Fontaine à Chambéry

Fontaine à Chambéry

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Month of Sales!

The French are brilliant! Tomorrow begins a month of sales throughout the country. Stores selling clothing, perfume, and housewares (among other things) are offering discounts between 20-70% off. I AM EXCITED.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

No Drivers License? No Problem!

Yesterday Robin and I went downtown. The weather here has improved significantly from last week (wind, rain, and temperatures in the 50's--yuck) so we took advantage of the sun, walked around, and got smoothies. After we parked the car, I noticed an adorable little blue car nearby. "Oh, it's so cute!" I told Robin. "No it's not! You don't need a driver's license to drive that kind of car. It's too small for my taste."

Well, I was shocked. You can drive a tiny car like that without a driver's license? Strange! Apparently in France obtaining a driver's license is a difficult process. Only upon turning 18 does one have the possibility of taking the driver's license exam, but it is very difficult to pass and very expensive to have a car here. Because public transportation, walking, or riding a bicycle is cheap (or free) and accessible, many people choose those alternatives rather than owning a vehicle. For those individuals who don't have a driver's license for whatever reason, but still want a car, they can purchase one like in the picture. The motor in cars such as this one is so small that the driver can't achieve high speeds--usually only about 45 kilometers per hour maximum. I think cars like this are really cute!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'm Tired of Wine!

I never thought that I would say this, but I am tired of drinking wine. Those of you who know me well are probably shocked right now. Here's the reason though: we drink it so often here (usually at lunch and dinner) that wine is no longer a treat!

Lately I have had a hankering for Mexican food and a margarita, but those things are nowhere to be found in this country. I guess I know what my first meal will be when I return to the U.S. at the end of July...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

French Toilets

If you go into any French home and ask to use the bathroom, you will be directed to a little room with only a toilet. Why? The French keep the toilette and salle de bains separate. The American notion of having the toilet, bathtub/shower, and sink in the same place is a completely foreign idea here!

At school a couple of days ago we were learning the vocabulary associated with houses and apartments. One of the students asked why in France the toilet was not in the bathroom with the sink and bathtub. Our professor simply pinched her nose, indicating that the French prefer to keep the toilet and its, uh, unpleasant odors, separate from the rest of the house. Très intéressant and it makes a lot of sense.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

An American in Paris

Last week, my friend Tiphanie and I went to Paris for the day. We woke up at 5 A.M. in order to catch the TGV (high-speed train) at 6:22 A.M. The TGV is really fast--we arrived in Paris a little after 9 A.M.! Tiphanie's friend from Truman, Maricruz, was visiting La Ville-Lumière (The City of Light) for a couple of days with her friend and cousin, so Tiphanie and I went to meet up with them. Our group was very multicultural--we represented France, Mexico, and the United States!

We spent the day visiting the sights of Paris: Le Louvre, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe,
Tour Eiffel, Montmarte, Sacre Coeur, and Notre Dame. It was fun! As you can tell from the pictures, the weather wasn't great. We spent the majority of the day fighting to keep our umbrellas from turning inside out.

By far, the most exciting event of the day occurred when we were near the Arc de Triomphe. We were standing around trying to find a metro station when we noticed a camera crew filming with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. Maricruz, Jorge, and July started freaking out--the camera crew was from Azteca TV, the biggest television network in Mexico (and equivalent to CNN in the United States). The correspondent was reporting a segment about France, as the France-Mexico game of the World Cup was that evening. In fact, Maricruz, Jorge, and July had all worn Mexican jerseys
while sightseeing around Paris that day. The reporter interviewed them about the game and who they expected to win (Mexico, of course). He then interviewed Tiphanie about who she thought would win (tough, because she is French but she was with her Mexican friends. Oh and also because the Mexican team is really good). Finally he asked me what I thought. "I don't really care, I'm American. We don't like soccer. I want France to win." I replied. Ooops. Only afterwards did I realize how dumb I sounded! Oh well, hopefully the reporter edited my thirty second segment out before the broadcast aired all over Mexico...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Visite chez le Docteur Gregoire

For the past couple of days, I have had a sore throat. I didn't really think much of it because the weather has been fluctuating a lot over the past week and I've also been really tired. To alleviate some of the pain, I've been taking aspirin and sucking on lozenges. Yesterday morning though, my sore throat worsened. It hurt so bad that I knew had to skip school. I couldn't face the idea of sitting in a classroom for four hours working on pronunciation--the act of practicing guttural consonants would be too painful.

