Sunday, August 31, 2008

Three Weeks!

This is how I'm spending my time until I leave for France.

Yesterday I was here:

That's me with 110,000 other crazy football fans. Today I was here:

Next weekend I will be here:

The weekend after I will be here:

A few days later I will be here to get my visa (arrete arrival still pending):

And five days later I will arrive here, welcomed by my sweetie:

Monday, August 25, 2008

4 Weeks

That's what I get to tell myself tomorrow: only four weeks until I head back. Actually, I think I'll change that and say "only 28 days!" because that sounds so much better than four weeks.

Can't wait!

Is that a bad thing?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Got that set for the next year

In my quest to get my fill of all things American before I go back to France for another year I had a piece of cake last night. You know, the ones with all the super thick and sugary icing? I had a small piece with a flower, and it was amazing. But very sugary! I think I've gotten my fix for the next year.

Things I intend to pig out on before going back: bagels with cream cheese, my mom's cooking (especially her chicken soup!), Mexican food, Indian food, soy crisps, any food that is not French food. Because we all know that once I get back to France it will be French food all the time, and that gets old pretty fast.

Any other suggestions?

Note: I didn't include peanut butter because Ben told me he really likes it so I'm planning to take a bunch with me :)

Monday, August 18, 2008


After several days of feeling like my stomach was going to explode, I finally figured out why: yes, it's true, portion sizes are bigger in the US! I can't believe that I ever thought it was normal to finish the entire enormous plate of green curry that Thai restaurants give you. So in order to not be in pain all night long I've been reducing the amount of food that I eat, which of course means that my mom gives me a hard time about how I'm not eating enough. Don't worry Mom, I definitely won't be losing any weight in the US if you keep making me all those cherry pies and chocolate cakes and cookies!

Before I left France about 20 different Frenchies told me that French bakeries are popping up all over the US and are very popular. I thought to myself that was probably true in a large city or maybe Greenwich CT, but to my surprise I stumbled upon a French/Japanese bakery and restaurant/tea room. I'll probably stop by later this week to sample their pastries and teas. Then when I was doing some grocery shopping for my mom I stopped at the bakery section and tried a chocolate croissant from The Croissant Shop. The chocolate part was really good, but I found the pastry part to be dry and lacking in butter, despite the glowing review I just found online. This doesn't give me much hope for the other bakery, but you never know. So far the American French Style Bakeries are getting a big fat 0 in my book. I'll probably have to eat croissants every day for at least a week after I get back to take away the trauma.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It can't be THAT bad, can it?

Several other bloggers have already mentioned the article in L'Express that Jennie posted that ranked all the departements in France based on several different criteria. Aisne, good ol' 02, my departement, came in at 95 out of 96. Ouch!

I've already written that Aisne has the highest illiteracy rate for the under 18 age group in France, so I guess I can't be too surprised that in everything else we rank pretty badly too, but is it really that bad here? I'll try to analyze by breaking down some of the individual rankings based on my own observations.

For health we came in 94th. We have high "surmortalite," or deaths linked to smoking, alcohol, violence or suicide. I doubt that the last two are terribly relevant here in Aisne, but check a big YES for smoking and alcohol. Among the people I've met with D there are only two others besides me who don't smoke (and soon that will include Ben, after he quits, which he says he's going to do by the time I get back). And alcohol... it isn't so much that everyone binge drinks all the time, but more that because alcohol is everywhere some people use it more than others, which creates bad situations.

We got a ranking of 92 for economic dynamism, meaning we have a population that isn't growing and we aren't adding any jobs either. Aisne is very rural with some factories thrown in for fun. The factories are closing, and farming isn't easy or that attractive to many young people (unemployment is 10% and our precarite ranking is 84). We don't have big tourist draws (even though there's some awesome stuff around here it just isn't advertised or popular to see), no big companies are employing people here, and....

We ranked 90 for Bac success rate and 63 for higher education, don't have a single grand ecole, and apparently can't read either. Uneducated people aren't a big draw for employers. Because it's rural means that we have fewer doctors than other departements too (86th) because they want to live somewhere fun just like everyone else (cultural offerings were 84th).

Weather is 88. It's cloudy and rainy. This doesn't bother me, but apparently other people are bothered by it. Whatever.

But the silver lining in all of our clouds (I crack myself up) is that, because no one wants to live here, housing is cheap! Yep, that's right, we rank 9th in housing costs. Don't you wish you lived here now?

On paper it all sounds so depressing, and yet I'm heading back there in the fall. I'm not saying I want to stay there my entire life, but there's so much more to the place you live than the employment numbers and weather and how many movie theaters we have. It's the people that make a place home. I've met wonderful people in the second worst departement in France, and that's why I'm going back.

