By Elaine Viets
Technology has changed mystery writing. Now I can e-mail my novels to my editor, instead of figuring out which FedEx box has the latest pickup.
I was confident I’d thoroughly researched this novel about crooked beach towns and cutthroat Florida tourism. I’d even taken stand-up paddle boarding lessons to learn about that new water sport.
It took a day for my confidence to erode like a hurricane-hit beach. Doubts stung like sand flies. Did I really check out everything?
What about that scene where a French woman flipped off a lifeguard who told her she couldn’t go topless on the beach? The French don’t have Americans’ puritanical attitude about nudity, but do they really give the finger when they’re angry?
How would I know? Yes, I saw this scene on the beach. The topless woman sure sounded like she was cussing in French. But Florida gets tourists from around the world, and I’d never been to France. Maybe I should check. A sleepless night convinced me I had to.
"You're my expert on the French," I wrote her. "Do they flip people off when they're angry? I have a French woman in my book who does this and I want to make sure it's an international gesture."
Kris wrote back, "I don't think they do the middle finger thing. They have this gesture called bras d'honneur. In exact French it would be fait un bras d'honneur (give the arm of honor) where they raise a fist and sort of slap their arm. I know MEN do it, but not sure about women. But why not???"
Okay. It could work. But Kris still wasn’t satisfied with that answer. "Tried to find a video of it for you," she wrote. "Try this one. It comes at the very end. Don't know what the guy is pissed about!http//tinyurl.com/d3le6ew."
Kris kept digging. "I found you some proof," she wrote. "This woman gives the bras d'honneur to a priest! It's from a French TV series. It comes at the end if you want to fast forward."The YouTube account had been discontinued, but I believed her.
Next Kris checked with her French translator who worked on "The Little Death." In French the title is "Such a Little Death."
"Well, tell your friend that our ‘honneur’ cultures are quite similar," the translator wrote. "In France we can deliver a doigt (finger) or some bras (both d'honneur). The doigt is a little less vulgar than the bra which, you're perfectly right, are more ‘masculine.’ So, I guess that this French woman could deliver un doigt d'honneur which is perfectly French.
"Now, if she's very angry and very sophisticated, it could be funny to have her give le bras d'honneur which is probably more specifically French than le doigt.
"Now, Kris, life is really full of surprises. The first time I translated your work, if someone told me that we'd have such a conversation some day I don't think I would have believed him. Have a great year with lots of books for me to translate."
Well, that settled it, I thought. My topless French woman was an unsophisticated, ticked off tourist.
Then another worry popped up. What if she wasn’t from France? We have lots of French Canadian tourists here in Florida. Did they use the finger?
I spent two sleepless nights worrying about French Canadians’ rude gestures.