Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Year, New Laws? Are they always related about food somehow?

Most of the news 'round here have talked about the new law that bans smoking in "public" places such as restaurants and bars. I have to say that it's about time...I'm all for a smoker's right to smoke, but I definitely mind being forced to breathe secondhand smoke while I'm eating. Blech. The polls apparently showed that most French were supportive of this measure (and there seem to be a lot of smokers here), which demonstrates just how important food is in this country.

Anyway, when we arrived home in France in early January, we noticed one other subtle change: fire extinguishers have been placed on every floor in our apartment building. Given the state of the rest of the building, I have a hard time believing that this was a voluntary change so my hunch is that the legal system is involved. My guess is that after several fatal fires in apartment buildings, someone finally decided it would be a good idea. It was one of those things I hadn't missed, although as the daughter of a firefighter (my mother, in fact) I really should have. Fire detectors aren't mandatory, either, but I'd already hounded my husband into shelling out some euros for my peace of mind. Thanks to my lovely sister -- the one who gave us the kitchen rug -- we now have two; the more, the better.

When I realized that we had been living all this time without a fire extinguisher, it weirded me out a bit in the same way that it did when I found out many, many people here have never heard of the Heimlich maneuver. I said it in one of my teenage classes once and thought they were just playing dumb. I said it in every possible way, Frenchifying it as much as possible: Heimlick? Heim-lish? Heem-lick? Heem-lish??? So I did the obvious EFL teacher thing and mimed it out, and they just sat and stared at me like I was nuts. Like, WTF, lady? You're scaring us!

My in-laws didn't seem to know it, either, so I have visions of myself printing out the instruction poster on t-shirts for Slo-J when she leaves the house without us. Because I'm nice like that, I'll even get them in different colors to match her socks and hair ribbons. It does sound over-the-top and paranoid, but my grandmother choked to death at a nursing home which was terribly tragic, and once at a rest stop one of my friend's friend's mothers (got that?) choked, and my friend tried the Heimlich but was unsuccessful until a State Trooper (who just happened to be eating lunch there, too) stepped in. Y'all, I saw it happen and the maneuver definitely works. Also, please make sure to chew your hamburgers well and don't talk while eating. And just in case you weren't aware, you can perform it on yourself.

So, anyway, it was one of those strange cultural moments for me, like when I met my first international friend who had never, ever heard of Elvis Presley in her entire life (no matter how I pronounced his name). Yes, Virginia, there do exist people in this world who don't know Elvis. I checked on Wikipedia and I guess it is an American thing...Dr. Heimlich was American, and the article suggested that it gained widespread fame through movies. I didn't know that. So, huh. And maybe since food is so important here, French people are taught from the beginning to take small bites, chew, and swallow before they start to talk/discuss/argue at the table. Maybe people just don't choke as much here. Maybe, in addition having fewer kitchen accidents because French people don't put water on the floor, there are fewer kitchen fires because they cook more, thus better, and thus safer. Anybody have any other guesses?

I do feel better about the fire extinguisher, even though my husband took some basic EMT/Fire Safety courses through his work. It has already come in handy...he is now the hero of our apartment floor since he assisted the neighbors when they had a kitchen fire. It was even pre-extinguisher, so it would be logical to assume I would have noticed then, but I was a new mother and had an excuse to be distracted. When the baby was about a month or so old, he was fixing quiche when we started smelling smoke throughout the apartment. He went to investigate and gave apparently helpful instructions. When he got back in the apartment, I asked him if he realized he wasn't wearing any pants, but after all I'm the only prude American on the block. I'm sure I will always carry a mental image of my husband/hero returning triumphantly in a T-shirt, boxer briefs, slippers, and carrying an egg in one hand.

All of this is just the fun of an intercultural marriage.


KathyUSA said...

My hubby is very safety cautious (or from you description very American). We have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and 2 in the garage, AND 3 fire alarms in the house (and he thinks we should have one more). We even have several fire saft boxes for important things. Every year the grade schools send home a paper on “safety week” to remind us to check the batteries. It's one of the kid’s homework assignments. Basic first aid and fire awareness seems to be built into our children’s education through Fire Safety week. Even through Boy Scout programs. Even our little church club had the fire department come up for a visit. I had the kids crawl out of the church to practice how they would do incase of a fire. The boys here in the USA seam to be taught to “always be prepared”. Do they have stuff like that in France??? But to be honest, I'm not really sure how to use the fire extinguisher. I need to give that a whirl sometimes.

Sister Lesia just started a blog site too. Visit her at

Cassoulet Cafe said...

Just wanted to say "hey!" ....just discovered your blog and have had fun reading it. My friend is newly married to a Frenchman and living in France, and they have lots of "kitchen rug" moments about strange things. I'm going to have to tell her about this. :)

Pardon My French said...

Oh, man -- my parents have one of those fire safe boxes and my husband just ridicules me when I ask nicely for one. I'm just programmed to think of it as the responsible thing to do and it bugs me that I don't have one to keep my birth certificates in. I'll have to ask around to see if there is a "Stop, Drop, and Roll" campaign. I do know from my visits to the pediatrician that there are posters to Remember To Wash Your Hands and Cover Your Mouth When You Sneeze but am not at all sure about fire safety.

Oh, and LOL about practicing with the extinguisher. At some point we should blog about our rescue buddy stories...seems so long ago. Ask your husband if he remembers how to take off an artificial leg!

Cassoulet Cafe, a "hey!" right back! Thanks for the comment; I love discovering new blogs as well and am looking forward to checking yours out. :)