Adventures and misadventures in France.

Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Good things come to those who hustle.

While my fellow Bostonians were celebrating their Irish heritage with kelly-green accessories, celtic music, and alcohol, I spent St. Patrick’s Day in Nantes for a day of French civic training. As I mentioned before, this was the last step in a series of required appointments to qualify for extended residency in France. In addition, I would need to find time to get to the préfecture of Nantes to obtain the actual carte de séjour.

6:45 – Bus

The training session was scheduled to last all day beginning at 9 am. I requested the day off from work, and planned to race across town during the lunch break to pick up the carte to avoid an additional day wasted on public transportation. I caught an early bus into the city but managed to choose the longest bus route (two hours instead of one), which meant a stressful speed-walk to the training center.

9:15 – France 101

I followed another latecomer into class and sat down to begin taking notes. It soon became apparent that a room full of middle-aged white French women was not the OFII class at all, but a nursing course, so I apologized and slipped back out the door with their laughter echoing into the hallway.

Finally I arrived in the correct class, which presented a fascinating level of cultural diversity. The instructor who appeared to be French had immigrated from Kosovo almost twenty years ago. Half of the class was from Africa, but each from a different country. I was seated next to a woman from Mongolia and two nuns from New Zealand. The morning session was filled with lessons about the rights, responsibilities, and advantages of seeking naturalization in France. Next came an overview of French history. The instructor offered hilights of the French revolution (incoherent anecdotes about Mary Antoinette and the guillotine), the European Union, and WWI and WWII. Some how he also managed to fit in a lesson about the most recent French presidents, gay rights, and the legalization of abortion.

12:00 – Lunch

Pausing for lunch, we were offered a complimentary three-course meal in the training center cafeteria. Scooting through the line, I could hear a server arguing with one of my classmates, a man from Cuba. “Monsieur! That salad has ham in it! It has ham!” The classmate responded quickly with “Yes I know, I can see that,” and turned to me with an exhasperated expression, “Everyone here thinks I’m Muslim. It happens constantly.” We ate, chatted about the class, and discussed my plan to run across town for the carte de séjour. He wished me luck, but offered a warning about notoriously long wait times. Confident, I promised to signal the outcome when I got back.

Soon I headed uptown. The immigration office closed for lunch until 1:30, but I needed to buy timbres fiscaux (stamps used as tax payments). They can be purchased in most convenience stores, but I had to ask in three different stores before somebody had them in stock.

1:00 – Préfecture

A crowd had already gathered at the préfecture, and people in the hallway started to get agressive. When the doors opened, everyone rushed to take a numbered ticket. Remembering previous visits, I didn’t bother, and patiently waited in an area reserved for people with appointments. Ten minutes later, a woman at the counter explained that I was in the wrong line and needed a ticket. Apparently, only one window is reserved for people picking up their cartes. Merde. I grabbed a ticket marked with the 30th place in line, which would mean hours of waiting. It was over. I handed off the ticket to someone else and shuffled out the door as a failure.

2:20 – Afternoon session

Late to the afternoon training session, I apologized to the instructor and gave a sullen “thumbs down” to the Cuban. The instructor launched into a lecture about democracy and the organization of local/regional/national government offices. He showed us some symbols of France, including the flag, national anthem, and Marianne. Soon the class was drawn into a discussion about French laïcité (secularism) and its impact on the rights of men and women, which led to the following dialogue :

“So if I understand correctly, here in France it is recommended to take only one wife?”

“Not recommended! Illegal! You may only legally have one wife.”

“Women here have too much power. But I have another question. If my wife and I are separated but not divorced, and I’m living in a different house with another woman, is it legal?”

“Well your wife won’t be happy, but yes, it’s legal.”

3:30 – Coffee break

The instructor came over and complimented my doodles and notetaking, so I took the opportunity to ask what time the class would end. Five pm. Earlier than expected, but too late for the préfecture. I launched into a tale of woe about living so far away, missing days of work, and just hoping for the opportunity to go pick up my new visa. He paused for a moment, shrugged, and offered to let me go early for “special circumstances.” Shocked, I thanked him profusely, whipped out a pen to sign my attendance certificate, avoided eye contact with jealous classmates, and ran out the door.

3:45 – Préfecture part deux

Twenty minutes later, I was facing a sign taped to the préfecture ticket machine.

“No more tickets. Office closed.”

