French Jack-o’-Lantern

By   October 28, 2008

Auchan was selling pumpkins this week, so I had to get one. I was surprised they even had them considering how small their Halloween costume section is. And their Halloween candy aisle is just non-existent. There was a huge section for chrysanthemums though, for la Toussaint* – which I stupidly didn’t get when I first walked into the store. (Hmm, why are there so many flowers normally reserved for decorating graves on sale this week? Probably the same reason why I have no work this week. Duh.)

My first French pumpkin (with my nosy cat).

Citrouille and potiron can be used interchangeably** to mean pumpkin in everyday French, but that’s not what Auchan decided to call it. Maybe they don’t know it’s not called a Jack-o’-lantern until you carve it?

This was David’s first time carving a pumpkin, but he refused to use his hand to get the pumpkin guts out.

So I pulled all the guts out with my hands, though I’m not really sure what I’m doing in this photo. Bowing to the pumpkin king? Looking for something I dropped inside?

David carving the face:

And voilà ! Our jack-o’-lantern is done!

*La Toussaint is All Saint’s Day, celebrated on November 1st. All Soul’s Day is technically November 2nd, but people commemorate the dead by placing flowers and candles on graves on the 1st anyway.

** La citrouille is more commonly grown in North America, while le potiron is more common in Europe. They are almost the same fruit, but it does seem like people use citrouille more when talking about Halloween and potiron more when talking about soup. They both belong to the class of fruits called courge (gourds).

L’Essor Savoyard: Local News from Annecy

By   October 27, 2008

Mamie had a copy of l’Essor Savoyard from this week lying around, so I read through it to check out the happenings in and around Annecy. (Unfortunately, this local newspaper doesn’t have a website, but the other one does: Le Dauphiné.)

Troops from the 27e BCA, which is located directly across from the lycée I taught at in 2006, will be leaving for Afghanistan shortly. 640 soldiers will leave in November and December for the bases in Nijrab and Tagab. It’s a little surreal to know that the guys I see jogging around Seynod and buying beer at LeClerc will be halfway around the world next month. I remember when Sarkozy announced he was going to send more troops to Afghanistan, but I never thought it would be my boys from BCA.

Second-hand clothing stores are becoming more and more popular since the pouvoir d’achat keeps decreasing and everyone is freaking out about the crise financière. I really need to check these out:

  • Bazar sans Frontières, 3 av. de Trois Fontaines in Seynod
  • Emmaüs, 18 impasse des Bois in Metz-Tessy
  • Scouts des Cluses, 26 av. de Pont de Tasset in Meythet
  • Vestiaire St. Martin, 3 rue des Jardins in Annecy (This place also has showers for 1 €, originally designed for anyone to use a half century ago when many people did not have showers in their homes, but now they mostly serve the homeless.)

A recent survey of Savoyards in the Ligue Savoisienne indicated that 87% would like Savoie & Haute-Savoie to separate from France and become a canton of Switzerland. Complete independence would be better, but joining Switzerland would be easier – and the main idea is to leave behind the “le pouvoir central le plus autocratique et le plus jacobin qu’on ait connu depuis 50 ans.” Even the Swiss who participated voted in favor of Savoie becoming suisse, 43.7% to 37.5%.

L’arpitan, also called franco-provençal, is the original language in the Savoie area.  Many Savoyards are still trying to get l’Education Nationale to recognize it as a minority language so that it will be taught in schools, like they do with le breton, le basque and le corse. Check out for more information, and you can also download a 1,770 page français-savoyard dictionary in PDF format.

The French expression of the day was: de fil en aiguille, which means “on passe progressivement et naturellement d’une chose à une autre qui lui fait suite.” And the Savoyard recipe of the day was, surprise surprise, Fondue à l’emmental.

Change Your Clocks in Europe

By   October 26, 2008

Europeans: Daylight Saving Time has ended and you need to set your clocks back an hour (except in Iceland where DST is not used.) DST will begin again on the last Sunday in March.

North Americans: Your DST will end next Sunday; except for those in Saskatchewan, a small part of British Columbia, Hawaii, Arizona (excluding the Navajo Indian Reservation), the state of Sonora in Mexico and all of those other random places where DST is no longer observed for some weird – and oh so logical, according to the people who decided it – reason. Oh, and I believe Mexico uses a different schedule for DST, so border towns never know what time it is. DST will begin again on the 2nd Sunday in March for the US and Canada.

North America wins the “things that are unnecessarily complicated and confusing” contest!

Everyone speaks Franglais.

By   October 23, 2008

Have I mentioned lately how annoying English words are in French? Just over the past few days, I’ve heard people speaking French say speed, soft, borderline, bad trip, VIP, people, and flashy when they could have just used French words in their sentences. And of course they pronounce these words with French accents, which is logical linguistically, but that makes understanding them almost impossible for an Anglophone. And it seems that these words are sometimes used in ways that we wouldn’t even use them in English.

