Why I love Germany

By   May 2, 2008

A German with a sense of humor does exist. I was watching Deutsche Welle last night and it was actually in German instead of English. I swear every time I turn on that channel, people are talking in English… Anyway, there was a report on Moritz Volz (he’s a Fulham footballer/soccer player) and how he likes to ride around London on his bike. You have to check out his website. The song on the main page kills me.

See him cycle down the Fulham road
His German sausage in his hand

He plays football but he hardly ever scores

He dreams of Knight Rider and the fatherland

Ja, Ja, he is an alien, a humorous Westphalien

He’s a German man in West London

The Where It’s At page includes useful German phrases, such as Wo kann ich die neue David Hasselhoff CD kaufen? When is David Hasselhoff’s new album out? and Mir juckt’s in der Lederhose. My lederhosen are a little itchy.

The Hoff love is real. We all know that David Hasselhoff saved the world. Click on the picture if you don’t believe me. If it’s tagged on an abandoned building in east Berlin, it must be true, right?

Things I learned today

By   May 1, 2008

Le premier mai is la fête du travail (labor day) and the only day in France when anyone can sell flowers legally – not just florists. You will see tons of people and places (if they’re open…) selling muguets (lily of the valley) because it’s supposed to bring good luck to whomever you give them to.

Because le lundi de Pentecôte has once again become a jour férié, that means many people are taking an extra long weekend this year between Thursday, May 8 (V-E Day, aka End of WWII in Europe Day) and Monday, May 12. Normally, faire le pont refers to taking a long, 4 day weekend. However, people are now saying faire l’aqueduc to refer to the long, 5 day weekend. How witty.

Apparently the French think it’s weird when pharmacies sell over-the-counter medicine on shelves so that customers can choose their own medicine, rather than behind the counter where customers have to ask for it and the pharmacist just gives them whatever s/he wants. TF1 was reporting on some pharmacies in the UK that sell OTC drugs in front of the counter. ::gasp!:: I wonder if they know that’s how it always is in the US – prescription drugs behind the counter and non-prescription drugs in front of the counter. What’s so bad about that? I always thought it made no sense to keep everything behind the counter, which is especially embêtant for foreigners who can’t explain very well what’s wrong or for anyone in general who’s too embarrassed to explain what’s wrong…

I always knew the word ampoule meant light bulb or blister. David told me that cloque can also mean blister, which I thought was strange since I knew the expression en cloque meant knocked up and at first, I didn’t really understand how they could mean the same thing. But it just refers to the shape of either the blister or the pregnant woman’s belly. Strange, and kinda gross, but it does make sense to me now.

The End Again

By   April 30, 2008

Yesterday was my last day as an English assistant for the second year. I’m glad to no longer have to drive nearly an hour to work, but not so happy about no longer having an income. I have a feeling I won’t be able to find another teaching job until September – maybe I’ll even be an assistant again – so I’m trying to plan out what to do this summer. I’ve got plenty of paperwork to keep me busy for a while (applying for unemployment, renewing my passport, perfecting my CV and lettre de motivation), but I think May will be a sad month for me. Jessica is leaving to go back to the US on my 26th birthday. I lose a friend and get old on the same day.

But congrats to the new American assistants for 2008-9 who received their acceptance e-mail this week. I’m surprised the embassy finally figured out how to use e-mail!

Adventures in Berlin & Budapest

By   April 26, 2008

I’m so exhausted, but I wanted to upload my photos from my week in Berlin & Budapest. Both cities were definitely worth visiting. Berlin was über cheap, but rather sad because of its history (both WWII and the Cold War). Budapest’s architecture was beautiful, but it felt a bit too foreign to me since I know about five words of Hungarian.

