Where to begin? It was probably the most dynamic house I’ve ever been to in my life, filled with so much life. My boyfriend has three sisters, two of whom have boyfriends and one of whom has an infant son. It’s definitely a big family to me and definitely one of those who will joyously embrace anyone new (even someone from very far North).
With 9 people together total for my first weekend ever in Barsa, with me and Raphaël’s nephew being the only two who didn’t speak French fluently (since his nephew hasn’t even turned 2 months yet), it sometimes seemed like I understood nearly nothing. Conversation was very fast and by the time I understood what the first few sentences meant (I always had to pay attention and think about it), the rest of the family would already be onto sentence 8. And I’d missed all the ones in between. I kept reminding myself that this is the beginning, not understanding is more than fine, it’s normal. I will get there.
I was warned before hand, that some of his family spoke no English (his oldest sister and her boyfriend and son’s father), but I found myself impressed by their speech. For someone who thinks their English is very bad, it definitely wasn’t. And they tried really hard to speak to me in English when they could (so that I would surely understand). The rest of his family did understand a lot of English. I’d try to say some things in French, but the zone of comfort for everyone came in me being spoken to in English or slow French and me mostly replying in English. It felt safer to me since I could express myself better and so could they. I wanted them all to understand who I am and I really wanted to get to know everyone better.
Everything inside (and outside, how could you not have breakfast in the late morning sun, looking at the Pyrenees?) seemed to happen in perfect harmony. Everyone had a role in helping, in cleaning the house, in setting the dinner table, in preparing meals, in all sorts of domestic tasks. It happened with the utmost confidence and I felt good about myself for being able to do my part in helping.
It seemed to me like there was always someone playing beautiful music that filled the house completely. I heard beautiful piano and guitar pieces played by multiple people. Sometimes there was an old time-y CD-player playing all genres of music (think of older songs, not any of the modern autotuned stuff). Even when the house was quiet, it wasn’t. Life never, ever stopped. There were probably thousands of grasshoppers and crickets outside playing their own songs at night and the wind had a voice of its own; sometimes creating a hum in the trees and grass and sometimes playing the wind chimes as if it had a mind of its own.
I found the multiple hills around, fields of sunflowers, mountains in the horizon, a big swing hanging from an old, large tree, very charming. It was so lively, there was so much life everywhere. And happiness. It’s just a place that has to make you happy. How could it not?
The culture shock didn’t really come as a shock to me. It felt like everything was completely different and completely familiar to me at the same time. Things were done differently but it felt familiar since I’ve gone through experiencing other cultures before. This was just more intensive, since it was me and 8 French people. I don’t think a lot of people get to experience true Frenchness up so close and personal and I’m so thankful I got to. I learned a lot about how French dinners go, how you’re supposed to eat and about French customs. I also found all this charming. True, it wasn’t all just “being French”, it’s the wonderfulness of Raphaël and his family. It just felt quite unreal in the beginning since everything was so strange and new but it started to feel less surprising, more natural after the few days were over.
It was my first completely French experience, ever. And it was really wonderful. Really, really different but really wonderful.
un peu de français: J’ai été surprise de voir combien j’ai aimé la campagne. J’apprécie les beaux paysages mais je toujours vécu en ville et j’aime beaucoup l’agitation. La campagne était très paisible.