When Robin's mom came home from work and realized I had skipped school, she grew worried. She didn't want whatever I have to begin affecting my asthma, so she scheduled an appointment with the doctor. Today was my appointment. I was a little nervous because I didn't know how it would work without having French health insurance. In France though, unlike the U.S., a visit to the doctor is not expensive--mine only cost 22 €. After the appointment, I received a form to give to my insurance company documenting that I went to the doctor. After the insurance acknowledges my appointment, I will be reimbursed for the cost of the appointment. All in all, it only cost me 2 € to get medical attention.

I like the French medical system far better than the American one. When we arrived at the doctor's office, there was no wait. We walked in, and Dr. Gregoire (Gregory) was waiting for us. Here it is not customary to have multiple patients at the same time, therefore I had his full attention. Dr. Gregoire speaks a little bit of English, so I told him about my sore throat. "Oh, zis is not a problem! I will give you medicine and you will be better. Zis is not serious, do not worry!" he told me. Then he checked my throat. It turns out that I have tonsillitis. Apparently my right tonsil was large, swollen, and had white spots on it. The tonsillitis also caused my right ear to be sore and swollen. Dr. Gregoire wrote me three prescriptions and told me I would be feeling better by this evening (he was right). In total, Pascale and I spent ten minutes at the doctor. After leaving the doctor, we went to the pharmacy to pick up my medicine. That only took about ten minutes also, even though the pharmacy was very busy today.

Although being sick is never fun, it is nice to have quick medical care. I like France even more now.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The French Eat What?

This post is dedicated to my best friend Roxane Spann, who is by far the pickiest eater in the entire world and will probably hate reading this entry.

Every culture enjoys unique dishes, and I believe that most people are semi-aware of different gastronomic specialties around the world. Here in France, among the most well-known specialties are escargots and cuisses de grenouille (snails and frog legs). Now, I know what you're thinking: "What!? Gross! How can the French eat those things?" I used to have the same mentality. In the U. S. it is a completely foreign notion to eat the legs off of a little amphibian or even consider swallowing a snail! Well, the French observe a similar incredulity towards Americans and our consumption of fast food.

Now, the image on the right does not do the French delicacy justice. The escargots pictured are in the process of being prepared for dinner and are far from the final result. Escargots are prepared differently, depending upon one's location within France. In Savoie, the region of France that I am currently in, escargots are cooked in a sauce made from garlic, parsley, pepper, and oil. The final result is very delicious. Imagine the taste of typical garlic bread--that's what Savoie escargots taste like. I'll be the first to admit that the texture of the snails is a bit unnerving, but you get used to it after a while. Oh, and if you think that these dishes are commonplace at every meal, you're wrong. The French typically only eat specialties such as escargots a few times a year, usually during the holiday season.

A few weeks ago, Robin and I were running errands in downtown Chambéry. We walked by a fish market (it smelled horrible, by the way), and I noticed that there were
stingrays for sale. Stingrays! To eat. I had gotten used to the idea of eating escargots and cuisses de grenouille--no problem. But stingrays? You can visit the St. Louis Zoo and pet them. You can even buy a button that says "I touched a stingray at the St. Louis Zoo." Why would anyone want to eat one? I noticed that each stingray cost 19,80 Euro--a pricey delicacy indeed! (Roughly $24.27 in U.S. dollars). I immediately asked Robin if eating stingrays is common here. He said no--he'd never heard of anyone wanting to eat a stingray. Interesting to me, because if this market sells them, obviously there is somewhat of a demand for these weirdly shaped sea creatures. Oh well. I'm not that interested in trying stingray anytime soon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Little Vampire

Robin's niece Lilou is three years old and attends school a few times a week. This week, Robin's sister Amandine told me that kids at Lilou's school started calling her "vampire" because of the way her teeth look. How do three-year-olds even know what a vampire is? Isn't that a tad bit inappropriate? Vampires are incredibly scary! I would think the whole I-want-to-suck-your-blood aspect would be frightening to a bunch of young kids. I highly doubt that these children saw a vampire on "Dora l'exploratrice" (Dora the Explorer) or other television shows for children. So where did they learn about vampires? C'est bizarre et je ne l'aime pas.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Why do French men feel the need to carry backpacks?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have observed countless French men carrying backpacks or "manbags," a man's equivalent of a purse. Why? In the U.S. men wouldn't be caught dead accessorizing with something that might make them seem effeminate. There is such a negative stigma against appearing unmanly in America. In a cultural sense, American men don't feel the need to fill a backpack with tons of stuff while walking around town for the afternoon--they just grab their wallets, go, and are good for hours. It's us women who haul around huge purses in order to tote anything and everything we may need, including a sweater, wallet, keys, phone, paper, pens, gum, tissues, band-aids, sunglasses, umbrella (in case it rains!), granola bar, bottle of water, medicine, camera, book, hairbrush, makeup...the list goes on and on. Of course, not all women do this, and in no way am I condoning this behavior--I myself am victim of the incessant need for carrying pounds of personal belongings in a chic bag "just in case I need it." Rather than merely enjoying an afternoon, it seems as if we are preparing for battle! Well, European men too.

