mercredi 20 décembre 2006
So tomorrow we are flying back to the US. I wanted to write something witty and clever, but can't come up with anything. I have had several mini heart-attacks along the way, such as what day our return flight actually is (Ie do we leave on the 4th and get in on the fifth or leave on the third and get in on the fourth? the ticket declines to specify) and where the heck our Eticket was. Each email I found from the company said "This is not your eticket". Well what is our eticket pray tell?
I feel strange to be going back. I haven't been back since moving here a year and a half ago. There is so much I want to do and see and eat, and so little time to do it in. However, at this point I will be happy with just arriving as a big snowstorm is in progress.
Happy holidays everyone!
dimanche 10 décembre 2006

Last week Alain and I discovered to our chagrin that our bedroom wall was being covered in mold. Turns out that the sealant around the bathtub on the other side of the wall wasn't exactly sealed. The previous owner took only baths, so did not have water from the shower running down the wall and seeping through. We have now removed the moldy wallpaper, and are airing out the wall with a fan.
We decided that now was as good a time as any to redo our bathroom. So it has now been moved to the top of our Things to Do list. We have pulled out the bathtub (which is now RIP in our rat-infested cave storage area in the basement). Yesterday we bought a shower basin 90 cm x 90 cm. It is now waiting patiently in one of our spare bedrooms.

Today we started to remove the tiles. I didn't like the tiles in the first place, but could have lived with them. We had to either find more of the same, or remove them all and put new ones. We have decided to remove them all. We spent about three hours today removing 1/3rd of the tiles and annoying our neighbors.
Say it with me people- it's called PAYBACK and you know what PAYBACK is?
Yeah, that's right. That is for your barking dog that drives me barking mad all day long during the week and for you other neighbors who watch your TV so loud we can tell what channel it is on.

After about two and a half hours they started banging back on the wall, then someone rang our buzzer and I am guessing Ran Away. Jeez. At least have the guts to come and knock on our door and have a conversation something like:

Neighbor - "How much longer are you planning on doing that because it is starting to get annoying?"
Us - "Hey, we would be happy to let you help if you want it to be done sooner. Believe it or not, this isn't our idea of a good time either."
Neighbor - "You are making a lot of noise and it is annoying!"
Us - "Tell us something we don't know!"
Sigh. Current state of our bathroom. On right, hookup for washer and dryer, which I would prefer to just remove, and dead plug hanging out of the wall with exposed wires. On left, cold water, hot water, drain and electrical cord. Yeah, that doesn't sound safe to me either.

mardi 5 décembre 2006
Yep. It is that time of the month again.
Time for me to complain about La Poste.
Seriously, could they make my life any more difficult?

When we were moving, the post office directly across from old place decided to close for two months for renovations (which it really really needs). So I had to shlep to the one several blocks away to change our address. You can change your address for 6 months or 12 months. Why the difference? The price of course. For six months I think it was something like 22 euros. For a year it was 45 I think. Yikes. I took the six month option. When I think of all the times I changed my address in the US- at least once a year while I was in Charlottesville.

So since the one post office is closed, all the others around it have much more traffic. The nearest to our new place is very very busy all the time. There is one a little further that is good if you want to send something, but if you want to pick up a package (since they don't bring it to your residence) you have to go to the one indicated on the slip, which for us is the high traffic one.
A few weeks ago I was in there and one lady tried to jump the line. Apparently, the ATM machine outside had swallowed her card. It was quite amusing in a way to see the Grassroots Uprising of all the other customers putting her back in her place. It made my day to see old ladies elbow her out of the way so that they could get to the counter. Then she started talking loudly on her cell phone (completely ignoring the sign saying "Please don't use your cell phone while in line). One of the workers yelled at her to talk quieter.

The two times I have wanted to use the automatic weighing/stamp distributor it first wouldn't make change (and since I didn't have exactly 1.19 I had to leave because there was no way I was waiting in line for two stamps) and the second time it was out of service. Real useful that.
A few weeks ago La Poste was on strike. Why? Because the government was thinking about privatizing it or opening up the mail system to private companies. (I didn't really care or sympathize, so I didn't pay too much attention). When it is a universally acknowledged fact that you do your job inefficiently and at a high cost, why be surprised that you might actually loose your job?

Yesterday I did the queue to mail a small package that I had sold on Ebay. After waiting 40 minutes I got to the front of the line and the lady told me it was too small to send. What do you mean it is too small? You handle post cards all the time for goodness sake! Nope, too small. She offered me the option of sending it in one of the those pre-paid boxes to send anything anywhere in France. The price was over 8 euros for something about as heavy as a letter. Considering I had sold it on Ebay for 5 euros and had estimated 3 euros for shipping, it was going to cost me more than I had made just to send it. (Lesson for the future- weigh it at the post office before listing on Ebay). I sent it in a large envelope for five euros. Grrr.
samedi 2 décembre 2006
(all pictures from previous owner)

We have three bedrooms, small, medium, and large. The smallest has blue wallpaper, a window over the back balcony, and a grand total of one plug by the door. It is currently being used as our exercise room. (Alain's bench and weights).

The medium bedroom also has a window overlooking the back and has green wallpaper. We have a large dark armoire which was left by the previous owner. It also has a pull-up bar (can you tell that at least one person in this household is into fitness?) It has a lot of stuff we don't know what to do with at the moment. It will eventually be turned into a guest room or something.

The last bedroom is ours and opens onto the street. It has pink wallpaper. We have four shelve systems for our clothes. Apparently, closets were not a big thing back in the 60's. We have a mezzanine bed which gives us more floor space. Since the ceilings are very high, it works.
We have a radiator in our room (shown on back left of picture below), but not the other two bedrooms. So, plans for all bedrooms- dewallpaper, repaint, add plugs, change light fixtures, buy more furniture.
vendredi 1 décembre 2006

From here on out, most of the changes are cosmetic. The living room needs to be dewallpapered, repainted, and have more plugs added because I don't really like having all of my electronics on two power strips on ungrounded plugs. Probably will buy some more bookshelves and a buffet. Buy a curtain rod and curtains.
Oh, and notice the nice graffiti on the church across the street through the window.

The living room and biggest bedroom (ours) are on the street side of the apartment. We have double windows (thicker for insulation and noise reduction), but it can be noisy at times. I am mostly used to it by now. But sleep with ear plugs at night. Which doesn't mean a whole lot, since I just plain like the feeling of ear plugs in my ears. Weird, I know.

There is a balcony overlooking the street, but we don't use it much. I guess I could put some plants out there. From my poorly and hastily drawn floorplan below, you can hopefully get the idea of how it is laid out. (One of the many reasons I didn't become an architect.)
jeudi 30 novembre 2006

Next stop, the entrance hallway. The tiles here are an ugly brown/yellow color. Yeah, I won't say what it looks like exactly. The rest of the rooms are the same whitish tile, just not the entryway. I have no idea why. I guess whoever did it wanted to separate the entrance from the rest of the rooms for some INANE reason. They weren't even put in well- the brown tiles are larger and don't line up with the white tiles.
( <- What were they thinking?!)

So I would first like to find more of the white tiles and have the brown tiles replaced. Again, wallpaper needs to be removed and we need to repaint. We would like to buy a coat rack and fix it to the wall next to the door. Perhaps move the telephone plug which is right next to the door. It is the only telephone connection in the apartment. Since we have our telephone, internet, and tv going through the telephone line, it is quite inconvenient.
There is a square hole cut in the living room wall, so you can see from the entryway into the living room, giving it a more open feel. We can only assume it is a supporting wall, otherwise we would prefer to remove it completely. As it is, we can eventually put plants or decorations on the ledge. Preferably fake plants I can't kill.

