Just before the party on Saturday evening another guest arrived at the neighbor’s house where Henri and I were staying. He was a young actor from Paris and he, too, knocked at the door empty-handed except for his overnight bag. Our host was gracious enough to ignore the absence of preliminaries, as she had with us, but we were surprised to find that within five minutes the two of them were tutoying each other whereas after nearly 24 hours as guests—quite good guests, I might add—Henri and I were still addressing her with a noble vous.
The actor was young, relatively speaking, and also relatively cute, so it was expected that with one look at him she would readily switch to the more playful tu. Still, it made me and Henri feel that we had approached our host wrong from the start. But it was too late to do much about that now. For Henri it was inconceivable to tutoie a host, particularly without bringing a gift. My own hesitation was somewhat different.
There isn’t actually much difference between tu and vous during a weekend at the coast these days unless you live in the world of Proust, or, as in Henri’s case, Madame de Pompadour, but once I’ve been vouvoying for any length of time, say two minutes, I have trouble initiating the switch to the less formal tu.
As an English-speaker I naturally prefer tu because its conjugations are easier to pronounce in the more academic tenses, but I have trouble saying, “On peut se tutoyer, n’est ce pas?”/ “We can tutoyer each other, n’est ce pas?” One hears that all the time at dinner parties, but something about asking someone’s permission to be friendly disturbs me for it makes the contact seem very intimate, as though you’re asking for a kiss, whereas you just want the person to pass the bread. So I either start off with tu at the risk of shocking with my informality the person I’ve just met or, sometime during the conversation, I late slip in a tu as though by a mistake and hope that the person responds in kind. In the end, asking someone’s permission to tutoie them is like asking someone you don’t know to be your friend on Facebook: It’s harmless enough and doesn’t really signify anything, until the person says no.
Anyway, tu or vous, the fact remained that none of us had brought a house gift for our host, so the morning after the party Henri and the actor immediately went out to find one. There are two reasons why I wasn’t asked to go along: First, because Henri was looking for some informality with the actor himself and second because I wasn’t around, having already gone out for a walk.
Early in the morning the path above the coast of Dinard is a great place for a jog, if you don’t mind running on concrete, but by 10:30/11 a.m. when people are out on their morning promenade, the joggers ruin the leisurely atmosphere of the walkway. Sweating profusely and wearing their mean, jiggling jogger’s face, aggravated in its intensity by the fact that they feel the strollers are in their way, it takes some restraint to keep from pushing them onto the rocks below. Dinard has a magnificent seaside walk that it’s impossible to stroll it without feeling that jogging should be outlawed in certain places… and that no more than four people should allowed even to walk together at the same time. In short, it’s the kind of place that makes you feel like a soulful elitist, even when you’re only a weekend guest at the home of someone you vousvoie and didn’t even bring a gift.
Dinard developed across the estuary from Saint Malo as a resort destination for British visitors. The British began arriving in 1836 and by the end of the 19th century had greatly assisted in funding the main resort town of northern Brittany. Ferries to Saint Malo from Portsmouth and Weymouth continue to ensure a heavy English presence along the coast. It is to northern Brittany what Deauville is to Normandy, though Deauville, being easier to reach from Paris or from England, is far more popular for a weekending outside of summer.
The photos in this post (other than the satellite image) are from that seaside promenade. You see in them the craggy cost, the choppy seascape, the luxury villas on the cliff, the band of the town’s main beach (the casino is nearby), the seawater pool that fills with high tide, and Saint Malo across the estuary. I had a beautiful walk.
I returned to my host’s house just before noon so as to get ready for brunch. There was now a tall bouquet in the living room. Upstairs, Henri told me that I owed him 27 euros.