November 28, 2011

Statue: Au Pigeon Voyageur

Au Pigeon Voyageur.

During WWI a major line of communication used by the French army was pigeons voyageurs (carrier pigeons).

Once the Germans occupied the North of France, they outlawed the use of pigeons voyageurs.

To be caught releasing pigeons was punishable by death, and to be in possession was punishable with three years in prison. All citizens who had pigeons voyageurs were supposed to turn them over to German authorities.

These anti-pigeon laws didn't stop certain Nordist from using their pigeons voyageurs, however. Many pigeons and colombophilies (pigeon raisers) were killed during the war.

Translation: "To the pigeon raisers who died for France, shot by the enemy for having sent pigeons voyageurs."

In 1936, France built a monument dedicated to the French pigeons that died and the French colombophilies who were killed.

Not only do these carrier pigeons have a monument dedicated to them, but those who survived the war were often decorated as soldiers.

La colombophile, le bouclier, et le serpant (The pigeon raiser, the shield, and the snake).

In the statue, the colombophiles are represented by a woman surrounded by pigeons. The strength of the French pigeons is shown by the circular shield decorated with a single piegon, protecting the colombophile from the enemy, here in the form of a snake.

Check it out:
At the Entrance to the Citadel,
At the end of Le Point de la Citadel,

Sources: Newsletter de Verdun-Meuse, and wikipedia.

November 23, 2011

Being Thankful

When I celebrated Thanksgiving last year with La Maman and FBF I explained to them a family tradition. Every year before my family digs in to the delicious Thanksgiving feast, we go around the table and say 5 things we are thankful for.

I was not prepared for how difficult it would be to explain to French people what “to be thankful for” means.

Despite using words like bonheur (happiness), apprécier (to appreciate), and aimer (to like/love), the message wasn’t getting across.

Eventually they did come up with 5 things they wanted to say merci for having in their lives, even if they didn't fully grasp the concept.

Thanksgiving classics Frenchified: La Purée Americaine, Le Stuffing, and Les Hauricots Verts. Recipes here.

I’m going to make Thanksgiving dinner again this year (check out my France friendly recipes), and thought I’d share with you 5 things I’m thankful for in my French life.

1. FBF. Without him so much of France’s culture would have stayed a mystery, and I would have felt even more of an outsider. I’m also grateful that he’s able to listen to me complain about France sans arrêt, be my translator, endlessly explain cultural quirks, and still love me. It’s amazing.

2. La Belle Famille (FBF's family). They are my family in France. I’m so thankful that they invite me to all family gatherings (birthdays and holidays) not just for the exclusive access to real French family life it gives me, but especially because they are all so nice, welcoming, and generous.

3. Mes amis. One of my goals when I came out here as an assistant was to make French friends. I feel like I have accomplished that goal with flying colors, and am so thankful for the French friends in my life. But my life out here wouldn’t be complete without my fellow American expat friends who share my love-hate relationship with this beautiful, yet frustrating country.

4. Tigrou. FBF’s cat has filled the pet-less void I was living in before meeting him. I love cuddling le chaton (kitten, but he doesn't really qualify anymore as he's 11. We still call him that, though) and am so thankful that I can have a cat without actually having a cat.

Me with Tigrou. He's named after Winnie the Pooh's companion, Tigger, only en français.

5. Lille. I’m so glad I got placed in this city. It has opened my eyes to just how diverse a country France is and helped me realize that Paris isn’t France, it’s in France. There are many things that differentiate each region from one another, and I love all the things that are particular to les ch’tis: une culture de la bière, les grands places, les baraques à frites, l’accent, les beffrois, et les briques rouges (the beer culture, the big squares, the French fry caravans, the accent, the bell towers, and the red bricks) among other things.

What about you? What are you thankful for this year? Are you going to use my awesome Thanksgiving-in-France recipes?

November 18, 2011

"..." ou «...»

I had been hearing, and using, the expression “entre gemey” without ever seeing it written or knowing what it literally meant. To me, people used it when expressing doubt, similar to how Americans use supposedly. Since I wasn’t 100% confident about its meaning, I didn’t use it all the time, but I did feel like I understood it enough to not have to ask what it meant when used in context.

This summer a revelation happened between me and this phrase.

La Soeur’s step kids (11 & 9) were camping with us, and were being forced to do dictées. A dictée is when the students are read a small paragraph, and are expected to copy it down without any spelling or grammatical errors.