I have nothing against borrowing words from other languages, but I never realized before how many English words are actually used in everyday French. Maybe some French people can shed some light on this, but is it considered cool to use English words all the time? I find it very annoying because I wonder why I was never taught these words in my French classes. And French people who don’t speak English really don’t understand why I can’t understand their use (ok, their pronunciation…) of English words. But what irritates me the most is that my students think they can use these words in the same way – grammatically or semantically – in English, but it just doesn’t work.

Even though I get what you mean by Last week was less speed than this week, it’s not a good sentence. My students get so frustrated when they discover that they don’t actually know how to use these English words that they thought they knew how to use all this time. Or when they discover that the definition of the word in English is something completely different than what they thought, i.e. they hear a string in English and automatically think of thong underwear, which is un string in French. Definitely not the same as une ficelle.

Words like pom-pom girl (cheerleader), relooking (makeover), zapping (channel surfing), hard discount (discount [store]), and bermuda (bermuda shorts) are easy enough for Anglophones to figure out. Even catch (pro/fake wrestling) makes sense if you think about it. But I really do wonder how in the world smoking got borrowed into French to mean a tuxedo. Who decided that and why?

Un smoking is a tuxedo

He is wearing a smoking!

Colin Powell’s Words of Wisdom

By   October 19, 2008

From the only Republican I like, Colin Powell, on Meet the Press, October 19, 2008:

…I watched Mr. Obama and I watched him during this seven-week period.  And he displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge and an approach to looking at problems like this and picking a vice president that, I think, is ready to be president on day one. And also, in not just jumping in and changing every day, but showing intellectual vigor.  I think that he has a, a definitive way of doing business that would serve us well.  I also believe that on the Republican side over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party and Mr. McCain has become narrower and narrower.  Mr. Obama, at the same time, has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people. He’s crossing lines–ethnic lines, racial lines, generational lines.  He’s thinking about all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values.

And I’ve also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently, or his campaign ads, on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation that’s been going on for weeks became something of a central point of the campaign.  But Mr. McCain says that he’s a washed-out terrorist.  Well, then, why do we keep talking about him?  And why do we have these robocalls going on around the country trying to suggest that, because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers, somehow, Mr. Obama is tainted.  What they’re trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings.  And I think that’s inappropriate.

Now, I understand what politics is all about.  I know how you can go after one another, and that’s good.  But I think this goes too far.  And I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow.  It’s not what the American people are looking for.  And I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign and they trouble me.  And the party has moved even further to the right, and Governor Palin has indicated a further rightward shift.  I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that’s what we’d be looking at in a McCain administration.  I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian.  He’s always been a Christian.  But the really right answer is, what if he is?  Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.  Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?  Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine.  It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave.  And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone.  And it gave his awards–Purple Heart, Bronze Star–showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death.  He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith.  And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey.  He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.  Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way.  And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know.  But I’m troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

So, when I look at all of this and I think back to my Army career, we’ve got two individuals, either one of them could be a good president.  But which is the president that we need now?  Which is the individual that serves the needs of the nation for the next period of time?  And I come to the conclusion that because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities–and we have to take that into account–as well as his substance–he has both style and substance–he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president.  I think he is a transformational figure.  He is a new generation coming into the world–onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I’ll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.

The full transcript of the interview can be found here.

I’m slighty proud to be an American again. Only 16 more days to go!!!

Apéro and Universités

By   October 19, 2008

Friday night at an apéro chez des amis, we somehow got on the subject of universities. David mentioned that his mom’s cousin teaches French in Boston, and at the end of each semester, she had to let her students fill out evaluation forms. Everyone but me was surprised and thought it was a bad idea. I said that was normal in American universities and I didn’t really understand why it wasn’t done in France. They were also stunned that websites for rating teachers and professors had been around for 10 years in the US, whereas the only site like that in France had been shut down last year by the courts.

Personally, I think teacher evaluations are a good thing because the students should have a say in the quality of their education – especially in the US where they pay a small fortune each semester for the privilege of going to college. If they have horrible professors that don’t really care about teaching, the students have a right to complain. Professors grade students, so why shouldn’t students grade the professors too?

But I guess the main difference here in France is that students only pay a few hundred euros a year to go to university so they don’t seem as motivated or invested in their education. If they fail a final exam, they can always retake it the next month. If they fail a class, they can always retake it the next year. So even if the professors are bad, it doesn’t really matter since the students get so many chances to “succeed” in the end.

However, I have a problem with the traditional “more money = better education” line of thinking. Just because France subsidizes university education doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Just because the students don’t pay much doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn. The opposite is true for American universities. Just because it’s expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. And just because the students (or their parents) pay a lot doesn’t mean they actually want to be there and want to learn.

So why are the American and French ideas about universities and higher education different? Is it the role of the professor that differs so much? Or the role of the student?

Anyway, Corinne did such a good job preparing the apéro, I wanted to show off pictures of her hard work:

And something that I hadn’t come across before in France: an elevator that only stops on odd-numbered floors. Of course, the other elevator stops at the even-numbered floors, but there are no signs indicating this, so I guess you’re just supposed to know?

