Not long after I arrived, one of the members of the tennis club, Dominique, asked me if I would mind being interviewed for the local magazine, Votre Ville. (I can’t speak to whether this is the norm in every city here in France but in Chartres, they produce two full-color magazines each month) She explained that it’s not often that a New Yorker moves into a sleepy town like Chartres fully loaded with cats, car and a horse and she would love to tell the story of what made me choose Chartres. I happily agreed. But we never got around to actually organizing it and after some time, I forgot about it completely.
About 7 months after my arrival, the Mairie (Mayor’s Office) held their annual new residents welcome dinner. Dominique, who was in charge of organizing it, made certain that I received my invitation in the mail. On the evening of the dinner, it was raining…hard. The event was being held in the center of town so instead of driving I walked. But at the last minute, the unexpectantly had to move it to another location. There was a bus waiting to take everyone to the new destination that I, of course, missed because surprise, surprise I got lost.
When I reached the front gate, the gentleman informed me that the bus had just left but I could try to catch it around the corner. I’m not certain why I even bothered given my track record but…. as expected, it was no longer there. So after receiving directions to the new location, I walked back to my house (in the pouring rain) and picked up my car. I was soaking wet. I rang out my waterproof raincoat before entering the building but there was no fixing the sodden mess on my head. I was an hour late. Luckily, there was a presentation that preceded the actual dinner so my tardiness worked out in my favor. I could understand at best 30% of what he was saying so it was no great loss.
Dominique spotted me the minute I walked in the door. That was not difficult considering everyone else was already seated and I looked like some mangy animal that had snuck into the auditorium. After being gently chastised for my lateness, I took a chair in the back.
Once the presentation ended, the cocktail hour began. I came alone so I was forced to mingle – which I hate. I noticed a strange anomaly; Everyone was either much older or much younger. My entire generation seemed to be completely absent. I had noticed something similar at the tennis club. As far as my dating life was concerned, this had the potential of being a huge problem. But since it wasn’t relevant at that particular moment, I put a pin in it for later.
Now that the formal portion of the evening was over, Dominique was free to come and chat with me. I explained the situation and apologized profusely for my tardiness. C’est pas grave. It’s no big deal. Don’t worry about it. Dominique excused herself and made a brief announcement over the mic and then asked if there was anyone in the audience who spoke English. This seemed like a strange request but maybe I had misunderstood her. A tall, older gentleman walked up to where we were standing at which point, Dominique called for everyone’s attention, introduced me as Monica from New York and handed me the microphone.
Let’s pause here for a moment to take in the sheer insanity of what just happened. There was no forewarning. We didn’t discuss this in advance. She just thrust the mic in my hand and said ‘Talk’. I can only imagine what my face looked like at that moment. Probably a combination of shock, disbelief and terror. I belatedly realized, that gentleman was there for me. I was supposed to introduce myself to the crowd and have him act as my translator. Oh. Dear. God. What the hell was I supposed to say? As I looked out into the crowd, I could see the confusion on their faces. Who the hell is this woman and why is she talking to us? It is after all what I would have thought. Pride being what it is, I didn’t give the mic to the gentleman, to say he spoke English was a bit of an overstatement so instead I fumbled through an introduction and told them I was happy to be here. Thankfully, Dominique took the mic from me after a couple of minutes and proceeded to tell the crowd that she didn’t want to embarrass me. Too late, the ship had already sailed on that one. My face was crimson.
Now I had the added benefit of having to suffer through the rest of the evening with everyone referring to me as ‘The American’ and chuckling. I was mortified. I Facetimed my girlfriend in New York in a panic.
Me: Amy, Oh my god you’re not going to believe what just happened – I can’t handle this! What do I do?!!…There are tables everywhere. Everyone brought a guest. I know no one.
Amy: Calm down. Just go find a table with people already seated – Don’t sit alone!
Me: Ok. I guess I can handle that.
I selected the table closest to me that was partially occupied. I said Hello and took a seat. They continued talking and I began to relax. I could handle being ignored. I had years of training at networking events where I literally blended into the wallpaper. This I could handle. Shortly after, the Mayor came to our table to greet us and with him, was a gentleman who I presumed worked as his assistant. Murat turned to me and said ‘Hi, You’re from New York?’ in perfect English. My jaw dropped open. I looked at him and said. ‘Where the hell were you a few minutes ago?!’ He looked at me, confused. I recounted the evening’s atrocities and he smiled and told me he was out working on something for the office and that he had only just arrived at the dinner. Convenient, I thought. We spent the rest of the evening engaged in a very pleasant conversation. Despite the sketchy start, the evening ended on a good note and I had made a new friend.