(Picture from entryway into living room, not our furniture, picture from previous owner) Perhaps we will hang curtains across the open square to close when guests are staying with us. Also notice the old radiator and exposed pipes.

mardi 28 novembre 2006
(not our actual bathroom)
Like most French residences, if there is only one bathroom, the toilet is in one room and the sink/shower are in another. That way, two people can be going about their business at the same time.
The washing machine connection is actually in the bathroom. Based upon the size of the bathroom, I wonder if whoever put it there was high at the time. There is NO SPACE to put the washer in there.

We would like to remove the sink/cabinet and replace it with something like in the picture on the left, just a plain basin with a shelf underneath. We already have two tall wooden structures like in the picture above for placing all of our items.
There is a small window opening out into a ventilation shaft down the center of the building. Considering how the shaft is dark and dank and opens to everyone's bathroom and toilet, how much actual ventilation can it do?
The bathtub is basically worthless for it's supposed purpose of bathing. It is too narrow and not long enough when sitting down (can't stretch out legs completely, and if you are wider than pretty small, you are a little pinched). The only option is to take a shower, but since it is narrow, the curtain clings to you. It would be best to rip it out entirely and put in a nice, large shower cabin.
Once you get out of the shower, there is a very narrow space so you have to shuffle sideways naked and dripping. We can't put a towel bar there because then everyone would hit their head when getting in and out of the shower. In order to not drench the entire room when taking a shower, we had to rig up two perpendicular rods to put the shower curtain on. (You will notice in the picture that half the curtain is on one rod, half on the other). This is where we hang our towels for easy access. There are a grand total of two plugs, one of which just came loose from the wall and is, I'm afraid, out of commission. The grey tiles on the wall I would like to remove. They are very thick, and at the risk of sounding prissy, don't go with my color scheme.
So steps needed to improve our bathroom- pull out sink/mirror/cabinet piece and replace. Remove tiles. Remove bathtub and install shower cabin. Repaint. Add several new plugs and change switch and light fixture. Possibly remove door and replace with a curtain to add space. Add towel rack.

I am going to give everyone a virtual tour of our new apartment, starting with the areas that need the most TLC.
The kitchen is, quite frankly, impossible. The first thing we had to do was remove two cabinets that formed the space where the previous owner's much smaller refrigerator had fit. Our refrigerator is "An American Refrigerator". Once we had removed the cabinets, we had to clean the walls and floor that they had covered. There was a terrible smell in the kitchen, so Alain pulled apart the sink, cleaning out the pipes. It wasn't that. Turns out there was a hole behind the sink through which foul air was coming. We also woke up to a flood one morning, so the sink problem needed to be fixed urgently. His father came over and they managed to un-caulk the sink, pull it out from the wall, and reveal what was hidden (see picture). Yeah, not nice. They removed the wallpaper, replaced some of the pipes, cemented over the hole, and put the sink back. Happy to say we haven't had a leak or a bad smell since. (knock on wood).
Next we need to buy a new washer/dryer combo. We have a washer that she left, but no dryer, which means I have to wring out our clothes in the sink and hang them sock by sock out to dry for three days. Also have no stove, so have been cooking (for the past year and a half) with two hot plates and a toaster oven. The apartment was built back in the days when they couldn't forsee a reason why anyone would need more than three plugs in a room, especially a kitchen (which has exactly two). I have a electric strip with three slots, so at any one time I have to choose which three items I want running- toaster oven, hot plate, microwave, hot water boiler (for tea, not for taking a bath), washing machine, blender, or steam cooker. So we will need to install more plugs at some point in the future, preferrably with a ground.
Above where the stove should be is a large glass hood. It doesn't really function as a hood, as there is no escape pipe. It hides the large pipe for the gas water heater. I would like to remove this big glass monstrosity and maybe have a smaller white box built to cover just the pipe. The opposite wall is not deep enough to put regular sized table or cabinets, so we are planning on buying a long thin table for more workspace then place cabinets up above. That way, I won't have all the food items on display. The door seen in the picture leads out to a small balcony opening up to a courtyard. This is where I hang the laundry. It is usually pretty calm on this side of the building. The floor is a whitish tile with cream colored marks. Not too bad, considering. The kitchen is tiled with light brown/beige-ish tiles (can be seen in picture). The wallpaper has to go. We will probably buy cabinets and appliances in white and repaint the part above the tiles on the wall white. I can't wait!
lundi 27 novembre 2006
It's a Monday morning, end of blustery November. I am standing at the Metro station, mouth slightly open to facilitate breathing, looking a little rumpled and dazed with an expression of "What am I doing out of bed?" and "How did I get here? I don't remember walking here!" Clothed, but in the way that says "Hey, where did my pajamas go?!"
Yep, that time of the year again, Cold Season. This time, I blame Alain for starting it. Usually, I am the one that gives it to him, so I suppose it is only fair. I suppose I could try to not catch it, but I tend to treat this concept with a certain fatalistic mentality- we are living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, and eating off the same plates. Not usually at the same time mind you, but it does happen that glasses of water get mixed up and so forth. The only way to conceivably NOT catch it would be to move out for a week, but where would I go? All of his immediate family members have the same cold, and it wouldn't be taken too well if I asked to move in with one of his friends.
One thing that is good about living here is that I seem to get less colds than when I was living in Virginia. Of course, that could have been partly due to living in the Barracks with 1300 other college kids.
The French, when faced with a common cold, go to the doctor to get a prescription for ANYTHING, whether or not it will help. Americans seem to like to take a tough guy attitude- "Yeah, I may have a cold but I am here at work making all the rest of you sick and showing how committed I am to my job. Aren't you impressed by my commitment (cough cough cough)?"
I suggested to Alain that we could switch noses, he didn't seem to think that would work. What about this in sickness and in health stuff? Besides, we would look funny with each other's nose.
(wow, just did that on photoshop. Don't want to embarrass myself by posting it on here though).
So I leave you with this cartoon.

Oh, and for anyone wondering WHY I was out of bed- Christmas shopping bien sûr.
jeudi 23 novembre 2006

(and a great cry of joy was heard around the world)

