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).


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!!

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

Time of Thanks

As I’ve said before about Living Abroad, I find that my holiday convictions are especially strong when I’m far away from home. This year has proved to be not much different from the last. I’ve planned with fellow Americans weeks in advance, scoured super marches for items that could be feastworthy, and even requested a care package from home- which turned out to be a fully stocked surprise. Moms are the best:


So much deliciousness

It’s amazing how at times like these, the smallest things bring me joy. When I discovered Ritz crackers at Carrefour, I could barely contain my excitement, or avoid the awkward isle stares of, “C’est qui- this strange cracker enthused fille?” But I didn’t care. I was one step closer to creating a real green bean casserole.


They actually exist in France!

When I finally baked the pumpkin bread yesterday, I was surprised by how a simple taste or smell could instantly transport me home. And by how much happiness the delightful taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin could provide. This time of year Americans are inundated with pumpkin flavor and scents- pumpkin candles, lattes, breads, pies…I guess even commercial traditions work their way into your psyche. Because having pumpkin flavors and scents brought me far too much joy. I was happy to share with my student as we discussed thanksgiving traditions, and how the holiday has changed over time. And I was happy to come home to an apartment filled with the aroma of fresh-baked goods and spiced pumpkin. Oh the simple pleasures. Continue reading

The Portugal Diaries

Since I didn’t have wifi for the majority of the trip, I took to writing notes on my iPhone (starting to understand the beauty of these devices). So here are The Portugal diaries:

Day 1: Getting There (Grenoble-Munich-Lisbon-Faro)

Is this a day? It feels like 5 rolled into one. We’ve been traveling since 3am this morning. Bike to bus to airport, to another airport, to another bus, to a train we missed because our flight was delayed, to finally waiting in the dark streets for our airbnb host to let us in. We’ve feasted like hobbits having a meal or snack every few hours because our internal clocks are askew and as a hobbit might think, eating helps pass the time. 18 hours of travel. Antoine and I have been through something like the seven stages of grieving- denial of how long this day would actually feel, anger, and then guilt, from being grumpy with each other, and ultimately acceptance and hope that in spite of missing our train we might actually make it to our destination. Reminder- if possible avoid insanity-inducing long travel days like these.

Too early

Too early

Although I must admit- seeing the sun rise over the Swiss alps is pretty stunning.


Day 2: Exploring Faro

Good news- we didn’t sleep on the streets! Even better, we met our German host who let us in to our cute little Faro apartment, and informed us that there’s a fall fair starting tonight in our honor! Well…there’s a fall fair on the day of our arrival. Coincidence? I think not. But it’s a gorgeous day- there’s a semblance of summer lingering just outside of my window! How can this much sun and warmth exist in October? I won’t waste my time asking questions- time to explore the old town, take a boat ride around the lagoon and go enjoy the beach. Finally a real vacation with Frenchie!! Continue reading

On being Vegetarian in France

Ethiopian restaurant in Paris

Ethiopian restaurant in Paris

When I was 10 I decided that I no longer wanted to consume meat. The decision was influenced in part thanks to a lovely fast-food poisoning experience, repeated shady Mcnuggets, stubborn determination and a vivid 4th grade imagination of the animals on my plate. Despite my parent’s pleas, I haven’t looked back. I don’t like it and I don’t miss it.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all vegetarian preachy on you (although I do have my reasons). I’m well aware that in many places meat is a commodity and an honor to be served.

But being a vegetarian is not without it’s difficulties- especially when travelling. Being a vegetarian in France- specifically Montbeliard (the saucisse capital of the Franche-Comté)- is riddled with confusion, mix ups and a general sense of “mais, pour quoi?” or “what the hell is wrong with you?”.

You see, the French have the mentality of bonne vivant, or good living, which means that  good eating is meat eating. Serving a main course without meat is not even within their realm of conception. If you go out, it’s to eat meat. If you have guests over, you serve meat. Take Antoine’s poor mother for example. The first time I visisted she emphatically told him that she prepared a nice stake for the occasion. It went a little something like this:

“Mom. Remember? She’s vegetarian.” 

“Oh… Well that’s ok I have salmon.”

“Mom. Vegetarian- no meat.”

“Fish is not meat.”


“Alright. I’ll think of something”

That something was salad- a crevette, or shrimp, salad. It was disheartening to tell her that I don’t eat seafood either. At least she tried. Now when I visit she makes cooking for me like a puzzle or a complicated game- what can I possibly cook that has no form of meat?!

What strikes me most is how bizarre, how unfathomable, it is to the French that someone would make the conscious decision to not eat meat. Growing up in the U.S., especially Texas, I had my fair share of people who didn’t understand. But it was more of a- “well what’s your reason?” kind of mentality and less of a “soooo no sausage?” utter confusion.

