Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Ex-Wife's Cousin

Good title, right? Sounds like some sort of murder mystery or something intriguing.  In this case, it was how we were introduced last night to innumerable folks at a French-Tunisian-Jewish engagement party we attended just outside of Paris.  The recently engaged man is a cousin of Mr. Oil's (don't even dare suggesting that he is a remote cousin or a "fake" cousin, even when you hear that Mr. Oil's great-grandmother was the older sister of this guy's grandfather, and also that in almost 8 years of our relationship, I've never met this guy. He's a cousin. Legit.), but the relationship is on his mother's side.  His father is a Tunisian Jew whose entire extended family lives in and around Paris.  Needless to say, as you put the pieces together, the parents are divorced. So over and over, we were introduced as "le cousin de ma ex-femme."  Isn't that how you'd like to be introduced to a bunch of strangers?

A few things to know should you ever have the opportunity to attend a French-Tunisian-Jewish engagement party on a Wednesday night.

1. There's no dress code. You may wear artfully ripped jeans with five-inch purple suede heels, or you may wear a sequined dress and your best diamonds.  While I thought I looked quite Parisian in my navy-and-white striped dress with ballet-ish flats, it turns out that minimum 3-inch heels are encouraged.

2. Arrive late. Stay late. The party was called for 8pm.  We arrived at 8:30. We were the second people to arrive. We left at 10:30. As we said goodbye, dinner was served.

3. Don't be fooled by the extravagant and succulent display of hors d'oeuvres - including beef carpaccio, blinis and caviar, sushi, sliders, an entire table of various Chinese meat and vegetable dishes, and more.  This is not dinner (which we learned as we left. See #2.).  A rookie mistake, which I haven't made since my first shmorg at an Orthodox Jewish wedding in 2003, but I really was not convinced that on a Wednesday in a random synagogue in an equally random suburb of Paris that this was not an elaborate buffet dinner.  I was wrong.

4. Everyone is an uncle or a cousin. And unlike our relationship to the groom, which several French attendees pointed out would not be considered a cousin in France, they are all actual cousins.  Or brothers. Or uncles.

5. Small talk in French is really hard if you don't speak French.  I particularly enjoyed it when people looked right at me while asking my husband, "Elle ne parle pas Francais?" (She doesn't speak French?).  To which I respond with my big line - which is quite clever, I believe - "Je comprende plus que je parle." I understand more than I speak.  This has the merit of being actually true, and also allows me to nod and smile as if I understand when in fact sometimes I have no idea what's going on.

6. When in doubt, pull out iPhone and commence showing photos of your son. This was my go-to awkward-silence-foreign-language-barrier breaker.  It worked really well!  It went like this:

Other person: Oh, so you live in the 8th, you have been here since July, your husband works here, and you have a kid.  (Subtext - we have now covered all topics of conversation that your vocabulary allows, you silly American.)
Me: (Grinning like an idiot, as if this is the best party I've ever been to.) "Oui, oui, c'est bon." (Pull out iPhone). "Mon fils!" (Shove phone in face)
Other person commences ooh-ing and aah-ing over my adorable kid. 

7. Avoid the Tunisian vodka.

8. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, realize that the sweet American fiancee of your husband's cousin who doesn't speak French is REALLY overwhelmed.

In truth, it was actually a really nice evening.  And we exchanged contact information with a few people, so let me just say - if any Tunisian Jews want to adopt us into their extended family for our sojourn in Paris, feel free.   Next time I know to wear heels, not gorge on the buffet, and I'll have new photos of Baby Oil to display.