I have never met Appalachia before.
France stands in front of a one-story, wooden house with white paneling and a dark slanted roof. There's no hard boundary between where the yard ends and the rest of the Appalachian Mountains begin, even with the cluster of oak trees hiding the house from outside view. America had been kind enough to provide a very specific map when they'd last talked. Wildflowers, clover and grass mixed amongst themselves amid the tall flowers closer to the house. Was there mulch at one point, or a garden?
They'd been bickering over culture and achievements and America had brought up Edgar Allen Poe. France had opted to read some of his work after the argument and found that not only had the man tried to learn French (!) but he also had a special interest in one region of America, the eastern mountains. He even suggested America be renamed "Appalagia" sometime after his independence.
It was difficult to find good information about Appalachia - some sources claimed the man spoke Elizabethan English with Gaelic, others focused on working class politics and generational poverty over any real cultural markers. Wikipedia offered images of Irish and German immigrants, which helped somewhat. Though, a rural flavor confounded things - how was this area of Protestant mixed Anglo-Scottish-Irish-German heritage any different than other such areas outside the mountains? What made the Rocky Mountains a tourist destination when Appalachia was much older?
France always wished America stepped outside Paris and the coasts to see some of his more average, chill, down-to-earth areas. He might as well step outside of NYC or some of the National Parks in the same way. Besides - there's nothing wrong with wanting to visit West Virginia and these roads were aggressively country. The drive from the airport down and through the mountains was nearly 3 hours long and he was practically dizzy. He couldn't imagine what the roads were like during the winter, with dirt and mud and wet air and altitude. Still, summer wasn't much better.
He opted to start walking toward the door as opposed to just standing there lest he arouse (more) suspicion. The wooden steps were sturdy but did nothing to quiet his steps. As he knocked, he caught the sight of dozens of bugs in the new, higher light, swarming around the low grass.
A minute passed. A minute more. France knocked again. He regretted wearing his short pants with a button top. The door opened to a man looking much like America of the 40s, save for glasses and a cowlick and an expression that read something like "I'll be polite but you better be polite also." Perhaps there's something Switzerland, Japan, and Appalachia have in common - the leverage of not having to do much to force others to leave.
France reached forward - "Hello! We haven't met before personally, but I know America. I am France, and I have heard good things about you."
Appalachia's expression softened somewhat - "Nice to meet you France, and likewise. I'm Appalatchia. How are you?" His voice had that classic West Virginia Southern Drawl with a weird raspy quality France couldn't quite place.
"I'm doing very well, and yourself?" This was a lie.
"Good." This was also a lie.
France didn't know how to converse with a brick wall. The human (country? Region? personification?) wall wasn't much of a conversationalist without something in common to discuss.
"So!" said Appalachia, "Europe! How is it? I've never been."
"Yes, Europe is very nice to visit, and generally also to live in. I would glad to show you around my own place sometime soon if you would like Appalatsh - Appalatsh - I'm sorry, give me a minute - "
"Hey you're alright, you don't havta worry about it. If you wanna say Appalatshia that's close enough, I won't hold it against you. It's more of a problem when English speakers say it wrong, it sends a message, but you don't need to worry about that."
Oh thank god. "Thank you. I am not trying to say it wrong on purpose," said France. He wasn't sure whether he should have hid his relief more or less. He also wasn't sure he managed to hide it at all.
"Yeah I figured, I'm not concerned." said Appalachia.
Another brick wall. France cleared his throat and tried for another piece of conversation, hopefully one that would necessitate an invite indoors. Oh, sweet indoors, where there's air conditioning.
"Er, Edgar Allen Poe recommended you and your house in the 1800s. He said your land was beautiful, and your people were the core of American culture."
Appalachia's face brightened at that. "Really?" Strange he doesn't know. "I don't even remember meeting him. But hey, I'll take it! What am I doing, please, come in!"
Appalachia moved aside to let France in. The interior was weirdly sterile even for all the personality it had - tan carpet met pastel-flowery couches and chairs, dustless but not well-worn. White walls were adorned with apple-themed tchotchkes. Why fucking apples? Is there even space for an orchard? Japan doesn't have much farmland, maybe these mountains are less steep? Oh nevermind, there's also chicken-themed tchotchkes and some deer horns. It's okay now, maybe even high culture.
France paused to recollect himself. "Tacky is a social construct", he decided. "Different places have different aesthetics and it's not up to me what others like," he thought.