Of course I hadn’t bothered to keep my ticket from earlier. A few people were still waiting to be called, so I hunted on the floor and under seats to see if anyone had dropped a ticket. No luck. Finally, the line cleared and I cautiously approached the window. A cheerful man benhind the counter took my paperwork and timbres, asked me to sign some documents, then handed over the carte de séjour! I shook his hand, high-fived some fellow étrangers, and skipped out of the office…

… directly to a pub for a celebratory Guinness.

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Hyper bon!

Hyper bon!

Here’s a 2008 comic from Pénélope Bagieu, the talented cartoonist and illustrator behind Ma Vie est Tout à Fait Fascinante. This very scene plays out on the daily chez nous.

Les garçons ne grossissent pas (les salopards)

Translation :

Men don’t gain weight (those assholes)

“You might find it hardcore, but have you ever tried nutella + salted butter + Nesquick? – Super good.”

(World of shit)

New Years and cake!

As an étrangère, an outsider/foreigner, it’s often difficult to distinguish French cultural traditions from those specific to Max’s family or life in the campagne. This was my  fourth New Years Eve spent in France, and it’s honestly one of my favorite holidays here. In my experience, it all boils down to fruits de mer (seafood), friends, family, and alcohol-fueled bétises (shenanigans).

This year, we spent the evening with close friends of Max’s family, Max’s brothers, and a bunch of goofy little kids. Dinner started around 8:30 pm with the apéritif, and ended around 4:30 am with dessert. WAIT… EIGHT HOURS?

If you’re thinking that it sounds excessive and terrible: What are you doing reading this blog?

If you’re thinking that it sounds delicious and fun, but exhausting: Exactly.

So after a few rounds of drinks and appetizers, we broke out the crustaceans. Shellfish in France is a holiday tradition, but with mayonnaise instead of cocktail sauce. But they do order these crazy delicious platters with all kinds of periwinkles, oysters, crayfish, and shrimp… that still have faces.

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In the US, most people leave the TV on to watch the ball drop in Times Square as the clock hits midnight. In France, party hats and favors are distributed, everyone counts down to midnight, and then the party becomes a battle zone. This year, everyone got a paper ball shooter and unleashed tiny paper bullets without mercy for about half an hour. Which, surrounded by small children, alcohol, and glassware, is about as destructive as you can imagine.

Note the blurry pictures. Nothing is simple when you’re being pelted from all directions. Shrimp everywhere.

Around 1:30 am, dinner was still being prepared, and most of us were starting to get pretty tired. We turned to music to get everyone moving again. Like this song about a crazy cow.

This year, the hosts asked me to bring dessert. Specifically, American desserts. Somehow I ended up making 70 tiny cheesecakes, cupcakes, and brownies. Everyone went to bed shortly thereafter, but we were up again the next day for leftovers lunch and another big family dinner.

New Years also kicks off Epiphany season (January 6). Which means that people wish everyone they see bonne année and bonne santé (to the new year and your health) during the entire month. It also means that the galette des rois (kings cake) is served for dessert. Each flaky cake, sprinkled with sugar crystals, comes with a cardboard crown and a fève (small porcelain trinket) cooked inside the cake. The the youngest child present sits under the table and decides who gets each piece of cake. The person who finds the fève in their slice is the king/queen for the day, and needs to buy the next cake. The fève is usually a religious icon or TV character (baby Jesus, a smurf, etc.) My guess is that this cake will never catch on in America, because each cake would need to be covered in warning labels to avoid choking lawsuits. France is a far less litigious nation.

Bienvenue, Kate!

We received a visit from Kate all the way from MA! We spent a lovely couple of days catching up and eating regional cuisine. We visited a lovely restaurant in Nantes, Kate and I woke up early to buy breakfast pastries at the boulangerie, and Max made delicious galettes and crepes.

Breaking Out the Grill

Back in France, we finally got around to having our first barbecue with Max’s brother and cousin. The gentlemen seemed a little lost, so I was happy to step in and grill up some ribs, sausages, and pork chops.

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Another Maxterpiece

Somehow Max has discovered that the way to a Vaccaro’s heart is through their stomach.

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Le Bilig Crêperie

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This picture is from an extra-delicious birthday crepe dinner at a traditional crêperie  Our desserts were super fancy. Crêpes (and their salted counterpart galettes) are one of Brittany’s traditional foods, and are usually paired with sparkling cider in fancy cider mugs. This restaurant only buys local produce, and even lists the addresses of their suppliers in the menu. As it turns out, the farm that produces the cider we ordered is from our town, only a ten-minute walk away! France gives new meaning to “buy local”.

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