samedi 22 juillet 2006

Today I am going over to visit Alain's parents, Jacques and Josée for lunch. Alain is gone for a week for work. I proudly announced that I would bring a dessert. Jacques said "Oh no, don't worry, you don't have to..." which now that I think about it, could have been French for "Oh god please no spare us!!!!!!"
As the cooking urge doesn't strike me very often, when it does hit, I figure I just have to run with it because there is no tellng when it may come back again.

So I found a recipe off the internet for "The Best All-American Apple Pie Recipe". Okay, that will work. American apple pies are different than French ones because 1) they are covered with a top crust and 2) lots and lots of cinnamon, which the French seem to generally regard with suspicion and mistrust.
I went to the nearest Intermarché to find the ingredients for my apple pie. And promptly spent about half an hour gazing stupidly at the sugar/flour section. What the heck is Cornstarch in French? In fact, now that I think about it, what the heck is cornstarch? I could have asked someone for help, but wasn't sure exactly what to say. "You know, 'cornstarch'? 'Cornstarch'? Oh heck, I don't know how you call in French, it's uh, white, I think, and powdery... No, not flour!" After giving up baking powder and cornstarch as lost causes, I wandered over to the spice section in seach of nutmeg.
Oh drat, what is nutmeg? I was hoping it would be the same name. Don't know why I thought that. Conversation with myself..

Me: Self, what does nutmeg look like?
Self: I don't know, a sort-of brownish powdery thing right?
Me: Yeah, I guess you are right. It has been a really long time since we made an apple pie. What does nutmeg look like in it's natural state?
Self: Beats me. I figured it grew in those little spice bottles.
Me: Well, here is brownish nut thing. That could be it. What does a Meg look like?
Self: Don't know, but we especially should know this don't you think?!
Me: Well, considering we wouldn't know it by taste or smell, I think we should just give up.

Turns out, when I checked it out online later, the bottle I thought it was, mouscade, was right. Oh well.

So considering I had no idea whether the flour was pastry flour or bleached all-purpose flour, there was no way I was finding baking powder, cream cheese, or cider vinegar, I gave up the idea of making my own crust and decided to buy a ready-made. There are two kinds- feuillette (flaky) and brisée. No idea what brisée is, but knew I didn't want the flaky one, so I bought two of the brisée and hoped for the best. I was just hoping it wasn't some sort of pizza crust or the like.

Considered the rest of my recipe for the filling-
Raisins? Who the heck puts raisins in an apple pie? That is just plain un-American. Out with the raisins.
Lemon juice? No way.
Cornstarch? Nope, don't have that either.
Nutmeg? Nope.
Brown sugar? Well, the sugar has a hint of brown color, that will have to do.

Came home determined to find a different American Apple Pie recipe, one without the above ingredients.
Finally found one that sounded about my level, Easy Apple Pie. Yeah, here we go.

Get all prepared to start measuring things out and realize-
Hey wait a minute. This is an American recipe. Which means that all the measurements are in the wacked-out English system of which, I have no measuring cups or spoons. Darn. Hmm, well I can convert the measurements into metric.
Here all the recipes are given in weight and soup spoon/coffee spoon, which I hope are the rough equivalents of table and tea spoons.
So I convert the cups into mL but have only Alain's protein shaker thing that has the mL marked on the side.
" 'Between 1/3 and 2/3 of a cup of sugar'?! Oh thanks for being really precise there!!!"

So I set off, peeling and cutting my apples- one recipe said 6, other said 8, I bought seven, cut up five and needed about 3. Whenever peeling, cutting, and general cooking skills were being passed out, I must have missed them because by the fifth apple my hand was killing me and I was ready to chuck them all out the window.

So I finally get the sugary cinnamony nutmeg-less apple mixture into the two pie crusts in the teeny tiny pan, shove it into our toaster oven and wait. After about two minutes the crust is brown, by ten it is starting to burn. Drat. I think it is supposed to cook only from the bottom right? Well, not an option with our toaster oven. I just hope the bottom crust is cooked and not a gooey mess still.

