Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, May 27, 2013

Just how excited are you?

C's English has been getting progressively better, so it's been a while since I've had a funny story to share from English Weekend.  And maybe it's the mood I was in, but I was busting a gut the other day after hearing him sigh and say from the other room "It really used to be a lot easier to get into my pants!"


But that reminds me of something else - when I moved to France, I was told to avoid using the verb "exciter" because it had sexual connotations.  However ten years later, I'm hearing it used on a pretty regular basis in the American sense, ie as I am excited to do XX or to see YY.  I've heard it used this way on the radio, on TV and at work, which makes me wonder if its usage is changing. Has anyone else noticed this?  I know languages continually evolve, and maybe this is just one more example of that?

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

What comes to your mind when you hear Romania?

When I learned that I would be going to Romania for five days in May, I figured that it would be very similar to Bulgaria.  After all, they are neighbors and are the number 1 & 2 poorest countries in the EU.  Those of you who remember my Bulgaria posts know what an effect the country has on me, often leaving me deeply sad for several days after returning to France, so I didn't have super high hopes for this trip. And I don't know about you guys, but the only thing I had ever heard about the country was the whole Dracula/Transylvania thing in the US and all of the "thieving gypsies come from Romania" line in France.

So given all of that, I was expecting to see a lot of this:
And this:
But I actually saw a lot more of this:
And this:
The Romanian girl in my masters program told me before the trip that Bucharest was known as "le petit Paris" and I thought "Yeah, right".  But actually, there were remnants of Paris-style buildings and Hausmannian architecture everywhere.  Some of it was a bit run down, like this building:
But mostly, the city was beautiful and lively, with lovely cafés and tons of restaurants.  We also ventured out into the countryside, and came across towns that could have been straight out of the South of France or Italy:
Combine that with the 29°C/85°F weather, and you've got one happy camper.  There were also some pretty neat castles - we visited Dracula's castle, as well as this one below - which was probably one of the "busiest" castles I have ever seen.  The inside had so much going on that you didn't know where to look and I almost had a headache upon leaving:
There was also the Romanian Parliament building, which is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon.  It was pretty crazy - it is 3.7 million square feet and on top of what we see above ground, there are also 8 floors underground, with only four that are in use.  Randomly, we also happened to run into the woman who designed the building during our tour, so we were able to chat with her for about ten minutes about her inspiration for it and how much upkeep it takes to maintain it.
I was surprised that a woman was chosen to build the building that was meant to represent the power of Romania, but one thing we heard over and over again during our trip was that Romanian women were extremely hard workers and they were very strong and independent.  The general message was that men were lazy and drank a lot, and that if you wanted something done right, ask a woman to do it.  So that was pretty cool to see so many empowered women.

We also met with French Embassy and the Chamber of Commerce, and learned all kinds of interesting statistics about the country.  Apparently there are roughly 20 million Romanians in the country and 4-5 million abroad. (The French ambassador joked that they were all in France).  Corruption is still very common, especially when it comes to taxes.  350€ is the average official salary, but mostly people get paid a lot more under the table, and the unofficial salary is suspected to be around 1000€ per month.  Which explains a bit more how people are able to pay what seemed like French prices in most grocery stores and shops.

This building seemed to be the perfect representation of the country - a mix of old and new all in one:
The food however left much to be desired...

The last thing I wanted to mention was the language - C wants to learn Romanian for a potential future project, so I paid particular attention to what it sounded like.  I couldn't really understand any of the spoken language, but the written stuff was often fairly easy to understand:
There was also a big Latin/Italian influence that you could really hear when certain people spoke. One of the most impressive things though was how well many of the aged 50 and up folks spoke French. Maybe with a slight accent - but still - I'm talking perfect, scholarly French, like you would expect from a French government official.  There were many-a-time where I was left with my mouth hanging open after listening to how well they spoke. 

So yeah - Romania: not at all what I was expecting!  I'd definitely recommend Bucharest for a weekend trip. The flights aren't that expensive, there are some reasonably-priced hotels, they have a good metro system & the drinks are cheap.  Just make sure you go in the summer when the weather is nice!

