5 Lessons Learned from Perseverance at the Prefecture

I’ve been MIA, I know. But before I delve into the roller coaster of emotions/events of the past few months (BIG changes on the horizon), I figured I start with something concrete- life lessons I’ve learned from the prefecture.

‘What the heck is a prefecture?!’, some of you might ask. To which I would respond that it is the hellmouth, the keeper of your future, a cirque du soleilesque mental challenge of your emotional strength, or as some people like to call it ‘the administrative building for visas and other important documents’. And for those of you who know what it is, I’m sorry. Let’s take a minute to hold hands, sigh, and let go of what we cannot control. Life lesson number one.

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For those who need a visual

Which brings me to: 

Five lessons learned from prefecture pain and perseverance:

#1- Learn when to let go of things you cannot control. I’ve learned this the hard way, but when dealing with administration, it’s important to check your desire for controlfreakyness at the door. Once you step through those big wooden frames, you are a mere puppet at the mercy of French hands. Building a bubbling rage over a desire for the line to be shorter, the weather to be less miserable, the French people to be less rude, or the process to be less inefficient, won’t change a thing. It only makes the time painfully slow and your mood increasingly less pleasant. Feel that rage for a moment if you need to, and then breathe it out. The line will move, and you will get to your destination.

#2- Expect the unexpected. Just because you have all the right documents, or you waited the allotted six weeks (or months), does not mean that you will leave with a smile of success. In order to release, or at least aid, that desire for control, you must expect the unexpected. Prepare for a multitude of possibilities so that your emotional armor is strongly in tact when you leave. Don’t assume anything. Because trust me, no one wants to see a frustrated sobbing mess crumpled in defeat just outside the gates. It’s awkward. On the flip side, when you do have that rare moment of prefecture success, it tastes all the more sweet…especially when you weren’t expecting it.

#3- Kindness Kills. Ok, so this is a strange expression, but it never hurts to appeal to a person’s humanity. Don’t over do it- especially with the French. But a simple smile, a polite ‘how are you’, or a preemptive merci can work wonders. This is not to say that you should avoid being firm when needed, but rather don’t come in with guns ablazing and silent rage bubbling. After all, these are the gatekeepers you’re dealing with. Make eye contact, be confident, but most importantly be kind.

#4- Be creative, don’t despair. If things don’t go your way, don’t crumple in awkward panicked defeat. Allowing your first thoughts to be your worst thoughts is not only unproductive, it’s unrealistic. There are always options. Maybe let a few frustrated tears fall if that’s what you need, but then get back to the drawing board! Did you ask all the right questions? What would happen if you went again? What would happen if you talked to someone new? 9 times out of 10, plan B has had a weird way of working out.

#5- If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…and with different people. Piggybacking off of the whole being creative thing, is the need for some good ole fashion perseverance. Keep trying. As my grandma loves to say, “Never surrender! Never give up!” (yes, I know that she mixes the order- it just adds to the delightful quirkiness of her shouting it).

My French coworker once said to me, “French administration is a labyrinth. You can get in, but you can’t find a way out.” While it is indeed a mental maze and at times you might find yourself in a pit of despair, a release of control, a creative outlook, a little kindness, and a lot of persistence are excellent tools for navigating that labyrinth.

…and if all else fails, grab a tea or coffee at the nearest cafe with a supportive loved one and prepare for round 2…or 20.

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Whirlwind

Can it be? Have four, almost five, whole months passed since my last post?!

Where should I even begin? I have too many tales to regale. Like the time a 10-year-old French ‘player’ (yes, 10- apparently they’re starting younger and younger) shyly professed his love for me on the last day of camp. Or the time I got involved in a Game of Thronesesque pranking war that divided all the counselors against each other in untrusting good fun. Or the time I had a break (pun intended?) from camp,  went on a nice birthday-weekend-kayak-trip, and proceeded to bash my head and break my nose on said kayak. Pros- I got a cheap nose job, a badass story, the reassurance that I can communicate in drug-induced French, and a more solid appreciation for life. Cons- rapids still traumatize me…just a little.

Proof

Proof

And I haven’t even started on summer.

