Awkward Abroad: David Bowie Killed the Radio Star

I could write a whole blog post about awkward pop-culture conversations I’ve had with my French family. Sad, but true. They said I had the best French out of all of the four girls they’ve hosted, but they’ll probably also say that I was the most awkward. Whatever. I totally earned that superlative.

This is the first awkward conversation that I had with my host family. And, I should add, the one that made me the most upset.

I need to preface this by saying that my French family LOVES the radio the way that Americans during FDR’s fireside chats probably loved the radio. Morning, noon, night: doesn’t matter when but it’s always on. ALWAYS.

And it’s not just the old folks. It’s the twenty-three-year-old daughter too. Which floors me the most, since she’s practically my age and I don’t ever listen to the radio when I’m home or even when I’m in the car.

Neither of my host parents work, so they’re always in the house and that means the radio is always on. So I could exaggerate and say that the radio plays 24/7 … but it’d actually be truthful if I said the radio plays 12/7. I’m not even kidding. There’s chat radio on when I eat breakfast at 9 a.m. and there’s the “100 percent Jazz” program playing up until dinner at 8 p.m. and then afterwards.

At first I thought it was because of me. Like, I was so awkward and conversationally-challenged they couldn’t stand the silence. But then once I started coming home and finding the radio already on, I started being less self-absorbed. Now, two months in, I cringe whenever I think about how self-absorbed I used to be.

So yeah, no radio silence ever. Mostly it’s talk show programs. But even when it’s music, it’s French or old American jazz and blues. Never stuff I know. Except for one glorious time that I wanted acknowledged and … it was not. Not at all.

I’ll cherish it forever. It was the first English-language song I heard on the radio in Paris. And, coincidentally, it was the first song I recognized, and … IT WAS DAVID BOWIE!

DAVID BOWIE!!!!!!!!!

I mean, I’ve written about my David Bowie obsession and how I always judge record stores by their David Bowie selections no matter what country I’m in.  He’s always on my “Top Five People You’d Want At Your Dinner Party” list, although the David Bowie that I want always varies (mostly on the other guests and who has a drug problem there that specific Bowie might have encouraged).

I thought it was a sign.

It was in my first week of living there, I think. I  was at the kitchen table, doing homework. My host dad was on his desktop computer, sitting behind me. My host mom was at her desktop computer on the other side of the room. We had all been sitting quietly, doing our own thing but listening to the radio together.

“Oh Mon Dieu! C’est David Bowie!” I announced (“OMG, it’s David Bowie!”) as soon as I recognized that first guitar chord of “Ziggy Stardust.”

The way I said it made it seem like I was walking down the street or something and saw David Bowie coming towards me. I was that excited.

However, my host parents’ reactions were not even close to being that excited. They weren’t even excited that I was excited. My host mom looked out past her computer and smiled encouragingly at me for a second before going back to work. My host dad didn’t even turn around.

So I sat there at the table mouthing the lyrics to myself and grinning down at my homework. For the rest of the song.

Just in case that description didn’t do a good job of capturing the moment, I’m going to write it out like it was taken from a scene of a play:

[“Ziggy Stardust” comes on]

Alissa: Oh Mon Dieu! C’est David Bowie!

Host mom: …

Host dad: …

Alissa: …