Monthly Slice: May

Hi! May went by in a blur. I wrapped up the end of the school year and Hugo and I moved up to San Francisco for the summer.

Wait, don’t you already live in San Francisco?

Nope! I go to school a few hours south of San Francisco in a small town on the coast. I’m excited to be in the city for the summer – I plan to eat my way through the neighborhoods, little by little. Leave me a note if you have any SF recommendations or favorite neighborhoods! (And if you’ve blogged about San Francisco, share the link – I’d love to read it.)


Hugo and I were very happy to have family visiting from Switzerland this month (our first visitors since we moved here!) We have met some awesome new people in San Francisco and I’ve also enjoyed reconnecting with old friends.

Our first weekend in San Francisco, we joined a group at the madness that is Bay to Breakers. It’s technically a race (across the city, from the bay to the ocean, hence the name) but it’s turned into a giant daytime party in the streets of San Francisco. Everyone dresses up in crazy costumes and walks along the race route. Some people also go naked (apparently, in San Francisco it’s okay to run around with your balls in the wind as long as you have shoes and socks on.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many willies flopping about in one day. (I just hope they were wearing sunscreen.)


The next week, we got to explore the East Bay, thanks to some awesome friends who showed us around. We had the best time! I can see why so many people move east out of the city.

I also started my internship downtown! I work in one of those tall buildings with complicated elevators where everyone has a badge clipped to their belt. I’m so corporate, I don’t even recognize myself. Just kidding, I’m pretty much the same except maybe squishier because there are always snacks.

In the kitchen:

I haven’t been spending much time in the kitchen lately, but I did use my favorite pancake recipe to whip up a Mother’s Day brunch (since I’ve missed the last gazillion Mother’s Days due to living on another continent.)

What I’m listening to:

Did anyone else listen to S-Town? I found it engaging, but the last episode left a lot of loose ends untied. That’s the difficulty with telling real stories – you can’t always craft a satisfying ending. Brian Reed’s artful storytelling drew me in, but I wanted more than an unresolved end.

What I’m watching:

Binging on Parks & Rec in my free time!

What I’m reading:

French and Americans: The other shore: My professor lent me this book on cultural differences (it’s also available online). I often find that discussions of cultural differences lack nuance, but the author, Pascal Baudry, digs into the psychology behind it all, and I found myself nodding my head at many of his observations. I would love to share some of my favorite bits in more detail sometime to see what you think.

Speaking of Franco-American cultural differences, I enjoyed Alison Green’s take on why Americans are always saying “how are you,” whether they want to know or not.

I loved this Modern Love column on the big change a woman made for her husband, and how it transformed her. That description doesn’t sound funny, but the column is.

Blogging:

I was taken off guard when a new expat blog republished several of my posts. It wasn’t entirely without warning – the site’s owner had previously contacted me about sharing them on her new site. I said I would be open to it under certain conditions, but she never confirmed that they would be met… so I was surprised to find the posts up on her site weeks later. A little communication (and the chance to do some editing!) would have been nice.

Favorite thing at Trader Joe’s:

Their honey mango cream shave. I will never go back to regular shaving cream! I used to bring it over to France.

Pinterest board of the month:

My California board! I have been pinning tons of San Francisco guides for inspiration, and I also save any other California guides I come across (I vet all the Monterey/Carmel guides to make sure they’re legit!)

Where are you spending the summer? I hope the month of June is off to a great start, wherever you are!

Monthly Slice: April

A slice of April…

Sometimes, writing these little monthly reviews makes me feel like the most boring person on earth. Remember when I used to traipse around Europe and eat cake? These days, it’s mostly just me reading about machine translation and taking photos of my cat. Does the internet really need more photos of cats?

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(Answer: Yes.)

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A French Guy in California: Hugo talks about culture shock in the U.S.

I think that Hugo’s biggest moment of American culture shock was when he opened a bottle of ibuprofen.

He came running in and exclaimed, “Sweetie! The weirdest thing just happened!” He held out the plastic bottle. “Look what was in it!” Wide-eyed, he pulled out a wad of cotton. “C’est pas comme en France!” 

You’d think he would be awestruck over the fact that the supermarket is open at 9 p.m. on Sunday, or the abundance of glittering neon Easter marshmallows in April, or the sheer existence of Costco, but no, it’s the cotton balls in the pill bottle that made his jaw hit the floor.

(Well, that time we went to urgent care and they told us it would be $300 to see a doctor was a pretty big shock too.)