So now that I’ve proven I am alive (and for the moment well) I hope to recount some of the adventures in more detail. Hopefully to come: the misadventures of traveling with one’s mom, the pros and cons of the group tour, the vegetarian guide to Spain, becoming a flamenco addict, hiking Cinque Terre in less than 24 hours, understanding Pisa’s charm, and even a pretty picture or two.

But for now let me summarize the whirlwind in a few photos:

 

La vie est belle. 

The Camp Diaries: Weeks 2-3

Bonjour from camp land!

Where to begin? Unfortunately I fell a bit short on the blog updating front as I got pretty sick (still have yet to regain my voice to its full potential), and as a result have far too many stories to tell from the past two weeks. BUT I shall use my notes in an effort to convey the gist of camp craziness.

End of Week 1- The Weekend Adventure:

Saturday marked the first venturing beyond the walls of the chateau with fellow counselor, Olive. It felt strange to leave the premises and see a space outside of a camp-covered chateau. At first sight only Normandy countryside-a.k.a. flat farmland as far as the eye could see- surrounded us. But 30 minutes later Olive and I arrived in a tiny town filled with old people gambling, smoking and sipping on coffees at a miniscule cafe, and bored teenagers hanging out in front of the small highschool. We walked back and forth searching for a semblance of food and sticking out like bright, awkward tourists. Finally the boulangerie opened and we feasted on bread, cheese, and cider in the shade of a chapel as Frenchies walked past with smiles or stares plastered to their faces. We didn’t care. We were content with our picinic….and tipsy off cider.

Week 2- Monday Madness:

Change is the theme of this week. Two new counselors arrived last night full of energy and excitmement.

The day started with a relatively calm atmosphere- we were efficient and even finished the set up with extra time on our hands. We had a week under our belts and figured we had it in the bag. Bring on the kids! …That is until a storm of 50 tiny kids poured off the bus. Not teenagers, not adolescents- kids. At first I thought the perspective was making them tinier than expected. But it was actually their age. Not 10 and 11 year olds but tiny, hyper, first-time-away-from-home 8 year olds.

The rest of the day was chaos. The teachers came over-prepared and messed with the money system (which I was conveniently in charge of) and the kids were confused, hyper, scared, shy, and unable to comprehend the situation (aka English). Olive and I’s window was apparently not fully shut and our room flooded with the afternoon rain that decided to contribute to the chaos. Our evening campfire was canceled and dividing up ESL classes was quite the confusing effort. This week is already so different.

Bank of America time

Bank of America time

Tuesday and Wednesday It’s a love/hate game I’m playing: 

We divided the ESL classes and I got the lower level hyperactive kids, as well as the one student with autism who is not taking kindly to our new camp names. So now he has two names- French+ American Camp name. So far, so good.

Well, I faced my fear of teaching elementary frenchies. I first faced my fear of highschool students in Montbeliard, and now the part of me perpetually terrified of teaching such small non-native speakers is calm. All things considered, the class went really well today and they kids are pretty damn cute with their tiny French voices. I miss working with little kids. It’s nice to be reminded of the work I love.

Wed…
The days are getting longer. And more chaotic. Last night a kid peed himself and another one cried for home. Today several cried from dodgeball. And yelled. So. Much. Yelling. What a horrible game. I only have one more full day, but it seems like an eternity. My throat is sore from all the yelling over excited voices. All. The. Time.

I find it funny that instead of yelling “you can’t do that” to one another, the kids say, “tu n’as pas le droite” (aka ‘you don’t have the right!’). I’m glad I understand French.

All in all I’ve enjoyed this week- which is a testament to how much I love working with elementary kids. True they’re hyperactive little shits for a large portion of the time, but they’re also adorable little beings with giant smiles, and a genuine curiosity for learning about this world they’re in.

The day is done and all I want is silence. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Even laughing feels like effort. My throat hurts. My ears are buzzing. I fall asleep with tiny French voices in my head.

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ESL madness

Thursday- New Theme Day- Hit Music:

What am I supposed to do with this theme? These are kids not teenagers! We’ve been reviewing colors, shapes, and the alphabet. Oy vey this week is long.

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I’ve been working general store for the week- the place where we sell kid crack (candy and soda) and souvenirs for mom and dad. First thought- this is tedious and horrible and I really don’t see the point. But two days later and I see the benefit. It’s a good experience for the kids to be in charge of money, and have a real life situation of making transactions in another language. Well done AMVIL.

