2007-11-30

Urgences

The emergency room in Grasse.
Last Sunday morning about 2am Sam woke up screaming at the top of his lungs. The master bedroom is downstairs and on the other end of the house so it took Dave and I a couple of minutes to realize we weren't dreaming the horrible noise.

When we both groggily reached the top of the stairs we woke up quickly. I found Sam doubled over in his bed in total agony, screaming "I feel like I'm gonna die!" He kept writhing around on his bed holding his abdomen, and no matter what we did we couldn't get him to hold still. It was obviously pretty bad.

We brought him to the bathroom and began interrogating. This is difficult when someone is already screaming. But we did our best.
"Do you need to throw up?" No. (more writhing).
"Do you need to go to the bathroom?" No. (Still writhing).
"Are you really hungry?" No. (Still writhing. And screaming).
"Does it hurt here?" (press on stomach) No.
"How about here? " (press on appendix) No.
"How about here?" (lower intestinal region) YES YES YES YES OWWWWW OWWWWW!

Naturally, in such a situation every parent is afraid their child has a serious illness like appendicitis. A stomachache becomes a brush with death and no less than the hospital will do. I called my sister, who has done medical transcription for years and knows every malady that exists, including (probably) gout and bubonic plague. Plus, it was only 6pm in Phoenix.

"It's very possible he has appendicitis," she said. I felt very scared.

"What happens with that?" I asked.

"Well," she said. "He'll be in incredible pain for awhile but then it will rupture and the pain will subside, so you might think he's doing better. But in 24 hours he'll be dead."

"In 24 hours he'll be dead?" I asked, not realizing I wasn't alone, and that everyone else in the room could only hear my side of the conversation.

"I'M GOING TO DIE????!!!!!" Sam began scream crying.

Dave rolled his eyes. He just wanted everyone to be quiet.

"You're not going to die," he said. "Just calm down and take it easy."

But Sam would not take it easy. With him still writhing on the cold tile floor in the bathroom, we decided to take him to the hospital.

When Dave came to visit Mougins back in May, Virginie made it very clear that if anyone had to go to the emergency room we must go to the hospital in Grasse, not the one in Cannes. The one in Cannes is apparently a death trap. All the French people are afraid of it.

The problem is I didn't know how to get to Grasse. So we debated about who to call, going down our list of five or six options, eventually settling on my friend Gina. Ultimately I just decided it would be better to call someone that I can speak to in English, so I wouldn't have to struggle for words while Sam was screaming in the background. Gina is American but has lived here for six years. She speaks good French, native English, and is also fluent in Italian and Spanish. Her husband is Greek but was born and raised in Sweden so speaks those two languages perfectly, not to mention English. They speak English to each other. Gina speaks Spanish to her kids and her husband speaks to them in Greek. Their kids speak French to each other. They speak Italian to their grandparents. I've seen her do it. I don't know how they can keep it all straight.

So I called Gina and Kosta answered the phone. "Meet me at our house and you can follow me to the hospital," he said. With Sam laying in the back of the car screaming, I rushed off in the night to get to the hospital. Dave stayed home because we didn't want to leave the other kids alone.

The route to the hospital was very windy and confusing. I would never have found it in the dark. We were almost there when Sam let out a huge burp. He stopped screaming.
Kosta parked his car and mine and I carried Sam into the Urgences. Luckily for us, we were the only ones there. The man at the desk took Sam's name, our address and phone number. Two seconds later we were in a room and a nurse was checking out Sam. Since he was no longer writhing or screaming it all seemed a little less urgent. But after she gave him a tylenol suppository and some kind of anti-cramping medicine, he had one more bout of writhing and groaning, so I was *kind of* glad that they could both see I wasn't crazy. The nurse handed me a prescription and that was it!

"Do I get a bill?" I asked Kosta.

"I don't think so," he replied, "I think it's free."

As we got in our cars and drove home I was so grateful that 1) Sam was okay 2) Hospitals exist and 3) There are kind people all over the world, and I know a lot of them.

I'll let you know if I get a bill.

This is Gina, who deserves her own post!

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2007-11-29

Plastic Bags

One of the first things I discovered in France was that a lot of things AREN'T free. Like at the grocery store, where you have to bring your own shopping bags or you must pay 3 centimes per plastic bag that you need, or about 60 centimes for a large reusable bag with sturdy handles (see pic). At first I thought "this is going to be a real pain, how will I ever remember to bring these bags to the store?" Indeed, the first couple of times I went shopping I forgot the bags and bought new ones.

But after that, it was surprisingly easy to adapt. Not only did I remember to bring the bags to the store with me, I started to keep them in the trunk so I would always have a bag if I needed one. And I have to say, I really like this system.

I saw this story on CNN and I think San Francisco and every other city should consider adopting the French attitude on this particular issue. I admit, at first I was quite annoyed that not only did I have to bag my own groceries, but I also had to PAY for the bags or bring my own, but it has only been three months and I am totally over it.

If every American grocery store adopted this system, think of what we could do for the environment!

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2007-11-28

Tarte au Potiron

I'm not much of a cook. Just ask my Mom or my sister. I don't know how many times I have called them to ask how you get yeast to rise properly. But this Thanksgiving I was all on my own. No matter how many times I could call to ask questions, that wasn't going to help me make a pumpkin pie.

In the States you can buy a great pumpkin pie at Costco or Sams Club. Or you can buy a can of pie filling and dump it into a ready made crust or even a homemade crust if you aren't lazy like me. But in France people don't like pumpkin pie, so they don't make it at the bakery and they certainly don't sell canned pie filling.

Thank goodness for people who like to post recipes on the internet. Especially people like this lady. She saved me a big headache! Because of her I was able to find all the ingredients at Carrefour for my pie. Granted, I had no idea how it would turn out, but dang it, I was going to try! It's just not Thanksgiving without a pumpkin pie.
Here are the results:

The potiron I bought-already cleaned and cut!


After baking in the oven . . ready to be mixed into filling

et Voila! Tarte au Potiron! It was so, so yummy!


I've certainly been learning a lot in France over the last few months, but I am truly excited that I am learning how to cook-even if it just a pumpkin pie!

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2007-11-27

Thanksgiving Turkey


To prepare for Thanksgiving I had one main goal: Find a Turkey! I found one at the first store I tried, which was Carrefour. Carrefour is enormous, like a Super Wal-Mart, except bigger. I looked everywhere for the bird-in the freezer section (the typical American place to begin), the meat section, back to the freezer section for another look. I saw no big fat turkeys.

Finally I asked the lady in the meat department where I could find a BIG turkey. Like for Christmas, I added. You mean Thanksgiving, she asked? Right. I guess they have heard of Thanksgiving in France. She asked me how big a turkey I wanted (5 kilos sounded good) and proceeded to explain that I could order one and pick it up in a few days. I was super excited!

Thanksgiving day rolled around and it was time to get the turkey. It wasn't a holiday here in France, of course, so the kids went off to school that morning except for Sophie, who had a sore throat. I hate going to Carrefour because it is ALWAYS busy, but I hoped the torrential downpour of rain would keep most people at home that day.

