Category Archives: life is different

what’s in a name?

Hello blog readers!

I’ve decided to change the name of the blog well in advance of our move back, so that it is not quite as ‘living in France’ centric which will make it easier to keep going.  If you visit the old page, you should be redirected automatically to the new site.  Sorry in advance for any confusion!

The new blog is:  www.thecheesetarian.com

If you subscribe by email, please re-subscribe to receive future blog posts.  Warning:  I’ve got some good ones coming up!

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donkey horror movie

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Here are some strange pictures and a strange birthday party story for you (yes, that is grass in his shirt):

Owen was invited to a birthday party the other day by a friend in his class. The classmate’s mother just told me the address and the party time, but she didn’t tell me anything about what was happening at the party. When we arrived at the address to find a donkey stable, I was a little curious. Although I was invited to stay at the party, I made up a big excuse about having something important to do and drove like hell out of there. For me: Donkeys + Birthday Cake = trouble.

When I returned to pick up Owen and his friend Diego from the party, they were not at the donkey stable, so I sat and waited. After about 15 minutes, I saw the gang of kids and the few parents who stayed, walking up a dirt road toward the car. When Owen saw me he started running and as soon as he got close to me he screamed, “That was like a donkey horror movie!”

Apparently, the family rented a donkey for a few hours to carry a birthday picnic into the forest and after they loaded up the donkey with bags of food and a cake, they set out for the walk. About halfway through the party and right after they had eaten the cake, a thunder-storm rolled in. A huge clap of thunder sent the donkey bolting into the forest, carrying all of the party supplies. What happened next was hilarious – especially if you weren’t a parent chaperoning the party.

When the thunder clapped and the donkey ran, the kids panicked and, according to Owen, they started running and screaming through the forest in absolute hysteria. Of course, this didn’t help the situation. Not sure the dark sky and heavy rain helped either. Evenutally, the parents got the kids under control and had a talk with them about remaining calm, but the donkey was long gone.

Since the group needed to get back, they started walking and eventually started seeing things on the trail that had fallen off the donkey’s back as it ran. The group followed the trail of party goods to a clearing where they eventually found the donkey comatose on the ground, too scared to move. After some coaxing, they were finally able to get the donkey up and the group realized that in his frenzy, he had torn the pack bags. When the group emerged from the forest, they were holding all of the party goods in their arms and the parents of the party boy looked fairly pissed.

Other than a huge scratch across Owen’s face right under his eye, there was no lasting damage from the donkey party, but the experience was accurately summed up by Diego as we drove home.

He said:

“I told my mother all morning I didn’t want to go to the party, but I really wanted to eat the cake, so I decided to go. After seeing that donkey, I know I should have stayed home.”

Well said, Diego.

Below you can catch a glimpse of Owen’s favorite nighttime reading book. Also, not sure where in the world this would be “See on TV.”

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bye-bye, lily

Our French driver’s licence issues have taken front and center stage as our one year anniversary of our arrival in France is nearly here.  That means that there has been a significant fire placed under our respective asses in recent weeks.  This fire is not only hot, it is also painful.  Since we really needed to pass these licence tests we ended up signing up for driving classes with “the sure thing” who is also known as Monsieur F.  He’s the guy that owns the only English-language driving school in all of France and he is making a mint off of desperate ex-pats like us.

In order to get a French license you have to pass both a written test which is called the “code” and a driving test with a French DMV employee in a car.  The last time I took a driving or road rules test I was 16 and even back then, I don’t remember breaking a sweat.  I may be too old to remember this things, but I’m sticking with my current version of reality which is that the US tests weren’t that hard.  Let’s just say that I was imagining that the French tests would be about the same difficulty as the US tests.  Imagining this would not be the first mistake I’ve made in this country.

Our driving prep started in December when Monsieur F. came down to Fontainebleau to teach the 4 Vermonters the driving code.  Prior to his arrival he had sent us the French driving code book translated into English, which I proceeded not to read prior to our first class.  About 15 minutes into the class, I knew I was in serious trouble since on our first practice test of 40 questions I got 12 wrong.  To pass this test, you need to get less than 5 wrong.  This was not a straightforward test, as I thought it would be, it was a multiple choice test which could have more than one correct answer, but all the correct answers must be chosen to get credit for the answer.  I knew right away I was in some serious caca.