I feel like a goblin counting gold. I was locked away in General Store for over an hour on a beautiful day counting inventory and doing far too much math. I regret working General Store this week. Who knew little kids would buy so much more than teenagers?

Dancing with kids is golden. I love their energy and excitement (some of the times), but most of all their smiles. Compared to the teenagers last week, it was refreshing to open the doors and have the kids not awkwardly stand in corners, but descend on the dance floor in a sea of spastic and enthusiastic movement. One little elf (no really, that was her camp name), all round and ‘typically nerdy looking’, broke out of her shell and boldly asked the boys to dance. At the end of the night she gave me an impish smile as she held up her count of four fingers (four boys).

Friday-

We said goodbye to one of our new counselors today and it felt oddly sad. He was only here for a week, but you bond quickly in the trenches.

The sentiment was different for the departure of the kids. Some counselors literally did cartwheels as the bus full of kids pulled away.

Two more weeks.

End of Week 2- Weekend Adventure:

I hate the world. I’m sick. At least it took effect when the kids left. But I wish I could just not be sick at all! Going into town for some meds.

We stopped at bakery where Olive got a macaroon. It was quite the process as the baker walked around the counter and used little tongs to carefully pull the bright yellow pastry out of the fridge and place it on silver platter. Then she instructed us in French that we needed to wait 10 min for it too cool down in order for the flavor to be ‘top’. I love France.

At least sick meds, sun, swans, and tiny dogs that think they’re the swan commander, help with sickness.

Week 3- “Santa brought condoms to camp”

I had to work customs this week (confiscating snacks and electronics) and I was not a fan. Neither were the kids. They were pretty good sports, but it’s not the ideal first impression I’d like to make on kids.

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Also an 11-year-old camper, Santa Claus, brought condoms to camp. According to the teachers they’re probably his dad’s, but still…Santa brought condoms to camp.

The difference in their level is like night and day. This age is so interesting as they are on the precipice of teenagedom- but not too cool yet. 

As we sat around the campfire singing songs and roasting marshmallows, I realized how funny it is to teach almost teenagers how to roast marshmallows. Sharing my childhood past time of s’mores, something so normalized for me, and so bizarre to them was amusing as they quizzically looked at eachother and whispered, “c’est trop bon!” 

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Tuesday-Thursday: Activities

This is my first week working on Activities instead of ESL. It’s a lot of physical work but maybe beats lesson planning at 11 at night.

First time in two weeks getting a break- 40 glorious minutes and all I could do was try to sleep. My sickness wants me to sleep, but my brain is too wired from my internal camp clock. Eff. 

survival essentials

survival essentials

Being on activities means teaching a bunch of frenchies how to play baseball. Objectively this sport is pretty weird. Fortunately these kids were really excited about learning and got pretty invested in the game. Only one student cried- great success! 

Two camp essentials- hot water and health. When you don’t have either things get dicey. I’m getting real tired of Normandy. 

Spectacle
This is the worst thing ever. Being sick and in charge of the same kids all day is brutal. How can I get them to focus, write a script, memorize lines and block out a scene if I don’t have a voice? I want this day to end. 

Ok so spectacle felt brutal, but was ultimately worth it to see the smiles at the end of the night. My kids were so proud of their performances and said goodnight with giant, beaming, smiles. I’m such a sucker. 

It also didn’t hurt to have amusing counselor interludes. Laughing at your coworkers as they try to do tricks as an awkward caterpillar, and smashing shaving cream into your coworker’s faces as you imitate their arms and laugh cry into their backs is really quite wonderful. Laughter is indeed the best medicine. 

Friday-Saturday: “Day Release”

The kids left crying (some even sobbing). I guess that means we’ve done our job well. It’s always a mixed feeling saying goodbye. We want them to go, so we can have some quiet and enjoy our one day off, but it’s strange to think that we’ll never see them again.


But tonight we’re actually going to a real city! The counselors are trekking to Rouen for a night on the town. I’m excited to speak French again. Being surrounded by French every day, but not being allowed to speak it has been a bit torturous. I never thought I’d say this, but my mouth misses French.

Rouen is a really cool city. It was so strange to see night life, and restaurants, and so many people. The counselors didn’t know what to do with themselves. So they got drunk. 

As my fellow coworker Buzz said of the night, “it’s like day release from prison”. 

