Windstorm in the Southwest of France

By   January 24, 2009

I don’t often associate severe or extreme weather with France, because they just don’t get the same types of storms that we have in the US. And that means I feel a little safer whenever I hear thunder or see the snow start to fall. It can’t possibly be as bad as tornadoes and blizzards that we get in Michigan, I always assume… but then I remember the windstorm of 1999 that killed over 100 people in France, Switzerland, and Germany. Wind was definitely something I never worried much about.

This weekend, the southwest of France is under “vigilance rouge” due to a windstorm. More than a million homes are without electricity, a new wind speed record has been set (184 kph or 114 mph), roads are blocked, and at least one person has died so far.  The storm is supposed to continue through tomorrow as well.

I hope everybody stays safe and the wind dies down soon!

Multilingual is always better than monolingual

By   January 23, 2009

From the New York Times:

Nashville Won’t Make English Official Language

Published: January 22, 200

Nashville voters on Thursday rejected a proposal to make English the city’s official language and largely to prevent government workers from communicating in other languages.

The proposal was introduced by Eric Crafton, a metropolitan councilman. It was opposed by a broad coalition including the mayor, civil rights groups, business leaders, ministers and the heads of nine institutions of higher education.

“The results of this special election reaffirm Nashville’s identity as a welcoming and friendly city,” Mayor Karl Dean said in a statement.

Mr. Crafton had said the policy would encourage immigrants to learn English and save the city more than $100,000 in translation and related costs. The policy allowed exceptions to its English-only rule for issues of health and safety.

Critics said the proposal would tarnish Nashville’s reputation as a cultural mixing pot and drive away immigrants and international businesses. They also accused Mr. Crafton of worsening anti-immigrant sentiment and wasting at least $350,000 of taxpayer’s money on a special election.

[ Full Article ]

I can see the reasoning behind wanting immigrants to learn English, but forcing it upon them is not the answer.  Immigrants in France must learn French because it is the official language, but France has always had an assimilation policy. The US has no official language because we prefer the “melting pot” idea. Keep your culture, keep your religion, keep your language! Learning English will obviously help with everyday life in America, but it is not what makes you American.

Thoughts and Ramblings

By   January 18, 2009

I’ve only worked one day in the past thirty, and it has given me a lot of time to think, contemplate, and get bored and frustrated. My first semester as a lectrice d’anglais ended just fine, and then Christmas came and went along with my homesickness, and lately I’ve been reading and cleaning a lot since I have nothing else I need to do. Maybe it’s because I’m used to working way too much, but I really don’t like having so much vacation – especially since it’s not really vacation when I don’t actually go anywhere or enjoy it. I’m saving my money for this spring and summer, and the weather here is too bad to actually go outside and do anything. I’ll take freezing temps and snow over chilly and rainy any day. And sure, it’s nice to still be paid even when I’m not working, but I’d much rather be working!

I’ve also been checking apartment ads almost daily because I’m seriously fed up with where we live. But who knows when we can actually move or to where. Everything depends on David right now and the results of his concours, which we won’t know for months and months. I just know that something needs to change. I’m hoping it’s mostly the lack of heat in our apartment in addition to the boredom, but I have been really tired and cranky lately and I hate it. I’m constantly complaining about living here, and being poor, and basically everything about France that drives me crazy. I’ve always known that I wouldn’t like living in France, but I did it anyway because I thought it would be better than in the US. In some ways, it is; but overall, I know in my heart I would prefer to be in Canada. I’m still trying to make immigrating to Quebec happen, but it feels like an uphill battle that I may never win.

So I go back to work tomorrow for the beginning of another 12 week semester. I’m interested to see how many of my students actually remember what we did in semester 1 and if anyone really learned the IPA.  I’m feeling more at ease in the job, learning how everything works (or doesn’t work) at French universities, and I’m excited to be able to use my office during breaks this semester. I think I went there about two times last semester because I was rarely on campus outside of my classes. I may even check out the library and the gym, as soon as I figure out where they are… This is another reason why I want to move closer to my work. I feel so disconnected from the school and my co-workers because I’m never there.

