Sunday, November 11, 2012

Creative Writing

Though I do a fair amount of writing at work, translating only leaves room for creativity within the confines of the source text. Sometimes I feel like writing for me, just to put pen to paper even if it doesn't yield much. Ideaphoria. But it's so easy to put off writing -there is always something else that could be done instead, like vacuuming or taking out the recycling or responding to email.

So I joined a creative writing group for English speakers in Toulouse for an opportunity to be held accountable on some level and to write with and learn from others. And what a great way to exchange with others experiencing some of the same joy, confusion and frustration that come with living in a foreign country and doing everyday things in a foreign language.

This is the piece I wrote last Wednesday as part of an exercise to include the words: fish, cat, pie and teaspoon all within one short story. A true story, might I add...

Is that canned tuna fish in his motorcycle helmet? Oh no, canned crab meat, aka "tourteau" which looks a lot like the word for turtle dove (tourterelle), though fortunately it's not for all involved. Bits of crab claw, wow -I bet that stuff's expensive. I wonder if it's any good? What on earth could he be doing with so much of it?

True confession: a guilty pleasure of mine involves spying on the contents of other people's purchases at the supermarket. What are they putting in their shopping carts? Do I recognize it? Would I ever buy it? 

My supermarket reconnaissance operation is interrupted:

Excusez-moi, could you hold my place in line?

Of course, I'd be glad to.

[before heading back to the aisles in search of one last item, he carefully attempts to balance the helmet filled with all that canned crab on the tile floor. It wobbles precariously.]

Would you like me to hold the helmet too?

No, no -it'll be fine, he says as he hurries off.

In my head I re-review the recipe. Are you sure you're not forgetting something? 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup melted butter, 3/4 cup pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon each of baking powder and soda. Got it. Not pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread. Time to prove to my coworkers that you can do more with pumpkin that just soup.

As the line moves forward I advance the helmet. Very carefully.

When he returns with the can of Redbull, he picks up the helmet and showers me with praise -"thanks, you're the best." This has me do a double take; the French tend to be fairly stingy with their compliments. I took 3 months' worth of tennis lessons one year and only heard a "pas mal"...

Looking down at the singular contents of his motorcycle helmet turned shopping basket, he laughs and says, "c'est pour mon chat."

Did I catch that right? It's for his cat. Wow, his cat sure lucked out...

The cashier's voice breaks my train of thought, 

That will be 78 euros and 46 cents.

Not paying much attention he swipes his card.

But when the cashier hands him the receipt, he looks down in disbelief.

Ummm, I'm sorry. I thought this was cat food. Can I get a refund?

I'm sorry sir, I can't process that here. You'll have to go downstairs to the main desk.

I offered a sympathetic "bon courage" after we said au revoir.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

K-I-S-S-I-N-G... at the office

Say what?
That's right. My coworkers kiss good morning at the office.

This has my sister very stressed. I'm pretty sure my brother-in-law is also concerned. My niece and nephew can't help but giggle in the background as they eavesdrop on our phone conversations on the topic.

It's common knowledge that the French do the two kisses, one on each cheek, in greeting (faire la bise). But sometimes it's a fine line at work. Can I get by with a handshake or do you people really expect me to go in for a kiss?

In a professional setting, meeting clients for the first time involves handshaking. However, female employees are expected to do the bise with both male and female coworkers. The guys can just shake hands. Apparently men only do the bise amongst themselves if they're very, very close friends or family, must be nice.

I work in a small office, which means I have about 6 people to greet every day. That still adds up to 12 kisses before 9 am, which is usually more than this little American can handle. I can actually hear smoochy noises coming from the break room between 8 and 9. I'm sure there's an algebraic equation to work this out, but I'm guessing we're looking at 42 kisses every morning for the entire office. That's a lot of bisous, folks!

So for those of you who are back to work after the Labor Day weekend, I hope you're reveling in a bise-free workplace!