Monday, February 28, 2011

Random Memory: Clueless, Even in a Foreign Country

In summer '08, Brad and I spent a month in Montpellier, a charming city in the south of France, about 6 or 7 miles from the Mediterranean. We speak no French, I am an incredibly picky eater, and it averaged about 89 degrees during our stay (if you are familiar with the majority of European countries, you know that electricity is at a premium - thus, we had no fan and certainly no air conditioning); still, we managed to enjoy ourselves, even on a limited budget. 

We rented our apartment - two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, and a sort-of terrace - from a good friend who'd spent the year teaching English at Universite Monpellier 1. At the beginning of June, she headed back to the States to spend the summer at her parents' house in Illinois before returning in the fall to the university where we were both completing our master's degrees. Brad and I capitalized on the vacant apartment; at $600 for the whole month, it was a deal we could not pass up. 

Since we were linguistically limited, we didn't meet too many people, but we did befriend (or rather, he befriended us) a young guy who lived with his mother and sister in an apartment across the terrace from us. Iris - pronounced "ear-ISS" - was 22, well-traveled, tall and thin, half Spanish, half French. And he spoke great English. If not for the thickness of his accent, I probably would've been able to understand him perfectly. 

Sometimes Brad and I sat on lounge chairs and chatted with him; sometimes while I laid out (with sunscreen on!) and Brad read inside, I listened to him play guitar (I remember the sounds of Oasis). On this particular day, Iris had a friend over, and he invited us to his side of the terrace, to sit with them around the patio table. 

The two friends were laughy, enjoying themselves, passing a cigarette back and forth b/t each other. The friend, I believe his name was Roman, rolled another cigarette while explaining something or other about the differences b/t the French and American public education systems. It was a good time, and what I could understand of their conversation (I am really so bad with accents) was quite pleasant. 

After a time, Iris asks us, "Do you want to smoke?" 

Brad looks to me. I shake my head without a second of hesitation and, smiling, say, "No thanks, we don't smoke." 

Iris says something funny in response to me, something about Americans and smoking that I can't remember (but sure wish I could). He and Roman get funnier and funnier, the four of us continue to have a good time, and eventually they go out on the town and we go back to the 964-degree apartment. Once inside, Brad says, "I'm surprised you didn't even think about doing it. I mean, since we're in a foreign country." 

"I hate cigarette smoke. So do you. It's gross. Why would being in a foreign country make it any less nasty?" 

This is where his eyes grow wide. And where my true naivete is revealed for what it is. "That was pot, hon. They were smoking a joint," my loved one says to me. "Did you not know that?!?! Did you really think he was rolling a cigarette?!" 

Indeed, I did. And so passed that opportunity. 

Would I have been adventurous if I'd known what it really was? Would the teetotaling goody-goody that I am have grabbed the chance to expand my senses without fear of reprisal from American law personnel. (Yes, this is really the kind of stuff I think about.) Who can really say? But as a consolation, Iris, Brad, and a French friend we knew from back home did get me to drink (read:  gulp in five seconds, yum yum) a glass of peach champagne at a wine bar. That's got to count for something, no?

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