Archive for March, 2007

old habits…

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Sometimes, our 9 years in the Triangle really shows.

                        The forecast is for snow this week. Bill will be out of town. So today, he dragged me to the single worst place you can be on a Saturday. Carrefour. It re-defines crowded. But he was afraid that I’d be stuck at the house with nothing to eat. I had this urge to buy bread, milk and beer. (The three things that always fly off the shelves at Harris Teeter the moment a meteorologist says “snow” in Raleigh. I did look for some Irish beer for St Patrick’s Day, but didn’t find any. I guess for that you have to drive to the Irish store downtown!)

                        Hopefully, Kaitlyn and I will not be trapped in the house. But if we are… we have bread, milk and a stack of new dvd’s Bill bought.

It’s Official

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Today we got the little pieces of laminated paper that make me feel like we really, truly LIVE here… that we aren’t just visitors.

            The Carte de Sejour is what makes you an “official” resident of France. We turned in a mound of paperwork to the relocation company that then maneuvered the red tape to get ours. The requirements include physicals given by a government doctor (That involved getting a mandatory chest x-ray. Seemed kind of bold for a country swarming with smokers. I guess they figure the medical system is already overwhelmed with people suffering from lung maladies… can’t let any new ones in.) After a few weeks, the cards arrived and we were set. That isn’t what we got today.

            Today we got our French Permis de Conduire. (drivers licenses)

            Without one after a year here, you can’t get insurance. Or so I read somewhere (Probably in a booklet produced by French insurance companies)

                But getting one can be hard if you don’t come from the “right” place in the U.S. And we didn’t come from one of the “right” places.

                There is a small list of states in the U.S. That have reciprocity with France. If you have a license from one of these states, you present your license and are given a French license. Voila! Of course, we checked the list before we moved. North Carolina is not on it. A friend told Bill that Ohio is on the list; we considered getting Ohio licenses when we visited Bill’s sister in Cincinnati. But when I checked the French consulate’s website… no Ohio. So we came here not sure what we’d do. Officially, you have to have the U.S. License before your visa was issued. That means a quick trip now to, say, Florida would provide tans but not licenses.

                Taking the test to get a French license is apparently hard… very hard. Even French people often fail the first time they try. Kind of like lawyers trying to pass the Bar. The mere idea of taking the test made me nervous. We were looking at taking a week-long lesson before the test. The only place that HR at Cat found giving the lessons in English is in Paris. A week in Paris is fun. A week in Paris learning to drive did not sound fun. And we’d have to go one at a time because Kaitlyn isn’t old enough to drive.

                So, the woman in HR who didn’t relish the idea of spending a small fortune on this week in Paris asked if we’d ever DRIVEN in a state with reciprocity. And, suddenly, Ohio was included in the list. I wrote to Ohio, got official documents showing that we had licenses there and for how long. We gave that, our current NC licenses and our pictures to the relocation company on Monday. Yesterday they sent Bill an e-mail… they got our French licenses. I didn’t believe it until I had mine in my hand. It’s now in my purse. Next to my Carte de Sejour.

                I think I’d better read through my French driving guidebook… learn a few of the rules and roadsigns.

Folie de mars

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

                Today is the first day of March Madness. This is the first year in a lot of years that I can just simply watch the tournament and enjoy it. I don’t have to root against a team I like just because if they win it will mean more work for me. I don’t have to root for a team I don’t like just because I live near that school.

                I have signed up for the free streaming of the tournament online. It didn’t reject me when I said I live in France. Hopefully it will actually mean I won’t have to worry about blacked out games. Now all I have to do is get Bill to hook up my laptop to the big tv so that I can actually see what’s going on. And then I have to stock up on coffee for my Tassimo… because 7:30pm (eastern time) games are going to make a complete mess of my schedule. I’m going to have to be choosy about this, aren’t I?

                That’s ok. Go Bruins!

Evil Empire

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

The Evil Empire must be stopped. Today I was unwittingly sucked into one of its local traps. Every time it happens, I swear I will never go back. But when you have a four year old, it is harder than it should be to live up to your promise to yourself to never again set foot in a McDonald’s.

                All McDonald’s I’ve ever been to include some sort of unpleasant experience. Doesn’t matter what country. In France, the joy begins at the counter where you order. No, the problem isn’t so much that I struggle to speak French. I mean, a Happy Meal is a Happy Meal. You just have to sort of say it with a French accent. Seriously, if you order your Happy Meal and nuggets by saying “appy meel et cheezeberghaire” they seem to understand.

                The real problem is that people in France do not queue. They just mob. So you go in to order and there’s just a mass of people pushing toward the cashiers. You see an open spot, you fill it. It isn’t what I’d consider polite – which seems to go against what you’d expect from a society that has a polite form of the word “you” which you’d use when actually addressing the order-taker at McDo (as they call it). I’m not the only one to make this observation. It’s the topic of at least one chapter in every book I’ve read on French culture-shock.

