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

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

The Week to End All Weeks

Here I am on Monday morning, thinking about my killer of a week, on my blog when I really should be studying, writing my thesis or preparing for an interview.  That’s right, this week, not only do I have five hours’ worth of exams, eight hours’ worth of Masters classes, and eight hours’ worth of teaching English, I also have a job interview and a presentation of my Masters thesis – that’s to say, it’s current state and how I am going about things in my research and revision.

This week is the crucible: it will indicate to me whether or not I might have employment for next year, whether or not I’ll pass the second semester (the first time around at least, as make-up exams are also scheduled for June), and whether or not I’m very far behind on my Masters thesis (likely answer, yes).  Despite a profound lack of motivation, I have only to get through this week to have the better part of my first year studies under my belt.  As with every long and arduous trek, we shall be rewarded with a wonderful two-week Spring break (not to be confused with our one-week February break, our two-week Christmas break, our two-week October break, or the four public holidays in May).  I’ll finally have time to get back into running, to produce two eight-page papers, one in English and one in French, and to churn out the rest of my fifty-page thesis before the end of June.

With the horizon in sight, it’s so hard to focus, focus, focus.  Yesterday we had a gorgeous blue sky and a sun that could almost melt butter.  Today it is back to those cold doldrums of April that are neither winter nor spring, but an ugly gray in-between.  I might as well get this ordeal over with…


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

My one-year blogging anniversary!

It’s officially been a year since I first started this blog.  Thinking back on my last year, my fifty or so blog posts, my comments by and interactions with people in the blogosphere… I’ve finally found a way to make a project last a year!  I’ve learned that, while I’ve always loved to write, blogging is a way for me to engage in a subject and to make it my own.  I know that, regardless of whether or not I continue to live abroad longterm, my blogging will continue to develop, and – I hope – improve in quality.  Thank you to all of you who have been reading and following Expatlove.  Nothing is more delightful than to hear one of my friends or relatives (or even perfect strangers) telling me, “I love your blog!”


It’s appropriate that my blog’s birthday falls so near my own birthday – I’ll be turning 23 on Friday!  I’m planning to have a small, intimate gathering of friends over to my apartment tonight, to eat crispy and delicious doigts de Fatma (I’ll be preparing them myself) and a moelleux au chocolat cake purchased from the boulangerie.  We’ll be playing my favorite game of all time – Settlers of Catan (Les Colons de Catane), albeit in a slightly more modern version (the roads are in 3D!) and with everything in French.

It’s amazing how quickly time slinks by!  As I reflect upon the past few years of my life, last year in particular, I have come to realize that what you do with your time – and I haven’t been able to afford doing much – isn’t nearly as important as who you spend time with.  This time last year I was with my fabulous, fabulous group of college friends, in Nebraska, having a wonderful joint birthday party with another close friend (HAPPY BIRTHDAY tomorrow, by the way!).  Today I am in the North of France with other amazing individuals who have brightened my past few months (no matter how dreary), enlivened my past few weeks (no matter how dull), and truly made me feel at home here.  And for a foreigner, let me tell you, that is no easy task.  Home is where the heart is, as we all well know, but when your heart is spread out over three continents and a handful of countries, “homesickness” loses its meaning.  And who knows where exactly I’ll be a year from now… but I hope that it will be surrounded by loved ones, with a nice fat chocolate cake.

All my best,


Categories: Daily Life, Expats, Seasons | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Tempest: Snow Days in Picardie


That is what Amiens looked like and the surrounding Picardie region for a couple of days.  It started to snow Monday, but the buses were still functioning normally.  School was in session, shops were open.  Come Monday night, it started to snow without stopping, snowing into Tuesday morning with great gusts of wind that rattled my windows.  The snowpocalypse had hit.  Normally on Tuesdays (see my earlier post A+ Tuesday) I have six hours of classes – it’s my longest day of school plus I have a two-hour meeting with les Tombés de la Charrette.  I have class from 9 am to 5 pm and am unable to return home and relax until 8 pm at night.  So I found myself at 7 am, on Facebook, chatting with my fellow Masters students about the situation.  Many students, and professors, live outside of Amiens, as it is the only Masters program within proximity of Beauvais, Saint Quentin, and within reach of the major axes of Lille and Paris for those professors who teach at more than one institution.  The situation was epic: roads closed, buses no longer running, trains canceled, people stranded.  I was in my pajamas and not about to attempt the thirty minute walk uphill to find out whether or not my university was closed.  Luckily, a friend of mine ventured over to confirm for all of us waiting passively on our computers that the Campus was closed – not enough personnel had shown up and the scolarité, the administrative office that informs us of canceled classes, was locked.  We got the news an hour and a half later – the entire university system in the region of Picardie was closed for Tuesday and Wednesday, as were all the elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.  We were faced with our first official snow days of the year.

