I tell you, living abroad can be fun. Do you know what a French woman, Stilton cheese and an Uzbek body builder have in common?
Victoria Capon Bowen.
Victoria is English, traveled the world, and now lives in the South of France with her French husband and their three children. She owns Fou D’Anglais, an English food shop and café in the small town of Clermont l’Herault, catering to English expats and adventurous others. You can guess what she sells, can’t you? Marmite! The stuff detested by the rest of the world (except me and some other Dutch people).
I almost met Victoria last week. I was vacationing in France, right in her neighborhood, and came across a fun story of hers in an expat magazine. I wanted to drop in on her café and have a real English tea with scones and a chat about life as an expat in the South of France.
Because, well, my prince and I might just consider it: Buy a house, eat great food, drink wine, meet fun people, live a life of sloth in the sun. Only it was raining buckets and freezing cold while we were there. So there went my romantic imaginings. See the photo below? This is April?
I didn’t get to see Victoria because I was packing to leave and fly across the ocean once again. So after I got back to the US I emailed her instead and asked if I could use her story on my blog because I think, dear readers, you’ll get a kick out of it. So here it is:
The Joys of Owning an Expat Shop
My husband and I have been looking for an au pair for our three monsters for this summer, after realizing that to put them in the activity centre full time for the summer would cost about 1000 euros a week and that locking them in the cellar for eight hours a day was illegal.
I put an ad on an au pair website that looked like it was run by people who weren’t going to send me mass murderers. I put a nice photo of my kids on, some blurb about how great we were and waited.
The first e-mail I received was from a man called Olasz who offered to be my masseur and pet, tempting but no.
The second was from a European police woman looking to “learning a new country and way of people.” My kids are little horrors sometimes but I’m not sure we need to call in the police from far flung European outposts.
The third and last e-mail before I logged out for good and ran off screaming was from Aubrey in the Philippines. The photo was lovely, a very pretty girl, except she wasn’t . . . a girl.
“Hello I am transgender from Manila,” the e-mail started, and finished with, “even I have a girl body I can still do some Guy thing.”
The mind boggles.
A French lady came in for lunch the other day. She stared at the menu for a while before asking me what the soup of the day was. It was broccoli and Stilton, which I explained was a British blue cheese.
“This is not right,” she told me, shaking her head sadly.
“Try the soup,” I told her, “you’ll see it’s delicious.” And so she did, eating it all, almost licking the bowl afterwards.
“So? Did you enjoy the British blue cheese?” I asked her as I removed her spotless bowl.
“Oh, the soup was delicious, but the cheese in it was Roquefort.”
“It wasn’t,” I told her through gritted teeth. “It was Stilton, I made the soup myself.”
“Next you’ll be telling me that the English make wine,” she sniffed, putting on her coat.
I opened my mouth to tell her that we did, but then decided to just ignore it. I figured it would make a good blog entry, so I went to my computer to write it down and came across an e-mail from Muchammed from Uzbekistan who likes body building and “make fun wit your childrens.”
* * *
As they say, you meet all kinds. It’s the fun of travel to come across these little culture-contrast incidents. Dig around in your memory and find one to share here. You have lots, I know you do!
Loved this! Especially loved the little mini story about the broccoli and stilton, so funny!
Haha, I didn’t have to go far to meet ‘all sorts’. I grew up around people from various strange countries. They thought Guyanese were odd and we thought they were odd 🙂
Which reminds me of something my mother used to say: “Sometimes I think I must be the only normal person around.” I have to laugh at the memory now.
Marmite (vegiemite in Australia), I can’t figure how some people like it!
What a funny story, the French certainly like to think they are the masters of the universe where food is concerned.
That photo certainly makes me feel cold…it should be Spring in France already!
Back in the “70s we had just moved to Ecuador and I was looking for some enterprise to replace my floundering efforts at export. In the process during my spare time from tutoring private English classes, I chanced on a Good Housekeeping cookbook we had received as a wedding gift from my Mom. As I thumbed through it absent mindedly, I came to the baked goods section. My efforts at baking went back to my experience with pound cake as the only male member of a Home Economics group at school. This was back when they had such classes. Of… Read more »
I would love to meet Victoria when I’m in France in May, although I shall be in the Paris region. Anyway, what a typical comment from a French person. I can just hear the words coming out of her mouth regarding the soup. Are you still planning on moving? At least you have some expat friends already in France.
lol nice story There are indeed all sorts all over the place. We had our marmite factory closed for over a year because of the earthquake. The kiwis had to spread sparsely as we couldn’t get it from the UK as their marmite is different from the NZ one. Another popular one is vegiemite. I am not a fan of either
Hi Miss Footloose —
Actually, many people in the former British Commonwealth, etc. also love Marmite. E.g., I grew up in Malaysia loving eating Marmite on toast and also Marmite mixed with rice porridge… hehe. And I definitely can get Marmite in Hong Kong too! 🙂
Yes, Marmite is sold in shops here. In fact, I put some in the veggie soup this evening and it’s perfect.