samedi 31 mars 2007

Last night Alain and I went with two of his work colleagues to go watch a movie (300 by the way, not my choice). We first bought the tickets. The large movie theaters now are starting to use the automatic ticket dispensers. Nine euros per ticket, ouch. I think that even beats most standard American movie theaters.
We had about 50 minutes before the movie started, at 9:30. We decided we didn't have time for a real sit-down meal, so our choices were basically McDonalds, Casino cafeteria (never been but looks like Flunch!), and a restaurant called Pizza Pai. (pie, get it?)
We decided on pizza, and went in. We sat down, in the smoking section because it had a table for four. Before ordering, we specifically asked the waitress if she thought we would have enough time to order our pizza and eat before the film (40 minutes and counting by now). She said yes.
We each ordered a pizza, which comes with a small buffet of salad, pasta, and bread rolls. One guy said that he just wanted a pizza, not the buffet, but when informed that it wasn't cheaper getting just the pizza, he decided to go with the buffet as well because it was "free". We each had a small plate of the buffet and a bread roll and waited. And waited. I know it was a Friday night, the restaurant was heading towards busy, but nothing.
At about 9:20 we figured that we had had enough, and it was time to go. We went to talk to the girl who had taken our order, and asked if it would be ready soon. She said it would be soon. We waited, then decided to make motions towards the door, which would bring some action. The other waitress came and said she would get the manager. We waited, he didn't come so we walked out the door. He quickly came out "Excuse me, is there a problem?" We explained, he said he would charge us just for the salads, 4 euros each. Uh, we were told by the waitress that the salad was free, the pizza is what we have to pay for. Besides, we didn't eat much salad as we were saving room for PIZZA! Since we didn't get the pizza nor eat much salad, why should we pay for the free salad?
Alain finally just gave him five euros, but the manager was fed up so he gave it back and stalked off. I felt a little bad and a little rebellious, but I didn't want to give up our 18 euros movie tickets. After the movie, we went to McDonalds at 11:45.
Guess we won't be allowed back in that restaurant ever again.
vendredi 30 mars 2007

One of my favorite hobbies has always been (well, since the age of 10) crosstitching. Here it is called broderie (embroidery) or point de croix (crosstitching). For the moment, it isn't particularly easy to find the necessary materials, but I believe it is becoming more popular. Women here seem much more into crafts such as the yarn stitching (like for pillows), knitting, embroidery, beading, etc. Quilting and scrapbooking are slowly becoming popular as well.

Last year I went to an arts and crafts exhibition (same place as the Marseille Fair, but much
much smaller.) I think I saw two men there. Most of the stands were for needle arts, but some painting, wood working, children's crafts, etc were available. There is only one specialty crosstitch store in all of Marseille (that I know of). Other stores, such as "Loisirs et Creations" have crosstitch sections. They mostly have kits only or projects such as crosstitching on towels, purses, baby bibs, etc. The regular old DMC thread that is 25 cents or so at Walmart is about a dollar and a half here, and they usually don't have specialty threads, such as metallic thread. Crosstitch fabric is available, and some patterns can be found or else special ordered. I ordered some fabric and thread from an online US store, and it never arrived. I asked them about it, and they sent another package with never arrived either. I guess both either got stuck in customs purgatory or arrived at some bewildered person's door. They refunded my money, which I thought was good of them. Each time I go back to the US (all of once so far) I take an inventory of my supplies and stock up. Also, my dear mom has been kind enough to send me some things I need, mostly threads.

Other supplies, such as beads and buttons to adorn crosstitch designs, are also very hard to find here, or else very expensive. Some online French stores are getting in on the act, but the price still isn't comparable to the US.

I think if I could have five US stores magically implanted in France I would choose
1) a good crafts store such as Michael's or Hobby Lobby (would have been so nice while wedding planning!)
2) a good bagel store, like Bodo's. I don't see why the French don't like bagels. They like other bread. I have heard that there is one in Lyon. A pilgrimage may be necessary.
3) Bed, Bath and Beyond
4) A good bookstore, like Barnes&Noble. But not with the French versions, English please.
5) A Super Walmart or Target. Yes, there are large all-in-one stores here, such as Carrefour, but they don't have the products (cosmetics, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, other important things in ife) that I like.
Yep, I think those five stores just about sum up my life.

dimanche 25 mars 2007

As many people know, French people in general, are a lot thinner than Americans in general. After living here for over a year and a half, I think I have discovered the secret to why.

Prepare yourself for a shocking revelation.....


It is a very complicated, controversial diet....

I will try to explain the different tenants of it as best as I can.

Okay, here is the first one.
Eat when hungry.

