Category Archives: Annecy, Chambéry & France

Australia to France in December

By   December 31, 2011

Traveling from Australia to France always involves a lot of flying (ok, Australia to Anywhere involves a lot of flying), but changing seasons is another big shock that is hard to get used to. I spent Christmas in summer with temps in the 30s C / 90s F and then I came back to the Alps where it is snowing and barely above freezing.

I went from this:

to this:

and on Sunday I will be heading to Michigan where it is even colder and more snow is in the forecast.

I am enjoying my time in France even though this trip is rather short (only 4 days). I went to Grenoble yesterday to meet up with Crystal (Crystal goes to Europe) and Dana (grenobloise) and today I am spending New Year’s Eve in Annecy. Actually, I’m spending most of my time with this furball since I haven’t seen him in nearly six months:

He hasn’t changed at all.

Bonne année à tous et à toutes !

Happy New Year everyone!

Moving to the Other Side of the World, Part 1: Leaving France

By   June 27, 2011

I’m moving to Australia in one week! I’m almost completely packed and have taken care of most of the paperwork with regards to leaving France. Since David (and yes, Canaille) are staying in France and moving back to Annecy, I don’t have to take care of everything or even move everything right now – though I’m really just leaving behind furniture and books. I have donated some of my clothes to the local Scouts and given away smaller things, such as my bread machine, to people who will use them. I always hate when I feel like I have too many possessions that I don’t really need and moving overseas is a good opportunity to really sort through everything and see what is truly important to own and what you can do without.

As far as paperwork goes, I am leaving my French bank account open so I can still use my bank card when I come back to Europe. I’m sending a lettre de résiliation to cancel my mutuelle (private health insurance), changing the car registration & insurance to David’s name, and signing a pouvoir pour l’état des lieux so he can sign for me since I won’t be here when he returns the keys to this apartment. This is obviously much easier than if I had lived alone in France, because then I would also have to cancel electricity, water, internet, etc. You can easily find sample résiliation letters online when canceling contracts, but always make sure to send them recommandé with an accusé de reception!

Since I am not flying to/from the US or Canada, I am only allowed ONE checked bag and one carry-on bag, with maximum weights of 23 kg and 7 kg. I technically could check an extra bag, but it would cost $45 PER KILO. (I have no idea why flights not going to the US/Canada allow such limited luggage. It’s rather unfair, isn’t it?) The rest of my things are under 23 kg too, so being able to check a 2nd bag would have been perfect, but oh well, I’ll just have to send some stuff via La Poste. Unfortunately, they no longer have the slower, cheaper option for shipping packages overseas (économique) and the regular international rate is expensive. The only other option is their pre-paid boxes that only come in a few sizes/weight limits (such as L for 36.50€ or XL for 43€), so I will be using three of those to get the rest of my stuff across the ocean.


La Poste does offer a cheaper book rate for sending boxes (maximum 5 kg each) or bags (25 kg) overseas, but many postal workers do not know about it and the bag option is particularly difficult to use since you must go to a Centre de Tri and convince them that it does in fact exist. I will be sending at least 7 boxes of French books this way, at 13.72€ each. Oddly enough the webpage about the livres et brochures rate mysteriously stopped working a few days ago, but you can still access it through the Wayback Machine.

All that is left is to get to the airport on Monday and settle into the (hopefully) comfortable seats on Etihad Airways. I am actually excited about flying with a 4 star airline for once. Even though I’m flying economy, I bet it will be much better than flying economy on certain other airlines… such as any that are based in the US. I already know that I will have power & USB plugs for my laptop/iPod/Kindle, plus a 10.4″ video screen with 600 hours of entertainment, so I definitely won’t be bored on the seven and thirteen hour flights.

Everything for Australia is already taken care of – including opening a bank account and finding housing – which I will explain in part 2 next week after I arrive. Here’s a teaser: moving to Australia is turning out to be a million times easier than moving to France.

The French Language of the Pays de Savoie

By   June 15, 2011

The area where I live in France is called Savoy and it used to be a part of the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia. In 1860 it was annexed to France and split into two départements: Savoie and Haute-Savoie. Together they are known as the Pays de Savoie in French and they make up 2 of the 8 départements of the Rhône-Alpes region.

Chambéry is the capital of Savoie, which also includes Albertville, the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics. Annecy is the capital of Haute-Savoie, which includes Chamonix and Evian-les-Bains. I have spent nearly 5 years here even though I do not like mountains (I prefer flat land, lakes and forests – I’m from Michigan!) but I do like the close proximity to Switzerland and Italy, as well as Lyon.

