Archive for January, 2009

staying put

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Lots of people are going home. Lots and lots. Every evening at dinner, Bill and I compare information on who’s the latest family to be leaving Grenoble. And the list of people staying is getting very, very small.

So far, we continue to be on the list of those staying. And it’s starting to feel, well, lonely. Even though people are still here, waiting to be contacted by the company that handles relocation. Knowing that so many of my friends are leaving is just lonely. I already think this summer is going to be very difficult… just me and Kaitlyn in a house with some freakish attraction for wasps.

But it isn’t just that. It isn’t just looking ahead and seeing myself with a great deal more alone time. It isn’t just knowing that I’ll have to help Kaitlyn deal with some of her favorite friends moving away. Bill put his finger on it tonight. It’s actually that I can’t help but feel, well, a little jealous. Not that I envy anyone having to move. Ever. Not that we don’t like living here. I wouldn’t want to make it permanent, but I like it. (Well, I like it while I have friends here.) We just can’t help but feel a little jealous that we aren’t the ones looking at a new house, new cars, new school, new opportunities… and all in English. Yes, our turn will come. And when it does, we may realize we aren’t ready for it. Or we might welcome it. But right now, it just feels really strange to be on the sidelines… watching… wondering… hoping that when we are told to go home… it’s to a job… and a place we want to go.

so proud to be an American

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

I couldn’t be home tonight to watch President Obama take the oath of office. So driving home, I started dialing around the radio, hoping to find something… maybe a station broadcasting bits of his speech that I’d try to catch pieces of when the interpreter paused… What I found was a news station talking about our new president… and our old one. I don’t understand a lot of what’s said on the radio. But I clearly heard them call President Obama “the President of all the world.” And I also heard them call President Bush a war-loving “crazy.”

Another American ISE told me today she’d forgotten today was anything out of the ordinary. That when French people said to her “it’s a really big day for your country,” she had to stop to figure out what they were talking about. Forgot? I do sometimes feel a little out of touch living here… but, please.

Since getting Kaitlyn to bed, I’ve been glued to the online coverage. The speech was touching. Watching the new President and his wife walk along Pennsylvania Avenue was something else. But I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stay awake to watch the rest. I did see the float from Illinois touting John Deere. Good thing Bill had already gone to bed.

la truc

Monday, January 19th, 2009

I’ve had a problem with my car I’ve been ignoring as long as possible. But with the spitty winter weather, I can’t ignore it anymore. The problem is that the windshield wiper fluid doesn’t spray when you push the button for it. Which means seeing out of my windshield is nearly impossible. You know it has to be bad for me to even notice; I’m notorious for keeping a dirty car. Years ago when I bought a convertible, my mom asked me how I was going to keep all my shit from flying out of it.

The real problem is that I don’t know the words necessary to explain this problem. I finally broke down Friday and got the owners manual out of my glove compartment, found the page that talks about windshield wipers. Armed with a page of nonsense and my freshly acquired vocabulary word “la truc” (which means “the thingie”) I dialed the dealership. I told the woman who answered I needed an appointment. She asked if it’s for routine service. No, I have a problem. Oh, then you need to talk to so-and-so, who is with a client. He’ll call you back. I assumed that meant he’d call me back before the US officially has a new president. But like everything else here, it didn’t happen quickly. So today since I was going to Carrefour anyway to have a crummy morning, I figured I’d stop at the dealer and try to get their attention in person.

I started with presumably the same woman who again told me I had to speak to the service guy. Who was on the phone. So I hovered around his desk and waited. Two phone calls later, he acknowledged my existence. I tried to explain the problem. Said “la truc blah blah blah”… then acted out spraying and wiping. That was when he stood up and suggested he just go look at the car.

At least I ended the embarrassing ordeal with an appointment. Although the guy couldn’t spell my name right no matter how many times I spelled it out. Whatever, I don’t think he’ll have any trouble remembering me.

didn’t mean to do that!

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I think it’s safe to say… I should stay clear of ski school groups on the mountain.

Generally, when the class needs to take the lift, the teacher just asks adults waiting to ride if they’ll go with one of the kids.

This afternoon at Chamrousse, no one asked me when I ended up riding the lift with a little boy. I don’t know how old he was.. I’d guess 5 or so. He didn’t say a word to me the entire ride up. I didn’t say anything to him, either. It’s hard to strike up a conversation with a little kid, especially in a foreign language. So I opted to enjoy the quiet. He did start to count the chairs passing us going down the lift, confirming that he was French.

As we got to the top, I raised the safety bar, said “un, deux, trois!” then hopped off the chair…. realizing too late I didn’t know how to say “stand up.” But I figured they’d at least gotten briefed by their teacher, if they hadn’t already made the trip up this afternoon. Apparently, I was wrong.

