Mardi Gras here (at least at the elementary school level) is kind of like Halloween in the USA. That is to say, the kids (and teachers!!) can come to school dressed in costume, and there is a big school party.
Even though I only work Tuesday mornings, I hung around Tuesday afternoon for the festivities. I even managed to come up with a costume for myself (without buying anything!) I was dressed up as Pippi Longstocking, though unfortunately I didn’t manage to get any good pictures of my costume.
My school went all out! Most of the kids were dressed up, and at 2 pm the entire school met downstairs and paraded around the block, throwing confetti, banging on instruments, chanting and singing.
After the parade, everybody congregated downstairs, where there was music playing, and plenty of cake and punch eat/drink! It was a really fun afternoon!
I won’t go into too much detail in this post, because my appointment was with a gynecologist (for usual lady stuff), but I do want to hit on some highlights.
1. Making the appointment was SO EASY, and the staff was super friendly and patient with me. The office seemed kind of like a French version of Planned Parenthood (minus the pro-life protestors) and I had an appointment within a week!
2. When I showed up for my appointment, the receptionist asked me some basic questions, took my sécu (this magic number marks me as “covered” under the French healthcare system) then I waited for about 20 minutes before being called back to the doctor.
3. The doctor asked me some basic questions, and was equally patient with my accent and errors. As a side note, she was also excited about having a patient with whom she could practice some English, and learn some new English vocabulary (I taught her “breasts”)
4. The exam, as was to be expected, was comparable to an exam with an American doctor, with one difference - guess how much it cost? ……..
….. ready for this, America? Nothing. Yep. Nothing.
5. The doctor was also able to renew my birth control, and gave me 3 months of a French prescription (the doctor advised I should try it, and if I don’t like it or have negative side effects, I can come back and change it). Guess how much the 3-month prescription cost? NOTHING!!!!!
I’m kind of in love with French healthcare right now. <3
Most unfortunately, La Délicatesse has already left theatres, so it was necessary to change # 15 on my list slightly, to “See at least one more French film in theatres.” This, I’m proud to say, I’ve now accomplished.
I tackled the # 7 Compiègne bus (a line which, to now, I’ve avoided because it goes to a part of town that is too far away from my lycée for me to easily walk back from) on Monday night to see the new Juliette Binoche film – “La Vie d’Une Autre.” My reasons for choosing this film were simple: (1) I like Juliette Binoche, (2) I think Mathieu Kassovitz is trop sexy, and (3) the storyline looked simple enough for me to follow it. For me, watching a film in French (without subtitles) is enjoyable, but a bit exhausting. I’m strong enough in French to get the gist of the film, but I’m sure there are bits and pieces that I miss. I really enjoyed La Vie d’une Autre. I’ve been dating a movie connoisseur long enough to know that Oscar-worthy, it was not, but I loved the story, I enjoyed the acting, and I’d go see it again!
For any of you who are curious, here is the preview:
I DID “choisis mon côté de la force” and I chose…. (*Drumroll*)…
The Dark Burger! (Was there ever any doubt?) It was REALLY peppery (as evil tends to be), but overall not bad.
Something to note: French regular meal sizes = American kid meal sizes.
Also, what struck me most during the experience was that, though Quick is a French fast food chain, it was without a doubt the most American meal I’ve had here.
Okay, I’m trying to grow my hair out, which kept me from going crazy with a super chic French ‘do… You know, maybe something like this:
- As tempting as I find cute short French styles like this one, I refrained.
- The salon I went to is called l’Artistif, and is a little local place in downtown Compiègne. The stylists were all young women, perfectly coiffed, but they were all super-friendly and understanding of my choppy French. While I was waiting for the “shampooing” to start, one of the stylists asked if I would like anything to drink, and when I asked for coffee, she brought me an adorable french espresso in real china – complete with a tiny piece of dark chocolate and a sugar cube! It looked an awful lot like this: (Vive la France!)
My stylist, Caroline, was very patient and friendly, even though she did spend several minutes while she was combing out my hair lecturing me on the importance of “soins.” (I had politely refused this additional service, which, from her explanation is basically a rejuvenating mask/oil/conditioning like substance that is applied to the hair to keep it from getting dried out.) According to Caroline, conditioner does nothing for hair, and if you really want to keep your hair shiny and soft, the only way to do that is with “soins.” Since I didn’t get the soins, I can’t accurately judge, but I can say that even without the “soins,” post salon my hair is softer than it has been in months.
After explaining that I was trying to grow out my hair so I wanted to keep the length, I kind of let Caroline have freedom to do whatever she wanted with the style. The end result is more layers than I was expecting, but I like it. The difference is subtle and she assured me that the style will be easy to maintain. She gave me several suggestions for ways I can style it to add volume and separate the layers, and she even blow-dried my hair and curled it with a straightener to show me how I could style it to more closely resemble the picture I had brought with me.
I’m really glad I had this experience while in France, and I think I’ll go back one more time before I go home to the USA. Even though the cut is not drastically different from what I was rocking before, I’m completely satisfied and feel way more French post-haircut.
Okay, technically, it was a “dejeuner” … i.e., a lunch party, but the concept is the same.