I always thought of American food in the stereotypical way- fast, greasy, and big with a strong emphasis on meat. But living in France has actually opened my eyes to the variety that is American cuisine. We are obsessed with fusion food and creative culinary experimentation (though sometimes this results in bizarre concoctions). Whereas the French seem to have a mentality of “this is good, why change it?” (forget about trying to make personal requests) which unfortunately results in me avoiding the duck, beef and lamb entrees and sticking with salads. I’ve realized that a big reason dining sans meat is easier in the United States, is that it is a country of immigrants and thus our food has influences from all over the world.

The best friend of a vegetarian in France is the marché. You can buy local, fresh produce in almost any town for a very little cost. True there’s the effort of cooking for yourself, but it tastes goods, costs less and can be as creative as you please. It’s not impossible to be a vegetarian in France- especially in the bigger cities. Crêperies are popular in many towns and usually have veggie options, or are more willing to adapt to your requests. While Falfel is difficult to find in smaller towns, when you do find it, it is quite delicious. Seek out the Indian, Lebanese, and Moroccan restaurants for filling veggie options. And if you do find yourself stuck at a typical meat centered restaurant, the salade de chèvre chaud (grilled goat cheese on bread salad) is always a good staple.

My personal savior- cheese (sorry vegans). I’ve been lucky enough to actually like the strong, smelly cheeses of France. At least I can redeem myself with cheese.

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Thursday Thoughts

I think it’s time to give up TexMex. Yes, even though I’ve been living in France for almost a month now, I’ve still tried to concoct various texmex meals. It’s always been a staple of mine. But after last night’s fiesta fail, I think it’s time to toss in the towel. I’ve taken refried beans, black beans, even cheddar and limes for granted. I thought there was a glimmer of hope when I found the “tex mex” isle, but the only beans are kidney beans, their salsa tastes like sweet ketchup with a mask of spice and their guacamole resembles only what I can describe as spicy goo. No bueno. Diego and I cringed and commiserated over the awfulness that is French Tex Mex and the multitude of meals that we missed, while Ilka happily slathered on the salsa, telling us that it reminded her of the popular curry ketchup in Germany. So until I find limes, ripe avocados, proper salsa ingredients and receive my shipment of real beans, I must bid Tex Mex adieu… for now….

This is the first time I’m missing the holiday season. True, I’ve been away from family and have not been home for Thanksgiving in quite some time, but this is the first time I’m out of the country at this time of the year. It’s strange to feel the cultural divide and homesickness, not from food or feeling unhappy, but from feelings of missing out. I love this time of year and I love Halloween. Honestly what’s not to love? Candy and creativity?! Halloween provides the perfect playground for my creativity to run wild. It’s strange not to be picking apples, drinking cider, carving pumpkins, watching horribly cheesy horror movies,and meticulously preparing the details of my costume. However, I have discovered that with the right people, Halloween can be possible. Last night the american assistants and I rallied Ilka and Diego into donning Halloween flair, dancing to thriller and monster mash, watching Hocus Pocus and gorging on candy. I know I’m in France, but old habits die hard I guess. Wonder what this year’s tacky holiday party will be like…

English is weird.  It’s fascinating to learn more about my own language as I study a foreign one. And I’ve come to the conclusion that English is indeed very strange. We have multiple ways of saying the same thing and overcomplicated ways of expressing ourselves. We use strange fillers and words that really aren’t all that necessary. Must we always insert ‘kind of’ into everything? Was it really ‘kind of a long way’ or ‘kinda a hot day’?   Why did we ‘used to’ do things? Why don’t we just say what we did? Living on the border of Germany and living with a German has opened my eyes to what a mix we are. We are part French (latin) and part Germanic. For example freedom (German) and liberty (French) are two completely different words commonly used to express the same thing. We not only have a multitude of words to choose from, but also lengthy ways of expressing things. For example we say ‘to laugh at someone else’s pain’, while the Germans just use one word “Schadenfreude”. That word would have come in handy growing up in my family…

And finally, apparently I’m inappropriate in French (**relatives be advised). I know it comes with the new language territory, but I’ve set a record for myself in the past couple of weeks. Somehow I have managed to say one dirty statement after another. First I told Diego that instead of having mosquito bites all over my body I had “beaucoup des bites,” or the french slang word for penis all over me. First fail. Then as I was happily carrying on a conversation with my host in Besancon about the differences between French and American cuisine, I added that there are many more “préservatifs”, or condoms, in American food. I even knew not to say that one! Fail. And finally when I was hosted for the wonderful raclette feast, I was describing the pickle smell in my room but some how instead of saying ‘cornichons’, I said ‘gornichons’, which roughly translates to slang for big boobs. So apparently I have penises on my body, condoms in my food and the smell of big breasts in my room. Big time fail. I think I’ll stop speaking now…

And with that. I conclude my Thursday thoughts. Maybe I’ll continue Thursday Thoughts and start Fromage Fridasy. That one’s a must. My goal is to be a fromage connoisseur by the end of my stay here. But for now, I must prepare for my classes, Antoine’s arrival, and the road trip to Prague! Toussiant is finally here and tomorrow after 1:30 my two week vacation commences!