dimanche 26 février 2006

Yesterday Alain and I went to visit Les Baux-de-Provence, a small fortified village about an hour northeast of Marseille.
For more pictures, please see my photo album at

Here is what the guidebook says
"Les Baux sits on a spur of the Alpilles (bau in Provençal means escarpment),
with views across to the Camargue. The most dramatic fortress site in provence,
it has nearly two million visitors a year, so it is best to avoid midsummer, or
to go early in the morning. The town is pedestrianized wtih a car park beside
the Porte Mage gate.
When the Lords of Baux built their fine citadel here in the
10th century, they claimed one of the three wise men, King Balthazar, as
ancestor and took the star of Bethlehem as their emblem. Though fierce warriors,
they originated the troubadour Courts of Love and wooed noble ladies with their
poetry and songs. This became a medieval convention known as courtly love and
paved the way for a literary tradition.
The citadel ruins lie on the heights
of the escarpment. The entrance to the citadel is via the 14th century
Tour-du-Brau, which houses the Musée d'Histoire des Baux-de-Provence."
We arrived around 11 and parked in the parking area below the fortress (paid 3 euros and gave one euro to a man that only had two euros. My good dead for the day.) We walked into the town, which mainly consists of tourist shops (all selling the same stuff- packets of lavender and herbs de provence, ceramic cigales- the chirping cicadas in summer, postcards, provençal fabrics, olive wood utensils, etc) and small restaurants, mainly selling crepes for some reason, which are not native provence. Part of the town was blocked as some Germans were making a documentary of some sort. So it was rather amusing to see some 16th century peasants walk past the tourist shops.
It was a great time of the year to go, as it was not too crowded. A little cold, but not too bad, weather was nice. Heard some Americans, French, and Germans. It was a bit strange to hear Americans "Like, oh my god! This place is like old!"
We stopped and had lunch, Alain had a pizza, salad, glass of wine, and a crepe with Nutella (menu 12.50) I had a crepe with ham, cheese, and mushrooms (had mushrooms coming out of my ears), salad, and crepe with Nutella (menu 9.50). After that we went and toured the Chateau. I think it was 7 euros for him, 4.50 for me as I had my student card. They had these audio guide tours in several languages, she gave me a French one. Got to practice my french listening skills, but don't think I got as much out of it. All in all, I found the different sites well explained with drawings and text. There was more to see than I thought there would be. It took us over two hours to visit the Chateau.
Afterwards, we made a visit to the bathroom, here is a Turkish toilet (see Bretagne part 1) in real life. Not fun.
Then we stopped and had some tea (overpriced as usual, we got two tea bags and two cups of hot water for 5 euros), then visited a church and a chapel, right next to each other for some reason. The chapel had been entirely painted with a mural of shepherds and the announcement of the Nativity, something I had never seen before. On the way out, we stopped at La Cure Gourmand and bought some biscuits, then drove home.
vendredi 24 février 2006
Yep. Today was the first time.
Stepped in a big orange squishy dog turd.
Was walking and talking to another girl in my class, didn't watch where I was stepping and squish.
They say it is good luck, but I think they say that just to make you feel better about it.
After that we went into a museum. I was afraid I was leaving big organge footprints on the floor, but no.
When I got back to the school, I went into the bathroom and removed most of it, then used Alain's toothbrush.
Haha, just kidding about that last part. I waited until I got home, bien sûr, before using his toothbrush.
mardi 21 février 2006
I have classified grocery shopping here in France into five categories:
specialty shops (bakeries, butchers, pastries, etc)
epiceries: small, locally owned stores in the city usually selling fruits, vegetables, and a small selection of other food- expensive, good in a pinch, open when others are not.
open air markets: good for local specialties, cheaper prices, have to know when and where to go.
discount stores: larger selection than the epiceries, usually lower priced. Food is placed in the cartons on the shelves, have unusual hours.
grand surface: avoid if possible. These are the large Walmart-like stores, usually on the outskirts of town. Selection, quality of merchandise, and price similar to Walmart, but not very well organized, crowded, and sometimes less than clean. Well hey, I guess kind of like Walmart too.

