Monday, January 29, 2007

Just don't mix them up...

Maybe we shouldn't keep these:

side by side in the pantry.

I mean,

it's not going to kill anyone if you accidentally put this:

in your pancakes.

But don't put this:

in your coffee.

At least that's what I think.

You can do whatever you want.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

We interrupt this current blogging hiatus with live coverage of....

The First Snowfall of the Year!!!!!

At first, it wasn't sticking because it had rained for several hours previously, but now it's starting to stick to the cars and houses. S was the first to notice it and he asked immediately if we could go make a snowman!

It's better than TV!

(We're all (except Mr. French, of course) home sick today and yesterday and the day before....)

Monday, January 15, 2007

The French Connection

There's a little inside joke between Mr. French and me.

I would tell Mr. French something I'd read from the boy's school papers.

For example, "did you know that they have math after the lunch break?"

And, of course, he would say, "How do you know?"

And I reply in an exasperated tone, "I can read French, you know."

I can't really. But there are so many cognates that with a little context you can often figure out about half of it. That also probably means I am getting half of it wrong too, but it works for me.

The other great thing is that a lot of what we buy is shipped from other European countries. So there might be ingredients and descriptions in 10 different languages on the back of the box. (just look for GB-Great Britain) Then Mr. French can be impressed by my French reading ability, for about 2 minutes, until I take it too far.

"It also says it contains gluten."

"What is gluten in French again?" he asks suspiciously.

"Umm....ahhh.... gloo-ton?"


Then, when that got old, we turned it around. He'll hand me a bill or something and say, "Look at this."

I'll pick it up and look and then throw it down in surprise and disgust. "It's all in French!"

We like to pretend we're surprised everything here is in French.

"It was a good talk, except it was all in French."

"That's looks interesting. It's probably all in French though."

Another time:

Me: "Were there any announcements at school?"

Mr. F: "Yeah. But they were all in French."

Another thing that surprises me, I guess because I feel like I must look different to everyone, since I don't speak French, but I get stopped all the time for directions. I sometimes have to wait a few seconds while they keep talking, until I can shake my head and say, "Sorry, I don't speak French." One woman, who had stopped me, started laughing and said, "And I'm German!"

Mr. French thinks I should learn how to say that in French, but I think that would be confusing.
-"Je suis désolé, mais je ne parle pas français."
And they're thinking, "Do you speak French or not? You just did, you know."

Case in point. Just today, a man held the door open for me while I pushed the stroller through, loaded with groceries. He continued on in French, asking if he could help bring them upstairs for me. (Context and gestures!) I declined, as it meant several loads and I'd just seen him talking to the police (!) (I have pictures, see below!). There was some back and forth, me speaking some English and French but mostly gesturing that I was fine and thank-you for helping, and him speaking French. Finally, he seemed to understand and he started up the stairs,

"English?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, I speak English." I said.

"I don't speak English." He said with an accent, emphasizing the "don't".

And I thought, Really? How much English don't you speak?

When we first got here, Mr. French would start every inquiry with an apologetic ...
"Je ne parle pas français tres bien." ("I don't speak French very well.")

And after he asked his question, many would reply, "You speak French well!"

And then Mr. F would want to say, "But that's all I can speak!"

S had a substitute teacher the other day. I asked him how he liked her.
He said, "I just say, I not talk."

Sometimes you have to wonder if immersion is all it's cracked up to be.

Oh well.

C'est la vie!

And here's the picture of the man in question talking to the police (out our back porch). He's the one in jeans. (He was still talking to them when I got back from the store.)

J was trying to wave to the nice police (wo)man but they didn't notice him.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A walk through the woods...

We went for a walk the other day while we were still on break. We were dazzled by the mountains and scenery. So, since pictures are worth a thousand words....

(Can you see our apartment? It's right there in the middle.
No, down a little. Right there. I can't believe you can't see it.)

(Don't get in discussion with the French about the "warm" January. They say it's Bush's fault. They don't appreciate comments like, "Really? 'cause I think Chirac must have done it.")

(Why did we bring the stroller?)

Note: All the "artistic" pictures (translation:good-looking, well-set-up shots) are NOT by yours truly, but Mr. French. Just giving credit where credit is due.

Friday, January 12, 2007


I'm going to discuss something I rarely talk about with anyone.

Other than my husband.


You know, the kind that show up every month to tell you that you used so much gas or electricity or water?

As we should know by now, it's a little different here.

Let's start at the beginning.

