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


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


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.
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