As I started to ski away from the lift, I realized the little boy wasn’t next to me. I turned around and saw he was still on the lift, riding it as it turned around to go back down the mountain. The operator stopped it, and the boy leapt off. The operator then lept from his booth and yelled at me that it’s dangerous to jump. Well, no shit, dude. I didn’t tell the boy to jump. The operator seemed to chalk up my stupidity to not speaking French. Whatever. I struggled to help the boy get his wayward ski back on… moving him out of the way of the chairs. Finally his teacher made it up. He probably didn’t see the boy’s leap of faith and he thanked me for helping. Little does he know….

not buying the shopping experience

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Driving home today I realized how much I hate the person I become when I do my shopping at Carrefour. No doubt, the giant grocery chain has the most selection around and probably the best prices. It’s like a giant super Target… you can buy toys, motor oil, luggage, a refrigerator, a television set, and food all in one place. I won’t call it convenient, because that it isn’t. But it’s all under one roof.

People at Carrefour go there and become the most self-absorbed humans trodding the planet. They push your cart out of the way. The push the cart into whoever happens to be unfortunate enough to be in it’s path. They push you out of the way. I found myself pushing into people today because there was no other way to get past them. No one apologizes. No one cares. It’s just par for the course. They restock the shelves in the middle of the day which means putting big piles of boxes in the middle of the aisles while the stock person stands in the way of whatever it is you’re trying to get to. I’d think they read my list and move in front of whatever they see written down, except that my lists are all written in English.

I once bought cheddar cheese there. They keep it behind the counter of the cheese section, as if it’s a delicacy. So you have to ask for it. When I did the woman working there had no idea what I wanted because I said “cheddar” instead of “sheeeeah-daaah” or however you’d say it with a French accent. It wasn’t even that good; I’ve skipped it ever since.

Although I encountered the rudest of all today in the produce section. You have to get your fruits and vegetables weighed there in that department… get to the cashier with an unweighed bag of carrots and you’re in big trouble (you then either have to run the bag of carrots back to the guy at the scales, holding up the inevitably long line behind you, or just ditch the carrots all together). So I was standing at the little weigh station today with several things that needed to sit on the scale and this man hovered his bag of green beans over my scale… so I actually started sliding my next item on as I was removing the weighed item… the way Indiana Jones slid that bag of sand onto the pillar holding the golden statue. There was another scale no one was using; he could have easily gone there. Or he could have asked. But finally he caught me with my back to the weighing process getting the next item out of my cart and he took my food off the scale so he could put his on!

I know I pay more when I go to the stores that are nothing but produce stores or when I go to the butcher for steaks and pork chops. But I don’t care. It’s worth any price to not become one of those people who shops at Carrefour.

shipping surprise

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

I admit it: we were all so impressed when FedEx delivered a box here from California in just a few days… for something like $35. The thrill tarnished today when I opened my mailbox to find a bill from FedEx… for the French VAT tax.

Theoretically, they can charge you the sales tax on everything shipped here. But nothing we’ve gotten via the good old mail has come with the extra bill.

I know it’s a hassle for anyone thoughtful enough to send us something from the US. But it seems that the post office remains the best way to ship things. Until someone from the French customs office reads this…..

starting 2009 with a bang… or two!

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

We welcomed the new year like so many people… by recovering from the night before. Not because we drank too much. Because we had a party.

Including us, there were 12 adults and 10 children here. That’s a lot in this house. The kids mostly stuck to the playroom in the basement, which they left in the appropriate stage of disorder. I didn’t let the other parents make their kids pick up… I tell Kaitlyn two things: that’s her room to do with what she wants and if you invite friends over to a party you don’t expect them to clean up at the end. (Although someone did clean up Kaitlyn’s room upstairs, leaving it in better shape than it had started the evening.)

One person brought over some fireworks that he’d had leftover from Bastille day. A little before midnight, all the men went in the backyard to watch him set them off. Good thing there isn’t a house in the lot just below us… and that the neighbors we do have didn’t complain about the noise.

Then our friends who’ve lived here for 12 years or so taught us a traditional French way to ring in the new year. Never mind the champagne. You buy boxes of party supplies at the store… with hats and streamers and noisemakers… and… tubes that you load with tightly packed paper balls to blow at your friends and family. I nearly got beamed in the eye with one fast moving ball and it hurt! The grown ups were the ones trying to hit each other with the little blow tube thingies. The kids were content to just blow the noise makers. It was quite a sight. We’ll probably be finding those little balls in corners of the house for weeks.

After unloading and reloading the dishwasher, avoiding vacuuming and generally goofing off…. we finally headed to the basement to clean up that mess. The kids had proudly showed off how they had gathered every toy downstairs and dumped it all in a pile in the corner. I still don’t really understand why. But I do know it was a horrible mess to pick up. They poured all the monkeys out of the barrel… all the pieces of a puzzle… every polly pocket shoe… every doll…. it was horrible. But was was more horrible was the pile of wood on the floor. Sometime in the middle of the night, part of our ceiling collapsed! We’d noticed it sagging last night, but had no idea it was so close to just falling like that. For those who haven’t seen it, the ceiling is some thin boards like you’d use to panel a wall. Turns out, they were barely tacked up. The tiny nails used to hang the boards had pulled out and the wood fell out. We are really lucky that it didn’t fall when all the kids were down there playing! Bill drilled screws into the boards that didn’t fall to hold them up. I have enough excuses not to get on the treadmill, I don’t need the fear of being clobbered by my own house added to the list!

So, happy new year, landlord. A whole new problem to tackle in 2009!