Archive for November, 2006

Two of my Biggest Fears… at once!

Monday, November 27th, 2006

Today just wasn’t my day. It started when I made a pot of coffee… without putting any coffee in the maker. Which means I made a pot of hot water. That just doesn’t have the jolt I’m after on a Monday morning.

After dropping Kaitlyn off, it was down to the grocery store. I decided to go to Geant, I’ve had my fill of Carrefour, thank you very much. I got there, went to get a cart, and didn’t have a euro. You need a euro coin to get a cart. At Carrefour, you can use a 50 cent piece, a euro or a 2 euro coin. Not Geant. So, I put all my bags back in my trunk and left. Or I tried to leave but some construction in the parking lot had me driving in circles. Once I found my way out, I stopped at the car wash to get the grime off my car. It takes Carte Bleu (the debit card here) Not this one. Broken.

Next stop? Where else – Carrefour.

At Carrefour, two of my biggest fears converged. My fear of cheese… and my fear of the man who walks around the store with a microphone babbling on and on about the specials of the day. (see Oct 3 entry for more on Carrefour) I once told Bill he did not need to fear going near Mr Microphone, because he doesn’t actually “interview” people. I haven’t told Bill that I later heard him doing just that. I’ve since worked at steering my cart clear of him. (just steering the cart is a whole different matter – all four wheels turn in all directions – yikes!)

So there I was, innocently wandering the store in something of a lack-of-java-induced-fog. Next thing I know, I’m standing by the cheese department and Mr Microphone is offering me a sample of the cheese on sale today. You have to understand, I am terrified of the cheese here. Most of it is pungent. Most of it is strong. Some of it is runny. Lots of it is of some blue variety. Lots of it is of the goat variety. Eat the rind? Don’t eat it? Bake it? Put it on crackers? Eat it alone? We’re talking about a food that in France is its own course at a proper meal… after the main course and before dessert. Intimidating. Scary. So there I am, standing in Carrefour with Mr Microphone pushing an unknown fromage on me. If I’d had my usual two giant cups of coffee this morning, I’d have peed my pants. Instead, I calmly took a piece of cheese (it at least showed no visible signs of mold or rind) and popped it my mouth. I chewed carefully. I smiled. It was pretty good. Then, Mr Carrefour tried to talk to me. “Tres bien?!” I pretended to still be chewing. I smiled and nodded and pushed my cart away. Crisis averted. Trouble was, I liked the cheese enough to be willing to buy it. But I hadn’t heard him say which one it was. I could either go back and ask him… or take my chances with a guess. Then my window of opportunity opened… another man came over the pa, overriding Mr Microphone. I asked what the cheese was. He showed me. I picked one up, thanked him and dashed off.

I plan on serving it tonight with dinner. After the steak. In a course all its own.

tintement cloches?

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

I bought a cd of Christmas music, thinking it would be a great way to learn French. The songs were all ones I recognized: Jingle Bells, White Christmas. Tonight, I put it in the cd player in the car while we drove down to the pizza truck. It’s a cd of music, alright. Instrumental. Oh, well, at least it isn’t in English.

How long is too long for a circus?

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

Madames, monsieurs, enfants – ok, that’s about all I really understood  anyone say at the circus. I bought tickets thinking Kaitlyn would enjoy it. I was kinda surprised because we all did.

There was a French clown who appeared throughout the evening, doing little acts. In one, he “played” bubbles as they popped (with the help of the live band). What song? Madness – One Step Beyond. Just another example of how France has better 80’s music than the 80’s night on our cruise ship! Needless to say, I quite enjoyed that.

There were plenty of balancing acts. A bald guy with gold glitter all over his head and back who balanced on a couple of handles on a spinning pedestal. A couple dressed like they’d come off a Star Trek set who balanced on each other’s heads.

Horses danced. So did an elephant. I missed the tigers, Kaitlyn had to go to the bathroom, but Bill said it was nothing too dramatic. It did seem particularly dangerous, since the cage they performed in was put up during the 15 minute intermission. Would that have really held back a charging tiger? Luckily, we didn’t have to find out.

Kaitlyn said her favorite was the bicycles. Fourteen young women from China who rode bikes and stood on each other’s shoulders, heads, arms, legs, whatever was available. They finished their act by all standing on top of one poor girl biking around and around in a circle. There were so many people on top of her I don’t know how she could even see to steer.

The high wire act was most unusual. There were two performers, a man and a woman. She sang throughout their routine. They started by walking up a support wire to the tightrope. They ended by walking down that support wire – the woman on the man’s shoulders. Singing.

