Monthly Archives: May 2013

Big Changes

Leaving is not hard for me. I’ve done it six times already.  You’re a vagabond, you live in your suitcase, you pack up and go.  And you’ll always have too many books, more books than you can take with you, books you leave behind but try your hardest to get back.

Leaving people is terrible, however.  You want to take them with you but you can’t separate them from the place.  As you move and you leave them, they almost stay frozen in time, in that one reality where you met them.  2008 in Madame with the hyphenated last name’s French class.  I remember a girl called Georgia with a guitar.  I remember people from high school and mix them up with the people I knew from college.  I come back and they’re gone.  I grow up and move on.

But not always.  I draw together the threads of my life and make a multicolored quilt of my different experiences.  Each person holds a strand and is woven throughout my existence.  Like Hedi.  Meeting him and everything changed.  I can’t separate my idea of him from his identity in Amiens, but we are certainly going to try.

The big news, if you haven’t already guessed, is manifold.  More things have happened in the space of a few weeks than in the past year.

Hedi and I got engaged.  That’s to say, we are now finally announcing it to the world for all of you to share in our joy.  There are so many implications to that simple declaration, that simple promise, that of course my whole world is changing.  My work offered me these beautiful flowers to marquer le coup.

Lovely, aren't they

Lovely, aren’t they?

For many reasons, we also decided that it would be best if we begin our careers, make a real start, in the United States. Neither of us are French citizens.  Europe is having many economic problems, and France’s individual unemployment rate has risen for 24 straight months, whereas the United States’s has been steadily (but slowly) declining.  I’m a U.S. citizen, and Hedi could benefit from learning to speak English fluently.  It might not be for a long time, but it will certainly mean that my experience as an expat will be (temporarily) suspended.  That’s ok.  I’ll write another blog.  I’ll learn more languages.  We’ll have more adventures.  Returning to my home country will be an adventure in itself, because for the first time, I won’t be (primarily) a student.  I still want to take part-time MBA classes as I’m interested in economics and the corporate world.  But I’ll mostly be working, saving, living, and making a life for myself.

In Connecticut. That’s right.  In the space of two weeks, I discovered a wonderful company (see an earlier post about how small the world is), got offered a freelance job, applied for a full-time position, interviewed, and got offered the job.  It’ll use my language skills, my multicultural sensitivity, my experience abroad, and my experience teaching English as a second language.  And it begins on July 15, so I will be flying back to the United States in a short two and a half weeks.  Hardly enough time to say good-bye before leaving.

What will I bring with me? Two suitcases full of clothes that are my only possessions and a carful of books (once I arrive at my mother’s house, where I’ve been hoarding them).  Leaving behind a fiancé for seven months, as he plods through English grammar and patiently awaits the K-1 fiancé visa.  As I begin a new life in a new town in a new state with a new job, a new (used) car, in a new apartment.  To tell you the truth, I’m more terrified than when I hopped on a plane to move to France ten months ago.

Do I regret leaving France? Yes and no.  I’m one to seize an opportunity, to say “Let’s go,” and to begin anew.  I know this isn’t the end of my French/European/foreign adventure.  I’ll be helping others expatriate as a living! It can’t get any better than that!  And in the meantime, I’ll keep you updated.  I plan to travel to New York, to Boston, to Quebec and Montreal, to Washington D.C., and I’ll finally have the pay check that will allow me to realistically travel on a more frequent basis.  I’ll be within an hour’s distance of one of my best friends.  And within a few months, I’ll be getting married.  There’s a chance that you might even be invited to one of our three possible weddings.  So I expect you to stay in touch in the meantime.

Categories: Daily Life, Expats | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Let’s talk about the weather (and grammar)

It’s May 23, and we’ve been dealing with freezing rain, temperatures in the mid 40s, and nary a bit of sun… or when there is sun, you’d better snap a quick photo of it, since it’ll disappear fast.  It feels somewhat like a land of perpetual November, the Doldrums of the Phantom’s Tollbooth or the legendary Winter presaged by Winterfell.  Thinking back to the Snowpocalypse of March, I almost feel like we had things easy.  Never in my life have I experienced such wet, gray, and bone-chilling cold in late May!

The city is surprisingly still humming along nicely, as people dodge rain showers like they would bullets in a war zone.  The people I see coming into the center to work on English are mostly frazzled, or cold, as it’s certainly the end (or beginning) of exam season, depending on what type of program you are following.  In many ways, the bad weather is good news for the company.  More people are staying in the center listening to English dialogues rather than risk an accident driving home in the pouring rain.  Brian isn’t in the kitchen, he’s standing outside the center munching on his sandwich during lunch break, and he would be foolish not to bring his umbrella.

On a somewhat more random note, I’ve been discovering a lot of peculiarities about the English language – the more subtle differences between British and American English than just the accent and the vocabulary (we all discover what the boot, the lorry, the jumper, the car park, and the loo are after chatting a bit).  Here are a few examples:

 As past participles of get, the words ‘got’ and ‘gotten’ both date back to Middle English. In North American English, got and gotten are not identical in use. Gotten usually implies the process of obtaining something ( he has gotten two tickets for the show), while got implies the state of possession or ownership ( he hasn’t got any money).

