Being on the receiving end of a multitude of French conversations that I don’t understand has taught me a lot about the best way to talk to someone who is learning a new language. I now know that I did a really terrible job at this for the first forty years of my life.
To all the non-native-English speakers that I have ever talked to in English: I am sorry.
I am sorry for talking so quickly. Believe it or not, that speed actually was me trying to talk slower than I usually do. I now know that it wasn’t anywhere close to comprehensible. From now on, I will do better. I. Will. Put. Separations. Between. Each. Word. I. Say.
I am sorry for making jokes and laughing. It wasn’t that I meant to be rude, it was just my way of trying to make you feel comfortable. I realize now that jokes are almost impossible to get when you’re just learning a language, and that the laughing probably made you feel more uncomfortable than anything else I could have done.
I am sorry for using more words when you didn’t understand the first time. When I talk English that works. Now I know that it helps to have a phrase repeated exactly the same way – maybe even a couple of times.
I am sorry for treating our social interaction as a “learning opportunity” for you. I only meant to be kind, not pressure you to talk correctly when just stringing together a noun and a verb that makes sense is an enormous mental effort.
I am sorry for not giving you time to think. I assumed those pauses meant you had nothing you wanted to say. I will keep quiet more so you can search your brain for those words that are just out of reach in the moment.
I am sorry for using polysyllabic words when a simple word would have worked. That really is the way I talk. It didn’t occur to me that you were more likely to understand “good” and “bad” then “magnificent” or “disturbing”.
I am sorry, and I will do better from now on.
May 12, 2011 10 Comments
This sign tells you that the maximum driving speed is no longer 70 km/h. That speed zone is over.
Maybe it’s just me, but I would find it more helpful if the sign mentioned what the new speed is.
UPDATE: So apparently it is just me. All the other people who live in France (and apparently in many other countries) find it completely normal that you just KNOW what the speed limit is for that kind of road. Any sign that is posted is indicating an exception. This sign is merely saying “the exception is over, go back to your normal speed”. Maybe if we stay here longer I’ll be able to look at a road and instinctively know if it’s a 90 or a 50. Until then, I stick by my original premise that if you’re putting up a sign anyway, you might as well put one up that is informative for everybody, not just those who are in-the- know.
May 9, 2011 6 Comments
It is the school break yet again and we are taking day trips around our area. There is still a lot to see and we only have two months left before we leave the village.
We visited Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. We saw the source of the river, which according to the visitor information is the biggest spring in France, and the fifth largest in the world. It is certainly a beautiful spot. The water is crystal clear, and there is some kind of water plant that gives the river a gorgeous green color.
The source of the river is at the bottom of a cliff, which makes a pretty dramatic backdrop.
The area is a bit touristy. You can clearly tell how to get to the famous source – just follow the stands selling things. We stopped at one of the most expensive ice cream places, which had the benefit of a view of the river. But the extra 2€ per scoop was worth it for the access to a clean washroom.
As it turned out, the men’s room at the ice cream place had one of the most lovely views in the whole area. Each man who took a leak was treated to this lovely scene:
(Yes, I looked. But JM checked that the coast was clear first. I’m inappropriate, but with limits.)
But for the ladies – NOTHING!!! Just a white wall. Not even a picture of the view – let alone the real thing. NOT FAIR!
May 3, 2011 3 Comments
The village hosted an egg hunt on Easter Sunday morning. Our kids had been to egg hunts in California too (shout-out to our fabulous neighbors!), so we weren’t expecting this to be any kind of new experience. We were wrong. There were a couple of things that were very different.
- The eggs are chocolate. These French mamas are not at all shy about sugaring up their children for birthday parties, school events, or the after school goutez (snack). At Easter the eggs are chocolate and they are LARGE. Among our friends in California it would be quite a faux pas to give kids large amounts of candy, so it’s typical to hunt for plastic eggs filled with stickers or small toys. I mentioned this to one of the parents from the village, and she were concerned about the environmental impact of all the plastic eggs. Her view was that the kids just eat the sugar and then it’s gone, but a plastic egg will live for centuries.