In Berlin, I stayed at Helter Skelter hostel, which was fine except for the annoying boys who snored all night making it impossible for me to sleep. I went to the Käthe Kollwitz museum and then did a 4 hour walking tour of East Berlin, which included Museum Island, the Berlin Cathedral, Memorial to the Victims of War & Tyranny (sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz), Bebelplatz (site of book burnings during WWII), the French Huguenot Protestant church & Catholic church built directly across from each other, Checkpoint Charlie (so so fake!) & small section of the Berlin Wall, the SS headquarters (which is now just a flat lot), the site of Hitler’s bunker (which is no longer there), the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (how ironic and sad is it that the company who painted the blocks with anti-grafitti paint is the same company that made Zyklon B for the gas chambers???), the Brandenburg Gate & the Reichstag. On the second day, I went to the Pergamon Museum and saw the Gate of Ishtar. Then I headed up to Bernauer Straße, where there’s another section of the Wall that is still standing. Then it was over to Charlottenburg Palace and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

Berlin, Germany Photo Album

In Budapest, I stayed at Aventura Hostel which is the best hostel I have ever been to. It didn’t feel like a hostel, but rather like I was staying at a friend’s place. I highly recommend it if you ever go to Budapest. The first day, I wandered around the Buda side of the Danube (a UNESCO World Heritage site) where there are a lot of castles, museums and the palace. The next day I stayed in the city center and saw St. Stephen’s Basilica (as well as his mummified hand – so bizarre), the Great Synagogue (Europe’s largest synagogue – of course the largest in the world is in New York), the Opera House, and the Hungarian National Museum (which had very few translations in English…). My final day was spent at Hero’s Square and the Szechenyi thermal baths, followed by a walk around Margit Island.

Budapest, Hungary Photo Album

I managed to not go over my budget at all and even came home with 20 forint (which is not even 8 euro cents, but still!) Now it’s back to worrying about finding a job and not going broke this summer…

Off to Germany and Hungary

By   April 20, 2008

I leave this afternoon for Berlin and Budapest. I won’t be back until late Friday night, and I probably won’t get online much during the week. I’m excited about seeing two new countries but I’m not so excited about flying. If only it weren’t so much cheaper and faster than taking trains. The liquid restrictions make me so incredibly angry (LIQUIDS CANNOT BLOW UP A PLANE!) and I hate the way flight attendants treat passengers. Granted, I would hate being a flight attendant and having to cater to random people all day long, but still…

I will have to fly again in January or February of 2009 when my brother gets married in the US, but I’m hoping to not fly anymore this year. At least I know in June we’ll be driving to southern Germany so I can co-present at a Writing Center conference in Freiburg and then head over to Munich and Neuschwanstein Castle. We’re also planning another road trip to Provence in July, to my beloved département de Vaucluse, but also to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Montpellier and Carcassonne. Thank goodness David has family in the south so we have a free place to stay!

My other travel plans include Rennes & Mont St. Michel in Brittany and the American Cemetery in Normandy. I figure 6 hours on a train isn’t too bad. Plus I’m still dying to see Prague and Dubrovnik. Not sure how I’d like spending 13 or 16 hours on trains though… Ooh, unless I could do Frankfurt & Dresden before Prague and Venice, Ljubljana, and Zagreb before Dubrovnik… Ahh, must find job and save money first!!!

But really, what’s the point of living in Europe if you’re not going to visit all these cool places that are so close? I know we won’t live here forever, so I’m trying to see as much as possible before it’s too late.

A vendredi soir !

About About.com

By   April 19, 2008

There are very few language sites that offer useful, free information to help you actually learn the real language (slang, idioms, informal speech, etc.) About.com’s language sites do include a lot of useful information, but the problem is finding what you want among the bazillion pages and sponsored links that look exactly like the content. I was reviewing the most common advanced mistakes in French this morning, and my hand cramped up just by clicking on the necessary links in order to read all of the information.

Each section of about.com has a “guide” who adds content every few days and keeps a blog. Laura Lawless is the current French guide, and she recently moved to Hyères, next to Toulon in the south. She’s also the author of several French and Spanish books. Hmm, living in the south of France, working for a language website and writing language books. Why do other people get to live my life??

