December 22, 2010

Le Marché de Noël de Lille

Although I am home for Christmas this year, I still wanted a French Christmas experience. FBF and I decided to go on a date to the Marché de Noël. While this is definitely not something you can find in America, I’m not sure how authentically French this experience is for a variety of reasons.

The first reason being that while I was in Amsterdam, my friends and I went to “Winterland,” which was basically like a Dutch Marché de Noël. I have also seen Marchés de Noël in Belgium, but while this is basically an extension of France, I feel like it counts less in ruining the Frenchness of the whole experience.


Amsterdam's Winterland

The second one being that FBF hasn’t been to the Marché de Noël, in Lille or otherwise, since he was like 8. And even then, he told me that they didn’t really do the Marché like we did, meaning they didn’t look at all the booths, eat all the food, and experience the attractions. This leads me to believe that he'd actually never been before, as what else is there to do at the Marché de Noël except these things?


Le Marché de Noël de Lille

There were all kinds of booths, from Santa Hats and ornaments to metal robot sculptures and puzzle games (none of which FBF and I could figure out, including the ones intended for 8 year olds), but I saved my money for all things edible.

We sampled all sorts of bad for you delicious Christmas foods. I had a gauffre, which is like a Belgian waffle, except that they originate from le nord. Then FBF and I shared 13 croustillons, which are basically like fried doughnut holes but better and come from the Netherlands. To help us swallow all this fried food down, we partook in another French Christmas tradition, vin chaud.


Le Vin Chaud.

Vin chaud is not my favorite drink on the planet, and if it wasn’t part of the Christmas theme, I don’t think I would ever drink it. However, there is something magical about having a hot glass of spiced wine in your gloved hands while walking around admiring the general holiday splendor that lets you know it really is Christmas time.

To finish off this feeding frenzy, FBF and I headed over to the booth called Soupe à la Ferme (Soup from the Farm). I had an amazing cup of zucchini soup, complete with melted cheese on top and some sort of herb bread. FBF had carrot soup, which while I was not a fan, he enjoyed immensely.

After stuffing our faces, we thought it would be ever so romantic for us to ride le grand roue (the giant Ferris wheel). We were told from La Soeur that the view from the top is beautiful, but extremely cold. We dressed accordingly.


Le Grand Roue

So we pay, get weird token things, and wait in line for a couple of minutes before it’s our turn. The man takes our tokens, and let’s us choose one of four little carriages. Now this is unlike any Ferris wheel seating area I have ever seen. Instead of being for two people, it could hold 6 adults, and instead of facing forward, it was a circle with a pole in the middle holding it up to the wheel.

Because this was supposed to be a romantic date, FBF and I sat on the same side, of course. This was a mistake. As soon as we were sky-bound, the carriage started leaning dangerously due to our combined weight on just one side. This was doubly dangerous as there was not really any protective fencing, and it would not have been hard to tumble out. To make matters worse, there was no safety restraint of any kind. We were not buckled in.

FBF and I, while enjoying the view, were not enjoying a romantic, quite moment alone in the sky, because j'avais peur (I was scared). Instead of holding on to my boyfriend, I had my arms wrapped around the middle pole, trying desperately not to fall off.

On about our third turn around the wheel, I realized that something this sketchy could only happen in France. We weren’t even required to sign release forms in order to ride on this obvious death trap.

While I greatly enjoyed the Marché de Noël overall, I’m not so sure I’ll be riding le grand roue next Christmas.

December 17, 2010

La Prison de Loos

On our drives in to school, Vincent always points out when we pass by a prison. There are two on our way to school, and he always tells me whether it’s the new prison or the old one. The first time this happened, it led to a conversation about prison conditions, such as overcrowding and other problems similar between France's and California's prison system.

Since then, I’ve been wondering why he continues to point them out to me, but today I finally learned something new.

When we passed by the “old” prison Vincent notified me comme d’habitude (as usual).


The old prison.
(photo from wikipedia)

“Oui, c’est beau avec toute la neige,” (yeah it’s pretty with all the snow) I commented back.

“Est-ce que tu sais que c’est un ancien monastaire?” (Did you know it’s an old monastery?) he asked me.

“Ah bon? Je ne savais pas.” (Oh really? I had no idea).

“Oui. Pendant la revolution on a mis les moines dehors, et maintenant c’est un prison.” (Yeah, during the revolution we kicked out all the monks, and now it’s used as a prison).


The prison back when it was an abbey during it's glory days (circa 1790).

There are no prisons in California that were built for anything but to be a prison. France is so full of history and sometimes I wonder if the French even realize it. Even if you commit a crime and have to go to jail, you get to live in a beautiful historical building. Even when you are removed from society for doing a terrible (or not so terrible) deed, you continue to be a part of it. You get to live in an old monastery.

December 14, 2010

Traverser La Rue

This weekend I took full advantage of my three-day weekends for the first time and went to Amsterdam to meet up with a friend of mine from California. It was my third time in Amsterdam, and we did typical Amsterdam-y activities.

Since I hadn’t seen this friend since she came and visited me last year, I decided that we should go to a restaurant for a nice-ish dinner on our second and final night in the city together. She (and her two friends) agreed.

We found a rather charming sit down restaurant + bar. While perusing the menu, I decided to try some Dutch beer. Everybody ordered a drink, and after discussing with the blonde Dutch bar tender slash waitress, I chose a blonde beer.

Without much delay the Dutch returned with three beverages: a water, a coke, and a beer that was not mine. She turned to me after distributing the drinks and said, “I’ll be back with your beer. It’s on the otherside.”

A little bit confused by her Dutch English, I watched her go back behind the bar. This was a normal bar, with the liquor on one side, and seats for people to sit in while drinking the liquor on the other. As I couldn’t really imagine why they would have stored the beer on the side with the seats, I thought I misunderstood her.


The restaurant.

Being curious as to where my beer would be coming from, I followed her with my eyes as she got out from behind the bar. She followed the length of the bar, heading towards the front of the building, but instead of turning towards the rest of the restaurant, she walked right out the front door.

She walked across the street and entered the building directly en face (in front) of the restaurant, disappearing within. Three minutes later, out she came, with a beer in hand.

I thanked her, and went to grab my first sip of Dutch beer. It was delicious. The only down side was after putting my beer back on the table, I realized my hand was definitely wet from the beer that had spilled on its long journey from across the street.


My beer!
Although I felt guilty at first making her go out (unknowingly)
in the freezing cold, it was delicious enough to merit such drastic measures.

December 9, 2010

Quatre-vingt dix

FBF and I got up before the sun rose in order to go to school or work, respectively. It was one of the days where our schedules matched (because for some reason going to University in France does not give you a consistent time table), so he was giving me a ride to the train station.

We took the autoroute (freeway) and I was mindlessly looking out the window. Within a couple of minutes, we were presented with the panneau de limitation de vitesse (speed limit sign). And while the sign held two numbers (chiffres), a nine and a zero, instead of thinking “ninety” as I do most of the time when presented with digits, I thought “quatre-vingt dix.”

Thinking in French without even trying ever so early in the morning has left me with one conclusion: clearly they were right in driver's ed, and driving while intoxicated is the same as driving with fatigue. Since everybody knows you speak a foreign language better while drunk.

December 6, 2010

Les Slows

I am a hopeless romantic. One of the things I want out of a relationship is for my boyfriend to, out of the blue, take me in his arms and slow dance (un slow). I’m realistic about it, too. I’m not expecting him to whip-out the waltz. I’m not expecting him to have a string quartet hidden somewhere in the bushes. All I want is for him to sway in a circle while holding me. And if he wants to hum a little tune, all the better!
Up till now, I’ve never had a problem of making this a reality in my relationships, but FBF hates dancing.
My obsession with dancing is apparently très americaine of me. FBF claims that French girls don’t care if their boyfriends dance with them. At first I found this really hard to believe. Who wouldn’t want their boyfriend to hold them close? Who doesn’t want to recreate movie moments?