Unfortunately, it did not. The parking lot was as full as ever, maybe even worse than usual. Maybe there was a conspiracy against me that day because I am terrible under pressure and tend to procrastinate when I feel stressed. It was already after 11 am and I was still trying to figure out how I was going to make a pumpkin pie. So, I was very pleased when a woman in a parking spot right up by the entrance was leaving. I waited patiently as she unloaded her cart into her trunk, took her cart back and got into her car. By the time she slowly backed out I had already waited at least 4 full minutes. I had my blinker on and as soon as she cleared out, I started to pull forward.

To my dismay a small Citroen had entered from the row behind mine and pulled through an emtpy spot into MY empty spot! I was enraged! She lingered in her car until she realized I would not be moving and she would indeed have to walk right by me to get into the store. I glared, shook my fist and rolled down my window to say something. But what? I don't know any mean words in French.

I instantly thought of that scene from "Fried Green Tomatoes" where Kathy Bates (the middle-aged woman struggling with her weight, her place in life and her boring marriage) encounters a similar situation in a grocery store parking lot. She proceeds to ram her car over and over into the other car, screaming "You may be younger, but I have better insurance!"

My car here is already pretty beat up thanks to the crazy roads, so I seriously considered giving her car a nice thump, until Sophie said Mom, let's just find another spot. Aaah, the wisdom of a six year old. Besides, I had a turkey to buy!

We rushed in and headed straight for the meat department. I was happy to find my turkey ready and waiting, plucked, cleaned and weighed. 4.88 kilos for 19.87. Not bad! When we got home and I pulled Tom out of the plastic bag, I had to laugh at the little tuft of feathers around the ends of the drumsticks and the little bits of feather quills left in the skin. I was totally grossed out, but managed to pick out all of the little quills. I left the feathers though, because that is just funny, and no one eats that part of the bird anyway.


The turkey looks terrible in this picture. That's me holding the turkey, looking like a Proboscis Monkey.

We didn't eat until 7:45 that evening, which is about four hours after a typical Thanksgiving. But the kids didn't get home from school until 5 pm, and our guests were busy until 7:30. But all in all, it turned out to be a great Thanksgiving. This year I was thankful for our American guests who appreciated a real home cooked Thanksgiving dinner and also for the internet, where I found the recipes for everything I made!

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2007-11-26

This Game is Better


Try this game. It's so addicting that you may waste a lot of time, though. And make sure you have a good mouse. Good luck finding Comoros.

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2007-11-24

Free Rice and the Origin of You

Why You're An American. Or Not.
Dave again. I know you're sick of me but I have to get this out. Today's post is basically a really long way of telling you how to get free rice. But you just might find yourself in the process. Regard:

French is a Romance language. This means it's a language descended from Latin, which spread through most of Western Europe via Roman conquest starting in about 200 B.C. But after the Roman Empire fell in about 150, many of the areas they conquered (i.e. Italy [which wasn't Italy then, but just territory north and south of Rome], France, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, Belgium, etc.) continued to speak Latin. They'd been speaking it for 300 years, so why stop now? But over the next 1400 years the Latin the people spoke in each of these various regions evolved independently and therefore differently from the Latin spoken in every other region, until by the year 1500 no one was really speaking Latin anymore, and each of these different regions basically had their own language. That's why we have Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. It all came from Latin, thanks to Rome.

Then - as everyone knows - in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Soon after that, at the point of the sword and their bad breath (which spread a lot of deadly germs) the Spanish began making almost all of Central and South America speak their language (except Brazil), while the Dutch and then the English settled what is now the US and Canada. English was off and running. Except for in part of Eastern Canada, which was settled by the French so that now half of Canada hates the other half.

But back to Europe for a minute, where in about 100 A.D. the Romans also conquered a large part of England. But the people didn't take to their new leaders so much, and the Romans weren't that hip on staying either. England, Scotland and Wales have terribly wet weather, so when the Empire started to crumble the Romans basically said, "I hate all this rain. We came here last and we're leaving here first. Let's go back to southern France or Spain where the weather is good." And they got out. Then, in about 500 A.D. a bunch of Germans and Danes, accustomed to horrible weather, sailed down the North Sea and landed in England, destroying everything in their path, including Latin. And they stayed. As a result, while England is only separated from France by 22 miles between Dover and Calais, they're a world apart language-wise. French is a Romance (Latin) language while English is a Germanic language. So if you've ever thought English sounds like German, maybe you were right. I don't think it does, though. I think German sounds a lot like someone getting ready to throw up. Instead, I think English sounds a lot more like French.

That's because in 1066 the King of England died. Edward the Confessor wasn't a very prolific guy and had no children. Since the English were about as smart then as people in Saudi Arabia are today (a thousand years later), the people insisted on a new king but nobody knew who that would be. They were sort of like ants: everything's cool and they're doing fine running along their long narrow line to get to that strawberry left on the counter overnight, but as soon as some person comes and sticks his finger in the middle of that line, all hell breaks loose. King Edward's lack of children was like that finger on the counter: the place went crazy.

A bunch of people laid claim to the English throne. Chief among them, it turns out, was a man from Northern France named Guillaume. Guillaume was a French noble from a town near the northern French coast called Bayeux (or at least his brother was from there), and when he heard that the English royal court had chosen Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex, as the new king, he was not happy. Being a rich man he assembled an army, mostly of hired mercenaries, and waited out some storms until he could cross La Manche ("The Sleeve" in French, otherwise known as the English Channel). Since they traveled La Manche at about one mile an hour, the trip took a few days even though it's not that far.

In late 1066 they landed at a certain point on the south English coast and promptly marched to a patch of grassland which now houses a town called "Battle". Oh yeah, and on the way to Battle they destroyed everything in their path. That was the way it worked back then.

At that time Battle wasn't called Battle. It didn't have a name because there was nothing there but hills. The animals that lived there, however, probably knew they were fairly close to a town called Hastings, because when one of them would get shot by a bow and arrow, the hunter probably came from there. The animals thought Hastings was a terrible place. They stayed in their grasslands in Battle.

In a field there, on October 14, 1066, Guillaume's army met up with Harold's army, which was really tired from having marched all the way from southern Scotland so they could fight. That's like 500 miles in two weeks. On foot. The battle in Battle (not yet called Battle) was hard-fought and for awhile it looked bad in Battle for Guillaume until late that day someone shot Harold right through the eye with an arrow and he fell dead. Unfortunately for Harold's mother and the perpetuation of her genes, two of Harold's brothers were also killed, the English army fled before the French and the battle was over. The King of England was dead after only a couple of months on the throne, mostly spent fighting. Kings were tough back then. Not like Prince Charles, who is a complete wuss in every way. His nose is enormous.

But Guillaume was French and the English were having none of that as their King (OK he was really a Norman, which back then was different, but it's part of France now and it was kind of part of France then, so let's not quibble over details). Again they chose someone else to rule. Guillaume was really mad. He drove his army north to London and on Christmas Day 1066 set things right by promising not to destroy everything if he was crowned King of England that very day. That was the real day he became King but most people thought the big event had occurred back in September in that unnamed field down south.

