Several years ago I joined a Catholic monastery in France for a time, which is a very serious thing to do. What I found, coming from the suburbs of Dallas, was a place so hilariously new that I had to start writing it down.
1. The little moments of downtime feel different. There was still enough to keep me busy, but what I did in between those times was not the same. Where I used to text a friend or check Facebook or the news, now I sit down and — just sit.
2. French people actually wear berets. And it is every bit as hilarious as the first time I saw a Texan unironically wearing a cowboy hat.
3. The brothers seem convinced that because I am tall and not skinny like Europeans that I must have twice the appetite of the normal man. Any time food is served to me I am given at least twice as much as anyone else.
4. Monks farting during the liturgy is hilarious. Especially when they strike their chest afterward to admit fault.
5. Lingerie is just French for underwear. But I still didn’t like it when the brothers asked if that was my lingerie hanging out on the clothesline.
6. Pistachio yogurt is a thing that exists but very much shouldn’t.
7. After several months living in France, you begin to smell French.
8. Real, homemade quiche in France is to mini frozen appetizer quiches as thick, juicy steak is to beef jerky.
9. The word similar is “semblable” in French and is pronounced more or less sem-blah-blah. It is impossible to sound like a respectable person while saying it.
10. Pâté looks exactly like cat food. But as far as things that look exactly like cat food go, it is really quite good.
11. St. Francis dictated that all the doorways be built low so that the brothers would have to bow and be reminded to be humble any time they entered a room. It’s a nice thought but I mainly just felt like I lived with hobbits.
12. There were two spiders that lived behind wood planks in my room. I tried to imagine them as gentle, Charlotte’s Web type characters, but every time I turned off the lights I just pictured them hovering over my face with dozens of blinking eyes and ferocious fangs.
13. Jan, A Polish man who stayed for a while at the monastery while searching for work wore a jean jacket every day that said Cowboy Poker in gold rhinestones on the back. It stood out just a little compared to the monks habits.
14. Honestly, snails really kind of freaked me out. They look like tiny aliens with armor. They come out and stick to things whenever it rains. Why on earth would you put one in your mouth?
15. Jan, the Polish man, once walked up to me after Mass and with a big grin said, “Eh? Texas! Cowboy! Guns in the face! Cowboy! McDonalds!” So, that is what the world thinks of you, Texas.
16. A brother came up to me in November and told me my pants were a bit too long. He had good reason — when it rains they will get wet at the bottom. But mostly my reaction was just You know what? They’re my fucking pants. Why don’t you go worry about the fact that Winter is almost here and you don’t even have pants! But that wasn’t very obedient of me.
17. There is a tool we used for splitting fire kindling that is essentially a handheld sickle. I almost cut off a finger every single time. Mostly I view this as proof that evolutions is not as air-tight a theory as previously thought.
18. Maybe this is obvious, but turtlenecks look ten times more French in France.
19. The word chef just means “chief” — as in the person in charge. The chef of the kitchen is just the one calling all the shots. I don’t know why but discovering this felt akin to finding out Santa wasn’t real. All the magic in the word was gone. No one ever told me learning a foreign language would slowly rob you of your childlike innocence. On the other hand, you should really look up what a cul-de-sac literally means.
20. The brothers had an old Ford tractor we would sometimes use that was so ancient anytime I would ride around on it I would feel like a character out of Of Mice and Men.
21. Any time I would be sitting on a bench and a monk farted during prayer and I felt the rumble, I would look heavenward and quietly say, double points.
22. One time we roasted chestnuts on an open fire and I tried explaining that we had a song in English about that but only got so far as Jack Frost nipping at your nose before things got so confusing I gave up.
23. I invented a new food called Quizza. It’s a fusion between quiche and pizza and it became all the rage in France. And of course, by France, I mean a monastery with ten people in it.
24. The brothers in the monastery were required to shave, but there is one older brother who had a thick, scraggly beard. I never found out why. One day he trimmed it though and I realized he is much younger than I previously thought, and rather handsome too. So either he is a former billionaire orphan who left everything to train with the monks up there in the mountains, or he is a former assassin making penance for a life of vicious crime. These are the only two logical reasons I could come up with for a hidden bearded man in a clean-shaven monastery. But the day I realized he could have been shot in the back, left for dead in the ocean, recovered by a French fishing boat, lost all his memory, and found a small chip in his him which told him to go become a monk, well, that was the day I realized focusing during prayer wasn’t really my strong suit.