Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Sept 13, Leesa invited a bunch of us out to Antony to attend the annual Foire aux Fromages et aux Vins. We didn't actually end up doing much tasting (I think that the economy has made the wine producers a bit tighter with the samples they're giving out), but it was still a neat day.

There was of course your typical Breton crêpe stand:And oysters from the Gulf where I used to live in Bretagne:Plus loads of different cheeses:The craziest part of the day though was coming across a Minutemen Brigade from Lexington, Massachusetts!After talking to a few of them, we found there was a group of about 40 people who'd come over to celebrate the naming of Lexington square in Antony. (Lexington and Antony are sister cities). How random is that?? It made for some great photos though!


Monday, September 28, 2009

Slow down Richard

My boss was here with me the other week, and we took the TGV from Paris to Angers to go visit some of my clients. He and his sons are really interested in trains, so he was pretty excited to be on a real TGV.

One thing that surprised him though was that it didn't seem like we were actually going that fast. I pulled out my iphone and looked up the fastest speed they are allowed to run (320km/hr). He wasn't convinced we were going anywhere near that fast, so we decided to pull out my GPS and see if it could get a satellite connection. And while we never got up to 320, we did get up to a pretty zippy 303 km/h (or 188 mph). The funniest part though was that whenever we would near a road, the GPS would start freaking out and saying "You're over the speed limit. You're over the speed limit!!", and show a little 90 km/hr sign next to our speed. It was absolutely freaking hilarious.


Friday, September 25, 2009

I almost forgot to post about a boat ride Kendra & I took up the Canal de l'Ourcq about a month ago. Every weekend during the summer, from June through the end of August, you can take a boat ride from the Bassin de la Villette up the canal de l'Ourcq for only 1€ each way (kids under 10 ride free). The boat stops at Pantin, Bobigny, Noisy le sec and Aulnay sous Bois.

It was such a success this summer (with over 50,000 passengers), that they are extending it into the fall, with a few more events that you can read about here. As you'll see from the pictures, it's definitely not a ride down the Seine, but it was neat to see another side of Paris, and hey, you can't beat a 3hr boat ride for only 2€!

The bassin de la villette:Our friendly Captain:La Géode à la Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie:Ciel mon mari !Abandoned warehouse:Grafitti city:


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Journées du Patrimoine, part II

Continuing on from yesterday...

Next I went on to the Val de Grâce Church. It's yet another thing that I walk by practically everyday, and I've always wanted to see the inside. The Church is located within the Val de Grâce military hospital grounds, and normally you need to buy a ticket to the attached museum in order to be able to visit it. However for the Journées du Patrimoine, the church itself was free, as was the visit to the Royal Abbey (which is normally closed to the public).I unfortunately underestimated the amount of time required to visit it, so it'll definitely be on my list of things to check out next year.As I made my way back home, we happened to run into the 2009 Techno Parade. It's my least favorite of all the manifestations throughout the year. For some reason it always strikes me as really odd to see all of these people basically clubbing in the streets in the middle of the afternoon.
And what exactly is it about these things that makes kids want to climb stuff??
After showing my boss l'Hôtel de Ville, Notre Dame, and the Louvre, we made our way over to the 8th, and I happened to notice that the Opera building was also open. It was a nice surprise, especially as it's not something I ever would've thought of to visit last weekend. And since there were no lines, we decided to check it out. It was definitely another amazing building, and I've now decided I need to buy tickets to see something there this year.And I thought this ceiling was absolutely amazing - it was probably my favorite of the entire weekend:All in all, I'd say it was a pretty successful Journées du Patrimoine weekend. I got to visit four really interesting buildings and didn't have to wait in line for a single one. There were a few other things that I didn't get to see (l'Observatoire, le Lycée Henri IV) since I ended up going to to the Château de Versailles Sunday afternoon, but they'll just have to go on my list for next year!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Journées du patrimoine (part I)

Last year I didn't really do much for the Journées du Patrimoine - I'd heard too much about people waiting in line for hours just to get into one monument. But this year there were a whole bunch of things open withing in walking distance of where I live, so I was determined to make it to at least one or two of them.