I want to danser un slow with Prince Phillip.

Teaching in a lycée (high school) this year has afforded me a new light on the situation. In every class I’ve met so far, there is always one girl who raises her hand, and while giggling, asks me if we really do have a prom in America.
The first time I got asked this question, I laughed. Why wouldn’t it be true? I explained that yes, American movies/TV shows were telling the truth, and that in fact we have three dances a year. I then asked them if they have any dances.
The answer? No. None at all!
It seems that while we are culturally taught to expect dancing from our significant others as early as middle school (I was 12 at my first dance!), the French are never taught to expect that kind of romance.
I’ve been working on FBF’s hatred for dancing. Can it really be so terrible to hold me in his arms and turn in a circle?
He’s been improving on this point. Instead of being like “oh je suis français et je deteste le dancing,” he lets me dance with him without complaint.
It would seem that American boys have the upper hand as far as dancing is concerned. My dad always says, “the quickest way to a girl’s heart is to twirl her,” but I think it should be modified to specify American girls.

December 5, 2010

La Gastronomie Française

Whenever I meet a new class they ask me lots of questions. Because they all have a similar level of English, I am presented with the same questions quite frequently. A common one is, “do you like French food?”

Since French gastronomy is now on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list, I’ve been wondering if I really do like French food.

I love French cheese. I love French bread. I love French wine. I love French home made salad dressing. I love French pastries.


Raclette! Delicious French cheese that you melt onto potatoes (and cold meats).



Tarte au citron! My favorite French pastry! It's lemon flavored.



My most recent bottle of Bordeaux. It was delicious, and only 3 euros!

I also love how much time the French spend on a meal. They really enjoy their food and take the time to savor every bite. This, too, is one of the reasons French gastronomy made it onto the intangible heritage list. It’s not only their dishes, but also how they eat them that makes them exceptional.

But as far as enjoying every meal that French people have made me, it’s definitely a no. Living chez FBF has given me ample opportunity to taste the dishes the French make, and I haven’t been impressed. This might have to do with being vegetarian, because most French meals are heavily meat based. However, if all French food was delicious one would think they’d have good side dishes as well as main courses.

So when I’m cooking, I take certain aspects of French gastronomy and add them to my own creations. I almost always include some French cheese, whether in the meal itself or eating it separately, drink some French wine (or Belgian beer), and I definitely take more time to enjoy my meal than I did before.

November 30, 2010

How To.... Make French Thanksgiving!

I celebrated Thanksgiving with FBF and his mom last Wednesday. I did it a day early because I work all day on Thursdays, and I wanted enough time to cook everything!

I am at an advantage in that I brought American measurement utilities with me (cups and teaspoons/tablespoons). I also counted some things in grams.

Here are the recipes for Le Stuffing, La Purée Americaine, and Les Hauricots Verts:

Thanksgiving à la française

Because I have access to an entire Kitchen this year, complete with such marvelous culinary appliances such as an oven, mixers, and blenders, I decided to make Thanksgiving dinner for FBF and his maman (mom).

I avoided serving turkey as I am a vegetarian, but I did prepare three Thanksgiving dinner dishes that I adore. I made green bean casserole, twice mashed potatoes, and good old fashioned stuffing.


You can find my recipes for these delicious Thanksgiving dishes here!

Not only was it my first time cooking any of these dishes, but being in France and not America, I had to make substitutions for certain ingredients.

I was extremely nervous about the entire endeavor, as it was the first time I cooked for La Maman.

Although they found the dishes and the ingredients to be unusual, both FBF and La Maman liked it. They each grabbed seconds!

The next day, la soeur de FBF (FBF’s sister) came over and they ate the leftovers without me (I was at work).

When she asked how it was, FBF had this to say about the stuffing, “Nous, on ne cuit pas le pain, donc on a trouvé bizarre de le voir faire, mais on a été agréablment surpris par le goût.” (We don’t normally cook bread, so it was weird to watch her cook it, but we were happily surprised by how good it tastes!)

November 29, 2010

La Première Pub Google en France

Google aired their first pub (commercial) in France ever last night. It was on TF1 at around 20h44. It came on just before Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis was (also) aired for the first time ever on regular télé.

Google did an excellent job relating their ad with the film, focusing on the culture and language of le Nord. Check it out!


La première pub de google en France! Vive le Nord!


After watching the ad, I was proud to live in le ch'nord (even if it is 2 below freezing outside). I am also wondering how much FBF really cares about me, seeing as he's never taken me on a romantic walk in Cap Blanc-Nez.

November 27, 2010

Chaussures d'été

On Fridays I have the pleasure of being driven to school instead of having to take the train. It’s faster, which means I get to sleep in, and it’s also cheaper, saving me money. All in all I try to covoitureage (carpool) as often as I can.

Before getting ready for the day, I made FBF check the weather report, and as it said it wasn’t going to rain, I decided to give my boots a rest. I went for my new dark red converse that I bought especially for France. Knowing that it was going to be cold, I layered up on the socks.

Despite the extra sock layer, my feet were still cold. And since Vincent, the teacher who picks me up, was dressed very warmly, the heat wasn’t on very high in the car.

Although it wasn’t supposed to rain in Lille, it was definitely raining in Lievin, were my lycée is. There was also snow on the ground. After commenting about how pretty the snow made the countryside along the drive to school, Vincent noticed my shoes.

“Tu n’a pas froid aux pieds avec ces chaussures?” (Your feet aren’t cold with those shoes?)

“Euh… oui, un peu,” (Uuh.. yeah, a little) I confessed.

After turning up the heat and focusing it on our feet, Vincent said, “Tu n’as pas des chaussures plus chaudes que ça? Les chaussures comme ça sont pour l’éte.” (You don’t have warmer shoes than those? Shoes like that are for the summer).

In order to stop myself from laughing, I began explaining about my boots. I couldn’t help but thinking that in California the only summer shoes are sandals and flip flops, and anything you have to tie is just all together too much trouble.


My "summer time" shoes.

November 22, 2010

Harry Potter et les Reliques de la Mort

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. Knowing that I would be in France when the first half of the seventh movie came out, I packed my hard cover copy of book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I also packed my hand made Ravenclaw Hogwart’s uniform to wear to the movie.

For reasons unknown, the film comes out in France a week later than in the rest of the world (not until the 24th of November!). At first this bummed me out, but then I remembered that Belgium is next door. The movie came out the 17th in Beligum, and I made FBF take me.

We went to Tournai, an adorable town about 30 minutes away. We had bought our tickets online, and had no trouble getting in to the theater and finding good seats.


My movie ticket!


After procuring seats, FBF and I were going to take turns going to the bathroom before the movie. FBF went first and announced that the “toilettes sont payant. Ils coutent quarante centimes” (you have to pay 40 cents to use the bathrooms).

Hating having to pay to pee, especially when I’ve already paid to enter the establishment and use their facilities, I decided to just hold it for the duration of the movie plus the ride home.

I was a little heartbroken to discover that I was the only one dressed up for the occasion. Sure, I had given FBF my spare Slytherine tie, but he was embarrassed because nobody else was in costume. Nevertheless, I didn’t let the lack of other people’s enthusiasm ruin mine.

The lights dimmed, and the WB logo appeared on the screen. In true fan fashion, I cheered for the start of the movie! Nobody else did. I was met mostly with people laughing at me.

Now due to the week-long delay of the release of the movie in France combined with the fact that the French hate subtitles, we figured we’d be getting to see the movie in English with French subtitles. However, the movie was dubbed in French. I now have no idea as to why the French are so behind the times as far as HP7 is concerned.

