Back in 1993, a fed-up Frenchman bought me a one-way ticket out of his country. Jean-Marc and I did try living together, but all of our chemistry fizzled out after merging two cultures under one Mediterranean roof. He didn’t comprendre my stock of peanut butter as the French don’t hoard food, and I didn’t understand why his mother was still ironing his shirts.
Adieu! Back home in Arizona, there was no time to nurse my wounds – I needed a job. But I couldn’t go back to being a receptionist or to working in retail, and after spilling coffee in a customer’s lap, waitressing was also definitely off limits.
Self-employment became my goal. Only by being one’s own boss could one soar! Only by calling the shots could one skip out early for a matinee and lose herself in French life – albeit on the big screen this time around. But which métier allowed for such freedom?
‘Girl Friday’! I could be my own Girl Friday! ‘GF’s got to do many things. Variety would be the spice of this new – if newly failed – life. I had all I needed to jumpstart this career: a used car and the adrenaline of a scorned lover, but what to list on my Girl Friday menu? What was I capable of besides getting kicked out of France? Let’s see… I could type a report. Wash a car. Walk a dog. I could even do makeovers – if make-up hadn’t been part of my love story’s demise… on our second date, in Roussillon, Jean-Marc painted my face with the ochre-coloured earth. But instead of delighting in his romantic gesture, I self-consciously touched up my make-up, so it was no use dwelling on past mistakes. My GF venture needed a name – something French, non?
“N’importe Quoi”, now there was a catchy title for a service-oriented company! But was it prudent? How could the title “Anything At All” possibly be misconstrued?
Onward! I could just see my business card: the background would be a colourful scene from French life and at its centre, the title N’importe Quoi. And there, lower right, my name above the legend “Your Girl Friday”.
Some Girl Friday! I never even managed to run my first errand, to the printer’s. Instead, I grabbed an opening in a shipping department, where I stuffed boxes full of Styrofoam as my heart fell to pieces.
It would take years for me to grasp the real meaning of n’importe quoi. Today, I sit here at my desk, a self-employed writer, shaking my head at the would-be GF of yesteryear. What a pity it would have been to title my venture with a phrase that actually means “Nonsense” when destiny was calling me to follow my dream…
In the end, I telephoned Jean-Marc to inform him that I was returning to France. He then surprised us both by inviting me to share his life, ‘for better or for worse’.
Nowadays, I often have a soupçon of good French earth on my face, and I’m finally comfortable enough in my own skin to share myself with him.
Kristin Espinasse writes the French Word-A-Day blog, which she began in 2002. Author of the books Words in a French Life and Blossoming in Provence, she lives on an olive farm near Bandol. Read our review of her most recent book, First French Essais.
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