Monday, February 28, 2011

French Bingo

I got this idea from a really funny post over at, one of my favorite blogs! Next time that you are walking around your French city, you can play this game, thanks to me and my massive loads of free time:

French Bingo:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How to Look French: The Infinity Scarf

          Since I've been in France, the thing I've stocked up on the most (if you don't count all the pain au chocolats stored in my stomach) is these chic circular scarves. I love how cozy and warm they are, and how they can make an average outfit less boring. I especially love the over-sized knit ones, like on the model above. I brought them home at Christmas for all my friends! 

How to wear an infinity scarf:

          Although these are obviously Americans, both of these celebs have made very French statements, Jessica Alba by picking a scarf in leopard print (you can find just about anything in leopard print here), and Kim Kardashian by pairing her scarf with a leather jacket and high boots. The scarves look equally cool doubled like on Jessica, or hanging loose like on Kim. If it rains, they could even be turned into hoods, which is why some people call them "snoods."

How NOT to wear an infinity scarf:

"A" for effort, though.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I've Won a Stylish Blogger Award!

B has given me this Stylish Blogger Award, which is a particular honor since her blog is so kick ass, itself. The rules are that I am now supposed to list seven things about myself, and then pass the award on. So allons-y!

He may look adorable and innocent, but don't be fooled.
  1. I have a yellow lab, whose cuteness stems largely from the fact that he is really, really stupid. We're talking runs-into-walls-level stupid. For example, one time, I went downstairs to play with him and noticed that he looked a little guilty. But I examined the room and nothing seemed out of place, no tell-tale signs of torn up paper, and nothing was missing, so I shrugged it off. I took him out, and then played with him for about five minutes. Then, randomly, he spit out a plug. An electrical outlet plug. We both stared at it for a beat, and then he turned around and nonchalantly walked away. I soon determined that he had chewed through the copper and wires to obtain the plug from my blender, and then kept it in his mouth for about ten minutes, just for fun. My dog is retarded.
  2. I love bread, and other carb-related products. This is a very dangerous thing for someone who lives in France, and is probably the reason I expanded rapidly as soon as I set foot here. These baguettes are just too damned good. And cheap. And good
  3. To say that I love reading is an understatement. One of my life-goals is to have a library of epic proportions in my house, complete with fireplace, high-backed armchairs, the ladders that slide across the shelves, perhaps some hunting hounds and a crystal carafe of scotch. I have from now until when I get my library to force myself to like scotch. It is obviously the drink of all libraries. 
  4. I love fashion, so I very much enjoy French people-watching. I consider this a good opportunity to absorb as much French style as possible before I have to go home to the Ugg-boot ridden, Juice Couture sweatpants-covered Fashion Hell which is Californian suburbia. 
  5. I love to travel, and have been talking trips to different French cities every weekend. The places I have left on my To Do List are: Strasbourg and Colmar, Toulouse, Bordeaux, St-Remy-en-Provence, Marseille and Cassis, and then the Riviera, including Nice, Monaco, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Cannes, Eze, Antibes, and St. Tropez. And I've got until my program ends in May to do it. 
  6. I love crafts, so it is safe to say that once I'm back in California, I'm going to scrapbook the bejesus out of this trip. But I also love to make cards. My friends are familiar with the fact that I often spam them with homemade cards for many useless occasions, not because I want them to know that I love them, but because I just spent six hours on a Fringe-watching, card-making marathon and now I have nothing to do with all of them. So... happy Tuesday!
  7. I'm using the automatic post feature for this blog entry, because as of today, I have gone to meet my boyfriend in Paris. I cannot believe that the events of my life have aligned in such a way that I can say that sentence. Is this real life?
The Pont des Arts, in Paris
And finally, I pass the Stylish Blogger Award on to FranceyPants, because she is very funny. The stories about her students lovingly remind me of my own little delinquents.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chocolate-Flavored Compensation

I'm pretty sure these boxes are from the 90s... talk about nostalgia.
I decided to live in the city of Lyon, despite working in the suburbs Ecully and Charbonnieres les Bains, because I’m so lazy. I knew myself, and I knew that if I lived in the suburbs, I would never go out to the city to do anything. But because of this wise decision, my commute to work is a bus, a metro, and a bus again, and I have to leave an hour and a half beforehand, so getting there is no small task. Yet I ventured to work  yesterday to teach a single class, for an hour. I didn’t complain about the fact that its 3 hours of transit (there and back) for one hour of work, because making any money is better than making no money, regardless of how much time is spent on the subway reading Twilight in French (entitled Fascination). So I arrived at work, dropped off my coat, made my copies, went to check my inbox, and found a little note which read “You don’t have your English class today. It has been cancelled!”

