Archive for September, 2008


Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

My French lesson today had to include one very important thing: calling to order a delivery of heating oil to the house. Our fuel tank is encased in a cinder-block box…. making it impossible to tell how much oil you have once it falls below about ¾ full. I’m not anxious to run out while we’re visiting the U.S. and with snow in the forecast for the mountains (1200 meters… we live just below 800 meters) I’m not willing to wait and not be able to get it delivered before we leave.

Normally, I just ask my teacher to make the call for me. He dials, he talks, and voila it’s done. I knew before I got there today that it wasn’t going to happen that way. Today I had the teacher who has you make the call. Sure, it may be better that way in the long run but it’s horribly stressful and I’m willing to sacrifice the gain for the easy way out.

We went over the words and phrases I’d likely need to perform this task. He was sure to have me practice the overly polite ways one properly asks for something in France. It’s apparently not only the best way to get what you need… it’s often the only way to get it. Which means it probably should be one of the lessons in the first few months you’re here.

Once I felt ok-ish with what I had to say, we made the call. The first two tries it was busy. Once we finally got through, we reached a voice mail system. The recording says something about if you know the department you want, say it now. My receipt from last time says to dial the number then say “fuel.” The teacher didn’t read that he just told me to say “Carrefuel. “ (The home heating oil division of the conglomerate Carrefour.) So, I followed his instructions. He’s French, he should know how this works. He even told me I said it perfectly. The voice mail system didn’t care. It sent me to regular Carrefour. We hung up and dialed back like 5 times. By the end, the French person was yelling “FUEL!” into the phone. He said they used to make fun of how we had these phone trees in the U.S. Who’s laughing now? Anyway, once we got to the Carrefuel side of the phone tree Hell, we were met by a series of recordings telling us to press one or two if we wanted this or that. I had no clue what this or that was. The teacher would just hold up one or two fingers so I’d know how to respond. It made me wonder: if we were in the U.S. would I be the one wielding the power of comprehension? Oh, probably not.

At long last we reached an actual human being. Once we got that far, I could pretty much handle it. I had the cheat sheet we’d made of the proper polite phrases to use. I scheduled the delivery. Thursday… between 8 and 1. Just like home.

Open 9-ish till probably a little before 5 or so….

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

I went to the bank this morning to pick up my new Carte Bleu…. my debit card. You need it to do just about everything here. I’d gotten a notice from the bank that my new one was in, but yesterday I looked and realized that what’s in my wallet is a card that is no good at midnight tonight.

So I got Kaitlyn to school a bit early and endured morning traffic to get downtown. You have to pick up your card in person for security reasons. I’d told the banker I’d be there at 9 when they open to pick up my card… because I have a French lesson 15 minutes away at 9:30. And the rest of my day is booked up so I really had to squeeze this task in.

I got to the bank at 9. Parked the car and walked to the door at about 9:03. You have to get buzzed in to the bank. The woman who answered my buzz was still taking off her coat and her purse was obviously freshly set down on her desk. She let me in, got my card and had me signing the papers swearing I picked it up when my normal banker arrived. So that made it about 9:08. She looked at me in disbelief: “Wow. When you say 9, you mean 9!” I realize Bill may question my ability to be prompt, but the intention is nearly always there. I can’t believe a business that opens at 9 actually opens “somewhere around 9-ish or whenever we actually get here depending on traffic.”

politics from thousands of miles away

Monday, September 29th, 2008

This afternoon, I hosted a little debate-watching party. Well, party is a strong word for it. Get-together. Since we have the Slingbox, I figured I should do it. It’s important. Especially here where we aren’t bombarded with ads and phone calls and the like. Although if the Obama campaign calls me again at 2am, I’m going to have to smack someone.

I was a little worried… I have not shared my political views with the others here since I’m clearly more liberal than any of them. But I figured I have a background of at least trying to maintain some impartiality…

There were no political fist fights. Small debates but nothing heated. I don’t think I managed to keep my opinion to myself. Oh, well.

I offered to record and host showings of each of the debates. When we see how they all turn out…. I’ll get back to ya.

all aboard!

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Bill works 11 hour days all week and is content to sit at home and play the Wii all weekend. He can go all weekend and never step outside. I think there are weekends he doesn’t even open the shutters.

I stay at home all week and look forward to the weekends for the chance to get out.

These two philosophies sometimes clash. To the point that Bill has instructed me to make more plans to do things with my friends on the weekends. Not exactly what I’m after, but, still, better than sitting at home.

Today, I lured Bill away from the Wii with a road trip I thought he’d really enjoy. We drove about an hour away to a place with an outdoor model railway display. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. Even after seeing the website. I didn’t care. It wasn’t especially at the top of my list of places to go… but at least it was out of the house.

The model railway was big, but not huge. What struck me as so funny about it was how typical French the towns around the railway were that this guy had built. There was laundry hanging out to dry… livestock in the yards… each little town had a fountain…. there was a bakery… a poste… a man peeing between two buildings… bikers blocking the roads… hitchhikers… cows in the road… all just a day in the life of a typical small French village. He had built some of the models to replicate local towns. I recognized one from pictures I’ve seen of the houses built into cliffs along a river. Behind that he had the bubbles from Grenoble. Cute.