Despite not understanding every single word, I was enjoying the film. I was in the action. I was lost in the world of Harry Potter, and only slightly annoyed at the million things they had gotten wrong, when the projection started acting weird and going black. Thinking that something was wrong, I was concerned while simultaneously thinking that they’d better get it to work again really soon and give me some sort of refund for ruining my experience, when one of the theater’s employees walked in the room. “Mesdames, Messeiurs, on vend la glace!” (Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re selling icecream!)

I was shocked. They had interrupted the movie on purpose. To sell ice cream. When it’s 40 degrees outside.

This wasn’t a short little blip. It wasn’t a technical error. It was planned. It lasted 15 minutes.

Yes, Belgian movie theaters have an intermission.

November 17, 2010

Noël en Octobre

My first trip to Carrefour this year was in the middle of October, and it seemed as if nothing much had changed. The bread was still in the back, the electronics and appliances on the right, and the vegetables and milk products in the middle.

Deciding I needed a boutielle de vin rouge (a bottle of red wine) to celebrate being once again in the country of cheap, delicious wine, I marched over to the wine aisle thinking I knew the place pretty well.


The alcohol side of Carrefour.

I was mistaken. Although the alcohol was still on the left side of the building, the cave de vin aisle was no longer where it used to be! It had been replaced with a cave de champagne aisle.

When I expressed my shock at how much chapagne there was in the aisle, FBF replied “oh, oui, ils préparent pour noel” (oh, yeah, they’re getting ready for Christmas).

Déjà?!” (Already?!) I asked, incredulously.


Half of the cave de champagne aisle.

I know that Christmas preparations have started earlier and earlier in the States, but October seems a little excessive to me. I think the reason they start so early is that the French do not celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving, and lacking the intermediary holidays, they go straight for the good stuff.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I love me some delicious champagne. Plus, they have the adorable micro-sized bottles out on display.

On the top shelf are the gigantic bottles, on the far right and the bottom two shelves are the normal sized bottles, and the rest are the tiny bottles!

November 15, 2010

Les Toilettes

Having to go to the bathroom in France is not at all pleasant. I think the French must have bladders of steel.

If you have to pee when you are not at your home, you are in for a challenge. There are no public bathrooms. Some major monuments do have restrooms open to the public, but you have to pay to use them. The American in me hates paying to pee.

Restaurants, including fast food places, only let you use their bathroom if you are a costumer. I can’t even count how many times I’ve stopped at a McDonald’s or Burger King during a long drive in the States just to use the restroom! But in France this is not allowed.

If you’ve consumed a gigantic soda at the movie theater, and subsequently your bladder is about to burst after watching some 2-hour movie, too bad! After a movie is over, you don’t just walk out of the projection room. You walk right out onto the street.

Since having to go to the bathroom outside of the house is such a hassle, one would think the French would make peeing inside the house easy. This, however, is not the case. Although French houses can be 2 or 3 stories high, the toilet is usually on the first floor (in France, they separate the toilet from the bathtub/shower and have them in different rooms).

If you wake up in the middle of the night and have to pee, you must climb down at least one flight of stairs!

But that is not the worst of it. I live in the Nord. It is always cold. Now the French do have heating, but for some reason they do not heat their toilets! It is always FREEZING in the bathroom.

Needless to say, I try to hold it for as long as I can, and always pee before leaving the house.

November 10, 2010

Les Patates

Growing up, my family rarely had the tv on during dinner. Sure we had the occasional pizza and movie night, but most of the time we sat at the table with only each other for entertainment. Despite this, I always thought that eating dinner in front of the TV was one of America’s problems and that European households would be more similar to my personal experience with dinner.

This does not appear to be the case, however. Chez FBF the tv is always on while we eat. Even when I was eating at his mother’s house while they had guests, the TV remained on.

FBF says this is because the French don’t like silence and use the TV as background noise. I’m not so sure I believe this reason, as most of the time FBF or his mère (mom) will make comments about what is happening on the télé.

Last night at dinner was no exception. There was a commercial for an online poker tournament. After the pub (ad) was finished, FBF laughed while saying, “j’aime bien comment il dit pokER, avec un accent trop americain quoi! Er!” (I love how he says pokER! Like he’s trying to have an American accent with his Rs!)

After laughing for a little while, FBF’s mamman (mommy) said, “Bin vous savez ce qu’on dit pour l’accent americain? Pour bien parler americain, il faut parler avec une patate chaude dans la bouche!” (Well do you know what we say about the American accent? In order to speak American English well, you must speak with a hot potato in your mouth!)

November 7, 2010

Perruques

FBF and I were invited to a 70s party. This immediately made me think of disco balls, bell-bottoms, polyester, and Saturday Night Fever. This being France, I was prepared for my image of the 70s to be a little bit off, due to my unfortunate costuming incident à la last year’s New Year’s Eve party.

So when FBF suggested we go as hippies, I went along. Despite the fact that hippies make me think 60s rather than 70s, I figured that France was just a little bit behind the times as far as the American concept of eras was concerned.


FBF and I in our 70s/hippie garb.

We were told there would 70s music playing at the party. Imagine my surprise when we walk in and are greeted by the grease soundtrack blaring form the speakers. GREASE. The musical. There were also people dressed up in 50s style costumes.

Curiously, the 50s weren’t the only time period before the 70s present at the party. There was also a girl in a flapper dress.

But unlike my prediction, there were people dressed up in disco appropriate outfits. There was a girl dressed up as a disco ball, people wearing polyester, and 70s style rock stars.

Although I’m not quite sure what time period I was supposed to find myself in, I did notice one thing. The French are really into perruques (wigs). Almost everyone was wearing a wig as part of their costume. It seems as if it’s more important to look completely different than to follow the theme as far as a costume party is concerned.

November 3, 2010

La Toussaint

On the day after Halloween, I learned why I have been on vacation for 1.5 weeks. All French holidays have a name, and this one is La Toussaint. Due to my astute powers of observation, I figured out that La Toussaint had something to do with flowers, as all of a sudden they were a prominent feature in the stores. Other than that, though, I figured it was just a nice little break.

During lunch on November 1st, I announced to FBF “Oh! C’est la dia de los muertos!”

He looked at me rather confused and said, “Quoi?” (What?) as he doesn’t speak Spanish.

I used my excellent translation skills and said, “La journée des morts? The day of the dead.”

“Ah, oui, je sais,” (oh, yes, I know) he replied. I was confused at first how someone who had never taken Spanish would ever learn about the day of the dead, but apparently France and Mexico have this day in common. Although in Mexico it is a much bigger deal and involves cool skeletons (at least from what I gathered in high school Spanish), in France November 1st is also a day of remembering loved ones who have passed on.

That afternoon, FBF’s sister came to pick us up, and we went to the cemetery. It was beautiful. The sun was setting, turning the sky a pinkish orange, the air was cool and crisp, and upon every tombstone there lay several bouquets of flowers. We placed some flowers on the graves of FBF’s family members, I stood around awkwardly, and then we were on our way back home.


The cemetery.

Although I wasn’t sure how to act, I think it would be nice if we followed up our day of parading about in costumes with a day of remembering the family members who are no longer with us.

November 1, 2010

Joyeux Halloween!

Halloween has not quite caught on in France. They tried to bring Halloween to this lovely country a few years back, but the French didn’t really like it. How little children don’t like going door-to-door and getting free candy is beyond me, but then again, I’m not French.

Despite the fact that practically nobody celebrates Halloween in France, I was determined to be American and celebrate it anyway. I packed my spider web earrings and spider web tights. Even if it wasn’t much, I could at least be in theme.


My Halloween earings.

For a while, it seemed that France was willing to accept me in my Americanness and help me along with my Halloween celebrations. When talking about Halloween with FBF’s mom, she told me that normally kids stop at the house and demand candy. Then, one of my French friends decided to throw a Halloween party. While it was a Halloween party that required the partygoers to dress up in scary costumes, I was still going to have an opportunity to wear my Halloween themed articles of clothing!

