31 December 2007

Tutoying the New Year

A few days ago, we asked Roselyne, the bread lady, if she could bring us a loaf of rye bread — pain de seigle — on Monday morning, December 31. Rye bread with butter is what you eat with oysters on the half shell, along with some lemon juice or vinegar to sprinkle on them.

Roselyne said fine, no problem. But this morning when she got here on her daily rounds, she told Walt — I was out on a walk in the vineyard with Callie — that the rye bread wasn't cooked yet, so she couldn't bring it. She said the boulangère, Sylvie (the baker's wife, who runs the shop), would deliver it later in the day. Walt told her we wanted it for our mid-day meal, if possible.

When I got back from the walk, I decided to call Sylvie at the boulangerie to tell her there was no need for her to make a special trip and that I would come down to the village and pick up the bread. What time? I asked. She said it would be ready by 10:00 a.m.

I also wanted to get some white wine this week, so I put one of our little plastic barrels in the car with the idea of stopping at the Domaine de la Renaudie on the way to town. Maybe Patricia or Bruno would be there and sell me 10 liters of wine.

Bruno was there and, as he has told me, he is always glad to stop whatever he is doing to sell wine. We talked while he was filling my cubitainer with AOC 2006 Chenin Blanc wine (€19 for the equivalent of 13 bottles). At a certain point in the conversation, he made a special point of saying tu to me instead of vous.

I had always said vous to him up to now, though in 2007 I started calling him by his first name. He is probably 10 years younger than I am. This morning, I noticed that he was making an effort to say tu and toi very clearly as many times as he could in each sentence he uttered, and he talked slowly to make sure I got the point.

I got the point but I never did figure out how to formulate a sentence to say back to him that had tu in it. That sounds silly, because all I had to do was ask him a question using tu as the subject or stick a tu sais ? tag ("... you know?) at the end of any sentence I said. But I couldn't manage to do it.

It wasn't that I didn't want to. It was just that every question I asked him referred to something he and his wife Patricia were doing, usually did, or were planning to do. The plural subject is vous, which is the same as the formal pronoun. So I never did reciprocate when he "tutoied" me. Next time I see him I'll have to remember and make a special effort.

At the bakery, there was an older woman in line ahead of me who was a deaf as ... well, a conch, as we say in North Carolina. She was also getting a loaf of rye bread — I guess she must have been having oysters today too. Sylvie the boulangère was trying to explain to her customer that the pain de seigle had just come out of the oven and was still too hot to slice.

Sylvie yelled and mimed and mugged until she got her point across. She, the customer, and the young clerk were all laughing by the time they got it all straightened out. The hearing-impaired woman apologized for not having put her hearing aid on this morning. Then she said she wondered if the cake she had ordered was ready.

Another round of loud talking, miming, gesturing, and mugging ensued. By then I was laughing too. It turned out that her cake wouldn't be ready until about 2:00, and Sylvie told the woman she would just bring it to her house as soon as it was baked. That seemed to work for everybody involved.

I got my loaf of rye bread, and I told Sylvie I could slice it myself at home, no problem. She asked me if I had already paid Roselyne for it, or was I going to pay now? I said I didn't think it had been paid for. She said she just wanted to make sure I didn't pay twice and looked at me like I was crazy — how could I not know if I had already paid or not? I couldn't think fast enough to tell her it was Walt who had seen Roselyne earlier in the morning, not me. I just paid her, because there were several other people waiting in line behind me.

Sylvie must have been thinking, "First the hard-of-hearing, and now the foreigners who don't understand what's going on!" But she wished me a Bon Réveillon (a good New Year's Eve party) and said au revoir with a smile.

The rye bread was delicious, by the way, especially slathered with butter and consumed with good fresh oysters.


  1. How lucky you are to have such good - and friendly - local suppliers. Oh well, I suppose that's France.

  2. Ken,
    Your "everyday" posts remind me of the "Seinfeld" shows - presumably about nothing, but deceptively interesting and amusing! Whenever I can, I start my day off reading your blog, otherwise I feel incomplete ;-)
    Would write more, but am busy baking the perfect baguette, inspired by your posts (PS you owe me a lot of dough for the new KichenAid!)

    Happy New Year to you, Walt and Callie!

  3. Isabella, that's funny, an old friend of mine mentioned the Seinfeld comparison in describing my blog the other day. Good luck with the baguette. Sounds like you have made your own dough, no?

  4. Much ado about nothing...but I'm addicted! Please, keep at it. S'il vous plaît ou s'il te plaît... whatever fits! All the best to all of you!


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