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I write a lot about Paris, but here's something for those out in the countryside.  I was reading the Metro newspaper on my way to Nantes this AM, and came across an article looking for 1000 volunteers to participate in a health study.  They are looking for people willing to wear a FitBit for six months to track their activity and weight (the goal is to see if bracelets like the FitBit actually help people lose weight, or if there's just a placebo effect early on.

Participants are needed in Lyon, Bordeaux, Lille & Montpellier, but unfortunately not Paris.  It's too bad, because I've always wanted to try out the FitBit!

If you are interested, you can sign up at  Happy exercising!


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

When in Rome....

I spent last week's long weekend in Romania for my master's program.  I had a great time, and I'll probably write more about it later, but I wanted to share quick some of the funnier moments that came with spending five days non-stop with a group of 30 Frenchies.

Every morning, we would meet up at a certain time to began the day's activities, and there were systematically one or two stragglers.  When they would finally make it out of the hotel and board the bus, everyone would start shouting "Wooooo!".  The first time it happened, I thought they were cheering because we could finally take off.  But as the week went on, I realized that their joyful Wooo! was actually the equivalent of our low-toned Boo.  It was pretty disconcerting - 1) because how could I not have realized this after ten years in France?  and 2) it was just so darn happy sounding.

One of the female administrators of our program had a thing for one of my fellow students, and it became blatantly obvious during this trip. But the thing is - this guy is newly married with young children.  So many debates were held about whether what she was doing was immoral or whether or not he was a grown man and it was his choice. I'd say about half the group thought he should keep it in his pants and the other half thought he was free to do as he pleased.
Probably one of the most common complaints I heard throughout the trip was about the lack of coffee after meals. It was pretty hilarious - most people took a sort of "I mean, really - how dare they not include coffee in the menu??" attitude.

After the trip, a bunch of us were on the RER heading back to Paris, and the main topic of discussion was whether or not the women had done "la bise" with the program director.  None of us had - we all stuck out our hand, but several felt he had been hoping to do the cheek kisses. No one had wanted to set a precedent though, because then we would all have to bise him at the university as well.

The director also started tu-ing us during this trip, so the discussion then turned to whether or not each of us had tu-ed him back.  A lot of the older ones said yes, because they tu people who tu them, whereas myself and some of the younger ones said no.  I just didn't feel comfortable saying tu to him yet since he is older than me and the program director and we're not really buddy-buddy yet, so I am still vous-ing him for now.

As people were saying goodbye and getting off at the various RER stops, there was a lot of confusion about who had already done la bise and who had not.  And it's true, when you're with 30 people, it can be hard to remember who you've already bised and who you haven't.  I had to laugh and point out to the group that things were a lot simpler in that respect in the US - there's no formal and informal you and no bise-ing.  Those who hadn't been to the US were like "Well, what do you do then?".  I replied that we either just say hello, or wave our hand or sometimes hug.  And once I explained what hugging was, a debate began on whether it was more personal than biseing...

Et voila - a few of the "only with French people" moments I had during our trip.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

À l'Aise Breizh

Because some of you (*ahem*) weren't happy with my criticism of Bretagne, I thought I'd do a quick promo post for them.  Le Jardin d'Acclimatation is holding a rather large Bretagne Expo through next Monday, May 20th.  There are concerts, folk tales, parades and a Breton village where you can taste oysters and kouign amann and other Made-in-Bretagne goods.  There are activities for children and Breton games to try.

The park is open daily from 10am to 7pm, and entry costs 3€ for adults and 1.50€ for kids.  You can find the full schedule (in French) here:

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Urban gardening

C really enjoys gardening, but being in Paris, our options are somewhat limited.  We've had a few plants here and there for the past two years, but this year he wanted to expand. Our balcony is very long and narrow, so I bought him this book for his birthday in order to help him optimize it:
He read through it all spring and in true C style, worked long and hard making a drawing of how he was going to lay out his garden.  We're now about two months in, and so far, everything is going swimmingly, so I thought I'd share here just how much it is possible to grow on your balcony in Paris.

First we have the flowers - tulips, irises (bloomed in Feb/March), Lily of the Valley, pansies and orange daisies (yet to come).
Next we have the herbs - parsley, basil, rosemary, mint and hopefully a bit of coriander:
And then the veggies: garlic, onions, potatoes, peas bell peppers, kale planted with seeds from The Kale Project and cherry tomatoes (yes, I do know that tomatoes aren't technically a vegetable).
Last but not least - the fruits: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, a dwarf cherry tree that is too young to bloom yet and ten (!) blueberry plants.  He's also trying to grow a grape vine from seeds - a few have sprouted, so we'll see!

