Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Last week, I drove by this sign, which was just in front of my client's place of business:I also passed a few others during the week.

That's right, it's Tour de France time of year again. I don't really follow the Tour at all, but I do think it's neat that it usually goes by several of my customers every year.
According to the map, this year it will be going by clients in Les Herbiers, Noirmoutier, Lorient, Mur de Bretagne and Le Mans in the North and then my customers near Pau and the Spanish boarder in the South. It's always a useful tidbit of info that will serve as small talk with my customers, who are usually very proud of where they live and even more proud that the Tour chose their town to pass through. Plus it's kind of fun to watch the news at night and see the recaps of them riding through places that I know so well.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I believe the birthday curse may have been broken this year!

Ever since I moved to France, my birthdays have either been forgotten or had some kind of b-day drama. Last year my blackberry died, so I lost all of my contacts & couldn't get in touch with anyone, plus we had a flat tire and had to spend most of the day in a repair shop getting it fixed. And the year before that, a few people got into a kerfluffle early on in the night, which ended up making things awkward for everyone and the party died out before it had even started. And then of course when I was in Bretagne, Fab usually remembered my birthday, but "forgot" to get me a present. And even after seven years together, the MIL still refused to put my name on the family birthday calendar, so no one else ever remembered either, and it usually ended up being just another day.

Compare that to this year, where I got birthday emails and cards straightaway from C's mom, sister and brother. I asked C if he'd told them it was my birthday, and he said "No, I think they all just made a point to write it down last year". It was actually really touching. Not to mention that C himself made a big fuss of it being my birthday weekend. I came home from my work trip Friday night to a nice dinner and a bed covered in rose petals. Saturday, we had a nice leisurely breakfast with blueberry pancakes and then C did the large majority of cleaning for my b-day party Sunday. He also manned the BBQ outside in the heat, while the rest of us stayed (relatively) cool inside.

And we ended the night at the perfect place - at a pop-up bar down the street with an absolutely lovely view of Paris and the Eiffel Tower.
I couldn't have asked for a better birthday, and it was all thanks to C, who was willing to go the extra mile to make sure it all turned out well. Hopefully I'll be able to say the same in a few months for our wedding!


Friday, June 24, 2011

Another really interesting thing about my new customer's location is the history. They are right smack dab in the middle of the Somme, which some of you might recognize from the famous "Battle of the Somme" in 1916. This battle was one of the mostly costly for the British Army, especially July 1, 1916, which remains the bloodiest day of battle for the British to this day, with over 57,000 casualties and almost 20,000 of those being deaths.

Reminders of those losses are still visible to this day, in the forms of cemetaries for all those who lost their lives in battle. The large majority of them are for the British forces, and are bright white, like this one for the Indian soldiers, that was just across from my hotel:There are also a few French ones, though they usually have less pomp and circumstance:And then there are the German ones, which are dark and austere, with a slightly menacing feel:All these reminders of war and sadness can be a bit depressing, so luckily there are some other, more uplifting things to see in the area. Like the château that is in the town where I normally stay (though it has now been turned into a military museum):Or the fact that on the way to my customer, I drive by a sign pointing to towns named "Brie" and "Ham" straight ahead. Like I joked on Facebook, the only one missing was "Bread"!Or these funny scarecrows:There would usually be one per gigantic field, which made me wonder how effective they really were, but they still make me smile. They're like the last-man standing in a world of bells and whistles and modern technology.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

95% of my customers are found in the "Grand Ouest", meaning the western half of France (Brittany, the Loire Valley, the Southwest). I have a few outliers though, including a new one in Picardy. Even though C is from the North, he's not a huge fan of it, so besides a few trips to his parents house, I don't really know the region at all. Thanks to this new customer though, I am getting to know the area a little better.

And one of the first things I always notice about a new area is the type of houses. France is a relatively small country, at least when compared to the US, and it always surprises me how much the home designs vary across the country. In Picardie, there are a lot of red brick homes:Compare that to a stone house in Brittany:
Or to the "tuile" covered roofs in the Loire Valley:
And those are only three different areas.

The next thing I usually notice is the food. And from what I can tell, these people seem to love their friteries. You'll find little caravans like this everywhere:
They usually offer various types of hot sandwiches, all stuffed with fries. I haven't quite dared to eat in one yet kitchens often equal questionable hygiene in my experience!


Sunday, June 19, 2011

C was one of ten people chosen to welcome the foreign military delegations at this year's Salon de Bourget. It's a big honor, but also a big time commitment. Meaning he has to be at the Charles de Gaulle airport 24/7 for ten days straight. Unfortunately those ten days also fall between two of my work trips, so our plans to see each other and attend his brother's wedding reception in Normandy this weekend fell to the wayside.

This, however, did not sit well with his brother and his new bride. Which is how I found myself heading to the reception alone, via a complicated system of RERs and trains. It was being held in such a small town that the nearest train station was 30min away, and someone had to be sent to pick me up.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous. This would be the first time I would ever be alone with C's family, and as I am still a little bit more than traumatized by the family events and get-togethers in Bretagne, the butterflies were having a heyday in my stomach. Old habits die hard I guess. Luckily for me, time and time again C's family turns out to be way more open-minded than Fab's family & friends ever were, and I ended up having a lovely time. (Even though it made me realize that I am not a details-person and that we still have a lot of work left to do).

