Originally, all the concepts and names of Babel Tower articles’ topics – except for Thoughts, I hadn’t think of Thoughts – come from a 5-pages-document that I, Camille, Keeper of France, drafted on a chill summer evening in August 2017. A year after, all categories are now filled up with nice and diverse articles that were written on all four corners of the world – except for one: the OverSeas Swap.
The concept is simple: two Keepers, from two very different countries, send each other a parcel containing their culture epitomized in items. They are free to fill it up with whatever they want; the one and only mandatory element is their country’s flag. And for this very first – and hopefully not last – Over-Atlantic-Ocean Swap of the website, I had the honor to send a parcel to, and receive a parcel from, the wonderful Maria, Keeper of El Salvador, with whom I wrote this four-hands article, explaining our choices and our reactions!
WHAT CAMILLE SENT AND WHY
This swap was the first of the website, however it wasn’t the first for me. As a former ‘booktuber’ (I used to post videos about books on YouTube, and though we cannot call it a success, I was lucky enough to meet longtime friends thanks to it), I had already make a few. But this one had something particular, as I had one tremendous responsibility: that of making someone discover my country and culture… differently.
Indeed, Maria, my swapper, had already studied in France for a year when the idea came up. I thus decided to make her travel through France, and discover aspects of it she didn’t already know.
Therefore, I put in my parcels items coming from Lyon – the town I come from -, Paris, the French Riviera, the Southwest of France… I wanted to make her get a taste of the first things one can think of when hearing the word France. That could be ‘gastronomy’ (so I attached French syrup, as I have been told recently that this is a very French custom, a candy called pralines, some chocolate), the Eiffel Tower, the landscapes, beauty products such as expensive perfumes (which is the reason why, being an undergraduate student, I replaced it by relatively cheap soaps – I am sorry, Maria!), the European Union… I had a lot of fun walking in French ‘marchés’ and exploring little street shops or big malls during my summer holidays, trying to find the perfect symbols. Finally, I wrapped it up in the French three-colored flag. I had a hard time finding this one – after the Football World Cup, there was none remaining in the first three shops I went to. In the fourth one, three young sellers went to search for one into their reserve; five minutes later, delighted, they came to tell me there was one, only one remaining, and offered it to me. I felt so relieved – and they looked even happier when I told them their gift would travel to Latin America!
WHAT MARIA SENT AND WHY
Unlike Camille, this is the first proper swap I’ve ever done with anyone else, but it’s not the first time I try to make sure I can show the beauty and talent of my country while giving someone a gift. Having lived abroad with my family before, we’ve always made sure to bring small artisan objects that we can give away to people we meet, and illustrate how wonderful our small nation can be.
El Salvador is known for its particular style of artisan crafts, much like many Latin American countries, so I decided it would be fitting to make a package full of these for Camille, someone who has never visited El Salvador (or Central America) before. Although we’re also known for our excellent food, there wasn’t anything I could include that would survive the journey back to France, so I’ll just owe Camille some home-made food!
In my package, I included a small notebook that was encased in a traditionally woven cover, with bright colors and symmetrical patterns, since I’ve known Camille to be an avid pen and paper writer. To compliment this notebook, I included a decorated pen: a normal pen that has been encased in clay to give it a brighter, different look, and with a small, clay torogoz – the national bird of El Salvador – resting on the end. The pen also had a small bamboo piece where the artisans can inscribe any message or words. Instead of opting for the traditional “El Salvador” inscription, I thought it would be nice to personalize it and have Camille’s name on it instead.
I also included a small magnet of a doll dressed in a traditional Salvadoran outfit, and a small purse that had been dyed in añil (indigo), which is a large part of national artisanry. Finally, I included a few objects (A key-holder box that can be hung, three small decorative boxes, and a bookmark) that had been decorated in the most recognizable art style of the country, inspired by our national artist Fernando Llort. The drawings are bright and colorful, and seem almost child-like in their beauty, and are a staple of Salvadoran culture. And, of course, I wrapped it all in a Salvadoran flag.
WHAT CAMILLE GOT
I did not have any particular expectations or clichés on a parcel coming from El Salvador when I received it, nicely closed with some green starred tape. I knew from my Central American friends that I’d better not call this country South American, and I had a pleasant memories from a Central American meal that Maria had cook for me and a handful of friends. That was all and I was ready to be surprised!
The first thing I got was a pen, full of bright colors with a bird on top and my first name on it – which I found wonderful, knowing that there most probably aren’t a lot of ‘Camille’ in El Salvador. I then discovered a little wooden box, decorated with patterns of nature and houses, and that contained a smaller box, that itself contained a smaller box, which means that I spent my childhood with Russian dolls on my bookshelf without even knowing the very same concept was applied to Salvadorean boxes!
The more I would unwrap my parcel, the more crazier I understood Maria had been. The box and the pen we followed by a bookmark, a notebook, a purse, a little cloth doll and a wooden thing that I will call a hanging box. Most of them had in common bright colors, pink, red and green, and patterns representing multicolor birds and white and red houses.
As a big fan of traveling, whose room is filled with photos and souvenirs from Belgium, Honduras, Romania, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, America or Ireland, places where I have been or where friends have been kind enough to think of me, I always get emotional when I think of how far those items come from. Now I can only thank Maria for her generosity, for finding gifts that coherent with my tastes and for making me want to visit El Salvador as soon as I can!
WHAT MARIA GOT
Having already spent a year living in France, and having already visited a few cities, I thought I had already seen quite a lot and not much was left. I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I got Camille’s parcel, which has only left me longing to visit every city in the country!
The first thing I noticed once I unwrapped the red, white, and blue flag was a postcard that depicted the beautiful city of Lyon, somewhere I have yet to visit (and now have more reason to want to go!). Right next to it, I found one of France’s most iconic landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, but in the very handy form of a toothbrush! Considering what else I found in my package I knew I was going to need it, since Camille had also included eucalyptus syrup that I could add to my water to give it some flavor, as well as what looked like hard candy (which I later found out to be praline). Both of these things became quite addicting to me once I tried them, not to mention the delicious 1€ chocolate coin included.
On the more decorative side of the package, I found a lovely little tray that was also from Lyon that depicted more famous aspects of the city, as well as a colorful package of artisan soap with very strong aromas that came all the way from Cote D’Azur. Their scent was also combined with that of a small bag of lavender, brought from Provence. They say that smell is one of the senses most linked to memory, and now I know that I will never forget the places all these things come from thanks to it. All the more reason for me to head out and see everything else that France has to offer!
You liked this article? Another one, on the second OverSeas Swap, between Ana Catalina, Keeper of Honduras, and Antony, Keeper of Chile, will be published very soon!