This, from a woman who has both my phone number and my email address, yet decided to put a note in my box telling me that I didn’t have work, even though I wouldn’t actually see it until I was at work. GAH.

The only thing that saved me from the temper tantrum that was about to erupt inside my head was the fact that a few moments after I read the note and the implications sank in, a fellow English professor offered me something that made coming to work for no reason entirely worth it: like a magic dessert fairy, she handed me a Girl Scout Cookie. Maybe she saw the dismay on my face, or maybe she just likes delivering joy to people like some saintly goddess, but in my time of need, she slipped a thin mint into my hand and I stared at her in wonder.

Apparently she got several boxes shipped to her from a relative. Whoever they are, I LOVE THEM. Some of my friends in America are still having a hard time tracking down the Girl Scouts, and where they’ll camp out next. Said friends been frequenting grocery stores much more than necessary for totally superfluous items, hoping to spot them. But I got a thin mint! In France!

I spent my hour and a half ride home smiling and satisfied. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Old French Women: Ambassadors of Style

          I love little old ladies in France, especially on Sundays. I love seeing two of them, arms linked, slowly walking down the boulevard in their best fur coats, maybe with an old-fashioned hat, some shopping bags, or a dog. These ladies are, for lack of a better phrase, bad ass. They may be 90, but they have full make-up on, hair done, and their lipstick is impeccable. And they are here to seize the effing day:

Sex in the City meets Golden Girls

And check out the heels that some of these women are rocking. Not bad. Which brings me to the latest old lady who I saw in Montpellier recently:

          There she was, tottering along on her orthopedic wedge heels, better dressed than many 20-something fashion majors aux Etats-Unis. I was very tempted to ask her about the secret to fashion longevity which French women have seemingly tapped into, but I figured, I already took a sneaky, stalker-y picture of her. I might as well leave her alone. So the world may never know.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Let's Play "Are They Gay, or Just French?"

        A few posts ago, I discussed the scientific phenomenon in which one's gay-dar is thrown off immediately upon entering French borders. Let's expand upon that, shall we? Taking into account that French straight men dress nicely, and commonly enjoy showing physical affection for their fellow man friends, judge these photos from the club we went to in Montpellier last Saturday, and post your answers in the comments section. Which are gay, and which are merely... French?

Ready? Let's play:

#2. These were actually our Couch Surfing hosts, so I have the added beneficial knowledge of knowing that at least one of them has a girlfriend. But they do give each other a lot of attention...
Do you see what I mean?!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Pros and Cons of French Food

A patisserie in Annecy.
Pro: Starting the day off with French pastries and a cafe au lait.

Con: Breakfast is pretty limited in France if you plan to eat out. Most cafes will be closed, and those that are open serve basically only one breakfast: a croissant or baguette, accompanied by orange juice and your choice of hot drink. C'est tout. No eggs, no fruit, no pancakes, no delicious crispy bacon. I never knew I'd miss Denny's so badly.

Pro: French wine. It’s good, it’s ridiculously cheap, and it’s served everywhere, including ridiculous locations such as Dominos, movie theaters, and street vendor carts. The French equivalent of a 7-11 will often be stocked ¼ with food, ¼ hard alcohols, and half with a wide variety of wine. And you will want to purchase all of it.

Con: There no doggy bags, not only in France, but in all of Europe. In fact, the U.S. and maybe Canada are the only countries where doggy bags are uniform practice. Some more touristy restaurants in Paris have learned to cater to the tourists and now offer them, but usually, if you order an expensive steak, and only finish half, you do not get to take the rest back with you. If you ask, they will look at you like you are a crazy person. It makes my wallet cry.

A cafe in Paris famous for it's patrons such as Hemingway and Picasso, among others, from my trip in October.
Pro: You can stay in a café as long as you want, leisurely sipping your beverage of choice (wine or coffee being the most French), watching people go by and generally feeling really cool, like Baudelaire or some other old Parisian artist. There is no rush.

Con: The servers might think that you plan to stay for hours, even if you don’t, because it’s so commonly done. They might not check up on you in forever and you’ll feel like you’re getting awful service, when really you’re getting respectful French service.

