New friend, French wedding and football match

By   September 7, 2009

I met up with the lovely Cynthia on Friday and chatted with her for a few hours about being an American expat in Chambéry. It’s always nice to talk to someone who is going through the exact same thing and has the same thoughts about our old and new countries. Check out her blog for great photos and videos of this region and other parts of France. She’s been here for a little over a year and has already seen much more of the Alps than I have. I am trying to wander around Chambéry more and take pictures of everything since I’ve been planning on making a photo album of my new city for about 3 months now.

Hôtel de Ville in Chambéry

Then I went to my first French wedding on Saturday. Because separation of church and state actually exists here, the only legal marriage takes place at the town hall (mairie) and then a church or outside ceremony elsewhere can follow the actual wedding. We arrived a little late and there were a ton of people so we couldn’t actually get inside the mairie to see the ceremony. The couple did choose to do a church ceremony as well (officiated by a deacon though, not a priest) and luckily the church was right next door to the mairie so we didn’t have to go far.

There were no ushers to seat people – everyone simply found their own seat. The groom and his mother and then the bride and her father walked down the aisle, and everyone stood for both of them, not just for the bride. There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen or flowergirls, but there were two witnesses (témoins – there must be at least two) who didn’t walk down the aisle but sat in the front row. I couldn’t hear anything the deacon was saying because his microphone wasn’t working well and because most of the guests were chatting among themselves while a ton of kids were running up and down the aisle. I was surprised at how informal it all seemed to be compared to the many, many (too many) American weddings I’ve been to. And another interesting difference is that it’s perfectly fine for female guests to wear white. That’s still a big faux pas at American weddings, right?

The ceremony was so incredibly long. At least an hour. The bride and groom had chairs so they could sit for the entire thing. There was a girl singing, people reading poetry, grandma giving a speech, the vows, exchanging of the rings, etc. At one point the witnesses were brought up to the altar and then guests could go up there and take pictures. At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom stayed at the altar and all the guests went outside. There was no receiving line – everyone just stood around and waited for the couple to walk out so they could throw rice and blow bubbles and take a few pictures.

Félicitations Sébastian et Cindy !

After the church ceremony was the vin d’honneur, which I guess is like wine & cheese hour/cocktails/toast before the actual reception/dinner. Usually everyone is invited to the vin d’honneur and then only family & close friends are invited to the dinner. We had to leave right after the church ceremony and didn’t make it to the vin d’honneur (it’s a long story) but I am glad I was finally able to see a French wedding after 3 years of being here. Most of David’s friends who got married just chose to do the simple mairie wedding and only invited their family, or they just don’t get married since having kids without being married is not stigmatized in France. In fact, I think all of his friends who have kids got married after the kids were born and some of them did it just for the lower income tax.

Saturday night we watched the France vs. Romania football match/soccer game, which unfortunately ended in a tie and means that France’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup next year are slim. The World Cup isn’t until June/July 2010 but they are already starting the qualifying matches. I still don’t really understand why the entire world minus North America is crazy about soccer, but then again I don’t understand why North America hates it so much. It’s a million times more exciting than baseball or golf. It’s not as violent as hockey or (American) football. Is it because the scores are always really low? Do Americans prefer sports with high scores so it’s easier to gamble? Someone please clue me in as to why Americans hate soccer so much!

At least my cat is not American. He watched the entire game without falling asleep and then started whining when it was over. (Though that may have been due to his empty food bowl instead of France not winning…)

Allez les Bleus !!

David had to go back to work today, but I still have two more weeks before I start again. He was telling me at lunch that if he moved up to the next catégorie (B) at his job and became an Inspecteur, there would be a one year training period in Montpellier followed by a minimum of two years in Paris before he could be assigned to another city in France. The only way to get out of going to Paris is to request a position in the DOM-TOMs, but it’s not guaranteed. So yeah, I don’t really know how I feel about potentially living in Paris in a few years. Honestly, I’d choose the DOM-TOMs!

Language Learning Quotes

By   September 5, 2009

To get back into full language learning mode, here are some quotes from scholarly journals and books to keep in mind. Citations are on the bibliography page.

1) why textbooks will not teach you to speak a language….