But it turns out that France had other plans for me. Not a single costumed or otherwise child stopped by the house yesterday. We handed out zero pieces of candy.

And as for the party, I have bronchitis. I spent Halloween in bed.

You win again, France! You win again.

October 27, 2010

Arc-en-ciel

It has been cold, rainy and all around miserable since my arrival in le nord. To make matters worse, I packed the entirely wrong set of sweatshirts. It seems somehow, even after living here for 9 months last year, California got the better of my cold weather judgment.

I brought along a teeny tiny black hoodie thinking that black would be a good color to have in France. What I should have realized is that a teeny tiny 5-year-old sweatshirt that is worn to the bone is definitely the opposite of warm. Warmth, rather than color, should have been my top concern, as regardless of how often the French wear black, I would probably freeze to death if I sported mine. It is so thin that if you hold it up to your eyes, you can see through it. Needless to say, it doesn’t even help me stay warm inside the house.

But it’s not all bad news as far as the weather is concerned. The other day, while it was raining chez FBF, I looked out the window to see that a bit of sun had peeked out through the clouds. Upon a more thorough view, I discovered that there was an arc-en-ciel (rainbow). And not just one rainbow, but two rainbows! A DOUBLE RAINBOW! It was pretty magical.


Why it's not so bad living in constant rain.

October 25, 2010

La grève

After a three-month absence, France welcomed me back with a way only France could: strikes. For those of you who don’t know, France is on strike because of legislation to raise the retirement age.

My first full work day at the lycée, I arrived for a class at 10am and was scheduled to stay until 5pm in order to work out my schedule with my head teacher. The morning went over well, and then at 12 I followed my fellow professors into the cantine (cafeteria).

About halfway through lunch (meaning after 45 minutes because this is France), a woman I had yet to meet came up to the English prof I was eating with. Completely ignoring me, she started talking in very fast French.

Assuming it was something not concerning me, I made no effort to follow the conversation. All of a sudden I heard the words “…….il n’y aura pas de trains cet après-midi” (…there wont be any trains running this afternoon).

This caught my attention. I had been oblivious to the strike until that morning, when the train station was over crowded and every single train said “en retard durée indeterminée” (late: duration unknown). It didn’t end up affecting me as I had gotten to the train station plenty early, and managed to get a train to Lens without too much of a delay.

“Excusez-moi? Il n’y aura pas de trains cet après-midi? Pas du tout?” (Excuse me? There wont be any trains this afternoon? None at all?) I asked the stranger.

“Non, ils ont bloqué les voies ferrées. Il n’y aura pas de trains pour Lille pour le reste de la journée” (None. They have blocked off the train tracks so there won’t be any trains to Lille for the rest of the day) she informed me.

I looked at the English teacher, another Lille resident, and I asked her how we were going to get home. Apparently there are quite a few profs who live in Lille and commute by car to the lycée. Unfortunately for me, none of them were leaving when I was supposed to be done with school. I was worried if I would ever be able to get home, when the head teacher said to not worry about it and just skip out early with whichever teacher could take me back to Lille the latest.


The train schedule while the strikes were happening for 10/22/10

Being able to leave work an hour early, as well as catch a car ride back to chez FBF cutting my commute in half, is why I don’t mind so much that everything was closed down last week. It is so very French of them to be on strike, after all.

October 21, 2010

Les Gentlemens

In order to save money, I flew into London Heathrow in lieu of Paris Charles de Gaulle(CDG). I figured either way I’d have to take a train to get to Lille, and if you buy it early enough the Eurostar isn’t too expensive. It’s cheaper than trying to get a flight into Lille directly.

The downside of flying into London Heathrow is that the train station is not located directly at the airport like it is at CDG. This means that in order to get from the airport to the train station, one must take two other forms of public transit.

Getting to the Heathrow Express is okay, because it is located in the airport. It is after you get out of the Heathrow Express and are suddenly faced with a bagillion flights of stairs that causes problems.

As I explained in my previous post, I had at least 80 pounds of luggage with me. I am not strong. I exited the Heathrow Express, rolled my suitcases down the platform, and looked up anxiously at the stairs. I was struggling feebly to carry both suitcases at once when a thirty something Englishman offered to help me carry my luggage. I greatly accepted, all the while being afraid of him running off with all my clothes. Luckily, he did no such thing. At the top of the stairs I thanked him, and then continued on my way.

Well as luck would have it, even though I lost mr. niceguy in the crowd, there he was again while I was trying to climb back down the stairs on the other side of the platform onto the underground.

Unfortunately once we were both on the same tube heading towards London, I saw him get off at a stop that wasn’t mine. I knew there would be more stairs ahead of me to get off the tube and up to the Eurostar. Upon reaching the stairs, I thought I was in luck. I saw an elevator. I pushed the button and entered.

I quickly realized that this was an elevator that only goes down. Greatly disappointed, I once again attempted to muster up enough strength to carry 80+pounds up the stairs. This time, just as the first, I was saved by another stranger! It has made me think that if the airlines suddenly got rid of their weight limits on suitcases, I could probably make do with 200 pounds worth of items. If only!

October 19, 2010

Voyager

Traveling to another country in order to live there for at least 7 months is not an easy feat. Trying to fit everything you want to bring with you in a suitcase is hard enough, but with a limit of one suitcase at 50 lbs, it’s become even harder. I left a lot of my beloved clothes behind in California, not because of a lack of space, but because my suitcase was too heavy.

Another restriction on what you can bring with you for a cross continental move is carry on limits. Most airlines say that you may have only one carry on suitcase and one personal item, such as a purse or briefcase. There is also a weight limit for carry on luggage, even if nobody weighs it (at least not yet). My carry on suitcase was supposed to be only 13 lbs, but after I filled it with all the shoes that made my regular suitcase too heavy, it weighed around 30.

The final way I circumvent airline restrictions is by having a third carry on item. I always carry on my 23 year old teddy bear Snowball. Although he is not heavy, he would definitely add to the weight of my checked baggage. And although he is not gigantic, he would take up much valuable shoe space in my carry on suitcase. My solution to this problem has not been to leave my teddy bear behind as most adults do, but instead to carry him on completely out in the open. This far, nobody has told me I can’t bring my bear with me. It's been an easy way to bring a little bit of home to Europe with me while still being able to pack 5 pairs of shoes. Plus, he makes a pretty good airplane pillow.


My teddybear Snowball!

Although it is clearly a winning strategy in order to maximize the amount of stuff I can bring with me on my move to France, up until my most recent flight, I had yet to see another person of around my age with their bear in tow. Sure, I've seen little five year old children with their bears, but someone who looked college aged or above? Never.

On this particular Virgin Atlantic flight, however, everything changed. I spotted another girl of around 23 carrying a bear on to the plane. After noticing we were both bringing along our teddy bears, we smiled at each other a smile that said "I'm glad you don't care if you're too old for this either!" Unfortunately, we were seated at different parts of the plane, but it was reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who brings along their childhood stuffy when they travel abroad.

October 6, 2010

Chiffres

The only place FBF and I stayed in a hotel during his trip to California was in Las Vegas, NV. We got a room at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. Upon our arrival, we went up to the 28th floor to find a room with a view of the strip. It was awesome.


View of the Monte Carlo hotel from the pool.

After unpacking, we decided to head down to the pool. The room had a safe and we decided to lock away our valuables. Since I was the first one at the safe, I decided the code.

“J’ai mit douze onze,” (I made it twelve eleven) I said. “C’est bon?” (Is that okay?)

“Oui c’est bon. En plus, c’est facile pour moi de le retenir. C’est l’anniversaire de ma mere,” (Yeah it’s good. Plus, it’ll be easy for me to remember. It’s my mom’s birthday) FBF replied.

