Flamant Rose. En Camargues, les flamants roses sont des espèces protegées. Pink Flamingo. In the Camargue, pink flamingos are a protected species..
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE… by Kristin Espinasse
"Reverse Culture Shock"
After missing the London-Nice connection, Jackie’s bag made it all the way home from Denver! My 16-year-old was sleeping off her long voyage when Chronoposte arrived with the beat-up valise, but when Jackie awoke her first instinct was to ask for that bag.
“It’s in the garage, Sweety. Have Max carry it up for you.” I left my daughter to root through her suitcase (sur place, for there was apparently no time to wait for her brother!). Moments later I heard a knock on my bedroom door.
“Mom, there’s a surprise for you in the garden….” Jackie said, wearing that crooked smile her father wears when he’s up to something.
I couldn’t help but wonder what my husband (assuming he was in on this) had installed, erected, or otherwise “fashioned” in the backyard. Would it be pleasing to the eye? Would it involve a thick band of silver tape as so many of his solution-inventions do?
Climbing the stone steps beside the garage I followed the girl in cutoffs, my heart swelling as her ponytail swept from side to side. How Jackie had changed in four weeks, after spending time with my sister and family in Colorado and Idaho!
“Mom. I need to take the TOEFL test. I want to go to the University of Colorado, in Boulder!” she announced, almost as soon as her plane landed….
TOEFL? Boulder? Go away from home? But that was a few years away! For now we were here together, here in a garden in the south of France--here on a treasure hunt! My eyes scanned the verger, its floor covered with paille. But nothing looked out of the ordinary … there was the comfrey and the row of chives I’d recently planted, the little plants leaning out of their toilet-paper roll jackets (which were supposed to eventually compost, according to the experts).
With an anxious motioning from my daughter, I moved on to Sector Two, where four raised beds made of local stone held a chaotic forest of herbs and vegetables. “Say ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, and help me find it!” I begged, when suddenly a bright something to my right began drenching my peripheral vision, in pink!
"It’s from Heidi," Jackie pointed out.
Well that was odd, I thought, staring at the unnatural object. Sort of kitch! Normally my sister has better taste than that. In fact she has very good taste! And how did this one get by Brian (Heidi’s fiancé, whose elegant style I’ve always admired). You’d think he would have hinted to my sister to choose something else as a garden ornament!
It would be necessary to hide the thing. But would I remember to pull it out when my sister came to visit? In the words of Walter Scott, “Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” No! The whole scenario was too complicated. I’d have to fess up, let my sister know that this one was a bomb. Not at all my style.
“Heidi said you would understand,” Jackie smiled, eager to know my thoughts.
Understand? Now it was I rooting through the pockets of my mind’s valise, trying to make associations. Pink flamingo… understand… pink flamingo? Little beads of sweat formed over my brow as I came close to failing The Recognition Test.
Was it something to do with our childhood, Heidi's and mine? My mind raced back the the Arizona desert, where coyote and quail and rattlesnakes roamed. Were there pink flamingos, too?
“Mom!” Jackie’s impatience woke me from my reverie. “Heidi said it’s something you (you Americans) do. You put these in people’s gardens … to surprise your friends!
My mind began to perk up and I was back on the streets of Phoenix, rolls of toilet-paper in hand, laughing with a gaggle of girls as we played a prank on a friend. Once the cactus and the citrus trees and the mesquites in the front yard were covered … we’d leap out of the yard and run like bandits.
I vaguely remembered an occasional pink flamingo in those desert gardens, but it never registered then (at 12-years-old). Except in retrospect. Yes, it was another kind of prank! Not the kind kids were good at (owing to the expense of the plastic birds.). Toilet-paper could easily be stolen from the bathroom!
It was surreal, standing there in my garden, listening to my French daughter teach me a lesson in American Pop Culture. Surreal may well be the definition of reverse culture shock: when something is so intimately familiar to you that you can’t recognize it at all.
"You mean out of all the stuff you bought in America, you managed to cram a giant flamant rose in your suitcase?"
"Aunt Heidi helped me," Jackie shrugged her shoulders and that crooked smile was back.
As we gazed at the kitchy pink bird, I threw my arm around my daughter and broke out into what the French call a fou rire—a serious case of the giggles. That sister of mine. She’s priceless. And so is this cheap pink flamingo!
Would you keep the pink flamingo--and “own it” when your French compatriots come to visit, questioning your sense of style? Or would you plant it in your neighbor’s garden, and so introduce the prank to French culture--which seems to have its own version: garden gnomes! Click here to comment.
Not everybody is thrilled with this new arangement. Some are getting their feathers ruffled over it! A pink imposter?
Braise ("brez") is not happy with the new setup either, and is remembering a sarcastic French expression: Tout nouveau tout beau (A new broom sweeps clean). Harrumph! Time to chew on an ear of corn, if ever it will grow.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety