It started like any other movie night. But it would end in possible self-imposed exile from the Chinese restaurant down the street.
On Tuesday evening, we decided to go see The Descendants. As friends had told us, the film is moving, but just light enough to keep you from coming out of it depressed. We thought it was excellent, with brilliantly written characters. Eldest daughter Alexandra (played by Shailene Woodley) was so much the way my sister had been as a teenager, that it gave me chills. The movie engulfed and engrossed us, and when the credits started rolling, I wasn’t surprised that nobody moved.
We probably should have decided to stay and collect ourselves before heading outside, too. But we were hoping to have some free time before bed (for the boyfriend, this was especially important, since he’s desperately trying to finish his shako -- a high hat that sort of resembles a drum - in time for an upcoming battle reconstitution). And so, we put on our coats…and scarves…and hats…and gloves…and headed out the door.
Right now, Europe is in what the French are calling an “arctic cold wave”. The minute we stepped outside, a biting wind rushed to meet us. It was snowing -- not thick, soft flakes that fall on your face like petals from the sky, but small, icy pellets that stung our cheeks. The cold and ice were all the more unpleasant because our minds were still in Hawaii, where the movie takes place. Still, we hiked up our collars and set off down the street.
By the time we got to the square located halfway between the movie theater and our apartment, our faces felt frozen solid. My big black knit hat usually perfectly protects my ears, but somehow the wind had gotten to them, and now they were as numb as ears could be. If I'd had any doubts that the boyfriend was also chilled to the bone, they faded when I pointed to our local Chinese takeout place, and he nodded and followed me inside, even though he’d already had dinner.
Thanks to my dear friend A., a connoisseur of Asian culture and cuisine, I’ve come to learn that there are some excellent Chinese restaurants in Paris. But a majority of them are like the one we walked into now. Surprisingly, Chinese food made for French people is a bland mix of same-tasting sauces and small niblets of meat that are supposedly chicken or pork, but are interchangeable.
The one good thing about the Chinese place down the street is its dumplings. They actually have flavor and are quite delectable. My plan that frigid night was to get a few of them to take home for dinner. But when we got in the door, I realized I was hungrier than I thought. So I decided to order the 5 euro menu* I usually get when I stop by (For all that I knock it, our local Chinese place is convenient).
I started ordering. And then this happened:
Me: “I’d like some noodles, please.”
Girl behind counter: “There aren’t enough noodles left.”
Me (stupidly): “Oh….”
Girl behind counter: “You can take half noodles and half Cantonese rice.”
Me: “No, that’s all right…”
Boyfriend: “If you don’t want the rice, I’ll eat it.”
Me: “Ugh. I don't want any Cantonese rice near me! Remember the last time I had it and got food poisoning?”
As I finished, I cringed. I hoped the girl didn’t think I was talking about Cantonese rice I’d gotten from her restaurant. My sluggish mind raced, thinking of how I could smoothly slide an explanation into the obviously overheard conversation.
Girl behind counter: “Where did you catch it?”
“Oh,” I laughed nervously, “not from here! You always make good food! I got it from one of those microwavable meals they sell at the Ed grocery store!”
The girl said nothing.
The boyfriend nudged me stiffly. “She asked if you wanted the food to be hot!” His low, staccato voice belied his embarrassment.
In my defense, the cold had numbed my ears, and my mind was still mostly somewhere in Hawaii, and anyway, here’s what I thought she said: “Vous l’avez chopé où?” (“Where did you catch it?” - pronounced “Voo lah vay shopay oooh?”). Here’s what she actually said: “Vous voulez chauffé ou…?” (“Do you want heated or…?” -- pronounced "Voo voo lay shofay oooh?")
“Uh, no, it’s okay,” I hastily said.
The girl gave me a kind look that I nevertheless had no problem understanding: “What an idiot.”
I’m lucky the boyfriend knows that I tend to babble (which I did again as I paid and left), and that I’m a bit hard of hearing, especially at the worst possible moment. I’m lucky he accepts me anyway. He followed me out of the restaurant and took my gloved hand as we braved the glacial wind the rest of the way home.
“I’m so embarrassed,” I laughed after a while.
“I think the next time you go there, she’s going to spit in your food,” the boyfriend muttered.
“I don’t know if I should go back!”
He nodded, getting an icy snow spray to the face. "I don't know if either of us should."
I’m lucky the boyfriend isn’t a big fan of Chinese food.
*Chinese take-out places for French people play a sly game: It may not seem this way, but it's usually cheaper to order a menu than individual items, even if said items are small, etc.