December 31, 2013

Reverse Culture Tremors

I am currently at home in California for the holidays, and there is nothing better than spending Christmas with the family (especially if you get to go to Disneyland).

Disneyland Christmas lights and Sleeping Beauty's castle.

I thought coming back home would be an especially smooth transition seeing how I came home for a visit last summer, but nevertheless I forgot how we do things in California.

While the term shock seems a bit extreme, since I remembered almost immediately, "oh yeah things are different back home," they did take me by surprise. For this lighter, easier transition back to Americanness, the word tremor feels more fitting than shock.

Here is a list of my reverse culture tremor experiences:

1. Strangers are nice and ask you about your life.
My first interaction on American soil was with the border control police officer, and after asking me the required questions, he started to ask me how I liked going to school abroad, if it was very different from American schools, and if my classes were in French. A stranger hadn't asked me about my life since I'd been back in France.

2. Servers are way too friendly and involved in your eating experience.
Along the same lines, I went out to lunch with my parents and our server was just way to nice to us. Plus, the manager even came out and made sure we were having a good dining experience. It was a bit much, but very typical.

3. Tax is not included in the list price.
While at Disneyland, I wanted to buy their famous dill pickle. The list price was $2.99. I got out my five dollar bill and was expecting two dollars and a penny back. Imagine my surprise when suddenly the cost was $3.23! I had forgot tax is added after the fact in my homeland.

4. Things change.
Going back home, despite knowing better, I always think things are going to be just as they were before I left. This is of course not the case, and I was pretty surprised to learn that one of the local radio stations has changed names. Luckily, one thing always stays the same; my great family is always happy to have me home.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! Hopefully cultural tremor free.

November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving: year five.

I have spent five consecutive Thanksgivings in France. It’s a hard holiday to miss out on, as any American expat can attest to. So, just like last year, I held a Thanksgiving potluck, complete with my recipes for green bean casserole, twice mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Another American friend brought candied yams, and the French participated by bringing bread, pumpkin pie, and cheesecake. My Russian friend even brought a Russian dish.

Thanksgiving dinner.

This year, the Thanksgiving potluck had less of the spirit of being thankful and felt more like a dinner among friends, but I’ll take it.

As seems to have become a tradition on my blog, here are 5 things I’m thankful for about my French life this year:

1. The French boy. He reads all my school papers and corrects all my grammar mistakes. He introduced me to many wonderful things about the Alps, like tartiflette and their vin blanc. He’s an amazing boyfriend and I’m so grateful to have him in my life.

2. Mes amis. I have met so many awesome people since moving to Troyes, and without them I’m sure this little town would be quite dull. I’m especially grateful for all the people in my masters program, who help keep me sane and deal with the ridiculous amount of projects we have.

3. Mon appartement. Despite the worrisome addition of bells in the church next door, which has yet to come to fruition, I love our new apartment. We are in the heart of the city, right next to a beautiful medieval church, with easy access to free parking, and to top it all off: my favorite Christmas time treat (les croustillons hollandais) are sold at the place (square) just out front! I’m definitely going to be gaining some weight this holiday season.

4. Voyager. This past year I’ve been able to visit a glacier, go wine tasting in Italy, and take a road trip in the Netherlands. All of which were made possible by new French boy’s car, so maybe that’s what I should really be thankful for? I love being able to travel and experience so many different cultures.

5. Thanksgiving. Sometimes it’s hard to remember why I chose to move away from my friends and family to a country that is quite disorganized and can be very frustrating. And while Thanksgiving is something super American, I am so grateful to get to celebrate this holiday. It helps me remember all the wonderful reasons why I do live in France.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

November 11, 2013

Les Cloches

When looking for a new apartment to move into with the French boy for this last semester in Troyes, after several mediocre apartments, we walked into one where I had a coup de coeur (love at first sight).

It was luminescent. There was a puit de lumiere (a lightwell / a skylight) in the center of the building that provided light for the living room. The apartment was facing a little used street, and had beautiful big windows letting in even more light. There was even natural light in the toilet and bathroom, thanks to the puit de lumiere.

In Troyes, while the medieval timbered houses are charming, they let in little light. To finally find an apartment, in the city center, on a pedestrian street, with this amount of light was exceptional. But it wasn’t only the light.

Looking out of the living room windows, the neighbor’s beautifully kept flower garden was visible.

Chez les voisins.

The kitchen came complete with an oven. The living area was huge, with an archway. There were two bedrooms, each with a view of the neighboring medieval church.

l'eglise as seen from the bedroom window.