Since the two armies had fought in a place with no name, the people decided to call it after the town closest to where the battle had occurred, and the name "The Battle of Hastings" stuck. 940 years later we still call it that. And since in England they speak English - although back then it was something else a lot closer to German - people started calling Guillaume Le Conquerant by his English name: William the Conqueror. Before that England had been conquered every few hundred years by this foreign invader or that, but after William showed up they were never conquered again. And by 1600 England was probably the most powerful country in the world.

A few years after 1066 a man named Odo, who was the Bishop of Bayeux back in Normandy (and William's half-brother), decided he wanted to commemorate the Battle of Hastings in print. Perhaps he wanted to distract people from his dumb name. He commissioned a bunch of ladies to weave a tapestry in needlework more than 250 feet long, telling the story of how his brother conquered England. They did an excellent job, and in fact created what may now be the most priceless document in the English-speaking world. After they finished it (most likely in 1077), for the next 300+ years it was displayed every year in the apse of the cathedral at Bayeux, on the day appointed for the Feast of the Relics.

But then one year someone just forgot to do his job and for the next 200 years or so the tapestry was stored in the basement of the cathedral, until in the late 17th century someone remembered it was down there and when they pulled it out everyone looked at it and was like, "Hey, this tells the story of one of the most important events in world history." Since then it's been held in pretty high regard. You can see it displayed in Bayeux if you want, or you can look it up on Wikipedia. At least the text on Wikipedia is in English. In Bayeux it's not.

The reason I tell you this story is because - if you're an American - it's why you are who you are. More than five hundred years after William the Conqueror died, some religious nuts living in Holland (English people) got sick of Dutch weather and presumably wooden shoes, which don't hold in heat very well, and decided to find a better place to live. I won't go into detail about why they were living in Holland but there was a good reason. They sailed on a ship called the Mayflower and, in 1620, landed on a marshy patch of ground not too far from present-day Boston. They were happy then because, even though they were dying of very complicated diseases, like the common cold and in-grown toenails, they were free to execute anyone they wanted for not having enough faith in their god, and they certainly did that. Plus they got rid of all those witches that started running around.

Anyway, shortly after they landed they ate some corn and turkey with the Massachusetts Indians and called it Thanksgiving. A hundred years later George Washington told his dad about chopping down his cherry tree and someone said, "If he's going to tell the truth about that then we're going to make him General of the Continental Army," and after that he went and fought the Redcoats and we were the big winners and everyone started to immigrate here and now we're building walls to keep Mexicans out at a cost of literally billions of dollars a year because American conservative and Christian Right politicians are quite possibly retarded and the media lets them get away with their racist rhetoric about people that just want to build a better life. Just let the Mexicans come here. They're good people and they work hard. Walls don't work. Didn't the Germans teach us that?

But back to the Motherland one more time: Once William took over, the people in England adopted a lot of his words really quickly. In fact, by 1350 they had adopted almost 10,000 French words and in 2007 about 7500 of them are still in use. Words like beef, competition, force, machine, sex, police and a million others (ok only 7493 others). The English were proud people I guess (still are), so they stuck with their Germanic grammar, but they borrowed a whole buttload of French words. Over time most of the definitions of these shared French and English words have stayed the same, although a few have diverged in very odd ways. The ones that have diverged are called "False Friends." Read below, from Wikipedia:

Many French words are intelligible to an English speaker (though pronunciations are often quite different) because English absorbed a large vocabulary from Norman and French after the Norman Conquest and directly from French in subsequent centuries. As a result, a large portion of English vocabulary is derived from French, with some minor spelling differences (word endings, use of old French spellings, etc.), as well as occasional divergences in meaning, in so-called "faux amis", or false friends.

These "false friends" can be very distracting. Here's what I mean:
  • The word "adore" is not a false friend. In French it means exactly what it does in English, only the French use the word all the time and for a broader array of concepts, while in the US 'adore' is not used very often, and men (in my experience) almost never say it. It's just not very masculine.
  • "Four", on the other hand, is a false friend. This word actually means "oven" in French. My knowledge of French isn't good enough that I understand where that comes from.
  • Another false friend is the word "car". I see this word printed all the time when I watch TV with subtitles, and I still don't know what it means. It's a conjugation of some verb but I haven't spent the time to figure it out yet. But it's very distracting to see it on TV: I'm watching a show, doing my best to follow along and all of a sudden the word "car" pops up. My mind can't help but think about automobiles and I get distracted and, in an instant, I'm lost. I think this is what is meant by "false friends. They make you think you know them but you really don't. I've had some friends like that.
But there aren't nearly as many false friends as there are real ones, so the similarities between French and English vocabulary are many. Now I understand why we go to the Dentist, which thing I never before understood. Because in French, teeth are "dents" and dentist is "dentist." Going to the Dentist to fix your dents makes a lot more sense than going to the Dentist to fix your teeth. There are a million of those, and learning French so far has really, honestly helped me better understand my own language and why I say some of the things I do. Although I'll probably still never understand some of the things I say when the water pump goes out in this house for like the five thousandth time.

Hence we come to free rice. There is a new website out, called www.freerice.com, which has a vocabulary game on it. For every word you get correct the UN donates ten grains of rice to hungry people around the world. Of course the site is really just a ruse to raise awareness of certain problems in underdeveloped countries, but the game is really fun, the site really is run by the UN, and they really do donate rice. Every time you get a word correct the database gives you a new word more difficult than the last, until which point you get words that are so difficult that not even Albert Einstein would know them (although since Einstein was German he gets a pass for not knowing all the English words). Then you miss a word and your score drops and they give you an easier word. The highest score you can get is a 50, although most people probably hover in the mid-30's.

But if you want a better score, learn Latin. Or, since Latin no longer exists, learn French. It will make a huge impact on your score. It seems half the words they give have a Latin or French root so - since the game is multiple choice - knowing a little French makes it easier to figure out certain words, even if you've never seen that word. Because, remember, English is a Germanic language that uses a ton of French words. So knowing Latin/French roots helps a lot. It perhaps gets me a higher score than you're ever going to get, so I can feel smarter than you. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. But I'll feel the way I'll feel and what are you going to do about it? Go play the game now and post your score in the comments section of this post. And no cheating. Seriously, no cheating.

And after you you get a high score, thank the Romans for their ambition. Or the Danes. Or William the Conqueror. A lot of the words in that brilliant little head of yours came from them.

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2007-11-23

I Don't Know What I Just Said

Sam's Class: Gauthier, Sam (center), and Valerie. Click to enlarge
Seven months ago we agreed to this home exchange because we hoped doing so would enable the kids to learn how to speak another language properly. And by properly I mean not the way Dave speaks. We figured it probably wouldn't happen unless the children had no choice: Learn to speak or don't make friends. Learn to talk or you can't ask for what you want. It was a leap of faith but the logic made sense. We weren't sure it would happen, we just hoped.

But when we arrived in Mougins three months ago we heard a lot of complaining and crying. The below comments were repeated endlessly:
  • What did he say Mom?
  • I can't understand those people.
  • He's not like me. He doesn't speak English.
  • No I don't want to talk to them. I can't understand what they say anyway.
  • Where are all the people that speak English?
  • I want to go back to Arizona.
All three of the older kids would say that stuff, but Sam - our five year-old - was the worst offender. He wasn't having any of this French people stuff. It made for some tough days sometimes. But, slowly, surely, they are all coming around and it's amazing to watch. It's happening right before our eyes.