Pro: Absolute freshness. Often, if you order orange juice, they go juice some oranges and add some sugar, and it will be the best orange juice of your life. Even at the so-called “bad” restaurants that are often at train stations, sandwiches will taste better than any upper scale sandwich joint in America because the bread, meat, and cheese is all fresher than what we’re used to. If you order whipped cream on your dessert, chances are its cream that they just whipped, five minutes ago, just for you. AND IT WILL BE AMAZING.

Con: If you go to Dominos because you’re feeling homesick and they have a special for only 8 Euros for whatever size pizza you want, and you order a large, they will assume that you have ordered pizza for your entire party. When you inform the cashier that your friends also want their own pizzas, yes, one pizza per person, she cannot believe it, and makes you repeat it three times to be sure she understands how fat you really are. The same thing may occur at a Chinese restaurant, where the judgmental and crotchety old Asian man informs you that you have ordered too much food, and that he refuses to bring your dumplings or charge you for them, because you will get too fat.

Perhaps depression stemming from poor self esteem may be one of the other reasons French people are so skinny?

Oddly enough, nothing captures poor self esteem better than an inanimate object.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

French Keyboards vs. Moi

         There are several different ways that I can tell I'm acclimating well to life in France. I can create English lesson plans like a boss, for instance, and I have mastered the heels vs cobblestone dilemma. I own two (faux) leather jackets and a plethora of scarves. The SNCF train website has slowly marched its way to the top of my "Most Frequented Webpages" list. I am coming along nicely, je pense

          Yet another indicator is the fact that when I'm at work, I can now type using a French keyboard. It might not be my usual 110 words-per-minute speed, but it's not so painfully slow that I want to kill myself, like when I first arrived and realized with dismay that all of the important keys are mixed around. I can't decide if it's more annoying that the "a" and the "q" are swapped, or that the period key is off in the middle of nowhere, and that it's the secondary function of that key. You have to press shift if you want a period. Because no one uses periods, in France, I take it. 

          But look at all the weird symbols they have!    §§§ °  ² µ  ¤

          It's like the keyboard expects me to do math at any moment. I'm afraid it will be sorely disappointed.

A friendly animal of the rain forest accurately describing my feelings towards math.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What I Miss About America

          To be completely fair, lots of things in France are awesome, and/or better than in America: wine, cheese, environmentalism, croque monsieurs, the slow, pleasure-oriented spirit of their culture, fashion.... but there are still some things I just can't help but miss. For example:

Me, reveling at the selection of American products at Best Bagels Co in Lyon. I left with Easy Mac, barbecue sauce, Tootsie Rolls and a healthy dose of light-hearted glee.  
  • Microwavable popcorn. They have popcorn at movie theaters, so why can't they sell it in bags that you can make at home, like a normal person? Instead, they sell small jars of pre-popped popcorn. This will not do.
  • Driving a car (despite the fact that the metros and buses in Lyon are actually very high quality).
  • Mexican food. Remember my sham of a burrito? Dear god, I miss Mexican food. 
  • The simplicity and ease of being able to speak in my first language when I'm tired, lazy, or lost at 3am and I just want to get home.
  • Bagels.
  • Barbecue-flavored things.
  • Wearing heels and not having your stiletto get stuck in the cobblestone street.
  • Having the right of way as a pedestrian.
  • Californian weather. I should be tanner than this by now.
  • Pumpkin-flavored things, including, but not limited to, pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie.
  • Being on the thin, well-dressed end of the American spectrum (which translates as pudgy and of average wardrobe en France).
  • Knowing whether or not guys are gay.

          One of my favorite games that my friends and I play when we're in a club is called "Are those guys gay, or just French?" though a functioning gay-dar is not of the utmost importance to me, I sympathize for my single friends, and it's honestly a little frustrating to not have that knowledge just for the sake of knowing. It's like one of my senses have been stripped, and I can no longer hear tones in a certain range, or see the color purple. But think about it; all the guys are well-dressed, in expensive, tailored jeans, nice sweaters or jackets, and the most metrosexual of scarves. Personal space and homophobia both don't exist in France, so guys stand close to one another in clubs, speaking into each other’s ears to be heard over the music. It's even common for two guys to do the common informal greeting in France, a kiss on each cheek. Even more unbelievable, I have seen guys, who are in fact not that drunk, pole dancing on the poles in the clubs, just as often, if not more, than girls. No social taboo there. (But mon dieu, is it odd to watch.) It's actually refreshing that they don't care about looking gay, and that if two guys are friends, they have no shame in showing affection. However, it's also a little annoying. I want to know!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Real French Fact #11: French People Are Not Fat. Ever.