I think that about sums it up.

One more week.

The Camp Diaries: Week 1

Catnip here- yes we get camp names, and yes, long story short, my name is Catnip.

Whew. What a week it’s been (or actually more like a week in a half- time is completely warped here). I am bruised, muddy, sore, smelly, sleep deprived, on the verge of sickness, and so very happy. Yes, happy. Camp life is intense but so very rewarding.

Where do I begin? I tried to take notes as every day was adventure packed, and filled with events, characters, and experiences perfect for humourous short stories. And every day felt like five days rolled into one. But seeing as how today is my one day off, and my first day of nothing but blue skies in Normandy, I will try to keep this short and sweet:

Days 1-3: The Beginning/Set Up

Well I got placed in Normandy. The furthest site from Grenoble and one of the colder and more rainy areas of France. My room is a camp room- sparse, cold, (freezing at night), with nothing but beds and broken dressers (but I have it all to myself for the week!). The showers come in 20 second bursts, but at least the pressure is decent and the water is warm.

But all in all, I can’t complain. I’m placed at an old Chateau in FRANCE- the stuff of fairytales…or murder mysteries. There are so many birds singing and chatting in the morning, and fat rabbits running around at night. And a cherry blossom tree is starting to bloom right outside of my room. I think I can stay here a while.

 

What do you get when you put 2 Americans, 1 Canadian, 1 Irishman, and a Brit together? Don’t know, but we’re gonna find out! The counselors are finally all together and setting up the site. It’s a lot of work for 5 people (I set up an entire computer lab!), but I think we’re ready for the kids.

1st day with Kids: Immigration

This was only a half day, but man was it busy. I worked on passport duty (checking them in and helping them select wacky names), and then assisted with customs. It was pretty intense to search for and confiscate teenager’s phones and snacks. Most of them were good sports. It doesn’t hurt that their level is very advanced!

We divided into families and had one of the most polite dinners I’d experienced in some time. Not only did they say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, but ‘may I please have’ or ‘may I serve you’. Some even got into it and started serving food like fancy waiters. I like these kids already. Continue reading

You Stay Classy, France

Last Sunday I explored the underbelly of French class- via my first wine tasting experience. It was wonderful to savor, taste, and learn about not just French wine- but natural French wine (we’re talking more pure than organic. These people still use horses instead of machines!) However, by the end, I couldn’t help but leave laughing at the contradictions of class that I had just witnessed.

You see, amidst the swirling of glasses and savoring of flavors, was the oh-so-classy spitting into buckets. The wine would dance and swirl in people’s glasses, and then moments later, out of their mouths, the spit sparkling on the rim of the bucket with just a hint of wine color lingering. Tres classe.

I know, I know. If you’re French, or a Francophile, or just a lover of wine, you’re probably getting all puffed up and ready to tell me, “It’s how true wine tasting is done!” You’re there to taste the wine, let the many flavors explore your palate, and then move on to savoring many more. I get it. I just couldn’t help but think about all the good wine that was going to waste. That’s the American in me-waste not. So what if you get tipsy and lose the full range of your wine tasting palate? You’re still drinking good wine! …or maybe that’s just the inculte in me.

As my stomach flopped in disgust (I’ll admit that I have a particular propensity for spit related nausea), I noticed some cheese. At least I could distract myself with some delicious…moldy cheese. Again, I get it- I’m in France, everything at this event is natural, I’m even a lover of strong cheese- but when it came down to it, I opted for the less fuzzy greenish blue ones. And yes, it was earthy and delicious.

When we returned to making our tasting rounds I couldn’t help but become spit fixated. I tried not to, but everywhere I looked people swirled and spit. The buckets glistened and saliva wine mixtures dripped on the tables. Swirl, spit, repeat. As I started to feel like a bucket overwhelmed Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, I witnessed the mother load- a giant spit barrel being wheeled out of the building. So much spit must’ve been swirling around that monstrous container. The thought was enough to make me woozy and take a brief tasting break- or maybe all the wine I had been drinking (and not spitting) was getting to my head.

I thought that maybe I was crazy, until I recounted the day’s events with a friend back home, “Ewww!! Whyy?,” she exclaimed. I started to rattle through the list of reasons- well it’s the real way to savor the wine, and truly taste a wide range, and the French really appreciate and value quality food and drink…but ultimately all that came out was, “I know, right!?”