When we moved here, he had already visited California several times and was used to being around North Americans. If you ask him about culture shock, he shrugs. He just goes with the flow. Ask him what he misses about France – just his family and friends. Not the bread? Not the cheese? Not the train? Eh – not really. His favorite bar, maybe. But that’s really because he misses evenings out with his friends, not because he can’t find any good beer here.

He does have a favorite American beer. And a California driver’s license. And a longboard, to skate along the path that runs next to the ocean. He goes to the gym and eats dinner before 8 and starts texts with “Hey man!” Un véritable américain, quoi.

This place

A post shared by Hugo (@hugo.hrbs) on

I asked him if he would mind sharing some of his impressions of American life with you all. He said he would be happy to (he’s kind and obliging like that).

(Please note that these observations are based on personal experience only and do not necessarily represent all of California or the United States.)

What are some of the cultural differences you’ve observed?

French people have a lot of preconceived notions about the United States and Americans, and some of them might be true in other parts of the country, but not here. For example, people think that Americans don’t eat well, but here I think people eat better and healthier than in France.

Also, we always hear about American students going to class in pajamas, but I’ve never seen that here. I like that Americans have a more casual style though, you don’t have to wear a suit to work. In the startup where I used to work in Lyon, we could come to work in jeans and a t-shirt, and I think that mindset comes from the U.S.

Americans eat dinner à l’heure des poules – really early! I’m not sure if I like that or not…

There’s a big different in cost of living and quality of life, especially here. In France, if you earn 60K a year, you can have a really high quality of life, but here in California, that salary doesn’t go as far. Earning 60K in California is like earning 30K in France, except you also have to live with roommates.

What surprised you about California?

It rains all the time! I thought it would be nice weather… but I’m also happy for California because it needs the rain.

I was shocked to see so many cars on the road in California! There are a lot of electric cars – Teslas everywhere. I think there is probably the same number of cars in proportion to the population, but there are a lot more people here. Seeing so many cars makes you want to take care of the planet.

When I got my driver’s license, it was really fast and inexpensive, not at all like in France – I think it’s great that it’s so efficient!

There aren’t a lot of streets and paths where you can go for a stroll or ride your bike, it’s all really big roads. You have to drive somewhere so that you can go for a walk!

What is difficult about living in the U.S.?

It’s hard to get used to the systems of measurement. Gallons, feet, miles – c’est un peu perturbant.

What do you miss about France?

My friends and family. That’s all, really – I’ve been lucky enough to live in some really nice places so I can’t complain. Both places have good qualities. I miss going to my parents’ house in the countryside on the weekend. Here it’s not really the city or the countryside. I also miss Lyon, strolling on the quais, my favorite bar…

Where would you like to travel or explore in the U.S.?

Everywhere! There are so many different cultures in the same country, and there are a lot of places I want to see. New York, Boston, Yosemite, Seattle, Bryce Canyon… there are also many things close by that I still want to explore.

Do you find that people are different in California?

I think that people are friendlier here. People say that French people are like coconuts (hard on the outside, soft on the inside) and Americans are like peaches (really nice but difficult to get close to), but the people I know are really nice and easy to be friends with.

One time I was walking with my longboard and an older lady asked me if I was going to skate down the hill, just to be nice and make small talk (maybe she was also a little concerned!) In France it’s not like that – no one comes up to talk to you in the street, and if they do you’ll probably feel uncomfortable because it’s so uncommon.

I think that people here are less judgmental than in France, you can do what you want and no one cares. Sometimes it’s hard when people laugh and I don’t get the joke, and not understanding makes me feel kind of like an outsider, because it’s not my own culture.

You already spoke English fluently when you moved, but have you learned anything new?

Americans always use the expression “it’s not rocket science.” I think that’s kind of funny. Guys I know say “hey man, how’s it going man” all the time. It reminds me of Leo in That 70’s Show.

When you’re at the grocery store, the cashiers say “How are you” but actually they just mean “Hello” which is weird when you’re not used to it.

And foreigners in France always complain that la bise is complicated (when to bise, when not to bise) but here it’s the same – you don’t know when you’re supposed to shake hands or when to hug!

I used to avoid saying “beach” because it sounded like “bitch” but I’m getting better at making the difference now.

What do you want to show people from back home when they come visit?