You might have expected that I’d joyfully run down my five flights of stairs to make snow angels and snow forts, but despite the lack of vehicle circulation, there was still a lot of foot traffic. People were skiing down major throughways.  The snow had been cleared on sidewalks and roads, and the remaining piles of snow transformed into that ugly gray mess which resembles wads of chewed paper.  And as the day progressed and temperatures dropped, black ice began to cover the sidewalks and streets, turning walking into a very risky business.  I preferred to survey the scene from my balcony up above.  In the meantime, I’ve been watching TV, reading, and finally making progress on my Harry Potter thesis.  I just got an email this morning that my two hours of class on Friday have also been canceled, although the university will officially reopen this afternoon.  I have yet to determine whether I will still be teaching English tonight and tomorrow evening – the buses and trains might not yet be fully functioning.

I have survived the March tempest thus far and am looking forward to day light savings to finally come into effect here in Picardie – nothing like an extra hour of (hypothetical) sunshine to warm up though soul, à la chicken noodle soup.

View from the Tour Perret

View from the Tour Perret

Categories: Amiens, France, Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Crêpe-making Holiday? When in France

As most of the world is aware, France has a very healthy relationship with food, with its complex network of traditions and cultural practices tied up with special meals and desserts.  Each month has a corresponding holiday around food:  in January, it’s la galette des rois for Epiphany, in February you have both la Chandeleur and le Saint-Valentin, and this continues all the way into December, with the bûche de Noël among numerous other holiday traditions such as vin chauddes marrons, and the famous foie gras and canard or lapin for the New Year’s Eve Réveillon.

Yesterday while the United States was busy deciding whether or not the official groundhog had seen his shadow, France was busy celebrating la Chandeleur, a complex holiday that is tied to both the Catholic holiday of Candelmas, which celebrates the presentation of Jesus to the Temple as well as the purification of the Virgin Mary forty days after giving birth (a custom women still practice in Islam), as well as the Roman holiday of light, festa candelorum, which is the origin of the French name, from the French word for long tapered candles, des chandelles.  It also has its roots in Northern and Western European holidays celebrating the lengethening of the days.  Today the holiday is mostly remembered as a time to get together with friends and make crêpes, one of France’s most popular food exports.  It’s a seasonal, religious, and cultural/food-related holiday all in one. Summer, light, and crêpes!


Surprisingly enough, there is more in common between the very secular American Groundhog’s Day and la Chandeleur in France than simply sharing the same date:

“In France, Candlemas is celebrated with crêpes, which must be eaten only after eight p.m. If the cook can flip a crêpe while holding a coin in the other hand, the family is assured of prosperity throughout the coming year. The French though have a completely reversed view of the weather prospects. They say: “Quand la Chandeleur est claire, l’hiver est par derriere; Chandeleur couverte quarante jours de perte,” a rhyme that means, more or less: “If February 2nd is clear, no more winter to fear; if the Chandeleur is overcast, forty days winter to last.” But then again they also say: “Soleil de la Chandeleur, annonce hiver et malheur” which is “A sunny Candlemas will bring winter and misfortune”. Other traditions include “Si point ne veut de blé charbonneux mange des crêpes à la Chandeleur” which is “if you do not at all wish the wheat to blacken eat crêpes at Candlemas”, and “Celui qui la rapporte chez lui allumée. Pour sûr ne mourra pas dans l’année” which is “whoever arrives home (from church) with it (the candle) lit for sure will not die that year”.” Wikipedia

Luckily for us, the weather in Amiens was absolutely dismal.  It was dark, the sky a slate gray that makes me think more a muddy puddle than a Van Gogh-esque Starry Night, and it was spewing at various intervals cold snow-rain that melted upon touching the ground.  I’m sure hoping that our winter will be a short one, for I’m longing for the mild temperatures of spring and summer in Northern France, and the rare sun sightings in the past few months leave one longing for the gentle kiss of sunshine against your forehead.  I’m looking forward to relaxing in le Parc Saint-Pierre and having picnics and soccer matches and pétanque tournaments to pass the time.