“Ah bon?” (Oh really?) I said. “C’est le jour de l’annivesaire au marriage de mes parents! C’est pour ça que j’ai choisi ces chiffres” (It’s my parents' wedding anniversary! That’s why I chose those numbers).

“Ah bon?”

“Oui! How crazy is it that my parents got married on your mom’s birthday?”

“Really crazy. Alors pour l’anniversaire de ma mère, dans novembre-“ (So for my mom’s birthday, in November-)

“Novembre? Tu veut dire decembre?” (November? Don’t you mean December?)

“Non. Novembre.”

Then all of a sudden a light bulb went off in my head. Of course he meant November. For the French do dates backwards. Whereas we do month, then day, then year, the French do day, then month, then year. So while we were talking about the same numbers, we were definitely talking about different times of the year.

His mom’s birthday is Novemer 12th, and my parent’s wedding anniversary is December 11th. Although the events did not take place on the same day, we were still able to use those events to help us remember the code on our safe. I guess it doesn’t matter which way you look at a date, as long as you put the numbers in the right order when attempting to open the safe.

October 1, 2010

Bienvenue à Dana Point!

When Europeans first discovered America, it was known as a wild and savage country, full of mysterious creatures and undeveloped lands. Little did I know, it would still be experienced that way by my very own FBF.

FBF came to visit me, and the sunny state of California, for three weeks this summer. It was his first trip to the United States, and I had planned various activities in order to give him the full Californian experience.

For his first whole day in the country, I planned a day at beach. What could be more relaxing and simultaneously very Californian than experiencing first hand California beach culture?

We walked from my house down to the beach, grabbed some beach chairs, and picked out a prime piece of real estate in order to enjoy the beautiful crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. We sat on the beach, explored the tide pools, and then finally braved the freezing ocean water.


FBF's photo of the beach by my house.


We were about knee deep in the water, when, as an afterthought, I warned him about stingrays. Although I’ve never been stung, as a young girl I was taught the stingray shuffle. Upon entering the ocean, if you shuffle your feet in the sand, the stingrays know that you are nearby, and they swim away. It took me a while to remember to pass on my stingray shuffle knowledge to FBF. I also told him not to worry about it too much, as I had never known anyone to be attacked.

Pretty soon we were completely submersed and swimming around in the ocean. We were laughing and having a good time, stingrays far form our thoughts. After a bit of swimming, FBF put his feet back on the ocean floor. Suddenly his face changed from a jovial expression to one of pain.

“Ça va?” (Are you okay?) I asked.

“Mon pied m’a fait mal,” (my foot hurts) he replied.

“Did you step on a stingray?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

We swam to the shoreline, and then he gimped out of the ocean. His foot was gushing blood, but he could still walk on it. I led him to the lifeguard tower, where the lifeguard confirmed FBF was attacked by a stingray. He knew it was a stingray because stingray cuts have serrated edges. He explained how the tail enters the skin, releases it’s venom, and then pulls back out, leaving serrated edges behind.

The lifeguard said FBF was lucky, as he was still able to walk on his foot. Still, I don’t know how lucky it is to be stung by a stingray your first time in the Pacific Ocean, let alone be the only person I’ve ever known to be stung by a stingray.

FBF, however, does feel lucky. He is hoping his cut will scar, as he feels ever so special due to his chance encounter with American wild life. It appears we do still have wild and dangerous animals roaming freely in our country out to get visiting Europeans.

September 27, 2010

L'empire contre attaque

As much as I realize that it would be good for me to watch as many movies in French as I can get my hands on, I seem to fall short of forcing myself to watch anything dubbed in French. Before my summer holiday, I would watch French TV while cooking dinner. I would put on the news or a game show program, both of these fulfilling the requirement of having the original language be French.

I lucked out too, because unlike most French people who hate to read and like everything dubbed for them, FBF also likes to watch things in VO, voix originalle (original voice).

While trying to decide upon a movie to watch, FBF suggested Star Wars. I excitedly agreed, only to find out that the only copies of my beloved Star Wars movies he owns are dubbed. I decided to take one for the team, as well as attempt to improve my French, and we put on Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.


Movie posters for the American and French versions


We didn’t get too far into the film before I started having major issues with whoever did the translations. They were not doing the film justice. I tried my best to ignore the bad translations, which I did, until this happened.

Let me set the scene. Han Solo has just rescued Luke Skywalker from certain peril wandering around aimlessly on the planet Hoth. Han, Chewie, C3PO, R2D2, Luke, and Princess Leia are all in Luke’s hospital room. Han teases Leia and accuses her of doing this on purpose in order to get him to stay at the rebel base longer. Then she calls him some names! Some very specific, Star Wars-y names!! She calls him a scruffy-looking nerf herder.


Proof she calls him a nerf herder!


While I don’t, and didn’t, know the translation for scruffy looking, I expected to hear the word NERF. This word did not leave Princess Leia’s lips.

I immediately reached over and paused the movie.

I asked FBF, “est-ce qu’elle a dit ‘nerf herder’?” (did she say nerf herder?)

Non,” he replied, “elle a dit, ‘Mon dieu, vous êtes si prétencieux, si imbécile, si mal fichu, si effronté.’” (No, she said, ‘my god, you are so pretencious, so stupid, so poorly presented, so shameless!)

As you can see, she did not make any allusions to nerf herding what so ever, and choose to instead ramble off some half-rate insults. I was visibly upset. In an effort to calm me down, FBF said, “….mais personne française ne sait quoi est un nerf herder,” (…but no French person knows what a nerf herder is).

I exploded. “NOBODY KNEW WHAT A NERF HERDER WAS!! THEY INVENTED IT FOR STAR WARS!!!”

Needless to say, I couldn’t bring myself to watch the rest of the film.

July 16, 2010

Été

Something very strange happened today. For starters, it was extraordinarily hot at the beach. This was a welcome change from the gray, overcast skies I was welcomed home with, but nevertheless it was not comfortable. It was sweaty.

Then around 7 o clock, a rainbow appeared in the sky. And not just any appearance of a patch of colors in the sky, but a full-on rainbow. It had the complete arch and all seven colors. There were two pots of gold out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered.

After dinner, my parents and I took Buster for a walk. About five minutes into it, my dad every so elegantly inquired, “is it raining or did a bird just poop on my head?”

It was raining. I had spotted numerous wet splotches on the asphalt, and I could smell the rain. Then I, too, felt a drop.

I have never experienced warm, summer rain in Southern California. This was a first for me in this location. However, I had already experienced hot summer rain this été. It storms in Lille over the summer, and while I personally didn’t experience any orage (thunderstorms), just rain, I did observed one from afar. On our last skype date, FBF had his computer webcam facing the window, and I saw éclair (lightening) light up the sky.

I’m starting to miss France, and although I prefer Southern California weather to that of the Nord, it was nice being able to pretend I was back in France, even if it was only for a moment.

That said, I would appreciate it if the weather would cooperate with my preconceived notions of being home for the summer in Southern California.

July 8, 2010

Mon Chien à Brugges

After enjoying delicious and strong Belgian beer at ‘T Brugs Beertje, FBF and I went out to do some more exploring. Since he was driving us home that night, we decided to have mid-afternoon beer so he’d be completely sober by the time we went home. There is something about day drinking that I think makes one more drunk without the ability to realize just how much effect the alcohol has had. I was in such a case.

My Barbar, while delicious and honey filled, was not only strong in flavor, but also alcohol content. My 33cl bottle contained 8% alcohol per volume. I was not alone in my enjoyment of a rather potent Belgian beer. FBF ordered a Malheur, which contains 10% alcohol per volume. Needless to say, we were feeling the effects of the alcohol, even if we thought we weren’t.


FBF's Malheur.


We were walking the streets enjoying the general splendor of ancient Belgian buildings, when I saw a man walking a dog. It wasn’t just any dog, however. It was a pug dog. My family has a pug, named Buster, and one of the things I missed from home was my dog. Naturally, I got excited to see another one of his kind walking about in Brugge.

