Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Friday, December 21, 2012

Don't mind if I do

Earlier this week, C & I received an invitation to celebrate Qatar's National Day. We got all gussied up (I'm telling you, I spent an hour doing my hair. A whole hour! Not that you could really tell...) and headed on over to the Pavillon Dauphine. Once we got there, I had a minor panic attack at the coat check because I had worn a fur shrug and I wasn't quite sure if semi-bare arms were allowed and I certainly didn't want to offend the Qatari ambassador.... But then I saw a few other women in short sleeves and felt reassured enough to head inside.

There was a long line of people waiting to shake the ambassador's hand, but we decided to skip that and go straight for the food. 
And man, was there a lot of food.  Each room had its own buffet, meaning there were tables and tables of food everywhere. All sorts of food. Hot food, cold food, appetizers, hummus, veggie platters.  It just went on and on.
There were even oyster platters!
And a chocolate fountain (that not a single French person went near):
Luckily for them, there were also numerous dessert tables:
There was also plenty to drink - fancy juices, Pommery Champagne and bottles of Red and White Mouton Cadet that were apparently 50€ a pop.
One corner also a henna stand, which I thought was very original:
Apparently there were also some well-known French politicians in attendance, including a few ministers.  And the American Ambassador walked in not too long after we did, flanked by 5 bodyguards.  I ended up standing near him later on, so I got up the courage to say hello and introduce myself. I almost felt bad for the poor guy, thinking about how much small talk he must engage in on a daily basis.  But I sure had a good time - and anyways, y'all know I never say no to fancy surroundings and free champagne!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Color me confused

You know, I've been here a long time now, and most of the time, I think I have the French figured out.  But every once in a while, someone or something will throw me for a loop...

For the past two months, I have been sitting next to the same French woman every time we have class. Often times we will eat lunch together too. I wouldn't go as far as to say we are friends (we are in France after all), but I did feel that I was starting to know her fairly well.

Until this past Saturday when she told me she had American citizenship. I was like "Hold the boat, what??" She replied with a very short "I was born in the US". I was completely flabbergasted and said "And you're just telling me that now, after all this time?". She simply did the French shrug and said "Yes", without giving me any additional information.

I swear, I will never understand French woman. 

It actually perturbed me for the rest of the day.  I mean, can you imagine spending that much time with someone and never bothering to mention you share their nationality?  It blows my mind.

I guess it just underlines one of the main differences between Anglo and French cultures....when we meet someone new, we tend to look for anyway possible to connect with them, whereas as the French just....don't. 

Also, at the end of class last Saturday, the majority of my classmates started pulling out bottles of wine or champagne, chocolates, cakes, etc and all of the sudden we had a little party going. I had to laugh about how it was just plainly obvious for them to all bring something to share the last class before Christmas - no need to send out a group email to see who would bring what.  Luckily I had stuck a box of Christmas peeps in my school bag, so I had some "American candy" to share with the brave few.

I guess it just goes to show that I still have a lot to learn about this country...

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Some of you may remember that C's family has their own vineyard in St Emilion. One of his great aunts lives in Paris and has a gigantic stock in her cave, so we usually buy a few cases from her each year.  We got an email from her a while ago saying that she was hosting a wine tasting for the newly-bottled 2011 vintages, and we were welcome to attend. 

I'd had a long day of classes Friday & Saturday, but we don't often see C's family, so I still wanted to go. Plus they live in an uber fancy apartment in the 16th, and I love going there to picture what our life would have been like had C's parents not shunned their family's money.  I'm telling you guys, this apartment is nice - at least 120m2, lovely parquet floors, crown molding and antique furniture and art everywhere you look. I wouldn't necessarily want to live there, but I do like looking at it, and it definitely oozes old money.

There was some kind of incident on the line 6 that night, so I ended up going there straight from class, figuring that my semi-work attire would be appropriate enough for a family wine tasting. 

Boy, was I wrong.

We showed up, and first of all, we were the only people under 50. The women were all perfectly coiffed and wearing LBDs and pearl necklaces. The men were wearing blazers and ascots. All of this left me and C (who was wearing a nice button-down RL chemise and a sweater) looking like kids at the adult table on Thanksgiving.

When we came in, the aunt introduced us to everyone as the young newlyweds, and we were greeted with a few nods, but then everyone immediately went back to their conversations. We sort of stood there a bit until someone finally brought us a glass of the newly released wine.  We tried it and thought it tasted alright, though everyone around us kept murmuring about how it was too closed yet and need to age a few more years. 