- The eggs hide in the rocks. There are no lawns in our village, but there are lots of rock walls with plenty of cracks just perfect to hide an egg in.
- Kids don’t keep their eggs. After the hunt was over the girls proudly showed me their eggs. I was very surprised to see them dump their precious eggs into a big basket, and watched as every village child was given exactly four eggs (one big, three little). The eggs the kids went home with had nothing to do with the eggs that they found on the hunt. I wondered if this was just a village thing, but the girls told me they did the same at school. Everybody shares.
This is different from the US egg hunts we’ve been too. If a kid doesn’t make an effort (or have a parent who will make an effort for them) they leave empty handed. This is a very basic example of the difference in the thinking between the individualistic American society and the community-centric French one. It’s not like either approach is clearly better. It’s nice that everyone got eggs, not just the big kids who are faster. But then that kid who sat and whined instead of trying got the same eggs as the motivated ones.
- After hunt glass of wine. Of course, being France there has to be a drink. This time it was juice for the kids, and white wine for the adults – at 10:30 AM!
April 27, 2011 10 Comments
I have blogged previously about how we don’t have a clothes dryer in France. One of the important lessons I’ve learned on this trip is how to avoid funny lines and puckers when air drying.
However, hanging your wash out for the world to see does have a certain impact on your privacy. Anyone who comes to visit us will find out very quickly if JM wears boxers or briefs. And if they stay long enough to do laundry, we’ll know the same about their menfolk.
It’s not just us. Very few people in France have a clothes dryer, so when you’re invited to someone’s house there is a very good chance you’ll get a glimpse of their underpants. We know definitively which ladies prefer beige bras and mom-panties to fancy French lingerie.
I’m not telling which we are. If you want to know about our undies, you have to come visit us while we’re still in France. But if you come visit, you will probably leave with more information than you really want.
April 17, 2011 8 Comments
When we booked our trip to Venice, we choose our dates based on the school vacation. We didn’t check the calendar to see what was going on. So when we got off the train in Venice it took us a few minutes to figure out why the entire town was dressed up and partying. In one of our luckiest travel moments ever, we had arrived on Mardi Gras – the last and most festive day of the famous Venice Carnival.
We discovered afterwords that the Venice Carnival is known for being very sophisticated and family friendly. It is nothing like the craziness of Rio or New Orleans, so we had a total blast going out with the kids and seeing the sites. The costumes were absolutely amazing.
That evening, we went to the famous San Marco Piazza, near the Palais of the Doges, where it’s all happening. There was a free concert, and lots of folks showing off their costumes.
Of course, it was hard to get to sleep when we got back to our apartment. Folks outside were partying until about 4AM, blowing horns, trumpets and the like. But a calm, beautiful, and remarkably clean Venice was there to explore when we got up the next morning.
The Venice Carnival is definitely an event worth making an effort to see, and great for the kids. We’re very happy we were lucky enough to experience it.
April 8, 2011 6 Comments
Our girls were not early potty trainers. They were the children the other parents could look at and feel superior because at least their kid was doing better than that. On the flip side, once they were trained, they did NOT have accidents. Ever. So when L started coming home from school almost every day with wet pants, we were surprised.
Our first thought was that it was a physical problem, but she didn’t have accidents at night or on weekends. We asked the teacher what might be going on and I had a motherly talk with L (girl plumbing is apparently Mommy’s job) about the importance of using the toilet at lunch and recess. That seemed to go reasonably well, but the accidents kept happening.
We tried a checkmark list. We tried a serious talk about the social ramifications of smelling like pee. We tried bribery. We were at our wits end when Z happened to mention that L’s class uses funny toilets at school.
Mystery solved. The little ones have regular toilets with seats, but from Grade 1 on the kids use turkish toilets. For the first few months, L had been sneaking into the little kid area to pee, but she got busted and sent to use the potties in her area. But she didn’t know how to use them, so was just having accidents.
The Dilemma: How do you teach your daughter to use a toilet that you don’t use yourself?
I’ve seen turkish toilets before, but I’ve always managed to avoid them. The first time I saw a turkish toilet, the previous user had been severely “aim-challenged” and the smell combined with the site of yucky brown gunk marred me for life. Fortunately, I discovered that there is almost always a handicap stall with a normal toilet you can use. And if there isn’t – well I’ve never had to go that badly.