Anyway, I headed over to the German section to what’s new and discovered that About.com is currently hiring a new German guide. Too bad I’m not fluent enough in German to apply.

If Laura ever decides to leave her job as the French guide, you can be sure I’ll be applying for it!

Marathon of the Annecy Lake (including walk on the lake in boat)

By   April 17, 2008

The Lake Annecy marathon and half-marathon were this past Sunday, April 13. Obviously I did not run in it (me? run? HA!), but it’s usually a big deal in Annecy every year. I’d like to point out the English version of their website, however, and how badly it was translated. It almost seems like a Babelfish translation… http://www.marathon-annecy.com/index_en.php

The “Voluntary” page is my favorite.

Become voluntary!

Next Marathon of the Annecy Lake will proceed Sunday April 13, 2008.
This annual festival can take place only with the action of the voluntary ones, which must be, increasingly many, with the impact of this event.

We thought, that you, implied in the sport and the life of our city and his area, you could assist in your the organization of this new edition, and to also involve your parents and friends, in a cordial environment .

You will gain there: – the smile and compliments of the athletes (and of their entourage),
– the lunch which will be offered,
– the textile memory (of quality), … and our thanks!

Answer our call by sending your response by mall to us before the 31.03.2008, without forgetting to leave us your complete co-ordinates: [email protected]

Thank you to specify us égalament which day you will be able to take part in the organization of the marathon of the Annecy Lake:
Friday April 11 2008 of 13 H with 5 p.m.
saturday April 12 2008 of 10. 30 at 6 p.m. 30
Sunday April 13 2008 of 8 H with 5 p.m.

With soon
The Steering Committee

Though the “Sporting Information” page is also quite amusing:

> allowed Runners: Marathon born in 1986 and before Semi-Marathon born in 1988 and front.

> Any competitor in difficulty will be dealt with.

> the bicycles, rollers, runners without numbers or other guides are strictly prohibited on the course. The bicycles guides are strictly prohibited on the course under penalty of disqualification of the athlete.

> Of the official police chiefs are charged to check with the regularity of the race on the whole of the course.

> Handisport in armchair: for reasons of safety related to the course, the participation of the handisports in armchair is not authorized.

Handisports in armchair, eh? Hey Annecy, I’m looking for a translating job, ya know… Just sayin!

Que faire ? / What to do?

By   April 15, 2008

Peut-être avez-vous remarqué que je fais un effort pour parler (euh, écrire) plus en français. Maintenant que j’ai le droit de travailler dans ce pays, il faut trouver un boulot. Et pour trouver un boulot, il faut bien parler français !

Cependant, j’ai peur de ne pas réussir. Aux Etats-Unis, j’étais intelligente, brillante, sage… J’ai toujours eu de très bonnes notes. J’ai trouvé du travail facilement. Je pouvais faire ce que je voulais. Le fait que je parlais une deuxième langue était respectable. On était jaloux de moi et fier de moi au même temps.

En France, ou plutôt en Europe, je ne suis pas du tout exceptionnelle. Tout le monde se fout que je sois bilingue (ou presque) parce que tout le monde en Europe est bilingue. Je me sens stupide. Comment est-ce que je suis censé rivaliser avec quelqu’un qui parle courrament 3 ou 4 langues depuis son enfance ?

Ces derniers jours, j’ai pensé à retourner à l’université pour obtenir un diplôme français. Mais ayant déjà obtenu une license et une maîtrise aux Etats-Unis (plus de 6 ans d’études !), je n’ai aucune envie de redevenir étudiante.