Guess which one is the French one.

Excluding American tourists, I can probably count the number of fat people I’ve seen in France on two hands. Out of all my students, I have only one who could be deemed “pudgy.” The middle-aged are in impeccable shape, with not a flabby limb to be seen. The young are either athletic or thin. Even the elderly are trim, with the women often still wearing heels, to boot. (Bad pun. I’m almost ashamed.) I’ve even heard another assistant say that her class didn’t believe she was from America, because she wasn’t fat. Ouch.

            Why are the French so healthy while Americans are not? I can see the reasons in nearly every aspect of their culture. Portion size is a considerable factor. In grocery stores, unhealthy snacks are sold in teeny, tiny servings that would outrage us obese Americans, because we wouldn't be “getting our money’s worth.” There are no such things as doggy bags or free refills. They treat Starbucks like going out to ice cream, a rare indulgence, instead of a place to frequent three times a day. They eat good food over meals which last for hours, savoring both the food and the conversation. Additionally, on Sundays, everything is closed, so they take long walks for lack of better things to do.

          On the one hand, it’s a little discouraging to be surrounded by hot, fit people all the time, including a wide range of 40-50 year olds who are in better cardiovascular shape than me. On the other hand, French people also regard older women as attractive, even when they’re really, really old. They still get whistled at, flirted with, and appreciated past middle age. Amazing how a 60-year-old’s value can sky rocket with a simple change of zip code. My suggestion for optimal self esteem? Stay out of France unless you're thin and healthy, but migrate there as a vast flock with your fellow elderly brethren once you retire. You're welcome.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

French Fashion Faux Pas

          Don't get me wrong. Though a "faux pas" translates literally as a "false step," 98.5% of the time, the average French five year old is dressed better than an American of any age. The French have good dressing instilled in their genes. Picking out the right shoes was something they learned in between potty training and coloring inside the lines. Yet, every once and a while, they seem to make some fairly tragic mistakes...

Mistake #1: Leather pants. They might be just fine if you're a rock star, a model, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the late 90s, but if you're a 30-40 year old woman going to work on a Wednesday, they are always a firm and unyielding NO. They are surprisingly common in France, on women, and sometimes men, of all ages, from my high school students (inappropriate for class much?) to aforementioned soccer mom on the bus.

Mistake #2: Un-ironic fair isle sweaters. These are incredibly popular among all of the cool, hip, young people, but they're not hipsters. They're wearing the sweaters your mom wore in December ten years ago, but not as a subversive statement or for a theme party. They're wearing them for real. 

Mistake #3: Polyuerethane puffy jackets. This is mostly a culture-clash thing. In the U.S. you wear these jackets if you live in the ghetto, and you're an idiot. But in France, it has nothing to do with being poor, and it has no racial or socio-economic implications. Everyone wears  them. Old ladies, men, children, everyone.  And it's pretty jarring to see something on your sweet elderly neighbor that you would usually equate with the guy approaching you in a dark alley, about to mug you. Even if they come in cool colors here, even if they have belts that cinch at the waist to give you a little of your shape back, I just can't reconcile the two opposing images. They're just too... tacky. 

Stone Henge (Stone) Twill Tie Waist Trouser | 214238216 | New LookBlack Pattern (Black) Floral Hareem Trouser | 209832709 | New Look
Mistake #4: Harem pants. I see so many uber-chic girls outside the high school I teach at who are immaculately pretty and well styled. Hair done, make-up done, furiously smoking, scarves and utterly amazing tops and jackets on, killer heels, and then... harem pants. Honestly, it ruins the whole thing. They're absurd on top of stiletto heels, or with anything else! Unless you're about to ride on a magic carpet, skip it. 

I think the floral pair on the right are close to giving me actual physical pain.

What does Don Draper have to say about these poor fashion choices?
He is not having it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Interesting Things My Students Have Said This Week

Yes, I do have a few of these guys.
          But they're even worse in foreign language classes because they don't know how to say what they want to say. So they wait a full minute and a half trying to think of the right word for the middle of a sentence, and then, after all that time, finally settle on saying it was "good."