While I adore my job, I would like to work more so that I can earn more, but that’s not really possible (regardless of what Sarkozy says). I know my job will end in September 2010 and that it would be a temporary job from the very beginning. I suppose all of my previous jobs were that way as well, and for someone who thrives on change, I don’t understand why I’m now yearning for something more permanent. I’ve never wanted to do the same job, day after day, because it’s too boring. And that’s probably why I like teaching so much – it constantly changes, with each new student and new semester and new material… I could completely rewrite a course if I wanted to, completely change how the students learn and what they learn. Except I can’t exactly do that until I have my own class. As an assistant and even now as a lectrice, I’m still not completely in control and a part of me really wants that.

Perhaps it’s also the fact that I’m turning 27 this year that makes me feel that I should have something more concrete in my life, like a career or even a house. I’m tired of feeling that my “real life” has yet to begin. And I’m tired of feeling like my real life cannot begin until I leave France. I can’t say with any certainty that things wouldn’t be better in another part of France. Maybe it is just Annecy. Maybe I can find an amazing job somewhere else in this country. I just don’t know. I’ve always thought that teaching French at a university was the only career I would want, so I need to do a PhD in French. But maybe just being able to use French and other languages everyday would make me happy. The tourism industry seems like it wouldn’t be too boring, and France receives a ridiculous number of tourists every year. But would I regret not doing the PhD? Or would I regret trying to do it in France and not North America, which is where I would like to teach anyway?

So I guess I’m trying to make peace and find acceptance with living in France for now. It still amuses me to no end that so many people think living in France is a fairy tale. It’s no different from any other country, though I do have to admit the health care is pretty awesome. Think about how many Americans say it’s their dream to live in France and here I am trying to get back across the ocean. People think I’m crazy for wanting to leave, but it’s not that I hate France, it’s just that I miss North America too much. I used to think that I was a big failure for not absolutely loving everything about France and Europe, but you know what? It’s just not for me. End of story.

Sony Reader, how did I live without you?

By   January 16, 2009

I spent all day Thursday playing with my Sony Reader. And I do mean ALL DAY. If anyone else is thinking about buying one, here are some helpful hints:

  • I have a ton of scholarly journal articles in PDF format that I wanted to read on the Sony Reader. It is possible to read them, but the font is a bit small. Sometimes the zoom function doesn’t work well with PDFs since it basically reformats the flow of text, but you can also hold down the zoom button for 5 seconds, and it will change the orientation of the page to landscape, which makes the font slightly bigger (you will have to hold the Reader sideways, of course). I haven’t had any problems reading my PDF files so far!
  • I did have a problem with the metadata in PDFs though. When authors of PDFs save their files, sometimes they don’t fill in the title and author fields in Properties. The Sony Reader uses this information to store the files (by title or by author). So if these fields are missing, or if these fields contain something else (the file’s location, the file’s actual name, etc.) it will majorly screw up the list of “books” on your Reader. And of course, unless you have the full version of Adobe, you cannot change this information. However, I found a program called BeCyPDFMetaEdit that does allow you to update the Metadata for PDF files. I have been able to change the titles and authors of all of my journal articles, except for two (because they were password-protected.)
  • The actual Sony Reader format for books is LRF (also called BBeB book). You can use a program called Calibre to convert files to this format, but it didn’t seem to work well for my PDF files, so I have just left them all as PDFs. Also, it will not convert image-based PDF files. Calibre is designed to be a “complete e-book library solution” so you may like it better than the eBook Library Software that comes with the Reader.
  • If you want to make your own “books” for the Reader, it will also accept EPUB, TXT, RTF and unsecured DOC formats. The Word documents will be reformatted to RTF files for you during transfer, so you must have MS Word on your computer. Personally, I’ve just been using OpenOffice to create my own PDF files (with a font size of at least 24 so it can be easily read without having to zoom), but the text-based files obviously show up just as well.
  • You can also play audio files with extensions of .mp3, .mp4, .m4a, .mov, and .qt (you must listen with headphones as there are no speakers). It is possible to read a book while listening to the mp3, so it may be useful for podcasts. You can also view pictures with extensions of .bmp, .gif, .jpg, or .png (in black & white, of course) and you have the option of turning on a slideshow.
  • The internal memory is 210 MB, and you can also use PRODuo and SD memory cards if that’s not enough space for you.
  • There is no back light, so you must have another source of light (remember, it’s just like a real book!)
  • If you buy the Reader before March 31, you can download 100 free classics from the eBook Store for free. Granted, these books are all in the public domain and so they are free anyway (through Project Gutenberg), but they’re already in the LRF format and specifically designed for the Sony Reader. There are 930 books to choose from, including a few political documents, such as the Constitution of the US and even the Patriot Act!

