Category Archives: North American Culture

France is Distorting my Childhood Memories

By   June 16, 2010

I don’t watch much TV in France, and I certainly don’t like to watch American shows dubbed in French, but since Michelle and I were both sick last week we often returned to the hotel early and watched The A-Team. In French it’s called L’Agence Tous Risques and it’s like a completely different show because the theme song that every child of the 80’s instantly recognizes is missing.

In case you need to be reminded of the awesomeness of the original theme song, here it is:

And here is the French version, which is not awesome:

Why, France, why??

Plus the names of the characters are different: Face became Futé, B.A. changed to Barracuda, and Murdock was called Looping. At least they left Hannibal alone (though without the initial /h/ sound, of course).

The theme song for The Dukes of Hazzard (Shérif, fais-moi peur ! in French) is also completely different. No love for Waylon Jennings and The Good Ol’ Boys. Instead we get this:

I do have to admit that the French intro for Dallas is slightly better than the instrumental American one. It’s kind of catchy and it is actually the most famous TV theme song in France:

You can find lyrics and other theme songs at Génériques TV. Sometimes they have both the original and French versions and other times it’s just the French one, but of course, you need to know the French translation of names of the shows too. You can always just use Wikipedia and “Languages” in the left column to figure them out.

I am not a fan of dubbing at all and I wish the translations of titles were more direct (The Avengers is Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir! ::sigh::), but I don’t understand why new theme songs are written in French, especially when the original version has no English lyrics anyway. Why can’t they just stick to the original as closely as possible? As with dubbing, it diminishes the authenticity of the work. Subtitles cannot convey this entirely either since they are merely translations, but it’s better than adding something new as if the original writers had created it.

And now the L’Agence Tous Risques song keeps getting stuck in my head and I instantly think Barracuda instead of B.A. when I picture Mr. T. I still understand pop culture references to classic American shows and movies, but I can’t make them anymore because the French names or titles come out of my mouth first so Americans have no idea what I’m talking about. Thanks France for distorting my memories of the 80’s!

The Frenchified English of McDonald’s in France

By   April 15, 2010

I had the misfortune of eating at McDonald’s last Sunday when David and I decided to go on a drive to Chanaz, at the other end of Lac du Bourget. Unfortunately, we arrived at 2pm, when every restaurant in Europe closes because no one can possibly still be hungry at that time, so it was either starve (I normally eat breakfast at 11 and lunch at 2, I’m so unFrench!) or go to the only “restaurant” in this area that serves “food” after 2pm. So McDonald’s it was, though I think I should have chosen to just starve for a while longer.

I always have to laugh at fast food places in France because they try so hard to be American. Most of their menu is in English, though Frenchified English, because everyone associates fast food with the US, so of course you have to order in English to make the experience more authentic; and I’m sure it’s supposed to attract the Americans abroad. I got bored waiting at the drive-thru (that’s le drive in French) so I took a picture of their menu so I could see what ridiculous names they give the food. There’s the Big Tasty (Europe dropped the N’), the CBO (Chicken Bacon Oignons – why it’s 2/3 in English and 1/3 in French nobody knows!), Le P’tit Wrap Cheese & Sauce Ranch, and the value meals are called Best Of, though most burgers/sandwiches and the Happy Meal kept the same names.

Even though the spelling may be the same, the pronunciation is radically different, which basically means Americans who can’t speak Frenchified English can’t order at McDonald’s in France even though the menu is in English. Shortly after my arrival in France, the boulanger didn’t understand me when I tried to order un cookie because I pronounced it /ˈkʊki/ instead of /kuˈki/ and the whole time I was wondering why can’t it just be called un biscuit like I learned in French class. One little vowel and stress pattern changed and the word becomes incomprehensible. Though perhaps this should serve as a lesson why learning proper pronunciation of a foreign language is so important – especially the pronunciation of loan words that are deceptively similar to the original.

When we got home, I decided to look at McDonald’s French website for more “translations” – I highly recommend you don’t because the site is incredibly flash-heavy like most French sites – and came across this:

So I’m a little confused. Which is the English and which is the French? I’m pretty sure this is called a double cheeseburger in the US, but the translation seems to imply that Double Cheese is the English and that Double Cheeseburger is an appropriate translation into French. Why not just leave it as Double Cheeseburger and therefore have no need for that super helpful translation at the bottom?

Fahrenheit vs. Celsius

By   December 14, 2009

Sometimes I don’t think I will ever get used to non-American measurements. The Metric system and Celsius degrees are much more logical, but it’s not what I spent most of my life using and even after years of living in the country that was the first to adopt the Metric system, I still find it hard to switch between the two. Especially when it comes to degrees, I prefer my Fahrenheit numbers. There’s just something about saying it’s “below zero” when referring to Fahrenheit that has much more of an impact than when you say the same for Celsius. Maybe it’s because I’m from the northern US where we usually have negative temperatures (in Fahrenheit!) each winter. Negative degrees in Celsius are nothing to me.