I guess spit just isn’t for me. But you stay classy, France.

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6/7: Les Mots des Semaines: Words of the Week(s)

I have been a busy bee, and in the midst of St. Patty’s day celebrations, a visit from an old friend, and camp preparation, I forgot about the words of the week! Sacrilège!

So voila, here are two weeks worth of words!

*Note- I might continue to make this an every two weeks venture, as this time next week I will be in camp mode and might not have much computer access.

But for now, enjoy this bizarre collection of mots français (except that this week has many expressions…so enjoy those too).

petit-francais

1. Avoir un pépin- literally to get an appleseed, this means to run into trouble (ex: If the car crashed or broke down, you could say- J’ai eu un pépin avec la voiture)

2. And since we’re on the topic of apples, here’s another expression- Tomber dans les pommes- literally to fall in the apples, but actually means to lose consciousness, to pass out

3. Un Bidon– a big industrial can- a tin or a drum. However, I learned it in the context of a belly- apparently bidon can also be used to insult your girlfriend

4. Rire jaune- literally to laugh yellow, this is a forced laugh- one that is half-hearted or sometimes sarcastic (ex: “oh I have a bidon?”… commence rire jaune)

5. Avoir des fourmis dans la jambe- literally to have some ants in the leg, this can describe the feeling of your leg falling asleep, of restlessness, or tingling in the legs (maybe similar to ants in your pants??)

6. Don’t know why, but I always confuse these two- le paysage– landscape, la campagne- countryside (*note to self- campagne and countryside both start with Cs).

7. Paille– straw, une paille= drinking straw, la paille= hay, and while we’re on the subject of expressions, here’s another one- être sur la paille, literally to be on the hay, this means you’re broke as f***

8. Verser- to pour, to transfer, whereas reverser is to spill

9. Essuyer– to wipe, however this was also used in the context of drying dishes

10. Les Hommes– humans *note- les hommes= men, while les Hommes= humans (I’d like to comment on how interesting it is that French uses the word for men to describe both men and women, but then I’d have to point out the English words such as history, humans, women….you get my point)

On an unrelated note, spring has officially sprung (as yesterday was the spring equinox)! I must say that this week was a nice commencement- flowers, sun, and Saint Patrick’s celebrating- complete with green cake, eggs, and beer, some Guinness and  Baileys, and a whole lot of rowdy Frenchies. I’ll admit that I was surprised to see how many Frenchies were out and about celebrating all things Irish on a Monday night. We eventually sought shelter at a non Irish pub so we could hear one another speak, and avoid being accosted by drunk Frenchmen who suddenly convince themselves that it is you who they were previously fighting with. Fun times.

Happy Spring and Happy Friday!!

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Palais Idéal

Last weekend I was transported to another land- one where stone rose and entwined to create the history of the world molded and meshed into a fantastic structure. Or as I less eloquently told my dad, “it was a clusterfuck of the world in stone, and concrete, and shells”. Bienvenue to the Palais Ideal du Facteur Cheval.

 

Building with stone is a common quality of the Drôme region. So it’s not surprising that an impressive stone structure could be built by a man from Drôme. But an entire palace built from a dream is something worth noting. Even artists like Picasso and Gaudi drew inspiration from this one man’s vision.

While I must admit that the palais was smaller than expected, it was no less impressive.

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Especially when you have the history. The history of one lone man with a vision, a dream, (maybe even a slight unraveling of the mind) who dedicated thirty-three years to build his ideal palace.. Continue reading

5: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

Is it really already Friday? Time keeps flying! That means it’s time for:

petit-francais

1. Gaspiller, un gaspillage– to waste, a waste (I particularly like gaspillage as it reminds me of gas spillage which is indeed a waste)

2. Avoir la flemme– to be lazy, have no motivation

3. Une Randonnée– a hike

4. Un Tabouret– a stool, whereas a stool sample is un échantillon de selle, should you ever need that- you’re welcome

5. Une Ombre– a shadow

6. Laisser tomber– to drop it, to let it go, to give up on something- laisser-aller on the other hand is carelessness.

Bonus Video: I saw this amusing Finnish video about what different languages sound like to non-native speakers. How accurate is this? What do you think?

Happy Friday! 