There’s also the present subjunctive, which apparently the British no longer use but Americans (who have studied grammar in school) still do:

The main use of the English present subjunctive, called the mandative or jussive subjunctive,[1] occurs in that clauses (declarative content clauses; the word that can sometimes be omitted) expressing a circumstance which is desired, demanded, recommended, necessary, or similar. Such a clause may be dependent on verbs like insistsuggestdemand,prefer,[2] adjectives like necessarydesirable,[3] or nouns like recommendationnecessity;[4] it may be part of the expression in order that… (or some formal uses of so that…); it may also stand independently as the subject of a clause or as a predicative expression.

The form is called the present subjunctive because it resembles the present indicative in form, not because it need refer to the present time. In fact this form can equally well be used in sentences referring to past, future or hypothetical time (the time frame is normally expressed in the verb of the main clause).


  • I insist (that) he leave now.
  • We asked that it be done yesterday.
  • It might be desirable that you not publish the story.
  • I support the recommendation that they not be punished.
  • I braked in order that the car stay on the road.
  • That he appear in court is a necessary condition for his being granted bail.

Note that after some words both indicative and subjunctive are possible, with difference in meaning:

  • I insist that he is here (indicative, a forceful assertion of the fact that he is here)
  • I insist that he be here (subjunctive, a demand that the condition of his being here be fulfilled)

Notice that the subjunctive is not generally used after verbs such as hope and expect, or after verbs that use a different syntax, such as want (it is not usual to say *I want that he wash up; the typical syntax is I want him to wash up).

Another use of the present subjunctive is in clauses with the conjunction lest, which generally express a potential adverse event:

  • I am running faster lest she catch me (i.e. “in order that she not catch me”)
  • I was worried lest she catch me (i.e. “that she might catch me”)

And let’s not even go into the [correct] use of the past subjunctive… If I were you, I would avoid that tricky bit of grammar.

We can also blame the French for a lot of our pronunciation differences:

For many loanwords from French where AmE has final-syllable stress, BrE stresses an earlier syllable. Such words include:

  • BrE first-syllable stress: adultA2,B2balletA2batonberetbidetblasébrevetA2brochureB2buffetcaféA2canardB2chagrinchaletA2chauffeurA2,B2chiffonclichéB2coupé,croissantdebrisB2debutdécordetailA2détenteB2flambéfrappégarageB2gateaugourmetA2lamémontageA2parquetpastelpastillepâtéprécissachetsalon,soupçonvaccinematinéenégligéenonchalantnondescript; also some French names, including BernardB2CalaisDegasDijonDumasFrancoiseManetA2Maurice,MonetA2PaulineRenaultRenéB2RenoirRimbaudDelacroixB2.
  • BrE second-syllable stress: attachéconsommédécolletédéclasséDe BeauvoirDebussydémodédenouementdistinguéDubonnetescargotexposéfiancé(e)A2retroussé

A few French words have other stress differences:

  • AmE first-syllable, BrE last-syllable: addressA2 (postal), moustacheA2cigaretteA2limousineB2magazineB2,
  • AmE first-syllable, BrE second-syllable: liaisonA2macraméRenaissance (AmE also final-syllable stress)
  • AmE second-syllable, BrE last-syllable: New OrleansA2

My British and Irish co-workers run into this syllable difference when discussing certain key words, such as mobile (which Americans don’t really even use, preferring by far “cell phone”).

Words ending in unstressed -ile derived from Latin adjectives ending -ilis are mostly pronounced with a full vowel (/aɪl/) in BrE but a reduced vowel /ɪl/ or syllabic /l/ in AmE (e.g. fertile rhymes with fur tile in BrE but with furtle in AmE). This difference applies:

  • generally to agiledocilefacilefertilefissilefragilefutileinfertilemissilenubileoctilepuerilerutileservilestabilesteriletactiletensilevirilevolatile;
  • usually to ductilehostile(im)mobile (adjective), projectiletextileutileversatile;
  • not usually to deciledomicileinfantilejuvenilelabilemercantilepensilereptilesenile;
  • not to crocodileexilegentilepercentilereconcile; nor to compounds of monosyllables (e.g. turnstile from stile).

Related endings -ility-ilize-iliary are pronounced the same in AmE as BrE. The name Savile is pronounced with (/ɪl/) in both BrE and AmE. Mobile (sculpture), camomile and febrile are sometimes pronounced with /il/ in AmE and /aɪl/ in BrE. Imbecile has /aɪl/ or /iːl/ in BrE and often /ɪl/ in AmE.

If you asked me, the weather is getting pretty weird (how’s that for a second conditional with an elliptical structure!)