Bill had two favorite acts. One was two guys who’s act consisted of one guy lying on his back so he could flip and spin the other guy on his feet. The other was a bunch of people who jumped off ladders onto boards sending some fellow or girl flying in the air onto a giant pillow or someone’s shoulders.

My favorite part was just watching Kaitlyn. She sat up in her seat paying close attention. She laughed at the clown, she clapped when she liked something or when the clown pointed at our side of the arena to do so. Bill bought her a flashy thing that then he didn’t want her to wave around in the dark.

We all had the same least favorite act. The American. Some clown who came out and pretty much didn’t wow the crowd. Or at least didn’t wow us. He didn’t talk until the very end when he asked who here speaks English? I felt like yelling out “me!” since his words were the first I’d really understood all night. But I realized that would be like being the one dork wearing a UCLA sweatshirt at a Duke basketball game. (yes, I’ve done that)

The concession stands weren’t what I’d expected. Well, all I could expect was what I’m used to at home. Here, there’s beer (one kind, I think it was Heineken), soda in cans, bottled water, sandwiches on mini baguettes and crepes. Oh, and bad popcorn. That’s what we had. Not many people ate. Some brought in pizza boxes so they could have dinner. I saw one man return to his seat near us carrying three beers… one for himself, one for his wife, and one for his 10 year old son. Ok, maybe 11 year old son. Kaitlyn begged for a hot dog and I drew the short straw and was sent to fetch it during intermission. There wasn’t really a line at the stand as much as a mob. And there were no hot dogs. I bought her a tomato and mozzarella sandwich. Bill asked why I’d pick that. Next time, he can go. When he went, he bought popcorn. Much easier to do, since the word is the same in English. And he went during a balancing act, so there was no line.

All said, we had a good time. But we were all exhausted by the time the show ended. It started at 8:30. It ended at 12:30. That is one long circus.

Ticket to ride

Friday, November 24th, 2006

When I found out we were moving to France, I pictured walking or biking everywhere… or at least hardly ever using my car. Yea, right. If I’m going somewhere, I’m going in my car.

Monday, I decided that we don’t live so terribly far from Kaitlyn’s school and that I can certainly walk there and home. I’d never be able to walk there in the morning, because it would mean leaving the house at about the time Kaitlyn is normally dragging her tired tiny hiney out of bed! I don’t know what came over me Monday afternoon when I figured I could walk there to pick her up in the afternoon. Hello? Common sense? Not home, thanks. It took me about a half hour to get there. It’s all downhill going. Coming home, I had to stop halfway up our street to find my breath (it was beyond simply catching it) and to have my head examined. I forgot to look at my watch when we left the school to see how long it actually took me to push our big huge stroller and Kaitlyn straight up our street. I have no idea how far that walk was. I got home just before it got dark out, so I’m guessing it took me between 45 minutes and an hour. Ok, so that’s not the greatest idea I’ve ever had.

Today, I found another, better, alternative to driving. At least to driving into downtown Grenoble. I’d asked another ISE wife if she wanted to go downtown so she could show me a hair salon she’d found out about and, of course, eat. She said sure – we could take the tram. ( She’s something of a pro at it, her three kids take it every day to and from school. I’d been a little afraid to give it a try alone, since all the maps and signs are in French… let alone the potential problems getting a ticket and having it stamped properly. The ride downtown was really a breeze. Pay to leave your car in their version of a park-and-ride lot, that buys you round trip tickets for all the people in your car. Then hop on the tram (admittedly, I’d have probably hopped on going the wrong way without help) and downtown is just a few minutes away.

Once we got down there, we bought sandwiches from a shop without any tables. The sidewalk became our own personal cafe. Then she pointed out the salon plus some other cool looking stores. I’m going to have to go back when I have a little more time! We didn’t even get to wander into the antique district. This discovery could be dangerous!

*warning: Julie don’t read this one, either*

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

My Poste pride has turned to shipping sorrow. Today, the mail lady returned to me the box of wine I’d shipped to Julie last week. It has a big orange sticker: rejected by the FDA. Great.

This is going to make sending Christmas gifts home a lot more challenging than I’d anticipated. (not that everyone should have been expecting a bottle of wine) I’m certainly not suggesting I would lie about the contents of a box so it would get to its destination… but there must be a better way of filling out the form than the way I’d done it. Hopefully, others who have shipped on Christmases Past can help me out. Otherwise, everyone will just have go get their presents when they come visit. I’ll wrap them all and keep them in a bin in the storage area for collection at a later date.

