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?

 

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.

Continue reading “Two things you should never say to your French boyfriend”

Updated: Seven foods that need to go mainstream in France

(Update: I wrote this two years ago, and a lot of things have changed around here! I’ve discovered new things, a lot more international food has popped up in Lyon, I started buying almond milk, you get the idea.

I think that a lot of the things on the list still hold true. None of them are part of French culture (France has its own awesome things) and most of them are still unfamiliar to the older generation/people who live in less urban areas.

Keep in mind that Lyon is the second biggest city in France (or third after Marseille depending on how you slice it). It’s been voted one of the best cities for start-ups and there’s a substantial population of young hipsters and bobos (and foreigners, like me!)  There is so much innovation and creativity present in this city! Happily, that has begun to translate into food too. In the years that I’ve lived here a lot of new restaurants and cafes have popped up, and I’ve discovered new places I didn’t know about before.

If you live in a less-urban area of France, I’d love to know your take on these things too! Can you get smoothies and barbecue where you live? Does anyone eat corn on the cob?

So with that, here’s the original post; you’ll find my updates italicized below each section.)

Continue reading “Updated: Seven foods that need to go mainstream in France”

Outdoor cafés in France, and other problems

Anyone who’s lived somewhere with seasons – you know, summer, fall, winter, etc. – knows the feeling of the arrival of spring. It could happen anytime between March and May, depending on where you live (and if you think May is a crazy late arrival date for spring, one, I totally agree, and two, you’ve clearly never lived in the Midwest.) People start to venture to the park for lunch, winter coats are tentatively put away, and cafés open up their terraces. Everyone is in a cheerier mood when the first days of spring show up. (Except maybe Severus Snape. Cheery isn’t really his jam.)

Teatime Buttercup Lyon
What I did this spring

There is nothing better than sitting in the sun on a peaceful terrace with your latte or your rosé, am I right? France is well-known for its outdoor cafés great for people watching. Ah, the romantic cliché of sipping your cappuccino on a little sidewalk café on one of those cute Parisian streets. I can’t lie to you – I totally imagined this before moving to Paris, and don’t tell me you haven’t too!

Cafe in Paris
Café in the 10th arrondissement, Paris. Or maybe it was the 12th.

Sometimes, sipping your drink outside at a café watching the world go by is really as picturesque as it is in a movie starring Audrey Tautou. And sometimes, there are other elements to deal with that maayyybe you didn’t factor in when you were imagining your fabulous Parisian life.

It goes like this: you’re sitting outside with your café allongé feeling good about yourself because the weather is finally nice and you get to wear your cute warm-weather dress and you look chic like a black and white postcard sitting at your tiny café table with wicker chairs that stick to the back of your legs. Everything is tranquil. Then you hear the click of a lighter next to you, and suddenly, you’re coughing up second-hand smoke. The moment’s over.

Black and white Place des Terreaux
I said Paris, but this is Lyon. Still looks chic in black and white, doesn’t it.

This is my absolutely least favorite thing about France. (Yes, more than bureaucracy! Because even if French bureaucracy seems like it’s trying to kill me, it isn’t. Probably.) Even if you’re not a super-sensitive West coast girl like me, the gaping cultural differences between the French and American attitudes towards smoking can’t be denied.

It’s rare to hear “Mind if I smoke?” because the assumption is that you don’t. It’s apparently acceptable to light up at a café next to a mom and her eight-year-old, and it’s okay to push a stroller with one hand and hold your cigarette with the other. When I taught at a ritzy high school, the entire student body lined up in front of the school before and after class to pollute their lungs, including the ones planning to become doctors. *facepalm*

This is why the question “Would you like to sit inside or outside, Madame?” skewers me with indecision. I love to sit outside in the sun, but I know that sooner or later, someone will fire up their tobacco stick, and I’ll be left crossing my fingers that the wind blows the other way.

Red chairs Champs Elysées
This is May in Paris, believe it or not.

However, I think there’s hope. This week, I was in the south of France (I’ll tell you about it later!) at an outdoor bar watching the France vs Ecuador World Cup game, and I saw smoke wafting from the balding gentleman in front of me. I turned me face to the side and braced myself for the cloud of stinky smoke, but nothing happen. Instead, a subtle vapor breezed past. This lovely man was smoking an e-cigarette.

Now, I know that the jury is still out on the health implications of the e-cigarette. I’m not offering a commentary on that, because my expertise on e-cigarettes is approximately equal to my knowledge of the mating patterns of tropical fish (um, zero). However, e-cigarettes are infinitely kinder to non-smokers. Instead of choking on a cloud of burnt nicotine (or whatever) it’s a gentle vapor that dissipates quickly and sometimes smells like peach or coconut.  I wish all the smokers in France would exchange their tobacco rolls for these tropical mist machines.

Let me ask you this – what smells better, cigarette smoke or peaches?

That’s what I thought. No one hates the smell of peaches.