Before I knew it, I had gotten out my camera and had started talking to the man.

“Excusez-moi monsieur? Est-ce que je peux prendre une photo de votre chien?” (Excuse me sir? Can I take a picture of your dog?) I asked.

“Oui! Biensûr,” (Yes! Of course) he replied.

“Oh merci! J’ai un chien comme ça aussi chez moi, et il me manqué trop! Ils sont trop mimis les chiens comme ça!” (Oh thank you! I have a dog like this one at my house and I miss him! Dogs like them are really adorable!)

Like all good pugs, this one was a poser as well, and looked at me ready for his picture to be taken. I took the picture, thanked the man again, and was suddenly surprised at the ease of which French had fallen out of my mouth to grant me permission to take a picture of a French Belgian pug dog.

Les Deux Chiens: Buster and his Belgian cousin!

My new Belgian friend.


Buster!! The cutest pug in the world!! (Apparently the first picture wasn't cute enough)


I’d like to thank liquid courage, as well as Buster, for giving me the opportunity to speak French to strangers and making me feel French, even if I happened to be in Belgium at the time.

July 7, 2010

Chez Moi

I have been back in sunny California for a week, and have been greeted with overcast and foggy weather. In leaving Lille, I was hoping to enjoy nice, sunny, beach filled days. Alas, the weather is finally nice in the North, and I am 6,000 miles away, stuck with grey skies.

So far I have enjoyed being back home. I missed it here, even if I can’t seem to get any of that sunshine California is known for.

I drove for the first time in 8 months four days after my arrival. It felt weird to finally be behind the wheel again, but it also felt completely natural. I think it’s like riding a bike. Once you learn how to do it, you never forget. I only stalled out once!

My mom and I were getting in my brother’s Camri, which does not have automatic locks. As the driver, I unlocked my door and then leaned over to unlock hers. After settling in her seat, my mom said to me, “I love how compact this car! It’s so small you can just reach over and unlock all the doors!”

I started laughing. Although I knew by American standards my brother’s car is indeed small, having four doors would qualify it as large by French standards. We were leaving a Costco, and I quickly took inventory of the other cars in the parking lot. I realized that I had not seen so many SUVs, or quatre quatre as the French say, since I’d been in France.

I haven’t experienced reverse culture shock yet, but everything does seem a lot bigger to me now.

June 24, 2010

Les Bébés Animaux

FBF and I went to Antwerp last weekend. We didn't think the city was all that impressive looking, but we only went there for the zoo anyway. The zoo was definitely worth the hour long drive and came complete with two baby animals! I took videos.


The baby elephant!



The baby hippo!


We also thought we were going to get to see a python, but instead ended up being in the learning center of the zoo. We had to sit through a half hour class on the differences between reptiles and amphibians. I think I understood at most five words, as the class was in Flemish. Despite the language barrier, it wasn't a complete waste of time. We got to pet a snake and a turtle!

June 18, 2010

In Bruges

Despite being told repeatedly by Colin Farrell that Bruges is a shitty place to be while watching In Bruges, I felt like I should pay the Belgian town a visit. Since I arrived in the Nord, everyone here has told me that Bruges is the Venice of the North. Because Belgium is a hop, skip, and a jump away, FBF and I decided to take the 45 minute drive and enjoy one of Europe's best preserved medieval towns.

Yet again I enjoyed better weather while traveling to somewhere further north than I usually experience in Lille. Why is it always so grey and rainy in the Nord-Pas-De-Calais?


Interesting medieval Belgian architecture and blue sky!


Upon arrival, we found the tourist information center and picked ourselves up a map. The use-it.be free map had this to say in it's 5 minutes of history section,
"2009: The movie 'In Bruges' wins an award for best scenario. Quote: 'If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn't, so it doesn't.' So just like in 1892, somebody calls Bruges a shithole, which attracts only more tourists."


The bell tower from the movie.


Not only were we in a beautiful city, but we were in Belgium! This quickly translated into the fact that delicious, cheap Belgian beer needed to be drunk stat! We found a bar with practically every single Belgian beer immaginable, called 'T Brugs Beertje.

We walked in and I was immediately intimidated. There was the barkeep, an old couple, and a middle-aged man in the bar.

They were all speaking Flemish.

Half of Belgium speaks Flemish, and the other half speaks French. On the drive up to Bruges, FBF scared me out of speaking French, as the Flemish speaking part of Belgium apparently hates the French speaking side. I said,"hello," and quickly retreated to the second room in the bar.

Both rooms were covered from head to toe in beer advertisements, and the bar had a million different types of glasses on display to go with its million different beers. Before sitting down, I decided to be courageous, and we took a seat at a table in the room with all the Flemish speakers.

When the bartender came over to take our order, I stuck with English, but FBF ordered in French. I think we confused the man a little bit, but luckily he got our orders right. I ordered a Barbar, which was delicious. It had a touch of honey in it.


Such Belgian-y goodness!


According to our handydandy use-it.be map/travel guide, I knew that in Bruges one days not say "santé!" for cheers like the rest of Belgium, but instead "up je mulle!" This translates into "on your face!"

Not having any clue how to pronounce "up je mulle" in Flemish, I asked the bartender if he could pronounce it for us. He read the word I was pointing at, laughed, and said it out loud. He then said, "Don't go around saying that, though! It's what you say between good friends, but if you say it to a stranger it's really offensive. I said it to a guy once in a bar, and he punched me in the face."

June 16, 2010

Côte d’Ivoire

One of the many reasons that French is hard for native English speakers to learn is that French is spoken in a monotone manner, which sometimes makes it hard to distinguish one word from its neighbors.

In English, there are lots of pauses between words and different intonations are used. In French, it’s all the same (in linguistic speak: French is a syllable-timed language and English is a stress-timed language).

Having lived here for about 8 months, I’m used to distinguishing multiple words from a phrase that sounds like it could be just one word. I’ve gotten so good at it, as a matter of fact, that FBF and I had a hilarious miscommunication last night while watching a World Cup soccer game.

While talking about players in the world cup, FBF decided to explain to me how certain players can play in France, but then represent other countries during the World Cup.

He came at me with some French that sounded like, “eelvware-ann” as one word.

In my brain, I separated the words out to “eel vwa re-ann” or “il voit rien” in actual French. “Il voit rien” means “he doesn’t see anything.” I was a little confused as to how a player not being able to see things explained which team he played for during the World Cup.

Il voit rien?” I asked, with an evidently confused expression on my face.

Oui, ‘eelvware-ann,’” he replied.

Il voit rien? Rien?” (He doesn't see anything? nothing?)

Oooh. Non. Ivoirien. Pas il voit rien. Il y a un pays s’appelle Côte d’Ivoire et les gens s’appellent ivoirien, comme lui.” (Ooooh. No. Ivoirien. Not “il voit rien.” There is a country called the Côte d’Ivoire and the people there are ivoirien, just like him.)

This time, the syllables all meant to go together to form ivoirien, or Ivorian in English.

It felt like I was in my very own film, “Bienvenue chez les francais.” We both couldn’t stop laughing.

June 11, 2010

Il Pleut

I recently watched Bienvenue chez les ch’tis with FBF. It’s a movie about a French guy who gets relocated to Nord-Pas-De-Calais, and all the stereotypes French people have about the Nord. Basically that it’s really cold, always raining, and all around miserable.

FBF’s favorite scene in the movie is when the main character is first driving up to Nord-Pas-De-Calais, and as soon as he crosses the border into the region (sort of similar to counties in CA), he is in the midst of a torrential downpour.


The trailer for Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis (complete with FBF’s favorite scene, and English subtitles!)


Now as you might have guessed, Lille is in Nord-Pas-De-Calais, and it really never stops raining here.