Here are a few of the highlights of the verbal commentary in my English classes:
  • After perhaps over-explaining the assignment to some blank-eyed ten year old boys, one of them stops me with "It eez cool, Madame. we got zis." I think they heard it on TV.
  • "How do you say fuck, but polite?" I told them this was impossible.
  • First, the girl asked me how to say "how do you say." And then once she knew, she started over in English: "How do you say 'douche'?" It took me a second of stunned silence to remember that in French, douche is "shower."
  • "Fillmore, Taft, Grant, Garfield, Coolidge, Washington." This was their answer after I asked them to list six American presidents. Seriously? Seriously? Fillmore?! Are you kidding? Did you, as American citizens, even know that Garfield was anything more than a fat cat cartoon? The facts are in: French kids know more about American history than we do, and we are pathetic. 
  • "What is the difference between 'shut up,' 'shut the fuck up,' and 'be quiet?'" 
          Me: "Shut up is like tais-toi, be quiet is like soyez silent, and the other
          one... is the bad one."
          Neighboring kid, in French: "I told you that's what it was."
          Original kid, in English: "Shut the fuck up, Antoine."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Question: What is a Croque Monsieur?

Answer: Pure heaven, if heaven tasted like melty, cheesy goodness. Which it should.

          Technically, a croque monsieur is as low-brow as French cuisine can get. The French wouldn't even call it cuisine. To them, it's like what peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are to Americans: basic, plain, and not something served in "real" restaurants. But to me, it's like crack, except a horrible kind of crack that makes you gain weight instead of lose weight. This wouldn't be so bad, except for the fact that I want one all the time. (See my entry entitled "Beware of French Weight.")

          Croque monsieurs are open faced sandwiches of ham, Gruyère cheese, and French bread with a light layer of Dijon mustard, and a béchamel sauce (comprised of salt, pepper, flour, nutmeg, and butter), which is then baked in the oven until it culminates into an explosion of magical flavor that would make you cry, it is so good.

         It's probably a good thing that the French don't believe in drunk-eating, and letting restaurants stay open 24 hours, so that alcohol-fueled croque monsieur binge sessions are out of the question, or I would really fulfill the stereotype of the obese American. 

Sickness Stats

Upon Google-Image searching the word "sick" for pics for this blog (a real gamble, I realize in hindsight), this came up.  It makes absolutely no sense, but it is nevertheless my favorite. So here it shall remain.

Number of Sneezes Sneezed: 14
Tablespoons of Dayquil Forced Down: 2
Mugs of Tea Drank: 5
Snacks or Meals Left in the House: 0
Days I Can Hold Out Before Grocery Shopping: Probably 2
Episodes of Community Watched: 12
Number of Tissues Gone Through: 654,351,548,676,132,368

When you break down the circumstances of my life into cold hard facts like that, it really makes me realize how lazy I can be, and how tender my nose is. :-(

Real French Fact #10: If a French person sneezes near you, say: "A tes souhaits!" Pronounced ah tay soo-ay. Literally it means "as you wish," or "to your wishes."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I am Sick, Out of American Snacks, Doubly Unhappy

One of the cool streets of Lyon I could be walking down (extra-realistic cause of the scaffolding). 

          This cosmopolitan and adventurous image has now been downgraded to one of me, in my pajamas, weakly drinking tea, watching Community, with a sallow complexion and an expression of perpetual grumpiness.

My inner child: “I want to fully embrace all the opportunities that working abroad has afforded me! I want to speak French with strangers! I want to visit museums! I want to walk through the city aimlessly! I want to pet dogs in the park! I want to travel the world! CARPE DIEM! I feel so alive!”

My immune system: “Just try it, loser. You take one foot out of the house and I will cripple you like an elderly lady without a walker. See what a nice day it is outside? See how cheap train tickets are on Well take a deep breath, if your phlegmy lungs can, grab some tissues, and LE SUCK IT. I OWN YOU.”

          Just laughed at myself, to myself, alone, in my apartment. Because the noise my throat made when I cleared it was so amazingly disgusting. Have reached a new low.

           Please send kettle corn (just ate my last care-package pack) and pity.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness/Being French

Real French Fact #9: One of the reasons major cities look so picturesque and pretty in France so often is because they clean everything, all the time.

[Editors note: Marseille is exempt from this French Fact. Marseille is widely held to be, in the scientific term, “icky.” ]

Paying for the gold coating on a long-dead emperor's tomb? Right up there on the list of French priorities, along with obtaining the new metallic gold handbag. 

