An Awkward Visit

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On a sunny Sunday afternoon, just two weeks after leaving Ottawa, a week after arriving in Nantes and two days after coming back from the seaside, Feng, Mark, I, my sister and her boyfriend piled up into his car to go see my paternal grandparents.

Visiting this side of the family wasn’t exactly the goal of this short trip—my grandparents’ place was mostly a handy spot to see my dad for the first time since my parents separated. He moved out of Nantes last winter and he settled in a fairly remote place in Brittany. It was hard for us to come over for practical reasons.

I had lost touch with him the past couple of months after checking on him throughout the winter and early spring. My sister’s turn to be the helpline if needed.

She was the one organizing the meeting, probably the only chance to see papa this summer.

In hindsight, this Sunday visit was a recipe for disaster.

I was looking forward to seeing my dad but humans are complicated, so I was also dreading this moment. Deep down, I think I resent him for not trying to smooth things out with my mom. Let’s just say absolutely no compromises were made, he seems to be happy to start a new life and leave everything behind. “Including us, the kids,” an inner childish voice nags me every now and then.

The meeting spot was awkward because… ahem, let’s just say my siblings and I aren’t close to this side of the family. Like, at all. As in, none of us ever “met the expectations” and we aren’t the “good grandkids.”

To top it all, all the passengers in the car were pretty much everything the French conservative countryside hates—my sister, 31-year-old broke actress in Paris; her long-time boyfriend, 100% Parisian and very much older than her; Feng and Mark with their exotic eyes and me who not only married a Chinese guy but lives in North America.

I couldn’t help it—I was wearing my “no God, no master” t-shirt, a probably useless ultimate provocation.

We all met at my mom’s place, in Nantes. This is where the three of us are staying so it made sense but it was the first awkward moment because she wants nothing to do with our dad anymore and she knew where we were heading to.

“We should bring a cake,” my sister suggested two minutes before leaving.

“It’s Sunday!” I protested. “Everything is closed.”

“Cake,” her boyfriend agreed. “We need a cake. It’s just… polite.”

“I stopped giving a shit about politeness with them a long time ago,” I grumbled like a moody teen.

And so we all left my mom’s apartment to look for a cake.

We found fancy cookies in a tourist store. All the bakeries were closed.

Once finally in the car, we realized we had no idea how to get to my grandparents’ place. That’s how close we are to them, we don’t have their address.

“I have a GPS!”

“I have Google Maps!”

Merde. Their place apparently doesn’t exist.”

“Same here. Can’t find the address.”

My grandparents live just outside Nantes but it’s this kind of place deep into the wine country where there’s no formal address and you don’t want to be found because the outside world is evil. Mission accomplished—we couldn’t find them.

The four of us argued over the best way to exit the city. Team Canada—Feng and I—said we should take the bridge across the Loire River, team Paris—my sister and her boyfriend—trusted the GPS.

The GPS made us drive around the same block three times. Team Canada was right this time, but twenty kilometres further, we were all lost for real. This time, it was team sisters vs. team the guys.

“How can you guys not remember where your grandparents live? Are we close? Yes, no?”

“We haven’t been here in a couple of years,” I admitted.

“And I’ve never paid attention to directions,” my sister added.

“Call papa,” I advised.

“Got it. He’s walking towards us, so if you see a guy coming off the bush, well, that’s him and it’s here.”

We saw my dad but still missed the sharp turn to my grandparents’ place.

“Wait… is that grandpa?” Mark finally said.

Oops. Totally forgot to brief him.

“Grandpa” was overjoyed to see us. Despite me, I was rather cold towards him.

My grandparents and one of my uncles did a fairly good job of pretending they were happy to see us.

We all sat down outside, drinking coffee.

I didn’t speak. Not that anyone was talking to me, mind you. My dad did try but I was mute.

I stared into my coffee cup for about an hour, then I got up and went crying in the woods. My dad ran after me. “Are you okay? Talk to me, say something!”

“I can’t,” I sobbed. “It’s not you! It’s just that… fuck, the whole situation is so fucking sad and pathetic!”

He tried to comfort me.

I resumed staring into my coffee cup, eventually traded it for a Coke, then went crying some more. Rinse and repeat for the following three hours.

I begged my sister to go as soon as it was socially acceptable to do so.

I just couldn’t handle it.

I didn’t know it would be so emotional.

Everything is fucked up this summer.

