At a rocky sea inlet in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, I’m lying near the shore, wearing jeans, a long-sleeved chemise, a large-brimmed hat, and a thick layer of sunscreen. The well-oiled French woman at the end of the cove may be wearing a bikini but, I reason, that’s no reason to feel awkward or self-conscious. And anyway, it’s dispiriting to play the comparison game in France. Why not engage in la chasse au trésor, instead?
It’s a glorious mid-season day. The crowds will arrive in a month and without their continuous carpet of beach towels to obscure the ground, this shore reveals a zillion curiosities. Among the remnants washed up by the sea there are small ‘brushy’ bits (one could make a darling broom for a doll), beer bottle caps (not so darling), pearly shells, dried seaweed, tiny crab claws, sea glass and le bois flotté (driftwood). Wouldn’t several of these pieces look neat in a glass vase?
Ah, and look at that green stone with big white spots! It takes some searching but soon my efforts pay off and there, in the palm of my hand, is a modest collection of seven polka-dotted pebbles. I picture my glass vase filled to the brim with the souvenir galets and am mentally decorating my new kitchen in a seaside theme.
Staring admiringly into my polka-dotted palm, a moral dilemma presents itself: what if everyone on the beach has the same inkling, to gather bits of pretty things? Would my seven-pebble pillage disrupt this natural setting? Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, there are no more pieces of driftwood, no more verre de mer, no more delightful polka-dots!
Before I can feel any guiltier, my husband Jean-Marc appears, putting an end to the philosophical conundrum by introducing a new one…
Observing the dripping-wet man towering over me, I’m stumped – just how did Jean-Marc manage to change out of his trousers and into his swim trunks?
I was so caught up in my treasure hunt that I hadn’t noticed his switch – I wonder, was it discreet?
Well, there’s my answer now, in the form of a bare derrière! “Jean-Marc! You can’t change your clothes here!” I cry, “Stop! Oh my gosh!”
“Oh mon gauche? Ou oh mon droit?” he laughs, pleased to see me stumble into the language trap once again. Hurtling his shorts up into the air, his nonchalance makes it clear that there’s no use in me trying to control the situation, and nothing left to do but laisser faire and try, once again, to endure this ‘cultural’ moment. Yes, that’s all it is, after all, just a matter of culture…
Kristin Espinasse writes the French Word-A-Day blog, which she began in 2002. Author of the books Words in a French Life and Blossoming in Provence, she lives on a wine and olive farm near Bandol. Read about Mas des Brun here.
From France Today magazine