We spent more time on the road driving there and back than we spent looking at the trains. But it was still pretty worth it. And maybe now I’ve started a trend… of seeing things other than Mario Cart race tracks on the weekends.

it’s just never easy

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

We’ve lived here just days short of two years, and it never gets any easier. I mean, things that should be completely simple tasks turn out to be ordeals. Always.

I invited a friend and her two daughters over for dinner last night. I ended up feeling so sick that I postponed it till tonight. (Note to self: skip Chinese buffet at mall from now on.) When I extended the invitation originally, I had plenty of food to back it up. Then Bill added another friend and her two boys… and a trip for more food became necessary. On Saturday. The day from Hell at the stores here (because they aren’t open on Sunday.)

I’d planned on serving raclette, because I stopped at the cheese truck the other day at the smoked raclette looked good. Yes, I buy cheese out of a truck. Yes, I now look at French cheese and think some of it looks appealing. For those who don’t know, raclette is a cheese that you melt then pour or scrape onto your plate of potatoes, bread and meats. It’s fondue’s lesser-known cousin. I’d bought a chunk of raclette for four people. I needed more.

Bill suggested we go to Carrefour. I’d rather walk on hot coals than go to Carrefour on Saturday. I said we could get everything we needed at the market that specializes in fruits and veggies. We got there and Bill stayed in the car with Kaitlyn while she napped. I walked in and couldn’t believe what I saw. There were so many people you could barely get up to the produce to stuff it in your plastic bags. Even worse: the cheese aisle did not include any raclette. Not one tiny morsel.

Annoyed, I got back in the car and announced we’d have to stop at the fromagerie (cheese shop) in Uriage. He’s overpriced, but he’ll have it. Bill dropped me off, I walked in and couldn’t believe what I saw. He had a sign on the door saying he’s going on vacation from Monday till the end of October… and inside he had two wheels of cheese left. Stinky cheese with a crust of mold that looked impenetrable. No raclette.

Now I was beyond annoyed. People were set to arrive in two hours. Had we just gone to Carrefour, we’d have had everything done already. I hate to admit that. So I stomped down the street to the Petit Casino (small grocery store… bigger than a 7/11 but only by a smidge) and bought two packs of pre-packaged, pre-sliced raclette. I could have just gone to the stupid Petit Casino and gotten everything I’d ended up buying.

It was a good thing I did buy the extra. We plowed through what we had. You’d think none of us had eaten in a week. What can I say? Raclette is good. And the raclette from the cheese truck… is better. I gotta figure out where that guy takes his truck on Saturdays.


Friday, September 26th, 2008

This morning Kaitlyn was whining about eating at canteen (an activity she used to like… I think her little friend who hates canteen is polluting Kaitlyn’s opinion of it). So I told her a secret: my tennis classes start today and I am terrified because they’ll be in French with people I don’t even know. And I told her that when I get scared like that, I think of how brave Kaitlyn is being at school all day in French and eating at canteen, and I know that I can try to be like Kaitlyn. She didn’t buy it. But I wasn’t just pulling her leg to try to make her stop complaining about canteen. I really woke up scared to death of that class. And I really do remind myself sometimes of all that Kaitlyn has had to adjust to here. She’s had more time spent just thrown into an entirely French environment than either Bill or I.

By the time we got to school, her anti-canteen sentiment had petered out a bit and I got my usual peck on the cheek at the gate just before she went running in. I wasted some time chatting with a couple other parents but eventually it was time to face the court.

The lessons are at the tennis club in Uriage, the picturesque town just below us… the courts are right by the carousel. I got there about 30 minutes early, so I sat in my car and wrote out a to-do list filled with things I don’t want to do because they involve talking to people on the phone in French. I’m still not good at that. I noticed some people were playing tennis, so I thought I’d go ahead and wander over. But when I got to the tennis club, I wasn’t sure what to do. So I just sorta stood around and watched a group of school children run around the park in teams looking for clues that the teacher had hidden ahead of time. Finally, at 5 minutes after the time the class was to start, I thought I’d see if there was a teacher anywhere. I stuck my head in the little “clubhouse” and said I was there for the class. The teacher asked my name then I think said to follow him. Well, if he said it or not, that’s what I did. (Thank goodness he didn’t go to the bathroom.)

We walked to the court where four women were playing, warming up for the class. They stopped and I was instantly intimidated. All four are moms at Kaitlyn’s school. They are usually hanging around outside the gate talking. They may have once said hello to me… maybe. And here they were: my partners for a year’s worth of tennis lessons. Maybe I looked nervous. They all smiled and said “bonjour.” One asked my first name. Then they all stood around and practiced saying “Mandy… Mandy…. Mandy.” It was actually a little weird. I didn’t ask their names. I wouldn’t remember anyway. The teacher launched into some explanation about I have no idea what. I was trying to make sense of that when another mom from school walked up… a Brit. Thank goodness. Then another American arrived. Not that I want to use translators forever. Just for tennis… at least for a start.

