Saturday, July 30, 2011

French Life in 2011, Local Thoughts

I’ve been sharing these as of late on Twitter, but thought they should come up here as I’m curious what others think/perceive. In recent conversations with a French national, I’ve heard some poignant and revealing statements. They are certainly sweeping generalizations and perhaps a bit on the radical side, but having been here a year and a half, I tend to agree that these are legit sentiments here. We are speaking in these conversations about French people of French descent, not the now large immigrant population in France.

Also keep in mind that these talks happened wholly in French, so I reserve the right to have poorly translated the phrasing/wording, though the point remains the same.

“In France, we are atheists. The USA doesn’t know what atheism is. I’ve met many Americans, and none of them has been a true atheist.”

Later added was that discussion of the ‘soul’ no longer exists, as that is now a word associated solely (ha) with religion. No one thinks of or speaks of that concept anymore.

Next bomb to drop was on the topic of adultery. Discussing an article that spoke of the different viewpoints of adultery between Americans and French, we were told:

“Adultery is an accident. A couple of times is no big deal. After 3 or so there may be problems in the relationship.”

And finally, a statement on the status of relationships and courtship:

“Fiancés don’t exist anymore in France. People live together, then may or may not get married.”

There are 4 local couples our age that we know fairly well. All committed and living together. 1 is married (also from non-French families), the other 3 are French and not married. We heard someone recently who has been in a committed relationship for years, has a child, say, “oh no, we’re not ready for marriage yet.”

This is where we live. Agree/disagree? How does it differ from your culture?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Comedy of Errors

You know those nights when you simply can’t catch a break? Sometimes I really should not talk.

So I met up with a friend to go to a bar to see another friend performing a concert. He had with him a traveler who was passing through for a visit, she was Italian. They were speaking in English because she does not speak French. Since her English was accented, I kept trying to speak to her in French. That didn’t work.

I’ve also discovered that it’s not a great compliment when another foreigner tells you they can understand your French better than that of French people. 'Thank you' isn’t exactly the appropriate response to “your vocabulary matches that of a five-year-old and the speed at which you speak reminds me of someone slowing down a record, except that you don’t sound all bass-like and masculine.”

We arrive to the bar and head in. We happen upon some empty chairs and grab a seat. At this point, I instinctively grab my phone. You see, my wife is my best friend. But now that we have two kids and live in a culture where a lot happens at night, we often take turns going out with friends. Yet, I want to share with her everything I experience. And being a member of the 21st century, I want to do so right now. So I usually text her the random things that go through my head when I’m out. Here’s what I send:

“So this place is kind of a dump.”
“But hey, it’s the arts district.”

This reply comes in: “Yeah, I was expecting something like that... or maybe not so much :-P”

Then something makes me laugh inside and I must share it, so I text:
“Dude sitting in front of me has way too low pants, and no discernible underwear.”

The reply comes back: “I know :), I noticed it too...”

Wait, what?! Ok, that’s creepy. And weird. And not possibly correct. Am I wearing a spy cam? Are my kids at home alone? Then I get smart, check the header of my SMS conversation and see that I’m not at all texting my wife, but rather my friend who’s sitting right next to me. Yep. I’d not thought anything of it when he pulled out his phone around the same time I sent my first text and began typing away. He grinned at me and laughed.

Later I strike up a conversation with the Italian girl in our group. Seeking common ground, I ask her where she’s from. “Sardinia,” she says. A quick scan of my brain reveals nothing... my European geography is terrible. But, thinking that Italy’s a pretty small country anyways, I say, “oh, cool! I have a family member from around there. I can’t remember the exact village, but it’s nearby.” To which I receive a couple stares that something was clearly not right.

“I don’t think so,” she says.

“Sardinia’s an island,” my French friend informs me, “you can’t be from ‘around’ there.”

Yeah, my bad.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Back to Food

A friend here in France says that every long conversation with Americans eventually ends talking about food. While there are other things we miss and compare from one culture to the next, food’s perhaps the most prominent. He’s right.