First up on my list was the Pantheon. I walk by it at least three or four times a week and I've always wanted to go inside, so I was pleased to see it on the list of free monuments. And even better, there was no line - we walked right in!I really enjoyed visiting it, but was surprised by the little bouts of pride I felt in the crypts, looking at all the great French men reposing there, and I was humming La Marseillaise by the time I left. Hmm....maybe I deserve French citizenship after all...They had some great photos there as well, and I thought it was particularly interesting to see what my neighborhood looked like at the time the Pantheon was finished (1790):Then it was off to the Luxembourg Palace, where the French Senate meets (again, no line to get in). I had been expecting it to be pretty boring inside, but it ended up being my favorite of the whole weekend. It was way more elegant that I'd imagined, and they had some good signage and hand-outs to explain the history of each room and how it was used nowadays.
The Journées du Patrimoine fun did not end here, so stay tuned for part II tomorrow!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

If you live in France, you know that the French have gone hog wild (ha!) over the swine flu. Despite having experienced just three H1N1-related deaths, people have seemed really panicky about it. Every day this past week, it was the number one topic on the front page of Ouest-France, and you can't go a day without it being mentioned on the news as well.

So of course the next logical step for these chronic hypochondriacs was to attempt to limit transmission. Which this time around has taken the form of masks, more frequent hand-washing and increased sales of anti-bacterial hand lotions. And now the decision has been made to take it one step further - the French government has advised that people stop shaking hands and doing "la bise" in schools and other public places.

I wasn't really expecting anyone to take this recommandation seriously - after all, la bise and the hand shake are such a part of day-to-day life here. But I was surprised to find that almost all of the customers I visited last week had signs up saying "For your health: No more hand-shaking or bise-ing". It was very interesting to talking to them as well and seeing how people were reacting to it, as this particular ritual is such a major part of French culture. Many were wondering if this is going to be the downfall of the bise? After all, if children were forbidden to bise in the court yard, eventually they would lose the habit. Which in that case we might as all live in Angleterre, where no one ever touches! (Their words, not mine).

I have to admit that it was bizarre even for me - it's so much of a part of my interactions with my clients. I show up and greet them with a firm handshake and then we sit down for business. This time around though, I could tell none of us really knew how to greet the other and it usually made for an awkward beginning. I felt kind of silly just standing there with my hands by my side, like part of our routine had been lost. I kind of hope all this swine flu panic passes soon - all of the fuss is really starting to get old.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Conditions_voyage bus

I took JennC's advice and decided to email the RATP about the bus driver the other day, and I got an almost immediate response back - how about that?? Here's what they wrote:


C'est avec une attention particulière que j'ai pris connaissance de votre message.

Je vous remercie de votre témoignage de reconnaissance envers le travail de cet agent.

C'est avec grand plaisir que je transmets votre courriel à son responsable hiérarchique qui ne manquera pas de lui en faire part.

Je vous souhaite une agréable journée


Le Service Clientèle du Centre Bus des quais de seine

That was such a great idea - hopefully it will encourage him to keep on being friendly (and maybe it will rub off on some of his colleagues)!


Thursday, September 17, 2009


Another city I really enjoyed visiting was Arles. Wikipedia says Arles was founded by the Greeks in 6th century BC. (BC people!!) The Romans took over in 123BC and their long reign left many marks on the city, including many of the sights we went to see: the theater, the arena, Alyscamps (necropolis), the Cryptoporticum and the thermal baths.
It was really interesting to see how the Romans warmed their thermal baths, using a hypocaust system of heating. They would build them upon these brick columns (seen in the picture) and then a fire was lit underneath which would in turn heat the water above.

And it's mind-boggling to me to think about how these structures have survived for so many centuries. Though it was interesting to see how many of them took on different uses during the years. For example at one point in the 5th century, a small city of about 200 houses was built inside the Arena, turning it essentially into a fortress. The houses stayed there until 1825 (!!), when they made the decision to make it a national monument. Another example was the theater, which housed some homes, a Jesuit school and later a convent, starting around the 8th century up until the early 1800's. Luckily for us, for the most part people built around these monuments instead of destroying them.

It was a great city to visit though, and I would definitely recommend it for anyone interested in the traces the Romans left on France. The city offers several special grouped entrance passes as well - I believe it cost 9€ (and maybe 7€ for students??) to visit all of the above things, plus we also had access to a museum or two. There's definitely enough to see to make it a good weekend trip. And September was the perfect time to go - for almost the entire week, we had pretty much every place we visited to ourselves. It all would've been much less enjoyable had we been crowded into everything with throngs of tourists.

Lastly, I have to give a special shout-out to B, who I promised I would mention here if he got me to the Toulouse train station on time for my train. He sped like crazy all the way from Montpellier and we even made it with a few minutes to spare, despite the holiday traffic. Go speedracer!


Monday, September 14, 2009

The other day, a fellow blogger wrote a post about a friendly RATP bus driver, and I remember thinking how nice it was to read that because I love taking the bus and definitely prefer it over the metro and the RER.