While out and about in Chambéry one afternoon, I observed les hommes pictured above. I immediately noticed that the man on the right looked as if he was getting ready to go climb a mountain, so I grabbed my camera (from my purse, of course) and snapped a picture. What could he possibly have in his bag!? I thought that perhaps he was carrying a water bottle, jacket, camera, wallet, maybe a snack.... and then I blanked. Was he carrying his friend's junk too? But why the bookbag? Couldn't he just put the stuff in his pockets? Or carry some of it? Hmmm, odd. I turned to Robin and asked "Why is that guy carrying a bookbag?" "I don't know. European men just carry bags around I guess. I have a little one." "What!? You carry a purse!!??" "It's not a purse. It's a bag." Hmmmm, très intéressant.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that today women haul around bags full of personal stuff. Millions of years ago, we were the gatherers. While men were out hunting, women gathered nuts, berries, and anything else they could find for consumption that would increase the chances of survival. While I am no physical anthropologist and have not been trained formally as one, I do believe there is a correlation between the gathering/hoarding tendencies of our ancient ancestors and us today.

I do not understand why French men carry around bags full of personal belongings (or in Rémi's case, not full at all. All he had in his bag were cigarettes, and he doesn't even smoke. Bizarre!) It is a completely foreign notion to me, as I am used to American men being minimalists when it comes to accessories. It doesn't bother me though. It is nice to know that I'm not the only one hauling around tons of junk I don't need. But--if I needed it, I would surely be prepared!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Rendez-vous au Spa

For my birthday, Robin got me a spa package and Saturday was my appointment. Never having been to a spa in the United States, I did not know what to expect. I must say though, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it was very nice to be pampered. I was a little worried about interacting with my masseuse since I don't speak French, but she told Robin I shouldn't worry. Once in the little room, I tried to speak a little French to the girl (I don't remember her name). I told the girl that I can only really count and say a few phrases in French. After that, she started speaking English to me! I think had I not tried to speak French to her, she would not have spoken English to me. I really appreciated her efforts, and we had a good time talking about things, in a mix of French and English.

After that exchange, the nameless masseuse started out by giving me a massage, which was nice. I'm usually quite ticklish so I tried very hard not to laugh and accidentally kick her in the face. Ultimately I succeeded in not embarrassing myself. After the massage I got a facial. It was quite the olfactory experience. While the masseuse was slathering stuff on my face, I felt like my blind dog, Helen. It is an odd sensation to have your eyes closed (or in Helen's case, not have eyes) and have someone put very fragrant lotion or creme on your face. You don't quite know when they are going to touch you, but you can smell it before it happens.

My favorite part of the facial was a mask that was left on for ten minutes. The first layer of stuff put on my face smelled suspiciously like yogurt, and I intended to lick some of it when the masseuse left the room. She didn't stop there though! After she had slathered my face in the yogurt, she put a piece of linen over it. Now I began to get a little uncomfortable. I felt as if I were being prepared for mummification! On top of the linen went another layer of stuff--this time I think it was oatmeal. Then the masseuse left me for ten minutes to let the concoction of breakfast foods soak into my skin. Afterwards, she came back and rinsed off my face. My skin was softer than it has been in ages! Who knew that basic things you have around the house (well, at least I think it was yogurt and oatmeal) could make such a difference in the texture of your skin?!

Overall, the spa was great. I highly recommend trying one for those of you who have never gone. If you're uneasy with having a total stranger give you a massage, you could always get a facial, like me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chives in the Toilet

Today I returned home from school at lunchtime. Usually Robin, his parents, and I eat together, but today everyone's schedules were different, causing us each to dine independently. While I was eating lunch, Robin's mom, Pascale, was tidying up the kitchen. We were talking about random things while she was cleaning out the refrigerator. She had spent three hours at Carrefour (the French Wal-Mart and personally, my idea of hell) buying fresh fruits and vegetables, among various household goods.

