I’ve taken years of French courses, and each year, there is inevitably a lesson titled, “on va au marché!” In this vocabulary lesson, you learn the names of fruits, how to ask for two kilos of tomatoes, and indicate what kind of meat you wish to buy. The lesson always includes a section on the different types of French stores: the boucherie, for different meats, the fromagerie, for cheeses, or the pâtisserie, for pastries. I’ve studied this lesson many times, memorized the vocabulary, and done silly role playing exercises, where we pretend we are in a French market.
And yet, here I am in Grenoble, France, standing in front of an actual French cheese vendor, completely blanking on the word for “slice”. Umm… a pile of cheese? “Un petit peu”? Enough for two sandwiches, s’il vous plaît?
Eventually, he gets my meaning, and I get my cheese- two tranches de chèvre, fresh and fluffy. The vendor smiles knowingly at me, and I think he’s happy that I’m making an effort. I slink away, repeating to myself, “une tranche… tranche… tranche de fromage”.
I am lucky to be welcomed in Grenoble by Patrick, a Lawrence University alumni who, despite never having met me before, showed me around the city for the weekend. I happen to arrive during the city’s big festival, La Fête des Tuiles. The festival is named for the famous protest in Grenoble, when citizens took roof tiles, or tuiles, off their own houses and threw them at the marching parade of the army. This was one of the starts of the French Revolution. Today, we celebrate their rebellion with food and music. What better way to honor the revolutionaries?
It’s been a few years since I was in a French speaking country, but the language is starting to come back to me. After a few drinks at la Fête des Tuiles, I find my tongue loosening, fitting better into those French vowels and the dreaded French “r”. If only I could adapt as easily to the accent as I have to the wine.
Though I spent many months in Sénégal, a francophone country, it’s fun to finally be in France too. I spent years in French courses, reading books and small cultural anecdotes about this country. Now I’m here, taking the TGV and seeing that, truly, a large percentage of people have a baguette in their bag at any given time. I’m excited to finally see this country for myself, to talk to the people here, to learn this accent and this slang.
But let’s be honest- I’m really just here for the cheese. And now that I can proficiently order what I want, let the culinary exploration begin. Une tranche de fromage, s’il vous plaît!