Briançon and Hiking in a Winter Wonderland

Welcome to Briançon, a unique little city of medieval fortifications, strong history, hearty people, and stunning views, nestled in the French Alps. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it is apparently the highest city in the EU, and definitely one worth visiting if you have time in France.

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Getting there is a bit of a trek, especially in the winter time as the windy, icy roads, threaten to slide you off the side of the mountain. Just hold back any fear of heights or car sickness, and you’ll be fine.

But the destination is always worth the journey. Picturesque views don’t hurt either…

This was my third visit to the city, and I have to admit that the stressful drive was well worth the worry when I experienced the beautiful snow and sun on a special hike. Continue reading

4: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

It’s that time again- Les Mots de la Semaine!

petit-francais

This will be short and sweet today as it’s Antoine’s actual birthday and we are trekking to his hometown, Briançon. I say trekking because Briançon is situated in the French Alps and tonight there is a lovely timed snow storm gracing us with its presence. Which also means that if we don’t get there in time, the one tiny road cutting through the mountain might close. Here’s hoping we’ll be back by Sunday…  

But on to les mots:

1. Un Entretien an interview (for a job)

2. Les Loisirs– hobbies

3. Inculte– uncultivated, ignorant

4. Se Noyer– to drown

5. Un Losange– diamond as in the shape, whereas a diamond ring is un diamant (and NO don’t worry about if I was discussing diamond rings, I was actually realizing that I don’t know French shapes- très pathétique, I know).

And finally, here are some- Bonus B Mots:

  • Bâiller, un bâillement– to yawn, a yawn
  • Bricolage– to fix, to repair, to do-it-yourself
  • Brouillard– fog

Happy Friday!

Enfin, Je suis employé!

I must share my happiness today because the long wait is OFFICIALLY over!! I have a job! True, it’s only a temporary one as it’s a camp, but it’s not only a source of income, but a job that I am excited about!!

I got hired to work as a counselor at American Village, a program that organizes English immersion language camps throughout France. This is a great program for Americans who want to get paid to be in France. It is a rare thing to find, and I couldn’t be happier I got it! I’ll be teaching English and art, playing and creating games, frolicking in the sun (hopefully), and who knows what else!

Today marked the start of a new chapter as the long drought of unemployment finished, and I received a tiny book of hope in the mail, aka my paperwork. At first I felt daunted by the plethora of paper (I mean come on camp- this is temporary employment after all), but as I continued to read, my stomach filled with butterflies of excitement and happiness. This camp means business. Business I’m thrilled to be a part of.

I particularly relished the program’s goals, as they discussed providing a culture of awareness and global understanding/respect. Initially I was worried when I signed up for American Village Camps, but smiled with relief to know that not only are we on the same page, but my multicultural training can not only be utilized here, but could even thrive!

It’s nice to be reminded that sometimes having patience can pan out.

Needless to say, I’m feeling good (cue Bublé) -today and about the future.

Countdown to camp tales: One month.

Happy Thursday all!!

3: Les Mots de la Semaine (Dernière): Words of the Week

I got a bit sidetracked last week preparing a surprise birthday party for Antoine- complete with a flying spaghetti monster piñata, a specialized MacGyver relay/drinking race, and TWO cakes- one with pâte à sucre learned from the wednesday before- basically a kid’s party with alcohol. Yet another reason why I’ll never be a real adult.

It was quite the event.

That being said, I completely forgot the words of the week.

So without furhter ado, here are Les Mots de la Semaine Dernière. Better late than never!
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*Note- for now, I’m avoiding the pronunciation. I’ve had a difficult time finding certain phonetical spellings/creating my own. Bear with me as I figure this out.

1. Pourri gâté– spoiled or spoiled rotten, this can be used for kids or food

2. Honteux– ashamed or shameful

3.  (Faire) La grasse matinee– literally to make the fat morning, this means to sleep in, ex (slang): j’ai fait la grasse mat aujourd’hui (I slept in today)

4. Humecter- to moisten

5. Un sifflet, siffler– a whistle, to whistle

Bonus Mot: miettes- crumbs

Keeping it short and sweet today. Happy Monday all!

Cakes, spectacles, and jobs oh my!

