Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mon Amour Parle Français

Every year around this time I start to get frustrated with Christmas shopping. Despite good intentions and a strict budget, I look at all the bags piling up and all I think is, "Crap!" And Christmas shopping gets harder as I get older. Gone are the days of buying Body Shop gift baskets and boxes of Pot of Gold chocolates. My parents claim they "don't need anything" and my husband, Chris, is quite simply the most difficult man in the world to shop for.

Yesterday I was out Christmas shopping for him and became paralyzed by a $20 pair of Diesel hot pink and black striped socks. Sweating, I carried the socks around the store for over thirty minutes before abandoning them on a rack of discounted boxer shorts, finally deciding the word "Diesel" in yellow across the ankle was too ugly.

In my twenties, I Christmas shopped for my boyfriend off the Gap sale rack. Anything in a neutral, size medium, or a 32 x 30 was perfect. If I was feeling fancy, I went to Banana Republic and hunted for on-sale cashmere sweaters. I never even bothered with a gift receipt. And us women of a certain age will remember how we spent our teenage years happily shopping for red silk boxers and designer impostor versions of Drakhar Noir and Polo cologne. Those were the days!

I honestly wouldn't mind not shopping for Chris if he was a terrible giver of gifts. If I had endured December 25th's of waffle irons, stuffed teddy bears holding stuffed red roses, deep fryers, and value-packs of pantyhose. But I haven't. The first Christmas we were together, when he had every reason to get it wrong, Chris gave me a silver pleated skirt and a delicate pink silk shirt. Both fit perfectly and nearly ten years later, I still wear them. I have been given exquisite leather gloves, always in the right size (I think knowing a woman's glove size is just as romantic as knowing her ring size), lipsticks in colours more flattering than anything I have ever bought myself, and a silver ring from Tiffany. Last year he had our horse professionally photographed by our wedding photographer. The year before that he purchased a commemorative plaque in honour of my grandfather that now has a proud place at one of our city's Navy memorials. Chris is not just generous, he's also incredibly thoughtful.

Which is why I feel like a total loser for agonizing over a pair of semi-designer socks.

Earlier this year, not Christmas or even our anniversary, I received the most unexpected and fantastic gift. It started with Chris saying something like, "Don't forget the légumes."

"Légumes? Where did you learn that word?"

Légumes is French for "vegetables". While it is not a difficult word, it's not exactly common and certainly not in our household where the kitchen is stocked with chocolat, Nespresso, riz, bière, et biscuits.

I was suspicious and a couple of weeks later, Chris revealed during a Saturday morning hair bleach session (mine, not his) that he had been taking private French lessons for several months in anticipation of our September trip to Paris. Later that day at home, he showed me his notes and work books. Pages and pages of notes conjugating French verbs and translations of common French expressions.

I was overcome. While Chris has done many wonderful things, his learning French is near the very top of the list. I know he loves Paris but I have worried that there is a part of him that simply tolerates my obsession, waiting patiently for the trip when I say, "Enough Paris! Next time, we visit Rome. Or Florence. Or anywhere but Paris!"

And there is another part of me, the part that speaks passable French in Paris, that worries he must get annoyed or bored by having me try to translate everything or, in the case of a few too many early afternoon cocktails, becomes suddenly fluent and spends the better part of an hour discussing the finer points of LV wristlets with a very patient sales clerk.

This year though Chris arrived in Paris with an impressive new confidence and ease. It was as if he came to Paris to say, "Yes, this is home.". We both felt the change and we were more relaxed than ever, sinking into the beautiful city rather than being swallowed by it.

Another precious gift that I will never be able to thank him for.

And now it's Christmas again and I still don't have the perfect gift for Chris. I know it doesn't matter in the way things really matter. Every year Chris assures me that he is happy with his stocking full of things he could just as easily buy himself. Just once though I would like to get him something amazing.

I guess this blog is kind of my "something amazing" for Chris. It's not a new language, it's not tickets to the World Juniors, it's not a great watch, it's not the newest Leafs jersey, and it's not even the promise that I won't eat at least half of each and every one of your pain au chocolat on our future trips to Paris. Not any of those things, just my words. Donc....

Joyeux Noël mon amour. Je t’aime plue que Paris et je ne peux attendre l’Avril.


tami said...


Julie Gilley said...

You have made a story that resonates so loudly in my own heart (and household) sound so beautiful! If Chris is anything like my husband, reading this story will mean more to him than any gift under the tree! Thank you for sharing!

Erin Hallett said...

Dear Tami and Julie,

Thank you for reading and for your comments.

Julie, you are so right. My husband read my blog and loved it. Now we just get to look forward to Paris in the spring.

Merry Christmas!