FBF wanted to be the one to read to them in order to gloat about no longer being in elementary school and having his dictée-days behind him. He read the paper out loud and I followed along. It soon became apparent that FBF was not a very good dictée reader, as he would forget to tell them when a sentence was finished, or what type of punctuation to write. After being scolded a couple of times by the 9 year old, he finally got it together. On the third reading, he was telling them all the punctuation a person could need; point (period), virgule (comma), point d’interogation (question mark), etc.

Part of the dictée was a quotation, and I was eager to learn what this particular punctuation is called in French. FBF said it, and suddenly a light bulb went off in my head.

Ladies and Gentlemen, quotation marks are called “gemeys,” spelled guillemets, in French.

Comme entre guillemets!” I exclaimed, barely able to contain my excitement of figuring out another piece of the puzzle which is the French language.

I’ve now added a very American action to when I say entre guillemets. I make quotation mark signs with my pointer and middle finger, regardless of the fact that while American quotation marks look like this “ “, French ones look like this « ». Maybe I should be turning my hands sideways instead?

What should be France's version of air quotes.

November 14, 2011

Metz: Prémières Impressions

My first impressions of Metz:

The city is yellow, both buildings and boulders alike.

The buildings stand multiple stories tall, and have turrets to give them additional height.

I've never seen archetecture like this in France, probably because of its heavy German influence. Metz, like Lille, hasn't always been French, and there are several buildings to remind us of when it belonged to the German Empire.

Metz is surrounded by rolling hills. Nature is abundant in the form of would-be leafy trees, and beautiful parks in the heart of it all.

November 8, 2011

What What in the Butt

While talking about anal sex may still be a taboo back in the States, there don’t seem to be any taboo sexual topics in France, including anal.

In my extended group of French friends everybody seems to know who’s done it, how many times, and with whom. And nobody is afraid to talk about it. Most people have at least given it a try, if not discovered that they enjoy it and continue to have it in their sexual repertoire.

At first I thought this might just be because the French are open-minded, sexually free beings and Americans are Puritan prudes.

Now I know better. I think they’re so open to anal sex because they are used to sticking things in their butts from a very young age.

Somehow the topic of suppositories came up in conversation one day with FBF. I was prescribed suppositories once in my life, when I lived in America, and it was for a butt related problem (yes, I had hemorrhoids). When FBF talked about having taken suppositories, I assumed it was for the same reason. Why else stick medicine up there?

Fast forward a month or so later, FBF and I were talking about pregnant women suffering from hemorrhoids. FBF was going on about how horrible they must be, when I had to interrupt him. “Mais, je croyais que tu les as eu?” (But I thought you already had them?) I asked.

Quoi? Les hémorroïdes? Moi? Non, jamais. Pourquoi tu croyais ça?” (What? Hemorrhoids? Me? No. Never. Why’d you think that?)

Bah quand on a parlé des suppositoires tu as dit que tu les avais déjà pris” (well when we talked about suppositories you said you’d already had them).

Oui, mais je les ai prit pour les autres maladies.” (Yes, but I had them for different problems).

This is when I learned that in France, suppositories aren’t just for butt problems. They are for all types of problems. Especially for kids.

It turns out that FBF was given suppositories to fight against fevers when he got them as a child.

Kids getting stuff stuck up their butt doesn’t stop there. Not only is their medicine shoved where the sun don’t shine, but French children have a third option when getting their temperature taken at home.

They have the two we’re familiar with in America, under the armpit or under the tongue, but they also have the option of sticking a thermometer somewhere Americans don’t.

The French stick their thermometers in their children’s behinds. So you might want to think twice before taking one out of a French medicine cabinet and sticking it in your mouth.

November 4, 2011


When I studied abroad in Paris back in 2007 it was the highlight of my trip, the proof beyond all else that I had managed to fool everybody and seem French, when somebody would ask me for directions. This happened a total of three times and I was elated after each instance.

Even if I never knew the way, I still felt in. I was being confused for a Parisienne. All my hard work had paid off. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t memorized everything in city in 4 months. I was being asked for directions.

Living in the heart of Lille and walking everywhere these past two years means that I know my way around town even better than FBF (in all fairness, he does live in the suburbs).

So when an elderly lady stopped me in the middle of the street to ask me for directions, I was feeling pretty confident. She asked me if I knew how to get to Aux Merveilleux, a pastry shop famous for it’s own creation called a merveilleux.

And as luck would have it, I did know where it was. I could have easily walked there from where she had stopped me. Feeling very French, I started to respond, only to realize that despite being able to get there myself, I was not going to be any help to a lost stranger. I do not know any street names.