But I am a Mom so now I had no choice. I needed to figure this out so I could teach my daughter. I started with the internet and read a number of truly horrific posts on the “eliminatory customs” of various cultures. My key takeaways were:
- Empty your pockets before squatting
- Get out quickly after flushing because the spray is unpredictable
I was now able to have a theoretical discussion with L using a variety of visual aids and charades. But we were left with the practical application. How could we find a turkish toilet to practice with? We got lucky on our trip to Italy and stopped at an Aire (truck stop) just outside of Monaco. They had a clean turkish toilet and I was able to demonstrate the finer points of use for my child without sacrificing my shoes.
Problem solved (rap wood).
March 29, 2011 20 Comments
One of the things I love about travel is how easy it is to make friends with other travelers. When my sister told me that her husband’s friend’s wife’s brother and his family were also living in the south of France, it was natural to invite them for a visit. It turned out great.
Our new Canadian friends have a wine cave a few steps away from their house in France, so we went to try it out. The proprietor was away, and had left his son in charge. We told the son we were interested in wine tasting, and he invited us in.
There was some lengthy chitchat, but no wine appeared. We were about to ask again, but another couple came in so we were sent to go check out the cave while he conducted some existing business. We gave ourselves a tour of the big vats of wine and looked at some scary machinery while we waited to be called back in, but apparently we’d been abandoned. We finally went back in and asked again.
This time he pulled out some bottles, but emphasized that most of the wines they offered weren’t very good – we tried one and determined that he was right. There was more lengthy chitchat, and it turned out there was also some rosé, but he only sold it in big jugs so discouraged us from trying it. JM asked to taste the rosé anyway, so we all went back out to the cave where he filled our glasses straight from the big wine vat using the gasoline-nozzle-style attachment!
It was not bad, so we asked what it cost. After a long discussion about the many ways that we would NOT be able to buy the rosé, we found out that we could buy a 3-liter plastic keg for 4€. As we finished our purchase, the world’s worst wine salesman proceeded to explain at some length that this was not an “appellation” wine (one of the quality controls in France), and they sold most of their wine to China since the French only drink better quality wine.
We experienced the other end of the salesman spectrum when the Canadians came to Provence to return the visit. It was the last week of the famous truffle market in Richerenches. We had heard stories about the side street where truffle farmer’s park their cars and deal the famous mushrooms out of their trunks, so wanted to go see for ourselves.
It turns out that some of the world’s BEST salespeople are at the truffle market. It was the last day of the market for the season, and we arrived one hour before closing with our cameras around our necks and our kids running around yelling in English. The lady selling nougat saw “tourists” coming and immediately started handing out generous tastings of candy to the kids. We said we would take some, since it was very good, but also in part because of guilt over how much the kids had eaten. The woman grabbed her huge knife, cut off a slab, wrapped it up and informed us it cost 32€!!! (About $45!!!) In comparison, the truffles we bought that are known to be incredibly expensive cost only 13€ ($18).
You could call them disasters, but the stories of the world’s worst wine salesman and the world’s most expensive nougat will be revisited with laughter many times by both families.
March 26, 2011 5 Comments
1. If you have pets, do you see them as merely animals or are the members of your family?
No actual pets, but we live at the edge of a very small village so we tend to get a lot of “nature” wandering into the house. I’ve come to think of the HUGE spider who lives in the basement as almost a member of the family. We call the basement stairwell the “spider room” in his honor, and we introduce him to all our guests.
2. If you can have a dream come true, what would it be?
I’m going to dream really BIG: I wish that my youngest child would never say three “Mommy” more in a row. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.” is just barely tolerable. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, …” becomes unbearable very quickly where there are no other words in the sentence.
3. What is the one thing most hated by you?
Stupidity. Just THINK people.
4. What would you do with a billion dollars?
Build the basement spider his own house so he moves out of mine!
5. What helps to pull you out of a bad mood?
Time. I’m pretty committed to everything I do, including having moods. I cannot be jollied out of a perfectly good grump.