So last year I had fish soup at school on Thanksgiving Day, this year I had a workshop on how to write a cover letter. Woohoo.
I think of all seasons, I miss Autumn the most. It has a distinct feel in the US that is missing here in France. It gets cold, the leaves turn brown and die, and hoop! it's winter. Autumn in the US has apple cider and Halloween and Thanksgiving and the beautiful leaves and Starbucks Gingerbread Latte and football games (even if I hardly ever went to or watched a football game, they were there). Here I can't find a turkey, would have to special order it in a butcher shop, can't find pumpkin pie mix or cranberries. I guess in the bigger cities, like London or Paris with larger ex-pat communities, there will be groups of people that get together and have Thanksgiving pot-lucks. Some restaurants even offer Thanksgiving meals, but not here in Marseille. But mom is fixing "Thanksgiving in December" per special request when we go home.
So for our Thanksgiving meal this year, I had whole wheat pasta, ham, and tomatos with mozzarella. Alain realized it was Thanksgiving (from the news on TV) and asked why weren't celebrating it. Because, I told him, I can't do a turkey in our toaster oven. Well, we could celebrate it with something else. (This coming from a man who had lobster each Thanksgiving he was in the US). No, we can't. If it isn't turkey, it isn't Thanksgiving. I would rather not celebrate than celebrate with something like duck.
So, any Americans actually celebrating Thanksgiving today, eat an extra piece of pie for me. But don't send me the leftovers.
mercredi 22 novembre 2006
We are in our new apartment now, and the dog living in the apartment directly beneath us barks all day long while the owners are away. I seriously think I might go nuts and start barking myself. I called the syndic and all they said they would do is put up a sign in the entranceway along the lines of "All tenants are reminded that their dogs are not supposed to bark excessively." Yeah, I am sure that will do the trick. I might have to go talk to them (read: Alain might have to go talk to them.) But still, I am not sure what anyone can do to stop their dog from barking when they aren't around. I have some ideas, but don't want to end up in jail.
dimanche 19 novembre 2006
Just one question- do celebrities get some sort of "Get out of Paperwork Hell" card when they decide to grace St. Tropez or Somewhere in Italy with their nuptials? Why didn't I get this card? Why did I have to suffer through medical exams, certified translations of every official document back to Kindergarten Diploma, and other memories which I have purposefully suppressed? Why didn't I have the opportunity to get Fake Married in Europe like Tom and Katie and Pam and Kid Rock?,26334,1219944,00.html
And oh yeah, we didn't even have the option to have just the "wedding celebration" because it isn't LEGAL FOR MORTALS.
And how seriously can one take wedding vows that sound like they came from the "Sugar and spice and everything nice that's what little girls are made of." Book of Wedding Frivolty?
vendredi 3 novembre 2006

Every Friday night, starting at 8:50 (yes, they have crazy start times here in France) channel 4 shows usually one or two episodes of Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie's Belgian detective in England). They show the ones with David Suchet as Hercule. The original series in English, but it has all been dubbed into French. So there is a Belgian speaking English that has been dubbed into French. We usually pick up a pizza, which is usually 4 Fromages. It is rare that both of us make it through the entire first episode. One or both of us is usually passed out on the couch by the intermission, so around 9:15. I usually wake up and stumble off to bed around 10, Alain sleeps/watches longer. There aren't too many episodes, so we have watched some several times. It doesn't really matter though, as I can never remember what happened having never made it through. I have read every single Agatha Christie book, so sometimes I have a vague clue as to what will happen. The quality of the episodes (audio, image) is often not that great- very static-y. We have the choice of being able to hear it but not see it on one channel or see it but not hear it on another channel. Hercule Poirot is on at other times, such as Sunday afternoons, but we usually forget or are somewhere else at that time (that somewhere else being 95% of the time Alain's family for visiting and eating).
Last week they didn't have it on because they had Miss Europe 2006 Beauty Pageant. It was quite amusing. It was held in Kiev, Ukraine, and was organized by France. Who were the final two contestants? Miss Ukraine and Miss France. I don't believe it! What a co-in-ki-dink! The judges said "Oh, we can't decide. It is a tie." They finally voted a second time and Miss France won. I personally did not believe that she was that bright or good-looking. And all the women had the same nose, I swear. There was also a lingerie portion of the show, which was a European addition I am sure. (take a good look at the noses below. You'll see what I mean.)
mercredi 1 novembre 2006
This year, we officially spent no money on Halloween- not candy, costumes, decorations, or events.
Halloween 2005- we were invited to a party by a Frenchwoman that knows some friends in the US. We had exchanged emails, but had never met in person. It is very strange going to a party where you know no one, not even the hostess. I bought some costume items- blinking devil horns for me, a mask and gloves for Alain. We drove down to her street and spent about 15 minutes searching for a parking spot, before deciding to go back to where we live, park, and walk from our apartment. I ran up and got some tennis shoes- no way was I walking several kilometers in high heels. When we got to the party, I switched and put the shoes in Alain's backpack. We weren't sure which apartment was hers, so we followed the noise to the wrong floor, knocked and spent several awkward minutes, "Um, Audrey? We're looking for Audrey?" No, she is down on the first floor. The party was okay, tons of people we didn't know. All the women were dressed in about the same thing- red and black devil costumes. I guess I wasn't too original, but I didn't have much costume choice. We left around midnight and walked back home through a not-great part of town. Emailed Audrey to thank her for inviting us, never heard from her again. Oh well.
As a kid, I had a Rainbow Brite costume that my mom made, also went as a ladybug, rabbit.
Halloween 2006- This week the students have off from school for Toussaint, All Saint's Day today where people go and put flowers on graves of loved ones. Yesterday some kids in costume were wandering around, I guess going from business to business trick or treating. Halloween is not a big event here. I guess it is slowly starting to catch on, promoted mostly by businesses to make money. Some people are opposed to it.
I grace you with a picture of me from last year.
mardi 31 octobre 2006
So we are now officially Apartment Owners. We signed the papers this afternoon at the Notaire's Office where his aunt works- very helpful. Alain's sister also works in insurance. Now we needs someone who works at the Prefecture and one who has a Microelectronic company and we will be all set. I must have looked at at least 20 apartments, with Alain and alone. We decided back in May and signed the initial paperwork the week after getting married.
The last name of the Notaire is literally Lawyer (maître in French). So he is Maître Maître. Like Dr. Alain Doctor. I guess he had no choice but to be a lawyer. He couldn't exactly be Dr. Francis Lawyer now could he?
I am not going to go into the Legal Stuff because a) I am not really sure what all just happened and b) even if I did, I am sure it would be Really Boring for you all.
Now comes the fun moving part- down three flights of twisting staircase with a refrigerator, bookshelf, couch, table, etc. We haven't bought much since we have been here for that express reason. We are renting a truck on Saturday (89 euros) and Alain's friends too (pizza and beer I suppose). We have to be out of here by the sixth. Unfortunately, I don't think we will have time to strip the wallpaper in the new place and repaint.
Will be out of contact for an indefinite amount of time until the phone/internet/cable company switches our connection to the new place. It is strange to think that after moving each year for the past five years, I will be in one place for an undetermined amount of time. Don't have any nice pictures to post of the inside and a picture of the outside would be like a big sign on the Internet "Here is where you, stalker internet guy, can find me!"
vendredi 27 octobre 2006
If you want a dog who...
Looks like a cartoon drawing on a sheet of paper
Doesn't cost anything other than printer ink
Is flat, so doesn't take up much space
Comes in different sizes, from postage stamp to legal size
Comes in any color you happen to have on your paper shelf (HINT: if you have only white paper, remember that crayons and markers are FULL of color)
Weighs almost nothing, unless you print him on an anvil
Doesn't shed, bark, dig, fight, chase, or chew things
Don't have to pay for food, boarding, grooming, or vet bills.
Don't want to have walk three times a day.
A Transylvanian Griffinfinch may be right for you!

As we are living in an apartment and neither of us has the inclination to walk a dog several times a day, we have decided that the Transylvanian Griffinfinch is the best kind of dog for us. I don't think we could give a dog what it needs at this time.
A cat would be okay, but honestly, I don't want to change cat litter once a week and have our small apartment smell like, well, cat litter. I am not a cat hater, but not a cat lover either. Some cats of roommates I have liked better than the roommates themselves. However, since I have no more use for a cat than a half hour pet once a day, it is best to not get one. Furthermore, I don't want animal hair all over the apartment. Alain's parents have a small dog and cat which are good enough for me.
mardi 24 octobre 2006

Yesterday, after about a week of coordination, I took a train from Marseille to a small town on the coast called Sanary Sur Mer to meet an old friend, Kelly, visiting with some of her friends Provence for two weeks.

