July 27, 2011

Travel Thriftily Tips

Working as an English language assistant in France is great because you are paid to live in France. The not so great aspect of working as an English language assistant in France is that you are paid peanuts. The French government provides you with only enough to live off of - nothing else.

This is fine if all you want to do is teach English and stay put in whatever town you work in, but I wanted to take advantage of my time abroad and travel. So I had to travel cheaply.

When traveling to major, foreign cities I save money two ways. The first way is by taking advantage of New Europe’s free walking tours. The greatest part about these tours is that they are absolutely free. They ask for tips at the end, and you can pay the guide what you will – based on however much money you have left to spend for the day or the merit of the information given on the tour or nothing at all (I’m too nice for option #3).

I went on their three hour walking tours in London and Amsterdam, saw almost all of the sights, and learned amazing facts about buildings I wouldn’t have given a second thought to if I had been wondering the city by myself.

They offer free tours in the following cities:
Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Edinburgh, Jerusalem, Hamburg, London, Madrid, Munich, Paris, Prague, and Tel Aviv.

On my London free tour, I learned that this clock found on the side of the Royal Court of Justice was used in the Harry Potter films for the Hogwarts Express.

On my Amsterdam free tour, I learned that this part of the building had no windows because that's where they used to perform autospies, and it was considered too vulgar to show to the public.

The second way I save money is by always staying in a hostel that has a kitchen. Although they are sometimes more expensive to stay at than their kitchen-free counterparts, you will save tons of money if you use the kitchen facilities instead of having to eat out for every meal.

While I do think tasting the local food is a huge part of traveling, it isn’t necessary to eat out for every meal. Also, in a lot of places it is cheaper to eat out for lunch (Paris, Stockholm) than dinner. You can experience the local gastronomy for cheaper at lunch, then go home and cook yourself some pasta with red sauce for dinner in the hostel kitchen.

In some hostels, they even have a cabinet of “free food,” or food left behind by earlier travelers, in the kitchen. Be sure to browse and see if there isn’t anything worth eating in there before you head to the market. You’d be surprised how often people leave food behind.

Me, enjoying a delicious dinner of pasta, red sauce, and cauliflower in my hostel in Stockholm, plus a random fellow hostel-er, and the kitchen where I cooked said delicious dinner. Also a Swedish beer (On a side note: Swedish beer is like 3% alcohol per volume. Living so close to Belgium I'm used to 8% beers. That beer did nothing for me).

One of the easiest ways to save money while traveling, however, is to explore locally. No need to buy a plane ticket, or find a place to sleep. While Lille is a really wonderful city and ideally located for traveling all around Europe, I have hopped on the commuter trains in order to explore other, smaller cities in the area. Just because it isn’t a nation’s capital or recognizable city name doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer. Get to know the small towns around you and you'll most likely discover hidden gems.

I walked along the beach at Dunkirk and stumbled upon old bunkers used in both WWI & WWII hidden among the sand dunes.

Do you have any advice for traveling cheaply?
Brooke vs. the World has asked travel bloggers to put together their best thrifty and resourceful travel tips for a helpful, free ebook. If you think you’re thrifty and would like to participate, check out the official rules.

July 21, 2011

3 Tricks for Speaking Better French

When I first studied abroad in Paris, they had all of us write down a list of goals of what we wanted to see or do during our 4-month sejour in France. Despite having only taken one quarter of French beforehand, I wrote “become fluent in French” on my list.

Unfortunately for my naive study abroad self, I was nowhere near fluent at the end of my 4-month stay.

The study abroad Laura. The first and only picture of me from those entire 4 months with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
Clearly I should have written "take a better Eiffel Tower picture" on my list.
I made it pretend to be sepia otherwise you couldn't see me.

Even today I hesitate to call myself fluent, as it is such an all-encompassing word. Nevertheless, FBF insists that I am, and even I must admit that I have progressed tenfold since I first moved here back in 2009.

Going from not-understanding-FBF-talking-to-me when we first met to speaking-French-without-realizing-I-was when FBF drove me home the other day has taken a lot of practice. I've also picked up a few handy dandy tricks along the way.

Here are 3 tricks for speaking better French:

1. Fake it till you make it

A lot of the time when I don’t know the French equivalent for what I want to say, I say the word in English with a French accent. You’d be surprised how often this works.

I used this just last weekend. I was talking about things becoming decriminalized, but had no idea how to say that in French. So I just said “decriminalisé.” It worked.

2. Context clues

Especially while reading, but also during conversation, it is not important to understand every single word precisely. Don’t get hung up on one word! Listen to the rest of the conversation/read the rest of the sentence, and more often than not you’ll be able to deduce what the previously unknown word means.

If you look at the first sentence of this post, I left a French word undefined. But based on the rest of the sentence, I'm betting you figured it out. You might not be sure if it means trip, or stay, or sojourn, or study abroad experience, but you get the general idea. A lot of the time, the general idea is more than enough.