My sister in "shit we should bring a cake or something" mode before the visit

My sister in “shit we should bring a cake or something” mode before the visit

My sister in "shit we should bring a cake or something" mode before the visit

My sister in “shit we should bring a cake or something” mode before the visit

Waiting for her before the visit

Waiting for her before the visit

Waiting for her before the visit

Waiting for her before the visit

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

Lost in unnamed French town

My sister's boyfriend and Feng trying to decipher a local map

My sister’s boyfriend and Feng trying to decipher a local map

My paternal grandparents' place

My paternal grandparents’ place

My paternal grandparents' place

My paternal grandparents’ place

My paternal grandparents' place

My paternal grandparents’ place

My paternal grandparents' place

My paternal grandparents’ place

My paternal grandparents' place

My paternal grandparents’ place

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

13 Comments

  1. Cecile Puertas on

    Chère Juliette
    Tout cela est très normal…
    Il te faut du temps pour digérer cet événement et tu es sans doute au tout début du travail de deuil.
    Ci-joint un petit lien sur la notion de courbe de deuil et de résistance au changement qui est ancré en chacun de nous
    https://attitudes-positives.fr/la-resistance-au-changement/
    Je t’envoie plein d’ondes positives et mes encouragements pour affronter cette épreuve de la vie. Crois moi, tout est question de temps et tout passe.
    Cécile

    • Merci pour le lien et ta sagesse! Pas mal de gens m’ont dit que c’était effectivement une histoire de temps. Je le comprends intellectuellement, mais émotionnellement, ce n’est pas toujours facile. Je vais lire le lien 🙂

      C’est marrant cette résistance au changement, ou plutôt les changements qu’on peut accepter alors que d’autres non. D’une manière générale, j’aime plutôt le changement, d’où mon amour des voyages probablement. Mais, il y a une différence entre les changements qu’on contrôle et ceux qui sont imposés par la vie ou autre.

  2. Martin Penwald on

    Ça c’est un truc bien, en France. Même dans un village paumé, tu vas trouver un plan de l’agglomération, et souvent même avec la place pour garer un camion.
    D’mon temps, on avait pas de GPS et on s’en portait pas plus mal bande de p’tits salopiaux!

    • The car’s GPS was super unreliable. I had never used it (only briefly to find my way with Google Maps on my phone) but 1) the voice is annoying 2) it didn’t seem to suggest the most logical and shortest route.

      • Martin Penwald on

        I use Google Maps to find an adresse and see what the roads to go there looks like. And sometimes, I launch the app which gives the route, but I don’t let it talk. It’s so fucking annoying. And even if it shows a route, I follow the one i’ve chosen before if there is a disagrement. But I agree that sometimes it is convenient.
        (No, that’s a no truck road. – No, there is a low bridge there. – No, this road is closed. – No, there is a weight limit further. – No, I won’t do a U-turn because you think, wrongly, that that other way is faster. – No, a 38 meters-long truck can’t take this turn ¹…)

        ¹: in fact, I won’t use it at all when driving an oversized configuration.

        • I like to “map” my route before I leave but I have a similar problem as a pedestrian–Google doesn’t mind sending me cross a highway for instance. So it’s a useful tool but a human is still needed to analyze the info suggested…

  3. I didn’t know having exotic eyes and marrying a Chinese could be hated by conservative countryside people.
    I’m lucky, my French family accepts me well and they love my daughters. Our grandma who lives in rural village in Brittany told everyone she knows she has a Malaysian grand-daughter (me).

    • Fortunately, not all rural folks are narrow-minded. This side of the family is, although they don’t express it openly. Let’s just say it’s best not to ask them who they vote for (answer is probably Le Pen…). It’s not just foreigners they dislike–they’re the kind of folks who consider homosexuality a “disease” :-/

      • Cecile Puertas on

        My close relatives and I share more or less the same political ideas. But I have a whole bunch of work colleagues who are openly racist and love all members of the Le Pen family … it is sometimes difficult to interact with those kind of people.

        • I know for sure they exist and some of them are nice people (… although misguided politically speaking, IMO!). I mean, far-right parties are popular these days… I’ve met ignorant people but rarely openly racist folks. Ugh.

  4. Ahhhh family. Sure messes us up, doesn’t it! At least when you’re in France, there’s lots of nice wine to drown your sorrows in. On a related note, I had no idea you had family that lived on a vineyard too!

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