Monthly Slice: September

Hi! How was your September? Mine was unseasonably warm and has left me buried in schoolwork, so I’ll keep it short (software localization awaits!)

Cultural differences

I’m currently working on an interesting project in a class on internationalization and culture – we have to come up with a product that would not fly in our home country (or, for Americans, the foreign country we know best – France in my case). It’s funny, because a lot of things that people think wouldn’t work in France have actually already been adopted, like fast food, fashion sneakers, and to-go containers (well, they’re on their way in…)

(Side note: Did you guys read this article by Lindsey Tramuta on the reality of “French girl style”? I liked that she pushed past the tired stereotypes regurgitated by fashion publications ad nauseam and showed a more diverse look at the many “French” styles, albeit from a Parisian perspective.)

In brainstorming with friends who know both cultures, two themes appeared consistently. One, many of the strongest French cultural institutions involve food (no surprise there), and two, the adoption of American products or customs usually involves a French twist (you can go to Starbucks in major cities, but you don’t take your drink to go; brunch is now very popular, but you don’t usually see waffles and mimosas on the menu). As always, I find it difficult to generalize – things that are available or accepted in big cities won’t necessarily be the norm in smaller towns, and things that apply to older generations might not hold true for young people.

What do you guys think? With all the foreign products that have wormed their way into France, what is left that will never make it in the Hexagon?

Liberty in North Korea

A friend of mine at MIIS started a chapter of the non-profit Liberty in North Korea, an organization that saves North Korean refugees and helps them resettle in South Korea or in the United States. We hear so much about North Korean politics, but not a lot about the people who actually live there, or about what happens to people who escape.

Did you know that for North Korean refugees, escaping across the border into China only brings them halfway to safety? If caught by the Chinese government, they are returned to North Korea and sentenced to hard labor. Many North Korean women are sold to Chinese men. They must make it all the way to Southeast Asia before they can apply for refugee status.

I was really moved by this short film that recounts the story of Eunmi, a North Korean woman who was sold away from her infant daughter in China and later escaped.

At MIIS, we had the chance to hear from Charles, a 23-year-old who escaped from North Korea twice before he turned 18. You can hear a short version of his story here.

I didn’t know much about North Korea beyond the political situation until this month, and I’m glad I had the chance to learn about the stories of North Korean people (particularly through a documentary about North Korea’s millennials).

You can read more about Liberty in North Korea here. If you check them out, let me know what you think!

Favorite thing at Trader Joe’s

I am super excited because Trader Joe’s is selling pâte feuilletée (flaky dough used for quiche and other magic) right now! It’s only available a few months out of the year (they roll it out – pun intended – for holidays. This is inconvenient because I want to make quiche year-round, but am unwilling to make my own dough.) It comes in a square instead of a quiche-shaped circle, so I cut off the corners and roll them up with cheese and bake them.

September in photos…

If you follow me on Instagram, you might be under the impression that I still live in San Francisco (latergrams all the way). I haven’t had much time to get out and take photos this month, but here are a couple September snaps:

I’m hoping to get an actual post out soon (I have something to share that I think a lot of Americans abroad will like!) In the meantime, I wish you all a wonderful, cozy fall, wherever you are (or a lovely spring for those on the southern half of the globe!)

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9 thoughts on “Monthly Slice: September

  1. Maybe you could do a lost in translation angle? I remember a post going around a little while ago about American products that were trying to use French words to sound more chic – for example, mini quiches were called “petites bites”. 😂

    1. Haha, yes I’ve seen that, it’s hilarious! For the class I am meant to focus on something that is a problem culturally rather than linguistically, but I was actually thinking of throwing that example in as well because people need to stop calling their food products “petite bites”!

  2. That sounds like such an interesting project to be working on! One thing that really surprised me while I was in Lyon was the fascination some French people seemed to have with Primark, which to me just felt really out of place in France. Marmite definitely hasn’t caught on though – in my experience, it’s reserved for the expat shops. (A tragedy for Marmite-loving expats who can’t bring themselves to pay the extortionate prices and therefore have to be Marmite-less for months!) I had no idea just how far from North Korean refugees had to get from home in order to reach safety; I guess the fact it’s so difficult to escape partially explains why politics overrides human experiences in the news features on North Korea.

    1. Ooh I love hearing your British take on this! It’s so true that everyone went crazy for Primark when it opened up in Lyon – did they make significant changes from what it’s like in England? I think I’ve only been to Primark once or twice so I don’t have really strong associations with it. I cannot say that I’m a marmite lover (one of my best friends growing up loved it and we thought she was crazy!) but I feel the same way about peanut butter. I suppose it’s not quite the same because you can buy it at Monoprix, but they only have Skippy and it costs more than double the American price, so I refused to buy it and brought my own over (from Trader Joe’s, my favorite American store!)

      Here’s a question for you – how do you feel about French brunch? How does it generally compare to brunch in England? A lot of brunches that are billed as “américain” are quite different from what we have here, and I find it interesting how much the concept of brunch varies from restaurant to restaurant in France (at least, according to the menus – I wasn’t actually much of à bruncher because it gets expensive quickly!)

      1. I never actually went in Primark in Lyon, so I couldn’t tell you if it varies from those we have in the UK. (I do remember visiting Primark’s predecessor Penneys in Dublin, before it became a big thing in England, though!) I found it hilarious that there were sometimes queues just to get in, though, given it’s such poor quality and not really as cheap as it’s cracked up to be these days. I’m the opposite – a lover of Marmite, but can’t stand peanut butter! I guess some of these products are novelties to the French, and stocked primarily for the expats so there’s no need for them to offer the same range of products. That’s an interesting one – I never actually tried brunch in France as it seemed quite expensive, though I had a flatmate who was very keen on it. It’s not really something I’ve ever done in the UK either, though from the menus I’ve seen menus are often more savoury than sweet (with the exception of American-style pancakes). Smoothie bowls and granola/yogurt-based dishes seem to feature a lot these days, alongside the usual things like eggs Benedict and variants on a classic English breakfast 🙂

      2. Hmm very interesting! Smoothie bowls are big in San Francisco too, but I have yet to try one. I also polled my friend who lived a decade in the UK and she agreed that UK brunch is much more savoury than US brunch. All this had just made me want to eat brunch foods of all kinds!

      3. I do like a good smoothie, but I’m also yet to try a smoothie bowl! I’ll have to give brunch in Cambridge a try one of these days and see what all the brunch fuss is about 🙂

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