I took the Metro to Gare Saint Charles, bought my aller-retour (round trip ticket), and waited for the train at 8:40. I am always nervous getting on trains, worried that I will end up in Spain or something. Check number on ticket. Check number on sign. Check number on ticket. Check number on sign. Consider knocking on the conductor's door and asking him where he is going.
I admit, I am a Train Dork. I really like riding on trains. I guess it is because I haven't done it much. I suppose if I commuted every day to work on a train, it would lose it's appeal. Other people bring a magazine, laptop, a book. I sit on top and look out the window. On this day there wasn't much to see out the window. It was quite a cloudy day and I was afraid it would rain later. Got to my stop and waited for Kelly and her friend Deborah to pick me up. We immediately went to the supermarket to buy chocolate bars for them to take home. I think they bought about 10 each. Then we went to Centre Ville, which was quite difficult as half the streets were blocked off for work or the market. Kelly and I had a coffee, walked around a bit, then met up with their other traveling companions, three guys- Dave, Shawn, and Mike for lunch. We went to an African restaurant, had a bottle of Moroccan wine. For lunch I had a meat and cheese dish wrapped in a crispy shell. It was good but my digestive system was not happy with me the rest of the day.
After lunch Kelly and I walked around some more. We tried to take the walk along the coast, but it was really rocky and far. We came back, had a Haagen Daas (I ate about half of mine, it was so big). We went to an art exhibition that featured animals, some of whom had human parts or other human qualities. After that we went into a church. It was interesting because there was a man painting the murals all over the place- ceiling, side walls, etc. He still had a ways to go, I imagine that he had already been working on it for years. I would like to go back in another year or so and see if it is finished. It was a little strange to see something like In Progress, because usually it is something that was done a hundred years ago and you just take it for granted. But to see someone actually painting it, it makes you realize how long it must have taken to build the churches (stone carvings, etc). Kelly looked at some Santons (small painted pottery figures, usually for Christmas Nativity scenes). Sanary is not really a Santon Town, so there were a few, really expensive, in tourist shops. They were about twice the price that they would be at the Santon Fair in Marseille in December. (see my previous blog entry if you wish)
I bought some roasted chestnuts, marrons chaud, from a stand so that Kelly and the others could try this typical Christmas treat. They are rather dry. At around 6:30 they drove me back to the train station, and my train arrived a little after 7. Too dark by this time to see anything. Got back to Marseille around 8, took the Metro home. A good day.
jeudi 19 octobre 2006
One of the most frustrating things when speaking another language is making the natives understand you when you KNOW you are saying the right thing! I am sure that in my 16 months here I have said some doozies.
I remember very early on, I stopped by a grocer's and was looking for strawberries. He asked if he could help and I said (in French) I am looking for strawberries. (fraises). He didn't understand. I repeated Fraise about ten different ways, varying the pronunciation each time, then started on the adjectives. Small, red, round, fruit, sweet? Nope. Still no clue. I left in despair.
Or when they hear the word and don't believe that they are hearing you right because you are a foreigner and it is an unusual request.
Such as when I went to the nearby bakery and wanted to know what the price would be for 100 small chocolate pastries for our wedding (sorry to everyone who came- no chocolate pastries).
Me: I would like to know the price of a hundred chocolate pastries there.
Baker: What?
Me: The price for a hundred.
Baker: How many?
Me: One Hundred.
Baker: A hundred?
Me: Yes, a hundred.
Baker: Really?
Me: Yes! One zero zero.
(he takes out a paper, writes 100 and shows it to me.)
Me: Yes, that is what I want to know.
Baker: Oh! A hundred. Well that will be....
(what is this? An Abbot and Costello routine? Just tell me the price please.)

Another thing I don't understand is why they have two words that sound alike and mean almost the same thing- dessus and dessous (above and below). Usually I can't manage to make the distinction in pronunciation so I pick one and say it, and then accompany it with the appropriate hand gesture (hand flat parallel to ground, waving near head level or down near waist). Quite useless of course when talking on the phone. I think it is dessus (deh-sue) and dessous (deh-soo) not to be confused with déçu (day-soo), which means disappointed. Sometimes these words that sound alike mean very different and embarrassing things.
lâcher- to let go
lécher- to lick.
Me: I want you to ______ me please.
Someone else: What? Really? Ok.
Me: Ahh!!!
Alain says he has trouble hearing the difference between Cheap, Sheep, and Ship. But at least they don't mean almost the same thing or something really embarrassing. If someone says, "That car is really sheep." You could probably figure out what they are trying to say. And it's not like we have above and apove (below).
One thing that I will say about French is that once you learn all the letter combinations and how to produce those sounds, it is usually the same pronunciation, versus English where you have to just about learn how to pronounce each word separately. Such as why are Sew (ohh) and Knew (ewww) different?
(Note to readers: tried to find a funny cartoon about French pronunciation, but Helas! could not)
mercredi 18 octobre 2006

On Saturday evening, Alain and I made a pilgrimage to Le Quillé with Olivier, Audrey, and Hanna. What is Le Quillé you ask? An ice cream store, what else?
It is located in the old town of Miramas, about 40 minutes away from Marseille. Internet site with pictures.
Quillé, according to Olivier, means "perched" in Provençale. Indeed, it is quite perched on the top of the hill.
Apparently during summer it is very popular. You park at the bottom of the hill and hike up to the summit, where the glacier is. You try to delude yourself with thoughts of "I am burning off enough calories to eat this mound of ice cream, chocolate sauce, and brownies."
We got there around 9. We sat out on the terrace, but it was a little cold. When we first got there, we were the only ones there, besides the local cats. There were about three or four cats hanging out, and making strange cat noises at each other.
We ordered, I stayed faithful and got L'Americaine. (closest to viewer in picture above) It was two scoops of vanilla, two of chocolate, a brownie, some whipped cream, and sliced almonds. It was quite good. I was quite tempted though by the Irlandaise, which was Bailey's Ice cream, whipped cream, and Bailey's liquor. They make all of their ice cream and had some quite original flavors, such as Calisson (the almond paste candies from Aix en Provence) and licorice. The prices weren't too bad, around 8 euros each.
We later moved inside and had tea, leaving around 11.
(picture courtesy of Hanna).
mardi 17 octobre 2006
Nearby there is a small jewelry store, that mostly does repairs. I had taken some watches there to have the batteries replaced and had my wedding band/engagement ring soldered together before. Last week I took three rings to have them resized (smaller). One amber ring that Alain gave me, one blue topaz, and one yellow topaz ring (my birthstone). He said to come back Friday (last) and they would be done. I was unable to go Friday and didn't want to spend time Saturday going there, so went yesterday. They were not done yet, so he said to come back today. I went back this afternoon and the rings were done. I tried them on, and they had all been resized larger! Now I know this wasn't a communication problem, because my finger had been measured and my other ring had been measured for comparison. Argh. So he will redo them. For some reason he was thinking 54 instead of 48, and didn't write it down on the slip. On the other hand, they were very pretty and sparkly as he cleaned them for the first time since ever.
My yellow topaz stone is an oval, and had been set so that the long part goes along the direction of the finger. He had changed it so that it is now perpendicular to the finger. It looks better that way so I didn't say anything but why would a jeweler just decide to change the setting of a ring like that? I don't get it at all. Good grief. I guess I need to tell people when I take something in for work, please don't take any initiative without contacting me first (please see "The Blanket Affair" Will include pictures when I get them back. If I ever get them back.
samedi 14 octobre 2006

French, or at least Provençals, really seem to dislike carpet. All the houses I have been to have only tiles. Not even area rugs. They think it is much more hygenic. They are probably right. Except, WHO WAS THE STUPID MORON WHO DECIDED TO PUT WHITE TILES IN OUR KITCHEN, ENTRYWAY, AND BATHROOM!!!!????
The only places in the apartment that have white tiles are exactly where you need something that doesn't show the dirt so obviously. The rest of our apartment, well living room and bedroom, have the old brick red hexagonal tiles called tommettes.
I need a dog or baby or something to lick the floor regularly.
Alain does the vacuuming/mopping about once every two weeks. It is good for about a day before it is dirty again. Maybe we (okay, I) are just abnormally dirty people, I don't know. Thankfully, the apartment we are buying has greyish tiles. Much better. That way, when I drop an egg on the floor I can just rub it in.