The complaints have almost completely disappeared in the last month, replaced by phrases picked up at school, like:
  • Est ce que tu veux jouer avec moi? (Do you want to play with me?)
  • Je veux mange ça (I want to eat that)
  • J'ai fait un dessin pour toi (I drew a picture for you)
And the coup de grace for all the kids: calling each other Monsieur/Madame Fesses Face (Mr./Mrs. Buttface). They say it and immediately start howling with laughter. I never thought I'd be so happy to hear my kids call each other Buttface.

It's incredible how kids adapt. Now, at least once a day, one of them will say to Dave, "Dad, that's not how you say that word. You say it like this..." They've heard it at school and can tell that he's pronouncing it differently. At least for the moment both Dave and I still know more words than the kids, so even though they often correct our pronunciation, they still have to ask how to say this or that. It makes for some funny situations.

Like this, today:
Last night Sam drew a picture for his classmate and friend, Gauthier (pronounced "GO tee a"). When I picked the kids up for lunch today I said, "Sam did you give the picture to Gauthier?"
He shook his head. "I asked Valerie to give it to him" he said (Valerie is the teacher's aid and Sam thinks she's great).
"Did you ask her in English or French," I asked?
"In French," he responded. "Valerie doesn't speak English."
"What exactly did you say to her?" I pushed him.
"Tiens pour Gauthier (give this to Gauthier)," he responded, with perfect pronunciation.
"Excellent Sam! I'm so proud of you!" I was beaming.
"Mom," he asked. "What does Tiens pour Gauthier mean?"

At this point in our adventure, progress is apparently measured by our children saying what they want to say, but without even knowing what it means. We'll take it!

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Turkey Day!


Happy Thanksgiving Across the World!

(more later on our turkey and pie adventures)

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2007-11-22

Pushing The Weight Limit

When Dave had to go to the US a few weeks ago I decided to make the most of it. I wouldn't see him for ten days so thought the least he could do would be to bring back some stuff that I've been dying for here, but either can't get or refuse to spend Euros to buy. He took two extremely large bags with him, filled with stuff we brought here this past summer but didn't need (like 20 large stuffed animals). My instructions to him were to empty the bags when he got to Phoenix, then fill them with items that my sisters Sulesha and Shauntel would buy for him to bring back to Mougins.

I gave my sisters a list of thing that I either can’t get in Mougins, or the items are so expensive here that it’s worth it for Dave to lug them all the way back to France. My sisters came through big time (thanks ladies!): they got every item on the list and Dave fit all but one thing into the bags (a big box of Pet Shop toys), including two gallons of pancake syrup and ten copies of "OK" and "People" magazine (thanks to Virginie for providing those). The per bag weight limit was 50 pounds, and Dave said his two bags came in at 49.5 and 49.8 pounds. He was pretty happy, but I think I was happier when I pulled out that syrup. The list is below.

Things I can’t really get in France

  • Big bottle of Ibuprofen (not sold over the counter here)
  • A good set of hair clippers (I already had a set in Phoenix, and since Dave refuses to pay 30 euros for a haircut (about $44), I needed them)
  • 2-pack of Aunt Jemima syrup from Costco
  • 2-pack of Jiffy Peanut Butter, also from Costco
  • 10 envelopes of fajita mix – doesn’t really exist here
  • 10 “envelopes” of enchilada sauce envelopes – definitely doesn’t exist here
  • 4 Cake mixes – 2 vanilla, 2 chocolate (we can get plenty of cake here, and some of it is incredible. But I can’t find the American cakes that I want)
  • Maple flavouring
  • Dove deodorant

Things that are so expensive I had to get them in the US

  • Pack of 25 Gillette Sensor razor heads. $30 from Costco, about $75 in France
  • Pampers size four “cruisers”. Pack of 80 $18 at Costco, about $35 in Mougins
  • 4 boxes tampons and 4 boxes pantyliners. Here a tampon is - literally - a brillow pad. Those wouldn't work well
  • 4 tubes Colgate total toothpaste with 8 kids and 8 adults toothbrushes
  • Harry Potter and the Whatever Whatever in English - $20 (I think) at Costco, 28 euros here ($42.00), if you can find it.
  • Large box of "Pet Shop" toys for the kids at Christmas: $35.00 at Costco. 60 Euros here (almost $90.00)
It was like Christmas 7 weeks early!

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2007-11-21

Gars or Garce?

I posted previously about a silly show on TV that Dave and I enjoy, called “Un Gars, Une Fille” (“A Guy, A Girl”; pronounced “UN GAR, OON FEE” in French). It’s a bunch of two minute vignettes strung together that show how it’s basically impossible for men and women to get along. Everything is a bit exaggerated, but the show is really funny and everyone in France is familiar with it.

The other day Dave was telling my friend Stephanie how much he enjoys the show. He had forgotten the name, however, and was trying to describe it to her. “What’s the name of the show?” she finally asked. At that moment Dave remembered.

OON GARCE, OON FEE”, he responded.

I saw Stephanie’s eyes light up. “Yeah that’s a funny show”, she said. “But it’s definitely not called “OON GARCE, OON FEE. A show like that might be a big hit though”. And she started to laugh.

Even though Dave knew the show is called “Un Gars, Une Fille”, he didn’t argue. One must assume the natives know more than we do. “Maybe I said it wrong”, he told me later. Indeed.

The next night Dave and I were watching a film, a French thriller called “36”, with Gerard Depardeau. Incidentally, it appears that Gerard Depardeau may in fact be in every French movie ever made. But I digress.

At one point in the film the bad guys kidnapped a policewoman from the street. She was resisting being thrown in their car, and the kidnapper roughed her up yelling, “Monte la voiture, garce!” (“Get in the car, garce”). He threw her in and they screeched away. Fortunately she survived and it all turned out ok in the end.

But all of a sudden it hit me. Dave had meant to tell Stephanie the show was called “A Guy, A Girl”. But he in fact said it wrong. Very wrong. With a small change in pronunciation he had instead said he liked the show “A B****, A Girl.

Perhaps Stephanie is right: I wonder if anyone would watch it?

****In reality the word 'garce' means more like "gold-digging hag", but does anyone ever really say that?

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2007-11-20

Transformation

Our two year-old has needed a haircut for a really, really long time. Like since the day we arrived in Mougins almost three months ago. But I'm a cheapskate and didn't want to pay 11 for a pair of hair cutting scissors, so a couple of times I have used the regular kitchen scissors to trim him up a little.

The problem is that his hair kind of grows up from his double cow-licks and he wiggles like a greased pig when I try to cut his hair. So you can imagine the results I got with that method.

When Dave came home from his trip to the US, I asked him to bring my hair cutting scissors as well as my hair clippers. You can see why I could hardly wait to get my hands on our baby:

As soon as I sat him down to use my great scissors, I knew it was not going to work. We went straight for the clippers. Aaah, alas, another unexpected international problem arises: The adapter for the plug allows the clippers to turn on, but apparently the voltage or something is too powerful because the clippers go crazy and roar out a sound so terrible that my ears hurt while simultaneously causing my entire arm to vibrate. But I waited so long for those clippers. . . there was no turning back.

