I never was able to find LIbby’s pumpkin in a can, but that didn’t stop Pumpkin Pie!! Who knew that it would only take moving to a country that doesn’t understand the gastronomical importance of pumpkin in a dessert on the last Thursday in November to force me to learn to cook with REAL pumpkin?
Okay, perhaps my above statement is a bit of an exaggeration. Certainly the French are aware that Thanksgiving is an American holiday… At least, as much as Americans are aware of Bastille Day (are Americans aware of Bastille day?)… But of course, being an American holiday, Thanksgiving doesn’t exist here (and happily, neither does crazy, consumerfest-obsessed black Friday).
I say these words “Thanksgiving doesn’t exist here,” but unless you’ve ever lived in another country during one of the biggest holidays of your culture, you probably cannot fully grasp what that means. Even I didn’t, though I love learning about other cultures and spent my time in college majoring in French and minoring in German, a degree which came with a certain amount of exposure to other countries that the average American just doesn’t get.
Too often, when we live in one place, I think we forget (overlook?) that other places exist with completely different societies, completely different cultures, and completely different histories. Nothing drives that point home better than spending a major holiday abroad. If for no other reason than to really open your eyes on this subject, I would recommend living abroad to anyone, because I think it’s essential to understand that we, as people from different countries ARE different, before we can fully see and appreciate our similarities.
In a way, the fact that there is no trace of Thanksgiving in France made spending it away from home easier. There were no specials on turkeys in the grocery stores (in fact, finding a whole turkey proved impossible for me), there were no days off of work, and there was no Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on T.V. In fact, if not for social media and the internet, I could almost ALMOST, forget it was Thanksgiving. But, somewhere in the back of my mind, the knowledge that it WAS Thanksgiving lingered, and in that sense it was difficult, spending last week without anyone wishing me a happy Thanksgiving at work, or in the grocery store, or in a restaurant. Dagnabbit, people, don’t you know how important this day is?!?!?
At least, thanks to me (and other American assistants around France, I’m sure), there are about 160 French school children who understand a little bit more about Thanksgiving, including why Americans celebrate and what it’s really like in the USA during the last Thursday in November.
So, in France, the idea of sending Christmas cards is a bit of a novelty… I never realized it before, but people just don’t do it here like they do in the USA. In light of that, one of the Christmas themed lessons that I’d like to do with all my classes next month is to have them create Christmas cards for their parents, friends, etc… What I’d really like, is to be able to show them some examples of American Christmas cards…
And – this is where YOU all come in! Would you please send me a Christmas card? Pretty please?? And – NOW is NOT too soon! (My last day of class before Christmas is December 16, so the sooner, the better, really.) Yes, I know that it costs a little more to send a card to France, but I think it can still be done for under $1. Isn’t the happiness and joy you would bring to French schoolchildren (and me!) worth $1? (plus $2-$4 for the card)?
Hopefully, you just said YES. (You did say “yes,” right? Right.)
Here is my address:Rebekka LITZ Lycée Pierre d’Ailly 136 Boulevard des États-Unis 60200 Compiègne FRANCE
And – please, keep them PG-rated. I do plan on sharing them with 8-10 year olds, so do try to refrain sending cards like this:
Learning a new language is hard. Speaking it is harder. And immersing yourself in said language, in a new culture to boot, well, that is just plain exhausting. I may only be working (at most) 5 hours in 1 day, but at the end of those days, I feel like I’ve worked 20.
And what do I have to show for it? At the end of (almost) 6 weeks in France, well… (malheureusement) not much. I still stumble over words nearly every time I open my mouth, I still find myself staring in confusion after someone has said something – maybe even something simple – that I completely failed to understand, and most of the time I feel like I’ve made remarkably little progress for someone who has been living in a foreign country, immersed (to some extent) in a foreign language, for over a month.
I was listening to a story on NPR the other day, and the host said something that I think is spot on. He said that, to really learn a new language, you have to be willing to embarrass yourself, basically all the time. He is 100% accurate. Yesterday, in one of my classes, my students (who are 8 years old!) lectured me on the appropriate way to pronounce the word “couleurier” (which, as it turns out, is pronounced very smilarly to “color”). In another class, I told the school photographer that the teacher would “retourne tout de suite,” and quickly had 5 or 6 of my more outgoing students tell me that what I meant to say, was that he would “arrive tout de suite.”
I’m also constantly messing up my tenses. I use past tense when present was appropriate (or future). I use 2nd person plural when I should have used 2nd person familier (this happens ALL the time, because I’m constantly switching between “tu” and “vous” at school, between addressing my class as a whole, addressing the students individually, and talking to the teachers). And, though, in theory, I know how to conjugate several different tenses, the only ones I have even a tenuous grasp on when speaking is present, passé composé and future… In France, I am a walking comedy of errors.
