In the words of my Aussie friend Damien, the French really “pecked the eyes out!” of the world during maritime colonialism. Doing this grand repair in French Polynesia has given me an excellent excuse to stay on this small jewel of the Pacific. From my view, the Tahitian-French lifestyle is a lovely fairytale of fresh fruit, rainbows, waves, clean and simple living, trade wind breezes, starry nights, friendship, love, and generosity. The ocean is a playground and a life source. There’s no big hurry because everyone is basically where they want to be. “Haere maru, haere papu, the Tahitians say, roughly meaning ‘Go slowly, go surely’. It’s no wonder they make it so difficult for foreigners to stay here; if not, everyone would! Although much of my new vocabulary pertains to boat repairing, my French and Tahitian have drastically improved. I love Monoi oil and red ‘fei’ bananas. Baguettes and raw fish and flowers are daily staples. I know that when the Polynesians lift their eyebrows, it means ‘yes’ and I’m used to the mandatory double-cheek ‘French’ kisses that make getting anything done during the day nearly impossible. When I first arrived, arrivals and exits from social situations were always awkward”¦handshake? Kisses? Slap-bump? Hug?
Now that I understand the custom, they’re just a bit time-consuming. Every time you greet a person or leave a social situation, you must kiss each person on each cheek. Imagine a twelve person dinner party”¦that’s 48 kisses just to get in and out! Handshaking happens strictly between men and hugging simply doesn’t exist!? When I’m on land I am strictly a girl (double kisses), when surfing I can get by with the slap-bump like I’m one of the boys. (There aren’t many other female surfers around, and double kisses on surfboards are wholly impractical and could be dangerous if a set comes! And did you know that French chickens don’t say ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’? An entire lunch conversation at the yard was spent discussing that in English, as far as I know, chickens say ‘cock-a doodle-doo’ while they insisted that chickens here say, ‘coco-rico’. I much enjoyed watching the entire group sound out the letters like on Sesame Street while I scratched ‘cock-a-doodle-doo’ into the old engine box cover that we eat lunch on. They’d never heard such nonsense! (My Italian friends here also confirmed that Italian chickens say, ‘kiki riki’!)