Adventures and misadventures in France.

Posts tagged ‘culture’

The pitfalls of marrying an American woman

Celebrity gossip is not my first choice of reading material, but this week’s article about the Gwyneth Paltrow/Chris Martin split from the Telegraph offers a hilarious commentary on European-American relationships.

The Pitfalls of Marrying an American Woman

The evidence hits far too close to home :

To marry an American is to accept the word “woo!” into your life. The word is not in any dictionary, but is written deep inside an American’s heart and soul. To an American, if anything vaguely good is happening, one must emit a “woo”. Perhaps a baseball team has hit a baseball. Or a tray of cupcakes successfully made it from the kitchen to a living room table. Anything dimly positive can be greeted with a overly-loud, obnoxiously out-of-context: “WOOO! YEAH! Cupcakes! Awesome!”. It is insufferable.

Excuse me while I look up more recipes for cupcakes. Woo!

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.

Fête, boum, and soirée

Fête, boum, soirée: three words with one meaning (more or less).

This year, Max and I were invited to birthday parties for Max’s cousin and uncle. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s been difficult to distinguish between French culture and Max’s eccentric family. Honestly it doesn’t make much of a difference- things tend to get weird in the best possible way.

60 ans Yannick

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Preparing the aperitif fountain!

Max’s uncle hosted a hilarious dinner for both friends and family. The family prepared des animations, entertainment, including a cowboy-themed dance, traditional dance from Madagascar, and a video slideshow. Honestly, it was comparable to a wedding reception. We also enjoyed one of my favorite French party traditions, the fil rouge. French parties tend to involve hours of sit-down meals, so the host will often designate someone to prepare a song or dance to get everyone up and moving in between courses.

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Anniversaire Mika et Béa

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Max’s cousin Mika and his wife Béa hosted a wonderful 70s-themed party in Brive-la-Gaillarde, a lakeside town in  central France. They rented out an offseason campground, complete with bunks for their guests to stay the weekend. We spent the day playing boules and strolling along hills with fantastic views of the lake and vacation cottages. That night, we enjoyed performances from their musically gifted family. The theme was the 70s, so that meant plenty of disco and hippie costumes. Kiss, Ziggy Stardust, and Che Guevara made appearances, and Max and I represented punk rock.

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La Foire de Béré

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Our Bretagne winter is well under way… not too chilly, but rain and gray skies almost every day. So I’m enjoying adding pictures and posts from earlier in the year.

The Foire de Béré is the annual harvest fair held in Chateaubriant in early September. It’s considered one of the oldest continuous fairs in France, dating back to the year 1050. I found the event very similar to typical American fairs, with the same livestock and crop competitions, farm supply stands, and plenty of snack foods and carnival rides. We spent a lot of time browsing clothing stalls, and our friend Jean-Charles managed to win a stuffed Tigger from a claw machine!

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It doesn’t sleep. It waits.

It doesn't sleep. It waits.

Our neighbor just planted this little guy in our (shared) yard. We’re going to call him Stump Gnome.

He reminds me of a scene from The Full Monty, which was on French TV this weekend. Also South Park.

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Vegetables?

Do Americans even eat vegetables?

I have received this question a surprising number of times since moving to France, most recently last night from a curious friend over dinner. I replied sincerely – that we live off a complete diet of coca-cola, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and fries.

Honestly though, it’s been my experience that people in New England eat more vegetables than those in Northwest France. Most meals here include a surprising amount of meat, potatoes, crème fraîche, and cheese.

Often in delicious crêpe or galette form.

La Politesse

There are plenty of awful stereotypes about people from different countries. According to Max, Americans are all overweight, the British are uptight and can’t cook, and Germans have too many rules. When I asked him if he was aware of stereotypes of the French, he simply replied, “We’re too awesome?”

No, I informed him, people think that the French are rude and snobbish.

“What!” he responded, “but la politesse (politeness) is so important to us!”

I’d like to believe that most stereotypes of French people is based on tourist experiences in Paris. True, Parisians don’t go out of their way to speak English or welcome foreigners into their city. But a similar distinction would be if all foreigners believed that every American acted like a New Yorker.

 

My experiences living in rural and southern France have only shown how friendly, welcoming, and polite they can be. The people who work in our local library, boulangerie, hair salon, restaurant, and convenience store all go out of their way to say hello, ask about recent vacations, and mention that they know your landlord. In my opinion, you haven’t seen the true French politesse until, as I experienced today, a 4-year-old neighbor on a tricycle takes their pacifier out to say “Bonjour!”

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