                Today when I’d finally shoved my way to the cashier and shouted my order at her, she mumbled something back to me at the very end that I couldn’t understand. Not because she was speaking French, but because she was only speaking as loud as the Whos in Whoville before that last little Who joined in so that anyone other than Horton could hear them. So when I shook my head and said “pardon” she shruged her shoulders and sighed in complete exasperation at having been saddled with the stupid American in her mob. She turned to another woman who appeared to be a manager-type who held up her fingers and said real slowly to me “salad deux minutes.” Fine. But I’m not moving from this spot. I tried to tell her in French that I was not going to leave the area then come back because with my daughter in tow it is just too hard. I’d wait right there. I don’t know what I actually said. Something like “je ne peux pas partir et revenir avec ma fille…” I think it was one of those cases of sounding like an American who just puts words together to make a sentence but it isn’t really “French.” (One of my French teachers accused me of speaking French that way. Well, this just in… I AM AN AMERICAN STRINGING WORDS TOGETHER TO TRY TO COMMUNICATE IN FRENCH!) Anyway, the power-hungry manager woman was not going to let me just stand there and block the mob from moving forward while some one shuffled back to the refrigerator to get another pre-made salad. She made me move to a corner where all unfortunate customers are made to stand. We were probably all Americans, but too frustrated to speak to each other and find out. I watched two armloads of salads go by while the guy with the job of filling unfilled orders made a vanilla cone for the woman in front of me. It was the slowest making of an ice cream cone I’ve ever seen. Finally I got my salad and we were off to the playland.

            Playlands are never nice. I don’t care which McDonalds or where. And this one had the added bonus of actually smelling like a toilet. Nothing makes me want to eat like the aroma of sewage. Kaitlyn sucked down her Pom Pot (applesauce in a pouch you suck the food out of. Wildly popular with kids here.) and dashed off to the play area. I showed her my watch and said that at 1:30 we were leaving – no arguments. She cannot tell time, but she seemed to buy into my plan. It was 1:15 at the time. The next 15 minutes were some of the longest I’ve ever experienced. Kaitlyn had a good time. After each time she completed the Ronald Maze, she’d run up to me and ask to do it again. I stuck to my 1:30 promise and let her return over and over. One time I heard her crying and looked up to see some little boy blocking the path and refusing to let her get by. So I made a shoving motion and told her to push him. I don’t care if the other mothers understood me. I rather hoped that boy’s mother did and would be prompted to tell him to move his ass out of her way, but that didn’t happen. I walked over to try to help when some French girls arrived on the scene. One held Kaitlyn’s hands and comforted her while the other got the bully to move. Crisis averted. It also helped renew my faith in the French society… at least there are two girls with some promise.

                At 1:30, Kaitlyn ate trois bites of her “cheezebergaire”… the agreed upon number… so that I’d open her Happy Meal toy. I also think the toys here are much lamer than the toys in the U.S. But she liked it. It’s a ball that lights up and spins around on a little stand. I put it up high on her dresser when we got home; maybe it will be out of sight, out of mind.

                As we left the Grenoble location of the Death Star, I vowed to myself never to return. But I know it’s a promise I won’t be able to keep… no matter how hard I try. May the force be with me.

is there a doctor in the house? NO!

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

This morning I woke up with a horrible cold. We’ve been passing it around amongst the three of us, and it is apparently my turn again.

                Kaitlyn was standing by my bed with a blanket, and I thought she was going to cover me up like she does with her dollies.

                I said “oh, thank you for taking care of me.”

                And Kaitlyn put her hands on her hips and told me, sternly, “Mommy. I am NOT a doctor!”

Glad she cleared that up!

an autre Grenoble

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Too late for my first house guests, I went on a tour of “another Grenoble” today and learned a lot about our adopted, temporary home.


I saw where the rampart built around the original city by the Romans is still marked on the ground. And heard where to go if I want to actually see part of the wall. Grenoble was apparently very important to the Roman Empire, because it was the gateway from the south of France to Italy.

I saw the first street built outside the wall. I saw the oldest house in Grenoble.


I saw other old houses… many I’d walked past or even shopped in the stores on the ground floor without paying any attention to the amazing detail.


One has giant wooden doors with carvings around the door knockers that look like a cross between a man and a lion. And the door knockers are very high off the ground… so you can knock on the door without getting off your horse.


I also learned about the cathedral… and the battle between the bishop and the dauphin over who had the tallest cathedral.

I stood on a suspension bridge over the Isere river; that I didn’t like because you could feel it moving. The guide also told us about how dangerous the Isere is… how it’s named after a word for snake… and how important it was for Grenoble to finally feel like it had “tamed” the waters.