Well, last night, I finally got to experience it for myself. About 30 of us got on the bus at Montparnasse and the driver got on his microphone and started talking. I thought he was just going to remind people to punch their tickets, or maybe board at the front of the bus, but instead we got:

How's it going Parisians? Are y'all coming back from holiday?
*silence in the bus while everyone ignores the driver*
Oh, come on! I'm going to ask you all again and I want to hear a "Oui or a "Non". Are y'all coming back from holiday??
*a few people feebly shout "Oui" or "Non", while the rest look around and wonder what's going on*
Okay, well that's a bit better, but not by much - I see a few of you smiling now, but there's still a lot of scowls out there - there must be a lot of Parisians on this bus! Allez, one more time - Are y'all back from holiday?
*about 2/3 of the passengers starting laughing and answer back*

Alright, now at this next stop, I want you all to shout "Bonjour" to the people getting on the bus. I know it's 9pm on a Sunday night and y'all are probably tired, but a little bit of politeness never killed anyone.
*New people get on the bus and are visibly shocked when the people around them say bonjour*
Now that's the spirit. Did they say Bonjour back? If not, they're probably Parisian.

How many of you are tourists here? Have you been to Paris before? *launches into a short explanation of the Montparnasse tower and surrounding area*. Hold on a sec - madame - yes, you on the phone - can you hang up, I'm trying to talk here? Oh-là, now she's red as a tomato! That'll teach you not to talk on your phone on the bus again!

Alright, we're getting to our next stop. You all know the drill.
*Half the bus now shouts "Bonjour" to the new passengers. More and more people are smiling, and some are even starting to talk to one another.*

Okay, we've got a full crowd - you know what that means - it's time to squeeze together. Who knows, there could even be a love connection made this very night. The man or woman of your dreams could be next to you and you don't even know it yet. Wooo, folks, I think love is in the air in the back of the bus, I just saw a young couple back there exchange a smoldering glance!

Wait a minute, who's got their camera rolling there? Gimme that! I don't want to see my face on youtube or facebook! Can you believe this people? Rotten Parisians, always trying to get rich off of someone else's back!

Then it was my turn to get off, and as I walked away, he honked at me and I turned around and gave him a big thumbs up. I walked the rest of the way home with a smile on my face, thinking about how much I love this city and how unmerited the whole "mean Parisian" mantra is. The people here really are friendly and the efforts the city has made to encourage Parisians to welcome tourists are definitely starting to bear their fruits. I've been here for a year and a half now, and can honestly say the only bad experience I've had was at a restaurant in a mega-touristy area.

But really, this is such a good reminder of how it only takes one person's good (or bad) attitude to affect a large group of people. A smile and a little bit of humor really can go a long way. Now if only the French government could convince the fonctionnaires of this....


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Pont du Gard & Uzes


Friday, September 11, 2009

Would anyone out there like some peanut butter? I know it's quite rare for an expat, but I suddenly have an overabundance of it. I've got two huge jars of Jiffy (one creamy, one extra crunchy) and one small jar of creamy Jiffy up for the taking!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Let's see - my trip last week. Where to start? We saw so many different things that names of provencial towns are just rolling around in my head getting all jumbled together. Maybe I'll start with my favorite - Les Baux de Provence. Funnily enough, this was probably the least favorite of L & B, but only because we have different interests. I'm less interested in hearing about dates and facts and would rather imagine the people of the town - how they lived, what they wore, what they did with each room/building.

Les Baux de Provence is a beautiful little village situated high a top a rocky mountain in the Alpilles mountains. Like le Mont St Michel, it's a huge tourist destination that I have somehow never managed to hear of before visiting.

The surrounding mountains were beautiful, and reminded me of certain parts of the US:
According to Wikipedia, traces of human life have been found in Les Baux dating as far back as 6,000 BC. You can read more about the history of the village here.

After driving up through the winding hills, you finally come upon the village:
We wandered around for a while and then made our way up to the castle, which is now privately run by a company called Culturespaces. This company also runs a few other well-known sites, including Les Arènes de Nîmes, Le Théâtre d'Orange and, curiously enough, the Waterloo Battlefield. The entrance fee included an audio-guide for the site, but things weren't really very well-numbered, so it was a bit difficult to follow. A little tip - don't do as I did and wear a dress - it was very windy up there! Good shoes are also recommended as you'll need to do a lot of climbing on slippery slopes. Also, we arrived late afternoon and it was perfect timing - as you can see in the picture below, there was barely anyone left, meaning we didn't have to fight through throngs of people.
The climb up to the top was definitely worth it though, and provided amazing views of the surrounding countryside:On our way out, we caught the end of a spectacle showing how they used to fire the catapaults. It was pretty funny, if very obviously staged.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009


In addition to it being my six year Franciversary, that means it's also one full-year that I've been living in my shoebox. While I realize this kind of living situation isn't for everyone, it's served its purpose for me. I added up the figures yesterday and found out that by living here, I saved 5400€ on rent last year (or about 4000€, if you count the money I lost in the apartment scam). But that's still not a negligible sum!

