Monthly Archives: May 2011

witch doctor


iPhone/Instagram photo of the Villandry Gardens20110614-093845.jpgNot sure how many of you out there have an iPhone, but despite the expense of them (even more here than in the US), they are well worth every penny. They are especially helpful when you’re traveling (and learning French) since there are unlimited apps to help you with new words and also help you find your way home on a daily basis. Not that I would know about that…………………..

The only major downside to my iPhone is that there is some sort of voice activation feature that I don’t understand and periodically, when the big button is pressed (which sticks out because of the iPhone cover that I have), music from my iPod will start to play. It seems like the music that starts to play is often related to the noise in the background (I guess that’s why it’s called “voice activation”). This can also happen when my phone is in my bag and I put it down or it gets bumped against something hard. Like today. In the middle of French class. With a group of women I don’t know very well.

As luck (or unluck) would have it, the teacher was speaking when I accidentally bumped my phone. Since on of the most used sounds in French is the “WA” sound, my iPhone searching through all of my music that starts with “w”. Unfortunately for me, the only song on my phone is the song “Witch Doctor” by Sha Na Na that I downloaded a couple of years ago for my kids for Halloween (don’t act like you don’t know that song). Suddenly, the room was filled with Bowser singing:

I told the Witch Doctor I was in love with you…..

and the chorus singing:

Ooooh, eeeeee, ooh, ah, ah, bing-bang, walla-walla, bing-bang

Did I mention that I put a locking code on my iPhone just in case it gets lost or stolen? Do you know how long it takes to remember your code and punch it in to unlock your phone while listening to the Witch Doctor in front of a class of people learning French?

Answer: A really long time.



operation elderly friend

I’ve had this idea for a while.  The idea is that the best way to learn French is to find an elderly friend to chat with.  Here is a snapshot of the ideal candidate for what I have been calling “Operation Elderly Friend” (OEF):

  • a person who would like some company once or twice a week
  • someone who had absolutely no desire to learn English or practice their English
  • someone who would not be too polite to correct my rubbish French
  • someone who would take pity on the pathetic American in their midst

Since I came up with this idea, I have been in search of the perfect candidate for OEF, but, although I think it’s a good idea, I realize that walking up to someone and asking them to be my friend (especially when there could be a large age difference) seems……………………………………very odd.

However, as odd as it may be, I have still not given up the dream of finding someone.  That’s why I thought that the block party (from the previous post) would be the perfect place to find someone.

About half way through the party, I finally identified someone who would be an idea candidate for OEF – she was very chatty, super friendly and seemed to have a very high tolerance for my rubbish French.  I kept my eye on her throughout the party and I waited until the very end to make my move.  Actually, the real story is that I begged Tim to go up to her and ask her to be my elderly friend, but he was having absolutely no part of this situation and said, “You’re on your own with this one.”  Damn him!!  What about all those nice vows from our wedding??!?!  Wasn’t there an elderly friend clause in there somewhere?!?!?!  I would be forced to do it myself.

After I downed another glass of wine and the party was starting to break up, I walked up to my OEF candidate and said in very broken French that I would like to be her friend.  Right in the middle of trying to explain in broken French why I wanted to be her friend, she looked at me with pity and gave me a very sympathetic pat on the hand.  And then, she turned back to the table to clean up the party mess.

Pretty sure I can consider this attempt a failure.  But don’t worry, I haven’t given up yet………………………………


One of the things that I found very strange on my initial visit to Fountainebleau is the way that houses are separated from each other with very big, very high walls.  Walls that completely surround each and every house – all the way around and most times, even in the front.  Since there are walls, that means that there are also gates (with doorbells) to enter every house.  In France NOBODY knocks on your door.  They wouldn’t dream of entering the gate without permission.  Everyone is very civilized.  Friendly, but civilized.

While I am fine with this cultural difference, it did pose some initial concern for me when we moved in to our neighborhood.  My first thought was, “How am I going to meet my neighbors with all these walls around?”  If you knew my neighbors in VT (go Junction!), you would know that living in a social neighborhood setting is of utmost importance to me.  How else can we have fun if not with chairs in the yard, beers in hand and a gang of kids swirling around us like an impending tornado?

We had made some small social progress in our neighborhood, since we moved in, namely:

  1. we received a nice note from our neighbor across the street welcoming us to the neighborhood
  2. we recently met the family a few doors down from us, who finally realized that the only way Owen & Eamon would stop hanging out in front of their house was to just come out and meet them (O&E knew there were 2 little boys living there, so they went to extreme lengths to be noticed, but not by ringing the doorbell)

But this was it so far, until…………………………………………we received a note in our mailbox notifying us of a neighborhood BLOCK PARTY!  Yes!  People do hang out in the streets of France drinking!  This was the opportunity I had been waiting for.

To get ready for the party, I made my best batch of triple chocolate cookies and we headed over to the party on Friday night.  The street was blocked off (as expected) and although there was plenty of wine, there were no chairs in sight.  This wasn’t your average hanging out type of party, it was more like a formal cocktail party where people were passing hors d’oeuvres and mingling.