We are definitely not wine experts.

We tried a few of the different 2009 and 2010 variations, and finally a Belgian couple came over to talk to us.  There were about ten minutes of awkward conversation - I mean, really, what could we have in common with a couple in their 50's living in the 16th?  They had three kids and the wife was a stay-at-home mom. The dad traveled a lot for work, so I tried engaging him about that for a bit, but it didn't really go anywhere, and they eventually made their way towards the door. 

And so did we after a few more glasses of wine and some fancy snacky foods. To top it off, as we walked out, the concierge peeked through her curtains and gave us a suspicious look, and I thought "Really? We are wearing respectable clothing and we both look completely harmless.  Was that really necessary lady?"

You know what, maybe we're not missing out on that much after all....

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Gobble gobble

Within the span of a few days, I purchased plane tickets to the US, Turkey, Bulgaria, Thailand, Romania and Nantes (don't even bring up my current credit card bill).  It was one of those times when I sat there and thought "How on Earth did this end up being my life?"  Not in a bad way by any means, but there are times when I remember my roots in small-town MN and I marvel at how I ended up where I am today.  I always thought I would live abroad, but from the the age of 10 onward, I assumed I would grow up to marry a Finnish man and live in Finland. France was never anywhere in the picture. So I can't help thing about all the forks in the road over the years, and how they have (randomly?) lead me to Paris.

I particularly felt that way last week in Turkey.  I have wanted to go to Turkey for some time now, but C was a bit off-put by the idea after trips to Egypt and Tunisia (the man can't stand crowds of people pulling at him). Given all the attention my blonde hair attracts, I have to admit that I was a big worried about going to Turkey on my own, especially as it involved a rather-complicated itinerary including a ferry and several rides with drivers provided by a potential customer. **

I unfortunately didn't get to see much there, besides gigantic apartment buildings being built everywhere. And I mean everywhere.  No matter where we went, they were popping up like flies left and right. I think it says a lot about the Turkish economy right now, especially since a lot of them were really fancy-looking (miles better than all of those awful towers going up along the Seine). 
Based on what I'd heard from friends, I was expecting the Turks to be a bit more friendly than they were, but there was certainly no outright hostility like there sometimes is in France.  And the food also wasn't as great as I was expecting, but maybe my customer didn't take me to the right places. I also got stared at everywhere I went, but I never felt uncomfortable and not a single person harassed me, so I'm pretty sure C and I would be left fairly tranquil were we to visit.  I was also surprised by how modernly the women dressed - it might not be the same in Eastern Turkey, but at least in all of the places we went in the west, I didn't see a single woman wearing head scarf or a burka.  I tried asking my customer and the interpreter some questions about the history of the country, and they didn't really know that much, or at least didn't want to share.  Overall, it was a very intriguing place, and I would love to go back someday and explore more of the country. 

My boat ride across to my client did provide for a little bit of scenery:
 Though I had to laugh when I woke up from my nap and saw this:
For a minute, I felt like I was in one of those movies where the heroine realizes she is the only one in the world not frozen in time. 

**This actually ended up being a really funny experience, because I spent most of my time there being driven around by these random men who would just show up in the lobby and say "Ksam" and then I would follow them no questions into their car and hope they were taking me to the right place. None of them spoke English, and it crossed my mind on several occasions that this could make for the start of another funny movie...

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Giving back during the holiday season

Every Christmas, I try to find someway to volunteer and give back.  I am so blessed on a daily basis, and it is important for me to take time to 1) acknowledge that and 2) helps others who haven't been as lucky as I have. For a myriad of reasons, C & I will be staying in France this year for Christmas, and I wanted to continue on with the tradition here.

As a side note, France, why do you gotta make it so hard?? I used to do a lot of volunteering in the US, but France's darn red tape has made it almost impossible for me here. Pretty much every place you contact wants you to commit to the same day(s) every single month, and with my travel schedule, it just isn't possible.

It was pure luck then today that I came across an ad for Les Petits Frères des Pauvres, an association that helps out low-income folks over 50 who are lonely and/or ill. They have a center not too far from our place, so we decided to sign up to help out with their Christmas holiday dinner.  They are still looking for other volunteers, so I wanted to post their contact info here.  (FYI, another option is bringing gifts to people who are not physically able to make it to the dinner, from 2-6pm on Dec 24th). 

If you are around over the holidays and interested in helping out, you can call them at 01 45 48 34 46 Monday and Wednesdays from 2:30-6pm or Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30-12:30 for more information.