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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Givens

Bad Weather, Beautiful People

This morning’s interactions weren’t unusual.

I walked the boys to school. On the way back, I decided to walk by our local bakery and get some breakfast to surprise Rachel. It’s something I’ve done a number of times since we moved to Calais. We’re not regulars of the bakery, but we go often enough to recognize and be recognized by the employees there. They know we’re not French.

“Good morning!” I say to the employee behind the counter, in French.

“Good morning!” She replies.

“I’d like two pains aux chocolates, and two croissants, please,” I tell her.

“Two pains aux chocolates, and how many croissants?” she asks.

“Two,” I enunciate clearly.

“Two. OK, I understood that you said ten,” she replies.

“I know. I have difficulty with those sounds in French,” I tell her.

“Yes, but your French is much better than before!” She exclaims.

“Yeah, I guess so. I’ve had plenty of practice now,” I joke with her.

“How long have you lived here now?” She inquires.

“About two years,” I reply. “We’re going to the USA for the summer next week.”

“Oh!” She says, “I bet the weather is much better there, although we have had some sun lately.”

“Yes, probably,” I reply, “But I like the weather in Calais.”

We both laugh. I take my bread and tell her goodbye. The weather in Calais is something that people joke about often here. Being next to the sea, it’s mild and rainy year-round. The French find it cold and miserable. But they (mostly) have never been to Minnesota in the winter. To me, the Calais weather isn’t bad at all. Though I do wish for warmer summer weather.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s because after I left the bakery, it struck me how different the interactions I have now are from the ones I had when we first moved to France. I’m able to hold conversations, for one. Even simple things, like understanding when someone tells me what the price of something is, are much easier now.

I know the things that the locals joke about, like the weather. I can give people directions to places when they ask. I know which pastry shops have the best lemon meringue tarts. I know special spots on the beach where there are less likely to be crowds. I have a favorite halal butcher, where the proprietor greets me as a friend.

Calais has become my home. Apart from even the work we do with the migrant community here, we have tried to get to know this town and plant our roots here. When we arrived, I thought Calais was ugly, and every town we visited in France was nicer than Calais. Admittedly, Calais is not the prettiest town in France. It’s not touristy or trendy. When I go to other places and tell people I live in Calais, the jokes about the weather and the town are inevitable.

And yet, even though I still recognize these things about Calais, I have fallen in love with this place. The people are generally kind and welcoming. We’ve had some who are interested in our work and really want to help. And, just like anywhere else, it’s the people that really make the place.

Now when I wander, I’m happy to come back. I’ll miss this place when we’re gone this summer, but I know we’ll come back.

At least for now, Calais is my home.

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