Monsieur F. proved to be not only a brilliant entrepreneur specializing in the desperate American demographic, but also completely off his rocker.  He personality was like the combination of your worst high school math teacher with a thick French accent and your friend’s great-uncle telling repetitive bad jokes during a holiday dinner.  One of his favorite jokes/repetitive phrases was to say something like, “If you don’t stop when the railroad lights are blinking, you will see God in a pyjama.  Bye-bye Lily!”  At first I laughed, because the joke was so absurd, then I nearly cried because I heard a variation of that joke about 100 more times.

There was one fleeting moment at the beginning of all this that I thought I might try to take the test in French to avoid having to travel to Paris for the English translated test, but that plan quickly bit the dust as I realized that I could barely pass the test in English, let alone in French.

The first day Monsieur F. came to our house he stayed for 9 hours teaching us driving code.  Just when I thought my head would explode I realized that we had barely made a dent in the amount of knowledge it takes to pass the test.  I’ll fast forward through the details of two more nine-hour days of driving code, the seemingly endless hours of practice tests and the unending string of bad jokes to tell you about test day.

We were supposed to be in Paris at 8am for a last-minute test prep at the driving school before driving to the testing location to sit for the test.  My friend was kind enough to offer to take our kids at 7am so that we could attempt to make it up to the driving school on time.  Against all warnings, we decided to drive into Paris since we had two different locations to go to in a short amount of time.  This proved to be one of the worst ideas we’ve had in a long time.  After sitting in two hours of gridlock to get to the driving school, we abandoned that plan and decided to drive directly to the test site since we knew that we would never make it on time otherwise.  The test was scheduled to start at 10am and at 10:01am our car rolled into the parking lot.  Thankfully, nothing in France starts on time.  By the time we arrived, I was a doubtful, hyperventilating mess.  Sitting in three hours of Paris gridlock can unravel even the best test taker, so I tried to take some calming breaths and focus on the driving code.

When the lights went down in the room to signal the start of the test, I thought I was going to combust.  There was so much French driving code jammed into my head at that point, I wasn’t sure I could get it out successfully.  But when the lights went up to signal the end of the test, I was relieved because not only had we made it to the test, but it was finally over.

I know you’re wondering what my test result was…………..I PASSED (and so did Tim)!

Now we just have to take the driving test.  Bye-bye Lily.

I did take a picture of the sunrise over gridlock on the test day, but I decided that I’d rather share this one instead.  This is the Chateau Fontainebleau in the morning.

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i ♥ ny?

New York is one of the world’s great cities, most people would agree.  And even though I agree with that statement in an intellectual way, I can’t help but remember the time that I had all of my money stolen from me on the streets of NYC in the early 90s.  It wasn’t a mugging…………it was more like a dumbass college kid wearing overalls thinking that she could win a card game against a group of street hustlers kind of thing.  But the pain of it is still real, ok??

The $70 (or so) dollars I lost that day was supposed to buy my train ticket back to Boston on my way home for the holidays, as well as provide spending money for the entire Christmas vacation.  Even back in the 90s, it wasn’t that much money, but it was all I had and it really sucked.

My college roommate (yo, Cin!) was my partner in my dumbass escapades that day and despite the fact that we lost all of our money (she contributed all of her $ to the game too), we managed to score (too many) drinks afterward at a local bar using the credit card that my parents gave me for “emergency purposes.”  It really seemed like an emergency at the time.  Seriously, it was.

If my kids grow up to be nearly as dumb and irrational as me, I will deserve it, I can assure you.

So back to New York.  I know things have changed in the city – there aren’t card game in the street anymore and the City thrived after 9/11 by the sheer will and tenacity of its inhabitants.  I’m happy that so many people love New York, but I can’t shake the bad vibes of the card game.  So instead of loving New York, I like it.  But I really love Vermont.  I’m not trying to take anything away from NY, but Vermont is cool too and a lot easier to manage than the mean streets.

So, living in France, the topic of New York City comes up a lot.  Here is a typical conversation that happens to me on a weekly basis, at least.