Est-ce que je devrais continuer à enseigner l’anglais ? Ou est-ce que je devrais essayer de devenir traductrice ? Je n’en sais rien. Pourquoi personne ne veut me payer pour étudier les langues et pour voyager en Europe ? Ça serait génial…

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Maybe you’ve noticed that I’m making more of an effort to speak (uh, write) in French. Now that I have the right to work in this country, I have to find a job. And in order to find a job, I have to speak French well!

However, I’m afraid that I’m not going to succeed. In the US, I was intelligent, brilliant, wise… I always got good grades. I found work easily. I could do what I wanted. The fact that I spoke a second language was respectable. People were jealous of me and proud of me at the same time.

But in France, or rather in Europe, I’m nobody special. Nobody cares that I’m bilingual (or almost) because everyone in Europe is bilingual. I feel stupid. How am I supposed to compete with someone who grew up speaking 3 or 4 languages fluently?

These past few days, I thought about going back to college to get a French degree. But since I’ve already got a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in the US (more than 6 years of study!), I really don’t feel like becoming a student again.

Should I continue to teach English? Should I try to become a translator? I don’t know. Why can’t someone just pay me to learn languages and travel throughout Europe? That would be great…

Carte Vie Privée et Familiale

By   April 14, 2008

So remember that list of documents needed to obtain a vie privée et familiale carte de séjour due to being PACSed for a year? Let’s review and see if it was what I really needed.

1. Copy of passport & visa
2. Copy of ID card of French partner

Ok, these were fine. Except they also wanted a copy of my current carte de séjour, which I should have known they would want.

3. Birth certificate and official translation into French

I probably could have gotten by without these (and without wasting another 35 €) since they were already in my file. At least that’s what the man made it sound like…

4. Déclaration de communauté de vie (à remplir en mairie)
5. Déclaration de non polygamie (à remplir en mairie)

The mairie in Cran-Gevrier had no idea what these were, so they made us just write up an attestation on a blank piece of paper and they stamped it. Then the prefecture said we didn’t even need the non-polygamy one anyway because that’s only for people who come from countries that allow polygamy.

6. Proof of housing, with both names

Just the lease was good enough.

7. 3 ID photos

Impossible to screw this one up.

8. Last 3 pay stubs of partner

Ok, we had those, except the man also mentioned pay stubs for me… not sure why because having a job already is not a requirement in order to get the vie privée et familiale card… but then he didn’t actually require pay stubs for me. So I’m confused.

9. Justificatifs de communauté de vie antérieurs au PACS

I thought this one would be a problem since even though we’ve lived together for over a year, February to August 2007 was in Meythet. We moved to Cran-Gevrier in September. But we didn’t need any paperwork from Meythet, because we’ve been PACSed for a year, which implies we’ve lived together for a year.

Other documents needed!

I brought our original récépissé de PACS and contrat de PACS with us because I assumed they would need it (and I was right), but of course there were other documents that we needed that weren’t on the list:

recent récépissé de PACS (less than 3 months old)
déclaration des impôts (though I don’t understand this one since we haven’t done our joint 2007 taxes yet, and I’m not on David’s 2006 taxes…)

So we ran to the Tribunal after leaving the Préfecture, only to find out that the Tribunal d’Instance in Annecy is no longer at the Conservatoire d’Art et d’Histoire, across from the ugly-as-sin-and-soon-to-be-torn-down Centre Hospitalier. It moved to 19 Avenue de Parmelan about a year ago (so right after we got PACSed), which is next to Galeries LaFayette, and right down the street from the Préfecture.

When the Tribunal was at the Conservatoire, you just had to walk around to the back and go in to some small dark rooms. Now that the Tribunal is downtown, there’s a stupid metal detector at the entrance. And the woman at the accueil tried telling us that you can’t get a recent récépissé de PACS because… wait for it… ça n’existe pas ! Luckily she called upstairs to make sure and found out she was indeed wrong. So we got our recent récépissé de PACS, and discovered that David had never notified the mairie that he was PACSed so it could be put on his birth certificate. (Birth certificates in France constantly change, depending on if you are PACSed, married, divorced, have children, become mentally insane, etc.) Not that that really matters to the Tribunal, but it’s just that we could have given the Préfecture a copy of David’s birth certificate with the PACS info, instead of getting a recent récépissé de PACS – at least that’s the what the Tribunal says. But either way, we need some official document to prove that we are still PACSed.