There were however a few funny moments. The bride is Chinese and her parents had made the trip over to France. They don't speak a word of French and not more than a few words of English, so communication was difficult. But I had to laugh when C's mom asked me how you said "copine" in English and I said "girlfriend". She said "No, no, that's not it. It's "love" something or other. Yes, there we go, "Love friend". And then she said in English "Zees ez zee love freend of C". Good thing they didn't speak English very well, or they'd probably end up thinking I was his mistress!!

Later on, after dinner was served, C's mom and other brother turned to me and started talking about the DSK affair. C absolutely hates when they talk politics at the dinner table, but since he wasn't there to stop them, off they went into an 30min interrogation about why the Americans are insisting he is guilty when everyone knows he is innocent. Some of their comments to me:

"It has to be a plot by the Americans. They are just jealous of DSK's popularity worldwide and didn't want him to become president of France." Um yeah...Except 99% of Americans didn't even know who he was before the whole affair.

"Why are the Americans all smack-talking him for being rich? You love rich people!" I watch a lot of American TV now that we have the slingbox and I've never once heard anyone criticize him for having money. French TV on the other hand is another matter -people have been all over him here for his wealth. So nice try.

"It has to be the cleaning lady just wanting to sue". I've thought a lot about this, and I think I disagree. Before getting nationality, I was always nervous about renewing my cds every year and I did everything I could to stay under the radar, as I think a lot of foreigners in unstable situations do. Here was this poor woman, just trying to make a life for herself in a new country. But what do you guys think?

After my foreigner-defense came the biggie. C's mom practically shouted at me "Okay Samantha, explain to me how you can force someone to give you a fellation". Time froze for a second as my brain caught up to the fact that my future MIL had just said the word "blowjob" to me. And then she said it again. And again. Louder and louder each time, until everyone around us was staring.

"And seriously. How could it start on the bed and then move to the bathroom? Why didn't she escape? How can you sequestrate someone in a hotel room? So Samantha, tell me how you can force someone to do it! She has teeth, non? Why wouldn't she just have bit him during the FELLATION??" (again with that word)

Nothing I was saying was good enough for her, so I finally just semi-shouted "How the heck would I know, I wasn't there!" And then luckily a few of my tablemates chipped in and agreed with me, and quickly changed the topic. C's mom is great, but man, sometimes she just has no filter....

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

C & I attended the Yelp Open Party last week and since it was such a nice night (and many-a-calorie were consumed), we decided to walk back from Bastille to St Michel again.

You might remember my post a few weeks back about the Apple ad. Well, it seems the gigantic Ipad2 has been removed, and the sides have been replaced with a more appropriate covering:
The middle section is still blank however, so I'm not sure if they're just in the middle of recovering it, or if they're planning on putting another ad up in its place...


Sunday, June 12, 2011

CAP Mariage, part 3

Who knew this would turn into a three-part series?

The last part of the meeting talked about what we could actually do to personalize the civil ceremony and make it our own. According to one of animateurs, about half of French weddings take place only at the Mairie, ie they don't do a church wedding afterwards. And since the City Hall wedding is normally a wham, bam, thank you Mam kind of occasion, they encourage those who are only getting married at the Mairie to take the time to make it special.

So here is a list of things you can do to make the ceremony your own. I was actually pretty surprised about all the different options available - I never would have thought we'd have so much choice in the matter:

-You can have them play music when entering the salle des mariages
-You can ask the Mayor to say certain things during his welcome speech
-You can ask to decorate the room
-You can have the witness, a friend or a family member read a text (FYI: 140 = ~1 min)
-Both partners can say vows if they so choose
-You can have someone sing or play a song
-You can exchange rings (this is highly encouraged by CAP Mariage for its symbolism)
-You can have the witnesses, family members or friends make a speech
-You can have music played while you're exiting the salle des mariages

If you'd like to do any of these things, it is strongly advised to make an appointment with either the Mayor or whoever is going to be marrying you to talk about what time is available and how much your city hall lets couples personalize things.

And what's next for us? After the initial meeting, we can also do a follow-up meeting with one or more of the volunteer couples. I think we'll probably do it, especially since C couldn't make the first one. And as a side note, they are also available to help you decide which of the French marriage contracts you should choose (this is mandatory when filling out your wedding dossier). It is a fairly important choice because the type of marriage contract cannot be changed within the first two years of marriage, plus changing it is quite costly as it requires the help of a notaire.


Friday, June 10, 2011

CAP Mariage, part 2

So the first part of the meeting went over the actual legal articles that would be read during the ceremony. They have to be read by law, and I think the majority of people probably just listen to the Mayor drone on without ever really thinking about what they are actually committing themselves to do. For examples, Article 212 of the civil code:

Spouses owe to each other (by law): respect, fidelity, help and assistance.