Lollipop Trick-Not working



Trying to put in earplugs
(Why did we ever think that would work?)



I ended up wearing the earplugs myself while Dave held onto the baby (we can call him that because he is the very last one for us!) so I didn't accidentally knick his scalp. I clipped on the #2 head and went to work as fast as I could as not to permanently scar my son's attitude about getting a haircut. I don't think it worked:

Sulking at his traumatic loss

But now he looks so much better. A little shorter, but so, so much better!




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2007-11-17

Toilets

Hoping they don't have to go

This is the bathroom at Sophie and Sam's school. It's right in the middle of the hallway leading to their classrooms, so we walk right by it every day, multiple times. Notice that there are like 10 toilets in there (you can only see four here, but there is one out of the picture + five more on the other side of the bathroom), so a bunch of the children can go at the same time, which is usually right after lunch, before recess, etc. The teachers send them in basically at the same time, so they're not always asking to leave during class.

Notice also that the doorway to the bathroom is like five feet wide. And notice also that there is no door to the bathroom. Yes there is in fact no door. You just go. No door.

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2007-11-16

Winter is Upon Us


Sometimes I wear this coat in the house. Today I wore it in Biot.

When you live in someone else's house like we do, sometimes you can't figure out how things work. Like today, for example, when it was so cold outside it was raining ice. The small mountains that hold the nearby village of Grasse were subsequently covered in snow. It sure got cold in this house that has ALL tile floors and the walls are made of stone.

For a couple of weeks I have been asking Dave to turn up the heat because I walk around the house fully dressed, with socks, shoes and at minimum a sweater and often in a parka. Granted, I am always a little colder than most people, but when you have to wear your hooded sweatshirt to bed with the hood UP, it is time to crank up the heater.

The first problem with turning up the heat is that the thermostat is outside. That's right--if you are too cold INSIDE the house, you must go OUTSIDE to turn up the heat. The second problem is that we have no idea how to program the unit so that we don't have to go outside at night when it gets even colder than in the day. Dave said there was an instruction manual, but seeing as how I can barely read the French instructions on a package of ready-made pizza crust, it is unlikely we can understand a manual for a piece of electronic equipment.

So when we reluctantly slip into our icy beds tonight and wait for the combined powers of my new bedspread and body heat to kick in, we will imagine August in Arizona and maybe thoughts of 117 degree weather will warm us as we drift off to sleep.

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2007-11-15

We're Going to Have a Commercial

Poobs: Today's subject from Dave
If you only have five minutes to read, go do something else right now. Because what I have to say here is important and it's going to take you a long time to read it. Even longer if you're illiterate. So pull up a chair and stick your feet up. It's time to learn.

When we watch TV in the US there are things that appear approximately every two seconds during any program, and much more often if it's during the final few minutes of an important sporting event. Companies pay a lot of money for these things that we Tivo through with abandon. We call them commercials in the US, which is a pretty long word for something we see all the time. In France it's different. The word for commercial, or advertisement, is Publicité. But everyone just calls them "des Pub" (pronounced "day poob") for short. Like in the US, some words (like "Refrigerator", or "Television") are never actually said. They're so common that we shorten them. Instead it's "Look in the fridge" or "Would you please just let me watch TV?"

Let me give you an example of how we shorten words all the time in the US, because it's the same in France: One Saturday evening in January 2005 Stasha and I had been working on a project at our house in Phoenix. This wasn't just any old project, however. We were covering our dining room walls with toile de jouy. The short version of how to undertake this divorce and possibly suicide-inducing process can be found HERE. Covering walls with fabric is not a good idea. Don't do it. Anyway, we were fighting about how to do it every step of the way, and since it had been going on for a month, our marriage was not holding up well.

It was on this particular Saturday night, when we were getting close to being finished with the month-long process, that the San Diego Chargers happened to be playing the New York Jets in the playoffs. I had been looking at toile de jouy all day and was sick of it, and sick of Stasha telling me I was putting it up wrong. I was ready for some football. For all you guys out there, this was a great game. You might even
remember it. I'm no Jets fan and, although I love the Chargers' new uniforms (which are really just a throwback to their original AFL digs), I don't feel any special affinity for them either. But it was quality football and I was enjoying it immensely.

Stasha, however, who is jealous of me because she doesn't like sports and therefore most of the joy of life has been sucked out of her, did little but stare at toile du juoy while I enjoyed four quarters of heart-pounding action punctuated by 14:55 of overtime madness. It of course didn't help that the Chargers were behind until the very last seconds of the 4th quarter, so that when - with two minutes or less left in regulation - Stasha asked, "When is that game ever going to end?" I responded, "There are only two minutes left." And therefore with that statement continued to perpetuate the massive fraud on wives that men perpetuate every weekend about when a game will be over. What's funny is that women never seem to fully get how the game clock and the regular clock differ. They just don't get it. It's like man's little secret. SHHHHH. Don't tell them. They'll never figure it out!


An hour later I was still glued to the edge of my seat as the game was deep into overtime and the Jets were driving. Stasha, on the other hand, was fuming. She wanted toile de jouy help and was intent on getting it. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her march into the room, give me the Stasha Death Stare, and promptly just shut off the TV. She just SHUT IT OFF. In the middle of a play. To make matters worse, she turned off the main power button which meant I would now have to GET UP and go turn it back on. This was going way, way, way too far and there was no turning back. You just don't shut off a guy's playoff game without asking. Some lines one must never cross. We had been arguing for a month about toile de jouy and the volcanic rage that had been bubbling for 30 days suddenly burst forth in a titanic eruption. It was like Krakatoa.


"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" I screamed as I lunged across the room towards the power button. "ARE YOU &$^#*%@ KIDDING ME?!?!"

I turned the TV back on and one instant later the roof fell in: Stasha reached over and turned off the TV again.


"I'M WATCHING TV RIGHT NOW!!!" I screamed. "I AM NOT DEALING WITH TOILE RIGHT NOW!!! I AM WATCHING TV!!!"

"DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!?!" I was going crazy. "I AM WATCHING A PLAYOFF GAME ON TV. DO NOT EVER, EVER TURN OFF THE TV WHEN I'M WATCHING THE PLAYOFFS." (note that I said TV, not television. Americans don't say the word television, unless you're buying one. It's always TV. The word television was never uttered during this argument and the ensuing preparation for divorce proceedings. That is the main point of this story)


This did not go over well at all. She leaned in to turn the TV off a third time and I blocked her path. So naturally she chose to do what any rational woman would do in such a situation, which is to say that she grabbed a long cardboard tube laying nearby on the carpet and hit me with it. The toile fabric had come wrapped around this tube and the kids had been playing with it. She hit me hard. It bent.

I was shocked by this sudden display of force. Violence, other than me murdering the incessant crickets that come around in late spring in Phoenix, is very uncommon in our home. I reacted badly. Not with any violence, because I leave that to Stasha, but badly nonetheless.


"You're a &*%@$", I said.
"I'm leaving", she said.
"Get the #@$^ out, I said.