Yesterday was awesome. Excuse my lack of eloquence, but there’s just no beating around the bush- it was simply awesome. Here’s why:

1. In spite of feeling lackluster and daunted by the idea of spending the afternoon speaking in French (still working on my fear of immersing myself in the language), I decided to help my friend make a birthday cake. And boy am I glad that I did. Not only was it a fun-filled afternoon with a French friend, but also an educational experience chock-full of vocabulary, and a French Baking 101 session.

You see, I learned how to make un Gâteau au Yaourt, a yogurt cake, one that French children master when they’re five. 1 point for France. Americans are lucky if they know how to make brownies from a box by age five.

But let’s talk cake. This was one of the best ways to ease into French baking, especially for me (context alert- I am the WORST baker. Seriously. I once turned boxed brownies into a brick slab, though to be fair my crazy vegan roommate told us that we could use oil as a substitute for eggs- this is FALSE).

The reason this cake is so wonderful for an American like me, or a novice French cake baker, is that all the measurements are in un pot, aka the convenience of a yogurt container.
Continue reading

2: Les Mots de la Semaine: Words of the Week

It’s Friday! Which means it’s time for:petit-francais

As I said before, these are words I’ve picked up from conversation, job applications, language exchanges, newspapers, or even just listening to my surroundings. Every Friday I will post Words of the Week to reinforce my French learning, and hopefully additionally educate/entertain/interest people in random French vocabulary. So enjoy!(Note- pronunciation is a little wonky- some of it is my own pronunciation, and some of it is phonetic- so bear with me as I get a system down).

Voila, Les Mots:

1. Maladroit (mal-ah-drwa)- literally meaning ‘bad on the right’, this translates to clumsy

2. Vieillards (vyeh-yar)- old men specifically, whereas old people is personnes âgées

3. Allonger (al-on-jay)- to lengthen, however I learned this in the context of to spread or lay on something, (ex: tu es allongé sur le canapé, you are spread out on the couch, you lie down on the couch)

4. Ceinture (sɛtyr)- belt, and ceinture de sécurité is a seatbelt

5. Klaxonner (klax-oh-neh)- to honk a car horn, car horn being klaxon

6. Louper (loo-pay), Rater (rah-tey)– to miss, to miss out on, this is used more in the context of transportation or an exam, ex: j’ai raté mon vol (I missed my flight). Louper means the same thing, but is apparently more of a slang word

7. Fiche de poste (fee-sh de poh-st)- a job description

8. Postuler (poh-stu-leh) to apply for job, whereas appliquer (ah-plea-kay) is used in the context of applying a bandaid

9. Au noir (oh-nwar)- literally in black, this is similar to working under the table, working illegally

10. Guet-apens (get-ah-paw)- an ambush. Of course this is used in cowboy movies, but I heard this in the context of my boyfriend wanting to avoid a dinner that he knew would turn into a party.

Happy Friday and Happy Valentines Day! I know it’s an overly commercialized holiday, but I personally enjoy an excuse for creativity, candy, and letting the people in my life know I care!  

Sunday Marché: Hello again old friend

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Dear Marché,

It’s been a while. I’ve missed you old friend. You bring back such sweet memories.

Memories of my first time in this foreign land, when I was a child both intimidated and intrigued by things outside of my element. So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same.

The first time my mother wove us through your crowds of interesting people, my nostrils filled with your array of new smells, and my ears submerged in sounds of French. You embraced my family into your welcome arms; you provided that first space where I felt I belonged in this new unknown place.

And as I walked once again among patterned cloths blowing in the wind, as fruits and flowers sprung to life in the sunlight, I thought of you. As smells of strong cheese, old diesel trucks, and rotisserie chickens unleashed memories of my mother’s market cooking, of new-found independence, and youthful exploratory boldness, I smiled. 

With mud on my hands from fresh spinach, winter sun warming my cheeks, and my ears once again wrapped up in sounds of French, I became entranced by the visual feast you displayed. A painters dream unveiled before me in colors, shapes, and patters, both foreign and familiar.

So I wanted to say thank you Marché. For the reminders of my wonderful, fortunate past, and for reminding me that I live in an incredible place- that I live in France. 

Thank you for letting me be in this moment, reminding me to enjoy the simple things in life- like fresh food, and sunlit colors, fond memories, and stopping to feel the moment, in a space that reminds me of, and almost feels like, home.

Always with love,

Anna