Monthly Archives: July 2011

a true pioneer

In the US, we don’t have cable. We know we’re an oddity and we’ve managed to accept it, despite the shock and disbelief of our friends.  Although in France, when Tim went to set up our phone and get our cell phones, we thought that cable could prove to be a lifeline for us – both emotionally and for our language skills.  Here is what we have found out about French television:

Most French tv shows are dubbed American shows.

I have to admit, I was a little bit shocked at first. But over time, I’ve come to find it quite funny.  Each time I see a dubbed American show, I have this moment what I imagine I’m back home in Vermont.  That is, until Dr. House starts going crazy in French.  And his lips are moving in a different way than the sound of his words.

The worst part of the dubbed American tv show situation, is what shows are being chosen to air on French tv.  Can you say “Monster Garage” in French?  Even the Kardashian family has made prime time tv here.  My heart breaks for the red, white and blue when I see this stuff – IN FRENCH, no less.  It almost seems disrespectful to the French language to have Jesse James, trying in vain (in French), to get the monster car started. And don’t get me started on the French obsession with Vin Diesel…….

So leave it to the American PBS geeks to try to find the one interesting thing in the sea of channels. It took a while, but we finally found the one guy who is really interesting and authentically French:

Arian Lemal

He is a French environmentalist who has a show on the French version of PBS in which he is climbing major mountains and picking up trash.  That’s pretty much all he does. He just climbs mountains with his video camera and picks up the mounds of trash left by the many expeditions which have been there, all while filming it himself. There are times when he cries after summiting a really big mountain, out of sheer exhaustion.  Then I cry.  And then she sets down his camera to pick up all the trash.  And I watch.  Completely riveted.

I can’t exactly pinpoint why it is so fascinating to watch this, but it’s probably because picking up trash is something that is important and this guy is living his dream of summiting mountains while picking up trash.  Oh, and he’s saving our beautiful places for future generations.

I am completely enthralled with this show.  So much so, that I googled him to find out more about his expeditions.  As it turns out, he stopped his expeditions in March 2011 due to lack of funding.  Of all the things being funded in the world, I really think this is one is particularly worthy.  I would also like to give a shout out to his sponsors for this:   Mountain Hardwear , Millet , Julbo , and Petzl.  Happy to see that there are companies that think that this guy is as interesting as I do.

Although I’m sad to know that Arian has ended his expeditions, I’m happy I got to see it.  Not sure when his run on tv will end, but since he’s not picking up mountain trash for a living anymore, I’m not sure what will happen to the mountains and also French tv.

Anyone got some corporate connections to sponsor this guy?

The next generation?:


musical time warp

20110725-105035.jpgBefore we left Vermont, the boys started becoming more interested in music. Sadly, we seemed to be passing the point in our lives in which the kids were satisfied with the parental musical selection.  It seemed that they were suddenly forming their own……..opinions.  Guys, you don’t want to listen to Neil Young again?  Really?!!?!

Somehow, I found our family sinking into what I like to call:  Bieberland. Although both boys would vehemently deny that they liked Justin Bieber, somehow they:

a) convinced me (at a weak moment) to buy the Justin Bieber song Baby and load it on my iPod
b) managed to convince me that the Justin Bieber biography was the ONLY book they wanted from the book order form at school

And while I don’t have anything against, Justin Bieber, except his haircut, I was a bit worried that my kids were going to suddenly morph into the kind of Bieber-ific kids I was seeing around town.  You know, the skinny jean-wearing, undie-bearning kids with strangely swooped hair.

I’d just like everyone to know, that we’ve been rescued by France from our Bieber-tastic lives.  Although there is an obvious Bieber-influence here, as far as the dress code goes, there is little evidence that his music has a hold on the youngest generation as it does in the US.  In fact, in my opinion, France is stuck in a musical time warp – and not the Rocky Horror Picture Show kind.

Take for example, the fireworks display we saw in Normandy last week for the Fête Nationale.  Apparently all fireworks displays in France, even ones in very small towns, are choreographed to music.  As the fireworks  display started, we were treated to the following lineup of music, in this order:

    • Hell’s Bells – AC/DC
    • Money for Nothing – Dire Straits
    • Jump – Van Halen

It was like I stepped right out my life in France and right back into 1985 – bad hair and all.

The next night, we were in another small town and although we weren’t planning to stay for the fireworks display that night, we were lucky to be present for the musical sound check.  In that town, they had decided to skip the heavy metal/hard rock lineup in favor of a lineup of music by one artist – the Prince of Pop.  That’s right, Michael Jackson was blaring a medley of his most popular songs at volume 11 on the pier.

Now I know that Michael Jackson is an international sensation, but it was very strange being in this very small French town, listening to Michael Jackson and watching throngs of French people (and a couple of small American boys (and their youngish mother)) dance in the streets and attempt the moonwalk – all in broad daylight.  If we’re going retro, what’s the matter with a fireworks display set to a soundtrack of Neil Young, I say?  However, if given a choice, I would choose MJ over Bieber any day of the week.

ps – For those interested, cotton candy is called “barbapapa” in France.  I love it in either of it’s named forms.

not just another beach


In high school, my two main history teachers were hippy radicals from the 60s, so I vividly remember learning about the Vietnam War, but don’t have much memory of learning about WWII in school, at least.  Since high school, I’ve seen movies about it, read about it, and felt like I had a general sense of the war before we arrived in Normandy on vacation.  But, as with most things in life, nothing can prepare you for the real thing – not even Hollywood.

