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!” 

Continue reading “A French Guy in California: Hugo talks about culture shock in the U.S.”

A different kind of rentrée

Hi there! I write about la rentrée (when all of France goes back to school and back to work after summer vacation) every year (2014, 2015), but it’s my first time in years being a student for back to school season!

I have to say, I like it. I love being a student. I’m currently studying translation, localization, and interpretation at MIIS and it keeps me busy seven days a week. It is fun to be back on the other side of the classroom and remember how I felt when I was the teacher. (I don’t miss it.)

I think that being in an international environment and a familiar city (I grew up here) have muted the effects of reverse culture shock. It was surprisingly easy to quit my beloved Franglais (for the most part) and I’m almost never surprised by sales tax anymore (but I’m leaving my weather app in Celsius!)

A few observations:

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Goodbye France, Hello California

Hi! Guess where I am? (I suppose if I really wanted you to guess I shouldn’t have put it in the title.)

I left Lyon (in tears) and flew back to my hometown last week. Most of August was spent emptying our home in Lyon and trying to cram all of my belongings into two suitcases. (Bless the Lufthansa agent who let my overweight bag slide through!)

Everyone knows moving is the worst, but sometimes you forget how really Not Fun it is until you’re weeding through everything you own and getting stood up by Leboncoiners who are supposed to come buy your crappy chairs (RUDE!) August was hot and stressful and I was pretty cranky for most of the month. I pretty much stopped checking my email, which is terrible because some really nice people emailed me during that time. (I’m sorry, nice people!!!) It seems like a pretty wimpy thing to complain about, but I get so overwhelmed by an overflowing inbox.

Continue reading “Goodbye France, Hello California”

Queen of Quiche

I don’t make too many embarrassing mistakes in French anymore. (I still feel like it’s a battle to be taken seriously as a foreigner in France, but that’s a separate issue.) But here’s one that still cracks me up a little when I think about it.

Last year, I lived with some lovely French girls while Hugo was in England, and one evening, another lovely French girl came over for dinner. We all helped whip up this and that in our cramped, hallway-shaped kitchen, and our visitor prepared a delicious quiche. She even made the crust and everything, instead of using the pre-made pâte feuilletée that I roll out every time. Without thinking, I proclaimed her the “reine des quiches” with much American enthusiasm.

She looked startled. It seems like a compliment to say that someone is the queen of quiche, but the problem is that calling a person a quiche in French is an insult – I basically called her “Queen of the idiots”! And I knew that, but I had just forgotten for a second in my excitement over the delicious quiche!

Luckily, she understood I meant no harm and gently reminded me of the alternate meaning of “une quiche.” Whoops. I felt like a total quiche myself!

Accidental insults aside, I do love quiche. As long as there’s no goat cheese hiding in it. My favorite quiches to make are leek, onion, and lardon quiche, and this bacon and spinach quiche. Yum yum yum. What’s your favorite quiche recipe?

 

Blatant racism in France

I can’t not write about this.

I went to the market yesterday morning. Marché Saint Antoine, down by the Saône river. Some young men were handing out pamplets. I took one automatically. It was propaganda against Islamic immigration. I threw it out. It took me a minute to process. Had I misunderstood? Was this seriously racist propaganda in the middle of the Sunday market?

I turned around and studied the group handing out the fliers. They were all white young men, not a terribly attractive bunch (not that it matters). I sat and watched them for awhile. Most people refused their pamplets, or trashed them when they realized what they were. An older woman wearing a hijab passed by. They didn’t offer her a pamplet, and she didn’t look at them.

I couldn’t believe that no one was saying anything to these bigots, telling them they should be ashamed, but on the other hand, it’s pretty common to distribute fliers about all sorts of things, and you had to actually take one and read it to get a whiff of what these dudes were all about. They weren’t chanting “White power” or anything. One man said to them, “I don’t agree with you, I support immigration,” as he refused their pamplets. Everyone else just ignored them. At least no one seemed to be on their side. People seemed disgusted, but didn’t call them out.

I snapped their picture from afar. Why shouldn’t I? They had a racism stand right in the middle of the market. One of them saw me and got very nervous. He went around to his cohorts, whispering and pointing at me. I ignored them and remained seated outside the market – I hadn’t done anything wrong.