And there lay the problem. Churches in France aren’t simply for Sunday morning service. They are for all the time. Church bells ring for the hour on the hour, and some even ring every 15 minutes.

I knew this though, and so I asked our realtor straight away if this particular church came with ringing bells. She assured me it did not.

Totally enamored by the apartment, we signed the lease.

After living here for about two weeks, while reading the local newspaper, the Frenchboy had some bad news. The newspaper announced that they were going to be putting bells back into the church next door.

September 7, 2013

What Gives Me Away as NonFrench - Before I Talk

Gone are the days when I try to disguise myself as one of the French. While living in France has influenced my style, I have accepted the fact that there are certain things I’m unwilling to go without. This is why it’s easy to spot that I’m not French, even before I utter "bonjour".

Here are five tell tale signs that I ain’t French:

1. My Chapstick, or should I say Carmex.

I am addicted to chapstick. I use carmex brand lime scented SPF 15 lip protection pretty much constantly. Not only does this brand not exist in France, and I’d be surprised to see French cosmetics in bright neon green casing, but also the way lip balm is packaged is different. In America, the part of the case that comes off to access the interior goodies is a small cap no bigger than my thumbnail. In France, the chapsticks I’ve seen, the entire outer casing is removed in order to access the chapstick.

Mon stick à levre (my chapstick)!

This is how I spotted a fellow American language assistant on the Lille metro on our way to orientation.

2. My Rainbows.

While sadly I cannot sport sandals year round in France as I used to do in California, as soon as weather permits you’ll find me more often than not cruising in my rainbows. I have yet to see these particular shoes for sale in France, and every time I’ve spotted another human wearing them, they have indeed been American.

The same rainbows as me! Get your own pair at:

3. My Tendancy for Bright Colors.

I wear a lot of color. Well, “a lot” of color when one compares me to my French counterparts. One of my first French friends, while we were going to the movies, told me “tu te habilles toujours très coloré (you’re always dressed so colorfully!)!” when all I was wearing was a white t-shirt, jeans, and a yellow sweater. I mean, only one item was colorful!

Flash forward to this past school year where living in France for three years has influenced my style. Despite that I now own a lot more black, navy blue, etc articles of clothing, while enjoying an apéro at one of my friend’s houses, he commented on how I’m always wearing colorful clothing and how nice a change it is.

Bref, even under France’s long-term influence, it would seem I still love wearing colors.

4. My Aluminum Water Bottle.

In college, I felt like everybody and their brother had their own personal water bottle. In France, the only other people I’ve seen with one are the Canadians in my same masters program. Although, it’s starting to catch on with my French environmental studies buddies.

Ma gourde (My water bottle).

I love my water bottle for a variety of reasons. It makes me feel a lot more environmentally friendly than buying plastic water bottles, and it saves me money. Plus, I love being able to drink water whenever I feel like it, even if it means my bag is a little bit heavier than it needs to be.

5. My Short Everything.

While French girls tend to dress a bit on the conservative side, all my dresses, skirts, and shorts are definitely on the shorter side. Especially when compared to their version of short. If a French girl does wear something that shows a bit more skin, they cover it up with tights. I dare to wear my short everything with bare legs!

August 26, 2013


Like any weekday afternoon when I don’t have class, I was sitting at home in my UCSB sweatshirt and thick, winter tights studying (okay, watching tv), when suddenly there was a knock on my door.

I was surprised and unsure what to do. To get into my building one has to be buzzed in, or have a key, and it was the first time someone knocked on my door without my previously having let them into the building. I’m only on “bonjour” terms with my neighbors, so I was surprised one of them would be knocking.

Pompiers (firemen)!” a gruff male voice cried from beyond the door.

My fear intensified. Was there a fire? Or some other dangerous activity taking place nearby?

I looked through the peep whole to verify the man was wearing his firefighter uniform, and indeed there was a firefighter outside of my door.

I opened the door, not even bothering to put on pants, when this firefighter explained to me that he was there to sell me a calendar.

Quoi (what)?” I stood there in disbelief, realizing that I was pantless and there wasn’t any emergency to be had.

C’est la calendrier des pompiers, vous pouvez l'acheter en donnant autant que vous voulez (It’s the firefighter calendar that we give in exchange for a donation of any amount)."

Now, a new type of stress came over me.

Never having dealt with this type of interaction before, I had no idea how much money would be appropriate to donate. Plus, I’m a poor, starving student and really don’t need a firefighter calendar.