“Textbooks often present forms that are not commonly used, and most non-natives acquiring a language in a classroom learn a style that is too formal.” – Walz

“Books often teach written forms twice and oral forms not at all for words frequently spoken and almost never written.” – Walz

“[Textbooks] tend to teach items simply because the items exist and not because of any usefulness or frequency.” – Walz

“Writers present as many forms as possible without considering whether students can learn them or native speakers use them.” – Walz

“Despite today’s widespread acceptance of teaching language for oral communication, current textbook grammar is still a reflection of classical grammatical rules based on formal, written language.” – Glisan & Drescher

“Formal instruction (i.e., grammar analysis and discrete-point grammar practice) can temporarily improve performance on discrete-point tests, but apparently has relatively little influence on spontaneous language use.” -Schulz

“Language learning – regardless of theoretical orientation – necessitates frequent recycling of lexical and grammatical structures in different contexts. While we pay lip service to to the cyclical nature of language learning, indicating at least an awareness that the frequency in which vocabulary and grammatical patterns are encountered in the input contributes to their eventual retention and use, a large percentage of the words and structures we expect in the students’ active command appear only once or twice in the textbook.” – Schulz

“Teaching vocabulary without incorporating the necessary recycling is wasted effort.” – Harwood

“The belief underlying the use of drills is that production of the correct form is acquisition. However, as we indicated above, this is not the universally accepted position of SLA theory and research, and flies in the face of all the evidence when it comes to the creation of an implicit system. Acquisition of a linguistic system is input-dependent, meaning that learners must be engaged in comprehension in order to construct that system. By consistently and constantly having to process linguistic data in the input, learners push the linguistic system along. Production is not comprehension and thus produced language is not input for the learner. That input must come from others.” – Wong & VanPatten

“There is no SLA theory or hypothesis that suggests that practicing a form leads to its acquisition.” – Wong & VanPatten

2) the importance of listening, cultural input and pronunciation in learning vocabulary…

“L2 learners cannot learn a language if they never hear it; the sounds, the words, the structures have to come from somewhere.” – Cook

“Many important elements of languages, especially those that are unspoken or implicit, do not really exist outside of the culture in which the languages are spoken… not only can culture and language be taught together, they probably should be.” – Bush as in Kramsch

“Too much time is spent teaching imaginary content about fictional people and places rather than real content that tells the students something about the real world and real people.” – Cook

“Authentic materials, particularly audio-visual ones, offer a much richer source of input for learners and have the potential to be exploited in different ways and on different levels to develop learners’ communicative competence.” – Gilmore

“To keep information in working memory from fading it must be constantly repeated.” – Cook (this is called the articulatory loop – the faster you repeat things, the more you can remember)

“If we cannot say the sounds quickly, our short-term memory span will be very restricted and consequently we will face severe difficulties with the processing of language and with storing the language in our long-term memory. The lack of emphasis on pronunciation in language teaching in recent years has hampered not only the students ability to pronounce words, but also their fundamental capacity to process and learn the language. Pronunciation should be taken more seriously, not just for its own sake, but as the basis for speaking and comprehending.” – Cook

3) to summarize the best way to learn new vocabulary…

Notes from Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition edited by Coady & Huckin

New vocabulary items need to be learned in a meaningful and authentic context with plenty of audio-visual reinforcement. They should not be learned in isolation or by rote memorization.  Repetition of words and phrases (out loud!) and linking this new vocabulary to existing knowledge is also essential.

“Rehearsal at regular intervals is much more effective than massive rehearsal at infrequent intervals.” – Hulstijn (i.e. study in short bursts!)

“Learning items together that are near synonyms, opposites, or free associates is much more difficult than learning unrelated items.” – Nation & Newton

The easiest words to learn are:
1. Concrete words that can be  visualized
2. Frequent words which are mostly functional
3. Cognates with the native language

The hardest words to learn are, of course, abstract words and as they are usually forgotten first, they should be the focus of the majority of time devoted to learning vocabulary.

Parc des Bauges : Le Petit Canada

By   September 1, 2009

We took a little drive up the mountains into the Parc des Bauges this afternoon. There are several different areas of the park, but we decided to go to Savoie Grand Revard – mostly because it’s pretty close to Chambéry and offers a great view of Lac du Bourget, but also because it’s called le petit Canada. Why is it called Little Canada? Well, the Parc des Bauges website says this: “Le plateau de Savoie Grand Revard, à l’altitude moyenne de 1400 m, contraste avec le reste du massif des Bauges par ses formes douces, aux ambiances canadiennes.”

First we stopped in La Féclaz because that’s where the Office du Tourisme is located. We got a ton of brochures for summer and winter activities as well as maps of all the hiking and skiing trails. I’m not so sure about the winter-time stuff since I hate the cold and abhor skiing, but I think I’d like to go to the adventure park D’un Arbre à l’Autre because they have zip lining from tree to tree (hence the name) and different types of rock-climbing and canyoning.

Then we continued north to Le Revard to stop at the belvédère where there is a vue exceptionelle of Aix-les-Bains & Lac du Bourget on one side and Mont Blanc on the other. It was a bit too cloudy to see everything, but I do have to agree that the view is exceptionelle.