          French taxpayers pay a huge amount for street sweepers, sidewalk cleaning, and building cleanings sometimes daily or every few days, depending on how much pedestrian traffic is in the area. In fall, every day I saw a staff of workers collecting the newly fallen leaves on the major road by my apartment. Each afternoon, when I wait for the bus at 3 in Place Bellecour, the street sweeper comes by, mainly to scoop up all the cigarette butts that would otherwise accumulate into a massive pile of crap like something out of the WALL-E movie. Everything is pristine, manicured and often even decorated, like the tasteful white Christmas lights hanging from ramrod-straight rows of trees. One of the best examples is that Paris inhabitants pay out the wazoo for Napoleon’s tomb, Hotel des Invalides, to be reguilded in gold every few years. The French are an aesthetic culture, bien sûr. They want to make sure that their surroundings are given as much meticulous, fashionable care as the people give themselves.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Shrimp Girls, or Lessons in Love

Some delicious looking tarts from a patisserie in Aix-en-Provence last weekend
          I love the lesson I tried with my students today. Because Valentine's Day is approaching, the theme was relationships, and they soon learned how to dump someone, how to use a pick up line, and how to ask someone out in English. While covering the basics like the difference between "like" and "love," or a double date vs a blind date, we also ventured into more informal territory like the concept of a "butter face" (as in "Her body was fantastic, but her face..."). I recently learned the French equivalent of a butter face, which far surpasses the English version, because the French version rhymes: "Elle est comme un crevette; tout est bon, sauf la tête." (She's like a shrimp; everything is good, except the head.) Slowly but surely, their vocabulary was enriched with womanizer, heart-breaker, knock-out, bros before hos, make out, creeper, and many other gems that real American people say all the time. 
          But the best part? The best part was separating them into groups, and having them create a dialogue based on the new words. My favorite was between two guys, but you have to imagine every phrase spoken with a thick French accent to get the full effect:

          "Let us just be friends, loser."
          "Well, I 'ad an affair with your best friend."
          "Go away, butter face. I 'ave 'ad enough."

          These kids are natural actors. I appreciate their talent. 

       I decided that unfortunately, phrases like "friends with benefits" were too risqué for the classroom environment, no matter how much I wanted to equip my students with the ability to navigate any romantic or sexual situation, should they ever find themselves abroad. But I was reminded of the fact that they have no equivalent phrase in French, and may be less inclined to understand that one in particular. For example, "No Strings Attached," the comedy starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, was rechristened this nugget of gold: 
Subtle, classy, to the point.

Another one of my personal favorites, for "Step Up, 3-D":

I think they really cut to the essence of the thing, don't you?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Perils of The Language Barrier

          The time that I most resented the language barrier here in France was one night that I was staying at a hotel, and I realized, to my horror, that my uterus was intending to completely disregard our previously established agreement, and come a week early, that traitorous bastard. I was far away from my apartment in Lyon, and far away from stores, which were closed anyway, because it was Sunday.

(Real French Fact #8: Everything is closed on Sunday, except some, but not all, cafes. There is nothing to do but eat, and maybe go on walks, or go to church. No shopping, or even grocery shopping is possible. This was hard for me to get used to at first, and when I asked a friend who had lived here the year before, she gave me some good advice: “You have to adjust; think of it as a justified excuse to watch TV all day, sit around, and eat kebab.” Which I have done weekly, and happily, ever since.)

          To recap, the stores were closed, and my womb was out on a mission to wreak havoc. With this ticking time bomb in mind, I started to walk around the hotel, hoping to encounter a maid, or some good Samaritan guest, who might have a tampon. This was when I realized my biggest problem: 

          How the hell do you say tampon in French?! Merde. 

          Finally, I walked up to the concierge, full of dread and apprehension, knowing that I did not know how to describe what I wanted. I was going to have to do… gestures. This was going to be the most messed up charades ever. I wanted to die. Not looking him (and oh yes, of course it was a man) in the eyes, I began in French:

          “Excuse me, but do you carry… uh… tampons? "

          “What was that, Mademoiselle? I couldn’t hear you.”

          “Tampons. Do you have tampons?” Oh God, I thought. He’s old. And deaf. And senile. And wants me to repeat myself roughly a million times in front of this huge line of people.

          “What’s that? TAMPONS, YOU SAY? WHAT IS A TAMPON?” He was yelling. I was dying inside.

          “Ah, you know….” Here I debated and mentally flipped through all the motions I could potentially make. I decided to go with Plan B: “Tampon,” I repeated. “Like a pad.”

          “TAMPON. WHAT IS THIS TAMPON?” He turns to the crowd of people in the lobby. “Do any of you know, what is this tampon?” Shit, shit, shit.

           A man behind me in line goes “Tampon? Hmmm… I do not know this thing.” They begin to discuss the morphology of the phrase back and forth, and I feel my stomach doing the disco around my feet, until the concierge finally says, “Don’t worry, Mademoiselle. I will look it up on the internet for you.”