It was over. She went upstairs to pack and I turned back on the TV. The Jets won the game about five minutes later. I'd been very content to watch my game in silence, but once it was over I began to realize that perhaps my wife and kids moving somewhere else was not a great idea.

I sulked upstairs and apologized, because it's always my fault. Stasha graciously acknowledged that the whole thing was in fact my fault and then, with some coaxing, I helped her put away the clothes and the suitcases. We made up a couple of days later and moved on. Things are good now. Really. Whenever we see the toile de jouy in the dining room we are reminded of this experience. Mostly I remember what a great playoff game I watched, but Stasha always reminds me that we came to a marital precipice and looked down it. I love the NFL.

By the way, she never finished the trim around the toile and three years later it's still not finished. It looks really bad. Two weeks ago when I was in Phoenix I ate dinner in the dining room with our exchange family and our (now mutual) friends the Bodens and the Wilhelms. Ladd
Wilhelm was kind enough to point out that it's not finished. I let Stasha know right away. She appreciated the input, Ladd.

So anyway, Americans never say 'television' and in France, French people never say
publicité. Ads and commercials are always called "Pub", for short, and are pronounced "poob." What fun!

But this is actually about something else. Something so insane that it will stun you into reading in silence. Ready?


In France you must pay to watch TV. Not to buy a TV, or to watch cable (you pay for all of that too), but just to be able to watch regular old TV. Even if you only get French CSPAN in black and white on a 12" screen, you must still pay. It's called the
"
redevance de l’audiovisuel" or better put, "TV Tax". It costs 116 euros per year, or about $175. What's more insane is that it's the US that's apparently insane. Insanely cheap, that is. Almost every major country in Europe has a TV tax. In fact, if you want to live in that vacation haven called the Walloon region of Belgium (where it rains like 300 days a year), it costs 150 Euros for an annual TV license, plus 27 Euros a year for every single car radio. Would you pay $40 just to listen to Belgian radio in your third car? I think not. So count your blessings. Incidentally, if you want to read about this fantastic way of ripping people off, go here. By the time you're finished you'll know how much the annual TV tax is in Albania. It's pretty detailed.

In France, having a TV is a bit more common than having a trampoline, or a boa constrictor, or a Ferrari. There are 60 million people in France and about 59,999,994 are subject to this tax. We are not, because our exchange family pays the tax for us (just as I pay my property taxes so they can live in my house in Arizona). If you consider that the average num
ber of people per household in France is 3.2 (a guess), and each house in the country must pay 116 Euros, translated into dollars that is just over 3 billion dollars a year in the government coffers, just because people like to watch TV. Perhaps they should tax you if you eat. Oh wait, never mind. The tax on food is 19.6%.

The TV tax is used to fund several TV and radio stations in France, the equivalent of CBS, ABC, Fox, and NBC. The net result of this is that there aren't that many commercials on those channels. They pay for their programming through taxes. The people pay for it. I personally prefer the American way, but whatever floats your boat.


But, over time it, despite the tax dollars, commercials have appeared anyway. They get 3 bill a year in tax money but still there are commercials. Not that many (the number of commercials has actually fallen in the last ten years), but they still have them. So, perhaps out of guilt, these public networks feel the need to introduce the commercials. A screen appears right before the poobs begin, and it appears again every minute or two until all the commercials are over. Sort of announcing that the poobs are coming on now, so if you want to go to the bathroom feel free to make it happen you won't be missing anything. It's ridiculous. The letters " P U B " appear on the screen for five seconds (I timed it), usually amongst a bunch of other letters, and then a commercial comes on. They have a million different little vignettes, all of which show the letters P U B and that's it. It's ridiculous. But
that's Poobs for you.

At the top of this post is a shot of my TV, taken today when the word "PUB" appeared magically on the screen, announcing that commercials were about to begin. It's like magic. And below this paragraph, screen shots of two commercials that appeared right after the "Poob for the Poobs". One is for Castorama, which is the Home Depot here and in which they never give you any service. The other is for a veterinary school in which you can learn, in only minutes a day of study, how to be a veterinarian's assistant in France. During this poob, if I had
snapped the photo 3 seconds before you would have seen a screen in which a lady was giving a shot to a raccoon. Yes, a raccoon. Or if I'd taken it three seconds later you would have seen a screen in which it said there are two tracks at the school: one track to be an assistant for taking care of animals, and another track for taking care of fish. A veterinarian for FISH? I don't know what more to say.
Castorama: "Has everything for me" (except service)



"IFSA, the specialist for the creation of animal care", especially raccoons.

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2007-11-13

That's Cheddar!

Until now, I don't believe I realized how important Cheddar is in my life. Think of all the tasty cuisine you can make with Cheddar:

Grilled Cheese
Quesadillas
Enchiladas
Baked Potatoes
Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Chili

You may or may not be familiar with the Costco or Sam's club block of Cheddar Cheese. I estimate roughly twelve inches long, four inches high and four inches wide. That's a whole lotta chedda. But if you've got a big chunk of cheddar in your fridge, you can almost always come up with something for dinner.

Which brings me to my point, which is that cheddar is pretty hard to find round these parts. I look every time I go to the store, and four out of five times there is no cheddar. But the other day at le Supermarché Casino I found some! Here it is:


"Cheese, Glorious Cheese!"*

Holding that little chunk in my hand was like holding a brick of gold. That small brick of cheese represented a treasure trove of options! Images of happy children eating grilled cheese and soup, a smiling husband wolfing down a plate of enchiladas, or myself savoring a slice with a Fuji apple (Fuji's are almost as rare as cheddar!). But you must choose wisely with such a rare resource! I went for the grilled cheese as a child not crying over what horrible slop I have made for dinner is worth as much as that chunk of cheese, which in euros was 4.44. That's $6.51.

Every gooey bite of toasty bread smothered in butter melted in my mouth. I don't blame Abby for asking if she could eat Carter's untouched sandwich. We were all eying it with watering mouths. I won't say who got the prize, but I will say, it was CHEDDAR!



*no offense to all the GREAT French cheeses

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2007-11-12

Pretty Good

I've learned something about myself since we got to France: I like things to look pretty. I also like to take ugly things and make them look pretty. If things can't be made pretty, I have a problem. So, I have been really slacking around the house in France because I felt trapped in a sea of very unpretty:




But this weekend I broke free. I was like a madwoman on a mission. I moved the ugly rug from the family room into the master bedroom (see above, with ugly man). I moved the pretty rug from the master to the family room. I rearranged some mirrors and paintings and then I really got to it and messed around with the computer/fax situation. I even brought a dresser down from upstairs to act as a sofa table. Then I went super crazy and bought a bedspread and sham set at Auchan for 30 euros.

It is so pretty! It is blue with flowers on it. I guess it is kind of like my bedspread at home. Only I get to sleep under this one, and in the morning when I make the bed I am so happy because it finally looks pretty.


Our New Bedspread, with all the ugly stuff hidden



Our Bedspread in Arizona

This is all part of the process of making this house feel like home. Because it's not my house I can't paint, change all the drapes, buy new furniture, or bring the laundry room into the house. But I can make the best out of what is here with just a little effort, and now I think I'm not the only one in the house that is happier because of it, and that feels pretty good!