"Make yourself at home! I'll grab some tea." With that. France sat down. Weird how this house is single-story when America has a two-story house and a flat in NYC. Maybe there's a downstairs? France heard the microwave hum and opted to ignore it. Appalachia returned with a mug and a little porcelain blue and white cup, and handed the later to France handle-first.
France sipped it. It wasn't tea. He looked down - it was tea in the process of stewing, and you could see the tea bag seeping… did he heat the water first? He took a better look at Appalachia to find the man had basketball shorts, socks, and a t-shirt on.
France wasn't sure if he wasn't planning to go out or not - Americans and American men wear the most casual of wear outdoors. He heard a rumor that some parts in the Midwest will go to the supermarket in pajamas. Dear god, let one of the states these Mountains run through not include a MidWest state. If France and Appalachia had to go out and France came off overdressed, he would be dying inside before he could ever try to listen to his dumb-ass boss speak when he got home.
"I don't really know what kind of tea y'all Europeans drink but all I had was Lipton, so.." France had a hard time parsing out the first part of the sentence since Appalachia was apparently very fond of mixing sounds from one word to the next together into an entirely new sound. "I don't know" and "Iono" were apparently the same thing. Ah well, context clues are context clues and by god, are they available.
A second later France realized the man thought all Europeans drank the same caffeine as Britain. Fascinating - when did America decide that? He opted not to educate him lest he come off as condescending, with France's luck he'd most likely come off that way without his intent anyhow so he might as well play it safe.
"It is fantastic, thank you. I drink Lipton" This was a lie. "I know that you have some tourist destinations such as the Appalachian Trail but I am not trying to hike today."
Appalachia laughed - "Good! I was hoping I didn't have to tell you to go home, change and then come back because it's nice to have an actual visitor for once, you know? You'd need like, 10 layers of cotton and a whole backpack of supplies to make that thing, plus I know it's a lot hotter here than in Europe. You and your khakis-that-aren't-khakis are probably killing you"
France wondered how someone could manage to have a Southern drawl and to speak incredibly quickly. Was it an illusion? Did England give him magic and he chose to make his speech nearly impenetrable? France yearned for captions overlaid onto the actual air.
"Yes, Europe has a much different climate - "
"Yeah I know." A hard expression hidden behind a smile, hidden behind a faux pas on France's part. Whoops. "Musn't state the obvious just to make conversation with America, save for the weather, but you wouldn't know that would you frog?" was ringing in his ears. England should remember he's not obligated to be correct either, but whatever.
"Ah, yes, of course. I meant to say, I am not used to the weather here. It is hot"
Just like that, Appalachia's mood changed again. "Oh man, it's hot as balls out here. Winter brings feet upon feet of snow, spring brings rain and fallen branches, summer manages to dehydrate me even though my damn sweat can't even lift up off my skin, and fall is just…. Well fall is pretty. Sometimes it storms then too but there ain't nothing wrong with fall. Just leaves and color"
"I've heard of tree tourists in New York?"
"Oh yeah! They come from all over, well I guess just the Southwest like over near the Nevada cus it's not like they get like, oak trees over there, ha! But anyhow, yeah, they take tons of pictures. Guess it must be the same as when the rest of the country visits Arizona just to take pictures of blue McDonald's or… whatever else Arizona has that's not desert and weird shit. You know Arizona likes to bake cookies in her car?"
France struggled to get a word in. "I did not know that."
Well, we're getting closer to an actual conversation. Maybe I should go back before the tree tourist part? "I also love it when the tree leaves change. The Autumn holidays are some of my favorites."
"Oh yeah, Halloween's great, the kids have a good time and I still do know how to sew a costume even though I usually just buy one cus like, who the hell wants to sew one? You know?"
"Yes." A brick wall approaches, hanging a left on "American Protestants must not do Saint's Days" and rapidly approaching the conversation."
"Thanksgiving is always a pain though. Turkey kind of sucks"
And the brick wall skeers right off, just short of France! Food, he can talk about food!
"I have never been too fond of lean poultry without proper seasoning."
"Oh I know, it's one thing to grab deer and eat that, however you cook it, and I get you probably don't hunt too much deer but it's a lean meat, but that's deer. If you're gonna eat a bird, it might as well be fat! And I know it's made or bred or whatever to have tons of meat on it but I've deep fried one of those thick bastards and it's barely tender. It just doesn't cook like chicken! Now I usually shove butter straight up under the skin in the hopes it'll taste half-way decent and believe you me buddy I have tried a lot of things to make it taste good. Honestly I have to bargain with myself to actually cook the damn thing and I have had to bargain with myself since like, the 90s."
