The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - cook­fi­delma@hot­ Twitter: @fi­del­ma­cook FIDELMA COOK

THERE’S a mo­ment when – to one’s hor­ror or maybe just the mer­est thrill – one re­alises one is 100% French. Not in most things, of course; that would be im­pos­si­ble un­less reared on the creme fraiche of the home pas­tures and anointed with pink gar­lic at birth while clutch­ing the knit­ting nee­dles of the rev­o­lu­tion.

Nope, know­ing all the words to the Mar­seil­laise doesn’t swing it; nei­ther does learn­ing how to tie a scarf 1001 ways, even with­out a proper neck.

Hav­ing cheese be­fore pud­ding is sim­ply a culi­nary thing, not a mark of Gal­lic in­built su­pe­ri­or­ity and knowledge. Al­though of course they would dis­agree with that.

And all those Brits clutch­ing their newly ac­quired French pass­ports and say­ing at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity: “We French …” are, pah, mere pre­tenders. Claim­ing the mayor as your best friend and her off­spring your other fam­ily may el­e­vate you in the eyes of your vis­it­ing friends but it don’t cut the Di­jon around here, matey. Oh no.

Of course be­fore the mo­ment of full aware­ness I’d had in­ti­ma­tions of my new sta­tus over the past year in par­tic­u­lar. But it was the new re­spect in Miriam’s eyes when she en­tered the house the other day, hav­ing col­lected a pre­scrip­tion for me.

Un­do­ing the bun­dle, she said: “In your drawer you will find pills in a blue box that you were given a year ago for times like this.

“You should have plenty left and you must start tak­ing them im­me­di­ately be­cause of ev­ery­thing else you have to take this week. They’ll pro­tect your stom­ach.”

We opened the other sign of my new French soul – the med­i­cal drawer in the kitchen.

“No, no blue box; can’t see any­thing like that,” I told her, rum­mag­ing through the stashed medicines.

She sighed. “They will be there but you can look later. They’re bound to be there. No ques­tion about it.” (In­deed later I dis­cov­ered they were.)

The phar­ma­cist – the grey-haired one with the beard who loves to make me say “pneu­mol­o­giste” over and over – was cer­tain.

“Did the younger part­ner say any­thing?” I asked as we kept rum­mag­ing – an aside, re­ally.

“He said you def­i­nitely had them and to give you his best.”

And that was the light bulb mo­ment. J’etais ar­rive – I had ar­rived.

Be­lieve me, the chemist’s is the touch­stone for one’s true po­si­tion in vil­lage so­ci­ety. I may not be in­vited to the houses of those who call them­selves ex­pats any more but I care not, for I am trea­sured – trea­sured, I tell you – in this sparkling em­po­rium.

I’m now ashamed of the years I spent sigh­ing and fid­get­ing be­hind the queue of those chat­ting away to my new best friends, ig­nor­ing all be­hind them. I usu­ally just wanted a bloody box of as­pirin; come on, come on, trot on.

Now, I sweep in, a wel­come guest. Heads look up from be­hind the counter, faces light up (re­ally) in greet­ing and even a hand is raised in a lit­tle wave.

Once at my berth, I tell all that’s been hap­pen­ing since the last time we met – med­i­cally, nat­u­rally – and we groan or laugh in uni­son and he or she agrees or dis­agrees that’s been a good or not so good thing.

My pre­scrip­tion is stud­ied and my com­puter file brought up on screen. If he/ she frowns I’m quick to quiz. “What? What?” and in at least three in­stances we’ve agreed that maybe the doc­tor didn’t quite mean that.

“Funny you should say that,” I whis­per, head closer. “I looked it up on Google be­fore I came and I wouldn’t pre­scribe that with that.”

We each raise an eye­brow in com­plic­ity. “I could phone him,” sug­gests the chemist. “Mmm, maybe not,” I re­ply, not want­ing to fall out with my other best friend.

“Well, I’ll give it to you but …” His/ her head dips and the eyes flash a mean­ing­ful glance that I recog­nise. “Un­der­stood,” I say.

Mean­while be­hind me, like cows await­ing the milk­ing stall, the queue grows but there is only pas­sive ac­cep­tance that it is my mo­ment.

I’m still not quite French enough not to care about them so I make my ex­cuses and leave. Usu­ally be­fore I get to the door one of them will say: “Madame Cook?”

I turn. “Say ‘pneu­mol­o­giste’ … Go on.” Oh OK. Oh, how we laugh. Words, of which there are few thank God, begin­ning “pneu” are the hard­est to pro­nounce, in­volv­ing speak­ing down through the nose and scrunch­ing one’s mouth at the same time.

I am the Benny Hill – a French favourite, even to­day – of the area.

I can see it’s a re­quest my best friends will never get tired of and I am happy to oblige time after time. Oh, how we crave some form of ac­cep­tance, no mat­ter our proud stance as an in­dif­fer­ent out­sider. Some­how it is hard-wired into us.

The con­fir­ma­tion of my 100% French­ness came fur­ther when telling my English friend D all of this. In hind­sight my joy was too ob­vi­ous.

“Je­sus, Fidelma,” she said, mouth agape. “You’ve be­come one of the nut­ters I stand be­hind. You’ll de­mand a car­rier bag for your drugs next.”

I have. I will. Merci.

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