Monthly Archives: February 2012

costume confusion

So I had a post nearly ready for you about our experience with Halloween here, but I got sidetracked and before I knew it, it was Christmas.  That said, some recent developments made me revisit my Halloween experience.  Here is the shortened Halloween story, complete with the recent twist at the end:

We knew leading up to Halloween that it really isn’t celebrated here, but the kids go to an international school which was having a small Halloween celebration.  Also, we were invited to two separate Halloween parties being thrown by other family friends, so we had a few opportunities to dress up.

After our costume FAIL at the “Cuisine of the World” celebration at school last year, we had something to prove, so we started thinking about the costumes early.  Eamon told me he wanted to be Pablo Picasso – the object of his artistic affection.  For his costume I bought him a French striped shirt (the national uniform), a beret, and we framed a Picasso-esque picture that he drew.  Done.  Owen, on the other hand found a ghoulish costume when he went to the store and despite the shabby manufacturing and scary face mask, Tim bought it for him.  This is exactly the kind of costume that every boy wants at some point in time, and the kind that I hate.  In any case, they were ready for their school party.

At the end of the Halloween celebration day at school, Eamon was slightly dejected and he told me that nobody “got” his costume, despite the fact that they had just studied Picasso at school.  When I asked him what he meant by this, he told me that all the kids asked him why he wasn’t a ghost or goblin.  Owen, on the other hand, fit in splendidly with the other kids at school – in fact, half of the kids at school had the same costume that he did.

It wasn’t until the first party that I started to get a sense of what Halloween means in France.  Halloween does not mean get a cool costume of your choice and get candy.  In France Halloween means chose between a witch, a ghost, or a goblin and, if you’re luckily enough to have friends who are throwing a party, you actually have someplace to wear these costumes.

After Eamon’s experience at school, he chose to give up on Picasso and he acquired a rugby player costume for the two parties.  The rugby player costume still wasn’t widely understood as a Halloween costume, but at least he had some respect from the young rugby-obsessed crowd.

Lesson learned:  get ghost/ghoul costumes for Halloween next year – avoid all originality.


Now that we’re many months past Halloween I had nearly forgotten about all the costume drama and cultural confusion, until I walked in the store a week ago and saw racks and racks of costumes for Carnival.  So it turns out that Carnival is the time to express your free will in the costume department and become whomever you want for a day – including Buzz Lightyear, a doctor or any variety of princess.

As expected, the school was putting on a Carnival celebration of their own, so the kids were asked to dress up as something related to “the sea” which was the Carnival theme this year (much better than “cuisine of the world” from last year).  When I asked the boys what they wanted to be for Carnival, Owen immediately said he wanted to be a fisherman, which was lucky for me because we have an entire fisherman outfit on hand.  Eamon, on the other hand wanted to be………..wait for it……………………seaweed.  I hope you didn’t just ruin your computer by spitting milk into it while you were reading that.

I’ve learned a few things as a parent in the years since I first had kids.  The most important thing is that the expectations of kids vs. the abilities of the parents need to be completely discussed to avoid a last-minute meltdown.  In this instance, I had to find out what Eamon was imagining in his mind for his costume vs. what I was capable of making, since I knew that I could not find a commercially made seaweed costume.  So much for my past ridicule of the shabby goblin costume – I would have happily bought a shabby seaweed costume if I could have found one.

As luck would have it, Eamon’s expectations were about as low as my abilities, so I set to work making the best seaweed costume that I could think of.  This involved tieing and mounding puke colored yarn on a hat and around collar for his neck.  Top it off with a green fleece and some green jeans and you’ve got an artistic interpretation of seaweed.

After Eamon’s last costume experience at school, I spent a little bit of time preparing him to rebuff any negative feedback he might receive at school, especially since I found out that half the school was going as either a fish or a shark.  I really want my kids to be their own people and not follow the crowd, but sometimes it stings to see them get their feelings hurt when they try to be original.

At the end of the Carnival party day, Eamon ran out to me to give me the update.  Apparently everyone loved his seaweed costume and, according to him, “The kids ‘got’ it better than they did my Picasso outfit.”

We’ve got a seaweed costume if anyone needs to borrow it.



3rd identity

In the story about the health check/chest x-ray, I know I mentioned the fact that I had incorrect paperwork pasted into my passport.  I was slightly worried at the time, but not enough to go back through that ordeal to make it right.  As a result of this initial paperwork mishap, the French government has sent me down the path to a serious identity crisis.

