An American in Bourron-Marlotte

When they moved here in 1976, the author and his wife thought they knew all about the French. How wrong they were

Alfred Sisley - Street of Marlotte (1866)
Alfred Sisley - Street of Marlotte (1866) Wikimedia Commons

During the 24 years they have spent living in a small French village some 40 miles south of Paris, the American journalist Rudy Chelminski and his wife, Brien, have learned a great deal about their neighbors. It would have been hard not to. Even though most houses in Bourron-Marlotte are walled and their shutters ritually slammed shut each night, tout se sait: everyone knows everyone and nearly everything about them. One of the most interesting things the Chelminskis learned was that much of what they had previously been led to believe about the French was dead wrong.

The French, Chelminski notes, are not cold and heartless, they are not rude and ungrateful, they are not irascible and they are not quaint. "They are quick and smart and hard-edged, and if they tend to grow testy at the sight of foreigners, it's difficult to blame them, because the land God gave them is something like a natural paradise, and probably even before Caesar there were foreigners aplenty chanting I-want-it-and-here-I-come. So they're not 'nice' the way Americans are. They're on their guard." Still, even though one of their acquaintances suspected that Chelminski worked for the CIA, he and Brien and their children were accepted by the people of Bourron-Marlotte, and integrated into the community.

"We're grateful for that," Chelminski concludes, "and don't ask for anything more." 

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