It is finally warm outside (70 degrees), and yet the rain keeps on comin’. It’s no longer freezing and wet. Now it’s moist, humid, and room temperature. I miss dry, hot air.

The film is really funny, and I highly recommend it. According to FBF, it made more money than Titanic did in France!

The main theme of the film is summed up by the main Nordist character, played by Dany Boon. He says, “Un étranger qui vient vivre dans le Nord il brai deux fois. Quand il arrive et quand il repart...” (a stranger who comes to live in the North cries twice: When he comes and again when he leaves).

I'm heading back to California pretty soon here. We’ll see if Dany Boon is right.

June 10, 2010

La Piscine – Splish Splash!

It was a rare 75 degrees Fahrenheit last weekend in Lille. FBF and I went to one of his friend’s houses with a pool. It was glorious.

One common reaction people had when I told people I was going to be living in France was, “France? You know the women don’t shave their armpits over there? And they all smell.”

Taking public transit all year long to work and back, I definitely encountered a smelly Frenchmen or two. However, I’ve also encountered horrible B.O. back on my home turf. It seems to me that the French not only invented soap and perfume, but they also know how to use both.

The hairy armpit stereotype, on the other hand, was harder to investigate. The weather being cold, rainy, damp, and altogether unpleasant most of the time, women were not walking about in tank tops.

This little pool outing was just the opportunity to really discover the truth about French armpits!

As it turned out, none of the girls had hairy armpits, but they weren’t the only ones with shaved underarms.

Before the pool adventure, I made fun of FBF for having shaved his armpits. Naturally, I called him a petite fille (little girl), and explained that in America men don’t shave their pits.

So once pool side, FBF took it upon himself to defend his masculinity. He asked the guys if they shaved their armpits. One by one, they flashed each other their underarms and compared the last time they shaved. Not a single one of them had a significant amount of hair under there.

What I want to know is, if both sexes shave their pits in France, why do Americans think no one does? Maybe the French became self-conscious and are now overcompensating?

June 3, 2010

Bière

You’d think after four years of college and drinking whatever low quality beer was available at a party, I’d be only overjoyed to be in the north of France surrounded by delicious Belgian beer.

However, there seems to be a difference in opinion when it comes to the temperature beverages should be between the French and me.

The first time I drank warm Belgian beer, it was one of those times where we had run out of other options, and someone just happened to have some beer in their car.

It was horrible. I made FBF finish mine.

Leaving beer in the trunk of one’s car is not a rare phenomenon here. In the winter, while there was snow on the ground, I thought it was rather clever of them to leave cases of beer in their trunks. “What an easy way to keep your beer cold!” I thought.

Now that it’s spring, I’m a little less impressed. They still leave beer in their trunks. And because the weather changes with the seasons, this means I am presented with warm beer a lot of the time.

When I asked FBF how he could drink warm beer, he said, “it’s still good! It tastes like beer.”

I interpreted that as while, of course beer is better cold, warm beer is better than no beer at all.

The other night, I had FBF over and we were sharing a bottle of Chimay that had been in my fridge. After saying “santé!” (cheers!), and taking a sip, FBF exclaimed, “Elle est trop froide! On doit attendre!” (It’s too cold!! We have to wait).

To me, the beer was just the temperature a beer should be: cold. I did not wait.

After finishing the Chimay, I offered FBF a nice, cold Leffe from my fridge. He preferred to take one out of the box that had been sitting on my floor.


Just a handfull of the Belgium beers I prefer cold.

June 1, 2010

Suède

Last week I went on a four-day trip to Stockholm, Sweden with another assistant. I fell in love with the city. Seeing how Stockholm is much further north than Lille, one would think that it would be colder and have worse weather. We arrived to find the opposite.


Blue skies and cool ships were abundant.

This is Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm (note the sunshine and blue sky).


Not only was the weather in Stockholm better than back in France, but being in Stockholm also reminded me of things in France I thought were weird before, but am now accustomed to.

One thing that I noticed at the beginning, but forgot as time went on, is the fact that French people don’t dress colorfully. They pretty much only wear black, brown, grey, navy blue, white, and every other dark, dull color imaginable.

When I went to the movies with a French girl back in November, she said to me, “you’re always wearing bright colors!” Back home in California, I never thought twice about my colorful wardrobe. Here, in France, I stick out when I’m wearing things no one would think twice about in California, such as my bright purple t-shirt.

Although I haven’t bought many new clothes since moving to France, the color choices of my new outfits are subdued. The winter sweaters I bought are dark green and brown. My new boots are grey.

So imagine my surprise to be walking around a lovely, sunny city and seeing people dressed in every color found on the rainbow! I can’t remember the last time I saw someone wearing brightly colored jeans.

I decide to embrace the Swedes’ and my love for color. I bought a vintage, bright orange jacket.


I’ve worn it in France about three times now. Each time, one French person or another says, “wow! That’s a flashy jacket!”

You’re damn right it’s a flashy jacket.

Now, if only I could have brought the sunshine back with me as well. It's raining again in little old Lille.

May 17, 2010

Moins Seize Ans

While surfing the channels trying to find something decent to watch on French TV the other night at FBF’s house, we paused on a channel of a girl dancing “sexily.” Naturally, I joked, “oooo! Looks like we’ve found soft core poooorn!” and began to laugh.

He responded with, “Well, yeah. It says -16 on the bottom of the screen. That means if you’re under 16 you can’t watch this, and therefore it IS soft core porn.”

“What?! You mean, there is just porn on the tv for everyone to see?”

“Well it is late enough so children wont see, and you’re supposed to be over 16 if you watch it.”

Being an American prude, I was totally shocked! I have gotten used to the fact that they can curse on French television (I have heard merde (shit) plenty of times), and it no longer surprises me when there are boobies on the screen, even if you have to pay for HBO to get boobies in America. I do think the outrage against Janet Jackson’s boob popping out during the Super Bowl was a little ridiculous, but I’m finding myself not quite at ease with the idea of soft-core porn on regular tv.

FBF, obviously, didn’t think it was a big deal, and said that porn is more open and accepted in the French culture than American culture. That, to me, seems like an understatement.


The official guidelines from the conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel

May 5, 2010

Be True to Your School

I taught my last day on Friday. Since it was my last day of lessons, the head teacher suggested we do something fun, like a song.

After scanning my iTunes to try to find something catchy and not too complicated, I thought of the Beach Boys. Since they mostly sing 2 minute songs about California, I thought it would be the perfect way to say goodbye to my students.

This is when I learned that none of my students had ever heard of the Beach Boys! Although they thought they were too cool for the Beach Boys at first (and enjoyed laughing at my dance moves), after a while they discovered that they actually liked the song.

We all had a lot of fun singing along to Surfin’ Safari. They especially enjoyed learning key vocabulary words such as: surf board, woody, honeys, and walking the nose.

I know it’s not really fair to think French children should have heard of the Beach Boys given that I don’t know any French musicians from the 60s, but I was surprised when they hadn’t. I can remember being around 8 years old at an Indian Princesses meeting, making arrowhead necklaces and dancing to the Beach Boys while waiting for the glue to dry.

In any event, I hope teaching the French about the Beach Boys makes me a true California Girl. My favorite part was hearing my students say they wanted to download the song once they got home!


The worksheet I gave to the 3e(15-16 year olds)
Yes, I did shamelessly brag about how close I live to Doheny Beach.

April 30, 2010

Le Barbec

FBF had a barbecue (BBQ) chez lui two weekends ago. Despite the fact that I didn’t know French people even had BBQs, it was pretty similar to an American BBQ, with a few exceptions.

Americans typically grill hamburgers and hotdogs. The French typically grill sausages. Otherwise, beer was drunk, chips were eaten, and people mingled. This time while hanging out, some people even passed around a soccer ball! Finally, there was an activity besides French conversation that I could partake in.

