School is Out!

School's out, school's out, teachers let themselves out? The other day we arrived at school to find a note on the classroom door:

Madame Sylviane has gone to attend to some family matters. She will not be at school today or tomorrow. Please take your children home.

Needless to say, Sam was thrilled! He got to come home and watch cartoons and play on Webkinz. In the meantime, Abby was also home from school nursing her "injured" foot. Dad accidentally jumped on it while on the trampoline and she was taking full advantage of the incident.

I called a friend to find out what to do as Abby would not be at school that day. "Oh, nothing" she replied, "just send a note tomorrow in her book telling the teacher she wasn't well." I wasn't thrilled to have TWO kids home from school, but was especially worried that Abby had missed a day, seeing as how she needs all the exposure to French that she can get.

But I needn't have worried! Apparently that very same day Abby's teacher was also out sick and therefore the entire class had gotten a free day off school. Even more wonderful, Madame Balloy would be out the next day as well!

Berets off to France on this one. Teacher sick? No sense wasting time or money to find a "substitute" teacher! Why pay for someone that will almost certainly sit in the room babysitting the children while they concoct ways to torture her or make fun of her behind her back? Rather, keep them home with Mom, Dad, Grandma or whomever to make sure the day is well spent.

I can't say we spent the day studying verb conjugations or practicing math, but any day we get to hang out with our kids is a day well spent.

Labels: , ,


Senior, Associate Senior, and Responsible Senior Vice-President

France has an incredible number of vice-presidents. It seems like everyone is a VP of some kind or another. For example, every police officer and traffic cop wears a shirt that says “Associate Senior Vice-President” on it. And all the time I see road signs that say “Give way to oncoming traffic. Senior Vice President” (of what, I don’t know). Or when you get invited to a party, you must contact the Responsible Senior Vice President to let the host know if you’re coming or not. I’m not sure what’s up with all these vice presidents. I mean some of them are like 20 years old. I thought you had do earn such a designation.

But at least the French have figured out how to abbreviate. Instead of putting Associate Senior Vice President on the shirts of law enforcement, they simply put “A.S.V.P.” for short. It’s cheaper that way. And on the road signs, when it’s signed by the Senior Vice President it just says “S.V.P.” And on party invitations, it just says “R.S.V.P”, when telling you who to call. Very efficient. Must have borrowed from the Germans.

But in my American opinion there’s an even better way: Instead of trying to intimidate people with titles, why not just say Please? I mean, people respond well when you’re nice, and in French the word for please, S’il vous plait, can be abbreviated to SVP, so it works perfectly. ASVP could mean “Attention S’il Vous Plait (pay attention, use caution), “Cedez le passage, SVP” would just mean “Give way please”, and RSVP could just mean “Respond, please”. Hopefully these people will get it soon. My ideas could really help them.

Labels: ,


The French Heart

Dave writing again. As you know, Stasha tries to use this blog to post some of the most interesting - and hopefully funny - things that happen to us as part of this experience. There has been much to talk about.

But life is instead sometimes tragic and that is the case in our family this week. Since many that read this blog are already aware of what has happened, and those that don't know may soon find out anyway, it seems that the right thing is to be up front about what has happened and then try to move on as much as is possible.

My younger brother has twin boys that are nearly 18 months old. A few days ago, without anyone noticing, they went into an upstairs bathroom, climbed into a tub and turned on the water. We don't really know what happened, except that they drowned within a few minutes, and both boys died yesterday morning [Update: You can read more details here, in the Washington Post].

This could happen to anyone.

There is no point in trying to describe the anguish in my family at this time, and particularly for my brother and his wife Melinda. I am deeply affected by this, and yesterday explained to several friends why I must suddenly return to the United States. Though Stasha and I told few people, the word got around quickly. The response has further opened our eyes to the people that surround us.

Sophie's teacher at school, Madame Brigitte, found us after school yesterday to say she had been thinking of our family all day. Lawrence, the mother of one of Sophie and Sam's friends came up to me with tears in her eyes and said "my heart is with your sister-in-law and your brother". Another friend, Stephanie’s husband Pierre, called from Marrakesh, Morocco where he often works, to relay his deep sympathy to Paul and to my sister-in-law. And this morning I received the below from the Decemmes, who (you may remember from an earlier posting) we went hiking with a few weeks ago. Chris Decemme is the artist of the painting you see at the top of this post. It hangs in the house here in Mougins. She learned to paint in her late 60’s.