Right now there are cold temps all over France and the news stations are making such a big deal out of -5° C (or 23°F). Try -5°F. Then you can start complaining about how cold it is (about -20°C). Though I do have to agree that even if the temperatures aren’t as cold here, sometimes it still feels just as cold because of the amount of time we have to spend outside and because of the lack of proper heating indoors.

David said the coldest temperature he can remember it being here is about -10° C or 14° F. The coldest temperature I remember in Michigan is -21° F or -30° C. I was in 6th grade and we didn’t have school that day and it was awesome.

Have any other Americans successfully stopped using the customary system or am I doomed for life with a mess of conversions in my head?

Goodbye Thanksgiving, Hello Christmas

By   November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving came and went, and I did what I do every year in France: put up Christmas decorations and pretend that not celebrating Thanksgiving doesn’t bother me. Now we’re in the “3 weeks left of school before vacation” period and I’m trying to keep busy with planning what to do during my month off between semesters.  We don’t have big plans for Christmas this year since we’re staying in France, and I’m sure the weather will continue to be gray and rainy. A few friends are staying with us for 2 days after Christmas, but other than that, we have absolutely nothing planned. I’d like to go to Paris for even just one day to take pictures of the decorations and/or visit DisneyLand since it’s the closest thing I’ll get to an American Christmas experience. Plus I’d really like to see some people who are moving back to the US soon.

I actually got all of my Christmas shopping done online last weekend, mostly because the US dollar is so weak right now that buying things through American stores is like a permanent discount for me. Plus I didn’t want to deal with shopping in France (stores are busy enough when it’s not Christmastime!) or the post office, which keeps going on strike on random days so I never know when they’ll be open.

People keep asking me what I want for Christmas and I really don’t know. The only thing I need right now is a haircut. Everything else can’t exactly be bought. Oh, but if someone could pay off my student loans for me, that would be great too.

I was looking at pictures of the last time I was in Michigan for Christmas, and the dogs lying in front of the heater (notice how they are not on their beds) make me extremely homesick. Maybe next year…

Kentucky Fried Chicken in France

By   November 8, 2009

It’s Sunday and we have no food in the apartment because it’s Sunday and no stores are open. Ok, some stores are open in the morning on Sundays, but they are so crowded that I hyperventilate just thinking about it.

A KFC opened in Chambéry a few months ago and I was actually curious to see what it would be like (though I haven’t eaten at KFC in the US since I was in high school…) and David wanted to try it too since he’s never had it. KFC hopes to open 200 restaurants in France by 2012 and according to their awful flash-heavy website that takes 2 minutes to load, there are currently 93 restaurants open.

So I got some Crispy Tenders (the menu is mostly in English, of course). My first impression of a Frenchified KFC is: where are the mashed potatoes & gravy?!

Yes, they sell pieces of chicken in a bucket with Col. Sanders’ face on it but that’s about where the similarities end. The sides available with the meals are a salad, fries or a little corn on the cob that no one knows how to “make” and so they won’t even give it to you, but instead substitute fries without your knowledge.  The sauces available for the chicken are barbecue, sweet & sour or curry. The desserts are the standard ones you find at French McDonald’s and Quick: fondant au chocolat, tiramisu, tartes, etc.

No mashed potatoes, no gravy, no biscuits, no mac & cheese, no beans, no rice, no apple pie or parfaits.  I figured these things wouldn’t be served in France, but I still had a tiny bit of hope. And now I’m actually craving the mashed potato bowl – mashed potatoes with corn, chicken, gravy and cheddar cheese on top. It’s seriously no surprise to me that French people would not want to eat that, but now I do! And I can’t have it. ::sigh::

I suppose what bothered me most was the fries. I am so sick of French people complaining that Americans are so fat and Americans eat french fries at every meal, blah blah blah. I very rarely ate fries in the US and I have never had so many fries forced on me as I do in France. I can’t even eat fries anymore because of it. I used to just to be nice, but now I don’t care. You can do more to potatoes than just frying them, ya know, like boiling and mashing them!

One good thing is that it seems to be much cheaper than other fast food places in France. Compared to US prices, it’s still ridiculously expensive for not-so-great food.

And their Hot Wings? Not so hot.  France and spices don’t get along.

At least in December, some stores are allowed to be open on Sundays for Christmas shopping so we won’t have to resort to fast food. The law passed earlier this year allowing stores to open on Sundays for the entire year is only for Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and Lille. Those of us in the boondocks get nothing because the law is supposed to be intended for tourists in tourist-heavy areas only because French people couldn’t possibly want to shop on Sundays!

