Wednesday, 28 July 2004

a long weekend with the Klein clan

On Thursday I pushed off in the morning to the Northeast, for Jacques's and Sophie's wedding. After passing through Paris, I arrived at St Avold, Sophie's home town, and was picked up and taken to Seingbourse, Jacques', where I was staying. I went a couple of days early at Jacques' urging, and was immediately glad of it, so much so that I changed my return train from Sunday to Monday the next morning.

We spent Thursday afternoon/evening and much of Friday setting up a marquee for the reception at Jacques' family's house, and his aunt's restaurant at nearby Farebersviller for the 'second' reception, with the help of various brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins and neighbours.

There was a very brief civil ceremony at St Avold on Friday, and then a church ceremony on Saturday at St Jacques' in Seingbourse. We were perhaps 150 people as we formed the cortège (procession) to walk to the church, then almost 200 for the first reception after walking back, and 80 or so at the second. The number of people was daunting at each stage, but despite the crowd I was never short of company, and had good conversations with brothers-in-law, cousins, grandmothers, work colleagues and friends alike.

At every stage, there were family and extended family, particularly Jacques' but also Sophie's, everywhere, and each was as accepting as the next. I kissed more cheeks in the four days than I had in my entire life, and something that had remained foreign for the last six months finally started to become normal. Also, I realised at various points that I was communicating quite fluently with people, perhaps moreso than at any other time since coming to France, and without the sense that people were deliberately speaking slowly for my benefit. There were still times when I struggled for vocabulary, but they were in the minority.

I was most impressed by the diversity of languages present. In particular, Jacques' mother spoke 3 languages - French, German and the local patois - in equal measure, changing as required and with astonishing ease. It was an agility that evaded my two languages; on more than one occasion someone tried out their English on me, only for me to respond in French.

In the end, I passed the weekend with perhaps only an hour of tourism, having spent much of it working either making or unmaking the various scenes. Still, I would have had it no other way; its the people that you meet that really teach you about a place, and it was not without regret that I returned on Monday to my apartment in Rennes, as the Klein clan really treated me like I belonged.

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