Last Sunday, I was invited to another teacher’s house for lunch – it was me, Sabine and her husband (Olivier), their daughter, two other teachers (Delphine and Laurie), Laurie’s husband (Semi) and their infant son (Nola). I arrived fashionably late (but on time by France standards) at 12:15.
The biggest difference between French and American mealtimes is that in France, it is still a fairly common event to have a meal that may last 3-4 hours. While most Americans might shake their heads at the absurdity of sitting at a table for so long, this is actually one of my favorite things about French culture. From an outsider’s perspective, mealtime here seems to be about so much more than just eating whatever happens to be available on the go. It is about quality food, pairing courses with the right drink to bring out the best flavor, and most importantly, its about community and spending time with people who matter to you. There are certain things I can guarantee you’ll get at a dinner party in France: (1) multiple courses of the best food you’ve ever tasted in your life, (2) excellent alcohol, (3) great conversation, on all kinds of topics, including taboo topics that would never be broached at most American dinner outings (but always seemed to be discussed passionately yet convivially). But, I digress…
My Sunday lunch experience was, in a word, awesome. We all sat down at the table around 12:45, an apératif in hand (in France, meals traditionally start with an apératif – an alcoholic drink that is meant to stimulate the appetite). I chose a delicious rum from Reunion island, flavored with a few lychee berries.
The first course (l’entrée) was French onion soup – hands-down the BEST French onion soup I’ve ever eaten! The soup was served at just the right temperature, with 1 piece of buttered toast over the top of the bowl for dunking.
Course #2 (le plat principal) was Boeuf Bourguignon… The closest American dish I can relate this to is pot roast, but it is SO superior to pot roast that the comparison doesn’t do it justice at all. The roast is stewed for hours in red wine with onion, garlic, mushrooms, etc… And the result (certainly in this instance) is melt-in-your-mouthtender beef goodness. Of course, being a red-meat dish, a bottle of red wine was shared as well.
Course #3 (le fromage) Yes! An entire course devoted to cheese!!! We had a few kinds of tartiniers (sort of like cream cheese) to spread on baguette, along with a delicious traditional cheese from Northern France, called “Maroilles.” The smell was a bit strong, but if you ever have an opportunity to taste this particular northern French delicacy, please do! The taste is not as strong as the scent would have you believe, and it was really quite delectable.
Course #4 (le dessert) – they had bought two cakes from a “famous” Compiègne Patisserie, Les Picantins. The first was a “gateau fruits tropicals” (tropical fruits cake) and the second was coffee/chocolate/caramel mousse cake. Both were tongue-titillating, but, the chocoholic that I am, I preferred the mousse. Dessert, of course, was served with Champagne. The real stuff. (oh, and to the French, I’m happy to report, champagne still can only come from France. Sorry, California.) By the time dessert was finished I lost all concept of time, but I think we were done at some point between 5 and 6 pm. (probably closer to 5 pm?)
I think it is worth mentioning that one reason meals can span an afternoon is that, unlike America, the courses aren’t brought out one on top of another… We had at least 30 minutes between courses (longer between the main course and the cheese, and between the cheese and the dessert), but you don’t really notice the time, because good conversation (and drinks!) are constantly flowing. The idea is that you should give your stomach time to reflect and digest before you continue stuffing it, and it is a good one. By the time I went home, I was contentedly full, but not stuffed like I sometimes am after a big American meal.
All in all, I consider # 51 a GRAND success! As a bonus, I was amicably (at least, I hope amicably) referred to as “l’amerloque” for the first time since I’ve arrived in France, and, after the meal, the adults played Wii bowling! Don’t worry, America, I did you proud by being the only person to score multiple strikes over the course of two games! (In the course of the day, I think I broke the stereotype that Americans are picky and wouldn’t know good food if it hit them in the face, then solidified the stereotype that we sure do kick-ass at bowling…)
At the beginning of the year, one of my teachers requested that, instead of only teaching English to her class, I teach English once per week and focus on American culture/history during the other lesson (by the way, if anyone has any ideas for interesting American cultural lessons for 8-10 year-olds, I’m all ears!) As a result, I’ve given several cultural lessons to this particular class, and I really love seeing how they respond to the differences between French and American culture. For most of them, my lessons may be some of the first insight they’ve had that there are other parts of the world with different traditions, holidays, history, etc. than France, and it’s adorable to witness the moment when something I’ve said blows their minds….
“WHAT?!?!? Kids get a week off from school at the end of November??? LUCKY!” Or, “You mean ALL American kids have to say the Pledge of Allegiance EVERY DAY in school??? WHY? ” OR “People don’t take trains in the USA? How do they get from place to place???”
Sometimes, I can predict when a cultural lesson will be difficult for them to grasp. I taught them about Martin Luther King in January, and even though we spent three weeks on slavery, civil rights, and precisely what MLK did that was so important to American civil rights, I suspect that not many of the kids really grasped what it was like, because American history isn’t something they’ve been exposed to yet, and the topic was too in-depth to adequately cover in 3, 45-minute classes (though, I am happy to report that at least they know some basic information about MLK, Rosa Parks, and what things were like in the USA before and after the Civil Rights movement).