Québec is Calling Me…

By   October 18, 2009

In order to feed my Quebec obsession, I’ve been watching the Radio-Canada series “Catherine” on TV5 each evening. Luckily it’s subtitled in European French because I don’t understand all the words, but when they make cultural references to Thanksgiving, Sears or hockey, it makes me a little homesick. Sometimes I catch “Pure Laine” which is also a comedy about life in Montréal in a multi-cultural family (Quebecois mother, Haitian father, and adopted Chinese girl). Barbara has been posting her wonderful photos of a recent trip to Montréal & Québce City and David has been mentioning wanting to go there more and more lately.

Then Quebec announces that between now and 2012, it will need 700,000 immigrants to make up for the retiring population. They’re increasing their quota for French citizens as well, because of course they want people who already speak French. I’m not a French citizen (not yet anyway! I can apply after 5 years of PACS, so early 2012), but I can obviously still apply as an American citizen who speaks French. Career-wise, I don’t know what David or I would do because he works for the French government and I really don’t want to continue teaching English.  (I could be improving my Italian and German so much instead of preparing lessons…)

If the high-speed railway between Montréal and Windsor ever gets approved and built, I will so be there! It currently takes more than 9.5 hours to take the train from Montréal to Windsor (not including connection in Toronto) compared to at least a 9 hour drive from Montréal to Flint by way of Sarnia. Granted, Windsor is still a 2 hour drive to my parents’ house, but cutting down on the travel time in any way would be nice especially if I didn’t have to drive at all. The whole project would connect Québec City to Windsor (via Montréal, Ottawa and Toronto) in 3 hours and 55 minutes!

Washington, D.C.

By   August 6, 2009

I finally saw the nation’s capital on Monday. I had been wanting to see D.C. for a very long time and since we were going to be close by (well, close enough) after the wedding, I talked my parents into stopping for the day. So for eight hours we wandered around the Mall and Arlington Cemetery, taking picture after picture and learning about the history of the presidents from our Tourmobile guides.

Here are just a few photos. I will upload the rest to a photo album on my Travel Photos page when I get back to France.

Lincoln Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Vietnam War Veterans Memorial

WWII Memorial

Washington Monument

White House

Capitol Building

Arlington Cemetery

View of D.C. from Arlington House

I will definitely go back to D.C. someday. I could spend days in the Smithsonian museums, and I love that they are free. I’ve always liked American history, and especially military history, and there is so much to learn and experience in that city. And I’m glad we were in Lexington before Arlington since Robert E. Lee had a strong presence in both places and I knew exactly what the guides were talking about. But I had no idea he (technically, his wife’s family) had owned Arlington House before the Civil War.

I gave all of my history books to my brother (along with the bookcase since there were so many) when I moved to France, but now I feel like reading up on the Civil War again. I know David has a few history books, but reading them in French just isn’t the same.

The Wedding

By   August 5, 2009

Congratulations to my big sister Jamie and my new brother-in-law Josh! They got married August 1st in Lexington. The weather was great for that one day, as it rained every day before and after. Here’s the bridal party. The adorable flower girls are Josh’s nieces.

I was a bridesmaid and I also had to carry Josh’s ring, which I found out the day before and which made me very paranoid. I was so afraid I would drop it! But don’t worry, I’m not that clumsy. The ceremony was perfect, and actually, I can’t think of anything that went wrong the entire weekend. Of course since Josh’s family and friends had never met me or seen me, they all commented on how Jamie and I look so much alike. Apparently EVERYONE thinks we practically look like twins (this annoyed me to no end in high school when her friends constantly confused us) but I just don’t see it. Sometimes I don’t think we look like we’re related at all.

During the reception, I successfully avoided being shoved on the dance floor for the bouquet toss because I am NOT in any way single, thank you very much. I wish the US had something comparable to PACSing because I’m not sure how to describe it properly so people understand that it is almost marriage. The Best Man speech was by far the most hilarious speech I have ever heard. I wish I would have thought to record it, but sadly I don’t think anyone did.

But I think the best part of the night was the photo booth. For anyone planning a wedding, this is an awesome idea. Guests take funny pictures of themselves and paste them into a scrapbook for the bride and groom to keep. All of us bridesmaids decided to take individual photos (which is hard since you only have 5 seconds between shots) and then shove all 5 heads into the last frame. Et voilà, a Brady Bunch type photo:

Then later Liz and I had a bit too much fun playing with the props:

As well as the numerous stuffed animals throughout the Inn:

Ah, great memories. After the wedding, we drove over to the coast where Jamie & Josh live so we could see their new house which has a nice inground pool that the dog adores. Can you say jealous? I wish David & I could live in a big house someday with a pool and backyard, but I know that will probably never happen in France. Anyway, we spent Monday in D.C. – my first time in the nation’s capital! – and then drove straight back to Michigan, arriving at 6 AM Tuesday. I’ve barely gotten any sleep this past week, and I’ve only got two full days left here before I head back to France. I’ll post the D.C. pictures soon, but for now it’s bedtime.