I have been fortunate enough to share many French traditions with friends here in France, many of which I hadn’t celebrated the first time I lived in Amiens two years ago.  The benefit of knowing the locals is the possibility to share in their traditions.  This year, I had two delicious Kings’ cakes for Epiphany, another religiously-based holiday that is also celebrated in New Orleans in the United States and elsewhere in the world.  Unlike the very sweet and colorful New Orleans style Kings’ Cake, the French galette des rois is made of almond-paste frangipane and pastry, with a little fève (originally, a broad bean) figurine buried beneath layers of cake and which many collect.  Tradition has it that the youngest person has to crawl under the table and “decide” who gets what piece of cake as it is sliced in equal portions for family members or friends.  As I was the youngest among my group of friends, I stuck my head under the table.  Whoever has the slice of cake concealing the fève, which in New Orleans is a little figure of a naked baby (originally representing the baby Jesus), is crowned “king” or “queen” for the day, wears a paper crown, and, most importantly, escapes dishes duty for the rest of the day.  I also got to sample a homemade galette des rois with the four French girls I teach, although unfortunately the fève was hidden in one of the remaining slices.

“The cake traditionnally celebrating Epiphany in France and Quebec is sold in most bakeries during the month of January. Two versions exist: in northern France and Quebec the cake called galette des rois (which can be either circular or rectangular) consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of frangipane. In southern France – Occitania, Roussillon, Provence,Catalan where it´s called tortell – the cake called gâteau des rois or royaume, is a torus-shaped brioche with candied fruits and sugar, similar in its shape and colours to a crown. This later version is also common to Spain and very similar to New-Orleans king cake.

Tradition holds that the cake is “to draw the kings” to the Epiphany. A figurine, la fève, which can represent anything from a car to a cartoon character, is hidden in the cake and the person who finds the trinket in their slice becomes king for the day and will have to offer the next cake. Originally, la fève was literally a broad bean (fève), but it was replaced in 1870 by a variety of figurines out of porcelain or—more recently—plastic. These figurines have become popular collectibles and can often be bought separately. Individual bakeries may offer a specialized line of fèves depicting diverse themes from great works of art to classic movie stars and popular cartoon characters. The cakes are usually sold in special bags, some of which can be used to heat the cake in a microwave without ruining the crispness of the cake. A paper crown is included with the cake to crown the “king” who finds the fève in their piece of cake. To ensure a random distribution of the cake shares, it is traditional for the youngest person to place themselves under the table and name the recipient of the share which is indicated by the person in charge of the service.

Formerly, one divided the cake in as many shares as guests, plus one. The latter, called “the share of God,” “share of the Virgin Mary,” or “share of the poor” was intended for the first poor person to arrive at the home.” Wikipedia

I recently also had the opportunity to attend the birthday party of one of my closest French friends here in Amiens.  The small and intimate gathering was delightful, from the many delicious cold samplings of “finger food”, from delicate quail eggs to bread slices slathered with various spreads, a “savory” caky bread, and little chocolate muffins at the end of the meal.  We played a game that was perhaps as literary and nerdy as our group, which is called À la manière de (In the manner of), which takes a line from the work of a famous French author and stops mid-sentence, allowing those playing along to “propose” a sentence “in the manner of” the famous author. The goal is to sound convincingly enough like the author that when the person whose turn it is reads all the different sentences anonymously, including the “real” sentence the author wrote, everyone will be convinced that your invented sentence is the literary text.

For those of you who read French, here is a sampling of the “sentence endings” I wrote down, with a few “real” sentences that I read aloud at my turn.  Let’s see if you can guess the French author who inspired them :)

  • “…ma femme se rende compte que je veux coucher avec un homme.
  • … je vous tue.
  • … une affaire compliquée et pénible,
  • … tu me saoules.
  • … on a dû tomber du ciel,
  • …quelconque.
  • …périmé
  • … j’ai tout ce que j’ai désiré.”

My own Chandeleur party was incredible, as I get to spend it at a close friend’s house with all the other members of my locavore group.  We spent at least four hours playing a board game called “Zombicide”, which is a hilarious cooperative game in which you try to “shoot the zombies” and race against the zombie invasion while following one of ten different scenarios.



Oh, and the crêpes.  In the 24 hours that we spent together, I probably ate more crêpes than I have in an entire year. Curry-flavored crêpes with leeks and onions and goat cheese and tome de cidre cheese and sweet crêpes flavored with orange blossoms and stuffed with Nutella and Jonagold apples or spread with homemade jam.