Nous sommes très tristes du drame que votre famille subit en ce moment. Nous prenons part a votre grande peine et vous souhaitons beaucoup de courage , ainsi que a la famille de votre frere, c’est vraiment horrible. Nous vous embrassons de tout coeur. Chris & Paul

We are extremely saddened to hear of the tragedy that your family must suddenly endure at this time. We extend to you our greatest sympathies and hope that you may have great courage, as well as to your brother and his family, for which this is a horrible tragedy. We embrace you with all our hearts.

This is typical of the kind of people that live near us. Just like in the United States.

In the end, the joy of life is determined not by where we live or what god we believe in but by the quality of our relationships with the people that surround us. Each of us may spend our lives emphasizing the differences between us and others, or we can embrace those small differences and also find joy in the endless similarities that exist between us and those we live among, whether in our neighborhood or on this planet. Focusing on those similarities brings great happiness into others’ lives, as they feel embraced by the acceptance that is imparted to them, and respond in kind. The French have treated us this way from the moment we have arrived and we have responded. We will not forget it.

If you want to express sympathies to my brother and/or his wife, please post a comment below and I will forward it to him. The most touching expressions of sympathy often come from people we don’t know, because it further humanizes those we might otherwise dismiss as faceless. And it reminds us that we are all the same, no matter how hard distance, language, culture and religion may try to teach us otherwise.

I suspect that after this weekend we will try to get back on track with normal updates. There are so many beautiful things that happen here; perhaps the quickest way back to happiness is to focus on them. We'll try to do that.

Labels: , ,


La Lettre

This is the next great French song. And the video is good too. I'm starting to like this stuff. They could just speak in English and then what they say would make a lot more sense, but I guess it's easier for them not to speak English or something. Seems nutty.

You can read the words in French here. The lyrics all make sense when you watch the video, which is very entertaining. The guy has very skinny arms. I've translated the lyrics below to the best of my ability, but I'll probably get some stuff wrong. Suggestions are welcome. Both the music and lyrics are great.

La Lettre - Renan Luce
I received a letter, it was perhaps a month old
It arrived by mistake, a blunder by the mailman.

It had spray perfume and red lips on it
I had the letter, but perhaps I wasn’t supposed to open it.

But I am a man who likes these kinds of games
and if she wants to call me Alphonse or Fred then so be it...so be it.

Some pretty daisies dotted all the “i”s
With handwritten curves, like at the abbeys
It had some spelling errors and showed a slight dyslexia
and was signed by a petite sexy blonde.

And I am a man who likes this kind of game
I don’t like nuns, and I had fallen in love…in love.

She wrote that Sunday she would be on the cliff
Where I had once held her by the hips
And that if I lacked the tact
To take responsibility for my frolicking
She would choose the impact
Of thirty meters below.

But I am a man who likes these kinds of challenges.
I didn’t want this senseless thing to happen
Because I had fallen in love…in love

Thanks to the letter’s postmark - a city at the English Channel;
I arrived in front of the post office on Sunday morning
The place was deserted, but I had to be patient.
There are not a lot of suicidal blondes.

And I am a man who likes these kind of challenges,
wanting to beat Newton (gravity)
Because I had fallen in love…in love.

She was looking over the English Channel.
When I saw her again I grabbed her by the sleeve
My little smart one
Who was not so much normal
In regards to her profile
There was a little someone living there…
under her navel.

And I am a man who likes this kind of challenge
And I’m happy to be called Papa if she wants…if she wants.

Labels: ,


The Fact(ure) Don't Lie

One of the reasons things are expensive around here is because the dollar is weaker than it's ever been. If you had purchased a house in France, Spain or Portugal six years ago, even if it hadn't appreciated at all that whole time, in dollars it would now be worth twice what you paid for it.

But it's not just the exchange rate that makes things expensive. There is something here called "TVA" (Taxe à la Valeur Ajouté) that is added onto every transaction. It's really just a sales tax, but they call it "Value Added Tax" to make it sound like you get something for it, when in fact you get nothing. The problem is that TVA is 20%. TWENTY.

The photo is a facture, or receipt, taken today from McDonald's, where we took the kids to have lunch so they could eat disgusting food, which they love. Notice the 19.6% added to the facture. That's TVA for you. I can't wait to buy a car. By the way, if you want a Happy Meal (pronounced "un appy meel"), you can call the number on the facture. It's right there at the top. But you'll pay taxes up the wazoo.

Labels: , ,

Just Like an Indian Telemarketer

My husband Dave is our guest writer for this post. He has a lot to say.

When I was 15 years old I went to Japan for a few weeks as a foreign exchange student. The father of my host family was a teacher at a girls’ school and one day he brought me to his class. About halfway through the day he took everyone to the gym to play basketball. I mean, it was basketball inasmuch as there was a basket and a ball, but nothing else even remotely resembled it. Never once in their lives had these girls ever dribbled, shot, or passed a basketball. There was a lot of laughing but the ball and the basket never got close to each other. If you asked one of those girls back then if they played basketball they might say yes, but it wasn't really true.