As a group, we defined what each of those meant and then each couple had to put them in order of priority for themselves. And it's true, each of those words has several meanings. Respect can be respect for one another, respect for the couple (by making time for each other, not working too much, etc), respect for the common goals you have.

Interestingly enough, some of the ideas that came up for fidelity were not only sexual fidelity but also emotional fidelity. Not telling more to a co-worker than you tell to your spouse for example. And again, fidelity to the couple, meaning prioritizing the relationship by not working til 10pm every night, not going out with friends all the time, etc. And later on, fidelity to the family unit, meaning doing your best to provide for your family, being an active parent, spending time with your children, and so on.

Help and assistance both seemed very similar to me, but help was explained as aiding the person in times of need, for example during periods of unemployment or rough times at work. Whereas assistance was considered to be more of a moral support.

And then we did the same exercise for the rest of the articles of law that will be read during the ceremony. I actually think it was a good idea, because now those articles will actually have some sort of meaning for us.

After that, the two couples spoke about their own experiences and the struggles they've encountered during the almost 40 years of marriage they'd had. One of the women was particularly feisty and kept saying things like "les gosses peuvent foutre le bordel au mariage" (basically, kids can f*ck up a marriage) and that the four main topics that cause problems are "le fric, les mômes, la belle-famille et les vacances" (money, kids, in-laws and vacations). It was pretty funny to hear this little old bourgeois lady talking in slang - and I especially had to laugh at the last bit. Only in France would vacation be a source of disputes!

They also talked a lot about what happens when the honeymoon period is over and what comes after - which is apparently something called "la période de désenchantement" by French psychologists, and has you feeling depressed about the realization that you are now stuck with this imperfect person for the rest of your life. Not the way I would've put it, but it did lead to some interesting discussion about how you can't change your spouse, you can only change how you react to them.

Which is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, for example when it comes to C's driving. The man has so many other great qualities that outweigh this tiny negative one, and those are what I need to focus on when we're driving two miles an hour down the freeway. It's still a work in progress for me, but like they said, it's all part of accepting your partner for who he is, not who you want him to be. C doesn't get all annoyed with me when I have my cranky pants on (or at least he's really good at hiding it), and I would like to be able to do the same for him.

Whew, this is getting long....and is probably boring for a lot of you who don't give a damn about weddings, so I'll continue the rest in another post. Hopefully this information will be useful to someone out there though.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

CAP Mariage, part 1

When we went in to the city hall to choose our wedding date, they gave us a folder full of useful wedding information, including a little postcard for an association called "Cap Mariage". The card said that once a month, the city hall and this association held a free information session to help newly-engaged couples understand the laws relating to marriage, to help them personalize their civil ceremony and to help them plan for their new life together. One of the sessions was last night, so I decided to go check it out.

Let me just say, it was NOT what I was expecting.

I was thinking it would be more-so like an informational fair, with booths set up in a big room. Instead, it ended up being like a small, intimate, pre-marital counseling session. My eyes just about bugged out when I entered the room - which was the room where we'll be married btw - and I saw all of the fancy armchairs had been arranged in small circle, and that there were four other couples sitting there, waiting for C & I to show up. Except C wasn't going to show up because he was working late and I hadn't realized it was a formal affair.

Everyone was looking at me, so I quick made up a little white lie about him getting held up at work and hopefully he would join the group later. (or not)

The group was being led by two older couples - one who had been married for 37 years and the other for 40 years. I was a bit worried at first that it was a religious thing, but then they explained a little bit more about the association, saying that it was a non-political secular association started in 1998 by a notaire in Bordeaux.

This notaire had been working on a lot of long, complicated divorces and was feeling rather depressed by the whole thing. She wondered by so many marriages were ending in divorce and what could be done about it? So she started the first CAP mariage, with the goal being to encourage couples to think what marriage really means to them, and to help them think about what kind of marriage they would like to have and how they are going to go about making it happen.

So it's kind of like a "light" version of the pre-marital counseling that is often required in the US for couples wanting a church wedding. And it's actually a very timely topic for us because it's been something we've been talking about doing. We are both 100% dedicated to making our marriage a long and fulfilling one, and have spent a lot of time talking about how we can make that happen.

Because of what happened with Fab, I've come to realize that a relationship takes work. You need to nurture it and make time for it, and not take your partner as a given. I'll go more tomorrow into what the actual meeting was like, but one of the main topics was the importance of having common goals as a couple. So it's almost funny when I look back and Fab & I and see that we wanted such very different things, in all aspects of life. We had different work goals (country vs. city), different home life goals (wife does the cooking/cleaning/child-rearing vs. shared responsibilities), different spare-time goals (drinking w/friends vs traveling). It was almost doomed from the beginning and meant one of us was bound to be unhappy (me) - but my romantic idea of love conquering all meant we avoided ever talking about these topics.

So the session brought up some interesting points, and tomorrow I'll share a few of them, as well as talk about the different ways the civil ceremony can be personalized to match your style. Link