Perhaps it is done expressly. You get to be so ashamed to have people over that you are forced to mop on a daily basis.
Illustration below: which looks like it shows the dirt less? On left, old red tiles in living room. On right, sparkling white tiles in kitchen. You decide.

vendredi 13 octobre 2006

I admit it, Frenchwomen intimidate me. Besides Alain's family and the girlfriends/wives of his friends, I know no frenchwomen. I guess it isn't all that surprising since I spent the last year at a all-foreign students school learning French and haven't been in a club or office setting where I would meet them.
But I think it is something more than that. When living in another country, I think there is a natural tendency to gravitate first towards others of your own nationality. As I know zero Americans in Marseille, I can't do that here. There is the Association of American Wives of Europeans, but that is mostly based in Paris. I am on their email list and chat boards, but it isn't the same as knowing them in person.
After that, I think people try to meet other foreigners. In a foreign country, other foreigners are in the same boat as you are- trying to learn the language, the customs and social graces. Don't want to make a fool of yourself mumbling something unintelligible to a group of Frenchwomen while wearing the wrong scarf. When I was studying in England for a semester, I hung out with 2 French, 1 Greek, 1 Italian, 1 Mauritanian, and 1 Zimbabwian. Instead of the other native English speaking (well, sorta) English! I guess we just understood each other better and all wanted to do touristy stuff, like visit Oxford instead of JUST drink beer there.
The final step is to make friends with the natives of whatever country you are in. It is more difficult to make myself understood because those who are used to the way I phrase things and my accents (God bless Alain's parents) understand what I am trying to say. Those who don't have "the ear" for my accent, such as those damn R's which I don't think I will get, keep asking what? what?
So just now I am starting to make tentative steps to meet frenchwomen. So far it has consisted of meeting one girl (today) to possibly go running together from time to time. How did I meet her you ask? Well, I have been posting bad-grammar messages on French chat boards, looking for people to go running together, hang out. (Yes, I do feel like a desperate loser. Please be my friend!) Unsurprisingly, the people who have responded have been those who have some sort of interest in English/the USA/living abroad, etc. No no! I want to practice my French! If I do get a job here eventually, I suppose I will meet more people.
jeudi 5 octobre 2006
The more time I spend in the Post-Undergrad/Graduate School World, the more I am convinced that in order for every person to be considered an ADULT, that they must take a year's worth of courses.
Cooking 101 and 201- beyond ordering takeout and making Mac and Cheese. Not talking Cordon Blue School here, just enough to get by.
Babies 101- taking care of, not making of
Children 201- I have to take their temperature Where?!
Cleaning and Laundry- No, you can't ship it all home to your mom, and since you will be too poor in the next fifteen years to hire a cleaning lady, you need to know this stuff.
Nutrition and Fitness- A multivitamin does not give a free pass to drink as much beer as you want. Your metabolism is slowing down. Get your rear in gear.
Workplace- How to act on the Job
Adult Finances- getting a mortgage, investing, paying taxes
Basic car and home repair
Looking Decent- beyond sweatpants- hair, makeup, and clothes
Destress- Meditation, Yoga, Deep Breathing- avoiding a heart attack by the age 45

Perhaps this could be split into summer sessions for college students or night courses for people who go directly into the workforce. I think it is a good idea.
mardi 3 octobre 2006

On Sunday, Alain and I went with Olivier and Audrey to the Foire of Marseille, the Marseille Fair. This is not a normal, American-style city/county fair. No rides, very few games, certainly no livestock or pie baking competitions. It is mostly an expo of new home gadgets, swimming pools for sale, new couches, gyms in the area, etc. There are many international stands. It is quite odd to see Ecuador next to Vietnam. America was represented with one booth- cowboy clothes, a few Nascar items, and some Route 66 stuff. Sniff. I am so proud. Way to represent!
We got there around 11:30, took the Metro as it was easier than trying to find parking. There were a lot of people there as it was the last weekend day. It was from Sept. 22- Oct. 2, and it was the 82nd Fair of Marseille.
Alain and I went last year as well. We found some very good Italian chocolate, like truffles, so we wanted to buy more this year.
The entrance is 7.50 euros for adults, but this year we got in free because Olivier had free tickets. (Thanks Olivier!)
We walked around, had lunch (sandwiches on the go), I bought two lovely kashmir (IMO) scarves for a very good price, then we bought our chocolate (20 euros for 800 g- usually we split one or two flavors and share them for our evening tea-and-a-movie) . They have flavors like almond, coconut, hazelnut, Grand Mariner, etc.

It was so crowded that at a certain point you just get tired of being jostled and squeezing your way through. I brought my camera to take pictures but didn't take any at the fair because it would have just been uninteresting shots of people heads. We left around 3:30, took the Metro back, had tea and talked for awhile.

mardi 26 septembre 2006

but my husband is charming.
(Translation of ad I found in an old magazine). Not quite sure what this had to do with coffee, but I thought it was cute.
Today is our four month wedding anniversary. Yay! So far, everything is going well. We survived the hot hot summer, went on our trip to Italy, and are looking forward to buying an apartment in the near future.
Sometimes I look at Alain and think "he is so cute and so smart and I am so lucky." I can't even believe that we are married sometimes. Not that it is because I have post-wedding blues or anything, it is just that it seems like the wedding was a dream.
Happy Anniversary Cherie!
mercredi 20 septembre 2006
One of my favorite things to do with the French language is make stuff up. Alain thinks I should just learn how the french say it, but I like playing with words. In fact, I think I should be paid to sit at home and think of new words. Languages are living, changing things right?

Don't know how to say that in French? Me neither! Make it up!

As far as making stuff up, it is complicated but I will share some tidbits with you.
1) First of all, sound confident like you know that this is a real word. If you are lucky, they will think that they just don't know it. Say it quickly, don't stutter and stammer and pause to think.
2) As a starting point, take a noun, verb, adjective or adverb, and change it slightly to make another form. That way, people recognize the base at least.
3) Use it a lot. Try to get it to catch on.

First lesson: making a verb
For example:
To sneeze:
In English- short, sweet, to the point, sounds like the action.
In French- éternuer (verb)
J'éternue. What the heck? That doesn't sound like a sneeze at all. Plus, it makes me think of being naked. (être- to be, nu/nue- masculine and feminine forms of naked)
I much prefer "atchoum", the french version of Achoo.
Sidenote: do body noises sound different in different languages? Can a French dog communicate with an American dog?

To make a verb just add -er.
There. Perfect. Easy to conjugate and sounds like the action.

