Hazelnuts: a Universal Language

When I was in college, I studied abroad in Luxembourg. I know.  This seems obscure.  And some of you may need to google a map of Europe.  Just be sure to also put on your glasses.  It’s the teeny tiny country squished in between Germany, France and Belgium that while small in square footage, is by no means small in history or charm.

I had the opportunity to live with Marie, a delightful, elderly woman whose sons forced her to board college students so that she would not be on her own. I think, in all honesty, Marie would have been just fine on her own. Marie read. Marie loved watching Oprah. Marie could cut up a chicken with a few simple snips of the kitchen scissors, and once I observed her dismantle and repair the pipes underneath the bathroom sink as if she were a licensed plumber. Marie painted her nails a new shade every night before she went to bed, and when I returned home, I sent her a box of the trendiest colors OPI had to offer. Marie was independent and “old school” self-reliant, and I suspect that somewhere inside her head she pitied her female college boarders who were helpless in the world by comparison.

Despite her many American boarders, Marie spoke no English. I of course was double majoring in Marketing and Spanish – not much help in the “communicate with Marie” department. And yet somehow we got by. She loved to show me the flowers in her garden, where there was always common ground to be had: tulip- tulipe, rose-rose, gardenia-gardenia – a ha! We understand each other!

shutterstock_61418674We also managed to limp through conversations in the kitchen. Yogurt-yaourt, croissant-croissant, chocolate-chocolat – a ha! Now we really understand each other, especially on this last one! Marie always placed a small square of chocolate next to my plate – with tea, with lunch, with dinner…and breakfast of course was nutella spread on croissants, toast and even crackers. I’ve never met a hazlenut I didn’t like since, and though I’m older now and have to eat healthier breakfasts if I want to fit into my jeans, every once in a while I’ll still buy a jar of Nutella out of nostagia.  It’s certainly cheaper than a ticket to Luxembourg, but for the record, it’s also far less enjoyable than a lovely European woman who can paint her nails and snake a drain with equal aplomb.