Pots and window boxes can be quite expensive in France, so given the number of them we needed, we bought most of ours used either on Craig's List or LeBonCoin.  A few of them came with the necessary hanging baskets, but some didn't - and buying new ones was pretty pricey, so C decided to make his own with some fencing materials.  I immediately had thoughts of them falling off the balcony and on to pedestrians below, but so far, they seem pretty sturdy.  There has already been an increased number of birds swooping around though, so we've also purchased some netting in order to keep any greedy little buggers away once the fruits start growing. 

Because the book advised different soils for different plants, we've also been slowly accumulating different kinds over the winter.  A trip to the sea?  The perfect opportunity to scoop up some sand and rocks.  A walk in the forest?  Let's pick up some pine needles while we're at it.  A day in the countryside?  Let's dig up some dirt out of a field.  (We also purchased a bag of regular dirt at a gardening store).

I should mention too that we don't have full rows of plants - there is probably about an average of 4-5 planted per type.  So with the exception of the blueberries, we're not going to feed ourselves for a year or anything, but it's still fun to be able to pick something right out of the garden and cook with what we've grown.

I think I'll probably post a few pictures at the end of the summer with our harvest, to show how successful (or not) we have been.  In the meantime, if you meet C, be sure to ask him about his garden.  He goes to see it the minute he gets home and spends a lot of time out there making sure everything is going okay.  I swear, his "babies" are almost getting more attention than I am!

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

It's all in the name

C and I drove out to the suburbs today to do a big grocery run (read: buy cheaper booze).  I was walking around the wine aisle looking for some whites & rosés for summer picnics, and came across this bottle:
It might not jump out at you, but the "Produit en Bretagne" label was the first thing I noticed.  See, I am a big fan of Loire Valley wines - give me basically anything from this map below, and I am a happy girl:

I like the rosés from Anjou, the reds from the Saumur area (Chinon, Bourgueil, Champigny), the sparkling wines from Vouvray and the whites from Muscadets Sèvre et Maine.  They're all versatile, reasonably-priced wines that merit being more well-known.

I think that part of the problem for the Muscadets in particular is that most people think of it as a sweet wine.  I often serve Muscadet sur lie for dinner, and people are always surprised, expecting it to be sweet - but that would be more so the Coteaux de Layon, just a little further east.

Having lived in Bretagne for five years, I also know practically zero wine is made in Brittany because of the lack of sun. Those of you who read my old blog may remember some of the many photos I posted leaving Nantes and heading towards Brittany - as soon as you exited the city limits, you'd almost systematically see black clouds ahead of you and sunshine behind.  So the "Made in Brittany" sign left me a little perplexed.

I must have looked it too, because one of the employees came over and asked if he could help.  I pointed out the sticker, and he basically said "And your point is?".  I replied "Well this wine doesn't come from Brittany, so it can't have that sticker on it".  He proceeded to insist that it did come from Brittany, and thus began a five minute argument about whether or not Nantes was part of Bretagne.

He maintained that the bottle could have the sticker because it was historically part of Brittany (something I'm sure Lilian would agree with :) ).  I maintained that because Nantes has not been the capital of Brittany for several hundreds of years, it should not have that sticker.  He started rambling on about Anne de Bretagne and the duchy, etc and I was like "Look buddy, Rennes has had the parliament of Bretagne since the mid-1500''s time to let it go."

Granted, I may be a bit biased too after all of those years in Bretagne - Nantes is considered to be the pushy older sister to Rennes and a lot of folks are quite happy to have it be part of another region, but still.    I guess it just irritates me to see them so stuck in the past.  I mean, half of North Dakota and South Dakota belonged to Minnesota at some point, and you don't see people in those regions insisting they still live in Minnesota (and those folks would actually have a reason to say that - their states suck!). 

We would probably still be there arguing about it now if C hadn't pulled me away, using the frozen food as an excuse.  Needless to say, that particular bottle of wine did not end up in our cart...