When I told Alain I was fixing an apple pie for his parents, he said
"Please try not to poison them. We might still need them..."
We shall see. Maybe I will buy some vanilla ice cream, cover the re-heated apple pie in that, and hope for the best.
lundi 17 juillet 2006
On Friday, Alain had the day off from work for Bastille Day, France's National Holiday.
More information about Bastille Day here.

We first watched the parade along the Champs-Élysées of military equipment, the different armed forces (including the Ecole Polytechnique and the other military academies) several speeches, songs, flyover, etc. Why is it that every national parade in every single country must include firetrucks? Is it because they are red, shiny, and pretty and make a lot of noise?
That evening we went to the beach at Fos-Sur-Mer, where he used to be a lifeguard. We got there around 6, stayed for about an hour and a half. It was a great time to go because it was still warm but less crowded. The water was really warm, even by my standards, not just Mr Polar Bear Alain's. After that we ate at the Festine, (the summer boardwalk) and I had "real authentic" Mexican food.
Then we went to Salon (where our reception was) and watched the fireworks along with about 5000 other people I think. It was nice, I could almost believe that I was in the US on the 4th of July with certain differences- 1) No American flags, obviously. 2) Not even any French flags in sight- none on those little sticks, hanging from buildings, on gaudy t-shirts, nothing. 3) Only patriotic song I heard all day was the singing of the Marseillais during the parade on TV.
For an American, it seems that the French are a lot less patriotic. Of course, for the French, Americans are way too patriotic in a bad, nationalistic sense.
jeudi 13 juillet 2006
I have finally, after about a year of being here in France, started to drive. It is so much easier to let him drive, as he knows where to go and how to navigate the narrow streets, confusing signs, and round-abouts.

The major things that freak me out are a) the round-abouts and b) parallel parking. Oh yeah, and c) the kamikaze motocycle drivers.
Whenever we approach a round-about I start to get nervous, kind of like Le Bise (see the February 9th entry). Oh no, here it comes. What do I do? Do I stop or go? Oh god oh god oh god.
It doesn't help that my depth perception is terrible.

Parallel parking- considering how most Americans have done this about once in their life for the driver's license exam, it is quite difficult. Especially when trying to get into a space a foot longer than your car, half of your car up on the sidewalk.
Finally, the kamikaze motorcycle riders. Do they want to die? One must always watch out for them.

I asked Alain if when he was little, his parents ever took him for Sunday drives. What are those? You know, when your parents stuff you into the backseat of a stuffy car in order to drive around aimlessly for hours "looking at the scenery" but really just as an excuse to get you trapped where you can't runaway in order to talk? Nope. Hmm. Strange. Must be because of the price of gas.

We have a diesel car, which is cheaper gas-wise but takes some getting used to. There is also no gauge to tell you how fast the motor is running, you just have to "get a feel for it." Alain keeps reminding me that I have to shift. Shift! Shift!

It is strange because you get an entirely different feel of the countryside when you are driving the car versus when you are just a passenger. We were driving on some backroads the beginning of June and it was so nice seeing the countryside, the vines, the lavender, listening to the cicades chirping away.

Once I get my resident card (see "I love the Prefecture" entry) I can exchange my Virginia driver's license for a French one as France and certain US states have an agreement. Which is good because that means I don't have to take the driving school and exam here, which is time consuming and expensive.

I guess all in all, it isn't that different than driving in the US.
mardi 11 juillet 2006
I recently went to an Opthamologist a few blocks away to get a new prescription. Also, I had to know what my eyesight was in meters, and I had no clue.
The first time I went, several weeks ago, I had a regular eye exam (quite an exercise in remembering the names of letters. F! No, E! I can see the letter, I just can't remember what it is called in French! Give me a minute!
He sent me home with a set of trial contacts, a bottle of solution, and some scary words sounding like Bifocals and muscular degeneration.
I came home, opened one of the contact lens packs, rinsed it off with the solution that he gave me (figuring it was a saline solution) and popped it into my eye.

