MY YEAR IN PROVENCE STUDYING PÉTANQUE,
DISCOVERING CHAGALL, DRINKING PASTIS, AND MANGLING FRENCH
Excerpt from Chapter 12: Je Suis Chaud
When I joined the call and heard my thirty-or-so colleagues on the line back in Vancouver, we exchanged a few sarcastic boy-I-wonder-what-this-is-about jokes as we waited for the founder to walk into the room. I had prepared myself the exquisite meal of a baguette and a couple cheeses, plus a bottle of cheap, yet decent, red wine. I finally tired of waiting for our boss and decided to pull the bouchon from the bottle, but neglected to mute the phone. When the ensuing “pop” of the uncorking echoed around the inside of my cave, the line went silent and after a pause the cofounder asked, “Was that a cork?”
Uncharacteristically I blurted out, “Yep, and I’m sitting here in my underwear waiting for this meeting to get underway.” Despite how important I knew the meeting was going to be and how much a lot of the people in that room looked up to me as one of the leaders of the group, I couldn’t help from spontaneously being smug, entertaining, and raw with the gang—hmmm, it seemed France really had rubbed off on me; actually, it had really gotten into my bloodstream, just as the red Bordeaux was about to. A roar of laughter came blasting through the crackly speaker of my home phone, and just as it died down the founder entered the room back in Vancouver, so I never did have to comment more about doing a team meeting while drinking in my undies.
This change in demeanour and self-confidence must have had something to do with the influence this country and its people had been having on me for a little over half a year. And the change didn’t come only from life in Saint-Paul playing pétanque. Another source of influence came from some of the young Frenchmen (and French women) with whom I worked and socialized.
My best friend in my age bracket was a kind-hearted young woman named Sophie, who seemed to recognize my need for companionship (platonic that is) and regularly invited me to join her and her friends on outings. Weekend trips to the Maritime Alps with Sophie and her friend, Monique, were a fun way to relax and put my French to the test. One such day, I snowboarded while they skied, and during a pause on the hill I peeled off a layer of clothing and said, “Je suis chaud,” which I thought meant “I’m hot,” as in “I’m too warm and need to take off my jacket to cool off.” My two cute young lady friends fell down laughing in the snow, and after catching her breath, Sophie said, “Oh, you think you are, huh?” and then went back to laughing. Eventually she managed to explain that the correct phrase would have been, “J’ai chaud,” which indicates that you are overly warm rather than “hot,” as in sexually attractive.