It’s a French tradition to celebrate Epiphany (today) with a special cake that has a surprise tucked inside (usually a miniature porcelain figurine). Whoever gets the special piece is royalty for the day. There are two kinds of cakes: the “galette des rois” and the “gâteau des rois”. The former is the most popular in Paris and I’ve even heard it referred to as the “galette Parisienne” in other parts of France (most often in a slightly condescending, “that’s not nearly as good as ours” kind of way). It’s made of puffed pastry and typically filled with “frangipane” (an almond and cream filling). The other one is often called the “couronne bordelaise”. It’s like a brioche (the best has a hint of orange in it) and is shaped like a giant bagel. This one’s actually kind of hard to find in Paris, but given all the bakeries, I’ve managed! If you ask someone from Paris, they’ll tell you the “galette” is the best. Guess what someone from Bordeaux would tell you, where the “couronne” (crown) is sold more than everywhere?
Why am I feeling like a queen today? Because I just passed the written part of the infamous French driving test! I’ve already mentioned it, but that was all the way back in May – in May! I’d heard all about it and skirted the issue for several years. When I finally decided to sign up, I didn’t know it would really be that big of a commitment. Well, here I am, halfway there!
That reminds me of a pleasant thought I had when walking into the apartment earlier this afternoon: “becoming French” has just kind of crept up on me. Peering around, I noticed that my life is surrounded by the most random clues that I’m living somewhere between two worlds (the familiar and the unfamiliar), and that little by little I’m becoming “one of them”. When I first came to France, I tried to be “Parisian.” Scarf, bag, shoes, haircut…. Now I laugh at those college juniors! Best way to spot a foreigner: they’re sporting all the “French” touches at the same time. All through grad school, I continued making my efforts: only speak in French (yes, even when I’m tired), only read in French, only eat French food, read about French history, meet French people…French, French, French….France, France, France.
Then, I got married and the strangest thing happened. All of a sudden, France became more than an obsession; it became permanent. With that, oddly, I stopped trying – but, in a good way. It was then that I accepted that I was not French and no matter how hard I tried, never would be. I was a foreigner, integrated yes, but a foreigner all the same. I started saying things like, heck (I know, I really do say that some times), “I’m wearing my tennis shoes to the bakery.” It felt really good. I wasn’t rejecting France, I was just also accepting that other, more familiar, part of me.
Then, once I stopped trying, the creeping started coming in. I do things now I definitely didn’t do five years ago.
10 ways I’ve become just that much more “French”:
1. In winter, I leave vegetables (like broccoli and carrots) and other random items out on the kitchen counter instead of refrigerating them.
2. I scrape the mold off old cheese and eat what’s underneath.
3. I like my baguette with a good meal, and a good sauce.
4. I take a caddy to the farmers’ market.
5. I measure butter on a scale (in grams!)
6. I never leave the house without a scarf.
7. I always take my umbrella (that’s Paris, not France!)
8. I love an espresso after a good meal and have to have a hot drink in the mornings.
9. I read Le Figaro more than The New York Times.
10. I just passed the written!