Back in France, October 2015
It has been six months since I posted to this blog. For a number of reasons. Those of you who are regular bloggers probably never get "blog block"; it occurred when my imperative to write, to share life's matters and my thoughts on life's manners seemed so much less important than living the life which has been mine for the last six months.
But the "block" has lifted, and after so many very special events, most of which involved modern and traditional manners in one way or another, this post is a chronicle of the "block" time.
It all started in September last year. My son turned 30, the same age I was when he was born. So many memories resurfaced as we shared stories of the growing up and maturing of "my baby". Rather than having a large party, his choice was a lunch for family and close friends...a world apart from the fast paced life he had lived for the previous ten years. He is a considerate, worldly and well mannered man of whom I am very proud.
A few days after his birthday celebrations I headed back to France when the weather was turning from winter to spring in Australia, and from autumn to winter in France. I arrived in Villefranche-sur-Mer after an absence of over two years.
A wonderful view from my apartment in the Old Town of Villefranche sur Mer
It was a strange feeling to be "at home" in a country on the other side of the world, in a culture which I would need time to reembrace, speaking a language which relied, during my first few days, on facial expressions which I hoped would complement my often exasperated and overly cautious attempts at the French language skills I had assiduously worked on in the two an a half years since my last experience in Villefranche. Nevertheless I settled for a day before I returned to l'Institut de Français and the familiar faces of the teachers and administrators.
It was an unexpected emotion returning to this wonderful school, and not feeling completely like a "new girl" on her first day. That experience was past me and I automatically felt connected to the environment and considerate of the new students, understanding fully their trepidation during the first day of tests, written and oral. A day when we could speak in our native language; the last time before graduation when we were on the Institut's grounds.
The teachers and supporting personnel are so very professional that they remember our names within 24 hours. They are accomplished "diplomats" and it was comforting, if not surprising to me, to realise that a couple of the "profs" did actually remember me from my previous enrolment.The month long course finished all too quickly. I had again encountered the "I can't do this" moment at one stage, when the overwhelming exhaustion of immersion cut in; but most students hit that place and afterwards, as with me, move onto then another level of proficiency. I still don't understand why, but it happened to me on a Thursday in the third week.
My time in Villefranche was enhanced by the arrival of an American friend I had met when studying at l'Institut in 2013. While we had a pact to only speak in French, so as to enrich the immersion experience for me as she is almost fluent, our excitement at catching up, and our everyday life stories occasionally fell back into English; with no regrets for either of us, as our time together solidified our long distance, long lasting friendship.
We shared time again at our favourite bar in Villefranche on Friday nights...
My return to Australia and my settlement back into my home life was made easier by those whom I love. They understood that for sometime I would have one foot in France and the other in Australia, not because of jet lag but because of my longing for the other country and the Louise that I was there, a stranger in an increasingly familiar place.
Then in December my life changed again. Early in the month I celebrated my 60th birthday with a black tie formal dinner at my home. It was a celebration of my life to date with my family and the wonderful friends who have shared in my journey so far.
So special to have my party by the pool...December in Australia!
But one hour before my guests were due to arrive my daughter, living on the other side of the country and suspecting earlier in the day she may have been in labour, delivered my first granddaughter! She gave me the greatest gift any child could give her mother...a grandchild with whom I will be bonded through a shared birthday. The joy of having two healthy grandchildren and to be surrounded by family and friends quite overwhelmed me with happiness.
Happy birthday to me!
Forty-eight hours later, I arrived in Sydney to meet my granddaughter and to cuddle my 21 month old grandson...and to hug my daughter as only a mother can.
Hi...I'm your big brother!
And so to manners... Manners change, traditions evolve and cultural manners differ between countries; but do the general requirements of consideration towards others change? I don't think so.
The experiences of the last six months have demonstrated to me that fundamentally manners are the same, all over the world, and within the different generations. I was shown amazing consideration in France when I was speaking French away from the school; my tenses were not always correct, but I was communicating without fear of failure and with humour, being understood and, dare I say it, having mutually beneficial conversations. I also experienced myself changing my mannerisms and facial expressions so as to align with those who were showing me such consideration as I attempted to communicate with graciousness.
Later when communicating on my return with my little grandson, I was aware that he was like a sponge in absorbing the nuances of life around him; including, as a little boy under two, understanding the consideration required with his baby sister. And the consideration required of his needs, while still establishing his boundaries of manners, by his parents and those others around him.
I look forward to sharing manners and other matters with my granddaughter...here we are at her Christening...
People often ask me if The Percy Institute of International Protocol is still practical and required...do people want a knowledge of manners, are they not passed down through families and cultures? Last night, after presenting a two hour workshop on Modern Manners to a Year 11 (age 16) group of male students at a local college and then being Guest Speaker that evening at a formal Mothers and Sons dinner these questions answered themselves. The young men were proud to show off their newfound table etiquette skills, their confidence in escorting their mothers to the tables, and seating them comfortably, and making conversation with the other table guests. Many of the mothers remarked that they just didn't have the time to teach manners to their children; but that their eyes had been opened as to how much confidence had been gained by their sons in a short period of time. They had showed that they wanted the knowledge.
Modern manners are evolving. When I introduced, during the workshop, the subjects of social media and dating, and the situations of first dates and breaking up via message/call/email/facebook, etc. the students all realised that there are no modern manners "rules". However, these young Australians did suggest that consideration and empathy for others should guide their decisions...Modern Manners, or just Good Manners?