Me:  {Speaking rubbish French to the delivery man, or Boulanger, or Fromager, or etc}.  Je voudrais {insert badly pronounced French word} comme ça……………….

Delivery Man/Boulanger/Fromager:  {In English} Are you from the UK?

Me:  {Usually in English} No, I’m from the United States.

Delivery Man/Boulanger/Fromager:  The United States?  No way!  I love the United States!!  I’ve been there!  What a great country!!

Me:  That’s great!  Where have you been in the US?  Hold on……let me guess……..New York City?

Delivery Man/Boulanger/Fromager:  Yes!  How did you know?!  I love New York.  I was there visiting my {fill in the blank}.  I didn’t want to leave!

Me:  That’s great!

Delivery Man/Boulanger/Fromager:  Where are you from?……………New York?

Me:  No, I’m from Vermont.  It’s north of New York City.

Delivery Man/Boulanger/Fromager:  Huh……….I’ve never heard of that place……..but New York is great!!!!  It’s so fun and so interesting and so big.  I would love to live there!!

Ultimately, I’m really happy that everyone loves New York and more importantly, that they really like the US.  I have yet to encounter a person who has a low opinion of the US, and while they may have a low opinion of how I represent my country, they really like us as a nation.

I guess it’s kind of like people coming to France and only visiting Paris.  It’s a great city, but the small towns are great too.  If I have my way, you may see a large delegation of French nationals visiting the great state of Vermont in the coming years – after they make their first stopover in New York, of course.

Here are the boys lighting candles in a cathedral for my mother.  As I take the picture, I am saying a secret prayer that they don’t do most of the dumb things I’ve ever done.  They may look cute now, but the genetics are not in their favor on this one…….

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french driver’s license

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but I’m running out of time to acquire a French driver’s license.  I’m also slightly bitter and angry.  I’m not so bitter and angry, that it can’t be temporarily remedied with a simple bakery treat, but the anger and bitterness reside somewhere inside me.  Deep down.

Both Tim & I have to get French driver’s licenses within one year of our arrival in France and guess what?  One year is almost here (can you believe it?).  Anyway, there are 15 US states which have reciprocal driving agreements with France.  Among them, Florida, Texas, New Hampshire, and nine more, but NOT Vermont.  If you live in one of the 15 reciprocal states, all you have to do is fill out reams of French paperwork and wait by the mailbox for your French license to be delivered.  In our case, we have to take a series of French driving instructional classes, take a written test, participate in 8 hours of driving instruction in a car and take an actual driving test.  Add in the French language factor, mix it all up and you have a recipe for a very unhappy Vermonter.

This unhappy Vermonter has been weighing all of the options and after considering flying back to the US and pretending to be a NH citizen (with the help of an anonymous individual whose name rhymes with Merry Feleen), I’ve given up.  At the end of the day, there is only so much whining that is tolerated from a person who gets to drink loads of good wine and eat very stinky cheese on a daily basis.  This means I’m getting prepared to suck it up and turn my frown around in a French driving class (yes, I actually wrote that).

There is some good news here, though.  Our friend and fellow Vermonter who is also living in Fonty (her husband works with Tim at IBM) has managed to score us some English language instructional classes.  I am thankful that there is a glimmer of light inside this bleak French license vortex.

Although I don’t really want to spend my time in driving classes, I have come to realize that there may be a benefit for me.  Especially when, after driving here for 10 months, my friend said to me, “Don’t worry, all you really need to know about driving in France is the priorité à droite rule.”  When I gave her a blank stare, she said, “You know, priorité à droite – when you’re driving on a straight road and a road intersects it on your right and even if there’s not a stop sign you have to stop for the car entering right?”  Again, a blank stare.

Hmmm.  I guess I do have something to learn.

To learn more about  priorité à droite, brush up on your French and click the link.  Or move to New Hampshire, get a French license automatically, and don’t worry about it.

au revior, mon amie

So sorry it’s been so long between posts – good thing I’m not doing this as a job, otherwise I would have been fired by now.  Speaking of fired, I am having to give us my esl job due to a work permit issue.  I guess it’s not really an issue with my work permit, it’s more like an issue that I don’t have a work permit and it turns out, I can’t get one.  Ooops.  I guess that was a minor detail that I should have researched more thoroughly before I took the job.