J'atchoume. Bless you. No no, I didn't sneeze, I was making a statement.
You can even make up past and future tenses.
While it is unlikely that you would ever need to say "At five tomorrow we will sneeze" it is there available for you, in case of an emergency.
"Demain, à 17h, nous atchoumerons."

Next example:
Socks and shoes
sock: chaussette
shoe: chaussure

French has a lot of pronominal verbs
brosser- to brush (say, the dog)
se brosser- to brush yourself (teeth, nosehair, earhair, etc.)

So why not make a pronominal verb out of putting something on your feet?
Take the root: chauss
add a SE before and an ER at the end and you get
se chausser- to put something on your feet, socks or shoes
Statement - What are you doing? Je me chausse.
Question- Tu te chausses?
Command- Chausses-toi!
Future- Il se chaussera.
Past- Nous nous sommes chaussés.

UPDATE: hold the phone! It actually IS a verb, though apparently not a pronominal one. Gosh, they really SHOULD pay me to make up words.

Next lesson: making an adjective
Alain and I were driving to Italy and drove past Nice, a very hilly area.
In English, this is of course very easy to say. It is very hilly here.
I tried to express this sentiment in French.
Colline- hill (coh- lean)
C'est très colliné ici. (pronounced coh-lee-nay)
Nope, there is no adjective for hilly. You have to say "There are a lot of hills here."

So my goal is to get five words (nouns, adjectives, or adverbs) integrated into the French language every year, or else one verb because they are more complicated.
French people reading this: you are now obligated to start using the word of the year, atchoumer. Learn it. Use it. Live it. Pass it on. Love it.

It would help if I was famous and on TV a lot. Alas and alack, my only recourse is to become President because then I could just make a law. For now, I will have to content myself with trying to slip one past Alain. As he knows me tendancy to make up words, it will be a challenge. I think I got this trait from my father, with his Kleene-X, Kleene-Y, and Kleene-Z, taking a showhim in the mornings instead of a showher, and his girelephants who eat banapples. Even my siblings for goodness sake argued about how to spell a made-up word- Stackle, for anyone wondering, is the cardboard tube in toilet paper and paper towels. We aren't all nuts. Mom is pretty normal.

But I think that if I can get a proven track record (and French nationality) in a few years I can present myself for election with the following slogan.

French- no longer just for people who know how to speak it.
mardi 19 septembre 2006

One thing I really enjoyed while in the US was getting magazines. I loved opening my mailbox and finding the latest Brides magazine (yeah, had to hide those when A. and I first met), Glamour, Organic Style, Newsweek, Shape, Runner's World, etc. I would read them through, page at a time, not skipping around, and rip out articles that I wanted to keep. I would then put these into separate binders- wedding planning, exercise, recipes, or general life (beauty, articles, etc). These magazines were usually from one of those sites where you get 5 for the set price of 30$ or so.
I don't get any here in France. Sometimes I go out and buy Femme Actuelle, (yes, I am an Actual Woman thank you very much) a weekly magazine with your regular assortment of the newest anti-cellulite creams, recipe of the week, how to copy a designer look for less, and the pseudo- serious articles that Women's Magazines put in to prove that they are about more than just Clothes, Makeup, Hair, Thin Thighs and Great.....
I have recently looked into ordering some of my favorite magazines from the US. There are four options
1) Have them sent to a certain place (hello mom and dad!) and then either pick them up when I return for a visit or else have them packaged up and sent here. As I don't want to waste precious candy and make-up space (see American Candy post) and they are rather heavy to send, this option is out.
2) Have them sent to a mail-forwarding service. Rather expensive for the small amount of mail I want forwarded. So no. I guess this is mainly for businesses.
3) Try to find them here. The only one I have found, is Glamour for 4.90 euros, at current exchange rates 6.22$. Oh, and they have Newsweek and Times in the library downtown.
4) Pay for the overseas subscription,
Oprah 40$
Cosmo 42$
Marie Claire 32$
Newsweek 79$
National Geographic 33$
Shape 30$
Running Times 53$
Runner's World 50$

Hmm. So I guess the best option is just to decide which magazines I would really like sent to me, and pay the international subscription rate.
I would like to get more Bridal magazines but Alain will really think I'm nuts. I just like to see the latest dresses!
So I am waiting until we get our new address, then I will order a few, probably Glamour, Shape, and National Geographic. The others I might pick up the latest when home to flip through.
jeudi 14 septembre 2006
A couple of weeks ago I was having some mouth/jaw/throat pain. My mom suggested perhaps it was Temporomandibular Disorder TMD, from grinding my teeth at night, which I know I have a problem with. It hurt really bad and I could barely talk. I had to put a hot pad on my mouth each night, which was great in the hot weather. I made a dentist appointment, which was long overdue since the last time I went to the dentist I was in the US.
Of course, by the time the dentist appointment actually arrived, the pain had passed. So she examined my mouth, didn't really see anything. It was quite interesting trying to explain to her that I had a mouthpiece, like the 1$ ones you buy for boxing class. She looked at me oddly. "You do boxing?" No. Well yes, but that's another story. Thanks VMI! I had to come back next week to have the cast taken of my lower teeth/jaw, and then the week after that I would receive the custom mouthpiece.
Her office is two buildings over, which is one great thing about living in a city. My general doctor, eye doctor, and dentist are all within a few blocks. Along with the metro, several butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers.
I got the cast made last week, the typical squishy mold that they put in your mouth and you try not to panic as it almost chokes you and swallow it.
She also did an exam. Maybe I just got a nicer dentist, but it wasn't the toes-curling-in-pain experience it usually is.
I went back this morning and got my mouthpiece. It fits well, but it still feels thick to me. After a few moments a feeling of panic comes over me "I have to get this out now!" and I spit it out while gagging. Ugh. This is going to be interesting. Maybe I should try those muscle relaxers she suggested before bed.
She also gave me the mold. Maybe I will scare Alain with it, leaving it under his pillow or something. I feel strange having it, like a pair of dentures or something. Or like I am an anthropologist looking at the jawbone of some previously unknown species.
So finally, one scary parting image before I go. I don't suppose anyone's teeth are pretty but dang....
mercredi 13 septembre 2006

Ahh the joys of Cubicle Land. Strangely enough, I kind of miss it. Maybe just the fact of getting out of the house and seeing real live PEOPLE. Wandering around, waiting to use the internet, watering plants, talking with people, putting up pictures, reading magazines (during lunch hour bien sûr). Sigh.
Alain was shocked when he visited a microelectronic company in the area and saw all the cubicles. He has never had the joy of working in one, he has always had or shared an office. He said it was strange to go meet the leader of a team that they are coordinating with on a project and to have to sit in their cubicle and discuss things with the person in the next cubicle over telling jokes and stuff.


My job is stupid my day’s a bore,
Inside this office from eight to four
Nothin’ ever happens my life is pretty bland,
Pretending that I’m working, pray I don’t get canned.

My Cubicle, My cubicle
It’s One of Sixty two
It’s my small space in a crowded place
Just a six-by-six foot booth
And I hate it that’s the truth

When I give a sigh as the boss walks by,
no one ever talks to me or looks me in the eye.
And I really should work but instead I just sit here and surf the Internet.

In My Cubicle, My cubicle
It doesn’t have a view.
It’s my small space in a crowded place
I sit in solitude.
And sometimes I sit here nude.