Categories: Daily Life, Seasons | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

It’s a small world (after all)


It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears…

You all remember that obnoxious Disney song? (And perhaps the 50’s-esque theme park ride in Disney World, for those of you having been blessed with such a childhood experience). Well, lately, I’ve been starting to feel like it’s more or less true. The more you travel, the more people you know around the world, the smaller the world seems to feel. I remember a Swiss friend telling me once about a common habit the Swiss (who love Australia almost as much as they love Canada) have: when meeting an Australian, they have a tendency to ask him or her, “Do you know my cousin? He’s been there for about a year or two now,” as if there were only a handful of Swiss to know in the whole country. Surprisingly enough, this sometimes works in real life, as in the case of my mother eating out in a restaurant in Chicago only to find that the waitress was a high school classmate of mine, who happened to be following my blog.

You see where I’m going with this? I imagined the blogosphere to be some sort of benevolent void into which I sent blog post after blog post, testing my writing chops and working out the kinks in my long dormant reflects (and penchant for writing).  I knew that my relatives, whose presence on Facebook very much eclipses my own, would probably follow what I was up to, as well as some of my two hundred or something Facebook friends, an assortment of school acquaintances and close friends.  But I never expected to connect with someone, in a non-virtual way.  But apparently, not only are there too few English-speaking or American expats in Amiens, there are even fewer who have a blog (with the exception of your wonderful blog, Fliss).  Which makes me rather Google friendly.

To date, I have connected with one American couple, both virtually and in person, and I recently received a call from an international company who had found my blog, only to connect with me via Linkedin.  And what they asked me to do (it’s a company secret!) has required me to utilize my very limited but surprising networking skills: contacting friends formerly living in Amiens, friends currently living in Amiens, and current and former employers both residing in and outside of Amiens.  All in order to connect with three other countries for (hopefully) a virtual job well done.

I’m still not sure whether or not I feel like globalization makes the world more distant – you can just as easily “meet” someone in a virtual setting and never actually spend time with them in real life – or more connected.  Smaller or more technologically in tune?  I’ll have another opportunity to test the waters on this whole “global” thing by beginning an online MBA class with a university down the street from where my mother resides and next door to where I went to high school – a small, private university that happens to have campuses on three continents.  I’m even thinking, if this online learning works out, of taking the plunge with Coursera, in order to pick up a few valuable skills (Java?) and round out my repertoire.  Heck, if Duolingo can work for me, why not some other virtual classroom?  At least the teachers and classmates (all a million of them) are (theoretically) real people…

Categories: Daily Life, Expats | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Visit

Welcoming the pilgrims

Welcoming the pilgrims

Remember that wedding I attended in August in the gorgeous Sand Hills of Nebraska? The (not so) newlyweds are finally on their honeymoon, backpacking across the Camino de Santiago de Compostela over a month-and-a-half period (crazy, I know).  But I was also lucky enough to have had the privilege of hosting my two friends over the past weekend.  They arrived last Friday, bringing with them beautiful spring sunshine and blooming flowers.  The entire day was absolutely gorgeous, and we made sure to take advantage of the Parc Saint Pierre in its full spring splendor.

When you have lived in several different places, be it a few cities or a few countries, one of the great rewards of life is to have a visitor from one of your “worlds” come and visit you at another.  I’ve had my Swiss sisters come to Omaha and see me in Amiens, and I’ve had multiple members of my family visit me in France and Switzerland.  This is the first time, however, that I’ve had close friends from the United States treat me to a visit, spending extra money and going out of their way to see me and my quaint little French town.  I felt like an eager kid showing off his preschool to his parents, everything from his playground friends to his favorite teacher, and I know that Hedi, long accustomed to living in Amiens, was able to view the city with the eyes of a tourist.  Wow, that Cathedral is gorgeous and look at all those old buildings!  Hedi was suddenly thrust into a world of English, and I kept speaking the wrong language to the wrong person.  Rarely have I had such an opportunity to constantly be speaking more than one language side by side, although I’ve already noticed a new stage in my bilingualism since working at a school where English is constantly spoken and returning home to speak and read in and listen constantly to French.

I had a bit of all my different worlds join forces together at My Goodness on Friday night: the old and the new, friends from College, from my Masters program, from my first study abroad experience, from my new job.  It was quite pleasant, especially to share stories about British English vs. American English, to talk about meeting one’s other half (and all the risks of the unknown), and to combine a bit of everything I have ever known.  We were American, English, Tunisian, and French, using a variety of languages and comparing the foreignness of our different experiences.

Time was spent in the Cathedral, walking around the city, visiting the beautiful floating gardens, playing Settlers of Catan, and cooking various delicious meals.  We went to the large souk-like market on Sunday and came back bearing halal roast chickens, more types of olives than my friends had ever seen in their entire lives, loaves of bread, and a variety of honey-saturated North African pastries.  We even got to Skype with a mutual friend to end a weekend of startling juxtaposition.  And off the pilgrims go, on their way through the Northwestern coast of Spain.  À la prochaine!


Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Expats, Seasons | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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