Ship or Sheep or Disgust?

By   October 14, 2008

I’m preparing the audio files for our Phonetics labs at home, and I’ve been listening to the units in our book, Ship or Sheep?, written by two Brits about 25 years ago. I got to Unit 4 on the [æ] vowel sound and noticed the dialogue they had written using as many words as possible with this sound. The title is “A Bad Hijacker.” Oh boy.

Even before 9/11, I think I would have been very sensitive about this, so I don’t think it’s just because I’m American or what happened 7 years ago. You just don’t write fake dialogues about planes blowing up! Surely there are plenty of other topics you can talk about using words with the [æ] vowel. Who would find it appropriate to talk about a fat lady with a handbag who turns out to be a hijacker on a flight to Amsterdam? And then end the dialogue with a huge explosion as if it were real? Even the book has a little drawing of the plane exploding with the word BANG written across it. ::sigh::

I was liking this book because of their adorable, stereotypical British accents that no one actually speaks with… and then they had to ruin it. I honestly feel a little sick now.

The Story of the Missing Ballot

By   October 12, 2008

Once upon a time, there was a young girl who had grown disillusioned with her country. It was too religious, too conservative, too intolerant. I’ll move to France, she thought, and maybe one day my country will get better so I will be less ashamed of it.

So off to France she went, and there she will stay, perhaps permanently. However, she is still an American citizen and still has the right to vote in elections. She dutifully requested her absentee ballots, but always found it odd that her mother and not the clerk’s office sent them to her.

With the 2008 election fast approaching and the seething rage she felt at the thought of another Republican president, she became increasingly worried that her ballot had been lost or would not arrive on time. Her mom called the clerk’s office to see if there was a problem and discovered that the ballots were always being returned by the post office. Luckily, the girl was from a small town where most people knew everyone else, so when the ballots were returned, someone in the office knew to forward them on to her mother’s house. And then, of course, her mother sent them to France.

Even though the clerk’s office knew the girl lived in France, they never once thought to put more postage on the ballots, even after the first one was returned. Apparently she is the only registered voter from that township who no longer lives in the US. So if it weren’t for that small town connection, she may never have received her absentee ballots.

Thanks to her mom, once again, she finally received her ballot for the November 4th election!

At least her clerk’s office was kind enough to include this cute little pen/paperclip. It may not be a sticker, but it sure is more functional!

And looking at the ballot, she can finally see the names of the other people who are running for president but that no one has heard of or even cares about, except Ralph Nader (because we’re still bitter about him causing Gore to lose in 2000.)

So the ballot is now safely in her hands, and she can vote for her Democratic friends, though she is fully aware that her ballot most likely won’t even be counted, as most absentee ballots aren’t. USA 2008!

Le Retour des Alpages 2008

By   October 11, 2008

I just returned from the Retour des Alpages festival today in Annecy. I managed to take more pictures than last year, though I didn’t see much of the parade from where I was standing. Once again, I was constantly reminded why I hate being in Annecy when it is really crowded. Usually it’s the little kids who drive me crazy, but today it was the old people. They are vicious when it comes to being in the front row for a parade! Haven’t they seen this parade like 50 times already anyway? Why not let the young people stand in front? Anyway…

This festival commemorates the end of the summer grazing period for the dairy herds in the mountains, so the farmers symbolically bring the animals home for the winter by parading them through the streets of Annecy. Mountain life and Savoy pride are very evident in this festival – Savoy meaning the départements of Savoie & Haute-Savoie in France, the Geneva region of Switzerland and the Aoste valley in Italy which were part of the original Savoy centuries ago before it was annexed to France in 1860 from the Kingdom of Sardinia. And because Savoy was the last mainland area to be added to the nation of France, there are still some separatist groups who believe Savoy should not belong to the Rhône-Alpes région and even some who believe that Savoy should not belong to France.

I have to admit, there are some days where I think I live in Savoy, not France. I see Savoy flags everywhere, which are very similar to the Swiss flag and I feel like I’m actually in Switzerland instead. I’ve always associated the Alps more with Switzerland than France, but I suppose that’s because my stereotypical image of France is more Paris vs. Provence than anything else. I know regional pride exists everywhere in France, from Brittany to Alsace, but in terms of years, Savoyards are the least French of them all.

Swiss horn-blowers provide the music.


I love cows because they give us CHEESE!!!

Let’s start the parade with horses.

Let’s interrupt the parade with an ambulance.

Let’s throw hay on everyone.

Thank goodness for zoom.

He’s not very happy.

These poor cows…

I was told these are Slovakian dancers from our sister city, Liptovský Mikuláš. They were adorable!

I didn’t get any photos of the geese, goats, sheep or any other animal in the parade, but I did get swan vs. dog.

If you haven’t already heard, Annecy is a candidate for the 2018 Winter Olympics. This huge banner will probably be there for the next ten years to remind you.

It was a gorgeous day in Annecy, sunny and 70’s. But the trees and I are ready for fall.