6. Which is more blessed, loving someone or being loved by someone?
I reject the premise of the question – like the two things are mutually exclusive and you have to pick.
7. What is your bedtime routine?
That one is tough since California’s online world is just getting interesting at France bedtime. I check Email/Twitter/Facebook/Blog one last time. Check door is locked. Brush teeth. Check Email/Twitter/Facebook/Blog one more last time. Look at kids sleeping and think how beautiful a sleeping child is. Turn off lights. Check door is locked again. Check Email/Twitter/Facebook/Blog just one more time. Jump when JM insists that it’s time to shut off the computer and scurry into bed.
8. If you are currently in a relationship, how did you meet your partner?
My graduate-school-officemate married JM’s-high-school-friend and they introduced us. I was doing tech support for a software product JM was using to write his master’s thesis. He started emailing questions about the product. The questions were a bit obvious. I wasn’t sure if he hitting on me or just a tad dim.
9. If you could watch a creative person in the act of the creative process, who would it be?
I wouldn’t. Don’t want to ruin the magic.
10. What kinds of books do you read?
I read two kinds of books. The ones I won’t admit to reading, and the ones my book club chooses (hi ladies!) which can best be described as “eclectic”.
11. How would you see yourself in ten years time?
Sitting in the audience proudly watching my daughter collect an international award for her work on global spider/human relations.
12. What’s your fear?
Big spiders. (Just developed that one recently.)
13. Would you give up all junk food for the rest of your life for the opportunity to visit outer space?
No way. It’s complicated to pee in outer space. I don’t need the hassle.
14. Would you rather be single and rich or married, but poor?
With the existing known husband or a theoretical husband?
15. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
Put on my glasses so I can see to do all the other things.
16. If you could change one thing about your spouse/partner what would it be?
He would be punctual… sigh…
17. If you could pick a new name for yourself, what would it be?
Yikes. I only named my kids because I had to do it before I left the hospital or face terrible and horrible bureaucracy. I had months to work on those. No way I can come up with a name for myself this fast.
18. Would you forgive and forget no matter how horrible a thing that special someone has done?
Forgive, sure. Forget – NEVER! What’s the fun of a grudge if you don’t hold onto it for years and years!
19. If you could only eat one thing for the next 6 months, what would it be?
And now I want to hear from:
March 22, 2011 3 Comments
After our truffle hunting adventure, we decided that we had to enjoy the fruits of our labor and so bought a (very small) truffle. The fact that we had no clue what to do with it didn’t stop us.
Fortunately, the truffle farmer’s wife had many suggestions and tips:
- Truffles are about smell, and not so much taste. So when preparing dishes, the objective is to get the dish to absorb their smell.
- The smell disappears within about a week (or less), if stored in a fridge. Use a sealed container. (I actually forgot and the milk tasted like truffles the next day!)
- Don’t overcook truffles – you lose all the flavor! Now I prefer not to cook them at all.
So what dishes are good with truffles? A famous Provençal dish is the truffled omelet. One way to prepare it is to put the mushroom with the eggs in a sealed container for a few days, so the eggs absorb the smell (eggs in the shell, or without – both approaches work!)
Other folks make mashed potatoes with truffles (I tried, but we didn’t get much of a truffle taste, perhaps because we overcooked them).
But our favorite by a long shot, is truffled Brie cheese. It’s easy to do, and very addictive because it’s so good. Here’s how to prepare it:
- Slice a wedge of Brie along its length (cross-section).
A sign of quality for black truffles is the number of nervures (white veins) the mushroom has. The more the merrier (and tastier).
- Shave thin slices of truffles on the inside of the brie. The thinner the slices, the better. The idea is to maximize the mushroom surface area exposure to the cheese so as to transfer the mushroom smell to the cheese.
- Finally, wrap the cheese in a plastic wrap (saran wrap or equivalent) to seal it. Store in the fridge for at least 24 hours – two to three days is even better. This gives it time to impregnate the truffle smell properly.
Now you can proceed to a legendary dégustation with a glass of Côte du Rhône for proper pairing. Mmmm. C’est délicieux!
March 20, 2011 6 Comments