Cubicle Liberation Army!
mardi 12 septembre 2006
So, against my better judgement, I have gotten back into running. Quite reluctantly I must say.
But I am trying to go three times a week, at least 20 minutes. Alain goes with me if I go on the weekend.
There are three options: take the public transportation down to the seaside or a big park or something, run, take the public transportation back. Costly and time consuming.
Option 2: go to the nearby park that is supposedly "open". This requires scaling over the fence to access the soccer field, basketball courts, or track. It is never open. We have gone at 9 when it is supposed to open at 8:30 and nothing. So we scale over the fence. Fortunately we found an area where we don't risk being impaled on a spike.
Option 3: run on the streets around here. If you do this, you must complete your run by 8 a.m. It gets bright enough to run around 7, so you have an hour before the streets are invaded by anklebitters. And no, I don't mean dogs.
Between 8 and 8:30: Seriously irritate mothers who are afraid that you are about to steamroll their spawn. Well then don't take up the entire sidewalk! Leave half for people passing or going in the opposite direction. This also requires frequent death-defying zigzags into the street to avoid the old lady with her basket going to market or fashionable yet annoyed women walking their dog before work. Other things to watch for: cars parking on sidewalk (hereby reducing sidewalk pedestrian space to zilch), dog droppings, random trash, uneven sidewalks and steps sticking too far out, and grocer stands. It is really quite a challenge.
When the sun comes up even later, I think I will have to wait until all children are safely tucked into their schools to venture out.
Plus, running doesn't seem so common here. People look at you with a look like "What the heck is she DOING? Why waste energy like that and get SWEATY?"
To work off all your damn cheese!
lundi 11 septembre 2006
The Day Nobody (in France) Cared.

To celebrate/commemorate September 11th I have watched the two documentaries on Sept. 11 that I got back when I was in Charlottesville.
I really wish I knew some Americans in Marseille.
dimanche 10 septembre 2006

Hahaha. How funny, you can be searching for a job for months, get an offer, and then have to say "whoops! sorry, I would work for you but I don't have my carte de resident. Yeah, the Prefecture is really slow and annoying. In fact, even if I get it they might decide that even though I am married to a Frenchman, that they would prefer that I not work in their country. And in that case, we might as well move to another country where we can do both live AND work. So sorry. But it was nice interviewing with you and I thank you for the opportunity."
On Wednesday I had an interview with a school that teaches English, mainly to companies that have dealings with English speaking customers. There were five of us interviewing for the jobs, three Americans, one Canadian, and one Hungarian. I would say at least 80% of us were married to Frenchman and desperate for a job, any job.
I hate group interviews. Everyone tries to outdo each other. The interviewer explained how the school works, then asked a question and each of us had to answer. Pretty simple questions like "Why do you want to teach" (and no, Because I need money and I don't want to die from boredom sitting at home, is not an acceptable answer) and "What do you think students can learn from you?" The rest of them gave diddly answers like "my love of life, learning, sharing of the American culture". Me, I basically said "Look, these are business people. They don't give a bull honkey about the humanist literary movement or American versus English interpretations of Shakespeare. They need to do presentations, talk on the phone with clients, write technical papers. I can do that."
I got the job, but I think it was partly due to elimination. They needed someone to start next Thurs. and I was the only one available. I tried to get an attestation from the Prefecture saying that my papers were in the works, but nope they don't do that. Why? Because you might finally get your carte but be denied the ability to work. Oh terrific. So I had to call the company and explain the situation. If this was say IBM they could prehaps put some pressure on to speed it up, but nope. So they will have to wait until I get my carte or find someone else. Dang.
The other job, teaching technical English at an Engineer University right next to where Alain works was interested in me as well, but I needed to have a second part-time job. Argh!!!!!! I guess they don't want to have to pay the medical insurance and the severance pay if you are let go.
samedi 9 septembre 2006

September 9th is the day of Alain.
Not his birthday mind you, but his Saint's Day.
Thankfully, it is not required to name your kid the name of the Saint of the day they were born. Ugh, Agatha and Sebald.
Every day of the year has a Saint associated with it. Alas, there is no Saint Megan. I guess I have to be content with Saint Margaret., Nov 16th. Close enough surprisingly.

From Catholic Online
about Blessed Alain of the Rocks

Meganing of Alain
Handsome, calm.
9 septembre
Characteristics- authority, decision, ambition, innovation, energy.

There is also a very exciting song
Bonne Fete A Toi
Bonne Fete A Toi
Bonne Fete A .......(insert name here)
Bonne Fete A Toi
(sung to the tune of Happy Birthday I am guessing)

Taken from Wikipedia about French naming customs.

French people have one, two or more given names. Only one of them, almost always the first, is used in daily life; the others are solely for official documents, such as birth, death and marriage certificates. Thus, one always speaks of Jacques Chirac and never of Jacques René Chirac; and Henri Philippe Pétain is always referred to as Philippe Pétain (or Marshal Pétain), because Philippe was the given name that he used in daily life. Middle initials are not used. For example, while English-speaking scientific publications may cite Claude Allègre as Claude J. Allègre, this is never done in France. Typically, second and further given names may be somewhat old-fashioned, given in honour of the child's grandparents etc., though such practice has now become less common.
Traditionally, most people were given names from the Roman Catholic calendar of saints. Common such given names are Jean, Jacques, Michel or even Jean-Baptiste(John-the-Baptist) for males, Marie, Jeanne, or Chantal for females. In certain regions such as Brittany or Corsica, more local names (usually of local saints) are often, but not always used (in Brittany, for instance, male Corentin or female Corentine; in Corsica, Dominique (suitable both for males and females). However, people from immigrant communities often choose names from their own culture. Furthermore, in recent decades it has become commonplace to use certain foreign first names, such as Kevin, Enzo or Anthony for males; for females, Jessica, Jennifer, Karine or Sonia.
The prevalence of given names follows trends, with some names being popular in some years, and some considered definitely out-of-fashion. As an example, few children born since 1970 would bear the name Germaine, which is generally associated with the idea of an elderly lady — however, as noted above, such old-fashioned names are frequently used as second or third given names (middle names).
Almost all traditional given names are gender-specific. However, a few given names, such as Dominique (see above, Corsica) and Claude, are given to both males and females. Compound given names, such as Jean-Luc, Jean-Paul, or Anne-Sophie are not uncommon. These are not considered to be two separate given names.
It is possible that the second part of a compound name is one normally used by the opposite sex. However, the gender of the compound is determined by the first component. Thus, Marie-George Buffet has a female given name. In particular, there exist male given names ending in Marie, as in Jean-Marie or Bernard-Marie.
First names are chosen by the child's parents. There are no legal a priori constraints on the choice of names. However, if the birth registrar thinks that the chosen names (alone or in association with the last name) may be detrimental to the child's interests, or to the right of other families to protect their own family name, the registrar may refer the matter to the local prosecutor, who may choose to refer the matter to the local court. The court may then refuse the chosen names. Such refusals are rare and mostly concern given names that may expose the child to mockery.
To change a given name, a request can be made before a court (juge des affaires familiales).

Oh where were you Courts when Apple, Moses, and Moon Unit were brought into the world?
It is quite true that the French do not understand American middle names or the use of initials. They could not understand that Kathleen is my middle name, not just a part of my first name, nor the of S. in my signature.
Alain told me a story once of a family whose last name was Bon. They wanted to name their Jean. Jean Bon (sounds like ham, jambon) I guess the courts said no.
I guess it is also very expensive to change your name, and that sometimes people just change a few letters to change the sound/spelling.