And immediately screamed in pain. It was burning unbelievably. The eye's natural defense seems to be to close up as tight as possible and water like crazy so I had a heck of a time trying to get the Contact O' Fire out of my poor, red, squinty, watery eye. I finally managed to peel it out and rinsed out my eye with water and real saline solution as much as possible. I was supposed to go to class in half an hour but decided to skip it until my eye forgave me. I read the package of the solution- yep, just as I figured, for cleaning the lens, not rinsing. Ouch. Well, I learned my lesson about that one I guess- always double check medical stuff, especially in another language. Don't assume because it is in the same packaging and shape that it is the same stuff.

Yesterday I went back and had a follow up that was even more fun. It took about two and a half hours- they rechecked my prescription did some funny things with depth perception and stuff, though no bifocals thankfully, dilated my eyes (which I detest) and then the best part of all- he stuck a clear piece of plastic round and about two inches long directly onto my eyeball to see the insides or something.

I can just picture the scene now....
Doctor approaching patient's eyeball with a long sharp stick....
American Patient (in French): Ahh! What are you doing? Get that long pointy stick away from my eyeball!
Doctor (in French): Don't worry, it is part of the exam. I am going to take this long pointy stick and blah blah blah blah blah.
Patient (in French, panicking): What? I don't understand?!!!
Doctor (in French): There is nothing to be afraid of, it won't hurt a bit unless you blah blah blah blah blah. It is essential that you blah blah blah blah or else I will poke your eye out. Understand?
Patient (in French, hysterical by now): No! I don't understand! All I got was it is essential that I do something otherwise you will poke my eye out!
Doctor (in French, calmly, approaching closer): Yes, very good, now relax.
Patient (in French): Ahhh!! Nooo!!! Aaaaalllllaaaaiiiiinnnnnn!!!!!
(fade to black, curtain lowers)

Well, luckily I still have both eyes, and it was super fun stumbling home on a bright sunny day with my eyes dilated to let in as much light as possible and without my contacts. Miraculously managed to not step in any dog turds or get runover by a motorcycle. Thankfully, did not have to negociate the Metro. Apparently, I have to go back all of September, twice a week, to get my eyes Re-educated. I don't want my eyes to be re-educated. Granted, they didn't learn well the first time, but still. I don't look at myself every morning and think "Eyes, I have decided I am going to send you back for some higher education."
lundi 10 juillet 2006

So, it's over. All in all, it ended better than everyone orginally hoped (say, a month ago), but not as well as they were wishing for in the past two weeks.
Alain and I watched the games here at home. It would have been nice to go to a stadium or outdoor showing of the match for the experience, but I was afraid it would turn violent afterwards, whatever the outcome. Why are these people breaking shop windows just to break shop windows?
The streets were quite empty last night. It was funny because most people had their windows open for air, and everytime one team scored you would hear collective screams or boos from the other buildings. Screams, yells, boos, singing, all that I can handle but the Help!-I'm-being-ax-murdered shriek from our downstairs neighbor started to wear thin on my nerves.
After the previous matches where France won, it was noisy here for at least a half an hour- horns honking, people yelling, firecrackers going off.
There was a funny commercial on the past couple of weeks. It starts out by showing an English supporter singing "allez les bleus", then two Swiss "ahhhh-lay lay blooooz" then finally a Spanard singing "allez les bleus" and crying. It turns out they are all hitch-hikers who needed a ride to Germany and a French person is driving the car. (so they have to sing "Allez les bleus" before they are allowed to ride in the car.)
Speaking of blues, why was Italy, a country normally know for it's Green, White, and Red flag wearing a blue uniform? I just don't get it. So you have the French fans dressed in blue and the Italian fans wearing blue. Oh well.
Next World Cup, I am counting on USA-France!
(photo courtesy of Fox Sports)
mercredi 5 juillet 2006

