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


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


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


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


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.

April 1, 2010

Chez médecin

I was rather sick over the weekend, and this provided me with the opportunity to take a peek into the French health care system.

One difference is how personal the care is. It is truly between you and your physician. In order to make an appointment with the doctor, I called him directly. I called his cell phone, he himself picked up, and he himself told me to stop by at 17h30.

Upon entering the salle d’attente (waiting room), there was nowhere to sign in. There was no reception. There was no one to give me papers to begin filling out. The doctor simply opened his door, and in the patients went. I guess the French don’t need a piece of paper to tell them what order they showed up in.

Upon entering his office, we exchanged pleasantries and then he asked me what was wrong. Although the medical examination was pretty much routine, he didn’t take my temperature, nor did he weigh me. He also didn't get any tests. It kind of weirded me out, but the medicine he gave me seems to have done the trick so ça va.

I can’t tell you what I had as he told me in French and I do not have the necessary French medical vocabulary, but he did give me a doctor’s note to get out of work!

The biggest surprise for an American like me, who has grown up in a health care system driven by insurance companies, was when I went to pay the man. I was expecting it to be expensive as I had to pay out of pocket and then be reimbursed.

It was 22 euros.
That’s less than $30.
My co-pay, when I was under my parent’s insurance, was $30! But €22 got me a doctor’s visit without any insurance!

And as if that wasn’t shockingly cheap enough, the next step was to pick up my prescription antibiotics. I had to buy 4 different medicines. Again, I had to pay out of pocket.

It cost 19.30 euros. 19.30!!

So let’s review:
Doctor’s visit: €20
Prescription medication: €19.30
Knowing you’re going to be reimbursed anyway because France has universal healthcare: Priceless.
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