The great thing about coming to this school is they make the transition a little easier. They act as a liaison between our landlord and us. We pay our rent money to the school and tell them if we have problems. That's a huge help. Just finding the place for us is a lot of help. They also got the utilities set up by the time we arrived. Those bills come to us here at our apartment.

The thing is, what is obvious to one is not obvious to another. I remember one time when I started a new job, I complained to my Dad that it took 5 minutes just to figure out where the employees were supposed to park. No one ever tells you the stuff you really need to know. And my Dad said that people forget what it's like to be new. Never more true than when you move to a foreign country. You ask stupid questions. But the hardest part is when you don't even know to ask the question.

We moved here in September and as soon as we could, we opened up a bank account (a requirement for getting the carte de sejour, as well). And we got our first stack of bills. And we waited for the checks. After a reasonable length of time, Mr. French went to the bank and inquired about the checks.

"Oh, sorry, we forgot to order them."

The school said, "no problem, we'll wait."

Good. We'd heard that people could pay all their utility bills at the post office, but then we found out that they charged a fee for the service. Mr. French asked the financial director at the school which was more expensive, the service fee at the Post office or the late fee for the utilities.

"Oh, there's no late fee. You just pay it when you get the checks."

Score one for the us! I love France!

Fast forward to December.

We received some bills, but because it was right up against finals week, we didn't pay much attention. There would be plenty of time after finals.

So, the 25th of December (the day before we leave on vacation) finds Mr. French doing bills.

"Look at these bills. Water is 101,96 euros! Gas is 190,89 euros! Doesn't that seem really expensive?" (Keep in mind that euros are more valuable than the dollar so the bill is higher in dollars.)

"Yes. What were our last payments?"

"Water was 20,31 euros, gas was only 46,42 euros."

"That's seems really expensive. How can that be right? That's not what they told us the averages were."

Thoughts of bathing twice a week and wearing the same clothes 5 days in a row started to crowd out the common sense in my mind.

"Is this why the French keep their refrigerators on warm? And wash their clothes once a month? This is only December!"

We couldn't figure it out. Plus we were leaving the next day and there was no way we could put more money into our French bank account to pay for all the bills, so we left the large one for when we returned. It would be late, but the French are nice like that.

Fast forward to January. We got back and Mr. French decided to have a French person explain the bills to us. She looked at it and couldn't understand what the problem was.

"It's not really all that much." she said.

Mr. French and I looked at each other.

"Yes, it is for the gas you used from September to December."

"Oh, so it's for three months at a time?"

"Yes, that is common."

"Oh, that's why it's so much."

"It's really not that much."

"Well, it is if you think it's for one month."

"Oh, yes, but utility bills are never for just one month."

Thanks for the tip.

She looked at the newest letter we had gotten.

Mr. French asked "This is just saying that I'm late, right?"

"Yes, it says that if you don't pay by January 12, they will shut off the gas."

"Oh, good. No late fee, just no gas."

French 1, us 1.

Now, you're probably wondering what that first bill was for, since we got it soon after we arrived. That was to pay for the privilege of using the water, gas and electricity, three months at a time. Now, I'm not saying it's not a privilege. It's just confusing. So we paid 46,42 euros, which is about 9-something euros for each month and 12 euros for installation fee and of course it's taxed. All before we paid for any gas.

French 2, us 1

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Can I take your coat? I can wash it too...

So, you might not find this funny, but I had to take a picture and share it with you.

The friends/semi-relatives (what do you call your brother's wife's sister?) we stayed with in Edinburgh have a beautiful apartment. Tall ceilings, big windows, beautiful details. Admittedly, it's a little on the small side, especially now that they have two adorable (but rambunctious) boys and still use it as a home office. But what a great location! Walking distance to, like, everything.

They've rearranged some things (like the kitchen) and instead of the very European way of putting the washing machine in the kitchen (why would you do that anyway?) my friend (who is American) opted to put it in the hall closet.

That sounds reasonable.

I guess it just looks funny.

Here's a normal looking hall closet, right off the main hallway (or make that the only hallway).

Can you see the washing machine? It's a little hard...

Okay, there.