Today I discovered the wonders of Sesame Street in French. Apparently, it is fairly new here in France. Sadly, the only original American muppet making a guest appearance is the Cookie Monster.
Where is Big Bird? Who is this big yellow guy? What about Snuffelupagus? The Count? Oscar the Grouch?
Picture on left- Cookie Monster eating an IBM Machine.
The letter of today was N, as Nid (nest) and Nez (nose). Olive introduced the letter, Cookie yelled Gateau! (cake!) and then proceeded to eat the big N. He is on a diet by the way, for everyone who didn't hear the tragic news last year. He can't go on a diet! Eating cookies and everything else, such as furniture, is what he does! The Origins of Cookie Monster and why is now on a diet-

The theme of the day was trash- big yellow guy Nac and his friend Yoyo were seen sweeping up trash on the street (yes children, learn this well!) and a pig sang a country song about trash accompanied by a trash can. I got excited at first, thinking it was Oscar in his trash can, but helas! no.
Gentle readers, you have not lived until you have seen a pig muppet accompanied by a trash can with two googly eyes singing a country song about trash in French.
Then we had educational bits about kite makers in Tibet, how to say "I made a mistake" in sign language, Nac singing about brushing your teeth, and how recycling works.
It was quite entertaining actually.
Here is a link to the French site.

Notable characters include Georges a pinguin, and Baya a baker.

The other cartoon I really like is "Tibère et la maison bleue"
or "Bear and the Big Blue House" in English.
I urge you to go to this site, and click on one of the little videos. The three featured are about cleaning the house Le Ménage, the sun Le Soleil, and a toothbursh La Brosse à Dents. Apparently, the theme of brushing your teeth is big with kid's shows.

mardi 4 juillet 2006
Several months ago I was talking with an American man married to a French woman. He has lived over here in France for the past twenty years or so, and they have three teenage children. He said some interesting things.

The first is that he doesn't really feel like he fits in anywhere. Here in France, though he speaks excellent French and is quite used to the customs and way of doing things, he is considered to be an American with American thoughts and points of view. When they go back to the US for a visit, he feels out of place as well. While he doesn't speak English with a French accent, he still has a bit of the French or ex-pat point of view on things- American politics, events, etc. So if you don't quite feel like you fit in your birth country or your adopted country, what are you?

I asked him how long it took before he felt that he was really fluent in French. He said that he doesn't yet. Which scared me. But he went on to explain that while he feels that he can just as easily express himself in French as in English, that he still feels that he thinks in English. His children spoke English very well, but an American could tell that they had a bit of an indefinable foreign accent.

I was talking with my French teacher the other day and he was talking about things I could do to lose my accent. Now don't get me wrong, I would love to speak French with perfect grammar and vocabulary, to not get messed up with the verb tenses, okay now does that end in -ais or -ait?
But would I really want to completely lose my accent so that a French person talking to me casually would not guess that I am a foreigner at least? Or is your accent and the way you speak (intonation and the "musicality of the language")part of personal identity too? When you run into a Texan in a hotel in Dubai, you know something about him and know that you share something in common with him. It is a starting point for conversation at least.
But if I never loose my accent, do I want to have that moment of "Oh, you are a foreigner"-reaction every time I go to buy bread? There are times when everyone wants to just blend in and not be noticed instead of being That Foreign Woman who Lives in That House There.

More than just accents, there are different frames of reference depending on where you grew up. For instance, an American living in the United States at the time would have a different view on the events of September 11th than an ex-pat who watched it on TV. Neither one is better, they are just different. A person in the United States would have more of an idea of how fellow Americans reacted while the one outside of the US would have more of a feeling of the rest of the world felt about it and portrayed it. And I would think that the two discussing the event would have a hard time really understanding the other's emotional viewpoint about it.