Whoa!!! Shocking.. Okay, now we have that one out of the way, it was a warm-up for the second rule.
Don't eat when not hungry.

And finally, Rule 3
Move a little more.

It is true. I haven't read the book "Frenchwomen don't get fat" but here are some of things that I have noticed. The French
1) Don't drink as much calorie drinks- especially soda. In general, it seems to be water, water flavored lightly with syrups, water mixed with juice, and wine. Soda is generally regarded as a drink for kids and/or when you are sick (carbonation for the stomach). It does seem to be growing in popularity, but definetely not up to the 1 a Day standard in the US.
2) Don't snack. There are a lot less snack foods- chips, pretzels, etc. in the aisles. When you go over to someone's house for dinner, they may be offered as an appetizer but most French do not seem to eat them in the afternoons/early evenings, or after dinner. When watching TV you do not need a bowl of potato chips by your side.
3) Have a well-rounded meal. "Dessert" often is a yogurt or a piece of fruit.
4) Save those special foods for those special times. Enjoy them during the holiday. Don't eat them the rest of the year. Look forward to having them again.
5) Move! Walk to the grocery store and the bakery. Haul those grocery bags and baby carriage up the three flights of stairs.
6) I also believe that French society does not, in a way, make it "easy" to be overweight. Seats are small. Clothes are small. Really, in a country where if you are over a size 10 you feel to be on the heavy side, it has a large impact. I have not once seen an obese French person.

“The French fashion industry found that the average French woman today is just over 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 137.6 pounds. (BMI 24.4- normal) In comparison, the average American woman is 5 feet 4 and weights 164.3 pounds (BMI 28.1- overweight). ”

7) Take time to eat. While this can be maddening for Yours Truely at the 8 hour long family dinners, it gives you a time to digest and re-assess your hunger level.
8) If you do eat too much one night, have a light soup the next night.

What about the other side?
Does this thin culture create more anorexia or bulemia? I was curious, so I tried to find some information on the web. I found a lot of conflicting things and nothing very precise. The best I found was this.

"In the United States, somewhere between 0.5 percent and 3.7 percent of women will be anorexic in their lifetimes, while 1.1. percent to 4.2 percent will suffer from bulimia. Between 2 percent and 5 percent of Americans binge eat. Among young French women, an estimated 1 percent to 3 percent are anorexic; 5 percent are bulimic; and 11 percent have compulsive eating behaviors."

So I guess they are roughly the same. Who knows. Perhaps what keeps the population from being overly large doesn't help any as far as being too thin is concerned.

Here is my Handy Dandy Size Perception Conversion Chart

America = France

very very thin = very thin

very thin = thin

thin = normal

normal = heavy

heavy = very heavy

very heavy = very very heavy

Therefore, you can see someone who is considered normal in the US would be considered heavy here in France.
samedi 24 mars 2007

(subtle humor).

Megan Age 27: I would do anything to take a shower!

So gentle readers, we still do not have a shower. I look back at this line from my post from our trip to San Remo (which has no hot water, no flushing toilet, and no shower)

"There is only so many days of sponge baths and washing of hair with cold water in a sink a woman can take before going nuts. That number is 2. We stayed a week."

And laugh. Try three months in winter.
When I was seven, (or maybe six) we stayed several months in a cabin while our house was being finished (we had to move out of the rental place). The cabin only had a shower. I refused to take a shower. I much preferred baths. So what did I do? Took baths in the (quite large) kitchen sink every evening. I remembered this anecdote from my past, and carefully sized up our kitchen sink. I don't think even my seven year old self could take a bath in it now. Pity.
In other news, I joined a gym nearby my work. Partly for the reason of taking advantage of their showers. The gym is fairly standard, 49 euros a month, two month's advance notice to quit. They also have a pool, but that is an additional price. And since really, the only pool I like is bathtub sized, I decided it wasn't worth it.

So far I have gone twice. And am quite sore now. Did a Body Pump class on Wednesday, then some running/weights on Thursday. Takes a while to get the old body back into gear.

This is the first gym I have actually "joined". In high school and college I could use the school ones for free, though I think at UVA one had to pay for the aerobics courses. At my two workplaces the gym was free (oh how I miss that!).