When I first arrived here, Alain and I had not gotten in the swing of things of how to go about grocery shopping. As a result, we would go Saturday afternoons (when he was off work, the only time I had access to the car too) and spend several hours searching desperately for what we needed.
Eventually, I discovered Intermarché about two blocks from our apartment. This is like a smaller grand surface store, slightly higher priced and smaller selection, but definetely worth the reduction in hassle. If you get a shopping cart, you have to have a one euro coin with you to place in the lock that connects all the carts- this assures that carts will be returned as the coin pops out once you reconnect the cart.
Once you choose your fruits and vegetables, you have to weigh them and place the price sticker that is spit out on the bag. They will not be weighed for you at the checkout. When checking out, expect to bag them yourself. I have not yet seen a store with baggers. Also, more and more stores are making the customers buy the sturdy reusable canvas bags, or else will charge you for plastic bags.
Also, there is ED, which is a low priced place about four blocks in the other direction. This is a store that is closed for lunch from 1 to 2:30. All grocery stores (other than epiceries, markets, and specialty stores) are closed on Sundays.
My regular routine is to go once a week to each store, to buy certain things at each. Then I load everything into my two canvas bags and lug it back to the apartment and up the three flights of stairs. What I usually buy: fromage blanc (a fat free yogurty thing), cheese (kept in the hermetically sealed box in our fridge, which is quite large by French standards), tea (we are quite the tea drinkers), apples, bananas, tangerines, tomatoes, carrots (just for me as Alain does not like carrots), meat patties, ham, eggs, olive oil (which we use A LOT), yogurt (plain for him, flavored for me), olives, pasta (yeah, he's half Italian), sometimes a chocolate bar with hazelnuts -so good, oatmeal and cinnamon (again, just for me), biscottes- flat toasted squares. Like many French, Alain does not eat a big breakfast. We usually split an apple, my half goes in my oatmeal, his half he peels and eats with some biscottes with honey. Sometimes on Sundays, but not every Sunday, we go out and buy croissants- hot, fresh, and flaky.
Food that I miss- cottage cheese, cream cheese, bagels, hot soft pretzels, Moose Tracks Ice Cream, tofu, McIntosh apples, and that is about it. What helps to make up for it- baguettes, french cheese, and the chocolate.
vendredi 10 février 2006
Le Bise is the traditional and very common french practice of kissing on each cheek a certain number of times when greeting someone and often when saying goodbye.
When I first arrived in France, this really stressed me out. "Oh no. Here is comes. What do I do? Which direction? How many kisses? Did I knock my cheek against theirs too hard? Where the heck do I put my hands? On their arm?"
Normally it goes like this air kiss (really just touching cheeks and making a Mwah! sound) on right cheek, then swivel to the other side. Can be done while talking at the same time. Usually it is two kisses, at least here in the South. In other areas it can be three or four, but never more than that. One seems to only be acceptable when one of the cheeks is somehow not in service.
I personally think anything more than two is excessive. Mwa, swivel, mwa, swivel, mwa, swivel, mwa, swivel. There could be a world record set in this. 1000!!! bises before they got dizzy from turning their heads, their mouths got dry, and they bumped noses too often!
The best thing to do, especially if you are a man, is to let the french person initiate it. As a woman, be prepared for the do I? don't I? I used to quiz Alain before going places about this. He told me that once he was so ashamed because he shook hands with a woman!! Instead of kissing her on the cheek. As in, he was afraid that it came across that he first perceived her as being a man and shook her hand.

French men usually only do it to each other if they are close friends or family, otherwise they shake hands. But it is quite an amusing part of my day to see two teenage wanna be rapper guys kiss each other politely on the cheek.
Women do it with female friends and family, and male friends and family, and shake hands in professional situations. Except when they don't. Example- Alain introduces me to an older lady at his work. I shake hands. He tells me later that it seemed she was a little disappointed that I didn't do Le Bise. Mental note Megan- do the darn bise with everyone you are introduced to. A few days later we are over at his friend's house and the woman introduces me to her aunt and grandmother. Remembering the incident from a few days ago, I do Le Bise with each woman. I am later informed that this is very strange, that I should not have done that. The best thing I have learned, is to say something like Hello. This way, they can tell that you are a foreigner and will be more forgiving of any awful social gaffes you make.
It seems that only children and overly eager teenage boys actually lip plant on the cheek.
I miss hugging. It seems that Le Bise does not have the varied emotional levels of hugging. The We Are Too Manly to Hug So We Will Do A Quick Double Thump on the Back Hug. The Long Hug With Rocking Back and Forth. The Short Awkward Hug, etc.

There is no kiss, pause hold with cheeks pressing together, switch to other side and hold Bise. Haven't seen you since last night? Kiss, kiss. Going away to a foreign country for six months? Kiss, kiss. Just came back from said country? Kiss, kiss.

