duck,' I had ordered 'thinly sliced asshole.'
Oh, what a difference a vowel makes.