I felt bad just sending him away empty handed, so I got out a 2euro coin. He thanked me, handed me the calendar, and went on his merry way.

And that's how I ended up with a four page calendar featuring all of Troyes' lovely firefighters.

Some of the region's firefighters.
Source: Mairie Creney

August 20, 2013

Summer Ice

I’ve always wanted to see a glacier while there still are glaciers. Luckily for me, France is known for its glaciers at Mont Blanc.

The boyfriend's parents live a measly two and half hour drive away, and so we decided to take a trip up to see one of the world’s most famous glaciers, la Mer de Glace (the name translates to: a sea of ice).

If you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel bad, as I hadn’t either. All I knew about glaciers is that they are big, made up of blue ice, and stay frozen all year round. But after I was told about its grandeur by monsieur pommettes, I couldn’t wait.

After the drive, it’s a twenty minute train ride up a very very steep mountain, with an arrival directly at a platform overlooking the glacier. But to my eyes, there were no glaciers nearby. Only dirt.

La Mer du Glace.

Still, I could see glaciers that were at the far end of the mountain, and even that was pretty cool. Disappointed that we were so far from the Mer de Glace, I started listening to the guide.

Turns out, that pile of dirt actually is a glacier! In the past, the glacier was able to remove debris that landed on it. Nowadays that doesn’t happen.

Sometimes glaciers wear camouflage.

Despite its appearance of a dirt valley, we decided to make the climb down to see it closer up. There was supposed to be a nice view from a grotto.

Climbing down the mountainside, and then down 400 metallic steps attached to the cliff, we were there. Only, this wasn’t some rock alcove; it was a cave carved out of the glacier. We literally got to walk inside of a glacier.

Me in a glacier!

And the ice was bluer than I imagined.

August 11, 2013

C'est Trash

Most of the time, when people (myself included) talk about things they love about France they bring up baguettes, cheese, wine, the language, the architecture… stuff that is pretty classy.

But that’s not all there is to France. She's got another side, a trashier side, and, well, I love it too!

Here are four trashier aspects of French culture that I can't get enough of:

1. “Les Ch’tis à ___________”
One of my favorite French TV shows is a reality TV series that follows a group of young people from the North as they travel to new places. So far, they’ve made it to Ibiza, Mykonos, and Las Vegas to name a few. It’s basically like a French version of the Real World. There is roommate drama, hook-ups, and they are supposed to be finding jobs. It’s pretty low class TV, but I can’t wait for the next season. End of August!

Les Ch'tis à Las Vegas.

2. La Vache Qui Tache
While drinking games exist everywhere, it isn’t exactly a classy activity. In France, it gets even less classy beause they play a drinking game where you are literally marked up with soot as you loose.

La vache qui tache is a drinking game using a tongue twister, and if you mess it up, you earn a "tache” (or stain, which is also the same word for spot, as in a spotted cow, hence the fun playonwords).

Voilà the phrase:

“Je suis la vache qui tache numero ______ avec _____ tache(s), et j’appelle la vache qui tache avec ______ tache(s) numero ________.“
(I am the cow number ____ with ____ stains, and I pick the "spotted/stained" cow with ______stains number________.)
It doesn't really translate all that well.

Good luck saying that after a couple of beers (and numerous facial markings).

3. BB Brunes
People often ask me if I like French music, and in truth I feel like I can’t answer that question because French music encompasses almost all music genres. While I do enjoy listening to Edith Piaf and feeling classy, since moving here I've realized she's not all France has to offer. I have discovered some French pop bands, including my new favorite: BB Brunes. They are popular amoung 12 year olds, and are similar to those good ol’ American boy bands (except they actually do play instruments). I love the cheesy pop music and love songs.

BB Brunes. So dreamy!
My favorite song by them right now is called Afecionado, if you want to give 'em a try.

4. L’amour est dans le pré
Another reality TV show, this time showing various farmers all over France looking for true love. They do so by being interviewed, then people mail them letters, then they select from the letters people to do speed dating with, then from those people they choose two to visit them. The farmers themselves tend to be pretty interesting characters. They are from way out in the country, which leads to some impossible accents.


France turns out to be a pretty well rounded gal. There's a lot more going for her than just being hoity-toity. While I certainly love the classier aspects of France, like drinking champagne while listening to Edith Piaf and eating macarons, I also love that I can get an order of fries and watch crappy reality TV and still be experiencing French culture.

Vive la France!