My true identity is in tact, at least in my own mind.  However as a result of that paperwork mishap, the French government now thinks that I have Tim’s last name and all of my resulting paperwork gives me that as my second identity – including my ‘Carte de Sejour’ which is my legal id card saying that I’m allowed to be here.  The government clearly has no idea who I really am.  Luckily, at this point in my life, my badass moments are relegated to butchering the French language, not committing crimes.

And just the other day, I acquired a third identity.  I’m now known as Celine.

It all started in the fall when I finally broke down and got my hair cut here.   The reason I didn’t tell you about it was because it was too painful to write about.  At the end of the haircut, the woman told me to bend over with my head between my knees and she pulled out the hair dryer and dried my hair upside down.  Anyone who knows me, knows that my hair hardly needs more body and this tactic is best reserved for those in the world with flat-ish hair.  By the time I left the salon, I looked like Jon Bon Jovi in the 1980s.  Nothing against Jon, but somehow even back then I knew he would live to regret that hairdo.

I took a picture of myself that day for proof of what was done to me, but my hair barely fit in the frame.  I would show it to you, but my ego is fragile and it would hurt too much.  Take my word for it.  It was very bad.

So I recently found a person with curly hair and loving stalked her until I could have a conversation with her about where she gets her hair cut. This is the kind of thing I wouldn’t think twice about in the US, but France is different and going up to people and asking them things that could be considered personal is seen as very………………..American.  I was going to write “strange” in that space, but I’ve been made aware that Americans are perceived as very open which also makes them very strange.  As proof of this, I recently walked up to a British woman I’ve known since I arrived and said, “Hey, I love that shirt!  Did you get it around here?”  Although I don’t consider this statement/question very personal, she looked at me like I was asking for a mènage à trois (like the woman in this article – more on that one later).  I’ve since realized that there is a chasm between the friendliness of Americans and the private nature of many other cultures (including the French and the British).

In any case, I was desperate for a haircut and I kept seeing this curly-haired mother at school and when I finally found out that she was neither French nor British (she’s Spanish), I finally screwed up my courage to ask her about her hairdresser.  Not only did she tell me about her hairdresser, but after she explained to me how much the Spanish like to party (good to know), she told me all about the hair products that she uses.  This was a critical conversation for me since the French think hair gel is only for men and I’ve been walking around for months smelling like an Old Spice display at CVS.  Also, it’s always helpful to know someone who likes to party.  Clearly, we should hang out more.

Once I got the name of the curl cutter, I went to the salon in person, since making appointments on the phone can be the most challenging thing for me.  My number processing in French is still at the “suck” stage of learning and since appointments involve both dates and times, I decided not to take a chance with the phone.  The future of my hair was at stake, people.  I could not take any chances – at all.

When I showed up at the salon to make an appointment, I was very proud that I was able to not only track down a woman who can cut curls, but I also managed to secure an appointment with her.  However, my pride quickly diminished when she asked my name.  The French always ask for the last name first, which in my case, is impossible.  People don’t even understand my last name at home, where I can speak fairly well, but here it’s a disaster because there are so many “e”s involved.  When I try to spell my name in French, all sorts of other sounds come out of my mouth that sound nothing like the letter “e” in French.  In any case, when I said, “Teleen” and paused and took a breath before spelling it, the woman at the desk said, “Celine?  Ok, Celine.”  Rather than correcting her, I just went with it.  To the hair salon I am Celine.

I’m hoping that when I leave the salon I look a little more like a Celine and less like a Jon.  Bon Jovi, that is.

Here is the butter that is smeared on my shirt when I am trying to look like a hipster.


french word of the day

Vomir is the verb nobody wants to learn……..first-hand anyway.  Not sure I really need to translate the meaning of that one.

Just when we were ramping up for our big crêpe flipping holiday, Eamon and half the school came down with the the “gastro,” as they call it here.  This put our jackpot winning plans on hold and canceled the crêpe event at school.  We’re making crêpes this weekend instead, but I’m afraid we may have missed the holiday deadline for flipping crepes and getting lucky with gold coins.

Fortunately, the boulanger doesn’t mind helping us out in a crisis.  Yesterday when I stopped by the bakery, here is what I found:


Crêpes à la maison – we didn’t throw them, we (minus Eamon) just ate them.  Yum!

If anyone wants to spend their holiday coin fortune on a small vacation home in France, let me know.  I’ve got my eye on a hipster compound for you.