Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving in Caen

Yesterday the twin cities committee between Caen, France and Nashville, TN hosted a free Thanksgiving dinner for any American students who wanted to come. It was a catered event, fancier than I had expected, but so is everything I encounter here!
The menu was as follows:
--Hors d'oeuvres
--Pastilla filled with vegetables and perhaps fish
--Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes (excellent and American tasting, but they forgot the part where you serve the mashed potatoes in a gallon-sized bucket)
--Cheese/salad plate
--Creme brulee

Yum, yum, yum! At each table was two or three of the seventeen Americans who came, and ten or so French people. Most of the people in the room were able to speak English, but we spoke French as much as possible. I sat across from a girl who is about my age, named Mathilde. She and her mother were so, so sweet, then again, so was everyone there. I am so glad I went! I was surprised at the number of Americans who weren't students who were there. I know there was at least five. I sat next to a woman from Chicago who married a French man and has lived here for 38 years. Wow.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Click the pic for the full image



In the United States, if one wants to buy fruits or vegetables, one goes into Kroger and buys the exact quantity of whatever produce they want, takes it to the cashier or to the self-checkout computer, and leaves. If someone buys one apple or a bushel, no one usually says anything, although if one buys one lettuce leaf he might get weird looks or a comment. The point being is that no one is really involved in your grocery buying process. No one criticizes it or is concerned with it except for you and whomever you are with.

Not so in France! Here, the seller and the customers in the store are likely to be very curious about what you are buying, especially if they don't think that what you are buying is what they think you should be buying. The fruit seller will often ask me what I am going to use the produce for, which is nice, because then he picks out whatever is best for my purposes. I appreciate that very much. He or she (they are husband and wife) always picks the best and the ripest fruit, whereas at Kroger I am all alone in this endeavor.

But sometimes, the questioning gets a little nosy and sometimes frustrating, simply because I do not have the vocabulary to deal with it, and I am wondering if they are asking me so many questions because I have done something offensive! For example, the other day, I went to buy some spinach and tomatoes to put over a pasta dish. I knew exactly how much of everything I wanted. I asked the fruit seller for just a little bit of spinach, so she pulled out an amount and I said that it was fine. Apparently, she thought I needed more, because she said, "You know that it shrinks when you cook it, right?" And I said, yes, of course. "So don't you want more?" I said no, that was enough.

Then the other customers started getting involved. There was one lady in particular who began rapidly explaining what happens to spinach when it is cooked (and they didn't even know I wanted to cook it!). She waved her hands and made noises, trying to get her point across. I told them that I know, but that it was for a recipe, and that I don't have a refrigerator in which to preserve spinach so I just have to buy it in small quantities! They replied that it didn't matter, spinach shrinks when it is cooked, so I should buy more.

Finally I made it to the cash register with exactly the amount of spinach that I wanted, two tomatoes, and a red pepper. And ran as quickly as I could from that place!

We come across this sort of thing a lot. I think sometimes people think that because we're Americans, we don't know what we're doing. Okay, to be fair, that is probably true half the time. But when it comes to things that we have in America, like fruits and vegetables, I'm pretty confident! I guess in America there are so many people who do things in so many bizarre ways that we don't even think to ask why someone would want a small quantity of spinach, or why Kylie leaves her face makeup on when going tanning, or why we don't change out of hoodies and t-shirts to go shopping. I guess for people who have been to Waffle House or Wal-Mart past a certain time of day, nothing is going to seem odd.

I've never been to New York City, but I read an article once that said that the people are rude to others there because they are treating them like family. Family members don't let family members cut in line or take too long in the bathroom, they are curious about what others in their family are doing, etc. I think it might be the same way in France. They are just more involved in the lives of other people. Sometimes that can be frustrating because it's not something I have ever experienced or that I understand very well, but in other ways I really like it. It makes you feel more involved in the community and that you're not just a little phantom that floats into the grocery store and floats out unnoticed. Sometimes it is a little intimidating to think about going shopping for anything because I never know what sort of criticism I'll face, but when in France, one's gotta suck it up!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! There's so much that I'm thankful for today. Eat lots of pumpkin pie for me!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Christmas time is here!