Lexington & Stuffed Animals

By   August 2, 2009

I am still in Virginia! My sister got married last night in Lexington, but before that we spent Thursday & Friday exploring the town. We saw Robert E. Lee’s crypt and where his horse, Traveller, is buried at Lee Chapel on the campus of Washington & Lee University. Then we saw Stonewall Jackson’s house and garden, his grave (and statue) at the cemetery named after him, and his horse, Little Sorrel, who is not buried, but stuffed and standing in the Virginia Military Institute Museum.

We checked into the House Mountain Inn on Friday. The bridal party and family members all stayed there, and the reception was also held there on Saturday night. It’s just a modest, little inn located in the mountains.

It has a nice view of the yard and mountain, with many trails for hiking and horse riding. All 9 rooms either have a hot tub or jacuzzi tub. And apparently Tom Cruise stayed there while filming War of the Worlds a few years ago.

And inside the inn, there are many animal friends to play with. Or just pet since they don’t move.

I don’t have any wedding pictures on my camera, so they’ll have to wait until Tuesday night when we get back home. I am thoroughly enjoying my time in Virginia though. I love hearing pretty Southern accents everywhere and even though the weather isn’t always sunny, it’s still rather warm. The Confederate flags still make me feel uneasy, but that’s mostly because when I see them in Michigan it usually means that person is racist. At least around here it just means that person loves the south and is proud to be a southerner. (Or that’s what I’d like to believe it always means.)

We are at my sister’s house in Virginia Beach for today, and then we should be in D.C. all day tomorrow. The drive to Lexington took 11.5 hours, but I’m hoping the drive from D.C. will be slightly shorter. I’m so glad we didn’t have to fly here, but I am also really sick of sitting in a car!

On the Road to Virginia and D.C.

By   July 28, 2009

We are leaving very early tomorrow morning for Virginia, for my sister’s wedding this weekend. It will probably take us about 12 hours to drive there, which I am really excited about. I just hope they actually have summer-like weather down there. There are a lot of Civil War monuments/museums in the area so that should be interesting, and then we’re stopping in D.C. on the way home.

I have to say I’m getting a little sick of America already and want to be back in France. That’s mostly because I miss David like crazy though, and I’m tired of hearing people complain about EVERYTHING. I know the economy is bad, but is complaining really going to change anything? It could just be Michiganders since we have the worst economy in the country, but somehow I think all Americans complain just as much.

I know, I know. I complain a lot about France on my blog. I admit I’m a huge complainer. But Americans really don’t have much to complain about (except for the health care thing…) because everyday life in the US is still amazing and easy and inexpensive and efficient and convenient in spite of the recession. Americans earn so much money and pay so few taxes compared to the rest of the world. Nowhere else can you have a large house and yard with several cars, TVs, computers, and cell phones and you can actually buy things that you can’t really afford because of credit cards. Everything is amazing, and yet no one is happy. You should be grateful that you have the choice to do what you want in life because the government doesn’t control it for you.

That being said, I still don’t want to live in the US again. Not until there are major changes, which unfortunately I don’t truly believe will ever happen. There are tons of things I could complain about regarding the US (see “I don’t miss” in the right column), but I won’t go on and on about them. Those are simply the reasons why I am glad to not be living in the US and I suppose this trip has reminded me of all of them. Sure, I am always jealous of the high salaries and 24 hour stores and variety of foods available and constantly frustrated with the French government’s insistence that I have no say in how I get to live my life. But for now, France is the better option and mostly because of the health care.

I miss my socialist country that takes care of all the people regardless of how much or how little money they earn. I like the idea that no matter what happens in life – illness, accident, unemployment – I will be taken care of by the government and I won’t be financially ruined. I am scared to death that something bad will happen to my friends and family who don’t have health insurance in the US. So I hate the French government for controlling my life, but I also love it for always taking care of me, even though I’m just a “temporary resident.”

I’m hoping seeing another part of the US will rid me of some of this negativity. Hopefully the South isn’t as sad as the Midwest. (For the non-Americans, Virginia really is considered part of the south even though it’s not really in the south. Just ask any Virginian.) I still love my country even if I don’t want to live here, but perhaps it’s just Michigan that gets me down. I certainly have been seeing too many abandoned houses around here and downtown Flint always manages to depress me. So Virginia and D.C. please cheer me up.

And you all know that I’ll be complaining about France as soon as I get back there in August and saying that I wish I could be in the US again. Gotta love being an expat who can’t stop living between two cultures. In the end, I do think France barely wins out. Until I visit Canada again.