July 30, 2013

Looking Back: The First Year of My Masters

The first day of school, where we were made to act silly and then sit through orientation presentations all day long, feels like ages ago. The buildings were unfamiliar, and despite being oriented all day long I left feeling like I didn’t know how to do anything any better than I did when I woke up that morning.

A week after taking spring semester finals, I returned to campus in order to drop off my registration packet for next year. The school seemed so small. I knew all its nooks and crannies. And while I had to figure out much of it all on my own (or with help from my fellow students), I now knew how to print documents, use the wifi, and recharge my student card.

La fac (school).
Source: l'aubeserveur

School in France wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. I was disappointed, pleasantly surprised, mega stressed, had a lot of fun with good people, and learned some stuff. Overall a good year.

I think a major factor in my disappointment stems from the differences between high context and low context cultures.

Low context cultures are cultures where communication is in explicit codes like words, and rules and expectations are explicitly explained such as in America and New Zealand.

High context cultures are when communication is in physical gestures instead of words, and relies heavily on context such as in Japan and Saudi Arabia (thanks intercultural communication class!).

France is somewhat in between high and low. While they do use words, they leave enough unsaid to where I felt under-communicated with by my professors. My first shock came when nobody handed out a syllabus, and that sort of indirect communication continued on all year.

I had a really hard time being graded and judged negatively on things the professors never told us about. For example, not telling us it’s required to have page numbers on our presentation, or that we’re not allowed to use animations, and then marking us down for it.

This wouldn’t be so bad if there were some underlying rules for all of the school, but a lot of it came down to the personal preferences of the professors, and it was difficult for me to accept losing points for something nobody told me about in the first place.

But even with this cultural difference, I was able to learn new things, meet new people, improve my French, and pass all my classes with flying colors.

I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and despite it being a challenge, super stressful, and at times exceedingly frustrating, I’m really glad I decided to go back to school and go back to France.

I'd like to say that next semester I'll be better prepared for the lack of direct communication coming my way, but I'm not sure I was more accepting of it Spring semester as opposed to Fall.

Sometimes a girl just needs page margins and font size defined before writing a paper.

July 11, 2013

How to Find an Apartment in France (Or At least How I Did)

I have now successfully found housing all on my own three times in France, and am currently working on getting apartment number 4!

I completely understand that this is an area of stress for many people moving abroad, whether as an assistant, on study abroad, or just because. While I am far from an expert, here’s what I’ve learned:

Finding roommates is really difficult in France.

Both years I spent as an assistant in Lille I tried to find roommates, and was unsuccessful. I originally wanted roommates because the thought of living by myself for the first time ever in a country where I barely spoke the language and knew nobody wasn’t very appealing.

However, some other assistants that I know were able to find roommates. They used the website, which is like a roommate searching site. It's not the best because you have to pay to be able to access a lot of the contact info.

I gave up trying to find roommates after about a month and a half of searching. I got myself a nice little studio, and I loved it!

The website that I’ve used the most often and had success with is It is similar to craigslist back home. Every single apartment I have rented in France has been from this website.

In order to use the website, click the area of the map that corresponds with where you are in France. Then in the first drop down menu, select “location” for apartments, or “collocation” for roommates. Then it’s possible to make the search more precise, with options like highest rent/lowest rent, number of rooms, furnished, etc.

Rental Agencies

There are numerous rental agencies all over France. Some even place ads on the leboncoin (it says professionel). With them, just be prepared to pay them the equivalent of the 1st month's rent (if not more) after they find an apartment you like.

CROUS and Foyers

Another possibility would be to live in a dorm like situation. CROUS is France's version of student housing. I tried to get housing with them when I came over here to do my masters, but the registration for student housing is in April, and I didn’t even know I was accepted until June. I was unable to get student housing, but am quite glad actually! I love living in the city center and having my own apartment.

There are also foyers, which are like really tiny studios, but usually come with a shower, toilet, and kitchenette - meaning stove tops and a mini fridge. Some foyers have rules (one assistant wasn't allowed to have over night visitors, or boys in the foyer after 10 - it was an all girl foyer), but some are chill.

Play It Safe

On a quick safety note, I wouldn't accept living somewhere until you actually see it. I've seen some pretty scary apartments that seemed good on leboncoin. Also be aware of fake ads trying to take your money, etc.

If I Can Do It, You Can Too!

I've lived in France for three and a half years in three different apartments in two cities, and it's all been an adventure. Good luck on finding housing in France!

July 6, 2013

Les Couverts

Meeting the parents of a significant other is always stressful, but I was adding in cultural differences, language barriers, a weeklong stay, and being a vegetarian in a very meat-based culture.