I don’t know yet if I’ll have to do the medical visit again (I hope not since I just did it in December!) or if I’ll have to pay the 70 € renewal fee or the 275 € first-time fee (I’m hoping for the first, obviously). The Préfecture claims I can work with just the récépissé – and it does state that I have the right to work – but I still think most employers are going to require the actual carte…

David’s going to drop off the two missing documents tomorrow morning (they said we could just leave them at the accueil instead of both of us returning and waiting in line). And then in 4-6 weeks, I should receive my card as long as it doesn’t get lost in the mail like last summer.

So I suppose the lesson for today is to never believe the Préfecture’s list of required documents because they’re usually wrong. They would save people a lot of time if they’d just redo their lists, but I don’t imagine that happening anytime soon.

Qu’avez-vous dans votre assiette ? / What’s on your plate?

By   April 13, 2008

Je triais toutes sortes de papiers hier quand j’ai trouvé un sondage de la cantine, Enquête “sur votre assiette.” J’ai trouvé quelques questions sur les habitudes alimentaires tres révélatrices, en ce qui concerne les habitudes françaises. En général, les repas en France sont plus équilibrés: une entrée, un produit laitier, un plat chaud, un dessert, et du pain. Cependant, il y avait quelques questions qui montraient qu’être végétarien est très difficile dans ce pays:

8. Lorsque je mange à la cantine en general mon plateau se compose en protéïnes:
a) de la viande b) du poisson

Pas d’autre choix de réponse. Comme si les animaux sont la seule source de protéïne…

15. Si l’on proposait autre chose que de la viande ou du poisson au repas du midi
a) ce serait mieux b) je ne voudrais pas c) ce ne serait pas normal d) cela ne me dérangerait pas

16. Dans ce cas, continueriez-vous à dejeuner à la cantine ?
a) oui b) non

Est-ce qu’ils insinuent que les gens ne mangeraient pas à la cantine si les plats végétariens étaient fournis ? Pourquoi pas faire les deux plats (viande et pas de viande) pour qu’on puisse choisir ?

En plus, j’ai de la peine pour ceux qui ont une intolérance au lactose ou pour ceux qui sont allergique au gluten. Le fromage, le yaourt, et le pain sont servis avec tous les repas ici.

Je n’essaie pas de critiquer les habitudes alimentaires en France. Je pense que les français mange vachement mieux que les américains. Mais je voudrais plus de choix pour ceux qui n’aiment pas ou qui ne peuvent pas manger la nourriture qui est typiquement française.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I was sorting a bunch of papers yesterday when I found a survey from the cafeteria, Enquête “sur votre assiette.” I thought some questions on French eating habits were very revealing. In general, meals in France are more balanced: a starter, a dairy product, a main dish, a dessert and some bread. However, there were some questions that showed being a vegetarian is very difficult in this country:

8. When I eat in the cafeteria, my tray includes proteins
a) from meat b) from fish

No other choice of answers. As if animals are the only source of protein…

15. If something other than meat or fish were offered for lunch
a) that would be better b) I wouldn’t want it c) that wouldn’t be normal d) that wouldn’t bother me

16. In this case, would you continue to eat at the cafeteria?
a) yes b) no

Are they implying that people would not eat at the cafeteria if vegetarian dishes were provided? Why not make both dishes (meat and without meat) so we can choose?

Furthermore, I feel bad for those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to gluten. Cheese, yogurt and bread are served with every meal here.

I’m not trying to criticize eating habits in France. I think that the French eat much better than Americans. But I would like more choices for those who don’t like or who can’t eat typically French food.