Last week was American food week at Lidl, a local German-origin grocery story that rotates one aisle for different specialities from around the world every couple weeks. Once a year they send out the “Bienvenue aux États-Unis” invites and stock a shelf with an unheard-of brand of ‘American’ products. Sadly, I was out of the country when the stock went up and didn’t get there until today, finding basically nothing of worth left over. Some of the great items that can’t otherwise be easily found here were dried cranberries, marshmallows, jelly beans, and American salad dressings. Photos of some favorites from the advert are below:
American hotdogs. I’m an American. I eat hot dogs. I’ve never in my life bought hot dogs in a jar, swimming in liquid. You?
Popcorn. Usually already popped and bagged (or bucketed). More often garnished with sugar than with salt or butter. Ewww.
Muffins. YES! This is why I scour the Lidls on American week. I love muffins. And these are good. Last year I bought one box, made them, and then went back and bought the 26 that remained. As I was checking out a French lady in line asked me if they were good. There’s 26 boxes in my shopping cart. Are they good? Gee, you think? This year I found one box left.
Milkshakes. Or the German spelling of Milch-shakes as they are listed here. This is a rant of mine. Sorry France, I love you but your milkshakes stink. 3 parts milk, 1 part ice, 1 part flavoring, and 1 miniscule part ice cream does not make a milkshake. And $6-7 for that? These are cheaper, spelled in German, and advertised as American, maybe there’s a chance.
Sauces. These make me chuckle. I have no idea what the ‘Sandwich Sauce’ is. ‘Ketchup BBQ’? No thanks. And then ‘Hot Dog Ketchup’, which is funny because every supermarket in France sells Heinz Ketchup. That is what we put on hot dogs, so...

I have another friend who is French but preparing for a move to the USA in the near future. He recently told me the things that he will miss most from France: coffee, wine, olives, and cheese. And he’s right... the US cheese selection is totally different, wines too. The olives will be different. And the coffee one is interesting, because there are about 5 billions coffees available in every US suburb, most of them better quality than the typical French coffee. But it’s different. Here coffee is an experience, a conversation centerpiece, a cultural norm; not a product.

What about you? Imagine moving away from the USA or whatever country you live in. What food items would you miss the most? For me, it’s buffalo wings, mexican food, Dr Pepper, Mt Dew, and Reese’s. And Pop-Tarts. And muffins.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

6 Places to See Before Your Last Breath

(based on my experiences)

Our neighbors all over Europe are gearing up for the summer holidays - vacations - that basically everyone takes and travels all over the place. Since I'm not really going much of anywhere, I instead reflected back on some of the best travels my wife and I have taken. Here's a list of my top 6, places I think should be on everyone's list if you can make it!

1 - Victoria FallsWow. Simply wow. I love waterfalls. And this is hands-down the best I’ve ever seen. And it’s one of only two waterfalls in the world boasting a moonbow (I’ve been to the other one too!). Plus, if you’re adventurous, there’s a ton to do around the falls.

*Travel Tip - Know when the high and low water seasons are. High-water season makes the falls a wall of water that is unbelievably powerful and impressive. You’ll take on mist that makes the viewing a physical experience but also renders photography nearly impossible. Low water season looks drastically different but more clear to see and the white water rafting on the Zambezi below the falls is among the wildest rides in the world.

2 - Ruaha National ParkKilimanjaro is impressive, Ngorongoro’s like a zoo without cages. But if you want raw, rugged, beautiful, wild Africa, there’s nothing that beats the scenery and animals of Ruaha National Park. It’s a little bit more travel, as it’ll be a 6-9hr car/bus ride from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. But the drive provides some great scenery along the way, and the time spent in Ruaha will make you feel like a kid on an adventure of discovery. Ditch the paved roads and touristy sights of the easy access parks and take an adventure to Ruaha.

*Travel Tip - Connect with Riverside Campsite for inexpensive, cultural, personable safari planning and a fun place to stay. But you’ll have to get yourself to Iringa.

3 - Mont Saint MichelStunning, beautiful, and a lot of stairs. Loved our visit here and will go back. Amazing to imagine in a former time. Hoping the gov’t pulls through and ditches the built-up causeway for a bridge and brings back the bay. If still offered, the bay hikes at low-tide are a lot of fun.

