Good morning! It’s an ugly day here today – overcast, cold and dull. Might as well stay in, eh? Ha! Great idea.
When I went into the kitchen this morning I decided I would have something different with my café. You see I usually have my personal mix of organic meuslii with fresh fruit like strawberries. When blueberries are in season they are my go-to fruit. When raspberries are growing in my garden (in early Summer) I pick those. I have to admit though that although I did have a flash fantasy of trotting down into the village to buy myself a fluffy warm croissant at Lou’s boulangerie, I decided I would hold off being so exigeant until after this ‘rona crisis. I would make do with what I have and practice the virtue of being grateful. I cut a slice of some pain rustic left over from dinner last night and placed it in the toaster. While waiting for that I sliced up a banana. Then I spread my toast with the very French “demi-sel” type of butter, which is salted. I never understood why they call it “half-salted” but nevermind. I gingerly placed the slices of banana over my toast and took a big fat bite out of it. When was the last time I had bananas on my toast? It’s been decades. I remember now, it was 26 years ago.
Between 1992 and 1996 I worked in Los Angeles for the Japanese government’s trade agency, JETRO. I lived in an high-rise apartment within a 10 minutes’ walking distance, on Figueroa street, downtown. I would walk to work in the morning. For most of you this would sound perfectly normal but for Los Angeleans it was novel because everyone drives everywhere, even for just a few blocks. Anyway I would first head over to the little Mexican snack shop across from my office building and ask the friendly shop manager to make me a sour-dough banana sandwich for breakfast. The bread had to be toasted and buttered and the meal had to be accompanied by a giant Latté. The sweetness of the banana mixed with the saltiness from the butter was pure bliss and in sunny Los Angeles this was the way I started my work day. And I earned it after the long 10-minute walk. Happy memories.
At the end of 1996 I said goodbye to my life in the warm, palm-tree-paradise to live with my English fiancé in rainy Yorkshire, England. I suffered a severe bout of culture shock that first year. It rained every day. Every day. I had left my life of morning lattés and started drinking tea like a proper English lady. I had to adjust because frankly the coffee there did not taste good. Adaptability was my pointe forte. I missed the sun but I would survive because damn-it, I was adaptable. I even learned to be sarcastic because that was just the way people communicated. But coming from California, where everyone takes everything literally and we have to be mindful and careful of not insulting others or their cultures, etc, this was a challenge. But quickly I went from feeling shocked and insulted to throwing sarcastic quips right back at anyone and even found it funny after a while. As for getting used to that dreary weather, well, that was the exception.
Sarcasm is not a form of communication for the Japanese either, so I did not grow up with it. Their humour is found more in poking fun of people or things, in manipulating words, or even in criticising. Virtue is found in being humble, like putting your own children down because saying they were wonderful was not being humble enough and would be considered conceited. Breakfast in Japan was often a piece of grilled fish, some miso soup with seaweed and a bowl of rice. I loved that. But when you grow up in a country there is no process of forced adaptation to its culture. It’s naturally learned throughout childhood. It’s seemlessly absorbed, assimilated and then enjoyed.
Adaption is the second main point of Darwin’s theory of evolution, after competition. Survival of the fittest – I wanted not just to survive a new culture but evolve and be better. I got a taste of this in the UK but France was where I exploited the opportunity to do just that.
I have now lived in France for 18 years. It’s the year 2020 and the world is going through a complete transformation. Maybe the Christian date starters got it wrong 2,020 years ago. Everything leading up to this year should be called B.C. – before Corona! Perhaps this is the year we should start counting, in the year of A.D., after disease…