          OH GOD, I thought as he started to enter it into Google, saying “Tampon… tampon…tampon…” under his breath. Frantic to end what has been perhaps the longest two minutes of my existence, I finally manage to say “comme une serviette feminine,” which saves my miserable life. The light of understanding filters into both men’s eyes, and they waste no time in cracking up. I thought I had wanted to die before, but I was wrong. Before, what I had felt was only a mild case of shame. This, this was being laughed at by two old guys, in front of a room full of people, for having an unpredictable and rebellious vagina. This was true disgrace.

          Finally, the concierge pulled it together, winked at me, and disappeared into the back room. When he returned, he slid the tampons discreetly across the counter with his hand.

           Yeah, because we’re all about discretion now.

          Moral of the story: My jeans survived to tell the tale another day. My dignity did not.

Monday, February 7, 2011

French Stereotypes: Vrai ou Faux

      On the first day with a new group of students, it's always fun to discuss both American and French stereotypes, and whether they are vrai ou faux (true or false). The first stereotype that they think of for Americans, without fail, is always presented in the form of five or six students blurting out the word "FAT!" followed by "FAST FOOD!" Or, if it's a weak group of kids with poor English skills: "HOW DO YOU SAY 'FAT'?!" "HOW DO YOU SAY 'FAST FOOD'?!" Ouch. 

          Then, of course, we discuss the stereotypes we hold for French people. The picture I paint for them, mentally speaking, looks a little something like this:

So let's cover these bad boys one by one:

  • Berets: False. Mostly. I've seen a few berets here, perhaps five or six. More than one would see elsewhere, but not everyone wears them all the time, as we would assume. The award for Best Beret definitely goes to a baby in Vieux Lyon, wearing a baby beret. I almost died of cute. 
  • Striped shirts, red neck ties: False, and false. Where did this stereotype come from, anyway? 
  • Never Shaving: False. French women do all shave their armpits and legs. Thank God.
  • Mimes: False. Sorry to crush your conceptions of France, but I have yet to see a mime. Some statue-impersonators and some pretend-robots, but no face-painted, help-I'm-trapped-in-a-box mimes. Which is good, since those are sort of creepy.
  • Baguettes: True. They are wildly popular, much more so than in America. After someone gets off work, they typically stop by a boulangerie, or bakery, for a fresh baguette to bring home for dinner that day. It's extremely common, and extremely French, to see people of all ages walking around with baguettes tucked under theirs arms, on the sidewalk and on the metro. 
  • Smoking: True. Though a lot of laws have been passed within the last ten years to stop the worst offenders (you can't smoke within 20 feet of a hospital, etc), it is still popular. When I leave the high school after a day of work, I walk through a giant cloud of perpetual cigarette smoke from all of the blasé students hanging out outside. One of the biggest culture shock moments for me was at my middle school, when an 11-year-old boy asked a stranger for a cigarette outside of the school. I saw this man unhesitatingly whip out a cigarette, give it to the little boy, and light it. I was dumbfounded.
  • Wine: True. I have tasted some amazing wine while I have been here. The cheapest wine you can buy at the super market for under two euros is better than many more expensive wines in the U.S. Not only is the quality of wine excellent, the people are obsessed with it as a culture. In French supermarkets, the wine aisle extends for four full aisles. It's broken down between Burgundy wines, Loire Valley wines, and all the different subsections. They have devoted nearly a 5th of their store to this. There is not an exact equivalent of a 7-11 in France, but when you find something close to it, half of it is for food, and the other half is for wine, and possibly one bottle of hard liquor. It is kind of awesome.  
  • Good Fashion: True. As I mentioned in one of my last posts, my students wear fur coats. And designer bags. And stilettos, every day, just as most French women do. Belted vests, textured tights... no matter the gender or age, they are sleek and mature looking, and always, always well put-together. 
  • Escargot and Frog Legs: False. I mean, they do eat them, every once and a while. But the stereotype is that they're commonly consumed, and sold everywhere, which is rarely the case. Only high quality restaurants tend to serve either, with frog legs being the rarer of the two. 
Frog legs, which were gross not so much because they were frogs, but because they were fried, and tasted like gross fried fish. I've been told they're supposed to taste like chicken when cooked properly. We have labelled this dubious experience a do-over.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Parc de la Tête d'Or is Cool, Full of Inaccessible Puppies


I live very close to the Parc de la Tête d'Or, the largest urban park in France, according to Wikipedia. It has a lake, a (free) zoo, mini-golf, pony rides, cafes, botanical gardens, and enough joggers around the clock, even if it's raining or snowing, to make you feel obscenely guilty for not jogging lately even though you're going to start... soon. 