Even with my rubbish French, I was able to have some very interesting conversations and I found out that the block party in France is a national/annual event.  That’s right – national and annual.  That means that across France there are block parties held in any neighborhood that has a person willing to be the coordinator and they are only held once a year on the same night.  The very nice people we met, were happy to talk to us and surprised that they had Americans living in their ‘hood.  When they asked us if we ever had a party with people drinking in the street like this in the US, we said, “Bien sûr!”  When they asked if it as also annual event, I said, “Mais, no!  Chaque week-end!”

a word of advice

I have a complicated history with grocery stores.  Which is why, despite the fact that I like to go grocery shopping, I break into a sweat every time I go to a French grocery store.  Let me paint a picture for you:

The first thing to know about French grocery stores is that the people who work there will not bag your groceries for you.  I’m not talking about situations in the US where you start bagging your groceries to help out the cashier (and ultimately help yourself by speeding up the process).  I’m talking about the fact that the cashiers scan all of your groceries and then sit quietly in their chairs (yes, they sit down in France) and wait (mostly) patiently while you throw you stuff into bags as fast as you can.  Not even a “desóle” in sight.  What if you’re 80 years old?  What if you’ve got a broken leg?  What if you’ve goat a baby in a stroller?  No matter – YOU BAG THEM YOURSELF.  ALL OF THEM.

And, by the way, you have to bring your own bags.  No free bags here.  If you don’t bring your own bags, you have to estimate how many you will need, get them on the way to the checkout,  and pay for them once you are there.  If you don’t bring a bag and you forget to buy a bag, your best bet is to put all the stuff you just bought into the bottom of your shirt, hike it up, and make it look like you just happened upon a strawberry patch and happened to pick a shirt full of strawberries.  Except that, sadly, the stuff in you shirt looks more like mustard and toilet paper than strawberries.  Word to the wise:  remember your bags.

I’ve found that buying groceries here is almost like a game.  Once people load their food up their on to the conveyor belt, they get all of their bags open and ready in their cart for the mad bagging scramble.  I’ve even seen people come in pairs to the grocery store, like a relay team to bag at a faster pace.  Not only will you get no bagging help from the cashier, you won’t  even get a tissue to wipe the sweat off your brow as you frantically throw your bottle of window cleaner on top of you bananas.  I’ve heard the lack of bagging help has something to do with the French labor laws.  In other words, the cashiers are not ALLOWED to help you because lifting things (anything!) qualifies as a different type of job, so they’re not allowed to lift a finger.

Here is where my complicated history weaves in to this scene:

Every time I go to the grocery store, I feel like I’m having a flashback to my days of working at Stop & Shop – one of my most unpleasant and shortest-term jobs of all time.  Every time I’m bagging groceries in France I suddenly wish that I paid attention during those “how to bag groceries” training videos from years ago.  I guess I should be the first to admit that during my tenure at Stop & Shop, not only did I completely ignore the bagging videos, but I clearly didn’t pay attention during the video about weighing produce either.  I eventually got fired from that job for resting my hand on the scale while weighing people’s produce.  Somehow it never occurred to me that the weight of my hand would make such a big difference in the price of produce.  The last straw for the management came when a woman complained about paying $42 for her bunch of bananas.  Ooops.

Buy the way, you also have to weigh all your own produce in France in the produce aisle.  It’s true.  I am not even remotely kidding – in fact, I wish I was.  If you don’t have pre-weighed produce at the checkout, you will not be allowed to buy the goods.  And, let me give you a word of advice:  whatever you do, don’t think you can run back really fast to the produce section while your stuff is on the conveyor belt, weigh your produce, get back to the checkout, pay for everything and THEN bag your groceries without pissing off people in line.  It doesn’t work.  Trust me on this one.


Being surrounded by boys is tough – even though we communicate pretty well, there is always some level of disconnect.  Our interests are different.  I’m interested in people and they’re interested in Legos.  And Nerf guns.  I like Legos and Nerf guns, but there are only so many times in a day I want to have a conversation about them.  I guess I’m not very good at hiding my disinterest because here is the conversation that happened yesterday:

Owen:  Mum, I just made my Ninjago Lego spin and hit Eamon’s rocket blaster!!

Eamon:  Yeah, it was cool! Can I show you how my Nerf lasers look in the dark?

Owen:  Hold on, I just want to show her how I can spin my Ninjago lego!

Me:  Hmmmm……..<while not taking my eyes off my French book>

Owen:  Mum, you’re not looking.

Me:  What?

Eamon:  Watch Owie’s Ninjago Lego spinner then I’ll show you my laser.

Me:  <watching the Ninjago Lego spin>  Huh……………

Owen:  When we’re trying to show you something, why do you always say, ”Eh?” like Despicable Me’s mother?

Click here to see a video of Despicable Me’s mother.

Am I really that bad?

one of these things is not like the other……………….

Before we moved, we handed out, mailed out and passed out all sorts of cards and flyers with our new street address on it.  Our new street is named Boulevard Crevat Durand.

Imagine my surprise, when I was driving down my street the other day when I finally noticed our street sign: 

For those of you who need help identifying the problem here, our street sign actually says, “Durant” with at “t” instead of a “d.” I have to admit that I was in a bit of a panic when Tim got home – all I could think was that all of the mail we were having forwarded from Vermont was actually going to a different address, or worse yet, sitting in some bin in France as undeliverable. Not good.

When Tim got home, I told him the problem and his response was, “Don’t worry, it’s spelled both ways.  The street sign at the other end of our street spells it the other way.”

I couldn’t believe that could be possible, so I had to go get evidence.

Tim was right.  One street – two names.  Only in France.

Just got passed on the street by the Sarkozy motorcade