And the many, many cows roaming around freely were very cute. Except when they were on the road. The fog rolled in while we were having coffee and tea at the restaurant and I was really regretting wearing only a t-shirt and shorts when we stepped outside. I don’t know if I will ever remember that mountains = colder temperatures before we set out on these trips…

We drove through more small villages and along Lac du Bourget on the way home. I loved being in the countryside where there are forests and lakes and more cows than people. I will gladly take the sound of cowbells over the sound of scooters any day. I can’t wait when we can move into a house far away from the noise of the city and where we can have our own terrain and not just a tiny terrasse or jardin.

La Rentrée is coming! La Rentrée is coming!

By   August 30, 2009

It’s the last weekend of summer here in France. Kids go back to school this Wednesday and I couldn’t be happier. Hopefully there will be fewer loud scooters on the street after midnight. And I can go shopping without being surrounded by a bazillion annoying, bratty kids. La rentrée means more than just back to school though – it also means back to work since so many French people take long vacations in July & August (none of this 2 week crap here!) so maybe, just maybe I will finally have my new carte de séjour before my récépissé expires. But I doubt it.

Luckily university starts later, so I still have 3 weeks of vacation before I go back to work. I’m wondering how the hysteria surrounding swine flu is going to affect classes though. Personally I don’t think it’s any worse or any more dangerous than other sicknesses you can get from the general public, but I’m going to be bringing in disinfectant to the computer labs everyday. I  hate thinking about how dirty keyboards are. They harbor more bacteria and germs than toilets because at least toilets get cleaned!

I am ready to go back to work and I’m almost ready for fall. I love the warmth and sunshine of summer, but it’s not as fun when you live in the city. And I feel like I’ve been so unproductive this summer. It was usually too hot for me to sit at the computer and work on my website so I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I wanted to. Plus I was gone a lot, traveling with friends and going to my sister’s wedding. But summer is for vacation, right? I’m hoping when the weather gets colder and I don’t want to go outside, I’ll get focused on my site again.

David still has this week off (and another 3 weeks to take off before the end of the year…) so we’re going to explore the Parc des Bauges and perhaps head over to Albertville to see the Olympic Hall and its medieval cité. I still need to take more pictures of Chambéry too, and go hiking in the Charmettes, where Jean-Jacques Rousseau spent his summers.

Happy rentrée to those going back to work tomorrow! Et bon courage !

Lac d’Aiguebelette en Savoie

By   August 28, 2009

We went to Lac d’Aiguebelette today, about 20 minutes west of Chambéry. It was a bit windy and too chilly for me to go swimming, so we just drove around the entire lake and took pictures of the beautiful countryside.  Next time we’ll rent a pédalo and actually go in the water.  We first attempted to get there by taking the scenic route, but turned around once we realized it would be 45 minutes of tiny mountain passes. The only other way to get there is to take the autoroute so you can go through the mountain instead of over it.

If you speak French, you may be wondering what a weasel (belette) has to do with this lake. Nothing, actually. The name means beautiful little water and it comes from the Occitan aiga (water) and French belle (beautiful) with the suffix -ette, meaning small or little. It’s also quite fun to say over and over again (like egg-buh-let).

There are two other big lakes in the pays savoyard, lac d’Annecy and lac du Bourget, but I prefer this one because of its pretty green color and the fact that its not overly-crowded like Annecy and there are plenty of beaches you can go to, unlike Bourget.  I also did not see or hear one motorboat on the lake, so it’s very calm and peaceful.

The DOM-TOMS (France outside of France)

By   August 25, 2009

I don’t remember how we got on the subject (I was probably going on and on about Quebec again), but David mentioned a few weeks ago that he can ask to be transferred to St. Pierre et Miquelon. These tiny islands south of Newfoundland are not even an overseas département, but a collectivité territoriale. They are the only remaining former North American colony of New France still under French control. And even though the islands are 16 miles from Newfoundland, the culture is still very French and not North American. The currency is the euro, electrical outlets and phone jacks are French, and most cars are Renaults or Peugeots. Even the milk is imported from France. Though there is one major American aspect. The houses are made of wood and painted in bright colors, with tambours attached to the front doors (I’m not sure what this is called in English) to  allow extra space to wipe snow off boots before entering the house.