Of course, the entire process must be repeated when leaving. At a party, this can take awhile. Sometimes it is quite Assembly Line like, moving rapidly down the line of people. Other times it can be quite a chore to remember who all you have already kissed. And then, bien sûr, by the time you get done kissing everyone goodbye, it has been quite awhile since you kissed the first person goodbye, so maybe you should get them again just in case. And if you do Le Bise, then don't leave right away and talk some more, when you get ready to leave for real, you do it again.
There have been some Bise-Related Injuries. Bumped noses, brushed lips (oh so embarassing!), the Too Fast Approach and Overly Rough Landing (cheek bruising).
I guess on the whole it is something that one eventually gets used to and doesn't even think about. Not at that phase yet.
jeudi 9 février 2006
Many languages, including french, have the informal/singular Tu form for you, and the formal/plural form Vous. One thing that is difficult as a foreigner to figure out is when to use each one. It seems that Americans feel strange with using Vous, especially to each other, as it feels snobbish and elitish.

Basically, as an adult, when first meeting someone or with a stranger (say a shopkeeper or someone you ask directions from in the street), you use Vous. But, sometimes if a friend presents you to one of their friends, you can use Tu right away. If you start off with Vous, then eventually, the other person might say "Ok, you can use Tu with me now." It is an act of friendship and recognition. There are even verbs for it, tutoyer and vouvoyer. Or if someone is being too familiar with you, you can say, "Oh, I am not your friend. You can vouvoyer me."
A webarticle on it
With children, you usually address them as Tu. Then they can address you as vous or tu. Students and teachers, it depends. French children have trouble to use Tu with their professors.

On a forum the question was posed
"if you were to switch to vous with someone with whom you usually tutoyer, would
it in a way be a ruder form, as if you are being cold and distant? For example, suppose that a friend of yours does something that really upsets you; could you
vouvoyer them to let them know that you are not happy with them?"
the general response seemed to be

"in my experience once you start saying tu to someone you never revert to
saying vous. "

and "Yes, it's quite a slap in the face actually and they'll wonder what they've done to you. Once you start 'tutoyer' someone there's no going back."

and oppositely

"I remember reading an interview of Brigitte Bardot (who comes from quite a
posh family) in which she told a story about her childhood: one day she and her
sister broke a precious vase and as a punishment her parents started to say
'vous' to both children on the spot. They never used 'tu' again. Little Brigitte
was absolutely distraught and never forgave them, even as an adult."

Sound confusing? Yes, it is. When in doubt, follow the french person's lead. Sometimes, I am not sure how the vous form is pronounced, because I usually learn the Je (I) form first, which usually sounds like the Tu form and the 3rd person singular (he, she) form. Thankfully, one can use the universal On- which can be you, me, a person in general, or us.
dimanche 5 février 2006
Last night Alain and I went to one of the two original version (VO) cinemas in town. This one was called Varietes, the other is the Cesar. These show foreign films with subtitles and french independant films. The price was 7 euros each, but you can buy a 10 pass for 49 euros total. We went to see Brokeback Mountain, which I enjoyed. The last time we went it was to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Guess who picked these movies,
I have gotten good enough with French that I can now recognize certain verb tenses and grammer points. "Look! There's the subjunctive!" Yeah you big dork, just watch the movie. I can also tell when the sense of the translation doesn't exactly match the sense of the original. And sometimes I read the subtitles to understand what is happening when it is too quiet to hear the English.
Happy to say that there is no concession stand to buy HUGE sodas, popcorn, nachos, pretzels, candy, etc. So there is no crunching, slurping, unwrapping, or crinkling during the movie. But I guess at the normal big theaters with the dubbed movies there are the typical movie foods available. This theater just has a wine bar, beh oui.
Another funny thing is that at the bottom of the theater, near the screen, there is a small Toilette room. I think I would be too embarassed to get up in front of everybody, walk down there, use it, then walk back to my seat.
Good time had by all. Ok, me and Alain at least.
samedi 4 février 2006
I have come to that wonderful point in my life where I am writing yet another resume and cover letter. In french no less. (and I thought I was done with this kind of stuff!) Unfortunately, it is not a direct translation from English to French. Which is what I learned after copying and pasting my resume into the computer translator. Alain later informed me that I had written that I have experience in the "information of donkeys". Well, perhaps that is what I meant to say! He can't be sure that I didn't mean that.
Somehow "assess information" became "information of donkeys". Gotta love the way that computers think. Another thing that needs to be done is to write out the cover letter by hand on unlined paper. I guess they like to see your handwriting for personality analysis purposes. This could be less than good.

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