Carrefour… la la la la!

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

I must now be an official resident of France. I have the jingle from Carrefour stuck in my head. aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!

Pilgrims and ISE’s…

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

Gobble, gobble.

Tonight was the ISE Thanksgiving dinner. The chef from Caterpillar roasted turkey, made mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn. The ISE’s brought stuffing (that’s what I made.. it can be done with day old baguettes), sweet potatoes, veggie trays, hummus, and pumpkin pie. It was complete. There were games and crafts for the little ones, so Kaitlyn was happy. She also enjoyed stuffing herself with tomatoes, potatoes and turkey. All things she still thinks are good finger foods. (note to self: you have to bring your own place settings. Next year bring dessert plates and milk for the coffee!)

Before we got to dig in, one of the ISE’s who has been here a while stood up and spoke. He had a presentation pointing out how the ISE’s are similar to the pilgrims. (watch it at  There were pictures of the mind-numbing house hunt, movers packing, the piles of boxes after unpacking, the confusion that can be Carrefour, the friends you make, the places you see… some just minutes from your door. It nearly made me cry, I’m such a sap. It made me thankful for having a room full of people who all understood everything we’ve been going through since we found out in June we were coming here. It made me thankful for the opportunity we’ve been given to see and learn so much more than most Americans ever get to. It made me thankful that our family in the US supported our decision to come here, and all plan to come visit. It made me thankful for Bill and Kaitlyn.

Parlez Vous Boujoulais?

Friday, November 17th, 2006
The Nouveau Boujoulais is out… and that means time for parties. It’s a tradition. Or an excuse to get together.  (

We’ve been told the nouveau boujoulais is nothing special. Not good, even. That wasn’t why we decided to go to a nouveau boujoulais soiree held tonight at Kaitlyn’s school. (A school holding a wine party… would never fly in the US.) We went because it was a chance to socialize, even if it means speaking French.

That sounds so good in theory. But when we got there tonight, I was terrified we’d actually have no choice but to speak French ALL NIGHT. What was I thinking????

What a relief when a bunch of ISE’s from Caterpillar were hovering around the door. That bubble burst when we discovered the seats at the English table were all taken. Mind you, three people came in after us and wormed their way into seats at the coveted table. No matter. The chairs we got might as well have been across the Atlantic. All French people. My big, brave idea sure seemed, well, stupid right about then.

I left the table to tend to a Kaitlyn crisis (there were many), and when I got back I heard Bill talking to the man next to him. He introduced me to Pierre. Enchantee, I said. Pierre spoke English. He’s even done some business in Raleigh. I was a wee bit disappointed that I didn’t get to practice my French. So during a lull, I asked the headmistress about Kaitlyn’s teacher. She’s been out for a couple of weeks. Turns out, her foot is broken. Yup, I got all that. Ok, so that’s one sentence, and she said it with some hand gestures, but still I understood. I didn’t get the rest of what she was saying, because it was just so loud in that room. No, really, it was loud!

Anyway, Pierre was very kind and kept talking to us in English. And as the evening wore on, I decided to just go ahead and throw out some of my bad French. He not only understood it, mostly, but he encouraged me to keep doing it! What was he thinking? It was like telling Pandora, “sure, open that box, no biggie.”

I bored him with my French about watching football and eating too much on Thanksgiving, although I was completely unable to come up with a translation for Thanksgiving. I wowed him with my ability to tell him that I like… what did I say I like? I don’t even remember. I have no idea what French I tried to babble. But he was so very, very nice to listen to it and to keep on talking to me despite it!

At one point, it was as if Pierre had actually read a page out of my French lessons… word for word he asked me a sentence that I learned just this week… a sentence my teacher said would be very, very used. I knew how to answer, just not in French. But at least I knew what he was asking. (He asked what we normally do on the weekends. I barely had an answer in English, then we agreed that we haven’t been here long enough to come up with a “normally” yet. Whew)

How was the boujoulais? Don’t know. We didn’t even try any. You had to buy a bottle of wine there (I’d forgotten that part) and Bill thought all the bottles were boujoulais. That would only make sense at a boujoulais party. Not so. Although, one of the ISE’s who did buy a boujoulais wandered over to our table to tell us to be glad we had something different in our glasses. Maybe. But in the end, we were glad we had something other than English at our table.

*warning: Julie if you read this you will find out what your birthday gift is*

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

A formerly simple task turned into a real test of my French … and resulted in an amazing sense of accomplishment today. I went to the post office (La Poste) to mail a package.

