I didn’t learn to play tennis until I was grown. I wanted to find something that would function as exercise without my needing to go to the gym. (I remain solidly in the anti-gym camp.) Since I was prone to walking into random objects and tripping over air, I wasn’t certain I could pull it off. But I turned out to be a halfway decent player.
Given my personality, it was no great surprise that I loved competitive matches. Within a few months of learning how to play in New York, I was on a team and loving every minute of it. Some of my closest friendships were made on the tennis court and I hoped to replicate that when I arrived in France.
After some preliminary research on local clubs, I found one very close to where I lived so I decided to drop by and see about joining. I made the mistake of going at night. There were no lights and I suddenly found myself in a scene from Friday the 13th complete with creepy stalker sound effects. I promptly made my way to the indoor courts where there was a young man practicing. I asked him about the facilities and he told me that his trainer would be arriving shortly and could answer my questions. I don’t know if it was the creepy stalker atmosphere or just impatience, but I didn’t stick around to chat.
I found the website of another club online. It looked absolutely gorgeous. I stopped by (during the afternoon this time) and met the secretary of the club, Sylvie. She walked me around the grounds and explained all of the specifics of membership. The next step was for me to take a ‘test’ to assess my skill level. There were a number of trainers at the club. Justin was working that day so Sylvie had us exchange phone numbers to set up a time for my test. Two weeks passed with no word. After week three, I went back to the club to see Sylvie. I explained that Justin never contacted me. Was this standard operating procedure in France? She assured me it wasn’t. But I was still annoyed. I asked him why he never called me to set up the appointment. He gave me an exasperated look and explained that it was because I didn’t speak French and he couldn’t communicate with me. So if I was slightly annoyed before, I was downright pissed at that point. I understood that this wasn’t New York and they did things a bit differently here, but that was just plain rude. Sylvie apologized profusely and promised to find me someone else. Someone better suited for me. I took my test a couple of weeks later with Thibault. I aced it. (Not really. I sucked horribly but I think Thibault took pity on me.) I was to take a weekly private lesson with him and join a group lesson as soon as he found one suitable for me. I was excited.
After a couple of weeks, I was introduced to the activities director for the club. Jayne was from Scotland and English was, of course, her native language. I quickly became a part of the social circle within the club. Everyone knew Jayne and soon everyone knew me.
But the Tennis Club De Chartres was no ordinary club. If I decided to open up a satellite office in France, there was literally no better place for me to be than as a member of that club. It was a who’s who of professional elites. But for me, it served another equally important purpose. It introduced me to the French culture in a way that would likely have taken years to experience otherwise.
The club hosted weekly dinners. I was a bit nervous the first time I attended because it was very difficult for me to communicate in that kind of setting. There were many different conversations happening at once and it tended to be very noisy. It was a terrible combination for someone struggling to learn a language. Knowing I had Jayne as a fall back translator, alleviated some of the stress but I really did want to make a good first impression.
The members of the club couldn’t have been nicer if they tried. I think they really enjoyed being able to share their food and culture with me and help me with my struggling French. I spent every Saturday evening with them. I learned more that you can imagine. For example, Dinner. There are a million courses. I delayed hosting anyone at my house for a year just because I needed to properly learn everything. (That and the fact that I had no furniture for guests until about a year in.)
Here’s how it works:
L’Apéritif – This is where you have some kind of drink, a cocktail or something like that paired with what we would consider an appetizer. It can range from saucisson (dry cured sausage) to escargot, to paté. This lasts for about an hour. (Did I mention that dinner usually takes somewhere between 3 & 4 hrs?)
Le Plat – This is the main course which is paired with the appropriate type of wine.
Le Salade & Le Fromage – After the main course, you have the salad and then the cheese course. And yes, this is a real thing. The French take their cheese VERY seriously. One time during dinner, someone said to me ‘You know, we have over 4oo different types of cheeses.’ And I responded ‘Yes I know, I have two types in my refrigerat…’ Before I could finish my sentence, a collective gasp emitted from the table. ‘No, no no! You never put cheese in the refrigerator!’ You would have thought I had dismembered a newborn child right in front of them. I felt like I let down the whole country with my ignorance. So I promised to NEVER put cheese in the fridge again. When I inquired how they kept the cheese from going bad, they said ‘You eat it.’ Well, duh. You ask a stupid question…
Lastly, you have dessert followed by coffee. They don’t drink their coffee with dessert the way we do. They are separate courses.
The preparation alone to pull off one of these dinners is staggering. I am not ashamed to tell you that I frequently longed for the simplicity of American style dining. But when in Rome…
Meeting Jayne came with another unexpected bonus, her boyfriend Antoine. Antoine spoke fluent English and took it upon himself to help me navigate all of the craziness that remained with The Hybrid and my transition to France. He picked up right where Dominique left off and it couldn’t have come at a better time.