Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I love you and big cheek kisses to you all

Valentine's Day is coming up and I need to make a plan, fast. We won't be going out to eat because apparently eating out on February 14th in France means paying twice as much for the same food you could get on February 13th or 15th, and we're both too cheap to enjoy a meal knowing it's a rip-off. I'll try to motivate myself enough to fix a nice dessert because the husband likes the sweet stuff. I'm sure I can handle a shower and getting dressed long enough to buy ingredients for a cake, especially if I get to eat part of it. I'm still in love with the same old chocolate ice cream, although now I'm eating it from a smaller bowl since the doctor expressed mild surprise at how much weight I've gained in a month. I don't really want to go there, but I think I may have overdone the "Thank God the diabetes test came back negative" celebration. My husband laughed at me with my new 'cup of ice cream' instead of 'bowl of ice cream' theory, but I don't mind being ridiculed as long as I don't have to go cold turkey.

Oh, yeah...back to my point: one difference in how Valentine's Day works here is that it seems to be strictly reserved for lovers -- kids don't do the sucker-with-a-card thing at school, family members don't give each other gifts, friends don't send cards -- it's strictly for someone you have romantic designs on. Although I have fond memories of Valentine's Day parties and card exchanges as a kid, I have to say that I quite like the fact this holiday is reserved for special relationships here. I think that perfume and lingerie stores make a decent profit as well as the local chocolaterie, but that's about it. I'm not even sure if the pre-made Valentine's Day "lovah" cards are all that popular...I don't remember seeing any, but I haven't been trying to track them down, either.

So, what sounds better to you: a chocolate/cherry pie that I know my husband likes, or a newfangled molten chocolate cake baked as individual servings? Old favorite versus new-but-possibly-doomed-to-fail recipe?

I got distracted with the idea of chocolate again and failed to write about another semi-Valentine's Day-related difference between home and here, at least in my case. Anyway, something that I found strange at first was the difference in "I love you"s. My state motto is "Virginia is for lovers" and we certainly live up to it, 'cause we love everybody. We love our spouse, our parents, our children, our pets, our close friends, our neighbors (sometimes), high-quality circus performers as well as anyone who happens to be in our way on a good day. Perhaps it's also the religious thing; preachers also talked a lot about love. So the result is that I feel I definitely come from a culture where people really do love one another and actually tell them about it. One could argue it's overused...I'm not going to make a judgment about good or bad; that's just how it is and I personally like it in this context.

I'm not saying that French people don't love like Virginians...given the apparent high birth rate there's no arguing that the entirety of France is definitely for lovers. It's just that in English, or at least in Virginian/American English, we use this word love all the time, and I love you is said to a much wider range of people. My parents tell that to my husband and they mean it, whereas I don't think I've ever heard my husband say it to his parents (and I certainly haven't). Je t'aime is something said in a romantic way, and not to anyone else. I would probably even have a jealous reaction if I heard it come out of my husband's mouth to another person. On the other hand, though, I also find it nice to have these words reserved especially for my husband...something I don't tell other people. There's no denying it's romantic. Family and close friends are told "gros bisous," which means "big cheek kisses," more or less. And this is also sincere on my part, because while I have gotten to appreciate giving bisous to people I like and care about, I still can't stand them regarding strange people I don't know well. It serves the same function as an I love you but is more specialized, even if it does deal with an action and the emotion behind is just implied.

Sometimes I think there need to be more emotion words in both languages to deal with all these differences. There are many kinds of love, but they all get thrown under I love you and so that's one reason (besides clever marketing) that people are stuck buying a billion Valentine's Day cards for people they love. Trying to explain that you like someone in French is not as easy, either...there's Je l'aime bien or you just say nice things about the person and people will inherently understand you like him or her. And while gros bisous is nice, it still doesn't seem accurate enough to handle the family-type of love. Aimer means both to like and to love, and it obviously works out fine for the French even though at first it seemed weird. I know that the like/love difference is also seen as weird by people who are learning English...I've had students this year who asked about it and were concerned that they knew how to use it in the "correct" way.

Yeah. I just distracted myself with thoughts of chocolate and so I'm going to go eat now. Enjoy your day, whether you are in the state of lovers or the country of lovers.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, you've done it again. You are helping me learn a lot about France and see why they seem more reserved than we Americans. Just the words make such a big difference. Have a great Valentine's and let us know which you made the cake or the pie?
You sound like you are doing great so keep up the good work and take good care.

Angela in Europe said...

You know, any type of sexual experience (no matter how mild) is usually accompanied with Je t'aime. This really freaked me out the first time I went on a date with a french man. He kissed me passionately and then said, "Je t'aime." You know, I almost fell out of my chair. If a guy said that to me in English on the first date, I am not sure there would be a second, but here, I think it is normal.

Gigi said...

Well, Valentine's Day in England is also different...at least it used to be (I haven't lived there for 20 years so things may have changed...).

We used to send an anonymous card to the One We Admired...you were meant to put something mysterious on it like "From You-Know-Who" or something. You definitely weren't supposed to sign your name!

Anyway, none of this is really important, is it?...as long as there's chocolate...:-)

Erica said...

My mother tongue (italian) is actually perfect for the different 'loves'. We have TI AMO which is like I love you and you would only say it to your partner.

Then there is TI VOGLIO BENE which I cannot really translate, it just means I love you but for family and friends, without any romance involved. Then you could even say MI PIACI to a guy that you like but you are not sure you love yet!

We also have BACIONI which is like gros bisous.

So many different ways!

christina said...

German has that too - you can say "Ich liebe dich" which really means "I love you", or you can say "Ich habe dich lieb" which is more of a "I hold you dear" and can be used more neutrally.

Deb said...

Happy belated Valentine's! Remember, the baby might like a little chocolate too. ;o)

Betty C. said...

I thought the Valentine's Day marketing push was HUGE in France this year -- bigger than ever. It was hardly recognized at all when I first moved here in 1990, BTW.

Pardon My French said...

"Anon" -- I bought a box of nice chocolates and think I will make the cherry pie thing later. :)

Angela -- I almost choked on my cereal when I read your comment. I've only dated the one Frenchman and look what happened -- I fell for the je t'aime and ended up moving here, so be careful! :) I did not know it was that common...I'm sure you've got some interesting stories to tell. I never thought about it before, but the lack of distinction between the present simple and continuous could lend itself to some fairly interesting interpretations of je t'aime...I love you, I'm literally loving you (heh) or I'm getting ready to looooooooove you if you'll only let me. I love it.

Gigi -- I didn't know about the anonymous cards, either. I think that's sweet...it's always nice to know someone loves you and the mystery only makes it more fun. 'Course, the chocolate's the important thing.

Erica -- I know very little Italian but I can believe that it would cover quite a bit of the loves. It does not surprise me one bit to hear it's the perfect language of love!

Christina -- I didn't know about Ich habe dich lieb. Do Germans say that to family then? I liked your Valentine's Day post by the way, but I really should leave that comment on YOUR blog, huh!

Deb -- Thanks for both the Valentine's Day wish and the kind words about the baby liking a little chocolate. I'm trying hard to keep it to 'a little' chocolate, I swear!

Betty -- I guess I didn't go out enough. I didn't see very much at all in the way of Valentine's stuff, either at the local Carrefour or at the shops, aside from the chocolate and perfume. I guess all the holidays are going to get more and more commercialized with time, though.