Adventures and misadventures in France.

Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is in two days, New Years arrives in a week, and Max and I will be flying to Boston in just one month – where did 2014 go? Generally, these breaks in posting correspond to life getting busier, and I just don’t have the time (read: motivation) to write about it. My last post was in early November (about a vacation we took in July), so there are plenty of things that I haven’t gotten around to writing yet :

– My parents visited in September

– Business trips to Berlin and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

– Turns out I have astigmatism

– We’re moving to Houston, Texas in February

And, best of all, Max and I are engaged! (whew!)

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Au revoir, vélo

Max has finally completed his temporary work assignment in Angers, which means I no longer have to bike to work! Sure, it was only 3 km each way to a colleague’s house, where I spent each morning cuddling with his adorable baby and chihuahua… But trust me, it feels good to arrive at work without a layer of sweat and body odor. My coworkers are probably equally pleased with the change. 

Biking to work, by the numbers 

Months without transportation : 6

Days biked : 72

Biking to work was inconvient and time-consuming, but it was also a great way to spend more time outside and make exercise part of the daily routine. Plus, we had a very mild spring and summer without too much rain – ideal biking weather. 

Dog casualties : 1

Days to re-sell the bike : 4

Two hours after my last commute, the bike was already posted to French Craigslist. Four days later, a nice family from a couple towns away paid more than the original price. And as we enter a delightful Indian summer, I’m more than happy to trade biking for some pick-up basketball and trips to the pool during lunch breaks!

 

Whoops…

 

Three months without a single post? My bad. As the days grew longer here, the Loire was hit with a surprisingly mild and warm spring/early summer, offering plenty of opportunities for activities. In April, we took a few weekend excursions not far from home. In May, I hopped back to the US for my brother’s college graduation and quick stops in Washington DC and Boston. June was the beginning of French barbecue season, and this weekend Max and I are headed to the first of three summer weddings for various cousins. We’ll be arriving at the mairie (town hall) for a 10 AM civil ceremony, then it’s off to the church and an entire afternoon, evening, night, and then morning of food, dancing, and shenanigans.

This month, not only is my sister visiting France, but we’re headed to Iceland! At this time of year, the sun never fully sets, so we’ll be filling the days with hikes, Icelandic horses, exploring Reykjavik, and puffin-hunting.

Happy Independence Day!

Facing the music

This weekend, Max and I took a road trip up to Normandy to pick up my early birthday present, a piano keyboard! It may be 10 years since my last lesson (not including several ill-fated years of clarinet) but I’m determined to pick it up again. After a couple days of practicing, it’s become painfully clear that I need to practice playing with the left hand and reading music. I’ve printed out some covers of popular music, but most of it is still beyond my ability, so Max has been recruited to participate in ‘Heart and Soul’ duets for now.

Any suggestions for beginner/intermediate piano music or excercises would be appreciated!

Interview with Aux Cinq Coins du Monde

People back home often ask about my experience transitioning to expat life in France. As promised, here’s an excerpt from my interview with Aux Cinq Coins du Monde, with some completely honest answers. I’ve translated the text to English, but you can read the original article in French here.

What do you like about your host country?

I love that the French enjoy a relaxed lifestyle. Stores close super early, which means that the evening for relaxatino and appreciating a good meal. Many families here have lived in the same town for generations, and know their neighbors and local businesses. France has a rich history dating back thousands of years. The culture and climate of each region is very distinct, and France is very accessible for trips to other European countries. 

The climate here is also pretty great – it never gets too hot or too cold between seasons, so the view stays green all year round. I’m originally from Boston, where each season is very distinct. It’s easier here, but I miss snow and hot summers!

What do you dislike ?

I grew up in a matriarcal family. Here in our corner of France, the roles of men and women are still pretty rigid. When we are invited to people’s homes, women generally cook and clean, while men generally repair things and drink. Difficult to avoid speaking out and insulting people ! I also miss local beers, and international dining options.

What are some characteristics of your host country ?

  • Food

I can never stop raving about French food! I love the wine, trying meals with rabbit and duck meat, galettes, and plenty of the traditional desserts. There are many farms in the area where we can buy local food directly, which is a great advantage that most people don’t have in the US.
I guess my only complaint would be that people tend to eat a lot of meat and cheese here, without too many vegetables. For example, in the summer, people enjoy grilled meats with potatoes, and in the winter, it’s raclette.

French restaurants are delicious, but there aren’t too many international restaurant options here. I also miss New England specialties like apple cider, pumpkin foods, and seafood (lobster, clam chowder, and fried clams). And iced coffee ! But honestly, I can’t complain here – we eat very well !

  • Vacation

In the US, the standard vacation time offered by employers is two weeks. Here, I have a minimum of 5 weeks! I use them to visit my family and travel. It’s very easy to travel on the weekends here. We’ve already visited the Mont St. Michel, La Baule, and the Puy du Fou. We’re planning to visit Normandie and Paris. It’s also possible to travel by car or train to Belgium, Germany, England, Switzerland, etc.