Trying to make a good impression during one of the first dinners with the parents, monsieur pommettes brought up a culture factoid I had previously shared with him.

“In America, they hold their forks and knives differently, and use their knives a lot less!” my French boyfriend told his parents.

I immediately panicked.

While true that in America we switch the fork holding hand before eating and in France they tend not to, and the French certainly use their knives much more like a tool than in the good ol’ States, I was fearful of what sort of image that statement would evoke.

Would they think all Americans are knife-less barbarians that only eat with their hands?

His mother’s instant reply was, “Well, she certainly uses her knife better than you do.”

I secretly preened. Having spent 3 years observing and mimicking French table manors in a never-ending effort to be more French, I couldn’t be happier my efforts were paying off. Nevertheless, M.P. did have it right – table manors are not the same on our two continents.

Merci, but I learned how to do this while living in France,” I explained. I then told them about the differences between American and Continental dining etiquette I’ve observed over the years, all the way down to using bread to soak up sauces, or using a spoon to eat cake.

An illustration of American vs. Continental fork use.
Source: Châine des Rotisseurs

While for the most part I now use continental style (i.e. I don’t switch my fork hand after cutting), every now and then I notice that I’ve made the switch without meaning to. My American dining etiquette remains a part of me, especially since I still prefer to eat my dessert with a fork.

May 26, 2013

Se Perdre

We were warned about the difficulty of locating the greatest beer in the world before we went on our quest, and yet we didn’t fully realize the legitimacy of such claims.

It wasn’t until after we crossed the Belgian border (granted that only took about twenty minutes) that we realized we had forgotten to look up the actual address of the monastery.

No matter, we thought, we knew which city it was in. We put “Westvelteren” into the GPS, and found a street with the same name of the Abbey, “St. Sixtus.”

The GPS lead us to a residential street. Knowing that the abbey is located in the middle of fields, we decided to follow a sign indicating “Westvelteren” as well as fields.

We quickly found ourselves driving along a dirt pathway in the middle of nowhere, with no street signs, and no abbey in sight, very lost.

Luckily, a friend was supposed to meet us at the monestary. We gave him a call to ask him for the address, but as a regular he didn't know. Deciding to wait for him to look it up, we drove to the nearest town, Poperinge, which ended up being very charming with Flandres style architecture.

Poperinge, Belgium town center.

Originally we had planned on having a late-ish lunch comprised of the bread and cheese also made by the monks, but as it was fast approaching 15h and not knowing if we'd ever make it to the beer holy land, we decided to find a snack.

What better to tide us over than some fresh Belgian fries? Unfortunately, all the restaurants and fry stands were closed except one, however they only spoke flamand(Belgian Dutch). After asking them if they served fries, they replied in a broken English that nobody served fries at this hour.

It wasn't a complete waste of time, however. Thanks to a display, we learned that 80% of Belgian hops are grown in Poperinge. An appropriate stop indeed.

Not to worry, we ended up getting the address, tasting delicious cheese, and enjoying the best beer in the world. And yes, it lived up to it’s name.

Westvleteren Bruin 12 and abbey-made cheese.

But if you ever visit it, make sure to have the address.

Check it out:
"In de Vrede"
Donkerstraat 13
Tel. 057/40.03.77

May 9, 2013

La Bise à la Fac

In my old French life, I had the ever so mysterious bise (the traditional French greeting, a.k.a. cheek kissing) down pat.

With my boyfriends family? Yes! When meeting up with friends? Yes! When leaving friends? Yes!

Source: this great video about how to faire la bise, which I already translated.

I have discovered that school is a whole other ball game.

There are 7 of us in my masters program, and we see each other pretty much everyday. Even among our small, close-knit group, things can get a bit complicated.

Do we faire la bise every morning upon first seeing one another? No. But enough of the time to make it complicated? Yes.

For example, if we get to class early enough, we usually faire la bise, but if someone comes into class ten minutes late and is addressed after the class, a bise suddenly becomes optional. Sometimes for no apparent reason that I can tell the bise becomes optional.

Some of my classmates seem to be more pro-bise than others. While this doesn’t cause a problem per se as I now know who will and who wont demand a bise, I find it interesting that some of them are more adamant about it than others.

Source: the video.

Where it starts to get really complicated, however, is the casual crossing of paths. Sometimes, it is acceptable to simply wave. Other times, one is expected to stop and make time for a quick bise and a "ça va?”(how's it going?) before continuing on to one's destination.