After awhile, one of them walked toward me without making eye contact. He shoved his phone in my face, took my picture, and then walked away quickly. It happened so fast that I wasn’t even sure which of these pimply white dudes had taken my photo. Who does that?! (Immature racist losers, I guess?) I know I had taken a photo first, but from quite a distance – I didn’t shove my phone in anyone’s face! If they had a problem, the appropriate reaction would have been to say, “We’d prefer not to be photographed, would you mind deleting your photo?” not to sneak attack me with a close-up! Super creepy.

I walked over to their ringleader.

“Hello, are you the guy who just took my photo?” I asked him.

He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. “Was it you?” I asked the man-child with the camera around his neck standing a few feet away. He ignored me.

I probably should have stayed calm, but instead I said what I had been wanting to say to these jackasses.

“Aren’t you ashamed?” I asked the first man. “Aren’t you ashamed of being so racist?”

“No, I’m not ashamed,” he said, a little defensively. “Immigrants are ruining France and must be stopped.”

“I’m a foreigner,” I said. “Are you against me too, or am I okay because I’m white?”

“No, it’s the Muslims. You know that most of them are in prison, don’t you? They are criminals.”

“How can you say that an entire population of millions of people are all criminals? You should be ashamed.”

“Don’t you care about the women in Cologne? Hundreds of women were attacked by Arab immigrants. That’s what happens when you let in refugees. Multicultural society doesn’t work, you have to admit it. If we don’t do something, we’ll end up like Lebanon.”

I was in such a rage that I was shaking. I could yell at this man all I wanted, but it wouldn’t rattle his bigotry.

“Aren’t you listening to me? Listen to what I’m saying,” he insisted, condescendingly. His teeth were crooked and discolored. Maybe he had eschewed braces and taken up chain smoking in high school in an attempt to be cool, but grew up to be human scum with hideous teeth.

“You can’t- ah! gah!” I choked on my frustration. “You can’t blame all Muslims for the crimes of a few people! What about French-born Muslims? You know that they’re as much French as you are, don’t you?”

He continued to insist that multicultural society is dangerous. These xenophobic assholes were openly calling for a pure white France. What. The. Fuck.

I couldn’t take it anymore. “You are a disgrace and you should all be ashamed,” I said before walking off.

“Bonne journée!!” the slimeballs called after me. Infuriating.

It would have been better to stay calm, but I couldn’t. I’m still glad I told them what I thought, even though they were apparently unfazed. I wish I had kept one of their pamplets of bigotry so I could show you the awful things they were purporting. It really got to me – the whole scene circled round and round my mind, and I obsessed on everything I wished I had said for the rest of the day. I wanted to get the last word against these smug bastards, for them to suffer somehow, and it more than irked me to know that they would carry on, unpunished and self-satisfied.

But you know what made me feel a little better? A delicious falafal lunch at the Lebanese restaurant Les Delices du Liban.

Seriously, how good is falafel?

 

 

 

FAQ: Back Home Edition

Do you ever feel like you could write your own FAQ list at the end of the holiday season? Or after any gathering with your extended family or your mom’s friends? Everyone always asks the same #$%^& questions over and over again. After awhile, you want to make like Tom Wilson (Biff Tanner in Back to the Future) and print out at FAQ card.

No, but I don’t mind, though. I’m not a total bitch. It’s normal for people you see once a year to ask what you plan to do after you finish your degree instead of your favorite Girl Scout cookie (it’s samosas, with thin mints as a close runner up, in case you were wondering). And actually, it’s good because it forces me to reflect on some of the heavier questions (“What are your plans for the future?”) and by January I’ve had so much practice that I have quippy answers at the ready. (Thankfully, I don’t have to field annoying questions like “Why aren’t you married yet?” or “What are you going to do with that major?”)

I spent the holidays in California where I grew up (I’m still jet-lagged!) and visited with as many cousins, family friends, and friendly neighbors as possible, and it was awesome! I was happy to see everyone, no one in my family is less than a delight. (…and they might be reading this.) If you asked me one of the following questions, I don’t begrudge you one bit. These are totally questions I would ask too. In fact, I thought that since almost half of the visitors to my blog come from the U.S. I’d write a little post on the questions I was asked the most during my trip home. (Also, it’s just kind of fun for me, which is the only reason I blog about anything in the first place.)

