Twinkies au Chocolat: Surviving the First Year of Marriage
Imagine waking up every day next to a man who has never eaten a Twinkie. Such is the Faustian bargain I made when I moved to Paris and married my French husband in July of 2003.
My first year of marriage was also my first year in France. My husband had seduced me with bloody steak, long walks through narrow cobblestone streets, and wild-strawberry sorbet. Now, there were bills, no central heating, and a makeshift kitchen with two electric burners in our tiny flat near the Canal Saint-Martin.
When you choose to marry into another culture, you have a lifetime of catching up to do. Gwendal had never seen The Breakfast Club, I had never seen Les 400 Coups. My first slow dance was to Wham!. His was accompanied by some Italian pop star I had never heard of. But nowhere were our differences more pronounced than at the table, a spot where we would be sharing two or three meals a day — for the rest of our lives.
I grew up in 1970s New Jersey, drinking diet cream soda and eating instant mac and cheese. The sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll of my adolescence was a can of Pillsbury vanilla frosting and a plastic spoon. I spent weekends with my dad in New York City, learning to use chopsticks and, after a late movie, devouring pillowy cheese blintzes at the Kiev, an all-night Russian diner on Second Avenue. I knew a fish fork when I saw one, but might have told you potatoes grew on trees.
My husband grew up in Saint-Malo, on the Channel coast of France. His father knew how to catch an eel with his bare hands. Gwendal carried pails of fresh milk, still warm and frothy with cream, ate crab apples from the tree in his grandfather’s garden, and grew sick from devouring too many of the blackberries meant for jam. Until he was 11, he thought broccoli was a made-up vegetable, invented, like cowboys and aliens, in the pages of his comic books.
We worshipped at different altars. To me, a family gathering was a Hebrew National salami and a fight over leftover lo mein for breakfast. Gwendal’s memories of lingering family meals centered on the cheese plate (and a very bad experience with his father’s stuffed cabbage). Cheese to me was flat, square, and fluorescent orange. For Gwendal, cheese was sacred, the closest thing the French have to a national religion. Every Christmas, his great-aunt Jane sent a discus-size round of Saint-Nectaire through the mail. And every year, like a recitation of The Night Before Christmas, I would hear the tale of the famous Noël Postal Strike of 1995. The postman arrived three weeks later with the package — oozing and pungent — held at arm’s length.
My husband and I will celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary next year. Over time, our culinary habits have blended together. I am now a lover — and creator — of five-course French dinner parties, and Gwendal occasionally eats breakfast (though not leftover Chinese food) standing up at the kitchen counter. I still contemplate life’s big questions in front of the open fridge. He still refuses to drink milk out of the container.
C’est la vie.
Excerpted from Wedding Cake for Breakfast, edited by Kim Perel and Wendy Sherman. Collection © Kim Perel and Wendy Sherman, 2012. Essay © Elizabeth Bard, 2012. Reprinted by permission of Berkley Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, New York.
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