To make matters worse, in my experience before la fac (university), a bise was always done upon first interaction, and never again afterwards. Here, even if I've already seen someone and said a casual "salut" (hello), a bise is still on the table for future greetings.

But again, the bise may or may not happen. It depends. On what? I couldn't tell you.

I'm winging it pretty much all the time.

April 21, 2013

Getting Around France: Trains vs. Cars

For spring break I decided to head up north to my old haunting grounds, Lille. I wanted to see my friends and eat delicious French fries.

Who wouldn't want to visit this?

The problem with going anywhere from Troyes is two-fold. The first problem is that Troyes is not on the TGV (trains de grandes vitesses, or high speed trains). The second problem is that, by train, one must always go to Paris first, and then to the subsequent destination.

In between Troyes and Paris there are roughly 180 km/111 miles. In between Paris and Lille there are 220 km/136 miles.

However, the train ride from Troyes to Paris is about 1 hour and 30 minutes, while the train from Paris to Lille is about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Image ©Google Maps.

Despite traveling farther, it’s actually quicker to get to Lille thanks to the TGV.

Taking into account lay over time, getting my butt up North by train was looking like at least a 4 hour ordeal. It was also looking quite pricey.

Luckily, the train is not the only way to get around France. I did something I have never done before. I signed up for, a carpooling website.

Image ©Bla Bla Car.

I highly recommend it to my fellow travelers out to explore France. It was cheaper than the train, and got me to Lille faster (only 3.5 hours by car). My driver was on time, very friendly, and we had a very agreeable voyage (journey). We didn't even have to pass through Paris!

The point of zero kilometers (where the roads from Paris are measured from) sits in front of Notre Dame Cathedrale in Paris.

It would seem that all roads no longer go from Paris, but instead all trains do.

April 6, 2013

Dictionnaire Español-Français

For my masters, it is required to take a language class and this semester I decided to enroll in Spanish. Having had 4 years of Spanish in middle school/high school, I figured it’d be easier and serve me better than say Portuguese or Italian.

Learning a third language in one’s second language makes for some pretty interesting brain gymnastics. Nevertheless, I sometimes find that translating things into French makes more sense than the English equivalent (and vise versa).

While hoping there would be a Spanish-English dictionary at France's version of Good Will, Emmaus, there were only Spanish-French ones (but really, at a dollar a dictionary who can complain?). I bought one, confident that I speak French well enough that there shouldn’t be any trouble.

Despite it working out most of the time, looking up I no longer remember what, I stumbled upon the cutest word I have yet to cross in French, pommettes. Not sure what it meant, I asked a classmate.

So, what is a pommette? No, it’s not just a tiny pomme (apple). It’s actually the cheekbone part of your cheeks! The little part that grandmas like to pinch when they tell you they could eat you with a spoon.

I love having a word for that specific part of the cheek. Especially since it seems to fit perfectly. It does resemble a tiny apple one just wants to take a bite out of.

Confession: I'm dating a French boy. Since we met, I always adored his cheeks, but telling him so didn't exactly encompass what I meant. Really, I couldn't get enough of his pommettes. After learning this word, everything just fell into place. It felt right.

Now, my favorite part of Spanish class is enriching my French vocabulary.

March 22, 2013

A lack of permanence.

While I have been off exploring, and making do with the clothes, shoes, and things I could fit into one checked bag plus carry on, all my other belongings, cherished and not so cherished, have been safely stored at my parents house, the place where I grew up, the place I have called home for the last fifteen years.

My parents have moved. They no longer call that place home. They’ve moved into a smaller house, which meant a review of the objects I had safely stored away in my closet.

Did I really need to save all my board games? Couldn’t we just dissemble all my star wars legos, and put the pieces in the big lego bin for easier storage? How many childhood stuffed animals are really necessary? Couldn’t I do without all the knickknacks?

While I’ve always enjoyed considering myself not all that materialistic, it was easier knowing in the back of my head that my things were there and they were waiting for me to stop wandering.

The move made me wish I had chosen a more “normal” life path; that I had found a job and was where I was going to be for the foreseeable future; that I could unburden my parents of my things and take them on myself.

I would love to decorate my studio in Troyes with my Harry Potter posters. I would love to be able to have my board games on hand for when I have guests.

Alas, such is not my fate. Seeing how this time next year I’ll be who knows where for my internship, I’m going to have to keep on being nomadic.

So to all the things I gave away, I wish you well. And to my parents, thank you for finding the room to keep most of them. One day, things, we'll be together again.