What do you miss most about the US when you’re over there?

Tacos. All my favorite stuff from Trader Joe’s. The Pacific ocean. DSW, 70% off sales, free shipping and generous return policies. Whole Foods sandwiches. No one making fun of my accent or nationality. Being able to go any branch of my bank I want, even on Mondays.

Are you fluent in French?

Yes siree. But I’m always learning new things!

Is your boyfriend French?

He sure is. His name is Hugo. He’s pretty awesome. (But not because he’s French. Just because he’s himself.)

Do you and Hugo speak French or English?

Usually French. He speaks great English but it’s not thanks to me! On the other hand, he has helped me enormously with my French. He is super patient with my endless questions.

What are you doing after your contract is up? Will you come back to California?

Good question! Maybe! Are you hiring?

Where do you live in France again?

I live in Lyon, the second or third largest city (with Marseille) depending on who you ask. I lived in Paris when I first came to France , but I moved to Lyon a few years ago.

So… where is Lyon, exactly?

It’s in the Rhône-Alpes region a few hours south-east of Paris (2 hours by TGV, 4-5 by car). It’s a couple hours from Geneva, and a 2-3 hour train ride from the Mediterranean.

Capture d’écran 2016-01-13 à 00.20.18

How has France changed since the November 13th attacks in Paris?

In Lyon, we see the military patrolling the streets of the city, and there is additional security in large buildings and the metro. There has already been at least one bomb scare, which resulted in a lot of public transport being shut down. (It was not an attempted attack as far as I know.) There were tributes to the victims in the main city squares where people left flowers and candles and notes. People from other countries left words in many languages stating their support for France. The Fête des Lumières, a major festival in Lyon, was cancelled, and replaced with candles and lights around the city on December 8th in homage to the victims.

Life goes on, but it was alarming to have an attack so violent so close to home, and there are daily reminders of the tragedy.

What do you like most about living in France?

Everything at the boulangerie! Lots of vacation! Going to the market! The train! Affordable healthcare! Actually, I really like meeting people from all over the world. I love going to a party and hearing a mix of three or four different languages floating around the room. I guess you can do that in the U.S. too, but I suppose I meet more foreigners here because I am one.

Oh, and I forgot the most important one – wine!

 

What were your FAQs this holiday season?

 

Winning an epic battle with French lab billing

A great pastime, particularly among foreigners in France, is complaining about the bizarre inefficiency of the French system and all the frustrations that come with it. I’ve ranted about French bureaucracy a considerable amount, but all of these experiences that make you want to clunk heads together are the rule, not the exception. Everyone has lived them, even French people.

So I’m happy to present to you a France success story! I like to tell it because I get to rant for most of the story (ranting is only fun after it’s all over) and it still has a happy ending. Are you ready?

In January, I went to the doctor. She said she was going to do a test that would cost 7 euros once it was reimbursed in part by social security. Fine, I said. In France, the doctor actually gives you your lab sample packaged in an envelope and you have to take it to the post office to mail it to the lab yourself. Weird, but okay.

A few weeks later, I got a bill for 23.10€. I sent a check, because that was the only way to pay. And that was that.

Except that a couple months later, a scary collection agency note showed up at my door, threatening to fine me over 100 euros for not paying the bill, which I had paid. So I called them up.

“Um, actually I did pay this bill a few months ago,” I explained.

They insisted that there was no record of my payment.

“Fine, then I would like to pay it now. Can I use an American credit card? I’m having some problems with my French bank.”

“Yes, clearly you are,” the woman smirked condescendingly.

(My French bank problems are an entirely different saga, and do not involve a lack of funds to pay a 23 euro bill.)

I argued with her until she conceded to let me pay the original amount owed, minus additional charges.

And that was that.

Except that it wasn’t, because in May (remember, this all started in January) the laboratory cashed my check. They cashed the check that they had said they had never received, after sending a collection agency after me, months after I had paid the collection agency!