Oh dear lord, I'm the brick wall now.
"Yes, I agree. Turkey is not fun to cook."
"Ham is much better"
"Ham is the t- Ham is amazing"
"I think if I had to choose between giving up ham and one of my fingers, I'd pick the ham and make a sandwich."
Appalachia wheezed. "That is the best thing I've heard all year, holy shit." He laughed again. The laugh turned into a "ha…." Appalachia looked off to the side.
Two brick walls, colliding.
"Well…." said Appalachia. France sipped his tea. The tea bag got in the way somehow, and he nearly spilled his drink.
"What do you like to do on the weekend?"
Appalachia shifted in his seat. "Uh… I usually have some sort of yard work to do."
"What kind?" said France, nearing the very edge of politeness just to keep the conversation going.
"Uh…. like, leaves and sh-stuff?"
They both paused, simultaneously realizing there were no leaves to yard-work at this time. France realized Appalachia must not have much of a green thumb, but he must have a social life, right?
"Ah. I usually go out, but European countries and extroversion go hand in hand. We are too close together to be anything but."
Oh come the fuck on.
Appalachia shifted suddenly as if remembering something. "So uh, where do you go when you go out?"
"Ah, bars, parks, libraries, wherever I feel like."
Okay this is getting ridi-
"Well, I'm glad you stopped by, take care." Oh, an invitation out. C'e la vie. France opted to stand first.
"I am glad to have visited. It was very nice to meet you Appalachia, and I hope we can meet again. You can come visit anytime," France said. He winced internally - Appalachia probably could not afford a plane trip. What a shame class and distinct cultures seem to go hand in hand in America.
"It was nice meetin' you too, have a good day France and you can visit anytime just as long as you give me a call first. Next time I'll be more prepared, technically I can't drink it but you sure as hell can have some actual authentic - well, legal, so maybe not, but still Moonshine, don't get me wrong it's not like a staple but -
France paused and asked, "What is Moonshine?"
"Nevermind. Take care!" said Appalachia, not realizing he was yelling as Americans are want to do. The door closed and France was left with his car in view and the sun just past a position directly overhead.
Appalachia must not get visitors often.
Appalachia doesn't get visitors often, and usually it's one of the 13 states his area runs through. Frankly, it's usually VA, KY, TN, NC, and GA that visit. West Virginia probably would have loved to see France, but he was out on errands and just barely missed him. Knowing WV, he probably wouldn't be back until night, having managed to do all 17 items on his list out of order and taking twice as long, but frankly, Appalachia couldn't try to keep France that long.
Don't misunderstand him - he does like visitors, so long as they're polite, and it's not like France could even know enough about Appalachia to be impolite. He didn't even know what moonshine was! If bootlegging was mentioned in whatever France heard, it must have been by another name. Regardless, France somehow managed to hear something besides "poor, alcoholic, working class, opioids, and warring clans." How the hell his reputation went from what Poe said to all that is something only God is privy to.
That all being said, Appalachia wasn't in a position to entertain a houseguest. He forgot to go to the store, so all he had was condiments and bread and eggs and milk - and oh shit, he could have made French Toast. Dammit. Whatever, probably not actually French. Well, regardless, (again) he was right in the middle of lunch when he saw France knock. Granted, that lunch was "a mustard sandwich he was almost done with", but in his defense he was planning on saying fuck it and ordering dinner anyhow.
It was incredibly unnerving to see a new car come up the road, drive past, turn around and then actually park! America must have given him directions without mentioning where his driveway was. People who know him know where to park and he's about 99% certain he hasn't met France. Honestly, he barely remembers England, and he really doesn't remember Spain. Not like Appalachia is a really spanish name anyhow.
Really, he would have loved to let France stay. There's tons he could talk about! He stayed put together in the pre-Civil War era, just because of class and culture being combined like it is. France does stuff with class structures, like fighting against it, right? Something like that? Nothing was ideologically wrong with his revolution, maybe, probably. Regardless (electric boogaloo part 2) Europeans love Country Roads, and he would have probably been fascinated to hear how WV was born as a new state, amidst highland and lowland wealth disparity, in the middle of the Civil War, but it's not like Appalachia could bring that up. Humble-bragging was not a work in Appalachia's dictionary.
He's pretty sure France didn't mean to be condescending. Conversation was so much harder than he thought it'd be. What did France even think? What good things did he hear? Is his house in Europe bigger and better than his? What's it like being poor in France?
France probably won't talk to Appalachia often.