I started at the tiny Poste in town. It’s one room and one guy sitting behind a counter amid piles of I’m not even sure what. He was very, very friendly. As soon as I walked in, he was chatting up a storm. I couldn’t catch most of what he was saying. I just smiled, nodded, and plodded ahead to my task at hand. I pulled a bottle of wine out of my purse and said (not very well) that I needed to send it to the US. He was sorry, but he didn’t have the right box. Of course, they have special boxes made to mail wine bottles. Maybe they have it in Uriage. Maybe I couldn’t conduct my business with him, but he was determined to hold a conversation with me. He asked me if it was a bottle of the nouveau Beaujolais. It’s apparently just come out. We’re actually planning on going to a nouveau Beaujolais soiree tomorrow night at the school. Anyway, I said no. Then, to my own amazement, I told him that it’s a bottle I like and that it is for my sister-in-law’s birthday. My grammar wasn’t exactly right, but it didn’t matter. He understood. And that made him even more apologetic that he didn’t have the right box. He seems like one of those people who if you manage to make up reasons to go to La Poste often enough, he’d make extra sure to help you out.

He’d suggested La Poste en Uriage, so I went back to my car (stopping at the boulangerie on the way… need to become a familiar face in there, too) and drove down the hill. The Poste there isn’t huge, but it is bigger than in St Martin. The clerk is behind a window, and there’s a room behind that. There’s also a door that I think leads to the bank area of the Poste. The Poste there is also busier, and I had to wait in line. Normally, nothing more than a nuisance but of course this morning, I was watching the clock because I had to be out in 25 minutes to get Kaitlyn from school. That had me a little worried, since fast and French do not go together.

Once I made it up to the window, I started again with my half-French half-mime routine. Je voudrias poster cette van aux etas unis. Probably a grammatical hatchet job on the language. But the woman knew what I wanted. She wasn’t sure if she had the box, and disappeared into the back room. It felt like she was gone forever. And since she is the only clerk, I was worried the people behind me were getting impatient. I forgot, that’s what people in line do at home. This is France, where you just wait patiently. She finally reappeared with the box and the guy from the bank who was apparently charged with putting the box together. I filled out the shipping form – missing only the spot for my signature which I’d looked for but didn’t see – while he struggled with the cardboard puzzle. He came out into the lobby, took my bottle and carefully boxed it up. Watching him I realized that folding the cardboard into the box isn’t easy… and that he isn’t an engineer. But he got it done. Merci, boucoup! Je ne fais pas! Another hatchet job, but again I think he got the idea.

Now, the bottle of wine is on it’s way to California. I’m thrilled I tackled a little French all on my own, and got done what I wanted. Tomorrow I need to send a letter to North Carolina. I think I’ll go back to the Poste in St Martin and let that nice man know that I got that box… now if he can just help me with this letter…

Quite a lesson!

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

Kaitlyn and I got quite a lesson today in, uh, the French way I guess we’ll call it.

I decided that I was not going to spend another Wednesday stuck in the house. With French lessons from 13:00 to 15:00, generally followed by a desperately needed nap (which can last as late as 18:00 if I let it, which I usually do), morning was our only hope.

I simply wanted to go to the market, get some veggies to go with dinner tonight, stop by the boulangerie for a baguette and dash into the Petite Casino for a bottle of milk. The playground is right next to where the market sets up, so I figured it was a win-win plan.

At the veggie stand, a little girl who couldn’t have been more than two showed the world she doesn’t need a diaper. Right there, just a few feet away on a little patch of dirt, she pulled down her pants and her underwear, balanced herself quite masterfully and aimed like a pro while she answered nature’s call. “What is she doing?” Kaitlyn asked. I hoped the others around us didn’t speak English. “She’s going pee pee!” Kaitlyn announced. “Why?” Good question. I suppose it’s more acceptable for a little boy to trot off toward a tree and turn his back to anyone around while he goes. But for a girl to just squat down and pee with people stepping over her, well that was just something I hadn’t expected to see let alone explain. “I guess she had to go and that was better than having an accident.” Kaitlyn thought about this for a second. Then, as I feared would happen next she said “I have to go!” You have to understand, when she does go she can barely aim inside a toilet, there is no way she can aim straight down between her legs while still missing her pants. Despite my protests, she went over to nearly the same spot, and sorta squatted down then ran back to me. She’d pretended, she told me. Thank goodness that was all. I’d like to hope she won’t remember that solution to needing to go. But her memory is too good… especially for the things we don’t want her to remember.