Anyway, am semi disappointed with the showers. The first day I slipped and fell, bruising my knee badly. The showers are the kind that are set on a timers so you don't get in there and waste all the "hot" water. I think the water goes for about ten seconds. And it isn't hot either. I wonder if I pay more whether I can get semi-warm water for 30 seconds at a time?
jeudi 22 mars 2007
It has taken me a long time of listening to French speakers, but I have finally gained the ability to hear whether someone is speaking with an accent or not. Alain is pretty accent-less. When I first arrived, he would ask me when we saw someone on TV from Belgium or something "Do you hear how he has an accent?" What, are you kidding? I can barely distinguish one WORD from another, much less whether they have an accent. Seriously, I couldn't tell a Senegalese from a Parisienne. It all sounded like a mish mash of mush mouth. Now I can tell that they speak vaguely different. Why is it that all Southern accents get made fun of? You could be Siberian and speak with a Southern Siberian accent and the Northern Siberians would make fun of you. Here in the South the tendency is to really emphasize the last letters of words. For example: petite (small). Puh-teet. But here, they emphasize the final E- puh-tee-tuh. Baguette becomes bah-ge-tuh. I suppose I am developing this trait, not because of any lingering southern loyalties but because of a) hearing it around me and b) having learned french in school, you know how it is written. And I think Americans usually will pronounce, or try to at least, all letters.
Speaking in French, I have a really hard time with the r sound. Like quatre (4) ca-tre and trois (3) t-wa. The worst is giving our phone number over the phone- it ends in 33- trente trois. Many times the person on the other side thinks I am saying 43- quarante trois. No! Twa Twa!
At least I don't say neuf (9) like noof anymore. It rhymes with snuff.
I can't really hear my accent when I am speaking of course, but hate hearing myself on recordings. Our answering machine is me speaking in English. Whenever I hear Americans or English people speaking French, I cringe in embarassment. I don't sound like THAT do I? Short answer- yeah, you do.
No surprise that people often ask me if I am English. I suppose all anglophones sound similar in French. At least English is considered one of the cute foreign accents, not trashy or low-class.
samedi 17 mars 2007

There is a restaurant chain here in France called Flunch. It is usually found in malls. I guess it based on the basic American all-you-can-eat, but it isn't. I was quite excited for my first flunch experience, as I had been wanting to go for over a year. (Yeah, okay, just one of those things.) Alain and I picked the absolute worse time of the week to go for my flunch initiation- Saturday at lunch time. Basically you go and grab a tray and silverware, then wander through a first part picking out whether you want cheese, salad, fruit, bread, soda, or dessert. Then you pay for the things you have picked out and you can also pay for one of the meals- things liked grilled steak, hamburgers, etc. Then you take your ticket over to the grill and wait forever for them to cook up your main dish. (A few well-placed elbows help). You then fight for a table and eat your meal. Eventually someone comes around to clear the trays, but not usually at the pace that the tables are vacated/refilled, so the new people pile all the trays on another table. Last time I went, we sat outside. It was a nice day so a lot of people were sitting outside, but the wait staff hadn't come by for awhile. There was a huge pile of trays on one of the tables. A lady with a stroller bumped it and they all came crashing down. Miraculously, only one plate broke.

From Wikipedia

Flunch is a popular French fast food chain.
The brand is similar to McDonalds and Quick, but only has chains in France and Portugal. It is rumoured that the name originates from a combination of the words "French" and "Lunch", creating the hybrid word "Flunch", but the official origin is from "fast lunch". The main difference with McDonalds or Quick is that Flunch does not provide hamburgers or sandwiches, but regular meals with a large choice of first course, main course and desserts. Many branches are located in shopping malls. One
particularity of Flunch is that you pay for the main course, but can get unlimited vegetables to accompany it.
French people don't see Flunch as fast-food, but as self-service. A real similar example in the USA is found in the South, K & W Cafeterias.
Flunch has been expanding to Portugal for ten years, and has 3 restaurants in the Portuguese cities of Oporto, Almada and Faro. The Oporto Flunch has about 1000 square metres.
There is one near where I work. The guys go there almost every single day. Main dishes are about 5-10 euros. I just find that eating lunch at any restaurant gets expensive if you do it every single work day, so have started bringing my unflunch lunch and only go once a week with them. Oh and the Unlimited Vegetables are really great choices like french fries.
samedi 10 mars 2007

On my way home from work last night, I saw a sign in shop that made me laugh. It was a shop that sells plaques that people buy to put on tombs with things like "To my dear mother...". They were offering a special reduction of 20%.


Goodness, I think I'll die now to save my loved ones 20%.

Let's bump off Aunt Mildred now and save 20% on burying the old bat. Sure don't want to spend that extra on her.

Dear Dad, you have taught me so much about saving money wisely. I even saved on your tombstone!

Dear cousin Betty, I never really liked you anyway, so I am glad you died now while this was on sale.

Hope grandpa dies real soon so I can get the inheritance AND twenty percent off.

"Here honey, I got yours all prepared for you, for whenever you should die! Let's store it in the attic. I can just get the date added later."

