There is no word for ‘wife’ in France. We only get the possessive ma femme, translated my woman. Mistresses have their own word and so do husbands. More on that…….
To live in France for any extended period you have to pass a physical. Ours was today and we arrived at the OFII offices and were put through our paces. I’ve read a lot of US immigrant stories lately and this finely tuned medical machine that processed us reminded me of those-- stories of teeth being checked, eyelids lifted and chalk marks made on the clothes of people fresh off the boat at Ellis Island.
First, we had chest x-rays. P went in while I waited. When it was my turn, I was told to ‘enlever’ everything on the top and put my hair up high. No gowns or sheets for modesty. I had to stand there in my skirt and sandals while the nurse explained that I should get into the box, press my front against the x-ray wall, take a deep breath and hold it when she said, ‘Ah, la la’ or something along those lines. My consolation was that P went before me so any germs I was pressing myself up against were his.
Next was the nurse who asked the questions, sadistically stabbed my ring finger for blood, and checked weight and height. She spoke to me in French for the most part after she told me the baby was cute and I understood. She asked me if I’d had a tetanus injection in the past 10 years to which I replied, ‘Oui, j’etait une maitresse so I had one then.’ Her eyebrows raised, ‘Une maitresse?’ Yes, une maitresse, dans l’ecole,je suis une matiresse !.’ What’s the deal with French people not understanding when I tell them something quite clearly in French?! Her curious expression turned to a half smile and she nodded and said something to let me know she understood.
On to Monsieur docteur. P went in alone again and I stayed behind. When he came out he and the doctor were laughing and seemed to have had a jolly old time together. The doctor then threw out some English, ‘I’ll be right back for your woman.’ Now as I said before, I know that wife is simply woman here and it has been a curiosity. I’d just never heard it translated literally. And in relation to me. Uh….your woman? P and I looked at each other and laughed. Ha, ha, you’re my woman, very funny stuff indeed.
Back to the sadistic nurse….while ‘wife’ is simply ‘my woman’ the word for mistress is dangerously similar to the word for teacher. And this is precisely the word I was describing myself as—une maitresse. Hence the raised eyebrows, confusion and half-smile. ‘Yes, I’ve had a tetanus shot because I was a mistress.’ And I continued to insist when she seemed confused. ‘A mistress, in a school, a mistress I tell you!’
Today I made myself a mistress and became someone’s woman.