The population is only just above 6,000, with 90% of the inhabitants living in St. Pierre and the rest in Miquelon. The original French settlers were Basque, Breton and Norman fishermen so today there is an annual Basque festival and the accent spoken is similar to Norman French. The weather can often be windy and rainy in the summer (highs in 60-70 F range) with a lot of fog and winters are snowy but not bitter cold. The more I learn about this place, the more intrigued I am. And I already checked to make sure they have high-speed internet (1723 households subscribe to DSL, which is a huge percentage of the overall population) since I could not live without internet. David & I were already planning on visiting Montréal and Québec next summer for vacation, so why not stop in St. Pierre too? Maybe we’ll decide it would be a nice adventure to move there, even for only a year or two.

And then I started thinking about the other DOM-TOMs (overseas departments and territories) and how we could live in such distant and unique places that belong to République Française, but are not in France. Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy are in the Caribbean; Guyane is in South America, La Réunion and Mayotte are in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar, Nouvelle-Calédonie, Polynésie Française, and Wallis et Futuna are in the Pacific Ocean. I’m not even sure which TOMs David could work in, since we originally thought he could only work in the DOMs (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane, and La Réunion).  With the exception of Guyane, all are islands and I have never lived on an island before. I think I would get a little restless not being able to go on long car trips and knowing that I had to take a plane to go anywhere else. So now I’m thinking I’d rather just visit all the DOM-TOMs, like Rosie Millard is doing, just to experience how far French culture and language extends around the world. Of course we’ve still got several régions in France métropole to visit, including Corsica. Someday I will see all of France. Someday!

Quoi dire, quoi faire

By   August 22, 2009

Mon petit canaillou est très, très poilu

Parce que ça fait deux mois que je n’ai pas posté de photo de lui et parce que je n’ai rien à dire car il n’y a rien qui se passe dans ma vie. Les vacances, c’est génial, mais c’est mieux quand on a de l’argent pour voyager… J’ai passé dix jours à regarder la télé en français, à étudier l’italien sur internet, et à me demander ce que je veux vraiment faire dans la vie. Je veux étudier des langues, bien sûr, mais quoi faire pour un travail ? Je n’en sais rien. Je pense vouloir toujours être professeur de l’université, mais prof d’anglais ? Là, je n’en suis pas sûre. Donc ça sert à quoi de faire un doctorat ? Par contre, si je ne le fais pas, est-ce que je regretterais ? Peut-être si je pourrais enseigner la linguistique et la didactique des langues, ça serait plus intéressant.

La canicule est finie, heureusement, et je peux enfin sortir. En plus, David est en vacances aussi pendant deux semaines – le pauvre, il lui reste que trois semaines avant le 10 janvier, et seulement neuf semaines chaque année après. On va profiter de ces deux semaines pour découvrir Chambéry et ses environs en Savoie. La Normandie, la Bretagne, l’Ecosse, la Croatie, (et bien plus loin) doivent attendre pour maintenant.

Canicule is not so cool

By   August 19, 2009

There’s been a heat wave in southern France and the Rhone Valley for a while, but luckily it’s not as severe as the heat wave of 2003. Savoie isn’t in vigilance orange like the nearby départements of Rhône, Drôme, Ardèche or Vaucluse but it has been hotter than usual here. I can’t even remember the last time the daytime temperature was below 32 C / 90 F. We should get a break this Friday with showers, but before then it could reach 38 C / 100 F like it has been in Lyon.

I’ve basically been living in the dark lately. We keep the shutters closed constantly, though I did open them this afternoon to set the drying rack on the balcony. I nearly burned my feet on the hot cement, but at least our clothes dried in no time. My poor car is parked on the road, in the sunshine, so there’s no way I’m getting into it. Good thing I don’t actually need to go anywhere.

I cannot for the life of me figure out why my furrier than a chinchilla cat prefers to sleep outside on the balcony in this heat rather than lie on the cool tile floor. How does he stand it?

Why do I live in France?

By   August 16, 2009

It’s no secret that I am often homesick for North American culture (and especially the food.) I could move back to the US and get a teaching job or apply to do my PhD in Canada, but I choose to stay in France. David is, of course, the major reason why, but there are are other reasons why I am happy to live here. I have been feeling rather good these past few days about living in France and what the future holds for us, even if I don’t know what I’ll be doing or where we’ll be living. So whenever I get upset about France or miss the US too much, I need to remind myself of all the things I do like about France.

Why I choose France over the US, besides mon amour:

1. Health care: I pay an extra 28 € a month in addition to what’s taken out of my paycheck for free prescriptions, free contacts, the majority (always more than 70%) of the payments made to doctors reimbursed back into my account as well as the peace of mind knowing that if I’m hospitalized for any reason, the bill won’t be outrageous and I won’t lose my job. And back in the country where I’m a citizen, worked for 8 years, and still pay taxes even though I no longer live there? I have absolutely no health care at all.

