A Father's Journal: 'Vive la difference,' but not in our house where things may get lost in translation
My teenage daughter went to France a few weeks ago, and since she has gotten back, she's been insufferable.
We were in Stop & Shop, and she went on about how "This is not the way they do it in France ..." or "Americans always..." -- somehow implying that she was not an American.
And then, she said, "That's not the way it's done in Paris. In Paris we ..."
That's when I lost it.
"You actually don't live in Paris," I said. "You live with us. In our American home. I painted your bedroom last year. I drive you to Sarah's, or Sophie's house, or to go downtown. I know where you live."
She was in France for nine days. She was born in Stamford, Conn., US of A -- 16 miles down I-95. She was 8 pounds something ounces. I always get her weight confused with her older sister's.
After my tirade, I got her to stop talking smugly down to me for the rest of our grocery-shopping trip.
The next day, I heard her talking to someone about how much her French language skills had improved on the trip. She has taken French at both Tomlinson Middle School and now at Fairfield Ludlowe High. On her return flight, she helped a couple who spoke no English with their customs-declaration forms. She was so proud.
I asked her about it later. "Yes, I helped a woman and her lover with the forms."
My 15-year-old daughter said "lover." Wow. She was in France nine days, and she says "lover." She might have lost something in the translation. Maybe the women said "hover" -- as in hovercraft.
We are repressed Irish Catholic Jews, and we are proud of the fact that for 16 generations, no one in our family has uttered that "L" word. The prohibition is practically on our coat of arms.
In 1798, a guy on my mother's side of the family was French, and he ended up in County Mayo (that's how my mother got a French last name). In 1799, according to family legend, he said "lover" for the last time in our bloodline. I do not know the occasion of his utterance, but I do know it was the last.
A few years ago, a friend's mother came over and asked if someone in one of the family photos on the mantelpiece was the "lover" of another person in the photo. Our entire family at the same time said, "Ewwwww!"
We don't say "lover" in our house. We still remember that episode, and still keep the photo on the mantle. But we now silently think of it as "the lover photo."
When people say "lover," it puts a visual image in your mind of them ... well ... being intimate. If you say "boyfriend," "significant other," or "wife," you have a different picture of them. A picture of them fighting and trying to trudge on with their dreary lots in life -- fully clothed and in no compromising positions.
I needed to make sure no one on my dad's side ever said "lover," so I called the family historian, who happens to also be a Catholic nun. Sister Katie is with the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, Iowa. She is also my aunt.
After some preliminary niceties, I asked Sister Katie: "Did Grandpa John ever say, for instance, `I was at Heater's restaurant in Durant, and we saw the widow Johnson in the next booth over, and wouldn't you know it, she has taken a young lover' ?"
"My father would never say such a thing," Sister Katie replied. "If we kids had said it, we would have had our mouths washed out with soap. Plus, my father would never say that because Heater's is in Davenport. He used to go to Rohlk's in Durant. I don't know if he even knew the widow Johnson."
Satisfied that we never uttered the word, I talked to my daughter and again explained our centuries-old family tradition.
Now she claims that maybe she had misheard -- it might have been "hover"
I am going to call Sister Katie back to see if we say the word "hover."
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com.