(P.S. Sorry if rule #2 feels like the SATs. The good news is it doesn't matter which answer is the "best answer," as long as you are able to communicate!)

3. Actual Friends

People are constantly warning us non-native French speakers to be aware of “faux-amis,” or false friends, which are words that sound same in both French and English, but have very different meanings. While there are a few (like mail), I’ve come to realize that most of the time words that sound similar tend to have similar meanings!

For example, the French word for Christian is chrétien. Although they are written very differently, to me they sound similar. The French one is pronounced "Kre" + "Tea-un," which to me sounds like "Christian" without the s (but with a French accent, biensûr).

This is why rule #1 works, and if you combine this with rule #2, you might even be able to discern the slight differences in meaning between the French and English words that actually do hang out together.

July 19, 2011

Omar M’a Tuer

I took advantage of La Fête du Cinéma in order to practice my French oral comprehension. Seeing as movie tickets were only 3euros, I picked the only French movie that was out that didn’t look like a really bad comedy.

Besides the description provided by UGC lille,
1991. Omar Raddad est emprisonné pour le meurtre de Madame Marchal qui l'employait comme jardinier. Trois ans plus tard, un écrivain convaincu de son innocence décide de mener sa propre enquête. Les destins croisés de deux hommes que tout oppose."

I knew nothing about the Omar Raddad Affair, which was a very big deal in the 90s in France.

Long story short, a rich French woman was found murdered, locked in her pitch black basement. On the walls “Omar M’a Tuer” and “Omar M’a T" were written in her blood.

The police believed she had written this on the walls herself with her dying strength (in the absolute dark without making any mistakes..) and so they went to arrest Omar Raddad, her gardener, who is Moroccan. Despite the only evidence to implicate him being what is written on the walls, he is found guilty and is sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Three years later, Jacques Verges, a French writer, believing Omar to be innocent decides to investigate the crime himself. He then writes a book entitled Omar M’a Tuer: Histoire d’un crime. In his book, he basically shows how the judicial system screwed over Omar and brings to light new suspects.

In the end, then President Jacques Chirac reduces Omar’s sentence. In 1998, he is let out of jail after six and a half years spent in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. In 2001 they did DNA testing, and although they found two distinct sets of male DNA at the scene of the crime, Omar was not a match.

[Disclaimer: Although my French is pretty good, there were definitely some scenes I did not understand. If I got anything wrong do not hesitate to correct me, thanks!]

The Movie Trailer. It was a good movie and I recommend seeing it!

This movie made me terrified of the French judicial system.

I know America has probably sent its fair share of innocent people to jail for crimes they didn’t commit, but Omar was treated thusly for one simple reason: He is not French. He is Moroccan. He is a foreigner.

I think the hardest scene for me to watch was when they interrogate him after arresting him.

Despite saying several times that he does not speak French, they continue to yell at and harass him in French, accusing him of murdering his boss. After having photos of the murder shoved under his nose, he starts to understand what’s going on, but is unable to express himself in French.

Sometimes I forget my French words when I’m nervous because I’m meeting someone new. I can’t imagine how stressful it would be to try and communicate in French while the police are yelling at me in super speedy French while shoving pictures of murdered people under my nose. Plus, based on the movie's portrayal of him, I speak way better French than Omar.

It made me cringe to watch him treated that way. I spent most of the film cringing, actually.

The law has since changed. Now it is required that anyone being detained by the police get read their rights in a language they understand.

One thing that I find very interesting is that my French friends do not understand my fear. They all make the joke that since I’m not Arabic, I wont have these same types of problems.

While I realize there is a lot of racism towards Arabic people in France, there is also racism towards foreigners in general. A fellow American expat blogger living in Lille, Traveling Amber, has been dealing with racism towards American foreigners for a while now.

I am realistic and know that it is unlikely that I will be framed for murder, and put in jail with little to no evidence against me, but this film really opened my eyes to the differences between how I could expect to be treated by the American justice system as an American citizen, and how I could expect to be treated in France as a foreigner.

On the bright side, the movie was really well done; intriguing, thought provoking, and full of great characters. It was definitely worth those 3euros.

What do you think about the Omar Raddad Affair? Do you find it shocking at all? Is the French judicial system something to be afraid of? I'd love to hear how you feel about it.

July 15, 2011

Independence Day vs. Bastille Day, or, the 4th vs. the 14th of July.

The 4th

Since I was 10 years old and we moved to Dana Point, my traditional 4th of July has been composed of the following activities:

  • On the third of July, we decorate the golf cart with American flags, red, white, and blue streamers, and American flag pinwheels.

  • We wake up early on the 4th, and participate in the neighborhood 4th of July parade, wearing Holiday themed clothes and accessories (even my dog participates; he has an American flag bandana).

