Agnès has a small dinner party one Friday night and asks me to stay through the drinks before I go out to meet friends. I don’t pass up opportunities to speak French, plus watching my host mother in these kinds of social situations is oddly fascinating. The two male guests are old boyfriends of hers who still come over and have her cook for them sometimes. Both quiet and sullen, they don’t say thank you when Agnès sets plates full of steaming food in front of them. I think that that she might have a type. The shorter of the two scoots his chair up next to mine in the living room. As I sip my small plastic flute of rosé, he asks me a few questions about myself: where I’m from, what I’m studying, why I’m in France. Then he asks me how many children I want to have.
In the United States, this kind of question would be considered out of place. Rude, not to mention weird, and none of any strangers’ business how many children I want to have, or if I even want to have any. But here, it’s not. Not as weird as I think it is, anyway. French culture — while so socially progressive in some ways — can still be so backward that it makes me want to scream.
But I’m starting to realize that I can’t change it. So I stare at him for a beat, unblinking, and answer, “Thirteen.”