If anyone has other questions about what the Reader can do, let me know.

Sculpture of European Stereotypes: Get angry or just laugh?

By   January 14, 2009

A Czech artist, David Cerny, was supposed to lead a project to create a sculpture to represent all 27 member states of the EU, working with an artist from each country.  Instead, he worked with two of his friends to produce a sculpture that shows a (usually insulting) stereotype of each country, because he wanted to see if Europe could laugh at itself. Or because he’s a jerk, I can’t decide.

France is depicted as just an outline of a country with a banner saying Grève (strike) written on it. Oh, how utterly clever and original.

Spain is a bunch of concrete, Italy is a soccer field, Germany is full of highways, Denmark is a bunch of legos that look like the infamous Muhammad cartoon, Luxembourg is for sale, the Netherlands is flooded and full of minarets, Belgium is a box of chocolates, Sweden is an IKEA cardboard box, Romania is a Dracula theme park, Bulgaria is full of Turkish toilets, and Poland has Catholic priests raising a gay pride flag. The UK is missing from the sculpture, supposedly because they’re too eurosceptic – but look who’s talking Czech Republic!

Spiegel has a photo gallery if you want to see more of the stereotypes. It doesn’t include all of the countries though, and now I’m intrigued as to what they look like… And I wonder how Cerny depicted his own country?

Exam time… and now more vacation time

By   January 9, 2009

Today was the big phonetics final exam for my first year students, and I worked for 5 hours straight with a seemingly never-ending number of students. The actual test only took them about 5 minutes to do, but I was supposed to figure out their grade in the one minute before the next student started pronouncing words, which I always find a bit stressful.

The French grading system is based on qualitative scores instead of quantitative, so a 10/20 is considered moyen and passing and basically no one receives 18 to 20. To my American mind that is used to percentages, it doesn’t make any sense and it hurts my head to try to figure out grades. I seriously stress over if I’m being fair or not, because it seems like grades are based on the momentary whim and mood of the teacher and not on the actual work done.

Anyway, that was my first experience in giving final exams as a lectrice. It wasn’t too bad, especially since the time went by so fast with so many students to get through. And now I have yet another week off, because the second semester doesn’t start until January 19. And even then, it’s only 3 classes a week because my 8 labs don’t start until February.

Have I mentioned lately that my job is awesome?

French Phonetics: Listening & Repetition Exercises

By   January 7, 2009

Have trouble hearing the difference between les and lait ? How about jeune and jeûne ? Um, yeah, me too. Still can’t say bûche correctly? How many silent letters are there in prompt ? Do you want to cry when you’re forced to pronounce serrurerie ?

Since I’m still on vacation, I’ve been working hard on making a pronunciation tutorial and exercises for French. Thanks to David, I’ve finally got the sound files recorded, edited, and uploaded to go along with the new French Phonetics page. I made two versions of the listening exercises – one in plain ol’ HTML and another with Hot Potatoes – and the repetition exercises have the transcripts available in case you can’t understand what the heck David is saying. (He talks fast sometimes.)

I hope to expand it in the future, but for now I’m already exhausted with just these hundred or so sound files. I love Audacity, but editing sound files is boring de chez boring.

So now, which one is it: les or lait ?

P.S. You can hear my lovely (ha!) Midwestern voice in the stress and intonation sections comparing English to French.