Halloween in France is like that: It exists here, but not in any recognizable form. As far as I can tell there isn't really any Trick or Treating and I haven’t seen a single jack-o-lantern. People don’t seem to pass out candy, either. I mean, what’s the point?

To help right such wrongs, we’re hosting a Halloween party this Saturday. Since Sam is invited to a fake Halloween party on Saturday (one given by a French person), ours will be hosted by Abby and Sophie only. Every girl in their two classes has been invited. It’s juste pour les filles – “for the girls only”. Stasha wrote “Parlez Lentement SVP” on every invitation, meaning “Speak slowly please”. What a great idea.

In the invitations, Stasha also put down our phone number for people to RSVP. This was not a good idea, because it meant they might call, and I would have to speak on the phone.

Sophie and Abby passed out the invitations yesterday and last night the parents started calling. Sadly they must not have seen her request to speak slowly.

Remember a few years ago when companies started routing customer service calls to India? The agents hadn’t yet given themselves fake American names like Joe or Sally. Instead, they would answer the phone and say “Syank oo pour callig AT&T, miee name is Qwelstormophosopholes. Kin eye elp oo?”. Only they’d say it faster than a New Yorker in a hurry.

But now I’m in someone else's country so there is a reasonable expectation that I might have some idea what’s going on. Sadly that expectation cannot be met most of the time, and the RSVP calls are not going well. They say their name: Orellionne, Dieudonné, Valentine, Absolon, Donatienne, Ermenegilde, Marjolain, or Pétronille and I don’t understand it. Then they say their child’s name and I don’t understand it. Finally they say they’ll come to the party. Since those not coming don’t call, I understand that part. Then they start asking things like, “What gift should I bring for your daughters?” and “What should my daughter come dressed as?”

I take a deep breath. “How about she come as a Japanese basketball player or an Indian telemarketer?”

Labels: , , ,


Uh, Happy Birthday?

Last Saturday we went to our first real French birthday party!

Lots of kids, a few balloons, a heap of gifts, and of course, birthday cake.

The highlight of the party was NOT the birthday cake. It was brought out, somewhat unannounced (the mom walked into the room and started to sing, but there was no "gather 'round" call to the table) with a candle or two stuck into the bare top.

Everyone sang and helped themselves to the array of sweet popcorn, Haribo brand chewy candies, coke and juice. As you can see, there wasn't much cake consumed.

HOWEVER, there was quite a stir when the Champomy was brought out, and the children all cheered when the cork was popped out and went flying across the room. Trainin' 'em young in France.
Joyeux Anniversaire! By way of interest, here are some other photos from the party:

Of course, why wouldn't there be a baby ostrich, an ENORMOUS rooster and REAL champagne at a birthday party in France?

Labels: , , , ,


Customer Service is Interdit

I went to Castorama today. I needed some salt for the water softener. Castorama is very big and this was my first visit inside the store. I didn’t know the term for “water softener” so I brought the old empty salt bag to help with the conversation, which went like this:

(I enter the store and go to the help desk)
Me, holding up bag: “Hi ma’am, I’m looking for a salt bag for the thing for the water. Do you know where I can find it?

French person, looking very tired: I don’t know where it is. Go to the bathroom section and {unintelligible}. I think it’s back there {unintelligible}. If you don't {unintelligible}{unintelligible} .

(1 minute later in the bathroom section)
Me: Hi sir, I’m looking for a bag of this salt for the water softener (by then I’d figured out how to say the word because it was printed on the bag). Do you know where I can find it?

French person, looking very tired: Yes, it’s on aisle 25.

Me: OK thanks.

I go look on aisle 25 and there’s nothing even remotely resembling water softener salt there)

(1 minute later at the Help Desk at the back of the store)
Me: Hi sir, I’m looking for salt bags for the water softener. Do you know where I can find them?

French person, looking very tired: They’re somewhere in the back, near {unintelligible because he used several complicated words in rapid succession}. if you just {unintelligible} you’ll {unintelligible}.

Me: (Knowing I won’t find anything if I do that) OK thanks a lot.

(1 minute later, across the store in the lights aisle)
Me: Hi sir, I’m looking for a bag of this salt for the water softener, and everyone says it’s in the back of the store but I can’t find it. Can you help me?

French person: I don’t know where that is. I don’t even think we carry it. Let me see the bag.