The teacher was very nice to me. He told me to ask him to slow down if I needed. He stopped and helped me out a couple of times and I even managed to ask him a question.

The lesson itself was not like a tennis lesson I’m used to. I’m used to everyone standing on one side of the net, the teacher on the other lobbing balls practically at your racket. Here, he had us pair off and volley… four people on a court at a time… all trying to play with the person either directly across or diagonally across. No easy task with everyone playing at once. Still, somehow he made sense of it and managed to point out weaknesses, give advice, even the occasional “tres bien!” compliment.

By the time we left I realized I’m really a bad tennis player. I realized I’m getting old, because my shoulder hurt from 90 minutes of swatting at the ball. And I realized I’d kinda like to actually get paired with one of those French moms to play…. eventually.

home sick

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Kaitlyn convinced me this morning that she is too sick to go to school. What got me was when she agreed to stay home and not watch television and get back into bed. Ok, it’s been two hours and she’s now on the couch watching “Hong Kong Fooey.” She knew I’d fold.

I had a horrible cold last week (it’s still lingering but at least now I can pretty much breathe) so if she feels like I did, I know she’s miserable. But she doesn’t look miserable. She looks suspiciously like a little girl who used the sniffles to not have to go to school when she didn’t want to.

I don’t want to say I hope she’s sick. But I hope she’s sick. And sick or not, tomorrow she’s getting some medicine and a ride to school.


Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Proof that grande section really is hard. Tonight after dinner, Kaitlyn had to do homework. Homework! She’s five! Ok, so teaching her that doing your homework after dinner on Sunday night when it’s for class on Monday isn’t really the lesson I was after. But long story short, last week her English class was moved from Monday to Thursday so we had less time to get the work done. And the good news is, at least the work was in English.

She had a sheet with pictures of clowns holding balloons. Each clown had a word on its hat and she had to figure out which words on the balloons rhymed with the one on the hat. Obviously, that meant we had to be active participants, reading the words. But she’s too smart for her own good. When she got to the last clown she could not believe that every word rhymed, because with every other clown, one word didn’t.

I wish all her teachers a lot of luck. This is why I don’t home school.

Big night on the town

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

I promised Kaitlyn we’d go see Wall-E today. It was showing in town last night, but I have a cold that is just making me miserable and I was in no mood to go to a movie. So thinking I’d feel better overnight (not so much), I promised we’d go today.

Several people had told us that Wall-E is a pretty good movie to see in French, since there is so little dialog in the first place. So… what the heck.

I suggested taking the tram downtown, since there’s a stop right by the movie theater where we were going. OK, so I don’t know which tram line or how to exactly get to it… I could have looked that part up. Bill didn’t want to take the tram siting an unfamiliarity with it. Which is funny for a person who’s navigated his way through the world’s busiest train station in Japan; you’d think that the tram line here with its three lines would be a snap. He was driving, though, so we skipped the tram. But when we got in the vicinity of the parking garage (which is, admittedly, attached to the movie theater) Bill panicked. He absolutely freaked out about parking there. We’d passed a sign saying the garage was full, but that sign clearly looked broken because it listed no information for any other garage in all of Grenoble. I finally convinced him to circle the block and try to park in the garage. Voila! There were lots and lots of spaces. Then we got to the ticket counter and Bill asked me how to ask for the tickets. I said, I don’t know, just say “two adults and one child.” I figured it would be pretty obvious what we were buying. So Bill said “Fine. You do the talking. “ What does he think I do all day? Uh, the talking.

The theater was small but nice. It was stadium seating and each seat had a big holder in the arm rest for popcorn boxes, not just drinks. Nice touch. Surprising touch for a place where people allegedly don’t snack.

We did enjoy the movie. And I didn’t understand every word of the limited dialog, but enough to understand what was going on. I was a little annoyed that a newspaper headline that obviously gave some important information had been changed to French and wasn’t up on the screen long enough for me to decipher. Ah, well, c’est la vie.

After the movie, I again suggested we take the tram to a spot to get dinner. Bill didn’t want to walk. Hadn’t brought a jacket (I asked him when we left if he needed one). Kaitlyn really wanted to walk and I thought the tram was a good compromise. But we settled on going to a Chinese restaurant that isn’t near a tram anyway, so we drove. Parking was awful, it took forever to find a space. Then when we got to the restaurant we discovered why I haven’t been able to get through on the phone to make a reservation: it isn’t there anymore. There are two more Chinese restaurants on that block and Kaitlyn insisted we go in the one with a fish tank she could see from outside. That isn’t usually a good way to chose a restaurant, but it was actually very good. I did think that the woman at the table next to us who got up four times to go to the bathroom seemed a little odd… and at one point they put so many diners in the room you actually couldn’t walk past the middle of it (which is where our table was)… but otherwise it was very good. Kaitlyn behaved because she knew it was vital since she was the one who had insisted we go to a restaurant in the first place.

All in all a good night. But next time… I’m taking the tram. And making Bill take along a jacket.

Big Wish

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Getting in the car today after school, Kaitlyn said to me “I wish I could speak French.”

So do I, Kaitlyn. So do I.