Now I have just enough knowledge to really drive my next house guests crazy!

Lions and tigers and bears… oh my!

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

Honestly, if I’m going to spend two hours in the car driving somewhere, I want that destination to be a darn-tootin’ good one. I don’t know if the end of today’s two hour trek delivered. I think Bill and Kaitlyn thought it did; which means I’m out voted anyway. Oh, where’d we go? A zoo.

                This is not just any zoo. We’ve heard people rave about it (maybe that’s why I was disappointed… I had high expectations). You don’t just walk around and look at animals like every other zoo. You drive through part and the animals can walk right up to your car. Ok – bring it on.

                We started at the side you drive through. You start by getting out of your car to see elephants. Oh, and, of course, stop at the gift shop (we skipped that part) Not off to a stunning start. When you finally get to the part where the animals can wander along the road, the animals that get in the way are ostriches. It’s actually kinda neat. They do come right up to the car. And they are pretty big — especially compared to the little European cars! The car in front of us looked like a mini Mini, and there were three guys dressed like Deter from SNL stuffed inside.

                Past the ostrich area, you drive through some gates with signs that tell you to roll up your windows and under no circumstances get out of your car (like if it breaks down). They meant it; they put the signs up in French and English. Normally, the French don’t seem to care if non-French speakers understand the dangers of a situation. Pretty soon, we understood why this warranted such a stern warning. Big black bears were lying all over the road or wandering right by the cars. The best part was that the Deter trio in the wind-up car rolled down their windows to get better pictures.

                Honestly, I thought we’d drive by lions and tigers. No. The bears were the most ferocious creatures in the “safari.” Now, I’m not slighting the ferocity of a bear (if any bears happen to be reading this). It’s simply what I’d imagined. Turns out the lions and tiger are in the normal part of the zoo.

                The normal part of the zoo was kind of a disappointment. I didn’t think it was as nice a zoo as the one in North Carolina. The exhibits seemed a little sad and so did the animals. To me. But the saddest part was that all the food vendors were closed. We don’t know if that is because it was March or because it was Sunday, but we do know it put a real hurt on our plan of grabbing lunch at the zoo. We found some vending machines and tried to make lunch out of two bags of funky-tasting potato chips and a giant Twix cookie. Then Bill noticed the gift shop had some pre-made sandwiches. We all munched on a ham sandwich from there.

                As for the two-hour ride home, I fell asleep. After we stopped at a gas station so I could use the bathroom. I passed on the hole in the ground bathroom at the zoo. That may do fine for the inhabitants, but not for this visitor.

I’m no Olympic skiier

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

Last night when we went to bed, it was pouring rain outside. Not so very noteworthy, really, it’s been raining all week. But something possessed me to say “hey, maybe it’s snowing at Chamrousse.” I don’t know why. It’s been too warm all week to snow. But Bill checked. And, what do you know, I was right. It was snowing.

                So this morning we got up and loaded the skis into the car and drove up the mountain.

                There was one point where it looked like people were stopping to put on chains. We couldn’t really tell. Mostly, the people were standing around their cars just chatting. Seemed odd, since it was a bit cold to just stand around talking. We stopped and after watching a few other cars keep going up the mountain without chains, Bill decided to just go ahead. A little while later, more drivers had stopped their cars along the side of the road, definitely putting on chains. Bill dismissed the idea.

                Once we got to the ski area, the first hurdle was to put Kaitlyn on her skis and see how she did at the base… just skiing between Bill and me. Two times down and Bill sent me to buy lift tickets. It felt hasty to me, but he was the one who’d have to deal with her.

                The first challenge was the moving carpet (giant human conveyor belt) to get us over to the “easy” area where our tickets would work. (I’d bought the cheapest tickets, which only let you onto two or three lifts) Kaitlyn has ridden the carpet in the kiddie area dozens of times. But today, she couldn’t manage it. She kept turning around to see me and Bill, and then she’d fall. Still, she did better than I did. I fell just getting on. I didn’t have on my skis, and my boot slipped and down I went. So I got off and walked along side in the snow. That worked ok until I stepped in a big hole. So far, it’s not my day. At about that point, I thought to myself that I should have stayed home.

                Once we got off the stupid belt, I put on my skis and then we had to make our way down the last half of an easy run to the lift. Shouldn’t be too hard. But to keep Kaitlyn from fussing over not being allowed to use her poles, I’d agreed to ski without mine. It only added to my panic. I don’t know why. I snowplowed nearly the whole way. I did not want to fall. Bill was struggling to deal with Kaitlyn; I didn’t want to have to get up on my own. Especially not without poles to offer me some help.

                Finally we got to the area with the lifts. Kaitlyn ended her week at the Piou Piou Club by taking the butt lift, so that was our destination. I’d never done one before, but managed just fine (whew). We stopped at the top to take some pictures and I watched some skiers who were even more beginner than me. A tall guy in the group fell and couldn’t get up… even with help. I didn’t laugh because that would just be asking to have the same thing happen to me. But it did make me feel better.