I hand him the bag and he gets on the phone and speaks very quickly in French, asking where it is. Then he gets off the phone

French person (again), looking very tired: I talked to my colleague, and we carry it but he doesn’t know where it is. Go to the Help Desk in the back and they’ll tell you where it is (points to the other end of the store, where I just came from)

Me, knowing I’ve already been there: OK Thanks a lot.

I walked around the back again until I spied the warehouse part of the store, where they do deliveries and stuff. I could tell it was the warehouse part because the store itself was clean and this part looked like a bomb had gone off recently. I knew it was “Interdit” to go back there (Interdit, meaning “it’s forbidden”, is one of the most used words in French. It’s right up there with “Yes”, or “sex”, or “Oprah Winfrey” in English), but I knew that this was precisely why I had to go there. I walked through the very wide doorway into the warehouse area

French man on forklift, looking agitated and nervous less than one second after I walked into the forbidden part of the store: What are you looking for?

Me: I’m looking for salt for my water softener. Do you know where it is?

French man, eyes lighting up because he now understands by my accent that I "didn't know" that area was Interdit: Yes, let me take you there

He took me to aisle 28 and VOILA. I had my salt. Only $10 per bag, which costs $4 in the US. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

Labels: ,


Dave is a Good Actor

Last weekend we were invited to go to Gourdon with a family we know from the Maternelle (the school for the younger kids).

We were very excited to go, although I was a little nervous because the mother, Marielle, speaks faster than any other person I have met in France. She makes no adjustments for me, so I understand about 75% of what she says. Dave maybe understands 20 or 30%?

Gourdon is perched on a craggy cliff and on the approach (very windy and narrow, surprise, surprise) the view is spectacular. I was feeling pretty motion sick by the time we arrived, so I couldn't wait to get on my feet.

The air was cool and crisp and the leaves on the trees were lovely shades of gold and red. Combined with a little overcast sky, the setting of an ancient town with buildings made of stone and cobbled streets, we all felt a little Harry Potter in the air!

The kids ran and played, jumping off stone ledges and in and out of the little shops. Marielle bought some yummy spice muffin things dipped on chocolate, so we all feasted on that fall treat while we stood at the wall and looked down the steep cliff at the villages off in the distance. All we needed was some hot chocolate and it would have been perfect!

I had a great time sniffing the scented soaps, like mandarine, chevrefeuille, magnolia, citron, lavande, pin, etc. I bought a couple of bars and also a very cute provencal tablecloth. The one I REALLY wanted was 170 Euros, but I settled for a different, less "authentic" one for only 30.

The best part of an outing is almost always the listening (you learn way more french if you just close your mouth and say "oui" a lot). So Dave gave it his best shot. Aurelion speaks enough English that Dave could have a decent franglais conversation with him, but as you can see from the picture, he is stupefied by Marielle.

Labels: , , , , ,


Plastic Bags

On the way to the library.
This afternoon we went to the library with Sophie's class. There is no library at the school, so they had to get on a bus to get there. While there, the kids practiced typing on the computers by tapping out "Pierre et le Loup" ("Peter and the Wolf") in the French version of Microsoft Word. It just took me about three seconds to type "Pierre et le Loup". It took the kids about 7 or 8 minutes apiece. Then one of the librarians read them a story. Afterwards they were free to look at whatever books they wanted in the library.

Unfortunately, near the end of the visit it became apparent that someone had had a very serious "issue". There was a bathroom five feet away from where the children had had story time, but no visit occurred and the accident did. It was not going to be possible for the boy to sit on the bus in his condition, so the teacher's assistant got a huge plastic bag, like a Hefty, and wrapped his torso in it. She had to put a bunch of tape around his waist to hold up the plastic bag. It looked like an enormous black diaper with swaths of tape all over it. Only the diaper was over his pants, which were not in good shape. He then made the long walk with the class to the waiting bus and went back to school. No one made a big deal out of it and it was interesting to watch how Sophie's teacher protected the boy.

I'm not sure what I learned from this experience except that certain problems happen everywhere. And certain issues smell really bad.

Labels: , , ,

On s'attache

Dave and I joined a workout club about a month ago. It's not like the gyms in the US where you have a place to work out with racquetball and tennis courts, a big locker room for changing, a store to buy some clothes and T-shirts, and perhaps even a restaurant. It's basically a room on the street next to a fish factory with a bunch of machines with signs written in Italian that show you what muscle group each machine works. There's no water fountain so bring your own bottle. Any idea how to say "Tricep Pull-Down Bar" in French?

But they have cheap TVs that show videos of various popular French singers and over the last month I've become "attached" to a few songs, including this one by Christophe Mae, called "On s'attache". Which basically means "We're attached", or "I'm attached to you". It's great. You can read the lyrics in French here.

