We were still at the earliest stage of our relationship when he first mentioned her. I would be lying if I say it didn't cross my mind I was involved with a married man. Turned out "la femme de menage" is a term in French for cleaning lady or maid, which can be loosely translated as housewife.
Suffice to say, it was our very first encounter with language barrier (and obviously not the last).
She is a very tall woman in her mid 40s. Massive and powerful is how I would describe her. She has a big voice to match her hefty frame with and adding to her rugged persona, she limps quite heavily as she moves. She goes by the name, let's say, Madam Kastra.
We see each other twice a month. During our earliest stage of relationship, I see her as a tool to improve my French despite my husband's low opinion on her grammar.
As customary as it is, usually one of us start by saying "bonjour, comment ça-va" (hello, how is it going?) and the only required response is "ça va. Merci". The table is then turned and sincere smiles are then exchanged to seal the greetings process.
After 2 months or so of exchanging bonjour and au revoir, chit chat commences although it was mostly one-sided. She loves talking about her country and her three teenage sons and always curious about my culture. She asked if I like my life in Switzerland (oui), if I miss my family and friends back home (oui bien sûr) and if I feel lonely and bored sometimes (oui mais ça va).
If we were Malaysians, I would have considered her a friend. To certain extent, I did honestly. Once, responding to her curiosity about Malaysian food, I gave her a packet of dried shrimp, a local Sabahan food product, to try. She accepted it gracefully.
Thinking a friendship has been formed, I blurted out "moi, je m'appelle Deza". She just stared at me looking a little embarrassed, smiled and replied "oui Madame" and carried on with her stuffs.
Madame Kastra is not Swiss, but having lived in Switzerland for 18 years, I'd like to think that she has been downright Swiss-ed (and deep down inside, actually she really wanted to tell me her name).
Adapting to the French culture, the Swiss French has what deemed to me as an alien approach towards association between two individuals, also known as relationship. It is governed by a set of rules which I don't understand and most likely never will. Not only it needs to have meaning and structure, it also has to be mutual. Meaning, one needs to ask for permission before switching from the formal version (vous) to the informal version (tu).
If you click the link right above, you will realize there is even a French verb for this action. Things cant get any more real than this.
The same year, Madame Kastra went back to her home country for 2 months so I appointed myself as my husband's on-call housewife. Upon her return, she asked if I could take over just the ironing job.
In my most formal vous version way, I replied no.
At that point, I rest at ease knowing we will never se tutoyer and I may never know her name.