The French Chocolate Exchange


Ah!  My newest discovery--the French and their chocolate. The French comes in the form of our French exchange student Florian, who brought me chocolates and came to stay three wonderful weeks.  Florian brought a refreshing life-altering view and with him came beautiful epiphanies and extraordinary chocolate.

At the airport pick-up, I was warned by my daughter (in an aside) that I was speaking with a French accent and, "that is bad."  Florian said later, “I understood not a word on ze ride home from ze plane, and I szot, Oh no!”

I may not speak French, but gifts speak the universal language and there was no doubt that Florian understood that his gift of chocolates made me happy. At the top of the box, lay a beautifully molded white chocolate horse with a dark chocolate mane, filled with a creamy milk “sho-co-lat” center, and upon experiencing the first bite I swooned.    I shared the joy, doling out tiny nibbles to all the family until it was gone. When I slapped away hands that wanted more, Florian laughed, “I perceive a sho-co-lat war in zis fam-a-lee.”

By the end of the first week, his humor  sparkled through the quiet more often. He was witty and spontaneous and began to dare to join with the other children in banter. When I asked him flat out to side with me, he averted his eyes, pursed his lips, turned back and then, trying to keep from smiling, he repeated what I want him to say, and then back to the children, he added a rejoinder and they all burst out laughing.

I wonder if all the French are so polite. I am hearing otherwise—rumors of unhappy hosts and French kids relegated to sleeping in cars. We were so blessed to be matched so perfectly. He is so quiet, cautious and polite, even when assigned by his host (the daughter) to call me on the telephone to ask permission to go eat after school.  He stops.  “Jes," he says, "I am ‘ungry,” “But first,” he asks, “ow is your day?”

My only caveat to repeating this experience next is solely because there will never be another like Florian.  But, I am feeling magnanimous as there are so many chocolates, three layers and there is no possible way I can eat all of them in the days stretching out before us before they go bad. They have to go bad right? I’m pragmatic—this experience can’t last forever.

I pass them around the second Sunday after family dinner, as dessert. Everyone gets one, but no! They eat it too quickly, so no more! Children do not savor nor appreciate. The white chocolate balls are a delicate surprise with a thin crust and a creamy, almost impossibly light filling. How can they do that? It seems impossible, just like the miracle of how quickly Florian’s language skills improve under the immersion program. He knows most words and he and I discuss word usage—like I’m an expert in English.

He still doesn’t understand me and says “your muzzer is ze 'ardest, except for your fazzer, 'e is also 'ard, but 'e speaks much less.”

On the second to last night the daughter was called in to translate. “What did you tell Florian, Mom?” He peeked around from behind her questioningly. “I told him I would have you bring the TV upstairs to him. Go do it!” As she installed the kitchen portable in his room, he apologized by saying, “You said you would 'ave her peek up ze TV. I could not see how she 'ow she could peek up ze beeg TV.”

I’m struggling to make the chocolate last. Some of the chocolates have molded dark chocolate cocoa beans set in the top. I’m leaving those until the end to eat with trepidation because I’m sure I won’t like dark chocolate. Yet, I felt the same way about the French experience—certain that there would be whole parts of it that I would be distasteful or I would flat out hate.

My newest favorite is the dark chocolate with the tart orange slice on top. It must have orange in the smooth chocolate truffle filling, but it is so subtle that it only hints to the flavor and the tart acts in such contrast to the sweet that my tongue dances ecstatic circles. The flavor is incredible and so smooth that I am rapidly realizing what apprehension has denied me.  Dark is what chocolate should be and I'm in heaven!

The boy washes his own clothes! And his socks and underwear by hand, “French cloz are frageel, and are not put in drum dryer.” He clears and stacks his own dishes, and the words, “Ow can I 'elp,” are standard at every meal. He knows how to cut straight to my heart as he says, “My frienz are jealous. Zey complain every day zat zey eat fast food or go to restaurants. I say, I’m soree, Dia’s mom cooks every night.” And our schedule for nocturnal eating—sometimes eating as late as eight—while playing havoc with our waistlines—fits perfectly with the French way of life. He says of my cooking, “zer is noszing zat I don’t like.” Maybe I could swap, four for one, (the family) straight across.

It’s nearing the end of the visit and as I watch the chocolate dwindle, I’m sad. Easter comes and goes and the novelty of coloring easter eggs is only one of the joys that are revisited as Florian’s youthful excitement is introduced to the wonders and traditions of America.

The molded half walnut, filled with chocolate and stamped on top with a nut is rolling around forlornly in the bottom of the box and I’ve spent two days searching the internet trying to speed learn French so I can order them again, but this particular glazier has no website. He is unique. These chocolates and this individual are a once in a life-time opportunity that can only be savored now.

And when they are gone, I am realizing that they will have changed me forever. My life has known this joy and I will never be the same.

I’m mourning already.

VOILA!  Eight Years Later!  Almost to the Day.  I have kept the card and I have found their site!  Now to speed learn French!