One moment stood out amongst the rest. I was super hungry as I hadn’t had the opportunity to enjoy my 5 o’ clock snack due to helping FBF set up for his barbec’. The first two guests arrived, and so we went into the backyard to enjoy the sunlight, one another’s company, and eat chips. As it got later and later, and the grill was still not anywhere close to being ready (we didn’t end up eating until 21h), I was still snacking on chips.

One of the two first arrivals, who I had never met before, turned to me and said, “Attention! Tu vas grossir.” (Careful! You’re going to get fat.)

I didn’t know how to act. I just laughed off my shock, and quietly thought, “Well, fuck you!”

April 21, 2010

Cookies

On Saturday night, FBF and I were invited to diner by some of his friends. I was a bit nervous as they were friends I had yet to meet, and sometimes French people can be very intimidating.

Generally the first time I meet new French people (or the second, or the third, or the hundredth) they ask me lots of questions about America. This evening was no exception. “Is it sunny in California?” “How cold does it get in the winter?” “What are some French stereotypes Americans have?” etc

After some cultural exchange, subjects changed and we ate a delicious diner. The conversation turned towards what we were planning on doing the next day. Our hosts revealed that they intended to go to the beach, but they wanted to make cookies beforehand. They then turned towards me.

Je sais pas, mais… tu es americaine… alors tu sais comment faire des cookies?!” (I’m not sure, but… since you’re American… do you know how to make cookies?) my hosts half asked, half declared.

I laughed. In truth, I can’t remember the last time I made cookies, let alone made them from scratch. Being a typical lazy American, if I want to bake cookies I usually go out and buy cookie dough, place it on a cookie sheet, and put it in the oven for the appropriate amount of time. Voila! Cookies.

I had no idea what the translation for “scratch” in this instance would be. So I decided to go for some franglais. I said, “Uh…. Oui, mais pas de ‘scratch?’”

This time saying the English word with a French accent didn’t work.

I explained to them what scratch meant. “Je sais pas comment faire avec que de la farine, du beurre, etc. Mais je sais comment suivre une recette.” (I don’t know how to make them with only flour, butter, etc, but I do know how to follow a recipe)

They were clearly disappointed in me. I seemed to have let them and their vision of Americans down. Don’t the French realize that most Americans think the best cookies come in a tiny box and are sold by little girls? I guess French Girl Scouts must not sell Thin Mints.

April 15, 2010

Fromage

FBF is a giant geek (to the use the “French” word). He was on staff for this giant LAN party nerd fest, and didn’t finish cleaning up until 21h45. I tried to tempt him to ditch out early by telling him I was cooking pasta. He loves pâtes. “C’est une histoire d’amour entre les pâtes et moi,” he told me when I first met him.

He was a responsible person and declined my offer to feed him. However, he did promise to come over afterwards.

Upon arriving chez moi, he announced, “J’ai faim! J’ai pas encore mangé.” (I’m hungry! I haven’t eaten yet.)

Tu veux quelquechose…?” (Do you want something…?)

Tu as quoi?” (What do you have?)

Not having much food with little to no preparation time, he turned down most of my suggestions. “Oh!” I exclaimed, “J’ai du fromage! Et du pain!” I thought he could make a delicious fromage (cheese) and pain (bread) sandwich for dinner, as it was exactly what I had for lunch.

“Cheese? Now? It’s not the right time for cheese,” he told me, a little offended by my suggestion.

“Oh really? What then is the right time for cheese?”

The right time for cheese is after dinner, but before dessert. I should have already known that he would say this, as every time I’ve been invited to eat at a French household, that is precisely the moment cheese is served.

Yet another reason I’ll never be French. I eat cheese regardless of the hour, and have on many occasions enjoyed a meal composed simply of bread and cheese.

To think I use to fancy myself très française when I enjoyed a dinner of cheese, baguette, and, of course, a glass or two of vin rouge (red wine). Le sigh.


My not-so-French-after-all French dinner

April 12, 2010

Printemps

One of the reasons I put Lille, France as my top preference on my teaching application form was to experience “real” seasons. Having lived in Southern California for most of my life, my winters consisted of it being only slightly colder than my summers.

It has been six months, and I am sick of it being cold. J’en ai marre of grey, cloudy, cold days.

The week before my spring break trip to Malaga, Spain, I was on my tiny balcony with FBF and I remarked upon the newly grown green leaves on my ivy-covered wall.

“Bah, oui,” he replied, “c’est le printemps.” (Well, yeah, it is spring.)

“Ça n'est pas printemps!” I declaired, “Il fait trop froid pour être printemps!” (This isn’t spring! It’s too cold to be spring!)

Being stuck in the beginnings of the coldest spring of my life, I was looking forward to Spain. It was going to be warm there. I was going to be on the beach. It would be a much needed relief from the gloomy cold weather I’d been suffering from in little old Lille.

Although Spain was warm and beautiful, I now regret this decision. Lille feels even colder now than before I left. The temperature has stayed the same, in the 50s (Fahrenheit), but I think the temperory taste of warm Spanish weather reminded me of California, and now my body is refusing to readjust to the cold.

To make matters worse, neither of my radiators are producing heat. I’m pretty sure my landlords have turned the heat off. Because, you know, “it’s spring.”

It’s 56 degrees Fahrenheit today. I think it might actually be colder in my apartment. I’m wearing my 20 degrees below mummy bag while I sit at my desk typing this.

Oh warm weather and beach filled sunsets, how I miss thee.



The Mariott's Marbella Beach Resort where I stayed


The sun setting over the Mediterranean Sea

April 10, 2010

Questions

I’ve decided that we are very coddled in American schools. I can remember most of my teachers encouraging us to raise our hands if we have a question and to make sure we understand everything.

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” I was often told, “If you are wondering about something, chances are your fellow students are also confused, so make sure you raise your hand and ask questions!”

Teachers always encouraged us to participate and voice any problems we were having.

So you can imagine my surprise when during one English class, the head teacher became frustrated with the students and said, “Would you stop asking stupid questions!”

The kids didn’t even bat an eye. I guess there are stupid questions in this country.

April 4, 2010

Vingt-troisiéme annivesaire!

I decided to be the best girlfriend ever and throw FBF (French boyfriend) a surprise 23rd birthday party. My studio is rather spacious, especially once all the furniture has been pushed to the walls, and I had yet to have one. I figured, if it was a horrible disaster and my landlord got mad at me, I was allowed to at least have one party. I could just apologize for it later.

Having been the Events Director for my college club and thrown parties with upwards of 300 attendees, I thought I had the whole surprise party thing in the bag. Then France happened.

As an UCSB graduate, the first challenge for me in throwing the party was coming up with a theme. I wasn’t sure what kind of theme to do, nor what kind of themes French people found appropriate, so I consulted my French coconspirator. “We need to pick a theme!” I said.

He replied, “…..FBF’s birthday is the theme.”

So I put aside my dream of some crazy costumed party, and decided to focus on what every birthday party needs: a cake.

This proved to be quite challenging, however, as an amenity that is commonly missing in French studios is an oven. My studio is no exception. In lieu of baking a cake for FBF, I thought I could make Jello shots and write with frosting “Bon anniversaire” (Happy birthday).

This was also a no-go. Jello does not exist in France. I googled about it, double checked with my French coconspirator, and looked around at the grocery store. So having a special birthday snack also went out the window.

On the day of I went over to the store to pick up the necessary snacks and drinks, as well as things to decorate my studio with. I had already hand painted a Bon Anniversaire sign, and was looking for some streamers to drape around the place thinking that decorations had to be the same everywhere. I had no such luck in this category either. In the end, the only things I had to decorate my studio with were the signs I had made, and some balloons.

Although my French surprise party was not going at all how I imagined a surprise party should be in my American brain, I was successful in importing one very important American party pastime.

I taught all my French friends Beer Pong.


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