March 24, 2010

Vous avez voté!

There was an election in France last Sunday, and FBF took me along with him so I could see how it all works. As with almost everything else, the French and the Americans do voting differently.

The first obvious difference is that we went to the polls on a Sunday. There seems to be no “first Tuesday after the first Monday” for the French. How much more convenient is that? You don’t have to be late for work, or wait in a long line after work hungry and annoyed about the whole voting process. Why did our Founding Fathers decide we should vote on a Tuesday? I wonder if more people would go vote if it happened during the weekend.

In both countries, you have to register in order to be able to vote. In France, after you register, you get a little card that allows you to vote multiple times. After you vote, they stamp your card in one of the available slots.

All you get in France for voting is a little stamp with the date on it. In America, we get “I Voted!” stickers, which are way cooler. FBF agrees.

Although most of the differences between the two voting systems didn't dramatically alter the voting process, there was one in particular that surprised me.

As we were getting ready to go to the polls, the FBF said, “hurry! I don’t want to get there too late and be forced to help them count the votes!” Apparently, in France, if you are one of the last people voting, the poll workers can force you to stay and help them count the votes. In America, our poll workers don’t even count the votes themselves.

I doubt any American would go to vote after work if they knew they might be stuck there for the rest of the evening. It’s bad enough we have to vote during the week!

March 22, 2010

Learning British

So the French government hired me to help teach English knowing full well that I am an American (God damnit). What they failed to consider is the fact that French children learn British English in schools. This means that all of my English teaching colleagues have learned British English as well.

This can sometimes put us in awkward situations, as I do not speak British.

About a month ago, one of the students said, “footballer.”

I replied, “Footballer?? Do you mean football player?”

The head teacher then said, “You don’t say footballer? I thought I read it somewhere and I taught it to them.”

I replied with my typical response to any vocabulary dispute, “Well… I’ve never heard the word ‘footballer’ before, but maybe they say it in Britain.”

The teacher then decided to use my American, native speaker vocabulary and went with football player.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later. My best friend came to visit, and we spent one night in Paris. Her British friend met us there, and we all went out to dinner. During dinner, the Brit began dishing details about her current crush, where she let known this little tidbit, “and he has an amazing body because he’s a footballer.”

I guess it is a word after all.

March 18, 2010


I am an English teaching assistant for the French equivalent of middle school. I teach students ages 11-16. The French do a few things differently than either middle school I attended did.

After recess, students line up outside by class, and the teacher goes to fetch them. Although I sort of remember this happening during elementary school, by middle school we were expected to find our way to our teachers’ classrooms all by ourselves.

Once the French students and the teacher have made it to their respective classroom, the students are expected to line up in pairs along the wall next to the door. As they enter the classroom, they say “Good morning/Good afternoon” to their teacher. Once inside, they go to their seats, take out their classroom materials, and then remain standing until the teacher says, “you may be seated.”

Again, this is a totally different experience than my own. When I was in middle school, we were expected to find our seats without greeting the teacher, and sit down as soon as possible. I only remember lining up outside of my classroom in 4th grade.

During my first days as a French English teaching assistant, I made the mistake of allowing the students to sit right away without giving them permission because I was unaware of the cultural differences in showing respect towards one’s teachers. Needless to say, the students were unruly monsters.

Although they continue to be horrible sometimes, I now follow the proper French protocol when receiving students. I think it has helped me some.

March 17, 2010

La galette des Rois

One might think that after New Year's Eve, the holiday season is over. This, however, is not the case in France. They have one last holiday tradition up their sleeves.

The family who's studio I am living in invited me to accompany them to the neighborhood galette des Rois party. A galette des Rois is a pastry cake with a tiny figurine inside. The cake is divided up between all the guests, and the person who discovers the figurine inside their cake becomes the king for the day, complete with a crown. It is somehow related to the Three Wise Men visiting Jesus in the manger.

At the party, I mingled with the neighbors. There was coffee, tea, and three delicious looking galettes just waiting to be cut up and served. I chose to try the apple filled galette, and unfortunately was not chosen to be king. As more people were served their slices, it seemed as if no one was to become the king. Not that anyone was particularly interested. It seemed to me that people were there to mingle with their neighbors and enjoy each other's company.

Sitting in a chair next to the cake-table, enjoying my cake, I noticed the 5 year old daughter of the host checking out the remaining cakes. Spying something suspicious in one of the slices, she took her finger and dug into the cake, fishing out the trinket. Immediately after securing the prized possession, she ran to her parents, and told them she had found it in her slice of cake. Everyone cheered and she put on the crown.

I had two more chances to become king, but sadly never got to wear the crown. Maybe I should have employed the five year old's strategy.

March 11, 2010

Dating Customs

I am now another American girl dating a French boy. I am currently living out the fantasy of many an American girl who comes to this country.

This probably has to do with watching Beauty and the Beast when we were little. Dating a French guy, however, is not all enchanted castles and magic spells. Dating someone from another culture is weird a lot of the time.

I met my own personal prince charming at the New Year's Eve party I went to. We spent most of the night talking to each other, and before the party was over he had asked for my number.

He invited me to go to another party with him and his friends, which I gladly accepted. I wasn't sure at this point if he was actually interested in me, or just wanted to be friends with the American girl.

Once at the party, he pretty much ignored me (I later learned this was his strategy). While being ignored, I talked to the other French people at the party, and I asked a privileged few if they knew anything about the cute French boy who invited me to their party.

Because in America, when you're interested in someone you hang out with them, kiss them, and see where it goes before having the conversation about whether or not you want to be "exclusive," I decide to take matters into my own hands. I gave Monsieur France a kiss just as the night ended.

He called me shortly there after and invited me to see Avatar. I thought things were going on track, and was waiting to see how things went before having the exclusivity talk. He, on the other hand, was already exclusive.

I realized this when he used the word "girlfriend," referring to me, maybe a week later.

My immidate reaction was, "when did we talk about whether or not I wanted to be your girlfriend?"

I was then informed that when you kiss someone in French culture, that means you're really seriously interested in them and want to be their petite amie/petit ami. The label is automatically applied, unless, of course, it's for a one night stand.

Since ours clearly wasn't a one night stand, I was automatically his girlfriend in his weird Frenchy brain.

Their way of doing things seems outdated to me, as if I'm suddenly in the 1800s and whoever I kiss I need to be serious with.

My American way of doing things seems childish to him. He thinks it's really weird to have different steps.

I believe our way of doing things allows you to get to know someone before you decide whether or not you want to "take things to the next level." They seem to skip over that in France.

FBF's reaction to that was, "typically in France, you already know the person pretty well before kissing them." Not that I believe him, of course, as he clearly didn't know me that well.

Regardless of which dating system you prefer, I definitely am his girlfriend, and am quite content to have the label.

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