When we arrived in Normandy, we had reservations to stay at a French gîte (sort of like a cross between a B&B and a pension) which had a WWII expert as an owner. We heard that this man loved to impart his knowledge and family history of the war to any guests who were interested.  Just our kind of place!

The gîte was about 5K from Omaha Beach and the night we arrived our room wasn’t ready so we headed down to Omaha Beach to sit on the beach (me) and take a swim in the cold water (Tim & kids).  At the beach, I was impressed with how well-preserved the area was – with no development whatsoever – and also how somber I felt being there.  It sort of felt like all of the stories I had ever heard about the war were somehow centered around this spot and there I was standing on it.  A little bit surreal.

Once I sat down on the beach, I was able to let all of the somberness go and see the situation for was it really was at that moment – a really beautiful beach with so many people enjoying everything about it.  It suddenly started to feel like a spot filled with more hope than sadness.

Later that night, we went back to the gîte and had dinner with the owners, François and Marie.  François spent the dinner telling us about his family’s involvement with the war – his uncle’s house on Omaha Beach was bombed, had American paratroopers land in the garden, and is one of only 2 original houses still standing along the beach. That evening he took us down to the bluff above Omaha Beach to show us some of the German bunkers which are still standing. The boys couldn’t believe it – it was so creepy/interesting.  One of the bunkers is still intact and we went inside to see where the German lookouts lived.  I had complete chills standing in that square room underground.

We spent the next few days going to nearly every military museum and historic place related to WWII.  It was so interesting, the boys lost all desire to play at the beach.  They only wanted to see more historical monuments and I have to admit, I did too.  It was hard not to notice how many people from around the world were visiting these living monuments;  like Pointe du Hoc, the bluff housing massive German bunkers which was bombed by the Americans.  The site (enormous bomb craters and all) has been preserved exactly as it was when the war ended.  Truly remarkable.

On one of the last nights, François, who is also a WWII reinactor, offered to take the boys for a ride in the US Army jeep that his grandfather bought after the war. It’s in mint condition and outfitted exactly as it would have been during the war. I’m not sure if it was the jeep or the fact that there were no seatbelts, but the smiles were impossible to miss.

The day we left the gîte, François gave us a little container of sand from Omaha Beach to take with us.  During the ride home, the boys took turns holding it in the back seat.  It’s hard to know how much of the trip they’ll remember when they’re older, but I can honestly say it’s a trip I’ll never forget.


the little rascals of normandy

Ever since moving to France, I feel like I’ve taken a step back in time.  Kids don’t wear bike helmets, the internet is not a good source of information and the stores are not open on Sundays (Massachusetts Blue Laws, anyone?).  I guess it’s time to take a seat and listen to the flute, since there’s not much else to do on a Sunday.

When we were in Normandy last week for the Fête Nationale (the French 4th of July), we wanted to find some fireworks to see.   After hours of searching on the internet to find out where and when they would be in any surrounding town, we came up completely empty-handed.  The owners of the B&B we were staying at also had no idea about fireworks, so they had to call their friend down the road to get some information.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if they called on a Party Line, honestly.

The other interesting thing that seems oldschool about living here are the methods of parental discipline.  It is sort of a joke among the non-French here that the French kids are unnaturally well-behaved when out in public with their parents.  I’ve noticed that the reason the French kids are well-behaved is because their parents are absolutely not afraid to twist their ears in public and pull them down the street if they misbehave.  Want me to say it again?  PARENTS TWIST THEIR KIDS’ EARS AND PULL THEM DOWN THE STREET IN PUBLIC.  It’s true and really painful to watch.  I’ve still got some vivid memories of 5th grade and I can tell you from personal experience that having someone twist your ear and pull it ranks on the pain scale just below the nose flick.  Ouch.

The flip side of this situation is that when the kids are not with their parents, they are like hooligans – like springs ready to be sprung.  I think I watched too many reruns of The Little Rascals when I was young, but the kids here remind me of them, minus the slicked down hair.

When we finally located some fireworks in Normandy last week, we drove to this tiny coastal town, ate some fried dough on the pier and staked out a spot to watch the fireworks.  Then the hooligans arrived.

They rode on their bikes like a gang with their backpacks filled with a vast variety of fireworks and an unlimited supply of matches.  The youngest member was about 6 and the oldest was a mid-teenager and although it was a group of mostly boys there were a few tough girls mixed in.  Unfortunately they set up their fireworks station right behind where we were sitting.  At that point we were witness to a whole lot of pushing, shoving, laughing, match lighting and firework setting off.  Sometimes a bottle rocket landed in the crowd near the pier, sometimes it landed on the roof of a house – no matter, they were lighting them off in the epicenter of town behind a giant war monument that intensified the noise as it ricocheted off the monument and buildings.  When the hooligans threw a set of roman candles into a giant metal trash can, the noise was so loud it made the entire crowd jump.