The song is basically about a man who loves a woman (what song isn't?) that is with someone else. But, he says, I'm just a regular guy, and the fact that you're with someone else doesn't change how I feel about you, so I'm just going to wait
patiently until I can have you. I'll wait my turn, he says, because we're attached. We're meant to be together. It's a really good song. Have a listen.



Do Mice Take Bloody Teeth?

Sophie is six and her teeth are coming loose. This is interesting since the first teeth that come loose always seem to be the top middles, and she actually has three top middles instead of two. No, I don't have an answer for you. She calls it her "extra tooth".

On Wednesdays there is no school in this part of France. Perhaps I should post about this glorious fact another time, but for now I must stay on task. Because there is no school on Wednesday, Abby has a French language lesson every Wed afternoon with Thierry. Thierry's daughter Anais is in Sam's class at school. I posted about her before. So this afternoon Anais came over to play with Sophie and Sam while Abby took her lesson. Anais' mother, Patricia, also came over and we chatted for an hour or so while the kids played. She also brought their new baby. I don't remember her name but she's about a year old and has big blue eyes and enormous bulging jowls.

She also kicks a lot. And today while Sophie was tickling her she kicked Sophie's extra tooth right out of her mouth. I expected Sophie to start scream crying but instead she picked up the tooth with glee and said "Now the Petite Souris will come visit me!!!" Her smile looked interesting since her mouth was literally covered in blood. I guess you've noticed that by now.

In France they don't have school on Wednesday but they also don't have the tooth fairy. They have the "Petite Souris". This magical creature is a small mouse that visits homes late at night to leave money for children in exchange for their lost teeth. It's OK, I guess. All in all I think a fairy is better, but the fairy is apparently limited to North American airspace. As Dave told my friend Stephanie the other day,
"You may have an androgynous mouse but in America we have a fairy that glows in the dark and can fly. Can your mouse fly? I seriously doubt it."

That said, Sophie is still excited for the mouse. It's visiting in about five minutes. I have to go find a Euro now.

Labels: ,


I Feel Poor

Last week we took the BMW (pronounced bay em doob-le-vay) to have the mirror fixed. (You know, the one I broke when it smacked against someone else's mirror?). When it was ready, Dave asked me to drop him off at Garage Raymondou.

On the way to the garage we were having a discussion about how diesel (gazol) fuel (sold by the litre) is so great and even though it is expensive to fill up the car here (and even though gazol being dispensed gives off a smell so bad that it makes you feel faint), we don't have to do it very often. Dave remarked that the Trafic gets great gas mileage and we have not had to fill the tank since we drove through Lyon in late August. I gently reminded him that I DETEST driving the Trafic (since it's basically the equivalent of a school bus) and the only reason we haven't had to fill the tank is because I only drive the BMW. "
Which reminds me, I said, the gas light went on yesterday, so we need to fill it up again."

I dropped Dave off and drove directly home, although the route is LESS than direct! Lots of speed bumps and hills. I often feel nauseous driving here, and I am not even pregnant! Thank goodness for that, by the way.

I had been home for fifteen minutes or so (enough time to be seriously involved in a game of Goober's Lab on Webkinz) when I received a call from Dave:
"Hi, I ran out of gas." He told me he was on his way to fill up the car when it sputtered and died, and that he had managed to push the car out of the road into the parking lot of Chez Franck, a pizza place. "Can you bring the gas can and come get me?"

I had to laugh, because there was only one time in my life that I have run out of gas. I was in high school and was driving myself to church because my family had already left. I had this REALLY old truck that was given to me by a family for whom I used to babysit. I loved having the independence of this truck, but there was a rust hole in the floor and it occasionally took twenty minutes to get the engine to turn over. I had just crested a small hill in the road and as I began the descent I could feel the truck lose power. So strange to go from power and control to coasting. Anyway, I managed to coast all the way into the parking lot of a gas station very close to the church. I just left it there. Nobody was going to steal that hunk of junk. It had holes in the floorboards. You could literally see glimpses of the ground below as you drove around. I'm not kidding.

But I digress . . . I picked up Dave and we filled up the gas can, as well as the Trafic. I snapped this picture of the gas pump after I filled up the Trafic, but before the gas can. By the time we filled up the BMW again, we were feeling really, really poor. Keep in mind that one euro equals 1.4186 dollars! Do the math.

Labels: , ,


Donkeys and Sardines

Dave has started reading to the kids in French. They don't like it. He must read the simplest possible stories so he's able to translate on the fly. Usually that means they're also extremely short. If he doesn't, the kids start howling for a story in English. Last night he read "Trotro the Donkey and the Sardine", and everyone thought it was funny. Success!

Click on each page to enlarge it (they're in order), and see if you can figure out what's going on. Post your translation in the comments section. The best translation wins nothing!

