Uno, Deux, Trois, Cinq, Sept

Over the course of my adolescence, our family hosted seven French students for “a delightful summer abroad.” They would get on a plane in Paris and fly to Montana where they would disembark, their necks wrapped in scarves, their mouths smoking Gaulloises. Then, with a slow exhale, they would stare, in shock, at the hicks milling around the Billings airport (who were, after all, wearing scarves–bandanas–around their necks and smoking–Marlboro Reds). C’était un nouveau monde entier for the poor Froggies. Standing there on top of the Rimrocks, they were clearly, assuredly, crushingly, not within a beret’s toss of a good baguette.

The first French student we hosted was Frederico, who, strangely, was Mexican. There must have been a mix-up in the paperwork. Or maybe he was undocumented entirely. All I know is he had cute curls, wore a striped shirt sometimes and–oh, yes he did–brought us a sombrero. Had he tucked a bottle of Kaluha into that sombrero, I would have dubbed him perfecto.

The second summer’s hosting brought us sixteen-year-old Jean-Pierre, he of the pencil-thin mustache and after-dinner cigarettes out by the roses. Standing there, puffing, he undoubtedly stared at the big sky and mused, “Zose potato streeps zey served pour le diner are faux. Zey are not one beet French. But I weel have more tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, for the grease is très comme une drogue, and I find I must have it.” The highlight of his stay was perhaps the night my brother broke J-P’s nose during a tutorial in The Hottest Moves of World Wide Wrestling. Later, after a trip to the emergency room, J-P and his love of ska introduced us Ozzy lovers to the madness of “One Step Beyond” and a new way of waggling our legs on the dance floor (by the tv in our den). Little known fact: such cultural exchange also played a major role in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase.

Shortly after shaking hands, James Monroe and Barbe Marbois were hoisted into the air by Toots & the Maytals, whereupon the entire crowd broke into a tri-corned remix of “Pressure Drop”

Our third Frenchie was Marjorie, who sported a Flock of Seagulls haircut and labeled me très sympathique. I will always remember how my dad and I took her on a road trip to Chicago (long story: we were actually picking up my sister and brother at the airport there, after they came home from living in France with host families…and, of course, the closest airport to central Montana is O’Hare); the road trip coincided with Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding, which meant Marjorie and I, sharing a bed at a Budget Host Motel in Des Plaines, clutched sweaty palms at 6 a.m. as we watched the exchange of vows. And how could we not weep a bit in the presence of such genuine and lasting love? Also memorably, Marjorie’s father was a chef in Reims, and she brought aprons and some nice scarves as gifts. Had she rolled a bottle of red Coteaux Champenois into one of those scarves, I would have labeled her parfait.

Our fourth student was, um, Piquequinque, thusly named because I have no recollection of a fourth student, and I’m starting to think we didn’t actually host seven students but maybe more like five, but I’ve always told people “My family hosted seven French students when I was growing up,” and if the fact that one of those seven was Mexican has never slowed me down, then I don’t know why I would let the fact that there were maybe only five stop me either. So I maintain Piquequinque came, and s/he was terribly homesick and droopy until my sister taught him/her how to play Clue. Once there was candlestick in the conservatory and a wrench in the billiard room, the summer days shone un nouveau genre de soleil dans le coeur de poor Piquequinque.

Fifth came Hervé, a techno-musicophile who gifted us with Jean Michel Jarre albums, albums that tested our good will mightily, forcing us to paste a smile on our collective face and gasp phrases like, “Well, I’ll be. Is there anything a synthesizer can’t do?” Hervé’s precision cut, incidentally, was this


A summer later, we flung open our doors to fourteen-year-old Sophie, who was, memorably, from a region of France. And she had braids.

