As Carol and I walked down from our dreamy little roof top apartment and into the Caribbean-ness of the street, we were greeted by a man waiting for his bus. He smiled, said “Bonjour!,” and asked where we were going. I smiled back and told him that we were on our way to catch a boat that would take us to the picture-perfect island we had been admiring from our terrace. He nodded approvingly and said that if he did not have to go see his doctor today, he would have loved to come along. “La prochaine fois!” I said (“next time!”) and we waved each other goodbye.
The way I had for the past two weeks, I turned to Carol to give her the English version of the exchange.
Except that this time, I knew that I wanted to give her some cultural context, not just translate the words, lest the Essence of the conversation would be gravely misunderstood.
The little daily back-and-forth between men and women, in the country where I grew up - and on this French island as well.
The quick moments that cannot be called flirting because really, they’re not.
The tiny things a French man will do or say that will make a French woman feel seen and well… womanly. No matter her age - nor his.
I remember my grandma, in her late 70s, being tickled pink because her grocer had noticed that she had been at the beauty parlor since he had seen her last. In less than one minute he had made her day, and trust me when I say that none of it was weird.
Growing up in Paris, being acknowledged by construction workers was routine and not once did it feel threatening nor disrespectful. And yes, I know I am going to get some emails about this. Different cultures.
When I went back to Paris three years ago and after a painful 16 year absence, I had fears. Would I remember how to be, over there? Would I no longer love it? Would I love it so much that I would not want to leave? Mostly… would I belong? As I climbed the stairs out of the metro for my first view of the gray-white buildings that watched me grow up, my heart felt thick inside my chest and my throat narrow. Eventually, the thickness of my heart made its way to my eyes and tears fell silently while I looked up.
I stood there for a long time, deeply enveloped by a moment I had dreamed about for almost two decades. Suspended in time, the healing was happening at the same rate as I was realizing how deep the wound had been.
And then, I heard it. A man’s voice, sightly accented and calling out to me. Telling me that I was beautiful.
Just like that, I was home. I turned around, smiled at him and waved. He waved back and I was on my way. Nothing creepy, nothing scary, zero feeling of having been insulted or invaded.
Wanting to give this background to Carol before I translated our bus-waiting friend’s words, I knew I had a special task in front of me. I wanted her to get it, and I also knew that the concept had plenty of opportunities to be misunderstood.
Turning towards her, this is what came out of my mouth. A strange version of the beloved Namasté:
"The man-ness in me sees, honors and cherishes the woman-ness in you. Away from notions of harm, ownership or anything other than this very moment, when I am in that place in me and you are able to receive me as such, we are well."
Thankfully, I believe that she understood.
Like I said, different cultures. Both making sense in their own countries.
And the boat ride that followed was 5 minutes of perfection, taking us to a movie-set worthy little island.
Life is good.