Anyway, while some people send cards or flowers on Saint Days, Alain doesn't put much stock in it. I had to remind him that today was his Saint Day.
vendredi 8 septembre 2006

(before picture)

My wonderful mom spent many hours making a special quilt for my wedding. It was with Provençal fabrics that we bought when they were here for Christmas. She had our monogram embroidered onto a large center square. (I removed our last name in the photo, just for safety) Originally we were going to display it at the wedding reception and have guests write on it, either on the squares on the front side or on the back.

Finally we decided not to, afraid that the ink would bleed through to the other side, etc.

We displayed it at the wedding along with the two pillow cases she had made for us. I finished up the quilting by tying a piece of yarn through each corner. For the final step, cutting off the extra material and sewing on the border, I decided to take it to a tailor as I have no sewing machine.

So I took it to a tailor that works a few blocks away. I should have known better, this is the guy who suggested that we use velcro to bustle my wedding gown. Anyway, I brought it down with the fabric for the edge on Tuesday and explained what I wanted. I was quite clear- I want this cut off and this strip of fabric sewed onto the edge, all the way around. The one thing that I never thought to mention is the one thing that he did.

I returned today and picked it up, 15 euros. I was tired and in a hurry so I didn't take it out of the bag to look it at closely, it looked okay so I returned home. After eating lunch and relaxing a bit, I decided to take it out and admire it. I was examining the edge and noticed something was terribly wrong.
He had sewed the blanket halves together, turning a large square blanket for a bed into a rectangle for a couch blanket! Ahh! Even worse, he had sewed the purple border fabric DIRECTLY ACROSS the middle of the monogrammed square. What was he thinking!? Why on earth would he think that I would want half of our names covered up with this purple strip? Here is my illustration of what it looked like, after. (I was too distraught to take a picture at the time, but seriously it was laughable.) (Imagine puple photoshopped border actually matches)

(after picture)

Oh my god my mom is going to kill me after she spent all this time and money on the fabrics and some two bit tailor who smokes in his shop ruins the quilt.

I quickly headed back to his shop with the quilt rehearsing French phrases in my head. What were you thinking? Who would actually want it to look like this? Where is the back fabric? I am not paying for this! You completely ruined my wedding quilt!

I got there and almost calmly explained that it was not what I wanted. He said don't worry, stop trembling, I didn't cut off the extra material, or throw it away, it is still there, just all sewed together. Fantabulous. So he ripped off the border and showed me. Whew. He said that he did it that way because there was a pin stuck through the middle and he thought that as strange as it seemed, that was how I wanted it. Now, it seems odd to me that a stray pin would make a professional tailor do something like this, but oh well. So he will redo it, and I can pick up Tuesday. Not sure if this going to cost me more. He didn't say anything and I hope not. I guess I forgot to cover the "Don't fold the quilt in half and sew it all together" part in the instructions. Note for next time: cover everything you can think of and give them your phone number with the instructions of "If a fit of madness overcomes you and you decide to just wing it, please call me first."

mardi 5 septembre 2006
Ah yes, it is open season again. The time for all desperate people to sharpen their knives, put on their best gear and go out in search of the ever elusive
Very rare animal indeed. More so when you have no practical skills beyond speaking English.
Can you speak French? No.
Do you have a work visa? No.
Do you have experience in the Microelectronic Manufacturing industry? Uh, No.
What can you offer us? Umm, my stunning ability to translate from English to English?

I have realized that job hunting is much more trying when you are looking for a job in a specific geographical area (say, 45 minute radius) versus look for a job in the entire United States, able to move anywhere after graduation.
I started out with very specific ideas- microelectronics. This quickly expanded to anything within the microelectronics industry- contracts, business, training, etc. Ok now heck it doesn't even have to be microelectronics.
I have hallucinations of opening a crosstitch store or selling wedding gowns or something but am quickly brought back to the reality that I know nothing about accounting, advertising, running a store, inventory, getting the permits and dealing with customs, etc.
The all of two microelectronics companies nearby say that they are hiring, but it is a bluff I think.
If I want to work for the Consulate I believe I will need to subtract every degree from my resume.
I received the wonderful news today that I need my carte de resident (see I love the Prefecture post) in order to work. Okay, that is normal. Oh, and it might take 3 months or more. Which is fantastic because I sent in the paperwork in August.
I got a call from a company that was involved with shipping (Marseille is a major port). She asked me if I had experience with a particular program. I didn't, so no. Now at this point I would usually throw in some bull honkey about being adaptable, quick learner etc etc but it is difficult to express in French. So just no. Period. No, I have no other skills. Thank you, goodbye.
The thing is that they are more interested in whether you have the exact qualifications that they are looking for (ex/ want someone with 3 years of experience, don't bother applying if you have two and a half) than someone who is adaptable and can learn that.
Taking a year to tour France and write a book about Cheese is starting to look really tempting about now.
dimanche 3 septembre 2006

Alain and I finally decided to go and visit the Chateau d'If and the Ile de Ratonneau. The boat trip from the Vieux Port to the Chateau d'If is 10 euros each (roundtrip) and for 5 more euros you can visit the Ile de Ratonneau, one of the several rocky islands. Ratonneau is inhabited while If is just the castle and a few outbuildings.
We took the ferry at noon and sat next to some American girls. Oh my god! Look at the like dead fish!
(it was fish market day)
We got to If and then paid another 5 euros each to visit the chateau. We had an hour until the ferry to Ratonneau. We toured the inside and listened to the commentary.
The Chateau was begun in 1529, as a fortress to guard against the rebellious Marseillais. Marseille had become a part of France in only 1481. It quickly began to house prisoners. The guide said that the first prisoners were two fisherman who had wandered too close to the military island and were held for fifteen days, I guess as a warning. Now if you wander too close to the Pentagon they just shoot you.
3500 Protestants were held over a period of 200 years. Here is a plaque commemorating it. last line "They preferred the chains of prison or death to giving in."
Other notable signs- the prisoner who was burned alive, and the room where the Man In the Iron Mask supposedly stayed. (à la bad Leonardo diCaprio movie). This is where the novel The Count of Monte Christo was set. Another prisoner was held here because he supposedly brought the plague to Marseille in 1720. They also guarded carefully, and quite successfully I might add, a dead man, General Kleber, for 18 years.
Ah yes, and in 1513 the first rhinoceros to be seen in Europe was brought as a gift. The poor thing was then sent to Rome and was shipwrecked on the way.

At 1:30 we caught the ferry to Ratonneau. We found a nice place to eat a picnic lunch, then walked up to what I believe were Nazi bunkers during WW2. I wouldn't bet my life on it, but I think that is what it is. Then we walked to the Hospital Caroline, constructed in 1828 and used as a quarantine place. From Wikipedia
On 29 August (1944) a landing party drawn from the Marine detachments
from Augusta and Philadelphia went ashore on the islands of Ratonneau and
Chateau d'If in the harbor of Marseilles and accepted the surrender of
German forces on those islands, taking 730 prisoners.

We had a juice at the port, then at 4 took the ferry back to Marseille. The return trip was extremely foggy. Here is a video I took of the return into the Vieux Port. As far as groundbreaking, exciting cinematography is concerned, it's not, but just to give an idea.

Alain and I took the Metro back to our Quartier. There were wedding guests waiting for the newlyweds to come out of the church, so I wanted to stop and watch. And then, as a final wonderful end to our day, with a flutter of pigeon wings and a ploop! I got christened. Ugh. I shrieked but I guess people were more interested in the wedding. Alain took out a napkin and wiped me off. Ahh, what a good husband. In sickness, health, and pigeon poop.

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