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From mademoiselle to grandma in six years

In Zimbabwe, being called 'grandma' isn't necessarily an indication of one's age.

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At the ripe age of 34, I started being called a grandma. It was a shock. Six years ago, in my previous life in Paris, I skipped along the boulevards in a pair of strappy white dolly shoes, collecting baguettes and tartes aux poireaux for lunch. The baker's assistant in the always greeted me with a friendly:

I liked the , a gallant form of address to a young woman old enough to be treated with respect but probably not old enough to be married. Still, I knew that for me, eventually becoming Madame was as inevitable as graduating to the elegant navy and cream, two-tone court shoes so favored by French matrons.

Being referred to as a grandma, though – now that was a huge leap.

I didn't notice it at first. Newly arrived in Zimbabwe, I was absorbed in the husband, the fiercely independent tabby with the snow-white chest, and the infant I acquired (in that order).

Of course, I also picked up a smattering of words in the local Shona language, the way you might collect shells on a beach. for money, for eggs, for good morning, and for mother. I noted my finds in a pink pocket notebook along with the address for a good pediatrician, passed on by a Swiss diplomat at a book fair, and my mother-in-law's recipe for rusks. is the word for bread; for cat. All were important nouns – to me, at least.

Slowly, in the muttered jumble of overheard store and bank conversations, I began to pick out words I recognized. How is (grandfather)? And then, one black yet sunny day a few months ago, I heard it: Could somebody please help fill shopping basket?

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