Dinner chez N

I spent Saturday morning and evening recharging my introvert self: organizing the hundreds of documents I need for orientation in Amiens, trying to reorder my mess of a desk, writing down my thoughts about tuition and college for N’s class on Tuesday, and finally taking some time to flex my itching fingers and write.

At 6pm, N’s wife M picked S and me up from Claudel to have dinner at their house in Crépy, with the added surprise of L, the English assistant from Northampton. N and M have three children, Tess (6), Lily (4), and Martin (1 ½), which made dinner both eventful and adorable.

We had a very French dinner, beginning with the apéritif, or drinks and light snacks of chips and sausage, and Tess gave each of us English assistants an adorable colored drawing. (It’s taped to my wall now, next to my welcome sign from F’s children.) Midway through the apéritif, as N was feeding Martin, we were assigned the challenge of thinking of children’s songs to sing to him so that he’d stop desperately wanting the chips…except S, L, and I had basically forgotten half the lyrics to songs like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Old MacDonald,” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

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The main course was something called pierre chaude, a hot plate in the middle of the table where we cooked slices of beef and turkey, which were accompanied by salad, potatoes, and bread. The beauty of bilingualism is being able to speak French and English, though we mostly used French during dinner for the children. (Although Tess does know the entirety of Eenie, Meeny, Miny, Mo!) I swear N and M have the cutest family; their children are so well-behaved. Tess was willingly helping out in the kitchen; Lily was tearing Martin’s cake into little pieces so that they’d be easier to eat; and Martin was just toddling around being adorable.

N and M brought out some French cheese for us to try, so N moved Lily over to my lap, and children are honestly the best lap-warmers. I tried a bit of mimolette and Maroilles, the local Laonnois specialty, both of which were delicious. Tess then carried our dessert plates to us, ice cream and cake, and I had alcohol for the fifth time in my life—I don’t remember what it was called, but it was something fizzy, and M said it was weaker than champagne? N asked us assistants if we wanted anything else to drink, joking, “I’ll have a tea. Why not, we’re English teachers. It’s in our contract!”

After all that delicious food, I put my French to good use and read three bedtime stories to the daughters. When all the children had been successfully put to bed, N, M, L, S, and I just sat and chatted for about an hour—in English, though with some French thrown in—and sitting there on their couch, I realized how lucky I am to have been placed in a small town, with teachers who want to get to know us and constantly assure us that we can ask them for anything. I was so touched by the fact that N and M went so out of their way to be beyond kind to us; “Merci beaucoup!” certainly didn’t encompass my gratitude.

At 10:20, N drove L, S, and me back to our respective lycées, passing through a stretch of empty countryside, and I stared in awe at the amount of stars I could see in the sky. Basically, I had such a good time at the dinner, I completely forgot to give the family the five Reese’s I’d brought with me.

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