*Travel Tip - Stay at least one night near MSM, but better to do so off of the island at a nearby B&B with a view than on. You’ll want to see it lit up at night. This is the second most visited site in France, so expect crowds.

4 - ZanzibarNow this is an island paradise!
Resorts are rustic, if you can call them resorts. The people are warm. The history is painful, as Zanzibar was once the center of East-African slave trade.

*Travel Tip - Flights from Dar are often just as cheap as the ferry, if you don’t mind tiny planes. Stay at least one night in or near Stone Town, even if your plan is to relax on the east side of the island. Tour the city, check out the doors, and don’t miss the nightly grill out on the beach! Try a Zanzibar pizza and all the fish skewers you can eat.

5 - (for the Americans) American Cemetery, Normandy, FranceThe history is surreal. Standing on the beach and imagining what went down is a spiritual event. Reading the stories and watching the videos in the museum absolutely made me proud to be an American, perhaps more than ever before. Walking the cemetery grounds is like being in Washington DC on foreign soil.

*Travel Tip - Combine with trip to MSM, as both are in the same route from Paris.

6 - Niagara Falls
Powerful. A lot of water. Worth a visit, and there’s plenty to do around the falls too.

*Travel Tip - Go in the winter. It’s cold, but the crowds and prices are about half of those in the summer. And seeing the falls surrounded by snow is beautiful and not something many people see. And stay on the Canada side. US side view is very limited.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Jesus Dancing at the Tomb

I’m going to invite you inside my curious goofball little mind. Sometimes I get these images that I can’t shake. Last night was one of those times,

I was sitting in a group that was reading and re-telling the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It’s a quite interesting story full of theology, miracles, emotions, and dynamic characters. Jesus wept. You know, everyone’s favorite memory verse? It’s in there. And what’s interesting is that he weeps moments before raising his friend from the grave. Overcome with emotion, even though he knows it’s all about the change. Fascinating.

But here’s what happened last night. We’re reading the build up. Talking about Mary and Martha and their dejection that their brother died. “If only you’d been here!” they both tell Jesus, “he would not have died.” Jesus says he’ll raise him up, but the gals don’t get it and think he’s being all consolatory telling them that in the end they’ll be together. A big crowd is gathered and they are amazed at how deeply moved Jesus is by everything. Deeply moved. And my mind starts to wander...

Then comes the climax. Jesus prays this out-loud prayer that seems odd at the outset (God I know you listen, so I say these words so they will hear and understand...), but put in the context and re-worded I can see it being pretty big-time. And then, BAM! Jesus calls in and Lazarus comes out. A guy who’d been dead for days comes walking out of a grave he’d been laying in four days. And collectively, everyone goes, “Whaaaaaat?!”

And when we read this part, a sudden image jumped into my head that I couldn’t shake. Still can’t. But that’s ok, I like it. Let me put on my movie director cap for a moment:
Scene: Dark skies, solemn crowd around grieving. Large cave-like grave with a rock closing it up, Jesus standing in front, crowd behind him.

Action: Crowd quietly sobbing but watching with curiosity, Jesus prays and then commands the stone to be moved. Tension builds and then out comes Lazarus, dead guy walking, still wrapped in mummy stuff. But he’s alive! Crowd can’t believe it, and start toward their lost brother/son/friend...


Spotlight from heavens stage right snaps on. Then spotlight from heavens stage left on. Both converge on Jesus who moonwalks across the field, then launches into a celebration dance somewhere between a Michael Jackson moonwalk/thriller and a Steve Carrell “Happy Dance” from Evan Almighty. He does this as the crowd rushes past him to Lazarus. He keeps going.

No longer a time of weeping, it’s a time to celebrate! Jesus was deeply moved, after all.

That’s how I imagine it all going down.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

June's Moving Pictures

Gone Fishin':

Raising the Volets:

French Lessons with Sawyer:

The only video I took a this year's fête de la musique, and it's a good one:

This was actually in May, but had to get our baby girl in here:

Spinning 'round and 'round: