Joris Brichet, Champion de France de Skate

By   August 22, 2008

Last night David & I had dinner with a friend that we hadn’t seen in a few months. Joris had been traveling to Prague, Morocco and England for skateboarding competitions because he’s been the national champion of vert skating in France for four years. He took 2nd place recently at the European championships. If you actually watch commercials, you may have seen him in this publicité de Quick in April:

It must be awesome to be paid to do what you love. I wish someone would pay me to travel around Europe and learn languages!

P.S. He’s also a biology teacher.

Want to buy property in Annecy? I hope you’re rich!

By   August 20, 2008

The table below shows property prices per square meter for major cities/towns in France, and the increase or decrease in price from 2007. Annecy is the 12th most expensive, and it is the first one on the list that is not in the Paris region or in the south.  You can thank Switzerland and the Alps for that.

City/Town in FrancePrice per m² Difference from 2007
Paris6,342 €+5.60%
Versailles5,125 €-1.00%
Antibes4,658 €+6.10%
Cannes4,640 €+5.60%
Saint-Maur-des-Fossées4,563 €+2.10%
Cagnes-sur-Mer4,488 €+8.40%
Biarritz4,469 €+8.20%
Saint-Laurent-du-Var4,404 €+3.10%
Clichy4,289 €+3.00%
Aix en Provence4,222 €+6.10%
Nice3,999 €+4.80%
Annecy3,507 €+3.70%
Créteil3,313 €+7.70%
Bayonne3,218 €+0.40%
La Rochelle3,160 €-6.60%
Toulon3,152 €+8.40%
Lyon3,079 €+2.70%
Marseille2,996 €-0.60%
Toulouse2,883 €+3.80%
Aix-les-Bains2,880 €-3.50%
Lille2,846 €+3.70%
Grenoble2,839 €-1.60%
Montpellier2,790 €+2.70%
Bordeaux2,785 €+2.70%
Meaux2,733 €+7.30%
Sète2,729 €+2.60%
Nantes2,674 €+1.40%
Reims2,638 €+1.50%
Rennes2,638 €-3.00%
Strasbourg2,511 €+1.00%
Mariganne2,456 €-3.50%
Dijon2,419 €+3.00%
Caen2,336 €+2.50%
Angers2,306 €+5.60%
Villefranche-sur-Saone2,301 €+4.40%
Orléans2,260 €+2.80%
Le Havre2,238 €+13.10%
Tours2,226 €-3.90%
Nîmes2,213 €+1.60%
Metz2,168 €+3.80%
Pau2,133 €+2.20%
Colmar2,121 €-6.50%
St Herblain2,118 €+1.60%
Chamalières2,104 €+3.10%
Nancy2,076 €-0.80%
Narbonne2,043 €-1.00%
Perpignan2,025 €+0.90%
Besançon2,021 €+3.20%
Clermont-Ferrand1,830 €-1.60%
Quimper1,825 €-0.40%
Troyes1,801 €+7.70%
Béziers1,797 €+3.30%
Boulogne-sur-Mer1,771 €-3.30%
Le Mans1,766 €+5.50%
Rodez1,717 €+6.40%
Mulhouse1,706 €+4.50%
Brest1,682 €+1.30%
Montauban1,647 €-0.60%
Vichy1,632 €-9.70%
Limoges1,591 €+2.20%
St Brieuc1,590 €+2.10%
Nevers1,260 €+3.70%

I can definitely say 3,507 € per square meter is correct for Annecy. If our landlord ever sells our apartment, she wouldn’t accept anything less than 160,000 € and it’s only 47 square meters.

Source: FNAIM April 2008

Frustration & Creation; or Why I Spend Hours Working on my Website

By   August 19, 2008

It began with foreign languages. Actually it began with the movie While You Were Sleeping that I saw when I was 14 years old. Sandra Bullock’s character wanted to visit Italy so badly that it made me want to learn Italian. And then I started high school and began learning French. A year later and I had learned enough HTML to attempt to make a website. I was typing all of my notes from French class anyway, so why not put them online so others could benefit from them too?

And so it continued throughout high school, undergrad and graduate school. I added more languages and linguistics resources from my university courses. People offered to write tutorials for languages I had never studied. I gladly put them online because I know there is someone somewhere who wants to learn that specific language and cannot find any other resources for it – or at least, not any free resources.

I became more and more frustrated at the lack of free language learning materials, or at the lack of quality. Most books cater to travelers and don’t teach the real language that is spoken. Even after ten years of searching, I’ve still only found a few that teach informal language and slang. I’ve known for a while that the internet is the best tool in language learning, yet I could not find many sites that offer informal language either. Where are all the native speakers and why are they not teaching us their language? Teach us the pronunciation, the slang, the idioms, everything we need to know to survive in your country. I can only do so much with my limited knowledge, and frankly, it’s draining my energy to feel as though I need to teach every facet of a language that I don’t speak perfectly.

Then I began the English assistantship in France and continued increasing my ESL plans and materials. Again I was frustrated by the lack of information available about the program. I wanted real advice, real anecdotes, real facts, real data. So I created my incredibly detailed Assistants Guide, hoping to ease the stress of future assistants who wanted to know what they were getting themselves into. Even teaching English in the US, I could never find exactly what I wanted online, so I allowed others to download everything I’ve created for my classes and private students. What’s the point of creating plans to only use them once and never look at them again? Other teachers will appreciate the gesture of free resources, I thought.

And now I’m focusing on expatriates in France and everyday life. Everything I’ve gone through, all my experiences, could possibly help one person in France and that’s why I do this. I want to alleviate the frustration of figuring out French bureaucracy. I have been there. I know how exhausting it is. And I want to help, not for monetary gain, but because I wish someone else had done this for me – and maybe, just maybe, it will inspire others to do the same.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. I’m trying to teach things that I’m not really an expert in. But no one else seems to want to do it. No one else wants to share their knowledge or resources. Creating websites is increasingly easy, and everyone has something to share, something to teach; yet I still have trouble finding websites that are completely free or that have specific and correct information. Either they charge for premium content or they just exist as a placeholder for ads. There is very little on the internet nowadays that is worthwhile unless you pay, it seems.

Why should those with money have access to a better education than those without? What is so wrong with the free exchange of knowledge and ideas? Whatever happened to teaching for the simple joy of helping others learn?

Olympics Vocabulary in French

By   August 18, 2008

I’ve never been a big fan of the Olympics or of watching sports on TV, but I have caught a few events on French TV this week. If nothing else, it helps with learning sports vocabulary in French. [And why did I never notice before that the French use Pékin whereas we use Beijing? ]

I’m teaching Olympic vocabulary in English to my private student tonight, so I was searching for websites to help with lesson planning and I found some language resources on the Australian Olympics Committee’s site: Olympic Resource for Languages

In the International Year of Languages, the Modern Languages Teachers’ Association of Victoria (MLTAV) has developed the Olympic Resource for Languages.

The resource introduces students to the Olympics, uncovering the Olympic symbols whilst preparing them for a school-based Olympic celebration held in the language they are learning. The celebrations will take place on Olympic Day – Friday 20 June 2008.

The resource includes five LOTE (Languages Other Then English) lessons available in nine languages: Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.

Even though they’re designed for teachers of those languages to use in their classes, you can still learn some Olympic vocabulary from them. And here’s another site with French Olympics vocabulary: French Phrases: Talking about the Olympic Games in French

Foreign Service Institute French Basic Course

By   August 15, 2008

If you haven’t already checked out (and/or downloaded) the free Foreign Service Institute language courses at, you need to go there right now. The FSI courses were designed by the Department of State, mostly in the 1960’s, to teach languages to employees being sent overseas. They’re actually quite comprehensive, if a bit boring with all the repetition and drilling. They are also audio intensive, which is necessary for learning comprehension and pronunciation.