OK I guess you win online bragging rights.

Labels: ,


A National Tragedy

Last night we went to my friend Stephanie's house and after dinner watched the rugby match together, along with 20 million other people in living rooms all over France. Not only was this a match that filled the country with hope, but – as Dave told me – it’s one that, deep down for the public confidence, the French needed to win. Les Bleus played well and led almost the entire match. But sadly, just like in the World Cup four years ago - when the final whistle sounded they had lost to England. When it was over Sebastien Chabal, the enormous, bearded rugbyman who has become the pride of all France, knelt on the field and cried.

Like Stephanie I was just waiting for the match to end so we could all eat some dessert with our husbands. Everyone else, however, had little appetite. Jille (all 6’6” of him) kept saying “C’est fini, c’est vraiment fini” (“It’s over. It’s really over.”). Pierre (wearing glasses in the photo) kept saying a lot of bad words and Fabienne, Jille’s wife (in the red), just kept saying “Can’t we just beat them once when it matters? Why is it always the English?” Dave, in his broken French, just kept saying “I am very sad”. Only I think it sounded like the equivalent of “I vewy said”. It added to the somber, pathetic mood that permeated the room for several hours afterward.

Turns out Dave and his friends aren’t the only ones feeling sad. The whole country is devastated. The Paris bureau chief of the Times of London said:

The English destroy the dream of an entire nation. So said the headline in le Parisien this morning after England ejected France from the rugby world cup in a semi-final that had stirred a wave of patriotic hope.

Click on the link and you’ll read that the country is in such a funk that tomorrow the president, a huge rugby fan, is expected to announce he has separated from his wife. Who says the French don’t care about their sports?

Labels: , ,


Allée Means "Go"

Right now France is hosting a sporting event called the Rugby World Cup. It’s an 8 week tournament held every four years that has a huge following in Western Europe and the Southern Hemisphere. Dave has been a fan of rugby for a long time and thinks the World Cup is the best sporting event anywhere. And he has fallen in love with the French team, called Les Bleus (for the color of their uniforms).

France has never won the World Cup but has come close several times. Last Saturday, in the tournament quarterfinals, France shocked the best team in the world (New Zealand) in a huge upset. Because of that win, tonight Les Bleus play England to decide which team will play in the final next Saturday at the Stade de France in Paris. Like Dave, the country has fallen in love with the team and its enormous long-haired grizzly adams enforcer, Sebastien Chabal. At Abby’s school, the headmaster has taped photos of the team all over the windows of his office. Everyone is very hopeful.

All this week people have talked about the match with England. Basically the comments boil down to “It’s OK to lose to anyone except England.” Or “I don’t care if we win the tournament as long as we beat England.” Or more simply, "I don't like England.”

We don’t have anything like this in the United States. The “rivalry” between France and England extends back almost a thousand years to 1066 when a French noble - William the Conqueror - successfully invaded England and crowned himself king. Since that time, almost non-stop, France and England have been at each others’ throats and, frankly, most of the time it's been England at the throats of the French.

Tonight they’ll be at it again. Dave has been wearing his team t-shirt all day, and tonight we're watching the match with some friends, along with twenty or thirty million others in France. Allée Les Bleus!

Labels: ,


Abby's Class

For a month or so, pretty much every day Abby told us that she hates school, hates France, and is angry with us for bringing her here. Her teacher told us that for a month she cried at school almost every day. You wouldn't know it by looking at this photo (Abby is the 2nd girl from the right). Sitting just to her left is Emily. Emily is great because she is sweet and friendly and translates everything for Abby. The only problem is Emily is not French! She is English and so of course she is the only friend at school Abby will talk to. We have decided to host a party with all the girls in class so they can get to know Abby better and she can start inviting them over on Wednesdays when there is no school. We hope she'll start talking with the other kids in her class, not one of whom speaks any English. Most particularly, the three girls on her immediate right: Isabeaux, Nina and Florence (Dave's personal favorite). For what it's worth, there are also 3 boys named Alexandre in Abby's class. I guess it's like John or Dave in the US...

Labels: ,


Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

Of course I could not pass up the opportunity to share a comment about this absolutely divine dessert called a Tropezienne. It is a specialty of Provence, and more specifically, St. Tropez. Some friends visited the other day and they brought us an entire cake. Dave and I ate it over the next two days, literally fighting over the last bite.

The Tropézienne was brought over to France by a Polish baker named Alexandre Micka living in St. Tropez. In 1955 he was hired to cater for a film crew working on a movie starring a group of unknown actors. Each day the baker was requested to make even more of his very popular "tarte". One of the people working in the film, a 21-year old unknown actress, suggested to the baker that he name the tarte, “la tarte Tropézienne, and the name was born.”