Other times, I go into a lesson thinking it will be fun and easy, and am completely thrown off guard by questions I never anticipated. This happened last Tuesday (February 7th) when I did a lesson on Groundhog Day. Part of the problem may have been that France has its own holiday on February 2nd, called La Chandeleur (fun fact: did you know that Groundhog day actually stems from La Chandeleur, or “Candlemas” as it’s known in other anglophone countries? Though, our traditions are rooted more in the Germanic Candlemas traditions, most unfortunately.)
In France, la Chandeleur is a crêpes holiday – meaning everyone eats lots of crêpes (thin pancakes topped with a variety of deliciousness) and drinks alcoholic cider. I was lucky enough to be able to do this at lunch with some of the teachers at one of my schools, and it was fabulous! One of my new goals is to learn how to make crêpes, so that I can incorporate a little bit of French culture into my Groundhog day next year.
Given this information, perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise that my class had trouble grasping what I thought would be a simple, amusing lesson about groundhogs predicting the weather. After all, they’ve lived their entire life knowing that February 2nd is a day for eating crêpes – lots of crêpes – and its never crossed their minds that other countries might not do the same. It was such a foreign concept to the kids that I was bombarded by a slew of bizarre questions – but my favorite by far was this gem, and I’d like to end this post by sharing it with you:
“But, teacher – do ALL of the groundhogs in America come out of their holes on February 2nd? How do they know it’s the right day and how do you get their weather forecast? Do Americans watch for them?”
1. Take a French class at UTC (local university in Compiègne)
2. Eat boeuf tartare… After all, this is my 3rd trip to France, it’s past time I try to figure out why this dish is served in restaurants and loved by the locals.
3. Try every type of pastry available at my local patisserie… At least once.
4. Go into the local bourcherie on Rue St. Lazare and buy… something.
5. See the castle at Chantilly.
6. See the Picasso museum in Paris.
7. See the Paris Catacombs.
8. See the Cluny Museum in Paris.
9. Tour some champagne caves in Champagne.
10. Read Jonathon Livingston Seagull, in a brasserie, with my journal at hand, while sipping an espresso or some red wine.
11. Repeat, substituting Jonathon Livingston Seagull with the book of short stories I have by Flaubert.
12. TOUR THE PALACE IN COMPIÈGNE!! (I seriously cannot live here for 8 months and never see it).
13. Go to Quick, and try one of these.
14. Eat at a French McDonalds… Answer the question – is it superior to American McDonalds?
15. See La Delicatesse in theatres. (If I’ve missed the Delicatesse, substitute with another French movie.)
16. Read about/follow the French elections happening in April.
17. Climb the towers of Notre Dame de Paris.
18. Spend an afternoon (day?) at the Centre Georges Pompidou.
19. Spend an afternoon (or 2?) at the Louvre.
20. Spend a nice spring afternoon at the Rodin Museum and gardens in Paris.
21. Spend a day getting lost with my camera at the gardens of Versailles.
22. Go to a French doctor… compare social healthcare to America’s broken system.
23. Go to a French dentist for a cleaning… make similar comparison to # 22.
24. Get my haircut at a real French salon
25. Go to a real waxing salon for a professional leg wax.
26. Go to Le St. Clair one Friday night to see if the French can Karaoke even half as well as Americans can. For an optimal experience, drinks should probably be consumed before heading to the bar.
27. Walk around Ile St. Louis in Paris and gape at all the nice old mansions.
28. See a cabaret show at Le Lapin Agile in Paris.
29. Spend an afternoon at the Marmottan Monet Museum.
30. Visit St. Chapelle in Paris.
31. Walk around Place des Vosgues in Paris.
32. Have some hot chocolate at La Durée on the Champs Elysées.
33. Take a quick peek at Hotel de Crillon in Paris (it’s in my book)
34. Walk by the Taillevent Restaurant in Paris (also in my book, but unless prices have gone down substantially since the book was published, I will NOT be eating here).
35. Take a day (weekend?) trip to Nancy – see the city and the Place Stanislas.
36. Take a day (weekend?) trip to Lyon.
37. Buy Julia Childs’ The Art of French Cooking, from Shakespeare and Company in Paris.
38. Learn how to cook at least 1 thing from that book.
39. Learn how to make at least 1 kind of French pastry.
40. Eat at Turtle Pizza.
41. Drink wine while walking along the Seine in Paris.
42. Read La Bête Humaine, by Emile Zola.
43. Be able to jog my entire jogging route without switching to walking.
44. Find a yoga class in Compiègne, and go at least once.
45. See Cherbourg with Lauren!
46. Read Le Tour de Monde en 80 jours, by Jules Verne.
47. Check out Jules Verne’s grave/house in Amiens.
48. Re-read le Petit Prince – preferably in a park or on a cafe terrace on a sunny afternoon.
49. Get a tattoo.
50. Visit Amsterdam.
51. Go to a real French dinner party.
52. Visit Natalie in Laon.
53. Eat more macarons.
54. Write everyday.
55. Blog more often (maybe as much as 1 per week?)