Saturday, February 26, 2011

favourite things: the pickle picker upper

This is one of those things that is so handy, it makes you wonder why everybody isn't doing it. Instead of fishing around for pickles with a fork, knife or fingers, the French have a handy pickle picker upper that comes with each jar of pickles. Pick and lift and voila - those pickles that were at the bottom of the jar are now within easy reach. Now, I know there may be concerns about the extra packaging (and recycling), but I have to say that it's a little thing that works well. That, and the unrippable butter wrappers they have here!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

expression: qu'est-ce que c'est que ce beans?

What is this beans? Yes, the "this" is singular and the beans are plural with a definite "s" heard at the end. What does it mean? It's a handy expression for "what the heck is going on?" or "WTF?" but cuter, in my opinion! At first I thought it was something that Jean-Marc made up because he was attempting to mix French and English together and then I heard somebody say it on TV. When googling it I found two different spellings: beans and bins. I think it's meant to be the English word to give it a little exotic flair. Maybe we could start a new English saying: What the fromage? What the fondu? What the ficelle? What the filet mignon? You heard it here first!

Monday, February 21, 2011


About a month ago, I let an anniversary go by without much thought: my one-year-at-work anniversary. Since then I have thought about it a bit more and it's left me questioning my settling into France.

Where to start?
Well, I suppose I should go ahead and admit that real life France is nothing like the France of my dreams or the France of my holidays. I thought I had a firm grasp on the reality of living here before moving here. After all, I had lived here for a full year and I have owned a house here for ten years, meaning that I had spent a good deal of time in France before taking the plunge. Maybe it's the region I'm living in or maybe it's the reality of France, but I now realize that my image of France was an idealized one and that there was a lot I didn't know.

What's different?
A lot. I can now see that Canada - my home country - is way more open and relaxed about pretty much everything in comparison. In France you need a diploma to do just about everything, including washing floors and shelving books, and a variety of work experience is viewed as suspect. Guess what? My 7+ years of post-secondary education and my varied work experience isn't getting me very far! How could I have been a classical singer, interior designer, library assistant and teacher all in one lifetime? That's just not possible (never mind that it might mean that I'm flexible and adaptable with a number of different skills). I'm also a bit surprised when I enter into conversations about just about anything and come across really closed-minded opinions: the old way is best, it's always been done that way, there is no room for improvement and vitamins are bad for you! Ok, I might be exaggerating a little but sometimes it feels like the whole country has been brainwashed into thinking a certain way. Maybe they're just defending what they know, but I fail to see the critical thinking (the questioning) happening.

What about work?
Well, I'm working, but only just. When I look back to a year ago, I see that I'm not much further along now than I was then. I've worked hard when there's been work, but it's never been steady and the idea of having to continually wait for the crumbs of work to fall from the table is stressing me a little. I'm continuing to look for other opportunities, but it would seem that my biggest asset is English - not my education or experience - and the jobs that I think I'd be good at are (so far) out of my reach. I'm waiting to get my diplomas recognized by some authority in Paris and we'll see if that changes anything.

Any regrets?
Even though I'm in a bit of a slump (it is February, after all!) I don't regret coming here, although I miss (and appreciate) Vancouver more than ever. I love my life with Jean-Marc and there are parts about France that I do truly love, but the good stuff gets clouded when there's an underlying current of financial and work stability. Perhaps it's also the location. Most of my experience in France has been in rural, middle-of-nowhere France and not in urban areas. Just the other night there was a report on television about families who have opted to live in the more isolated parts of France, and one of the families was not too far from where we have the farmhouse (and it made my heart ache). It does feel different there and the mentality of the people I know there is different, too. Jean-Marc and I both love that region and we're looking at ways to make it a reality (although I'm sure there would be some shocks once settled in there, too!).

Any conclusions?
The grass isn't greener and anywhere you go, there you are. I don't want to live a life that is focused on the negative; I know I can live a full and happy life wherever I am and I don't want to dream about being elsewhere. I want to BE where I am and be thankful for it. It's only been a year and perhaps I've been a bit impatient. I was hoping to land some fantastic permanent job right away and that's not what happened. Oh well. It's all about the journey, right?

Friday, February 18, 2011

ready, set, holidays!

School holidays are something taken very seriously in France and they happen every 6-8 weeks of full-time school. Aside from the two weeks at Christmas and the two months in the summer, they also get ten days at the end of October, two weeks at the end of February and two weeks in April. Not bad! And what do people do for their school holidays in France? Go away, of course! Where they go depends on the time of year: February is winter sport in the Alps, April might be the seaside and summer is usually the south. Wherever the destination, everybody seems to leave en masse the day after the last day of school and come back the day before school begins, to maximize the holiday time. For this reason, the school system has divided the school districts into three zones, with each zone going on holiday at different times so as to avoid the traffic jams on the highways (and in the train stations). Everyone receives a calendar like this to figure out their holidays.

There are traffic reports on the news, with pictures of the entire highway system sporting different colours to show the traffic jams throughout the whole country. Specific days also have colour codes (green, orange and red) so that people can plan their travel accordingly. I know that on the way home from our New Year's trip, we discovered it was an orange day when we had to stand in line for 45 minutes to get into the cafeteria at a rest stop (of course the traffic was heavy that day, too). The main toll highways have an excellent system of big rest stops every 20-50 km with gigantic cafeterias, shops and other amenities. During the summer holiday rush, emergency rest stops are set up along the smaller highways, in an effort to combat fatigue on the road, along with signs reminding that people that they should stop and rest every 2.5 hours.

So the February holidays are already under way for some zones and about to start in other zones. I don't teach that many classes in the school system, but the adults I teach have kids and they tend to stop their English classes so that they can go away. For me it means less work (less pay) and a bit more time to do other things.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

what's in a name?

I've recently started teaching a group of people who work for one of the national French healthcare agencies and it has started me thinking about the differences between health care in France and Canada and the different ways we refer and react to illness. Currently most medication, including over-the-counter items such as ibuprofen and aspirin, are reimbursed to varying degrees by the sécurité sociale, which is why doctors give out prescriptions for 4 bottles when you get sick, so you can stock up (and have it paid for!). When I mention that this is not the case in Canada, that we actually have to pay for aspirin and that we purchase it without prescription, the French usually start talking about the hazards of auto-médication, never mind that it is exactly the thing that they are doing with their four leftover bottles of aspirin! I think I'll save my ideas about medication and vitamins for another post, but for now I wanted to talk about the names we give illnesses.

It has struck me that the French refer to illnesses by their scientific (and I'm guessing Latin) names, while we tend to make reference to the thing that wrong in common terms. The result is that getting sick in French sounds way worse than in English, according to me. Here are a few examples:

rhinopharyngite – common cold

torticoli – sore neck

gastro-entérite – stomach flu

angine et pharyngite – Tonsillitis or strep throat (or just plain sore throat)

otite - middle ear infection

pyélonéphrite - urinary tract infection (kidney infection)

"I have a rhinopharyngite" sounds so much more ominous than "I have a cold" doesn't it? It sounds like it might be worth a trip to the doctor! And here the debate starts.