That actress turned out to be Bridgitte Bardot, who any French person will tell you is next to the Virgin Mary for greatness. I don’t even know who this woman is, and I think she’s almost 80 years old, but French people talk about her like she’s the newest diva in Hollywood. I don’t get it.

But what I DO get is that this cake is worth fighting for. I got the last bite. Dave ate cheese instead.



Looks Can Be Deceiving

Last week Madame Dessame, a friend of Jean Paul's, called to invite us for a "promenade." To me that means walk, so I didn't bother to tell her about Carter, because certainly he could ride along in his stroller while we leisurely walked around the neighborhood and chatted.

When Mme & Monsieur Dessame (72 and 78, respectively) arrived on Tuesday morning wearing hiking boots I got a little worried, but proceeded to say it was no problem for Carter to walk with us and we could carry him if he got tired. I had a very hard time understanding her husband, who has a bit of a lisp and talks in a cadence that's different than what Dave and I have grown accustomed to hearing. But who am I to criticize? It was probably harder for him to understand me, and they're the nicest people ever. Plus the guy climbs mountains at 78 years old.

We drove to a hilly nature preserve that apparently used to have an active volcano, parked the car, and everyone put on a backpack that carried water and our lunch. That was at 10:30. We
hiked up a rocky mountain trail until just after noon, when we stopped.

Mme Dessame had prepared a lovely lunch with pasta salad, bread and cheese, ham, a banana, a piece of chocolate, plus wine and coffee, of course! Carter was convinced the small plastic bottle filled with dark wine was actually juice and would not stop bugging me to have it. After 10 minutes of incessant whining I decided it was time for him to learn, for the first time, that things are not always as they look. He took a grand swig of the wine and threw the bottle back at me. "OH SICK", he said in 2-year-old-speak. This immediately ended the begging. Have you ever smelled wine? Grape juice mixed with gasoline can't be that good. But don't ask me, talk to Carter, he knows.

After lunch we hiked back to the car and eventually arrived home in the late afternoon. The best part of the day was near the end, when Dave and I had a minute out of earshot and he said to me "I have not understood ONE word this guy has said to me in the last six hours." I of course had to stifle my laughter!

Labels: , ,


A Great Rendez-Vous

Last week the parents and aunt of Jean Paul came by to meet us. They live outside of Paris but were returning from spending the summer in Corsica so we had the opportunity to visit with them for a couple of hours. I hope they liked Dave's shorts.

It's always nice meeting new people in France and this was a real pleasure. Jean Paul's father is from Corsica and therefore has an interesting accent. It is a little bit Italian, with a kind of a flare and rolling of the r's. It was a little bit difficult to understand him, but we did our best!

Jean Paul's aunt is old. I'm not kidding. There comes a time in one's life - I think it happens around 86 or 87, maybe 90 - when you are so old that it becomes a badge of honor. One feels great pride that one has "made it this far". Jean Paul's aunt has made it. Right before I took this photo she looked at Dave and said, "How old do you think I am? Come on take a guess!"

Dave told me he was terrified. "How am I supposed to answer that question?" he told me later. "It's like a woman asking 'how many months pregnant do you think I am?' You can't answer that honestly, not ever. If you say, 'Well you can't be more than nine months pregnant but you sure look it', you're liable to get slapped around, even if it's the truth. His aunt looks 90, but what if she's only 80? Plus I can't ever remember my French numbers: I could try to say 75 and it might come out 99. It's way too risky. As soon as she asked I decided there was no way I was giving a response."

So Dave just stood there like petrified wood. I was obviously going to have to answer. I calculated the risks, smiled as best I could and said, "I think you're 75."

I'd guessed right. She threw her head back in laughter. "75!" she screamed, straightening herself right up. "I am 92 years old! Do I look 92 to you?!" Dave told me later that she does in fact look 92, but no matter. Another potential cultural catastrophe had been avoided.

Dave and I both then spent a few moments assuring her that she didn't look a day over 80 and that it was "Incroyable, Merveilleux, and Stupéfiant (Amazing)!" She was very proud and everyone was happy. Then they got in their car to make the long drive to Paris. We liked them all and hope they visit us again!

Labels: ,


Time to Shop!

Dave snapped a photo of the ladies before we spent the Saturday shopping in St. Tropez. We drove forever to get there because traffic was terrible, then it took us 40 minutes to find a place to park the car!

But it had stopped raining and all the shops had bargains lining the street, so we had fun sifting through the tables and boxes of summer clothes.

The best part of the day was eating crepes with bananas, chocolate and chantilly cream at a place on the water. Yum!