I'm so glad that it doesn't get too terribly cold in Normandie. We're close to the sea and so temperatures rarely get below 40F, which isn't terribly cold compared to Kentucky and Kansas winters. On Saturday I went to the Christmas Market with Emilie and Courtney. It's so, so cute. I will be taking pictures of it soon. Each little booth is designed to look like a chalet. I sampled hot spiced wine, which was delicious and comforting. Yum, yum, yum. I looked at some recipes online and it doesn't seem to be too difficult to make, so I suggest you all give it a shot! There were pralines, chestnuts roasting on open fires, Belgian waffles, crepes, tartiflette (what people in the mountains eat to get fat for the winter, so it's gotta be good, right?), candied apples... It was Heaven. The booths with the gifts were a little pricey but I might see if I can pick up a gift or two for friends.

Emilie suggested going to Paris with me the weekend I have to go back home so that she can help me with my luggage--how sweet is that? She's so adorable. I think her mother will come, too, because her mother hasn't ever really been to Paris. I didn't know it was possible for French people to go that long without ever really seeing Paris--it's only two hours by car or train! I will be glad to have her along, of course. She sounds so sweet. I am also very excited to see Paris at Christmas time-- ice skating in front of the Hotel de Ville, a giant Christmas tree outside of Notre Dame... it will be gorgeous. Ice-skating in Caen begins December 13. I can't wait!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Yesterday, I did laundry for the first time since coming here. Previously I had handwashed everything, but it was getting ridiculous and so I asked my French friend to show me how the lavomatiques work and we split the laundry bill. We planned next weekend's trip to Paris while we were waiting for our laundry to get done! I'm so excited to see Paris with a French girl who has never been.

Then, I met Erin and her student exchange group at the hotel. She and two of her friends and I went to my favorite galetterie, Carambole, for dinner. We had delicious galettes for dinner and for dessert we had Martiniquaise crepes, which are filled with chocolate and coconut, topped with coconut ice cream, drowned in rum, and then set on fire. Does it get much better? Actually, it does, because I actually prefer the Martiniquaise without the rum, but who can resist the fire?

And THEN somehow Erin ended up in a hotel room by herself and so she asked me to spend the night with her! It was so awesome to be able to sleep in a comfortable bed and use the internet while sitting on it! The internet was pretty sucky at the hotel, and it didn't really matter that I had it because absolutely no one was online, but I appreciated it anyway. It's so nice to use the internet when one doesn't have to sit outside on concrete in the cold Normandie mist, like I'm doing now, or inside on a cold tile floor, like I do on weekdays. We watched 30 Rock and The Office and took lots of pictures of our poshest sleepover ever. I even got free breakfast out of the deal, and here, free anything is currently 22% cooler than free anything in the United States!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't take this as whining!

There are just a few things I wish were different about my experience here in Caen. Overall, I can't tell you what a wonderful experience it has been so far. The semester ends in a little over a month, and I think that if that was going to be the end of my stay here I'd be very, very upset. I'm so grateful that I get six weeks to spend with my family in Kansas (even longer than I'd get if I was going to UK!), but I know I'll be happy to return! It's not perfect, though. . . but I guess if it was, I'd never be able to come back home.

Firstly, I'll just say that the whole not-having-internet-in-my-room thing is a pretty big inconvenience. Because the internet shuts off at 8:00 PM (about 1:00 PM central) it's a very rare occasion that I get to Skype or chat with any of my friends in the United States at a time that is convenient for them, and even if I do, there's no privacy. The internet also just doesn't work very well, so Skype calls get dropped so often that it's hardly even worth it to try!

Secondly, and this is more important-- it's really difficult to meet French people who will actually speak French to you. I don't feel like my conversational French has improved much at all. I think this could be greatly improved if the dorms had a common room-- some place where students can gather (without having to ask the front desk for a key) to watch TV, eat, or just sit and read. There is a campus bar/coffee shop that's pretty nice, but I usually only meet Germans there! They're hilarious, though-- they speak in a 50-50 mix of French and English. Fortunately, I know both of those languages well enough to understand! I'm worried about next semester because after level B1, there is a lack of conversation in the classroom.

Thirdly, and this is the least important, is that I miss the coffee shop atmosphere that so many college students cherish. I miss sinking into a comfy chair at Starbuck's, Coffee Times, or Common Grounds and reading, doing homework, or enjoying a Pumpkin Chai Latte with a good friend. There are a lot of coffee shops here, but they don't have that relaxed, living room atmosphere. When I come home I'll be complaining about America's lack of kebab stands and galleteries, so I had better enjoy those now and not think too much about squishy couches and Pumpkin Chai!