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

New Year’s Resolutions

My trip to the States has come to an end, and I finally feel like I can look towards the New Year with some purpose and a bit of apprehension.  My thirteen days with family and friends were incredible—nothing beats being able to hug your mom, telling your dad that you love him and plotting with your best friends.  Nothing except being able to kiss the man you love as he waits patiently for you at the train station.

I’ve come up with three New Year’s resolutions that I wanted to share with you (and a few more that are restricted to my journal entries—no need to lay all my dirty laundry out to dry):

1) In 2013 I will be better about communicating: Granted, I’ve been pretty darn good in 2012 about staying in touch with those I love.  It was a lot easier, as I spent eight months of the year in the United States, four and a half of which I was in an American university where my closest friends were a five-minute walk away and the rest the five-minute span of a text message and response.  The long distance communication—to France and Switzerland—took no effort at all, as I worked night hours, enjoyed almost daily Skype conversations to Amiens, and had established an infrequent but consistent email/Skype relationship over the past four years with my Swiss family.

I told myself, when I moved indefinitely to France, that I would make a huge effort to keep up with those I love back home.  As all those who have lived abroad can attest, you discover very quickly who thinks you are worth making the effort to stay in touch and who prefers to hear about your adventures once a year or two over a cup of coffee, but couldn’t care less the rest of the time.  That’s partly why I started this blog—it’s easier to live vicariously through me without investing extra time and effort.  But I wanted to do more than share about my life; I need a personal communication with the individuals who have touched my life over the years.  I started with letters once a week.  I’ve gotten four responses so far, partly due to my own slacking off on the letter writing.  Nothing is more personal or more appreciated than a hand-written letter, but it certainly requires time and a little bit of money.  Equally personally, although slightly more complicated to arrange, is the Skype date.  I’ve had a handful of these with my close friends and weekly Skype calls with my immediate family.  There’s also the phone call from my international phone line, which for 20€ a month allows me unlimited conversation with the United States.  The connection is often less than incredible, and it’s hard to time the spontaneous phone calls with a 7-hour time difference and varying schedules.  Then there’s the personal email, which allows for a lot of narration and less dialogue.  This is definitely where I failed in communicating with friends.  Slightly less personal but incredibly useful is the mass email, similar to a blog entry but much less colorful.  And last, the incredibly impersonal but necessary social media, that’s to say, Facebook.  I’ve become an expert at jumping on all my close contacts who happen to connect to Facebook chat or gchat (you are now forewarned).

I don’t look at Blog writing as a means of communication with close family and friends.  Sure, I’m thrilled that many of my friends and relatives enjoy reading my posts and, somewhat uncannily, know all the details I’ve published of my last four months, but I see a blog as a way of reaching out to those who have shared a similar experience abroad or can relate to my desire to live, travel, work or study in an unfamiliar environment.  I’ve always loved to write, and I view Expatlove as a way of expressing myself, both my frustrations and my triumphs (though there have been less of that so far!).  It’s part of making this big global world a little bit more like home, through reaching out to other global citizens and travelers.

Short-term goal: I will consistently send emails to at least twenty individuals who are important to me, at least one email a month.  Four months is really not acceptable.

2) In 2013 I will start running again: A little known secret about me… I am actually quite athletic.  Part of my apathy this past year has resulted from the easiest of excuses: I’m not running because I can’t afford to go to the gym, because it’s too cold outside or wet, because I live on the fifth floor with no elevator, because I walk almost everywhere, because I don’t have enough time.  Basically, I’m just lazy.  From what I can tell, there will never be enough time in my life unless I make time to go run, or find some forsaken public tennis court (where are all the public tennis courts in France!?), or get a job and join a gym, or rent a bike.

Short-term goal: Run once a week (really pathetic, as I used to train for half-marathons, but you have to start somewhere).

3) In 2013 I will find a job: Well, this will happen at some point in 2013 because I won’t have a choice… somewhere down the line (and perhaps very soon), I will run out of money and resort to moving where I can work at least minimum wage.  Hopefully I’ll find a job in France, but I really have no idea how to go about doing this.  Working at a language school, a restaurant, teaching English in the black, anything.  The degree I’m currently working on won’t throw anything my way until September 2013, assuming I pass both the first year Master’s and the CAPES/CAFEP (for teaching in private schools).  Which would be awesome, but in the meantime, I’m not holding my breath… Let me know if you have any ideas!

Short-term goal: Make more than 12€ a week…

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!