2. Long paid vacations: I work two 12 week semesters the entire year and still get paid for all 12 months. David gets 5 weeks of vacation + 4 weeks of personal days each year. If you move, or have surgery, or get married, or have a baby (men too), you’re entitled to extra days off.

3. Healthier way of life: In addition to the great health care and long vacations, the food is healthier and being active with sports or exercising is encouraged everywhere. It’s true that the French smoke and drink too much and eat a bit too much red meat, but they still live longer than Americans because they are healthier and are just as productive even with the long vacations. Health care + vacations = productive workers

4. Nation-wide smoking ban in public places: The stench of cigarette smoke makes me want to physically hurt smokers, so it’s a good thing they have to stay outside. Health takes priority over tradition.

5. Public transportation: If I don’t feel like driving to work, I can hop on a bus. If I don’t feel like driving to the airport, I can take a bus or a train. If I don’t feel like driving to the south to go on vacation, the train will get me there in about the same amount of time. It’s simply having the option to not drive that makes all the difference.

6. Shutters=sleep=health: Not only do they help regulate the temperature inside by preventing the heat or cold from pouring in, they also help protect your house against break-ins and, perhaps most importantly, allow you to sleep better at night by blocking out the light and noise. Getting more sleep is another reason why the French are healthier than Americans.

7. Different culture & history in each region: France is so small to me, and being able to go from Alpine mountain village to Provençal countryside within a 3 hour drive is very neat. Each region of France is so distinct, it feels like you are going to a different country – but everybody speaks the same language and you never have to drive more than 10 hours to get to the other side. There’s a ton of history, from 2,000 year old Roman ruins to the beaches of Normandy, that it would take years to see and experience it all.

8. Germany & Italy are right next door: And we have German and Italian language TV channels as well as a bunch of other state channels for eastern European and Asian countries. French, German and Italian have always been the 3 languages that I want to speak completely fluently so our location is perfect. The bookstores have large selections of foreign language materials too. I have more motivation and reason to study languages when the countries that speak them are so close.

9. Limits: France is not as excessive about certain things as the US. Air conditioning is set at a reasonable temperature instead of below zero so I feel comfortable and not frozen. The obsession with celebrities and “reality” TV is not as pervasive, nor or commercials or advertisements trying to get you to buy anything and everything. There aren’t as many guns as people. Religion and patriotism are more private matters and no one really cares how much money you make because there isn’t such a huge difference between the poor and the rich. The US is always about more, more, more whereas France is content to be just the way it is.

10. Bragging Rights: When I was back in the US, people whom I had just met or who didn’t know that I lived in France would automatically remark that I must be living “the dream” and that France must be wonderful. I didn’t really contradict them because I do prefer France to the US, after all; but I wouldn’t say it’s like a fairy tale to live here, as most Americans seem to think it is. I don’t know if people are jealous that I live in France or in Europe, or are jealous that I simply no longer live in the US, since apparently a lot of Americans would like to live somewhere else because of the recession. But I like being able to give my friends and family the opportunity to come to France, not only to visit me, but to discover another part of the world that they might have never known otherwise. And of course, by extension, I give them the bragging rights to say “my friend/daughter/sister/niece” lives in the French Alps.

Concentration, where did you go?

By   August 13, 2009

I’m having trouble concentrating these days. I don’t know if it’s because I’m no longer in college or because I moved to France and don’t work much, but I have grown so lazy. I promised myself that I would get back to reading and studying as much as I did before when I was an undergrad. I’ve got almost all my books here with me in France, and now I have a new desktop computer to work on. And since I have a ton of free time, there’s really no excuse now.

I suppose my biggest problem lately has been wasting time on ridiculous websites that just suck you in, and before you know it, hours have gone by and you’ve done absolutely nothing. So I installed the Leechblock add-on for Firefox to prevent me from looking at all those time wasters. I copied over the hundreds of gigabytes of language files that were on my external hard drive, and I will get them all organized so I can actually make use of them AND make a schedule to stick to for studying.

At least I have read three of the nerdy books that I got while in the US – Second Language Learning and Language Teaching by Cook, Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition: A Rationale for Pedagogy by Coady & Huckin, and Vocabulary in Language Teaching by Schmitt – and finished watching season one of Les bleus : premiers pas dans la police which is a great series for learning slang, though it’s actually better to watch it on TV (M6 or W9) since the DVDs don’t have subtitles and those channels do.

Next I’ll start Colloquial French Grammar by Ball. It looks really useful since it describes how people actually speak instead of how people should write, as 99% of language books tend to do. I suppose I’m going to start on it tonight since I’m still falling asleep around 5 AM…