I want to show them where I live, take them to my favorite places, show them that we eat well. I want to break down their preconceptions about the United States and show them that there are great things here, that life isn’t so different. There are good things and bad things like in France, like there are anywhere.

What’s your favorite thing about living here?

It’s an adventure and I know that I’ll be able to get by even when things go wrong. C’est super enrichissant – it’s really rewarding.

Thanks chéri! You’re the best.

If you have any questions for Hugo about what it’s like to live in the U.S. as a French expat, send them our way.

[Note: In this context, “California” means a specific slice of northern/central California on the coast; neither of us has traveled the entire state. These are all personal observations and may not be true for everyone everywhere.]

French Expressions: Two times my students were the cutest ever

Most teachers know what it feels like to buried under a pile of marking (or what I call “grading”). Once I spent the entire week of Toussaint vacation grading exams, and it took more time than an actual week of teaching. The only bright spot was finding hilarious mistranslations and other mirth-inducing wranglings of the English language.

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Monthly Slice: March

A slice of March…

Highlights

A day in Santa Cruz – Hugo and I drove up to Santa Cruz and spent a lovely day wandering. We left our laptops behind and took the day off from normal life and it was wonderful. It was like a tiny vacation. That sounds silly because it’s less than an hour away, but I thought it was as much fun as wandering through Lisbon or Sète or Oxford. It’s just nice to go somewhere beautiful and explore, no matter how far from home you are.

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3 Dreamy Neighborhoods to Wander in Paris

Sometimes I read guides to Paris that claim there’s nothing much to see in the 19th and 20th (except for Père Lachaise) and it drives me absolutely batty. I adore this part of Paris. True, the outer arrondissements are large, so they’re not uniformly lovely and interesting, but that makes stumbling upon beautiful fairytale streets all the more delightful.

Paris is all about new discoveries for me. I lived there for a year before I moved to Lyon and I’ve been back countless times, but I still discover new pockets of the city every time I’m there. I visited all three of these neighborhoods for the first time on my last trip to Paris, and I think they’re some of the most enchanting streets in the whole city.

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What I Learned from my Whole 30

Last month I told you that I was doing a Whole 30 — some of you have been following along on Instagram where I mini-blogged the experience on a daily basis. The short story is that it didn’t accomplish what I was hoping for, but I’m still glad I did it, and food will never be the same.

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Monthly Slice: February

A little slice of February…

I can sum up the month of February in two words: school and Whole 30 (not technically a single word, but roll with me). As I predicted, second semester has been a whirlwind so far. I’m taking fewer classes but I started an awesome new job (I get to learn lots of digital tools and play with WordPress) so I am just about as busy as I was before. (So if you sent me a message and I took forever to respond… I’m sorry!)

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French Expressions: Chicken Time

I have lots of little stories about the French words and expressions and nowhere to put them. Okay with you if I micro-blog them?

There’s this funny expression in French – manger l’heure des poules. It means to eat dinner really early – like “Les américains mangent à l’heure des poules.” (Literally, it means “to eat at the hour of the chickens.” Haha.)

One time we were Skyping with Hugo’s family, including his little two-and-a-half year old nephew. Hugo was telling them that we eat “à l’heure des poules” here and his nephew perked up and said in his tiny little toddler voice, “Elles sont où les poules?!” (Where are the chickens?!) It was pretty cute.(You have to picture a little voice like this.) He seemed disappointed when we explained that it’s just an expression.

(The same nephew taught me the French words for wrench and the little paper top you peel off the yogurt. He’s a smart cookie.)

 

Little Snippets: Whole 30 + Back to School

Hi there! It’s February and GUESS WHAT? I’m doing my first Whole 30 this month. If you haven’t heard of Whole 30, you can read more about it here. Basically, it’s a month-long dietary cleanse where you eliminate sugar, grains, dairy, soy, and lots of other stuff from your diet. After the 30 days are up, you carefully reintroduce these foods to understand how each one affects your body.

I was planning to eliminate gluten and dairy for a month anyway to see if it would help my painful hand eczema, and when I read Anne’s account of her Whole 30, I decided to try it too.

February seemed like a good month to do a Whole 30 cleanse since there are only 28 days. (Kidding – I started on January 31 and plan to end on March 1.)

I’ll let you know how it went at the end of the month (I’m on day 9, so far so good.) I started a new Instagram account to micro-blog the experience – I post about my #Whole30Struggles, what I’m eating and what I WISH I were eating, haha. You can follow along @wherearemycarbs.

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