March 14, 2013


When I was an English teaching assistant one thing that I found remarkable was that even the highschoolers used pencil cases.

At the beginning of every lesson, out came the notebooks and a small pouch filled with pencils, pens, scissors, erasers, and tape.

I hadn’t used a pencil case since elementary school. I hadn’t seen a pencil case since elementary school.

I don’t know why I thought it would be any different at graduate school, but nevertheless I was surprised to see all my classmates take out their trousses (pencil cases) at the beginning of the first lecture.

By the end of the semester it became perfectly clear to me why nobody had abandoned the concept of a pencil case as something for little children.

While I had gone ahead and lost almost all my pens and pencils, my French friends still had all of theirs intact.

So for this second semester, I have taken the plunge. I have become a little bit more French.

I bought a pencil case.

My trousse in all its pink, see-through glory.

For now I still have all my writing utensils. Here's hoping I don't loose the entire trousse.

March 8, 2013

Genève : Premières Impressions

My first impressions of Geneva:

Geneva is beautiful.

The gorgeous stone buildings transport one from modern day to ancient times.

Stone buildings complete with a sprinkling of snow.

There are swans floating on the lake, immediately making one feel like the star of a Disney princess movie.

Swans on Lake Geneva.

It’s Protestantism with a bit a flare.

The church that houses Calvin’s chair looks a lot more Catholic than the churches in good ol’ America (probably because it was originally Catholic).

St. Pierre Cathedral.

The wall of statues celebrating the Protestant Reformers is very showy for Protestant principles, but I loved it all the same.

The Reformation Wall.

It’s also full of lovely modern day activities, such as giant chess in the park, or drinks and snacks at a restaurant floating on the lake.

Babies playing chess.

View from the Bains des Paquis.

A great place for a day trip, it left me wanting more.

March 2, 2013

Il Fait Beau

I used to disagree with any French person who ever told me “il fait beau” (it's a beautiful day). Especially in winter.

But despite saying, “mais non, il fait froid!” (but it's cold!) occasionally to my exbellemère, I would keep my mouth shut, as they all seemed pretty convinced about the excellence of their days.

It still irked me though. How could the French find so many days “beautiful?” A day needs to be pretty remarkable for it to get that accolade from me.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in Southern California where the weather is some of the best out there, but I seemed to need more from a beautiful day than the French.

I need sunshine and blue skies (although a cloud or two might be acceptable as long as they are the pretty fluffy white kind), a light breeze (but not windy), and a good temperature (hot but not too hot). I want that day to inspire me.

The beach in my hometown. How I miss beautiful, beach-worthy days.

The French seemed to find really ordinary days beautiful.

Then, after three years of hearing this expression, I finally got it. I’d been looking at it all wrong.

One shouldn't translate “il fait beau” into “it’s a beautiful day,” but instead into “the sun is out today.”

It’s as simple as that. To the French, the sun being out is equivalent to beauty. I think this has to do with the fact that the French use the word beautiful 3600 times more often than Americans do.

For a day to be beautiful it doesn’t need to be exceptional; it just needs some sunshine. The word doesn’t carry the same weight.

Once I accepted this fact, my conversations about the weather weren’t secretly putting me on edge.

Now when someone tells me “il fait beau,” I agree. Why yes, the sun is shinning today!

I no longer secretly resent the French for being able to find so many days beautiful. And after having lived in the northern gray climates for three years, I'm starting to understand why the French are so eager to applaud the sun.

February 23, 2013

A Hidden Statue

Back in November, my darling little brother came to visit me. We meet up in Paris and spent the weekend.

While cutting through the jardin de Luxembourg, I suddenly remembered that the statue of liberty has a second residence there. Or at least, I thought I remembered there being a copy of her statue, and was pretty sure it was in the Luxembourg gardens.

So we checked out the directory. There was no mention of it. But I wasn’t going to let some silly, not very precise map be the end-all-be-all of statue of liberty locations.

Luckily just then, a rather cute twenty something Parisian gentlemen happened upon our path. I asked him about the statue.

He was in agreement with the directory.

I was in disagreement with both of them.

My brother was growing impatient, and seemed ready to give up on our quest, when I saw them; an elderly couple going for a leisurely stroll through the park. And I knew that they knew because, as I said to my brother, “old people know things.”

Excusez-moi? Bonjour” (Excuse me? Hello)

Bonjour…” (Hello…)

Desolée de vous derangez, mais je voulais savoir si vous savez pour la statue-“ (Sorry to bother you, but would you happen to know where the statue-)

She didn’t even let me finish my question.