(petite disclaimer: flowery bedspreads aren't for everyone, but paintings of clowns (like this one) should be for no one. EVER.)

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2007-11-11

How To Humiliate People 100 Years After Your Death

At left, Jules Verne, favorite son of Nantes, in about 1880. He was allowed to wear pants in this photo. No one stopped him.

The village where we live now, Mougins (pronounced "Moo ZHAN"), is in the extreme southeast of France, sort of the equivalent to Miami geographically. Last summer, when we first arrived in France and before ever coming to Mougins, we spent nearly a month in a city called Nantes (pronounced "NONT"), which is sort of the equivalent of Portland geographically. It's in the Northwest of France, so is a long way from Mougins. Although keep in mind that all of France is smaller than Texas. That part of France has a long, rich history so naturally Dave insisted we spend a bunch of time there. We had a lot of interesting experiences during that month, partly because we knew absolutely no one and Dave couldn't understand a word of French at that time. I was only slightly better. The below is from an email Dave sent to his brothers about an experience we had while in Nantes that typifies some of the cultural differences between here and the US. It happened one weekday early in August. I'll let him tell it.


We've been in Nantes for a few weeks and I really like it. I can't understand the traffic patterns, I get lost every day and nothing anybody says makes any sense, but the summer weather is great and there's lots of good stuff to see within reasonable driving distance. Like this. And this. And this. But there's only so much touring around the kids can stand, and so yesterday instead of visiting castles and Roman ruins, we took the kids to the main public pool in Nantes, called the "Piscine Jules Verne". Piscine is swimming pool in French and Jules Verne was a 19th century author from Nantes who wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. They make a big deal out of the guy here. Sort of a favorite son thing I guess. A lot of dudes have written fairy tales so I don't know what the big deal is. But Jules Verne is everywhere in Nantes.

The kids are so used to swimming every day in Phoenix they've really missed it. I hesitated to go a public pool because I didn't really know where it was (so we would get lost going there), it's indoors, it's expensive, and public pools kind of creep me out, but of course we eventually do what they want because they're kids and we're parents and that's what happens when they keep asking for something. Boy was I in for a treat.

We arrived at noon, when they open. No business establishment in France ever seems to be open for very long, and this is no exception. It's summer, all the kids are out of school, and there is enormous demand for this pool. They're open every day from – get this - Noon until 4:30pm. I mean, are you kidding me?

We stood in line, paid our money, and went in to the locker room. It was like a room with a bunch of secret doors that didn't lead anywhere. The entire room seemed like just a bunch of thick yellow and blue melamine from floor to ceiling. Each cramped changing room had one door on each end, and the changing rooms were everywhere, so walking into the locker room was like walking into a maze of doors and walls. I couldn't figure out where I was. I couldn’t tell where anything led. It was very confusing.

Then, when I walked into the changing room (you couldn't get to the pool, which was in some unseeable, unknowable place very far away and very mysterious) I couldn't figure out how to lock the door. Turns out the door lock was by one's FEET. Sam found it. It was this long pole-like structure the same length as the length of the changing room. It had three fat dowels on each end attached to a circular piece of plastic. You had to grab one of the dowels and turn it counter-clockwise and it would partially cover and therefore (b)lock both doors (on each end) at the same time. It was seriously ridiculous. I mean absolutely ludicrous. But it worked.

So we changed into our swim trunks. I put on my very fancy, long polka dot twister swim trunks that make the ladies crazy. Sam was wearing his long Spiderman trunks. We looked tremendous. We found Stasha and the girls in the maze and blindly followed one corridor after another until we found the entrance to the pool. At the end of the maze, when you make it out, they give you a piece of cheese. I'm just kidding.

I walk out and basically see this:Piscine Jules Verne - Click on photo to look at the men in line for the waterslide.

So I was trying to figure out where to go. There were four or five pools of different shapes, sizes and heights, and they were all connected. And when I say "height", I don't mean "depth", I mean "height". One pool was here, another one was there, connected to it, but was set five or ten feet lower. The next one was the same way. There were big portholes in the side of this one or that one so you could see various people's legs showing up here and there (not as interesting as it might sound). The pools were apparently all supposed to serve different functions (i.e. lap pool, tide pool, waterslide pool, baby pool, etc etc), but everyone was everywhere doing whatever they wanted so it was all the same. Oh, and every pool was a different temperature. Hmmmmmmmmmm, I wonder which one had the most people in it?

I started walking toward one of the pools with Sam when an official-looking man stopped me. I could tell he was saying 'You can't go in the pool', it's "Interdit" (forbidden/prohibited),' but I had no idea why. When the French say "Interdit" it sounds a lot like "On dirty" so I looked down at my trunks thinking, "What, are they dirty? Did I have a very bad accident and not realize it?"

Then the guy proceeded to explain in English, to my absolute horror, that swimming trunks are not allowed. This not a joke. You can't wear swimming trunks at the Piscine Jules Verne in Nantes. No trunks. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? Yes, that's what I'm saying.

I could tell that arguing would only make me look like the ugly American, and he wasn't going to change his mind anyway, so I just slumped my shoulders and hung my head. He explained that neither Sam nor I were allowed to get into the pool, which was going to be a big issue for Sam. But then he said, "You can't even stay in here because you're wearing trunks, and other people will see you. We can't have that. So you must leave." Sam was about to cry because the man in charge had just he couldn't swim.

I'd already paid my $87 to get into the pool area, so I was thinking ‘how am I going to get my money back?’ when the guy held up one finger and said "Attendez". I know this means "wait a second", so I continued to stand there. He said"asdpiuqerkjafd" to a minion standing next to him, who promptly left. He must have understood the man. I sure didn’t.

About thirty seconds later the minion came back, holding two of the smallest, tightest, revealingest, mostly oily-bohunk Speedos that have EVER been made. And they're someone else's. Other men's penises have been in these Speedos. There's no way to know when or how often, but oh they've been there. Touching the very spots “I” would soon be touching. If I remember correctly, shortly before I vomited then fainted he said something like, "Put these on and you can stay".

Did I really have a choice? The kids had been crying for two weeks to go to the pool and now we were standing at the water's edge. So I took Sam's hand and we went back into the maze and found another changing room. This time I remembered how to lock the door. You just kick it.

I put Sam's Speedo on him. He was not happy about taking off Spiderman but he knew it was the only way to get into the pool so didn't say much. His suit was a hot little black number that was just a bit too large for him so there was some room between where the legs ended and where his privates began. You know, sort of like the dudes that wear those threadbare, stretched out tighty whities where the legholes have become too big for the legs that get put in them? Once, on a business trip, both my 55 year-old boss and I stayed at the house of a colleague who lived in the country we were visiting. One morning I was walking to the bathroom and my boss was walking back into his own bedroom. He was wearing nothing but a pair of old, yellowing tighty whities and the legs were all stretched out. To see that on a grown man was more than I could handle. That was a bad trip for me. My boss lost his job about four months after that. I've never quite recovered. Anyway, with Sam it was sort of like that, only this Speedo was a lot smaller.