The only possible encore to a wild show like Sophie was, um, Pippi. Much like her cousine Piquequinque, Pippi didn’t really exist; however, to prop up my memory of seven students, not a mere five, she is here today. Boy, I’ll never forget her red Converse high-tops. Even better, side-stepping quarantine laws, she brought a monkey with her (one Mr. Nilsson) and did this amazing party trick where she had a horse stand on a wooden door and then would lift it above her head. Once, she asked to borrow my bike. Hoping that she would, in return, let me accompany her to the South Seas to find her long-lost father, I let her.

With all of these students, from Frederico to Pippi, our family did its best to show them the major sights and sites of the Wild West. They toured Boot Hill cemetery, the old pioneer cabin by the airport (what a convenient first stop, once they had alighted from the plane and put out their cigarettes!), and the Little Bighorn Battlefield, at that time named after the pudding-head of a general who had been routed there in 1876, a flan-follicled man called Custard.

But in between? Lots of down time. Lots of “What the hell do we bored kids do with the Frenchie while Mom and Dad are at work? Sure, there’s always ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ re-runs, but the constant translation of phrases like ‘Yee-haw’ and ‘cement pond’ gets old.”

What to do? What to do?

Fortunately, local radio stations often teamed up with car lots for mutual promotion. The radio jocks from KBear, 97.1 on the FM dial, would back the station’s van up to an open spot on the car lot and do a live broadcast from the van, alternately playing “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer” by Kim Carnes and Kenny Rogers and shouting out plugs to “Come on over to Rimrock Pontiac-Cadillac before 3 p.m. today and grab a free hot dog and Pepsi!”

So we did. One hot July afternoon, with no other way to amuse Jean-Hervé-erico, my brother, sister, and I extended the ultimate in American hospitality. We got him the hot dog. We showed him the cars. He had a Pepsi. We bobbed our heads to Kim and Kenny.

Now, twenty-five years later, all I have to say is,

Suck on that, Sarkozy, you pretentious pâté mucher. Stuff that in your goose and smoke it.

We took your people. We made them sleep in a waterbed. Moreover, in perhaps the most inequitable cultural exchange since the Americas exported the potato to Ireland and Ireland countered with Michael Flatley, our French students gave us Hermès scarves, and we fed them Oscar Mayer.

C’est la vie, muchacho.





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27 responses to “Uno, Deux, Trois, Cinq, Sept”

  1. jen Avatar

    you are beyond hysterical. i love it. adieu.

  2. Calamity Jane Avatar
    Calamity Jane

    Zut alors! I remember those heady years of the French exchange students … mostly we spent the time learning to curse in French eg Ta mere suce des ours dans la foret … your mother sucks bears in the forest or something like that. Fortunately I’ve never had the occasion to use that one

  3. Maddy Avatar

    Entente Cordial!

  4. Lone Grey Squirrel Avatar
    Lone Grey Squirrel

    A true cultural Tour de Force. Pippi sounds like a very interesting “person”. I wonder what she grew up to be.

  5. heartinsanfrancisco Avatar

    C’est magnifique. Merd alors. Des Gaulloises sont nasteee. Did you actually learn any French?

    Mais quel bon chance pour les etudiants Francais as most Americans have never been to Montana.

    How you gonna keep ’em back in Pareee after they’ve seen — Billings?

  6. Jazz Avatar

    I’ll bet they were changed forever after spending a summer with you… in a likely scary way.

  7. Claudia Avatar

    Sometimes, all it takes is an impressive weaner to close the culture gap. I know it worked for me. 😉

  8. furiousBall Avatar

    you know, the Marlboro Man was once called a “pretentious pâté muncher”, until one day he started smoking cigarettes and he kicked ass from there on out. so it goes to show you kids, smoking may lead to some yucky stuff later, but it does make you kick ass.

  9. the frogster Avatar
    the frogster

    Great stuff. It’s thanks to giving families like yours that we have been able to maintain good relations with the French (and why we’ve been able to install a McDonalds restaurant every two city blocks over there as well). Thanks for doing your patriotic duty.

  10. Diana Avatar

    This: “a flan-follicled man called Custard” is tickling me and will be why I am stupidly grinning today.