Ah oui, tout le monde veux la voir. Elle est juste là, à gauche, derière les joeurs de pétanque.” (Oh yes, everybody wants to see her. She’s just over there, on the left, behind the bocce ball players).

Little brother and I with Lady Liberty herself!

Following her flawless directions, my brother and I saw the tiny version of the Statue of Liberty. Not a common tourist destination to be sure, but the important thing to remember is that I was right!

February 18, 2013

Best Beer in the World : A Visit to Saint Sixtus

50 minutes by car away from Lille, in the middle of nowhere Belgium, surrounded by flat fields as far as the eye can see, lies a hard to find monastery, the Abbey of Saint Sixtus.

While there are eight beer-brewing monasteries, collectively known as Trappists, the Abbey of Saint Sixtus remains much in the shadows when compared to its monastic brethren.

This is because their beer, unlike its better-known counterparts such as Chimay and Orval, is not sold commercially. In order to buy it, according to their website, one must call in advance, hope to have a little luck as their phone line is often busy, and give them your license plate number. Each car is allowed one crate.

In order to taste it, however, there is a lovely little visitor’s center just across the way from the Abbey. This is the only place in the world where the beer is available.

Why would one go to so much trouble just to drink beer you might ask? Easy, it is widely considered the best beer in the world.

And boy oh boy, I dare say I do agree.

The Westvleteren 12 is a strong, dark beer, coming in at 10.2%, and it is to this beer the Abbey owes all its fame.

The Westveletern 12 in all its glory.

I don’t usually enjoy dark beers, but this one was delightful with a caramel finish. I spent a lovely afternoon there with friends, drinking incredible beer and eating delicious cheese.

While we had a great time, we were definitely of the wrong age. We were the only young people in the room. And to make matters even more complicated, the menu is entirely in Flemmish, the servers only speak Flemmish, and all the other people in the establishment were speaking in Flemmish.

Not to worry, all one really needs to do is drink one Westveletern 12, and that 10.2% ABV makes everyone fast friends.

Check it out:
"In de Vrede"
Donkerstraat 13
Tel. 057/40.03.77

January 30, 2013


While I have gotten somewhat used to never having a clue as to what is going on at my school, whether it be the administration or assignments, I must admit some things still throw me for a loop.

Unlike most French universities, UTT does let its students choose some of their classes. As a graduate student, the choices are usually between two or three pre-selected classes, but first semester we even had an UV libre, or a free class, where we were allowed to pick “any” class we wanted (any class that fit into our already set schedule, which did reduce the choices considerably).

Despite registration for the second semester being a week away, we had yet to receive any information about which classes we would be taking next semester. In the guide des UV (course catalogue) there is a list of classes we are supposed to take. However, it lists all possible classes, and does not say which ones are mandatory, and which ones we may choose between.

Le guide des UV (course catalogue)

Never mind the fact that I think the school should inform us without us having to ask, wanting to research my choices, I finally gave in and sent an email to our program director.

To which she responded, “Yes, I’ll do that soon. By the way, when is registration?”

And when I sent her the registration dates, which were not only on all of the school websites but also had been emailed to the whole school several times over, I got an automatic reply from her inbox. “Je suis absente jusqu'au mois d'aout et ne pourrai prendre connaissance de votre message avant mon retour (I will be absent until August and wont be able to look at any messages until my return).”

So much for registering for classes on time.

January 22, 2013


Despite being certifiably fluent in French (as was the requirement for my masters program), the first days of school seemed such a language blur. My every day familiar language wasn’t enough.

Technical vocabulary aside, I could tell I’d lost some of my ability over the 8 months spent at home. It has come back to me over time, with hard work and lots of intense listening, leading me to the last week of lectures where I understood everything the teachers said. Well, almost everything.

When giving us details about one of our final exams, the head teacher explained that normalement (normally) we are allowed the use of documents for certain questions posed by different guest lecturers. To me, that left a certain amount of doubt about whether or not things would be the same this year.

After that we didn’t hear whether the test was open book or not, and so I studied everything.

Come test day, it was written on the exam which parts had authorized documents, and which hadn’t. A sense of relief poured over me. This test was going to go better than I had thought.

After the exam, I expressed my sense of joy at being able to use the materials from lecture to my fellow students.

I was the only one relieved, however.

To my French counterparts, the normalement wasn’t so ambiguous.

They expected to be able to use their documents.

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