Nov 4, 2015

Toto, We're Not in Kansas Anymore: Le Gratte-Cul


If the 800 year old cathedrals, cobble-stoned streets, and bread bakers on every corner aren't enough to remind me, within the past 24 hours, several other things have really driven home the fact that I'm not in the US. One is this sign for the restaurant called, essentially, "The Happy Negro" with its picture of a happy black servant waiting on a very upper-crust white client.

I suppose what really drives home the fact that you wouldn't see this -- at least not in California -- is the fact that they use the traditional word "nègre", which makes these American ears bristle. In all fairness, I think the restaurant is long-closed, and I don't know if the sign has been paint-bombed for the fun of it, or as a protest against its inherent racism, but I'm hoping for the latter.

Another "I'm not in Kansas anymore" moment is when I leave my gynecologists office with my annual pap smear sample. It is my responsibility to write a check and mail it off with the samples. I figure I'd better get to the post office quickly; it's one time I really don't want to procrastinate. ("What's that gross-looking jar of gunk in the corner over there?" "Oh, that's just a 3-week old swab of my cervical lining I forgot to mail off....")

And, finally, it's a near-miracle I'm able to post today at all. Anthony ordered our internet service 6 weeks before we actually moved in, leaving plenty of time for error and bureaucracy and incompetence. Plenty of time...but not enough time. About 9 weeks later, we still do not have regular internet service, or any home phone. It's not necessarily typical for it to take this long and be this screwed up, but it's stereotypical, and that stereotype certainly comes from somewhere. Our friends, who used a different internet/phone provider, and just moved to Paris, had a similar experience, with a similar delay. The ins and outs of the incompetence are too numerous and tedious to detail, but I will just say that Gigi is in the apartment once when I call (yet again) to ask/beg for service, and by the time I get off the phone nearly an hour later, she tells me that a) she is proud of my French, b) she only noticed a few errors -- when I got super angry and was trying for emphasis -- of using too many negatives (the equivalent of "nobody doesn't never call me when they say they will") and c) that I swore very appropriately.

My goodness, it's almost (almost) worth all this frustration just to have that funny conversation with my daughter, and to feel proud both that my own French is that good, and that my daughter's is even better.

I am using various patches and piggy-backs onto wifi (pronounced "wee-fee" in French) services that Anthony figured out to tide us over till eventually, hopefully, we get regular optic fibre internet service. (When I was young and dating, my big sister once gave me the sage advice to marry either a car mechanic or a computer expert, once it was clear I would not become either one. Since I don't have a car at the moment, and computers have taken over our lives, I think computer expert has worked out pretty well. What great big sister advice!)

Three months to sign up for the internet? Leaving people to mail off their own medical samples (yes, I have mailed my own pee)? A restaurant called "The Happy Negro"? Can you imagine any of these things in the States?

THE CHEESE: Le Gratte-Cul

Le Gratte-Cul is a colorful, herb-coated cheese whose name is also colorful: it means, literally, "Ass-scratcher". Lord, I love the French, sometimes.

This cheese is brought back to us by another of Anthony's co-workers, Maxime, along with several other funnily-named cheeses from the same manufacturer in Normandie, Maître Pennec. I think this particular cheese-maker must be my kind of people, because they keep inventing new (though based on traditional, regional) cheeses and giving them wacky names, which is very helpful for finding connections to my stories.

Maxime wonders why I haven't used this cheese earlier, and it's only because I like the name of it so much, I want to find the right story to go with it. I'm sure I will wish I could use this cheese for at least a dozen other stories.

Its name may be zesty, and the cheese may look spicy, but it's actually quite mild. It's a combination of mellow with a little stink, and a slightly chewy texture. It's made from pasteurized cows' milk then coated in dried basil, tarragon, parsley, and marjoram. While this is not purely decorative and does add something pleasant to the stink, it doesn't drastically alter the flavor.


I can't imagine finding or eating a cheese named "Ass-scratcher" in the US any more than I once could have imagined mailing off my own cervical lining sample. It stinks and it's not the yummiest ("it" here could refer to both the cheese and my cervical lining sample) though technically we could import Le Gratte-Cul into the US, since it is pasteurized. But why would we want to?

Just in case you're wondering (and I know you are), the curse word I use so successfully on the phone with yet-another incompetent, unhelpful customer service representative is not "cul" (ass), but rather "con" (bastard/jerk/idiot). Frankly, either one would have done, and when I say "successful", I mean that I use it correctly and get the undying respect of my 12-year old, bilingual daughter, not that it actually helps solve our internet service problem.


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