National holidays- sure, you can celebrate 4th of July by inviting other American families over for a BBQ and sparklers in the backyard, but you aren't going to get the parade down the street with the regulatory firetrucks and kids on bikes with red white and blue streamers, followed by the big band and fireworks after sunset. How important is that to you? Is it strange to see everyone else not giving two hoots about a day that is important to you? Even holidays that are shared, such as Christmas, feel different, especially in mixed nationality families.

What are you going to instill in your children? How will they really feel connected to this country that they are a citizen of but only visit once in a while and read about in books? And especially if your children do not live in/visit regularly the US, how would your grandchildren be connected to it at all? After a generation or two would the Americaness just die out of your family line?
Will you vote? Do you really care whether Colorado State Senator What's His Name gets re-elected for the billionth time? Do you feel that you still have a right to vote for issues that don't concern you directly? Will you keep your driver's license up-to-date? Will you go to your high school reunion?

Why do you have two nationalities if you are never planning on going back there to live? Some countries do not allow a person to have dual nationalities. They figure that you can only really be a Citizen of one country at a time.
For your children? Do you care if they don't have the same High School experience- Proms and football games and trying out for the Cheerleading squad? What if they don't care about the things that you consider an important part of the national consciousness- the history and literature and art?
How do you keep your cool when others start saying bad things about your country? Does it make you a bad American if you don't defend your country, ? What if you do defend your country, are you defending it just because you feel you have to because you are a representative of it in the outside world?

After all this, can you REALLY still call yourself a citizen of X country anymore? Is the American-born person who spent their entire life outside of the US really more American than an immigrant who has spent almost their entire life inside the US but is still not a citizen? If so or if not, what is national identity?

On this 4th of July (or whenever you happen to read this entry) please leave a comment saying what National Identity means to you.
Thank you and Happy 4th of July.
lundi 3 juillet 2006

The Prefecture is the place where foreigners go to be tortured.
Well, okay, not officially. Officially it is to get the papers for visas, green cards, asylum, etc.
There is one in Marseille. Alain and I have been there four times, spending a grand total of 12 hours either waiting in line to get into the building, or waiting inside the building.

Joyful Experience 1) The first time we went it was the middle of September and we went to get the Carte Etudiante. Even though it was blazing hot and we waited an hour in the waiting room (no air conditioning, not many benches, no bathrooms, and no water) it turned out to be our most successful visit so far. So they gave us the paperwork, and we came home and filled it out. It required a medical exam and a photocopy of I think every official piece of paperwork I own. A few weeks later we got a letter in the mail, saying that my carte was ready, that we had to go back down and pick it up.

Joyful Experience 2) The second time we went, we went early in the morning and were there before the doors opened at 8:15. We ran up and got a ticket then proceeded to wait four hours. I think people get about ten tickets at a time to give to their friends and family who come after them. Our ticket was finally called and we presented our letter and I received my Carte Etudiante, good for one year, placed in my passport.

Joyful Experience 3) Last week we went back to the Prefecture, proof of marriage in hand, to get my Resident card. We got there around 7:45 again. The line was quite long, but not something to cause concern. We were prepared for another 4 hour wait if necessary. However, these lines are not normal lines. They are filled with pushy desperate people who don't really care that you were there before them. The only thing to do is push back in order to maintain your spot in line. Then of course there are the line jumpers. Oh so annoying! When we finally got in the building, we raced upstairs only to find out that they were out of tickets. We assumed that a new roll would be placed in the machine, so we waited. And waited. Alain finally went to go ask what was going on, and it turns out that they only give out 200 a day, which will keep them busy all day, so if you get there after that, too darn bad for you, go home and try again some other day.
Determined not to make the day a complete waste we went over to the driver's license section to get information about my getting a French driving license. Not surprisingly, we waited in line (though we did get a ticket, yay!) and found out we need to get my driver's license translated and have my residency card. Just to be clear before I go back again to the translator at 50$ per hour, do I need my grade school diploma translated as well? It isn't hard people! Name! Birthdate! Height! Weight!!!!!!!! This isn't Arabic!