In general, I don't like French cemeteries. All of the tomb things are above ground, though Alain assured me that the people are actually in the ground. They feel too ornate and fake. (picture on left is a skull preserved in a box in a church in Bretagne). Haven't actually been to a funeral here yet, thank goodness. I guess most people are buried, not cremated.
(Photo at top of a small cemetery in Les Baux de Provence.)
mercredi 7 mars 2007

So after a long (5 months+) search, I finally started a job this Monday. (For anyone who wants to know for what company, I can email you about it, but am not posting it online). It is a company in a nearby city called Aubagne. To get there, I walk to the train station, about five minutes away. Then I take the train, which either takes 10 minutes or 15 depending if it stops at the in-between smaller stations.
Then I have to wait for the bus. This is the most irritating part. They only have two buses in the morning that I can take, one that leaves at 8, the other that leaves at 8:40. The train gets into the station at 7:59. It doesn't take a math major to figure out that this is cutting it close. The bus takes about 20 minutes to get to my stop, from which it is another few minute walk. Total commute time, about 45 minutes.
The company has about 30 people, half technicians and half engineers/secretary/commercial/directors/etc.
It has been quite an adjustment getting used to the french workplace. First of all, there is the question of tu or vous?
The more familiar tu is used among friends, family, etc. It implies a familiarity and that you are on the same level. Vous is used with strangers or when there is a heirarchy involved. I started off with Vous because I didn't know, then the two other engineers in my group said that they use tu with each other. Okay, fine. So I switched to using tu. Then I am told that we should be using vous with each other, as it is a workplace. Okay, fine. So I switch back to vous. It is all very complicated, especially for someone with a language that does not have that distinction.
Another thing is the sacred lunch two hours. I would rather be more of the "Get In, Get Done, Get Out, Get Home" mentality but not here. I guess I will just have to bring a book or take a long walk or something to de-stress. There are a couple of hotels nearby, and I was considering today what the price would be for a weekly room between the hours of 12 and 2. Not for any illicit liasons, but to go, watch tv, eat my lunch, and take a shower.
Remind me again why I wanted a job so badly?!
Okay, so this will be my last post about jobs. I don't want to get fired for writing about the workplace. Thanks everyone who has wished me luck on this quest.

To everyone at my previous post, I miss you guys!

dimanche 4 mars 2007
The above cartoon for kids to color, cut out, and fold into a cube shape. Then the cube is to be placed in the center of the table for reminding. Oh what fun!
It basically says (top right, clockwise) The good manners at the table: Have good manners when you eat. Wipe your face in order to eat cleanly. Talk quietly. Don't forget to say please and thank you. Close your mouth after each bite. Here is what people do when they have good manners.
Then the following pictures: Don't forget to say please and thank you. Wipe your mouth. Chew with your mouth closed.

There are a few differences between US and French etiquette when it comes to table manners.

First of all, the french leave both wrists resting on the table while eating, usually with silverware in each hand. It was explained to me that this was to make sure no under-table hanky-panky goes on, but I don't know if this is true or not.

Secondly, they eat in the traditional European manner, knife in right hand, fork in left, not the old switcheroo that Americans do.

I have not really caught on to these two customs. I usually will put my left hand in my lap and switch the silverware after cutting.

It is also considered impolite to cut your salad. You are instead supposed to fold it and then eat it. I still cut my salad and gasp! even my spaghetti.

Often bread will be used to sop up any remaining juices and sauce. To signal that they are done eating, they will cross their knife and fork on their plates, rather than leaving them side by side as American do.

At the end of the meal, the hostess will gather all the plates together and pile them up before taking them into the kitchen. This means that any remaining food on your plate will be embarrassingly scraped off onto the top plate. So try not to leave any food on your plate.

Some other points from Wikipedia-

The salt and pepper are always passed together.
Remember to always say please and thank you - s'il vous plait and merci
It is considered good manners to finish everything on your plate.
Do not put ice in your wine. At restaurants, wine is served at the temperature at which it is meant to be enjoyed.
(--who puts ice in their wine anyway?!!--)

When invited over to someone's house for dinner, it is customary to present the hostess with flowers and the host with a bottle of wine, which may or may not be used during the dinner. Therefore, people will sometimes call ahead of time to see what you are fixing to find a wine that matches. I have been told it is bad manners to not use the wine that the guests bring for the dinner during the dinner. Apparently, for formal dinners, flowers are sent the morning of, so the hostess has time to prepare them and set them out on display.

The order of the meal usually is appetizer, main dish, salad, cheese, fruit and/or dessert, coffee. Fruit, such as apples and pears, are usually peeled with a knife before eating. I have shocked many french sensibilities by chomping in straightaway to an unpeeled apple. Then they gasp in horror and run to wash it in the sink.

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