  • Healthcare

All of my experiences with the French healthcare system have been very good. I don’t have the carte vitale (French social security card) yet,  but a typical consultation with a doctor, dentist, or vet will cost about 25€. There’s no need to make an appointment (except for specialists),  you see the doctor directly (no assistants) and they are very laid-back and attentive.

  • Driving

If I want to drive in France, I will need to re-take a driving exam, because a MA state licence is not accepted here, and learn to drive manual. For now, I’ve been getting around by bike. But I love that most traffic lights here have been replaced with small rotary/roundabout so that traffic moves more fluidly.

  • Living costs

More expensive in France : gas, highway tolls, food, restaurants (but there’s no need to tip), bank fees, taxes, and clothing.

Less expensive in France : healthcare and medication, wine and liquor (especially in restaurants), rent, and insurance rates (car/home/health).

Salaries tend to be lower overall in France than in the US.

Has your integration been easy ?

My boyfriend, my language ability, and my previous experiences in France have really helped me feel at home here. But with my accent and “weird” American habits, I will always be considered a foreigner here! People have made fun of the way I eat pizza and certain clothing choices.

It’s been difficult to meet locals in France. Most people aleady have close friends, and though everyone is very polite, it is difficult to integrate into a new group. So most of the people I hang out with include my boyfriend’s friends/family, colleagues, and other expats.

How often do you visit your home country ?

Over the past year I’ve lived in France, I had the opportunity to return to the US three times. Once for a wedding and my sister’s graduation, once for work, and once for Christmas. Visiting my family is a big priority for me, and I have plenty of vacation time, but the plane tickets are expensive! I use social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Skype, Google chat) to contact family and friends as often as possible. I also have a landline that I can use to call any US number for free.

Do you intend to return to your home country one day ?

My boyfriend and I decided long before the move that we wanted to permanently live in the US one day. We are both very close with our families, but I think we would still prefer to live in a country with more career opportunities for both of us. So we intend to settle down on the East coast of the US within the next couple of years.

Do you want to share an anecdote ?

Last summer, we took a weekend trip to the beach. We visited La Baule, and I remember that we discussed the cultural differences between France and the US, that we never see American women topless on the beach, especially not with their families ! But in France, it’s completely normal. The next day, we decided to visit the medieval village Guerande and the neighboring salt flats. Afterwards, we saw signs for a beach not too far away. We parked the car and followed a long path through a forest. When we finally arrived at the beach, hot and ready to go for a swim, we realized that we were surrounded by naked people !  There had been no sign, no indication that this was a nudist beach! We immedately turned around and headed back to the car.

Do you have any advice for future expats ?

Thoroughly research your new life before you leave ! Expatriation is a fantastic experience, but there are many challenges. It is difficult to integrate without some knowledge of the language and culture of your host country, and it is often difficult to obtain visas and employment. Best of luck!

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I’d like to thank Sara from Aux Cinq Coins du Monde for reaching out! For other expats who may be interested, the site is always looking for more francophones to share their experiences.

The harsh reality of biking to work

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Last week, I decided to try biking to work. With the best intentions, I researched potential routes, gathered weather-appropriate gear, and purchased a safety light and reflective vest. Rain was expected for Monday, so Max loaned me a rain jacket. I felt prepared and excited.

Expectation : 8 km, 30 minutes, stunning countryside views

Things did not go according to plan.

Leaving the house, there were some ominous clouds in the distance, but no rain just yet. Cruising along the route as planned, I was quickly reminded how little physical exertion I’m accustomed to. Sweating through three layers, I arrived in a quiet neighborhood and estimated that it was the halfway point. Someone’s adorable golden retriever got loose and began running along the road beside me, which was encouraging. But in a moment, the dog miscalculated his enthusiasm and crashed into the back wheel. Shocked and convinced that I had just killed my spirit animal, I threw the bike into a ditch and ran back.

OH NO HE’S LIMPING

After several minutes of pure panic, the dog was actually running around like normal, so it was time to go. Arriving at the next intersection, however, it was clear that someone (the map or I) had really messed up. Not only was I tired and very late for work, I was also lost.

Cue torrential downpour.

For a minute, I considered calling someone from the office to come find me. It also became apparent that Max’s jacket was not suited for rain at all. But another half mile down the road, I finally found a familiar road and knew the office wasn’t too far. Distance is relative when you’re struggling to maneuver a bike uphill on a busy road in the rain. Finally I arrived at the office, exhaused and soaking wet, a full hour late.

Reality : 11 km, 75 minutes, monsoon season

Where did it all go wrong?

Sure there are things I could’ve done differently. Bike the route ahead of time, get an earlier start, bring an actual rain jacket… details.

Will I ever bike again?

Absolutely. Maybe even tomorrow. But I’ll probably catch a ride from a coworker in the morning and stick to the mostly-downhill ride home for now.

Twainbike

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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)

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