And the best part about the FSI courses is that they are in the public domain. There are no copyright protections, which is how the FSI site above can exist. And this is also how publishing companies can sell the FSI courses at a profit (literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars!!) to unsuspecting customers who don’t know they can download the courses for free or even borrow them from libraries and make copies of the books and cassettes. I’m talking about you, Audioforum, Multilingual Books, Barron’s and Platiquemos…

The FSI site only includes materials that volunteers have donated after spending many hours scanning the books and converting the cassettes to mp3s. Unfortunately, if a language course is not included on the site and it cannot be found in a library, the only option is to buy it from a company (who slapped their own ridiculous “copyright” on it) that charges way too much because the originals from the Department of State are obviously out of print. And this makes me very angry.

Anyway, the course books are available in PDF format, so I decided to start converting the PDFs to HTML. So far, I’ve only finished Unit 1 of the French Basic Course because I don’t have a good PDF to HTML converter. It takes forever to convert to text and then proofread everything with the OCR software that I have.

FSI French Basic Course HTML Version

Language learning should always be free!

Vieille Ville of Annecy

By   August 12, 2008

So not a lot has been happening lately, mostly because France basically shuts down for the month of August and I’m not working which means no income and no fun. The big excitement for me last week was going to the eye doctor and ordering new contacts. You wish you had my life, right?  But at least my eye doctor is located next to the castle in the old town, so I took some pictures during my walk to the optician. (My older pictures of Annecy can be found here.)

One of the castle’s towers. (A tour group was all over the place so this was the only picture I took.)

Canal de Thiou

Pretty colors

Lac d’Annecy

P.S. Why do doctors still talk a mile a minute even when they know you’re not French?

Où vit-on le mieux ? Le Palmarès 2008 des Départements

By   August 8, 2008

I found a copy of L’Express from the end of June lying around the apartment a few days ago, and noticed it was the rankings of the best and worst départements in mainland France. The winner overall is Haute-Garonne (Toulouse) in the Midi-Pyrénées, followed by 2. Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Pau) in Aquitaine, 3. Ille-et-Vilaine (Rennes) in Bretagne, 4. Isère (Grenoble) in Rhône-Alpes, and 5. Gironde (Bordeaux) in Aquitaine.  The losers? 92. Creuse (Guéret) in Limousin, 93. Eure (Evreux) in Haute-Normandie, 94. Meuse (Bar-le-Duc) in Lorraine, 95. Aisne (Laon) in Picardie, and 96. Ardennes (Charleville-Mézières) in Champagne-Ardenne.

There are three main classements annexes, i.e. the best départements for:

Young people

  1. Hérault (Montpellier)
  2. Haute-Garonne (Toulouse)
  3. Gironde (Bordeaux)
  4. Bouches-du-Rhône (Marseilles)
  5. Rhône (Lyon)


  1. Hautes-Alpes (Gap)
  2. Aveyron (Rodez)
  3. Corrèze (Tulle)
  4. Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Pau)
  5. Vendée (La Roche-sur-Yon)


  1. Haute-Garonne (Toulouse)
  2. Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Pau)
  3. Vendée (La Roche-sur-Yon)
  4. Ille-et-Vilaine (Rennes)
  5. Hérault (Montpellier)

Then there are 14 classements thématiques, according to health, security, education, transportation, the economy, the environment, culture, etc. All of the results can be found here: Les départements où il fait bon vivre. There’s also a test interactif you can try to find out which département best suits you if you’re thinking about moving to France but don’t know where yet.

Haute-Savoie came in at 19 overall, which isn’t too bad out of 96. It’s at 45 for young people, 46 for seniors, and 20 for families. Higher education: 54, health: 24, price of housing: 91!!! (completely agree with this one!); security: 58, culture (museums, cinemas): 42; economic growth: 11; availability of internet: 43; businesses/shopping centers: 21; economic power: 34; living environment (pollution, access to sea or green areas): 44; weather: 75 (unfortunately, it is that bad here); social situation (low unemployment, high income): 2 !!!; medical services: 57; success rate for le bac: 2 !!! (apparently lycéens are really smart here!)