Joyful Experience 4) Determined to make it this time, we get up at 4, get down there a little after 5:15. Probably would have gone earlier but that is the earliest the subway starts working. I was expecting to be the only ones there, or at least up near the front. Wrong again. The line was almost as long as that of Joyful Experience #3's at 7:45. I guess other people had the same idea.
So we got in line and prepared for a four hour wait. I think about 4 fights broke out. The people at the very front of the line had gotten there at midnight. So we spent another four fun hours crammed into a cattle shoot with sweaty smoky people (though to be fair, we were doing our fair share of sweating, considering the heat and closeness) and being much more vigilant about not letting people cut in line.
The Prefecture finally opened around 8:45 and first all the people who had letters telling them that their Carte was ready to be picked up passed first. And lo and behold!!! there were no more tickets for everyone else who needed to PICK UP the paperwork to fill out, turn in, to get their LETTER!!!!
We tried to go get help at the city hall, nothing doing. Only the Prefecture can do it, and since we live in Marseille, only the Marseille Prefecture can handle our case. Only there are about a million foreigners in this million and a half city. Because heaven knows they wouldn't want people to go to Aix-en-Provence 30 minutes away to pick up the precious forms. Which can't be sent by mail. And Alain has to go with me, not only for safety reasons, but because they can't give me the form by myself.
It strikes me as funny that I needed to fill out every form ever invented to get a one year Student card but to get a permanent card I just have to give a photocopy of my marriage license, my passport, and the electricity bill (to show where we live.) I guess they figured if you are married, you have gone through the Death by Paperwork trial.

It makes a girl want to claim Asylum, because that line is shorter. I suggested a hunger strike to Alain. I think it would be quite effective- get a large sign that says "Greve de la faim" and stand out in front of the Prefecture in broad daylight telling anyone who asks what the problem is. I think after about a day the Prefecture would be so embarrassed they would just say "Here is your damn form. Go away." He thinks I am joking. Just wait until I have to refuse a job offer because I don't have this card.
dimanche 2 juillet 2006

I have done it. I have completed Stage 1 of my Super Important Mission. I have converted Alain to the joys of Peanut Butter. That's right- Butter of the Peanuts.
The French, in general, seem to hate it and consider it as one of those Strange American Things. It is difficult to find in the average grocery store. Once, when I first arrived here, Alain and I were wandering the grocery store and I wondered out loud where the peanut butter was. Another American woman apparently overheard me and went off and got two jars of it to show me- it was located in the specialty Regional Foods section. Yes my fellow Americans, America was represented by Tex Mex Taco Filling, Tacos, and Peanut Butter. Sniff. (tear in my eye) I am so proud.
Apparently however the French didn't feel anything else was worth importing, such as chocolate (no big surprise there) soda, or sadly, Macaroni and Cheese. That is my next mission. Import a big case of it and hand it out free in the super markets. Okay, back to the regularly scheduled program.
Yes, anyway, so after a long time of funny looks, I have finally converted him to the simple joys of the Food of the Gods.
I knew I had succeeded in my mission when I heard him mutter the magical words "Beurre de Cacahouettes me manque." I miss Peanut Butter. (we were out of it, and since it is only available at one store, we made a pilgrimage Saturday and stocked up.) I don't understand it- they hate Peanut Butter, don't buy it, and don't eat it, but French peanut butter is really good. We buy it instead of the American good ol' Skippy. Still have not found Chunky peanut butter, but one can't have everything in life.
Stage 2- introduce the basic food groups:
the bread group- PB and jelly sandwich (or just plain PB sandwich)
the fruit and veggies group: PB and banana/apple or celery sticks
and then finally the crowning glory-----
the dessert group: PB and chocolate, bien sûr.

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