Me in the Deer Section of the park. Yes, it has an entire deer section. And yes, deer do like baguettes.
For months now, I’ve enviously watched French people trot around with their adorable French dogs in that park. The long, shady, tree-lined avenues and the winding paths around the lake are perfect for romantically strolling with a boyfriend, or a pet, or something. A pet would be an adequate substitute for a boyfriend, but since I don't have a pet myself, living vicariously through other people's pets takes third place in the Lonely Expat Meter.  And yes, that is in fact an official thing. Unfortunately, not knowing the translation of “to pet” in French, being too lazy to look it up, and worrying that I might accidentally say something weird, like “molest,” I haven’t had the opportunity to give my love to even the cutest of puppies up close. 
But that has now changed—sort of. I have learned that the verb is caresser, to caress. But I think it will be a while before I can get over the awkwardness of the American equivalent of the sentence, until I’m comfortable enough to actually say, “Excuse me, sir, may I caress your dog?”

Sad French puppy is cute, but out of luck.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Nothing Silences a Complaint Like French Dessert

          I am very happy with my apartment, but it's not perfect. For instance, it doesn't have an oven, so I can't make any of the daring French recipes that I was intending to try (easing into cooking with a croque monsieur to start, and finally attempting beef bourguignon once I felt confident, and sure that my fire alarm worked). At the moment, I'm a little peeved that I have to wait for the dishwasher to finish before I can have any tea or hot chocolate, the perfect company for this rainy French afternoon. I didn't know whether I should be annoyed that I only had two mugs, or elated that I had a dishwasher. 

          As compensation, I turned to one of my remaining papillotes:

          Papillotes are well-known candies that are eaten all over France during the holiday season, although they're actually a specialty originating from here in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of  the world (All of the leading restaurants in France are located in Lyon, including Paul Bocuse, so it definitely deserves the title). One of my teachers was nice enough to give me a whole bag for Noel, which I've slowly whittled down over the months to just a handful of remaining chocolates. Each one has a wrapper with a message inside, and mine read: 

« Et quand on n’a pas ce qu’on aime, il faut bien aimer ce qu’on a, » by Corneille.

Roughly translated by a lowly UCSB French minor, it says "And when you don't have what you love, you must love what you have."

French food in Lyon is so good, it not only tastes delicious, but gives wise, well-timed, and eerily appropriate advice. 

[Completely Unrelated Editor's Note: whenever I think of the word "dessert," I always immediately remember this comic:]

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Who Knew There Was So Much Trivia About French Bathrooms?

Real French Fact #6: No, your French hotel room is not weird or broken. It's common practice in France for the restroom to be divided up into two parts. One is the toilette or WC (water closet), which has only the toilet. Boyfriend likes to call this room The Toilet of Shame, because it's annexed off from the rest of the bathroom, which probably gives it poor self esteem. The other part of the bathroom, the salle de bains, has the sink, the shower, and the bath. Only the most Americanized of hotels will forgo this general rule.

Real French Fact #7: There are no toilet seats in French public schools. I have no idea why.

Between the collège (middle school), and the lycèe (high school) that I work at, and the other schools I’ve visited for various meetings for my program, I’ve seen a grand total of zero toilet seats. Pourquoi? Are they too expensive? Considered unnecessary luxuries? Maybe I’m spoiled from the US, but I consider the toilet seat necessary. I’ve heard apartments don’t always come equipped with them either, and that its common practice to buy your own. Come on, France! Don’t force women to hover awkwardly over toilets. It’s not nice. You are better than that. Don’t tell me a country which can produce croissants of your caliber cannot equip homes and public buildings with plastic seats.
Sometimes, French bathrooms also like to hide the flushing button. This is especially prevalent in airport restrooms, probably to confuse and intimidate the fresh tourists. I’m sure the French find this amusing. (“Think you can come visit this country whenever you want? WELL, TRY TO PEE! Bwhahaha!”) One time the flush button was in the upper right corner of the wall for no discernable reason. A short person or a midget might have been in some real trouble. I imagine its bad enough being a midget without having to frantically jump up and down in an attempt to reach a toilet flusher. That is a lot like kicking someone when they’re already (heh) down. I know... that one was... below me! HAH.  
Ok, now, really. I'll stop.