The conversation was all in French, but it was pretty typical for ladies in their thirties: do you drink coke light, coke zero or regular coke? Do you want a taste of my crepe? I love H&M, their clothes are really cute and not very expensive. What are you going to name your baby? Oh, that's so cute! And on and on . ..

If you are curious, from left to right: Miriam, Laetitia, Me, and Stephanie. Tres Jolie!

Labels: , ,


Dave's Not the Only Bad Driver

Let me start by saying that French roads are really narrow.

I was on my way for some retail therapy in Cannes. Shopping in Cannes sounds really great, right? You know, walking along the Riviera, looking at all the yachts and the beautiful people, as the waves crash on the surf, while you spot the latest fashions at bargain prices. Almost, but not quite. It's actually more like this: Drive along French roads that are 5 feet wide, find a minuscule parking spot that costs about $4 per hour (the cheapest one), battle the crowds, have a heart attack when you convert Euros into dollars. . .just to find some black pants or a pair of winter shoes. All in all I wouldn't mind just going to Target.

But I digress. On my way to Cannes I got lost. I mean, I knew generally where I was, but it was not going to get me to Zara to buy my black pants. The road was narrow (big surprise!) and windy and there were cars parked all along the side.

I was driving along when I heard a really loud crack that shocked me. My heart was racing as I looked around to see what was going on. Imagine my surprise when I saw the passenger side mirror dangling in the autumn ocean breeze, by a single electrical wire.

I made it to Cannes OK and even found some great black pants at Zara for 30 Euros. But I must admit most of the joy of finding my way alone and accomplishing my shopping goal was hampered by the annoyance of wondering how many Euros it would be to fix that dang mirror!

For now it is well secured with one of my hair elastics so it doesn't flap around and get the attention of the flics!




One thing I've learned over the past 2 months is that having a lot of dictionaries does not help you learn French any faster!

What DOES help is watching French TV with sub-titles. French subtitles, that is. You can learn cool words like
mince! and flic.

I got to say "mince!" when I dripped bbq sauce on my shirt on Monday when I snuck off to McDo by myself to enjoy un hamburger et frites without anyone begging me for ice cream.

I heard flic (slang for 'police', or the equivalent of 'cop') at our friend Stephanie's house just this morning when I went for a cafe (I don't drink cafe - how very unFrench!). Her husband owns a small hotel in Morocco and works there three weeks out of every month. She was very tired this morning because not only was her five year-old up all night coughing, but her husband called in the middle of the night saying the flics had come because some guests accused the air-conditioning repairman of stealing 100,000 suisse francs from their room. When the guests refused to pay for their 15 day vacance in Marakech, it was the flic who said they were probably lying, but they all had to go down to the station and file the paperwork. Those nutty Suisse...

Before you know it I might only need ONE dictionary!

Labels: ,


I Get On the Bus That Takes Me To You

As The Who said in their song, Magic Bus:
"Every day I get in the queue
To get on the bus that takes me to you"
They could have also added:
"You know those French people
like buses too"

But they didn't.

About two months ago when every person in the English-speaking world was buying the next Harry Potter book, a lot of French people were yawning. But not on October 26th, when the version francaise is released. JK Rowling has more money than the Queen of England. And why not? She made up the word "Hogwarts".

In conjunction with the release of the book, called Harry Potter et les Reliques de la Mort (Pronounced "airy poda". and swallow when you say "airy" if you want to get it right), the book's publisher is organizing la Tournée du MagicoBus Harry Potter, which will stop in some of France's major cities to meet young Harry Potter fans between October 17th and 26th. Fans will experience magical activities and games inside the magico bus, and everyone gets a poster, probably of Brigitte Bardot.

Sadly the bus doesn't come to Mougins so we'll be missing the magic.



Un Gars Une Fille (a guy and a girl)

We Love This Silly Show! Of course when we watch we don't have the luxury of subtitles; So most of the time we just laugh like fools although we don't understand half of what is going on!

One of the things we're learning is just how alike people are everywhere. Sometimes we allow ourselves to think someone is different than we are because of the way they look, their language, their age, their religion, or where they grew up. But being here drives home the point daily how - with few exceptions - we are all the same. This show makes Dave and I laugh because it's a constant reminder of that fact.

Watch the clip. Even without understanding what they say it's still obvious what they're doing: about to claw each other's eyes out just like Dave and I do on occasion. Fortunately when those events happen in our house, Dave always comes back and humbly tells me how wrong he was, and how sorry he is, and how lucky he must be to have such a perfect wife. And when he does, because I'm a nice person I always take him back. Ladies, I'm sure all your husbands do exactly the same!

Labels: , ,