  • After lunch, we all head down to the beach. This is where the drinking begins.

  • We BBQ for dinner, and have a bonfire.

  • Around 9:30pm, fireworks go off over the ocean.

  • And as I’ve gotten older, my friends and I have stayed later and later at the beach, continuing the drinking bit.

The 14th

So far, I’ve only experienced one Bastille Day here in France, and it looked nothing like a 4th of July.

  • There is no civilian parade. The military has a parade in Paris, and apparently has one in Lille also, but even FBF who has lived here his whole life didn’t know about the one in Lille.

  • Nobody wears holiday appropriate clothing. I didn’t see anybody wearing blue white and red.

  • There were no parties organized among friends to spend the national holiday at a picnic or the beach or at a BBQ, just drinking and enjoying each other’s company.

FBF and I invited La Soeur and her beau over for dinner here, and I did my best to make it theme appropriate – we had champagne cocktails and vegetarian croque monseiurs for dinner.

The only thing that these two National Holidays have in common, in my limited experience, is fireworks, even if you have to wait until 11pm for it to be dark enough to light them in le Nord.

And boy oh boy did the city of Lille outdo itself with its gorgeous fireworks display.

Joyeux 14 Julliet (complete with des coeurs (hearts))!

Although it was a completely different experience from what I'm used to on American soil, I still very much enjoyed Bastille Day. What's not to like about standing hand in hand with FBF while watching fireworks light up the sky?

July 9, 2011

Naturellement Pulpeuse

The first time I went to the movies in France was when I studied abroad in Paris. Deciding we should be more Parisian and go to the ciné, one of my friends and I headed to the nearest theater with plenty of time to get lost, have translation misshaps, etc before the movie started.

We found our seats, the lights dimmed, and commercials started playing. The commercial that was on happened to be one of the weirdest commercials I’ve ever seen, and as such I was making comments and laughing about it with my friend.

A group of middle aged French woman seemed to think that this was unacceptable behavior, however, and they started shushing me.

I couldn’t imagine who would care about missing out on a commercial. It wasn’t even a movie trailer. It was an advertisement for a product.

I know better now. I know the reason I was shushed was not because we’re not supposed to talk during commercials before the movie. I was shushed because it was an Orangina commercial.

Orangina commercials consist of digitally rendered wild animals given human sex traits.

That’s right.

We’re talking about horses with boobs and long slender legs hanging out in underwear. Panthers with pecks and biceps.

The reason I was giggling and whispering to my friend some 4 years ago was because I was thoroughly creeped out by these animals personified in a sexual way.

The French find them to be hilarious. The past couple of times I’ve been in the theater and the sexualized Orangina animeoples have been on the screen, everybody was laughing and having a grand ol’ time.

Except for me. I am still terrified of them.

I get really uncomfortable watching this one...

Luckily for me and unluckily for the French, these creepy commercials seem to only be shown at the theater for I have yet to see one on TV. Hence why I was shushed so many years ago.

July 7, 2011

Séance à Minuit

I just finished rereading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in order to prepare for the midnight showing of the last film.

The thing about being an expat is that you miss out on a lot of things back home. While you do get to experience things you would never have experienced otherwise, sometimes missing out hurts.

I am homesick for midnight showings of Harry Potter movies with my friends. I am homesick for everybody dressing up and getting in line in the morning in order to play Harry Potter themed games all day while listening to all the soundtracks.

I love these books, and I love the experience of watching them turned into movies at midnight with all my friends who are equally excited about it (even if I'm not always happy with the actual film itself).

I would give anything to be able to go home and see it with my friends at midnight. I really feel like I’m missing out on something bigger than just a movie opening. I’m missing out on an essential experience for my generation, and one that the French don’t seem to give a rat’s ass about.

The only people I know who are around my age and are going to see it at midnight are doing so in the company of younger brothers and sisters, as if it is unacceptable to enjoy this experience at our age.

I hate how old the French make me feel on a regular basis. Why have they already given up on their jeunesse at 23 years old?

I feel so apart from everybody here.

I’m not sure there’s an equivalent experience that I’ve had thus far while living over here to make up for the fact that I’m going to be missing this.

July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

A little taste of home can be found in one of Lille's oldest pastry shops, Meert. Their cheesecake à la New Yorkaise is delicious and a perfect way to savour the flavors of home.

Of course, I had planned on having a slice with dinner tonight to celebrate my nation's Independence Day, but France had other plans for me.

Meert is closed on Mondays, a small, but important detail I overlooked.

I'll just have to content myself by staring at this mouthwatering photo, and pop over there first thing tomorrow morning.

Get your own slice:
27 rue Esquermoise, Lille
Tuesday - Saturday: 9h - 19h
Sunday: 9h - 13h, and 15h - 19h
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