Three Questions to an American

After ten years in Reunion, I realized that I could mentally prepare myself, for a certain series of questions, whenever I would meet a person from Reunion. It’s sort of like preparing for that job interview question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” After two or three tries, I had the answers down pat in French. Here are my top three questions people from Reunion ask a native New Yorker.

1) Is living in Reunion too much of a shock for an American, especially coming from New York City?

Not as much as you’d think. People imagine New York City, all flashing lights and blaring police sirens. Well, ok, it is all that. But New York City is also, little nooks and crannies, of pocket neighborhoods; with the local supermarket, butcher’s, bakery, bar, and post office. So, I’m not shocked by life in a small town, on a beautiful, tropical island. And that is what living abroad is about anyway, experiencing a new way of living.

2) Is Creole too difficult for you to understand?

A lot of Creoles don’t understand that their language is actually more like English than French. Don’t believe me, ask my husband’s grandmother, who was a school teacher for many, many years in Saint Denis! So Creole is easier for me sometimes than French. No trying to remember masculine and feminine nouns or their articles. “Mi aime a ou?” I love you too!

So no, Creole isn’t that difficult to understand.  What’s difficult, is trying to keep the Creole out of my French. I have no filter for this. I actually once, answered “bah” to a French school teacher. Yikes!

3) Is Creole food too spicy for you?

My answer to this question, often disappoints people. In New York City, we’ve got every type of ethnic food you can think of. There is even The Reunion Surf Bar. My favorite types of food, Mexican and Indian. So, scorching chillies, exotic spices, and beans, all on top of a steaming bed of rice, is not too bold. Thanks to China Town; I’d already tasted chayote, bitter melon, and ridge gourd, before coming to Reunion. Even litchis and longan fruit can be found, in the Korean market five minutes from my parents’.

That being said, I have grown to love the typical dishes here. My father-in-law says that I eat more chillies than he does. I am no longer surprised to see rice, being ingested, twice a day. At first, I served myself carrys on a bed of lettuce. I now consider that to be sacrilege and load up my plate with rice too, just like a local.

Vocabulary

strengths and weaknesses – pointes fortes et faibles
blaring – hurlante
nooks and crannies – coins et recoins
pocket neighborhoods – petit quartiers
butcher’s – boucherie

bakery – pâtisserie
easier – plus facile
out of – en dehors
yikes ! – mince alors !
scorching chillies – piments si forts qu’ils brulent

beans – haricots
bed of rice – un lit de riz
China Town – quartier chinois
chayote – chouchou
bitter melon – margoze

ridge gourd – pipangaille
longan – longani
typical dishes – plats typiques
ingested – ingéré
to load up – charger

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American Bouchon

Most people’s opinion about American food, outside of the United States, tends to be not so positive. The trend seems to be, the idea that, American food is pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and fries; gross, greasy, and disgusting. And these are our favorites to some degree. I could argue, but that’s not my point right now.

So if our grub is so bad, then what’s up with all these food options here in Reunion that are, quote, end quote, American? What’s more, there’s not much that is really very American, about them. Take the case of the snack bars in Reunion. My first time ordering off the menu and I was really shocked.

“Pain américain! What the hey is this?” I asked my lunch companion. “Oh, well, fries, on a sandwich, with melted cheese,” he answered. Did I forget something? I tried frantically to look back at my life in the States. Was there some big, food trend that I had completely not participated in? Let’s see; steak fries, curly fries, sweet potato fries, Cajun spicy fries… and the list goes on.  But always served as a side. I do vaguely remember eating fries, with gravy and melted cheese, late at night, in high school.  That’s about as close to the cheese and fry association that I could get.

In bread, on top of meat, with melted cheese. That was a new one. So, I asked my friend, “If you guys don’t think highly of American food, why name dishes after it?” He really couldn’t answer that one. This first time, I shied away from the sandwich, even if it was so proudly named after my homeland. But then I saw, smelled and was tempted to taste, his sandwich of hamburger and its so-called American bread. And although it goes against all health advice and is probably illegal in certain states in the U.S., that thing was good!

Next, my friend washed down his sandwich with a “Limonade Americain!” Ok, cool I thought. I love a good lemonade. Gets me thinking to summer, picnics and grandma’s house. And pink lemonade, that’s the best! After having grubbed some bites of his tasty, so-called American sandwich, I was more than willing to wash it down with some lemonade.  Not a good experience, if I may say so. Sorry to offend the good people of Reunion (my husband and daughter love Limonade Americain) but to my taste buds, there is nothing lemonade about that drink. There is good reason for that, as I learned some time later. Good old lemonade is citronade and Limonade is like regular lemonade with some weird twist.

Vocabulary

trend – tendance
grub – bouffe
what’s up? – quoi de neuf ?
quote, end quote – je cite
order – commander

what the hey ? – c’est quoi ce truc ?
fries – pommes frites
let’s see – voyons
spicy – épicé
gravy – sauce viande

melted – fondu
side – garniture
dishes – plats
to shy away – éviter
homeland – patrie

to wash down – boire
to grub – bouffer
twist – nuance

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Let’s Dance!

In New York, we have a saying that « white girls can’t dance! » There is nothing racist about this statement. It’s just a given fact. Of course there are some exceptions to the rule, but I am not one of them.  This cliché was pretty much invented for me.

Thank the heavens, for techno, house, electro and their easy beats. Even I can bounce my way across the dance floor.  For a while, I thought “I got this!”

Fast forward to my first trip to Reunion Island, to meet my husband’s family. We’d gone out dancing before, in Mainland France, and that had worked out fine. The atmosphere and music was similar enough to New York’s, to make me feel at home. However, our first family event in Reunion, equipped with a DJ, made me very humble. I stood there with my mouth gaping, watching women and men twirl and shake their bottoms, effortlessly. There were specific dance steps involved, not just bouncing to a beat. Complicated, tie your feet up in knots moves, that I was convinced were taught since birth.

I will admit, that I tried studying the way Creole women were swaying their backsides, wanting to understand how to get that Maloya boogie into my step. My only saving grace is that mostly, Maloya, is a dance you do independently or with a group of friends. I couldn’t make anyone fall or stumble with my mishaps. I look even more like a pro, when I get invited to parties, where the dress code is the traditional Maloya dress. A little skirt waving and the local look is pretty much guaranteed, for the most part. I still have a way to go, until I get those booty shakes down right. It’s just not part of my genetic make-up. But I’m getting there. The right partner can help too. Wink Wink.

But nothing could prepare me for Sega dancing, for couples. This requires a tempo that was beyond me, for nearly ten years. I just couldn’t get the footwork or the hip synchronization down. In fact, I was quite certain that I was going to break an ankle trying. It made me remember watching my parents, doing their nifty, 50’s dancing, at weddings, when I was younger.

Luckily, once I gave up trying, like lots of things in life, I finally succeeded or sort of. I found that by closing my eyes, looking only at my 1.90M, husband’s chest, I could give up following the steps and just be led around the dance-floor. Sega is a dizzying but wonderful dance to me now and I no longer beeline it out of there when I hear it.

Vocabulary

to bounce – rebondir
fast forward – avancer
gaping – bouche ouverte
twirl – tourner
shake – secouer

bottoms, backsides, booty – popotin
tie up in knots – faire des nœuds
swaying – balancer
boogie – danse
mostly, pretty much – la plupart

stumble – trébucher
mishaps – mésaventures
way to go – de la route à faire
to get something down – perfectionner
genetic make-up – constitution génétique

wink – clin d’œil
nifty – coquette
sort of – presque
to give up – abandonner
to be led – être mené
beeline – ligne droit

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