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Home for the Holidays

Well, I did it.  I made it home.  I suppose I can say that the curse has been lifted, because after three times in a row of missing my connecting flight and having to spend the night in a hotel, I finally made it home the day of my TransAtlantic flight. The night of Christmas Eve, to be exact.

That’s not to say that my trip was without incident.  When I travel, something bizarre is always bound to happen.

Christmas ’11

To give you a better idea of my 24-hours of travel, here’s a brief portion of my travel log:

“It’s been a long day. First, I had difficulties falling asleep last night and had to wake up at 5:00 am on less than five hours of sleep. Hedi and I rushed to the train station in order not to miss my 5:35 am train to Lille, but it turned out that there wasn’t any train heading to Lille.  Apparently there had been a planned grève ponctuel and no trains were coming or going to Lille on December 24.  Very sweaty and starting to panick, we ended up at l’Escale of the Amiens train station where the most organized, efficient Frenchwoman I’ve ever met instructed us to take a train to Paris Nord (us being myself and a Lebanese girl also trying to get to the Belgian airport), from where we were supposed to catch a TGV to Brussels. Unfortunately, once we got to Paris, the men at l’Accueil had no idea what we were talking about, despite the fact that the woman had called ahead and given our names.  Luckily, every time we explained our situation to the conductor and ticket inspector, they let us pass without an issue.  (Perhaps it’s good and bad to travel on Christmas Eve!) We ended up sitting in the wagon-bar, where I ordered an espresso and a pain au chocolat. All good so far.

Upon arriving at the gare Bruxelles-Midi, we asked how to find the train to take us to the airport and buy a ticket.  Once at the airport, I said good-bye to the Arab girl and went to the United check in, which took forever, as usual. The security was really intense: even before reaching the counter, they scanned my passport and asked all sorts of questions. Much worse than the grilling I had previously experienced in Lille when trying to board the Eurostar for London. At the check-in counter it was very straightforward. Baggage, passport, boarding passes, instructions, gates.  Unfortunately, I had to pass through border control, and I definitely chose the wrong line. The woman checking the passports took her sweet time, holding everyone up for who knows what reason. Either super serious about border control or bitter about working on Christmas Eve. The Lebanese girl was in front of me, ironically, and I heard her arguing with the woman in French (I wonder whether she realized that I wasn’t French, as we spoke French to each other the whole time – she tutoyéd me, and nous avons fait la bise before parting).  When it came my turn, the Belgian woman point-blank asked me for my residency card.  Which, I might remind you, I don’t need to have my first year in France, since I have both the visa de long séjour and the vignette OFII.  I pointed this out to the woman, but she mentioned some nonsense about how I couldn’t travel in and out of Belgium without a residency permit or something like that (her English wasn’t making much sense to me at this point).  Oh well, I just hope that I can get back into Europe through Belgium on my way back in.

After Border control, I had to go through Security, which was a pretty intensely long line.  Luckily I had plenty of time and found my gate.  On my Transatlantic flight, I sat next to a Belgian woman who only spoke French, which made things sometimes difficult for her when asked what she wanted to eat, drink, etc.  I asked for a halal meal, so it’s hard to compare the quality of the food with what the rest of the plane ate.  I really enjoyed the main dish, some sort of beef in biryani rice.  I was so tired that I slept a good deal on the TGV as well as on my two flights.  I also took advantage of the touch screen on the international flight.  Ha, I played maybe 2 hours worth of “in-flight trivia.” I dominated the Geopolitics category.  How many of you can name the only country to have a square flag? (Hint: it’s Nepal).  I also took advantage of the movie selection, finally watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and then an indie writer-themed love story called Ruby Sparks.

Like all other passengers, I had to fill out the customs declaration form.  No to animal products, time spent on a farm, valuable merchandise, or more than $10,000 in cash on my person.  At the Washington international Dulles airport, we had to pass through immigration and then take off our luggage (thank goodness it took less time than in NYC, I’m never traveling through JFK again if I can help it!).  Then we had to re-check our luggage, deliver our customs form, and repass through Security.  They are now starting to do a random sampling of “chemicals present on your hands” in addition to the full body scan, metal detector, and screening of luggage.  My plane to Saint Louis was tiny.  I’m happy to say that I slept for most of the flight.  Unfortunately with my contacts on.”