                I started to realize as we skied down the little hill that is is actually EASIER to ski without poles. Imagine that. But Bill realized as we skied down that Kaitlyn’s graduation from the Piou Piou Club did not mean that she learned how to turn or stop on skis. Both are kinda important. One time she came skiing towards me and I panicked. I’m just a pillar of strength for her, aren’t I?

                Anyway, Bill said we should make our way back over to the main lodge area and parking lot. I suggested Kaitlyn and I take off our skis and wait there, in that parking area. He insisted that we could take the chairlift and ski down the mountain; that he’d be ok with Kaitlyn. I was terrified. My heart was pounding and I was really, truly, scared. But I went along with it. Mostly because he took Kaitlyn’s hand and got in line for the lift. The way this lift works, there’s a little gate that opens and you go out onto a big moving carpet then the chair comes up behind you as the carpet is moving you forward. Only I got stuck at the gate thing. When I sprung out onto the carpet, the chair was swinging around and coming right at me. The terror I felt at the idea of taking the lift turned to complete horror. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t stop moving toward the chair, because the carpet was moving me forward. I thought the lift operator would stop the chair and let me catch up with Bill and Kaitlyn, but that didn’t happen. So I grabbed at the chair as it came at me, and as it whipped past me it pulled me down and I fell with quite a thud on the side of the moving carpet. I looked up at the operator and then, seemingly reluctantly, he stopped the lift. He came out of his little booth to help me up (barely) and I made my way over to my family. We got on the lift and I burst out in tears. In addition to being hurt I was scared Kailtyn would fall off the lift and as we got toward the top I realized I’d have to get off the lift. I will never be a good skier because chickens just aren’t cut out for it. But I managed to get off with far more grace than I got on. And I managed to get down the hill without problems. I even caught myself enjoying it. But Bill had enough of trying to ski with Kaitlyn between his legs and of my freaking out every 10 minutes. So we stopped. Well, Kaitlyn and I stopped. We sledded while Bill skied. The wind was bitter and little pellets of snow started to pound our faces, so I wasn’t surprised when Bill called it quits himself.

                That well may have been our last time skiing Chamrousse for the season. It wasn’t a picture perfect end. Cluck, cluck.


Tuesday, March 6th, 2007

This morning, Kaitlyn could not have been prouder of herself. When the teacher’s assistant in her class said “bonjour, Kaitlyn,” Kaitlyn said “bonjour!” She grabbed me and giggled. Then inside when the teacher greeted her, Kaitlyn said “bonjour!” The teacher was so impressed , she asked the assistant if she’d heard and the assistant said Kaitlyn had given her the same greeting.

                    Kaitlyn was thrilled.

                    Of course, she also danced with joy when I told her that she’d have lasagna for lunch. She never dances like that at home when I serve lasagna.

Sweet Home Lunch

Monday, March 5th, 2007

                The first Monday of the month means spending the morning at a Sweet Home Grenoble Cafe… a get-together over coffee at someone’s house. There is a lot of talking, some nibbling, some coffee, then a little meeting where the women who organize everything tell us what’s coming up so we can mark our calendars.

                I got off to a bang messing up my French (big surprise), then chatted with some different women. There is one French lady who attends and who I’ve sat with a couple of times during the language exchange.. she is so nice. So I asked her how to say something in French about the morning traffic (I only got one word wrong. Ok, so the sentence only had three words in it.)

                After the meeting wrapped up, I was among the last to leave because I was so busy talking. As we stood at the door to head out, the hostess said “oh, well, a couple others were going to have lunch here, why don’t you stay, too?” So her lunch went from three people to six, and she acted like it was no big deal. There it was: my first invitation to a meal at a French home.

                She served two kinds of chicken (one, she confessed, was leftovers), rice, frittata and peas. Oh, and, of course, wine. I had a small amount, because she said it was from a local winery and I wanted to see how it was. It was pretty good. Then there was the cheese course. Our hostess told us that traditionally in France, you just put the cheese on the tablecloth in front of you. For us, she got out plates. I admitted that I have a horrible fromagephobia. I tried three that looked safe. One turned out to be camembert, which I have been afraid of. But it was pretty good. I don’t know that I’d call it mild, but it was good. The others I don’t know the names of. One I’d recognize in a second because the rind was a nasty gray. It looked like mold growing at the bottom of a glass that once had Coke in it that you’ve left on the table too long. Not that I know that from personal experience, of course. Anyway, it was good. It would be better if I hadn’t had to see the rind. When lunch hit the two hour mark, I realized I’d have to pass on the coffee.

                I may not ever get another invitation to a French home for a meal. It was a fun experience.