Tell me that's not funny. I think I laughed every time she climbed under the coats and into the laundry room.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Our Vacation Days are Numbered

Number of suitcases and carry-ons we left France with: 4

Number of suitcases and carry-ons we returned to France with: 6

Number of books Mr. French bought while in Edinburgh, Scotland: 14

Number of items we brought with us that fell apart and needed to be replaced ASAP: 4

Number of times Mr. French went shopping on Prince's street: 1

Number of times I went shopping in Edinburgh (Prince's street or otherwise): 3

Earliest time we had to get up to travel: 5 AM

Total number of trains we took: 8

Total number of trains we were supposed to take: 11

Number of minutes between first train we took and second train we were supposed to take: 6

Number of minutes the first train we took was running late: 6

Number of conductors between first train and second train we asked for information: 1

Number of helpful conductors we talked to between first train and second train: 0

Amount in Euros it cost to travel from Chambery train station to Geneva Airport by taxi: 150

Number of times our flight was canceled: 1

Number of planes we were on during entire trip: 2

Number of take-offs on said planes: 3

Number of times we felt stupid when we found out that the plane we just got on was "stopping off" in Chambery: 245 (counting the one I just had)

Number of different countries visited on this trip: 3

Number of different countries now stamped in our passports: 1

Number of nice border-control-passport-stampers we met in Scotland who are also studying theology and were interested in Mr. French's study of a Calvinistic perspective of the arts: 1

Total number of minutes we spent with nice border-control-passport-stampers in Scotland: 2

Number of years since the first time Mr. French and I were in Edinburgh, Scotland together: 12.5

Number of years since the last time we were in Britain: 7

Number of years of marriage we celebrated at an Indian restaurant in Edinburgh: 7

Number of pictures of Mr. French and I together in the same picture 7 years ago: 0

Number of pictures of Mr. French and I together in the same picture this last trip: 6

Number of times Mr. French has complained about not having a picture of us on our honeymoon: 0

Number of times I have complained about not having a picture of us on our honeymoon: 392

Number of flower shops Mr. French visited on our anniversary: 2

Number of flower shops that were open: 0

Number of times Mr. French checked back to see if it was open throughout the day and days later: 12

Number of pictures we took of any child on our honeymoon: 0

Number of pictures we took of any child on this trip: 151

Number of pictures taken of S on or looking at a train: 42

Number of times S asked when we were getting on another train: 378

Number of castles we visited in Edinburgh: 1

Number of our children who got in free of charge: 2

Approximate cost in dollars to get into Edinburgh castle: 50 (!)

Number of pints of draft Guiness Mr. French had while in Edinburgh: 4

Number of pints C had: 0

Number of trips to museums by Mr. French: 2

Number of different museums visited by Mr. French: 1

Number of tourists in Edinburgh to celebrate Hogmanay (New Year's Eve): thousands upon thousands

Time the celebration was officially canceled due to high winds: 10:30 pm

Number of tourists who will probably not attempt Hogmanay in Edinburgh next New Year's Eve: thousands upon thousands

Number of days we were away from France: 10

Number of days at least 1 of our 3 children had vomiting or diarrhea: 8

Number of times we dreamed of living in Britain: 328

Friday, January 5, 2007

No, really, thank YOU for making us feel so loved.

We got back from Scotland in the dark Thursday night to find so many beautiful and encouraging messages on the blog.

Well, beautiful is a stretch, but I was encouraged by all the comments. I think I get more comments when I don't write than when I do.

Wait a second.

How is that supposed to be encouraging?

(No, really, thank you, I love comments.)

So, I was sick almost up until we left. And I thought, surely that means we'll all be healthy during our vacation. Or at the very least, only dear Mr. French will be sick. I mean, it's only fair. We (the kids and I) were all sick for awhile and not Mr. French, so he should be the next one to lay in bed trying to remember what it feels like to be happy standing upright. And guess what happened?


Why is it that men don't have to be pregnant and they never get sick? I'm just sayin'.

But his progeny did a great job of making up for him because there were only two days out of 10 that one of the three did not vomit or have diarrhea.

But we had a great time. It was just the sort of vacation we needed, with just the right sort of people. People who know what it's like to live in a foreign country. Who don't like to get up as early as their kids. Who know as well as we do what it's like to live in a small apartment and to always feel a little unsettled, even when they're settled. Who would rather shop than clean the bathroom. Or shop rather than deal with cranky kids off their routine who keep asking to go home (yeah, those were ours). People who also moved to France and then moved back home again.

See, my kind of people.

So, people, I'm coming back! I promise I'll be posting again soon but I'm not giving myself some big looming deadline! (use your valley-girl voice "cuz, I like, don't really like them.")

I have lots of blogging ideas.

And I now have 291 photos to sort through and blog about.

Plus, I need to blog about the first three months we were here before the French could invent the internet. Or was that Gore. I'm so confused.