I noticed that Pascale was putting fruits and veggies that were no longer fresh in a small bowl. While we were talking, she would walk out of the kitchen with the bowl. I thought it was strange, but figured she was putting the rotten food in a compost somewhere. I then realized I've been throwing away many things that could go in a compost, and no one had told me where the compost was. After several trips out of the kitchen with full bowls of veggies, I asked her what she was doing. "Oh! In the U.S. you have those things in the sink that go 'rrrrrrrrr' and eat the food, right?" she said. I thought for a minute and realized she was talking about garbage disposals! "Oui." I answered. "In France, we don't have those things. I have always really wanted one, but you just can't find them! I don't like putting this stuff in the garbage because the juice leaks out and gets all over the floor and the trash can. So, when Jean-Luc is not here, I dump this in the toilet. But shhh! Don't say a word--it's a secret!"

She then began to explain about how one time she was cleaning the refrigerator and stumbled upon ratatouille that had gone bad. For those of you who don't know, ratatouille is a dish comprised of many vegetables, including tomatoes, onions, peppers, and zucchini. Not wanting to make a mess when the ratatouille would inevitably leak from the garbage bag, Pascale dumped it in the toilet and continued to clean the fridge. Later, Jean-Luc went into the bathroom, saw the remains of the ratatouille (Pascale had forgotten to flush it), and thought someone had gotten sick. He began yelling "Is someone sick!? Did somebody throw up? What is this?!" Pascale came to check it out and responded "Oh no, that's just ratatouille. I was cleaning the refrigerator." Jean-Luc got angry because throwing old food in the toilet is bad for the septic system. Pascale agrees with him but doesn't care--she'd rather not have to mop the floor. So, now when he's not home, she cleans the fridge and disposes of old food her way.

This afternoon, Robin and I were leaving to go on a hike. I went into the restroom and saw three chives floating in the toilet. I immediately started laughing, and Robin came to see what was so funny. I showed him the chives and told him about his mom ("Oh I really shouldn't tell you this, because your mom told me not to..."). He informed me that she does this all the time and he knows about it. Apparently, Jean-Luc is the only one oblivious to what is going on when he's not around. I suppose it's good that I found the chives in the toilet this afternoon instead of him...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

French Crows

French crows are huge. Last week, Robin and I were at a golf course. A very large black bird landed in a tree, and for a minute I thought it was some sort of eagle--that's how big the crows here are! Anyway, apparently yesterday a crow landed in the field right behind Robin's house. His dad, Jean-Luc, decided to go
pet it. He told us this casually tonight at dinner. I was the only one who thought it was funny and started laughing hysterically. The idea of petting a crow the size of an eagle for fun is quite humorous to me. Even thinking about it now is making me laugh!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

First Days of School

Yesterday and today, I attended my first days of French immersion school at Chateau de Boigne in Chambéry (the photo is of the back of the castle). So far, I have really enjoyed myself and I hope to become semi-fluent in French by the end of school. Yesterday upon arrival us new students were ushered into a magnificent room in the chateau to take a written exam (for placement purposes). I was more enthralled with the interior decoration than the exam--le château est très beau! The exam was okay, and I definitely think that having Spanish and Italian helped me. Following the written exam, each of us had an individual oral exam with a professor to further ensure we were placed in the appropriate group. My professor, Kristel, was a fellow ginger, so I immediately took a liking to her. She began spewing off French questions and when she realized I had no idea what she was talking about, she began to speak English. She asked me basic things, such as "Where are you from?" "What are your hobbies?" Why are you here to learn French?" I think her favorite part of my oral exam was when she asked me to say all of the French words I know. I confidently stated "Je voudrais du fromage, s'il te plait." ("I would like cheese, please!"). Kristel the Ginger exclaimed "Yes! Bravo! That is all you need to know in this region. Parfait!" Following the oral exam, I was free to go, but I had to return to the castle later that afternoon to get my class schedule. When I returned, I got my schedule and my group. I'm in the beginner group and have class twenty hours a week (four hours a day, five days a week).

Today was the first day of lessons. I arrived at school a little early to find my classroom and meet the other people in my group. In total, there are six of us: quatre Americaines, une Chinoise, et une Russe (four American girls, a Chinese girl, and a Russian girl). Everyone is really nice and seems passionate about learning, which is definitely an integral component for success. Today we learned how to count (up to one billion! Un milliard in French). We also learned how to introduce ourselves and others, the verbs to have (avoir) and to be (etre), and how to identify people of different nationalities. It was definitely a long day and when it was time to leave, I was exhausted. I am excited to begin speaking French, but in order to do so, I should go study now!