I also went through my finances and found that I'm over half-way to having saved the amount I'll need to put a payment down on an apartment. It'll be about another year before I'll have the full amount, and I'm of course waiting on my citizenship answer before I make any real decisions, but it's still exciting to see that things are moving along, and that these sacrifices haven't been for rien.


Monday, September 7, 2009

I'll write more about my fantastic week down South with L & B later, but first I want to talk about the crazy weekend I just had. (Ahh!! I'm becoming Frenchified - I just wrote weekend as "week-end").

I've mentioned before that whenever I go down South, I usually meet up with a Scottish woman and her husband at least once during my trip. Well, last time I was there in May, she mentioned she was throwing a huge birthday bash in the beginning of September and that I should come. She was inviting about 150 people, and I was a bit nervous about going since I wouldn't know anyone besides her and her husband. But I decided to just put my fear aside and just go for it - it's good for me to get outside my comfort zone every once in a while. I knew there would be a good mix of anglophones and Frenchies, and I figured that once everyone started drinking, it wouldn't be that difficult to mingle. Plus it was for a good cause - every year my friend uses her birthday party as a way to raise money for breast cancer research. Normally she does a walkathon, but this year she just asked everyone to save their pennies in these little pink piggie banks. Aimee was nice enough to let me put mine at her teahouse.
It turns out I was right, and I spent the night talking with various people of all ages and all nationalites. The big surprise of the night though was that they'd decided to take advantage of the fact that so many of their family & friends would be there to use the occasion to get married! And they asked me to be the interpreter for the Anglophones. I can't even describe how touched I was that they'd asked me - I was so honored to be part of such a special day for them. So I stood up front there with the Mayor and interpreted his speech during the wedding. And then we all had a lovely meal and danced and sang until the cows came home.

Times like this are so bittersweet for me though - as much as I love feeling a part of something, I still can't help feeling bitter about Bretagne. Why was I unable to find this there? I can't help feeling like I failed in some way, but the most frustrating thing is that I'm still not sure why. I've never had trouble meeting people or making friends, and I tried joining clubs, sports activities, etc, but no matter what I did, I was always kept at an arm's length.

And yet outside of Bretagne, it's been totally opposite. During my travels, I've met so many great French people who've opened up to me right away and who've practically treated me like family from day 1. The proof being that I walked away from this weekend with invitations to go visit some really lovely people all over France. Plus the phone numbers of a few who live here in Paris. But I still can't stop wondering why I wasn't good enough for the Bretons?

I am happy though that I stuck it out long enough to have these kinds of experiences, to have given myself the time to know (and love) this other side of France and the French. And after so many years of rejection, it's been a relief to realize that it's not me, and that not all French people are automatically going to think I'm some kind of freak of nature. (They can figure that out later on their own, lol).

But I do need to figure out some way to make peace with this, because this feeling of failure eats away at me every time I think about it.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

How I spent my 6 year Franciversary

ie. Discovering more parts of France


Thursday, September 3, 2009

At a recent picnic I attended, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Lisa, a fellow American. I'm always interested in meeting new people and finding out what they do, so when we got to the "So, what do you do?" part, I was pleasantly surprised to discover she was a Reiki master. I'm not a 100% believer in it, but I find the idea of Reiki intriguing. And I'm always interested in learning more about alternative treatment methods, so I decided to book a session with her.

For those of you not familar with Reiki, click here for an explanation. Each practitioner has their own method, so each Reiki session will be a bit different, but they all follow the same principle, and I do think everyone should try it at least once. If nothing else, it's like getting a massage - something quiet and soothing you can do for yourself in times of stress or fatigue. A short window of time when you can just lay there and relax, and let someone else take care of you. In my experience, I've usually feel heat at the spots where the practitioner's hands are hovering, and then felt very relaxed at the end of the session (which was also the case with Lisa).

If anyone's interested in getting in touch with Lisa or learning more about Reiki, please check out her website: . She does sessions here in Paris, and she's got really great energy and a lot of interesting stuff to say.

I'm going to put a little plug in here for her year-round house-sitting service as well. So if you ever need someone to watch your pets and/or water your plants while you're gone, be sure to keep her in mind as well!