Our kids were completely stunned by the scene.  Kids with matches?!?!?!?  Kids with fireworks?!??!  Where were their parents?!?!?  I could see their small brains expanding as they watched what was happening.  I’m pretty sure that up until that point our kids thought it was illegal for kids to touch matches.  In that moment, right in front of their eyes, kids were not only playing with matches, but using them to light FIREWORKS – the holy grail of what not to touch!  Their eyes were literally as big as saucers.

After watching this scene play out for over a half hour, the hooligans finally got cussed out by a bystander who was hit by a random firework.  That is something that is also somewhat common here, people (usually very loudly) disciplining other people’s children.  They packed up their backpacks and headed out on their bikes to terrorize another group of spectators further down the pier.

For the rest of the night, the boys kept wanting to know where the hooligans were.  Although they were somewhat scared of them, they were fascinated by them – sort of like watching a horror movie through your fingers – you’re scared but still want to know what happens.  Eamon kept asking, “Where do you think the hooligans hang out when they’re not lighting off fireworks?  Do you think they have a clubhouse or something?”  Later in the evening when we saw some trash on the side of the road, Owen said, “I wonder if the hooligans left that there…….”

I told Tim if we return from France without our kids turning into hooligans, I will feel pretty good about myself.  Especially since O & E now know it isn’t illegal for kids to light matches.


Disclaimer:  After this post, my mother called to make sure that the reference about ear pulling in 5th grade wasn’t any commentary about her, since she had no memory of ever pulling my ears as a child.  I told her that, no, she had never pulled our ears as children and that reference was to an old 5th grade friend of mine who I shall call Meg (to protect her identity).  My mother was a great mother and would never have inflicted any pain on us as children.  The fact that she had us picking us cigarette butts at our motel in the summer for $.01 apiece was, in fact, character building, not torture.  

le super americaine

20110716-110629.jpgIn a little coastal town on our way around Normandy, we stopped for dinner at an outdoor crepe/kebab/stake hache stand.  As we were standing in line looking at the menu, Tim spied his desired meal.  It was called “Le Super Americaine.”  I am not joking.  Tim actually said very loudly, “I need to order le super americaine because I am a super American!”  At that point, I put a little bit more distance between us and started to act like I didn’t know him.

He did, in fact, order it and you can see it pictured above.  Not sure if the owner of the stand has ever been to America, but I thinking that I might need to let her know that in America we don’t eat our french fries on top of our burger and we don’t eat our burgers on a baguette.  Just thought I’d mention that.  See that pile of ketchup on top of the fries?  It’s masking the pile of mayo underneath.  Not sure if this sandwich makes us seem super or just really scary.

pepsi v. coke v. bread

20110716-110944.jpgAs far as I can tell, there is no debate in France of Pepsi v. Coke.  Not sure if anyone really cares about the brands of soda – they’re more concerned about the quality of the wine.  And now that I think about it, I’m not certain that the Pepsi brand even exists in France.  Good thing I’m a Coke girl.

But what you may see in the countryside is not a random soda vending machine, but rather, a random bread vending machine.  This baby (above) was just sitting on the side of the road in Normandy, just screaming to have its picture taken.  We drove by it about 10 times and each time I told Tim that I needed to stop and take a picture of it, but we kept passing by it on our way to somewhere else.

Then, on the last day, when Owen and I went out on a cider buying mission (I’m talking hard, French cider here), I pulled the car over and told Owen to get out and take a picture.  He said, “But what if someone is watching me take a picture of a bread machine on the side of the road?  Won’t they think it’s strange?”

That’s when I gave him a piece of advice that sums up our experience in France.  I said, “If you feel bad every time someone thinks you’re strange, you’ll never leave your house.  Act like you know what you’re doing and take the picture.”

The end.

the great cereal debate

20110709-101021.jpgThe French don’t eat a lot of cereal and neither do I.  But unfortunately (or fortunately) I married a cereal eater and he has managed to turn our two children into cereal eaters too.  Gone are the good old days of toast.

In the US there are so many types of cereal, it’s an ongoing joke (at least in my mind) that in France they have a double aisle for yogurt and in the US we have a double aisle for cereal.  It’s particularly funny to try to buy cereal in France because the French don’t really get cereal (and neither do it). They get yogurt and cheese and bread, but cereal?  Non.  The way that they’ve decided to tackle the great cereal debate is just to take a standard Wheaties-type cereal and put real chocolate in it.  You can also chose between milk chocolate, white chocolate or dark chocolate.  Nice.

I told Tim that I thought the only reason they even had cereal on the shelves in France was to satisfy the Americans.  At that point he tried to make some sort of argument that the French cereal is not for Americans, it’s for the very discerning French.  Otherwise why would they put REAL chocolate in it?  His theory was, if it was for Americans, it would just be fake chocolate like all of the American cereal.

As I see it, there are two main problems here:

  1. I was having an argument about cereal
  2. The guy that I married has put some serious thought into the scale of sophistication for cereal and thinks that one actually exists
Bring on the toast.  
I love you, Tim – cereal or no cereal.