In the end, all I can really say about the job is “THANK GOD IT’S NEARLY OVER!!!!”  These French kids are killing me.  They’re so cute and so well dressed, but they have a distinct advantage over me which is that they can all speak whispery French to each other.  The class is a little bit Lord of the Flies at times and I happen to be playing the role of the kid who gets eaten.

For those of you who haven’t thanked a teacher in recent days, you may want to take this opportunity to reach out and give them a big holiday squeeze.  They have the hardest job on the planet.  I am not even remotely kidding.

Also, I deleted my Larry Bird rant post.  Sorry about that.  I just figured that it wasn’t in the spirit of the blog and I had to let my anger go (but I still love you Larry Bird).  I’ve decided to divert my anger into contemplation about what to do if the euro crashes.  Luckily for me, my friend Tami left us some old French francs when she was here this summer, so we may be able to keep ourselves stocked with wine and bread for a day or two while the important people are getting things sorted out.

Besides the impending economic crash, the other big news for us is that the kids’ tutor Dominique is leaving for greener pastures (as in the south of France). Coming here and finding Dominique was one of the luckiest things that has happened to us – she was a huge help with the boys’ French and my mental health.  Plus, every week, not only did she teach them French, she made every type of traditional French food with them.  That’s my kind of tutor.  I guess if we want homemade French macarons, we’re going to have to learn to make them ourselves. Or not.

It’s been hard to say good-bye to her, but we’re fully intending to visit her down there before we leave France for good.  It’s nice to have friends in warm French climates.  It’s even better to have friends in warm French climates who make incredible macarons.

Here is Owen’s card to Dominique:

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The good news is that the kids don’t really need Dominique as a tutor anymore.  It’s hard to believe, but they are speaking French without hesitation and they have moved on to the “Making Fun of Mommy’s French” phase of their language study.  It kind of hurts, but their French is much better than mine right now.  I know this is just one of the many times my kids will be better than me, but I was hoping to have a few more years of feeling superior before my credibility hit the fan.  According to my in-house French language critics, it turns out that not only am I saying the incorrect words in conversation on a regular basis, but the words that I do say correctly are slightly out of tune to discerning French ears.

Further evidence that their French is better than mine is that they were recently dismissed from their “Extra French” class at school.  Apparently they no longer need help with French and they can get through the school day without any fear, tears or drama.  Which is not exactly something I can always say for myself.  Going to the market and buying fruit still makes me sweat.  I’m not going to lie.

building a work ethic

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In France castles (or chateaus) dot the countryside.  It sometimes feels like they’re breeding out there because there are so many of them of all shapes and sizes.  This summer, we took a trip to Guedelon a castle that is in the progress of being built.  Apparently, Guedelon started over a decade ago with the goal to build a castle from the ground up, using all of the antique tool and methods used to build all the rest of the castles around.  It was a fascinating to see the castle in progress and after a decade of work, the bulk of it is still not done (although they don’t have nearly as many people doing the work as they likely would have long ago).  While I was there I was wondering if they had a “hard labor” internship program so that modern kids could see what really hard work was like, as opposed to the really hard work that we make them do around the house like empty the trash and unload the dishwasher.  Life if tough in modern times, am I right?

On the topic of labor, we have this wall chart of jobs and weekly responsibilities that the kids do to earn spending money.  The chart is part of a larger kit that we bought in the US which teaches kids spending, saving and giving, as they do jobs around the house.  Our kids are at a great age to be helpful and they also have a grasp of money/spending, so we’ve been using this system pretty successfully for a few months now.  It’s not set up to provide an allowance (which may imply that the money comes on a weekly basis no matter what), but rather to define responsibilities and require that jobs be done before money is paid.  In this situation: no work = no money.

The other night we had a party at our house and I found the wall chart to be the center of all conversation. Every time I walked by, another parent was standing there looking at the chart and talking about how to get their kids to work around the house.  I think it was decided at the party that we are very American with our democratic wall chart and view of labor and capitalism.  While this may be true, they all wanted to know where they could get a wall chart for themselves.

ps – The are currently no jobs listed on the wall chart that involve slogging rocks up an incline.