I only had the number for the collection agency, and naturally, this debacle was not their problem.

“You’ll have to take this up with the lab because they are the ones who cashed your check.”

“Okay, could you please give me their phone number?”

“I can’t share that information with you, but here is there address. You can write them a letter.”

I can write them a letter?! (Side note: Sometimes, in France, you will be told that the only way to accomplish something is to write a letter. It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t.)

Thankfully, Google seemed to think it was okay to give me the lab’s phone number. You’re the best, Google.

So, in my best polite French, I explained that there seemed to have been an error.

“You’ll have to take that up with the collection agency, that’s not my problem,” the receptionist brushed me off.

“Oh no no no no nononononono.” My polite French got less polite. “I have paid almost fifty euros for something that was supposed to cost seven. Do you find that normal and correct? I did send the payment on time, and when I was told you had lost the check, I paid immediately a second time to resolve the issue.”

“We didn’t lose your check!” She was indignant.

I was confused. “Then… why… but… the collection agency?”

“I don’t know what my colleague did, but we didn’t lose your check. We sent you the reimbursement form, didn’t you get it?”

“Madame, the issue is not the assurance maladie reimbursement. The issue is that you have charged me twice and you need to reimburse me.”

Here, there was some hemming and hawing, and she put me on hold. Apparently, she didn’t share my view that reimbursement was obligatory in this scenario.

Finally: “My supervisor says we can send you a check.”

“Wonderful! When might I expect to receive it?”

“Bah, je sais pas madame! We have other clients, not just you. It won’t be tomorrow.”

“I understand, but could you give me an idea? A week? Two? I’ll be moving in a month.”

“You had better give me your new address. Ca ne va pas être demain!” she repeated.

“I don’t have it yet, and I really think that three weeks is sufficient time to send a check.”

“You’re moving in a month and you don’t have a new address? You’re really pushing it, madame.”

It sounds polite because we were calling each other madame, but the whole thing had turned into quite a spat.

“Look,” I said. “I am sure that you will be able to successfully mail this check in two weeks. In the event that I don’t have it before I move, I will contact you again. Will that work for you?”

“Yes. Au revoir.”

“Thanks so much for all your help and bonne journée!” I spit out sarcastically, sure that I was going to have to call and harrass her for the money in a few weeks.

But. BUT! Here’s the happy ending. Are you ready?

The check came in a few weeks time, and I cashed it. HOORAY!

The end.

Have you ever battled the French system? Tell me your story, or leave a link to your own rantings!

Two things you should never say to your French boyfriend

I’ve made my share of silly mistakes in French. I’ve progressed a lot in the last few years, but (much to my chagrin), I’m still not perfect. Sometimes just accidentally adding a single consonant to a word leaves les français giggling at my expense. (The word for down jacket is “doudoune” not “doune-doune,” in case you were wondering.)

Usually, my slip-ups just leave me subject to ridicule, but sometimes they get me in trouble. Here are two ways to accidentally offend your French copain or copine.

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The préfecture: it’s not over yet!

Well, at least I had the sense to put a question mark when I titled this post “The End?” of my battle with the préfecture.

Because of course it wasn’t the end. That would have been too simple.

In case you missed it, I went to the prefecture not once, not twice, but three times in order to finally get my récépissé, the piece of paper that gives me the right to stay in France until I get my carte de séjour, the official legal card. And they said something along the lines of, “Congratulations, you have shown great patience and determination in this quest and will now be awarded the golden récépissé. Come back in October for your carte de séjour (and in a year you can do it all over again! Bienvenue en France.)”

And silly me, I thought I could just come back in October and get my carte de séjour. Oh, so naive.

Continue reading “The préfecture: it’s not over yet!”

The Préfecture: Hell in France?

The préfecture is not a popular destination in France. It’s the place where foreigners go to take care of bureaucratic nonsense like visa renewals, and it usually involves waiting in line for hours and dealing with cranky civil servants who hold your fate in their temperamental hands. Or so I hear – I’ve actually never been to the préfecture after two years in France. Well, not until Tuesday. On Tuesday I went to the préfecture.

It did not go well.

Continue reading “The Préfecture: Hell in France?”