August 31, 2011

“Time is an illusion. Lunch time doubly so.”

The French and I have very different notions of time. I was prepared for this in some aspects. I learned about cultural differences in my French class.

The French eat later than we do. It’s okay, expected even, to be 15 minutes late to a rendez vous. They call it le quart d'heure de politesse (the quarter hour of politeness).

What my American brain was not prepared for is the lack of precision in time in its entirety.

I first noticed it when asking the time. Instead of getting precise answers to my questions of “quelle heure est-til?” (what time is it?), people would respond with things like “20 ‘til 6” or “quarter past 3” when in reality it was something like 5:38 and not 5:40.

The French seem to care very little about the precious difference between 8:14 and 8:17 (I mean, you can do a lot with 3 minutes!), and will tell you it’s “huit heure et quart” (quarter past 8).

This fluidity in time telling doesn’t stop with the world clock. It also is found when estimating wait periods. When informing me how long it’ll take the delivery guy to get to my apartment, or how long I have to wait before picking up my delicious pizza, I am often told things like, “un petit vingt minutes” (a small twenty-minutes) or “une grosse demi heure” (a fat half hour).

A small twenty minutes? How can twenty minutes be any smaller or bigger than it is, considering it is an exact measurement of time?!

It seems that the French use petit(e) and gros(se) in order to express the American equivalent of about, around, or, between two times (ex. 15– 20 minutes).

That said, the most easily recognizable difference in perception of time comes down to whether FBF or I do the cooking.

Ever since I went off to college and started cooking for myself, I always follow the times written for the food I cook, whether it be pasta, frozen pizza, or a more complex recipe.

FBF does not.

Despite the fact that it is written clearly on the pasta box that to get Al Dente you need to put the pasta in boiling water for 10 minutes, he just wings it. He puts the pasta in and then after a moment determined by who knows what, he goes and does the taste test.

The same thing goes for frozen pizza. Despite the box informing you how long you need to cook the pizza, FBF and La Maman just put them in the oven until they look good.

They don’t set any timers. They don’t keep track of the time.

Sure, if after the ten minutes my pasta is not cooked, I will cook it for longer. But I always set an addition timer.

August 29, 2011

Bordeaux: Prémières Impressions

My first impressions of Bordeaux:

It is beautiful.

All the buildings go perfectly with one another. It’s basically because of this homogeny that almost the entire central part of the city has been made into a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Everything feels so old.

It’s so warm here. I am outside whenever possible.

The Garonne (the river that passes through Bordeaux) is huge.

The wine is so delicious. I love every glass I taste.

Bordeaux seems to fit nicely into all the stereotypes of France: beautiful churches, beautiful buildings, small cobble stone roads, romantic squares, shutters, red wine, and delicious cheese.

August 27, 2011

Nantes: Prémières Impressions

My first impressions of Nantes:




Not only is there a giant, beautiful castle in the middle of the city, but also the grounds and ramparts are open to the public. Where the moat once was has been turned into a park where the Nantais bask the sun.


There are tall green trees that contrast beautifully against the tall, white buildings.

Although FBF prepared me for Nantes thinking it was Brittany, I am surprised to find it out that it is Breton. The Duke of Brittany built his castle in Nantes (hence the giant castle in the middle of the city), and the Nantais are extremely proud of their Breton-ness. There are crêpe/galette restaurants all over the place, Brittany flags hung about, and lots of cidre.

August 24, 2011

Charente-Maritime: Prémières Impressions

My first impressions of Charente-Maritime:

There are real beaches here! With actual waves!

The Atlantic Ocean is way warmer than the Pacific and/or English Channel. It feels like I’m swimming in a pool every time I jump in.

We are very much so in the country. Green spaces of nothingness with occasional cows take up most of the space.

Seafood seems to be the main attraction at all the restaurants. I know we are in the land of les huîtres (oysters), but it does make life hard for a vegetarian like me.

Oyster shells are quite commonly found on the beaches. I was excited upon my first discovery, but soon realized they are abundant.

Everything is beige here (the sand, the buildings, the houses, the churches).

There are tons of mosquitoes thanks to the marais (marshes). Also the mosquitoes seem to enjoy my exotic Californian blood more so than FBF’s, or any member of his extended family’s.

August 17, 2011

La Bretagne: Prémières Impressions

My first impressions of Brittany:

Most people who are actually from Brittany are extremely tan. It makes me realize how much sun I’m missing out on living in Le Nord.

Galettes are delicious. Galettes with chevre chaud, miel, et salade (melted goat cheese, honey, and lettuce) are to die for.

Why do people buy caramel from anywhere else in the world? Caramel au beurre salé is so delicious that I have a crêpe with the stuff whenever possible.

The water is really cold, but a beautiful clear blue. There are giant rocks everywhere.

The tides really are impressionant (impressive).

I finally understand why people want to retire in France. These houses are so adorable; I want one.

August 13, 2011

Roadtrip: Le Début

I am currently in visa limbo.

Although I was hoping to return to my motherland for August, when all of France goes on vacation, I am instead stuck in frogland.

Making the most of our circumstances, FBF and I are taking a roadtrip around France for the entire month of August.

Our first major road related landmark was the Point de Normandie (Bridge of Normandy).

Stay tuned for cultural comparisons between les Ch'tis and the rest of La France.

August 6, 2011

Expat Experience

Ever wondered the answer to such question as:

  • Who am I?

  • Where, when, and why did I move abroad?

  • What do I like about Lille?

  • What my relationship is like with my fellow Lillois?

  • Or what my future plans are?

Wonder no longer!

Expat Focus asked me to write an Expat Experience in which I answer all those questions and more!

Check it out here.

August 1, 2011


France is divided up into regions, which are divided into departements. I live in the region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, and in the departement of Nord. The other departement in our region is Pas-de-Calais. Unlike some regions that have creative names, ours is just our two departements hyphenated together.

The purple is the departement of Pas-de-Calais and the green is the departement of Nord.

One of the first words one learns when studying the French language is the word “pas.” It means not.

Je ne suis PAS française = I am NOT French.

I have always thought that the departement “PAS de Calais” was called so because it was NOT from Calais, a coastal town in the department. In my head there was the North, and then there was everything that was NOT considered to be Calais. I also figured that this was a historic naming, as Calais is no longer as important as other cities.

I was wondering what departement Dunkerque was in, and looked it up on google maps. I then made an astonishing discovery that I had to share with FBF.

FBF, Dunkerque est dans le Nord, mais tu sais ce qu’il y a de bizarre? Calais est juste à côté mais il est DANS le Pas-de-Calais” (FBF, Dunkirk is in the Nord, but do you know what’s weird? Calais is right next to it, but it’s in the Pas-de-Calais).

Bah oui. C’est normale. C’est le Pas-de-Calais” (Well yeah. That’s normal. It’s the Pas-de-Calais).

"Oui mais si c’est le Pas-de-Calais, il n’est pas sensé d’être pas à Calais?” (Yes, but if it’s the Pas-de-Calais, isn’t it supposed to be NOT Calais?)

This is when I learned that the word pas has two meanings. FBF explained while laughing at me, “Ah, en fait ce n’est pas PAS comme not. C’est pas comme quand on marche” (Ah, actually it’s not pas as in not. It’s pas as in when you walk).

Pas not only means not, but it also means steps or footsteps. So the departement of Pas-de-Calais actually means the steps taken around Calais. Hence why Calais is actually included in the departement’s name.


EDIT: One of my Spanish friends has informed me (and I confirmed with wikipedia) that Pas-de-Calais is translated as the Straight of Dover.

But like my dad says, never let the facts interfere with a good story.
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