Well, now to eat some Serpentini with Basil Pesto! I had better stop eating that pesto soon before I get sick of it (remember the Great Cracked Pepper & Olive Oil Triscuits with Cheddar Cheese Cubes fiasco of 2007, Heidi?), but it's so darn delicious!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Deauville, France: Too chic for this chick!

I had received an invitation from my Deauville grandparents to go stay with them from Saturday to Sunday. On Saturday night we were to go to a party where I would meet members of the Jumelage de Deauville (twinning committee between Lexington and Deauville), and on Sunday we'd have breakfast and dinner together. The little party ended up being a big shabang with about 1000 people in attendance, complete with a band and a dance and an enormous meal! It was a party for many of Deauville and Trouville's clubs (like the Jumelage). Even the mayor was there.

The dinner was fabulous. We had appetizers, a salmon salad, duck, potatoes au gratin, winter veggies, a cheese plate, and a dessert plate with three different kinds of apple desserts. I sat next to Philippe Behuet, the president of the Jumelage. He and his wife are extremely friendly and charming. M. Behuet kept me entertained by telling me about the things he loves about America, which include: Cinnamon Pop-Tarts, Cracker Barrel at 6:00 AM, Wal-Mart late at night, and White Castle. I was so glad to have finally met M. Behuet after having pestered him all summer about details about my trip here.

I had a large French breakfast at the Lioults this morning. I think that because of our language barrier I communicated to them that I wanted way more food than I actually did. They had me carbo-loaded and stuffed with toast, some other sort of bread, a croissant, marmalade, and a soft-boiled egg for which I summoned all of my training from watching Wooster & Jeeves in order to eat properly. After that M. Lioult and I went on a small tour of Deauville in which we saw the beach, the Hotel de Deauville (where the celebrities stay), the casino, and the Sunday market.

For lunch we drove to Honfleur, a beautiful city with the oldest wooden church in the world and a lovely port. We ate at a restaurant that apparently Queen Elizabeth II had visited at one point, according to a plaque on the wall! I had mussels and lamb with chocolate fondant for dessert. We also visited a place above the city with a mariner's chapel.

And now I'm back in little old Caen!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

No autographs, please.

I was in the French newspaper Ouest-France today being interviewed about the election. If you want, I can send you a PDF!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Another day, another destiny

If you like Les Miserables:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Paris, I louvre you.

Boy, I was so worried I wouldn't be able to come up with a relevant Paris pun, but I did!

When we arrived in Paris a soft rain was falling, just as Audrey Hepburn said it should.

Yesterday, Erica and I went to Sacre Coeur and then had caramel crepes with caramel ice-cream on top while we sat in a cafe that had a beautiful view of it. I will never go to that cafe again as it was very touristy and overpriced. I mean, all places in Paris are touristy and overpriced, but my hot chocolate was watery and disappointing. The crepes were good, though. We then went to the Champs-Elysee. When we ascended the metro stairs to the famous street, the Arc de Triomphe hit us in the face. It's so amazing--pictures never do it justice! It's beautiful and much more impressive than I had imagined it would be. That was the first of many "WOW" moments throughout the day.

We walked along the Champs-Elysee for a bit and then took the metro (which is SO easy to use) to the Louvre. My heart was thumping madly as each time I turned around I saw something famous. Antonio Canova's Eros & Psyche, Winged Victory (I nearly cried). . . once I just happened to turn my head and there was the Mona Lisa, and when a few minutes later I found myself facing The Coronation of Empress Josephine (which is huge), I said to the Louvre, "Okay, now you're just bragging." No one place should be allowed to hold that many treasures!

After the Louvre we saw Notre Dame. Third Notre Dame I've seen in France, but of course this was the Notre Dame, where the pope was not too long ago (SO jealous of Erin for getting to see him on a megatron screen!). Erica and I then went to the train station to pick up Kylie, then rested in our hostel for awhile, then met Erin for dinner in Montmartre. The waiter didn't speak French or English. It was a strange restaurant, but it was pretty good. I tried escargot for the first and definitely NOT the last time-- anything covered in that much garlic, butter, and basil is going to be delicious. They weren't served in the shells, which was disappointing, but they were served in a cute little skillet.

We were going to see the catacombs after dinner, but we couldn't find them! Ah well, perhaps today.