In the panic of not being able to be any help whatsoever, I answered her, “hien… bon tu vas par là, et je suis desolée mais je ne connais pas les noms des rues, alors…. Tu continues par cette rue là et puis… en fait, est-ce que tu connais la rue de la monnaie?” (Umm.. well you take this road, and I’m sorry but I don’t know street names, so….. you continue down this street and then.. actually do you know rue de la monnaie?)

While she answered that she did in fact know where rue de la monnaie is, I realized a second huge mistake I had made when talking to a stranger, especially one who is older than me. I had been tu-ing her.

I corrected my mistake and vous-ed her for the rest of our short interaction, saying simply, “Alors vous vont aller jusqu’au rue de la monnai et puis vous prendrez à gauche. Après un moment, vous allez y arriver” (So go until you hit rue de la monnai and then turn left. After walking a bit you’ll get there).

She thanked me and went on her merry way.

Before when I got asked for directions I was on cloud nine, even if all I could mumble back in reply was “Je ne sais pas… desolée” with a very American accent.

This time getting asked for directions crushed my sense of Frenchness. After being here for two years I still couldn’t tell somebody how to get somewhere? And even worse, I didn’t remember to use vous?

I continued my day disappointed in my abilities. But my embarrassment served a greater purpose.

A few weeks later a woman who looked to be in her thirties stopped me on the street to ask me for directions to an Indian restaurant. To my surprise, not only did I know how to get there, but it was close enough to describe it without using street names. After remembering my mistake with the old lady, I made sure to use vous.

She thanked me while starting to follow my directions, and I continued on my original path feeling ever so Lilloise this time around.

November 2, 2011

La Légende de Lille

In the olden days, when justice was carried out with swords and mysterious creatures still lingered in the forests, begins the legend of our fair city, Lille.

Salvaert, the Prince of Dijon, and his beautiful wife, Ermengaert, were expecting their first-born child when the King of England summoned them to his court.

It was to be a long, slow journey as they were traveling with the prince’s many men, and Ermengaert, being pregnant, was in no shape to ride a horse.

Unfortunately, the only road to England took them through the Bois-sans-Mercy, the Merciless Forest, where many a man had perished at the hands of the ruler of Flandres, for he was no ordinary man.

Phinaert Lord of Flandres was a giant, known throughout France for his cruelty.

When word arrived that the Prince of Dijon was traveling in the Merciless Forest, Phinaert would have none of it. Wanting Ermengaert for his own, he attacked the prince’s party, killing first the knights and then finally dueling the Prince himself.

Despite a valiant effort on the Prince’s part, he was no match for the giant’s brute strength and mighty ax, and quickly perished.

He held the giant off long enough for Ermengaert to flee from the battle.

Running aimlessly in the forest, she went into labor. Not being able to go any further, she stopped by a stream, and gave birth to a baby boy. Afraid of being discovered, she quickly hid her newborn baby in the bushes. When Phinaert arrived moments later, he knew not of the baby, and took Ermengaert as his prisoner.

But Ermengaert was not able to overcome the grief of loosing both her husband and her child, and died shortly thereafter.

The baby should have also perished alone in the woods, but fate had other plans.

A religious hermit, who lived in a cabin in the woods and went to the stream for his drinking water, discovered the crying child. Not one to let a baby die alone in the woods, he took the child in and feed him with sheep’s milk. The hermit named the boy Lydéric.

Years later, upon learning what Phinaert had done to his parents, Lydéric swore to avenge them.

He taught himself the ways of the sword, and in his 20th year, set out to find Phinaert.

Lydéric discovered that Phinaert had been living in Dagobert King of France’s palace and so he traveled to Soissons.

Once there he challenged Phinaert to a duel in front of the King’s court, stating his desire to avenge his parents’ deaths.

The King sanctioned the duel, citing the Bois-sans-Mercy as the location where the duel would take place.

Phinaert thought he would be able to crush Lydéric as he had his father, due to his inhuman size and penchant for cruelty, but what he hadn’t counted on was Lydéric’s desire for vengeance enhancing his abilities.

Phinaert swung his mighty ax with all his strength, but was unable to hit the agile Lydéric.

The battle waged on until suddenly Lydéric saw his chance. Quick as lightening, he brushed the giant’s stomach with the sharp edge of his sword. The giant collapsed; life spilling out of him.

Lydéric had won.

Dagobert King of France awarded Lydéric Phinaert’s old lands, naming him the new Lord of Flandres.

Lydéric established a new city where he had defeated Phinaert, which would come to be known as Lille.

A statue of Lyderic and Phineart holds up Lille's beffoi.

My version of Lille's founding legend is based off of wikipedia, the Lille Office of Tourism, and my imagination.
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