Is it September 23rd yet? I need some clouds, rain, smokers, and unemployed people in an area with no doctors or movie theaters!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Love French Labor Laws

My sister is a waitress. D and I were discussing my family's vacation plans for the summer, and she had two questions about my sister. What kind of contract does she have, and how much vacation does she get?

I haven't laughed that hard since someone told me that the French work a lot.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Crazy is as crazy does

As I said in my last post, D's birthday is the 13th of July, mine is the 15th, and we left on the 17th to drive down to Canet for vacation. We went out the weekend before, comme d'hab, to the bar we always go to. Saturday night as I was leaving I met a group of new people who invited me to stay with them and go to a club. Since I didn't know them I skipped out that evening. The next night, the 13th, my town had the big 14 juillet celebrations. There was a pretty cool parade with dancers and music from different countries and the fireworks were actually really good, especially for a town of 30,000 people in redneck Picardie! Of course there were a bunch of hoodlums (read: teenagers) setting off small-scale fireworks in crowded areas but luckily no one was hurt. Anyway, after the fireworks D and I go back to our usual bar where they are having this really neat rock/jazz jam session, where my new buddies from the night before are playing guitar. So one of them, Ben, comes to talk to me after he finishes playing, we chat a little, he buys me a drink, no big deal. The jam session finishes up around 1 AM. When I say goodbye he asks for my number and I tell him that I'm leaving for vacation for two months at the end of the week but we could boire un verre before then if he wanted and he agreed. I will fess up - at this point I was more interested in one of his friends and I gave him my number thinking (not very smartly or fairly) that at least one of them would have my number for when I come back in the fall.

So it's Wednesday night, the day before I leave, we meet up at the same bar for a drink, and we really hit it off, like we got along really, really well. I had been planning on staying for a couple hours and then going back home to get some sleep before getting up super early to leave at 7 AM; I stayed out with him until 3:30 AM! When we finally said goodnight Ben says he'll call me the next day to make sure that D and I got to Canet okay. He did call the next day, and every day since. We have been talking on the phone every night since then, even now that I'm back in the US. At first it was just for about a half an hour, then it got to be more like an hour, and now it's up to about two hours (calls from France to fixed lines in the US are free and unlimited). Every time I talk to him we have more to say to each other. Since I had to come back to Paris to get my flight home he came to meet me for a few hours before my plane left too (my town is only about an hour from CDG so it wasn't super inconvenient for him).

So even though I've only seen him in person a few times, and we've only known each other for like three weeks, I think I found a good one! I know it sounds insane, but I do miss him, and I look forward to his call every day. And even though it's tough being separated, I do kind of like that we are forced to use the phone and internet to keep in contact, that we are going to get to know each other very well before taking the typical crazy French couple leap. So yeah, I'm really looking forward to getting back at the end of September :)

And it was super lucky that he was the one I gave my number to and not the other guy!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Vacation Canet en Roussillon Style

D and her family have an apartment in Canet and she invited me to stay a few days with her before I went back to France. Her birthday is July 13th and mine is the 15th, so we celebrated our bdays together and left on Thursday to drivce down to Canet. Canet is about 10 minutes from Perpignan, and very close to the border with Spain.

This is the view from their apartment:

Yes, the beach was across the street. Pretty fabulous... except that I have to majorly avoid sun exposure because of all the treatments I had. But it wasn't so bad. We got up pretty late most days, so I could spend a couple of hours in the apartment reading or doing some French excersizes and then head down to the beach around 5:30 or 6 when the sun is less strong and sit under an umbrella in capris and a t shirt covered in SPF 55 sunscreen.

So I can't be a beach bunny, and honestly I never have been, which means this was not my ideal vacation. I prefer vacations where you go places and visit things and do stuff, so I got bored of this pretty quickly. We did take two day trips, one to Banyuls sur Mer with a friend of D's who lives in Perpignan. He is one of the nicest people I have ever met. He knew everything about all the plants, rocks, animals, buildings, etc., treated us like princesses and packed a picnic and everything!

The village itself:

Gorgeous, right? We wandered around in the village and then hung out in a crique (cove):

We also took a day trip to Villefranche de Conflent, an 11th century city tucked away in the mountains that was later fortified. It's tiny, totally surrounded by walls, and very cute:

I guess this is what D likes to do for vacation, relax and not do a whole lot, but if I had been in charge of vacation there would have been more going on. We didn't go to Spain (apparently the wait at the border is really long and most French people only go down there to buy cigarettes and alcohol, not to sightsee), and there are tons of different villages we could have gone to. Plus there's Perpignan right there with some stuff to see, but D doesn't like Perpignan. An excellent friend, but not my ideal travel buddy. It was really nice of her to invite me though, and I can't wait to see her again in September.