Then I put on mine and walked out. It was kind of a blue color, but not just the boring regular blue that those doped-up, greased-up, hairless champion swimmers always wear. It was a gussied-up version with a little design that had varying shades of blue with daring green and red streaks on it. And it had been worn a LOT, so the fabric on the back wads fraying and had those tiny balls of fabric that form on any old piece of clothing. It was very soft to the touch. It's times like this that one wishes for dea…sorry; I mean acutely realizes that one's legs are similar to those of a fowl, why one never became an underwear model, etc.

So I walked out to swim. Since all the other guys out there were wearing something similar (although I can honestly say that - because they knew this was coming when they left their homes for Piscine Jules Verne, they had prepared and that – therefore – mine was the absolute worst suit in the whole place) and since I'm an adult, I said to myself 'OK I'm going to pretend this is normal and will not show my pain to the world lest I draw attention to it.'

This became difficult as soon as I saw Stasha. Her uproarious laughter and pointed finger drew more attention than I was looking for. I quietly asked her to stop and just turned my back on her. Sam ran off to go down the waterslide as I slinked into the nearest more-than-waist-deep pool, where I elected to remain for virtually the entire time. I did get out at one point, to go down the enormous indoor water slide. When I was standing in line for it Abby stood behind and looked me up and down. She didn’t say anything for what seemed like a long time as she stood there dripping and shivering, holding her hand to her mouth deep in thought. Finally, this: "I don't like that bathing suit. It looks dumb," she said. Great minds think alike, I guess.

By the way, I was also dripping and shivering, which further reduced my chances of looking like an underwear model. Sam, of course, forgot all about Spiderman and was having a great time. I didn't know where he was most of the time because it was a big place. However, several times during the next 90 minutes, which incidentally seemed like maybe twenty - or forty five hundred and twenty - hours, Sam ran by and said stuff like "Hey dad this Speedo isn't bad", then later, "Hey dad I think this Speedo is cool", etc. I think he thought he looked like "Dash" from The Incredibles. I disagreed.

At 2pm we had to leave. I got out of the pool and found Sam and the girls. We all walked back into the maze. I went into a changing room with Sam. I took off my Speedo and was about to put on my clothes when Sam started whining that he couldn't take off his suit. If you know five year-olds you know that voice that says "Dad it's time to drop everything and help me right now. RIGHT NOW." So there I stood, naked and shivering, kneeling on the freezing infested tile trying to undo the knot that had cinched itself in the drawstring during the last 90 minutes. It was cinched really tight and I was really hoping to get it undone quickly because I wasn't wearing any clothes and it was cold and I was in a maze in France and I'd just had to wear a Speedo for 90 minutes. In front of my children. In public. I got the string undone and was pulling the suit off his five year-old body and he looked down at me. "Dad", he said. "Can you buy me a Speedo?"

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2007-11-10

The Year's Best Halloween Costume

We're still a bit behind, since it's November 11th and I've yet to post a Halloween party update from Mougins. I'm working on it. After I post on that, a few days later I'm going to move it back in the list, so it looks like I actually posted shortly after Halloween. I love the Internet. Anyway, for the moment you get "Halloween Filler".

Dave says this is the funniest costume he's ever seen. He was laughing like crazy when he showed it to me. Look at the guy's eyes. And how about his nose? You have to down a lot of hard liquor every day for a long time to burst that many blood vessels.

I didn't want to post this, but Dave was begging me. The costume was worn by some very bad American actor at some (probably very bad) party in the US on Halloween night. What's going on over there, anyway?

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2007-11-09

Ups and Downs

Some days life in France is just, well, life. You get up, you make some scrambled eggs, you take the kids to school, then you clean the kitchen. The eggs might cost more, the roads on the drive to school may be a little more windy, and the products in the kitchen have different names on the bottle, but are made from the same stuff as my products in Arizona.

After I walked the kids into school this morning, I walked with Carter back to the car. The group of ladies were there, talking, smoking, perhaps making plans to have coffee together, perhaps just chatting about nothing. But today I was on the outside of the circle. I stood back just a little with Carter, knowing that for today "it" wasn't going to happen. Today I wouldn't feel like of one the group, today I would just be the American girl who still can't understand everything.

I don't have many of these days, but when I do I long for home. I don't long for my beautiful house where everything works, or for my car, or even for my great indoor laundry room. I long for the familiarity of things. For hearing people chatting at Starbucks and knowing what they are saying. Or stopping by my sister's house to do something, or nothing, depending on the day. I long for making plans with Dave's parents and brother to have Sunday dinner together. The ease of making a dentist's appointment for the children. Home is where you make it, of course, but sometimes making a home takes longer than you want it to. Home is the place where you fit right in. Today I don't know if France can ever feel like Home.

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I English. I Not French.

Dave writing again. I spent all of last week in the US, first to visit my brother, and (later) to get some stuff in Phoenix that Stasha had to have from the US, like syrup. I’m back now. I looked pretty cool checking in for my return flight with two 49-pound bags filled with syrup, diapers and tampons. At least tampons aren’t heavy. Wish I could say the same thing about syrup. If you want to lose weight you should eschew syrup and just eat tampons. The pounds will just melt away.

But this isn’t why I’m writing. I was in Phoenix for three days and I stayed at my house. I observed three primary things:

  1. French people don’t use air conditioning. At least not at my house, where the average daytime temperature in the house was between 86 and 88 degrees. Hotter on the 2nd floor, since heat rises.
  2. The house is so clean it’s like no one lives there. Perhaps stuff gets left out but it just disintegrates in the heat. Because there was nothing out of place.
  3. The Ginefri kids can speak English.

I want to focus on this last point. 2+ months ago when we spent an evening with the Ginefris in Dijon it was impossible to communicate with the children. I spoke a little French (and by "little" I mean "basically none") but I couldn’t understand them when they spoke, and they didn’t speak any English. That was on August 20th. Literally not one word. OK perhaps they could count to 20 but it was a joke. They spoke English like macaws.

Fast forward to November 2nd. I arrived last Thursday night and all the children were asleep. On Friday morning I went downstairs to where they were eating their breakfast, which consisted of Dig ‘em Smacks and toast dipped in milk for so long that it disintegrated when pulled from the bowl. Mmmmmm.

I looked at Max (4 ½ years old), ready to test him. “How are you Max?” I said in English. He didn’t really look up from slurping his cereal. “Good”, he said. “How are you?”

“What are you doing?” I asked. The response was slightly delayed and without total confidence, but he said it: “I’m eat breakfast”. And a minute later, with milk pouring out of his mouth: “I like cereal.” The pronunciation was perfect. He looked like an American. And a minute later: “You eat breakfast?”

Virginie was standing next to me. “It’s incredible”, I said to her in French. “A French child learning English in two months. How is this even possible?”

Max looked at me. “I English”, he said in English. “I not French. You’re French!” Then he laughed.

It was like that all weekend. He understood everything I said and – most of the time – could respond. The sentence structure was a bit lacking but I’m not sure what one can expect after 75 days. Certainly not what I witnessed. Clearly it really will all come in time.

Max’s 6-year old sister Margaux spoke a lot less, but she still understood me. I heard her translate my sentences to her father a few times. It was so incredible that I would never have believed it if I hadn’t personally witnessed it. I hope my kids can do the same. We are getting there.

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