It’s great to be back.  Back with the two dogs and cat, my three brothers, my parents.  Spending some quality time, eating, running, watching our cult family musical/play/movie, Les Misérables.  Eating Creole shrimp gumbo.  Exchanging gifts and IOUs.  Drinking a lot of coffee.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Categories: Belgium, Seasons, United States | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

La fin du monde

Ok, so I admit it, I apparently had the date wrong for the End of the World.  It just appeared so much more logical to me that it would fall on 12/12/12, but today is, according to the same individuals who got all excited about Y2K, the end of the Mayan calendar and thus, obviously, the end of the world.  So far the signs haven’t quite materialised, but I do live in Picardie and am thus used to random spurts of rain every thirty minutes.

Bref, what I actually wanted to write about was celebrating Christmas here in France in a strange combo European/commercial way (since I don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday).  But I thought la fin du monde would be a catchier title ;)

Here in Amiens, as elsewhere in Europe, little chalets are set up at the end of November for what is known as Le Marché de Noël, a monthlong Christmas market.  So far, I have only visited Paris’s and Amiens’s respective Christmas markets – Paris has white chalets and Amiens red.

IMG_0676In Amiens the vendor stands run along the entire length of the main throughway that was designed to serve pedestrians only – La rue trois cailloux.  You can find holiday fare such as Alsatian choucroute, tartiflettes, vin chaud (mulled wine), chichis (churros), gaufres (Belgian waffles), crêpes, and a variety of other specialities, including Vietnamese nem.  I personally spent some time at the French-Canadian stands, where I bought the best maple syrup I’ve ever tasted and an assortment of cranberry infused items (all at outrageously expensive prices, which, if it weren’t for the encouragement of the Québecoise woman and my nostalgia for all things cranberry, I would have refused).  I haven’t done much shopping myself, due to my incredibly restrictive budget, but I ogled many a display of leather bags, perfumed soaps, French cheeses, and wood carvings.  I’ll probably benefit more from the Marché de Noël next year, when I have a real job (fingers crossed), but I still have two days to do my Christmas shopping.

At one end of the street you come to a large Ferris wheel erected specifically for the Marché de Noël, and at the other end, you find a miniature roller coaster and a darling carousel, probably the same one that sat in front of my apartment until the end of August.



I’ve got to admit, I’ve been programmed to love the end of the year that accompanies the changing of seasons and the coming together of family members.  The way Hedi recounts it, this time of year in Tunisia is more characteristic of the end of the summer, when all the expats come home to the pied-à-terre where their grandmothers or aunts and uncles live, basking in the heat and the relaxed way of living that is even more détendu than the French.  For me, it was so important to come home this holiday season as I begin living abroad for an extended and indeterminate amount of time.  I wasn’t sure when next I’d see my three brothers and parents, and I hoped to take advantage of a short trip to the U.S. to touch base with a few of my friends.  Nothing helps more in creating enduring friendships than meeting face to face every now and then.

I have been blessed by the generosity of my family, which will allow me to head home on December 24.  I have to pass through Brussels and then multiple airports, but it will be worth arriving the evening of Christmas Eve in order to share some of that togetherness that is so sacred at this time of year.

Here in Amiens, I have been so fortunate as to build a little family, a community of friends and colleagues, that have helped me readjust to living abroad, through times of homesickness and all the difficulties of grad school in France.  I am hoping and praying that I will have succeeded in passing my first semester, but whatever comes, I am grateful to have spent a beautiful, full four months thus far in Amiens.


Amiens in its Christmas best

Besides working on my various papers, I’ve been organising with my friend Anna another atelier de cuisine for my locavore group, Les Tombés d’la Charrette.  This entailed visiting the Saturday farmers’ market for the past few Saturdays and doing our best to come up with a palatable recipe for winter root vegetables.  We ended up with galettes au panais (parsnip pancakes), which, although sometimes difficult to make, turned out great, complimented by my dégustation of various underused vegetables – including purple carots, turnips, celeriac (also known as celery root), and a rutabaga – roasted in the oven and tossed with olive oil and herbes de provence.  Yum!

Last Saturday, to celebrate the last weekend where my group of six friends would all be together, we had an evening for making German and American Christmas cookies.  It was slightly chaotic, as we attempted to make six different varieties of cookies along with a black sticky gingerbread (see 101 cookbooks for the recipe), but we managed to successfully finish mere minutes before being kicked out of the Residence hall kitchen (which technically closes at 11 pm).

Work in progress

Finished product

Finished product

Merry Christmas to all those celebrating! I’ll see you on the other side of the ocean to update you on my travel adventures…

Categories: Amiens, France, Seasons | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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