A fair warning that despite originally planning on keeping this one short, my need to retell every detail that evoked some sort of emotion from me, got in the way, and I’ve once again written a very detailed account of a little trip.
This last weekend, I was fortunate enough to go on my very first business trip…in none-other than my favorite city in France, Aix-en Provence.
If we’ve shared a deep conversation any time in the last 10 months, chances are you know that I Ieft a part of my heart in Aix when I lived there for 6 weeks before coming to Madrid. If you don’t already know, last summer I spent a month learning French, about 5 hours a day, living with the most amazing host parents in a typical Southern France home, eating a delicious and freshly prepared dinner together in their garden every evening, and enjoying a glass of rosé out in the town by night. The other two weeks were spent in the company of a dear family friend, Joanna, who I’ve now adopted as my French/Polish mother, who took it upon herself to show me all the beautiful, quaint cities that Provence has to offer. Needless to say, those six weeks were some of the most magical of my life…so when the question appeared in my e-mail at work a few weeks ago, regarding who would like to accompany Chloé, our French market specialist, on a business trip to Aix-en-Provence, my heart all but jumped out of my chest.
And the trip did not disappoint.
Upon arrival in Aix, the first thing we did was enjoy a traditional French breakfast: pain au chocolat avec du pain, un café au lait, et un jus d’orange…aka a chocolate croissant WITH a piece of baguette (and butter and jam) with coffee and a freshly squeezed orange juice. I swear I have no idea how French people are so skinny. After eating, we made our way to our perfectly centrally located Airbnb. Not only was it perfectly located, but it was tastefully decorated and extremely modern despite being in quite an older building. But my favorite part was the view of the town’s rooftops in front of the hills in the distance.
While the food and accommodations were simply fantastic, the purpose of the trip was even better: to represent We Are Knitters at the most chic, stereotypical South of France expo you could ever imagine; called the Salon Vivre Côté Sud. Here, the top interior designers, artists, landscapers, come together in a long weekend of festivities to showcase their glamorous work. The theme for this year’s event was Bleu, and one could say that the event certainly lived up to its theme.
Anyway, what was We Are Knitters doing at this event, one might wonder? We were teaching workshops for how to make your own pompoms using our yarn! A trendy and fun activity that left all of our participants with huge smiles across their faces, it was a delight for us to provide such a service while getting to brag about our awesome company.
Now, rewinding a bit…I must admit that on the day of the festival, my French was not flowing as well as I would have liked. It served well enough to give some basic instructions to the posh ladies in their hipster sunnies, but when pressed for specific details, my tongue felt truly tied. Nonetheless, it wasn’t a huge deal to anyone but me. I began to worry about the next day, as I had arrangements to have lunch with my host parents, followed by being picked up Joanna to spend the remainder of the weekend with her.
Mind you, my host parents do not speak English. If I would be at a loss of words in French, I would have to simply (though not that simple of a task) think of an alternate way to get my point across. Joanna, on the other hand, though our main common language is French, does speak English to the point where if I’m struggling too much, I can take the easy way out and switch to my native tongue. Therefore, as the lunch with my host parents approached, I began t o feel increasingly nervous about how we were going to be able to catch up, and whether they would feel disappointed in me for having allowed my level of French to drop as it has.
Alas, the lunch came, and a quick 3 hours later, it went. What ended up happening left me very happily surprised. I suppose it’s because it was with Marie and Cristophe that I originally developed my language capabilities, that when it came time to reunite, it felt as though the 10 months had passed in the span of a short couple of weeks. Their house was unchanged, both of them looked very well, and Marie had cooked a delicious salmon and spinach tart (a recipe that I fondly remembered)…all just like old times. Our topics of conversation ranged from Trump’s disgusting decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, to future travel plans, to the difference in cultural norms in regards to swimwear on beaches in France vs. the US. What a delightful 3 hours it was.
And then Joanna came and got me. As with Marie and Cristophe, it felt as though no time had passed. We drove the 15 minutes over to the next town, and as per our usual, we immediately went and sat by the pool, catching up over a few glasses of rosé and fresh, flavorful strawberries from the local marché. God, I swear there’s nothing better than simply sitting in a beautiful garden, taking in the smell of the coastal air, smiling up at the sun whilst holding a glass of wine that comes from a vineyard 10 minutes down the road.
As the evening drew on, we began to prepare for Joanna’s guests. Her best friends were coming over for dinner and fun; and the whole family was coming. Marta, Eric, their two sons, and the girlfriend of one of said sons. I can understand why this lovely family are essentially an extension of Joanna’s family. I wish I had an Eric in my life. This endearing man had the exact laugh of the floating man in that one scene of Mary Poppins–a laugh so booming and jubilant that even if you don’t at all understand what the joke was, you can’t stop yourself from joining in. If you have such a laugh, and I’m not aware, please get in contact with me ASAP as I would love to have you in my life.
Dinner turned into cake which turned into champagne which turned into a game of TimesUp (in French, which I have to say was an accomplishment for me), which turned into me reaching a point of exhaustion that made me konk about probably within 5 minutes after their departure. Though I didn’t necessarily “do” much this Saturday, the mental capacity it took to have conversations in a language I hadn’t spoken (besides on the rare occasion after a couple drinks) absolutely DRAINED me.
On Sunday, Joanna lived up to every expectation I have of her. She took me to La Ciotat, a town directly on the coast, which (fun fact!) is actually home to the two founders of film, the Lumière brothers! We sunbathed and took turns dipping into the clear blue water to cool off. Despite how crowded the beach was, I was in sheer tranquility. The squeals of delight of the sand-covered children mixed with the rapid chatter of the Frenchies all around me, filled me with joy as I fell into a trancelike limbo of consciousness.
Unfortunately, this moment of trance couldn’t last forever, as my time left in Provence was quickly coming to a close. We packed up our stuff and shared one last meal together before making our way back: I enjoyed a very traditional local dish “Moules-frites” or Muscles with Fries, and was simply shocked at the amount of muscles that materialized in front of me. I must have had at least 30 muscles to myself before calling it quits on the 10 remaining ones… though definitely delicious, I have to say that the muscles prepared with vinegar and raw onions I had last week in San Sebastian may still take the reign as the best muscles I’ve had the pleasure of eating.
So to wrap up, the takeaways I gathered from this weekend’s trip are the following:
- Business trips can expose you to environments you may never find yourself in otherwise–so always say yes when offered to tag along. (Definitely biased and may just be the reason I chose International Business, so must be taken with a grain of salt)
- Verbal communication is not the most important factor in a relationship. While I did end up being able to have good conversations with all my contacts in Aix, my level of French was not where it was a year ago. However, our bonds were built on more than just talking; something I think also carries over into relationships with fellow anglophones.
- Reminder to Self: Retire in the South of France.