    Just thought you should know.

  11. liv Avatar

    okay. i’m just gwine say you’re fucking fabulous, and you can swim in my cement pond anytime.

  12. Chantal Avatar

    I just found your blog and I have to say – Holy Shit you are hysterical! Love it

  13. pistols at dawn Avatar
    pistols at dawn

    Fantastic, although your brother’s wrestling victory over a Frenchie (making the score U.S. 1, Other Countries 0) was negated by a Spanish exchange student who, during a similar wrestling session, slammed my head into a coffee table.

    I dealt with it in a mature fashion: crying (at first), and beginning a vehmently anti-Spanish magazine that started the Spanish-American War.

    Take that, Juan.

  14. Princess Pointful Avatar
    Princess Pointful

    Mon Dieu, Jocelyn!
    J’aime les chiens chaud!

  15. Glamourpuss Avatar

    You’ve reminded me of our school trip to France where we invaded the dancefloor and pogo-ed to One Step Beyond, much to the disgust of our French hosts.

    The Eighties weren’t kind.


  16. chelle Avatar

    ahh the exchange student! I cannot believe your family had five errr SEVEN come!

  17. lime Avatar

    LOL, ok i need a moment to compose myself after pondering the importance of ska in the negotiation over the louisiana purchase!

    as a young married couple mr. lime and i hosted 2 students from japan and one from france.

    the french boy was busy trying to charm the pants off the neighbor girl. he was polite enough to excuse himself for inquiring as to my age since i was married and pregnant but quite obviously young (22). when this 16 year old child began to lecture me on the lack of history and culture the USA has and the superiority of the french culture and history he did not think it was impolite. i decided to trump him with my greek heritage and reminded him his ancestors were scribbling on walls while mine pondered philosophy and created architectural and artistic masterpieces. such the hostess i am, n’est pas?

  18. lime Avatar

    oh, and i really NEED to, am COMPELLED to add the missing ‘quartre’ in your title. sorry….

  19. lime Avatar

    six is missing too…and DOH! i get it now…i get it…slinks away all red faced….so much for being one of your good readers. it’s the blur of back pain and vicodin..yeah, thats’ my story…the back pain, the vicodin…and the limelets in the background…..distractions i tell ya!

  20. Theresa Avatar

    Ahh, exchange students. I’m here in Spain thanks to one.

  21. Dorky Dad Avatar
    Dorky Dad

    I so totally think that we got the raw end of the potatoes-for-Michael Flatley deal. It’s not right. Not right at all.

  22. kimber the wolfgrrrl Avatar
    kimber the wolfgrrrl

    Zut alors et sacre pamplemousse! J’adore les gens du France, mais l’idee a sept etudients dans chez moi — votre parents est courageux!

  23. Claire Avatar

    Your mind is an amazing maze of interrelated trivia and historical facts. “flan-follicled man called Custard” will make me chuckle all day (tomorrow, since I’m writing this tonight!)

  24. citizen of the world Avatar
    citizen of the world

    Okay, I’m going ot skip the opportunity to throw in the little bit of French I remember. I remember going to listen to a high school maching band from the States in the little town in Switzerland where I went to school. The teacher I was staying with during part of summer break looked at all the kids with their feathered hair (wings! do you remember wings?) and said, “Why do they all have the same haircut?” I just shrugged and said, “They”re American.”

  25. Spider Girl Avatar
    Spider Girl

    Potato streeps are indeed varry varry French. C’est magnifique! With mayonnaise….

  26. choochoo Avatar

    If you just push the line a little further, you could prolly make a real impact on the world. In a scary sort of a way.

  27. Balou Avatar

    You’re a great story teller! My husband’s family hosted college students from all over the world. They have kept in contact with most over the years. We hosted a college student from Venezuela one summer. I taught him how to make pizza and he loved the riding lawn mower! We also spent many an evening at the dining room table with him looking into my mouth trying to figure out how to pronounce the J sound.

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