But, I press on! And, in small ways, I feel like I might be improving. I’ve been reading the novel “Rebecca” in French, and last night I actually found myself caught up in the story, and I didn’t want to put it down to go to sleep! Also, French made an appearance in my dreams last night! Not grammatically accurate, “wow-I’m really getting good at this French thing” French, but the language, broken and stilted and full of errors though it was, made a cameo appearance in my sub-conscious! I consider that a promising sign.
So, to end things on a positive note, I leave you with the wisdom of Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers (the song came on shuffle on my ipod yesterday, and I think it sums up the mindset I’m striving to maintain! …Well, minus the very end.)
After a week and a half, my first French vacation is drawing to a close. My classes start back up tomorrow and I am pleased to report that I’ve got lesson plans prepared and am ready to face “les enfants” tomorrow morning!
For those of you who are wondering, Nice was spectacular! If you ever have an opportunity to go, DO IT. The Italian influence is everywhere – from the architecture, the food (pizza and pasta and the first tasty olives I’ve ever eaten!), even the language…
We arrived in Nice last Tuesday, October 25th. Traveling was surprisingly easy! I’d heard that getting to Paris’ Orly airport was difficult, but it was a straight shot on the RER blue line (plus an 8 minute shuttle ride) and cost only 1 euro more than the price to travel to Charles de Gaulle. Let me also say that I loved EasyJet! Yes, its a bit of a pain that they only allow 1 carry-on, the size restrictions are more strict than in the USA, and there is no free food/beverage service, but the airplanes reminded me of Austin Powers and the British take-off spiel was pretty funny. I’m glad to have experienced European continental airline travel.
Tuesday night, we explored the city a bit and ate at a delicious Italian restaurant. For the first time since arriving in France, I asked the restaurant if I could take my leftover pizza to go. I think the concept of taking leftovers is pretty foreign in France, but the staff humored us and wrapped our leftover pizza in tin-foil.
Wednesday, we explored Nice and took in all the beauty she had to offer. We walked up to a park overlooking the city, saw some roman ruins, took dozens of pictures, and even laid out on the beach for awhile. It was a spectacular day filled with spectacular views.
Thursday, we hopped a regional train to Antibes. The train system in France is great. We never paid more than 3 euros for a ticket. Can you imagine if trains in the USA were that cheap? In Antibes, we wandered through the Provincial markets and checked out fine art at the Picasso Museum. The building the museum is in has been around for centuries and used to be a castle. Picasso actually spent some time painting there when he lived in Antibes, and for this reason the city eventually decided to devote the museum (mainly) to his work.
We were done with Antibes by late Thursday afternoon, and since Cannes was only about 15 minutes away by train, we decided to explore Cannes on Thursday evening. Its amazing that even though these cities are so close together, they all have their own very distinct personality. Whereas Antibes looked very quaint old provincial French, Cannes was like a French version of Beverly Hills. Designer stores everywhere, lots of ritz and glamour, a true haven for the stars. The G20 summit is actually being held in Cannes this year, so the city had also been decked out to welcome our world leaders!
Friday morning we awoke early and took the train the other direction. Our first stop was Èze. A small town overlooking the sea, Èze is the highest of Provence’s perched villages, at 1,300 feet above sea level! We walked an old mule path up to the town, called Sentier Nietzsche (after Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra while staying in Èze). The views were breathtaking (and sometimes scary!), and this was probably my favorite town we visited while in Provence.
After Èze, we continued on to the tiny principality of Monaco, mainly to check out the world-renowned Monte Carlo Casino! I was disappointed in Monte Carlo. The casino was extravagant, but other than this tiny uber ritzy district, I was unimpressed. Perhaps if we’d had money to splurge gambling I would have enjoyed it more? At any rate, after finding the casino, I was ready to leave this playground for the rich and head back to home base in Nice.
And that was my vacation! Unfortunately, my return to the North of France came complete with a full-blown head cold. Over the past few days, my attempts to combat this onset of sick have included lots of hot tea, rest (while I catch up on American television!) and soup… If I were back home, I would probably throw some day-quil at it as well, but I don’t quite feel confident enough in my language skills to tackle finding medicine at a French Pharmacy. I have, however, emailed an FLE center that, I think, is in or near Compiègne, and if the gods are good I’ll soon be signed up for some French foreign language courses, to improve my language skills!
À bientôt, mes amis!