I was a little surprised that Haute-Savoie has some of the highest incomes, but I guess it makes sense considering how many people who live here actually work in Switzerland and benefit from the exchange rate between the Swiss Franc and Euro. Some of these are no-brainers though, like the cost of living is highest in Paris, the weather is the best on the Côte d’Azur, and the safest area is Limousin & Auvergne (because the population is lowest there). How is your département ranked in the palmarès 2008?

Definition of City.

By   August 6, 2008

My family in Michigan drove to the UP this weekend for vacation. Flint to Houghton is about nine hours, so they stopped in Newberry on the way. I couldn’t remember where it was, so I looked it up on Google Maps and found this picture of the downtown area:

For most of my life, this is what I thought downtown meant. Wide straight roads. Old brick buildings. Not a person in sight. This is heaven to me. I grew up in the countryside, with the closest city being a 10 minute drive away and the actual city limits extending only one square mile. My concept of “city” was obviously skewed from the beginning.

Then I moved to Flint for college and saw what I thought city-life was. Not true however, as Flint’s population is rather low and many buildings remain empty. But traffic wasn’t bad. The roads were still wide and there were few pedestrians to watch out for. I could walk or ride my bike to school and work. Grocery stores remained a 10 minute drive away though.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting (and driving in) New York and LA, and traveling through the major cities of Europe, so now I know what “real” cities are like. But I’ll always prefer my original idea. There’s just something so serene and peaceful about the wide, open spaces. Or maybe it’s just the lack of people, and therefore noise…

Can you tell that living in a residential area surrounded by loud neighbors is getting to me a bit? I would give anything to live in the countryside again.

Dear Auchan, you are a jerk and I hate you.

By   August 5, 2008

Last month, I got all excited when my local Auchan started remodeling and expanding their already big store. Wider aisles, they promised. More stuff that you can’t afford to buy, they said. And look! Fifty feet of space of between the aisles and checkout lanes instead of just five! No more shoving yourself and your cart as close to the next customer as possible, and turning sideways so that the poor souls who try to go around the end of the aisle behind you can actually fit!

There are many things that I hate about shopping in France (stores that smell like fish and shopping carts with all 4 wheels that turn are near the top of the list), but waiting in the checkout lane has always been the most stressful part.  I will never understand why all stores think that customers don’t need space to wait in line without clogging up the aisles around the checkout area.

By my excitement was short-lived when I returned to Auchan yesterday. The remodeling geniuses decided to push the checkout lanes back so that there is still only 5 feet of waiting space. ::sigh::  Why did you tease me, Auchan? Why did I think you could possibly compete with American stores that actually care about their customers? And seriously, what is the point of all that extra space on the OTHER side of the checkout counters? It sure is useful having all that empty space as I walk out of the store and wish that I never had to come back again.

All in a Day’s Work

By   August 3, 2008

Instead of going to the Fête du Lac yesterday in Annecy where I knew there would be thousands of people, I decided to stay home and work on my IE Languages website. I spent all day redesigning the layout (for about the 17th time since I created the site), and I think I’m happy with the way it turned out. There’s now a collapsible menu on the left side of every page to help with navigation.  I’ve also added a Contribute page if anyone wants to help me out with adding more content.  I’m most interested in adding audio files and IPA transcriptions to help with pronunciation. And if anyone knows of a way to generate the HTML codes (decimal numbers) for IPA symbols just by using the keyboard (such as the Unicode Phonetic Keyboard), please tell me. Typing the numbers or copying and pasting each individual symbol takes such a long time!

And if you have no idea what IPA means, shame on you and go here or here. It is seriously the best invention in the world.