I will be leaving France in less than three weeks and I realized that I had never posted about the variation of French spoken in this area. Here are a few features of the Savoie dialect of French, which shares some similarities with Swiss French. If you ever travel to/study in Savoie, you might hear:

Il faut y faire instead of Il faut le faire – y often replaces the direct object pronouns le, la, and les

ou bien is a common saying at the end of a sentence, similar to hein which is like a tag question in English, though used much more often in French

la panosse is used for mop instead of la serpillière

Since this is the French Alps, many other expressions are related to snow and cheese:

Most people already know about Tartiflette, the potato and cheese baked dish made with Reblochon. However, another cheese is very popular, Tomme, which has produced a pejorative expression for an apathetic woman: une grosse Tomme

la trafole and the adjective trafolée refer to fresh snow that already has ski tracks in it

terrainer means that the snow is melting and the ground is showing: Ça terraine.

For more vocabulary, check out the website (entirely in French) Termes régionaux de Suisse romande et de Savoie

In addition, the local minority language, which extends beyond Savoie to Neuchâtel, Mâcon and Grenoble, is called Arpitan and its official website is

Tastes and Tours of the French Alps

By   December 11, 2010

The following is a guest post by Cynthia Caughey Annet, an American who also lives in Chambéry. She is the author of, a blog full of great videos, photos, recipes, travel tips, and observations on expat life in France and the French Alps.

Looking for unique gifts this holiday season? Does your spouse, best friend or relative have a love of all things French? Then check out this first gift idea – a summertime French Alps Tour.

With your loved one, wander the medieval town of Annecy, nicknamed the Venice of the French Alps, and take a boat ride on its crystal blue lake. Do you like pampering yourself on your vacations, then why not spend an afternoon at the Aix-les-Bains thermal baths inside your lakeside hotel? Are you the adventurous type? Then take a horseback ride in the Alps or fly through the trees at the High Ropes Adventure. Are you a foodie? Taste local chocolates, cheeses, wines and hazelnut oils. Are you a history buff? Then satisfy your curiosity at Lyon’s Old Town or Vienne’s Roman Temple and Museum. Or just enjoy watching the hang gliders and sunset at an outdoor apéritif on the top of a mountain overlooking Annecy’s lake. And don’t worry, you’ll have a few hours most days to explore on your own, or shop. And for the ultimate in relaxation, spend a couple of evenings in your hotel’s thermal pool and saunas in Aix-les-Bains. Visit for the detailed itinerary for the tours which take place in June and September.

Perhaps your friend or spouse likes to cook. Then buy them a French culinary gift – the only Savoie and French Alps English language cookbook in existence. French Comfort Food: Recipes of Savoie and the French Alps is an e-book which features 51 regional recipes, such as Endives Blue Cheese Crumble, Savoie Brioche, Crozets with Beaufort Cheese Gratin, Orange Gratin (with Carrots), Pumpkin Sage Polenta, Tartiflette, Diots in White Wine Sauce, Steak Savoyard Mincavie, Morel Souffle, Savoyard Fondue, Turkey with Nuts and Reblochon, Chartreuse Souffle Pie, Wild Berry Confiture (Preserves), Cassis Liqueur, Tarte au Citron, Cherry Clafoutis, Fruit Galette, Wild Blackberry & Cream Scones. Buy yours for $12.99. As a bonus gift, you’ll also receive for free the Chambery Guide e-book – a sightseeing and historical overview of the charming city of Chambery in the French Alps. Click below for more information:

And don’t forget Jennie’s great French Language Tutorial e-book ($14.95) or paperback book ($29.95) to help you learn the French language. Go to the Store to order.

You have many choices this year for the Francophile in your life. Happy Holidays!

Chinese Food in France (Helps with Homesickness)

By   November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to the Americans, whether you are actually celebrating it or not! This week is always hard for me because I’m usually rather homesick, more so than at Christmas since Christmas actually exists in France (albeit a less excessive form of the holiday… I need an overload of decorations, people!) Luckily we did something this week that helped with the homesickness: ate lunch at an all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant.

Eating out in France is not common for us since we can’t really afford it, but I make an exception for Chinese restaurants. If I could find a decent Mexican restaurant where I live, I would make an exception there too, but I’ve been having no luck finding one. Luckily there is a good Chinese restaurant near Chambéry with offers an all-you-can-eat buffet (buffet à volonté) and it reminds me of an American-style restaurant because it is huge:

Finding restaurants that serve more than French or Italian food can be hard outside of the large cities, and even in Indian or Moroccan restaurants, épicé is not what Americans would call spicy. Every time I travel I make sure to find a restaurant that serves food that I can’t find in the Alps, such as falafel and hummus. There’s only so much cheese and potatoes I can take, which is surprising because I really LOVE cheese and potatoes.

The lack of variety of food that we take for granted in the US is what makes me homesick often, and I’m not just talking about in restaurants. I would give anything to find frozen mini tacos in my local grocery store. There is usually one small section of international food, and even though you can find fajita kits, Asian soups and occasional British items, it just isn’t the same. Luckily Picard offers more choices in the frozen food department (bagels!), but some days I just really want some nachos, you know?

For now I’ll take advantage of the Chinese restaurant and its side of the highway exterior and non-French decor.

Le Palais Cantonais is just outside of Chambéry, on the borders of Barberaz and La Ravoire. Lunch is 13€ and dinner is slightly more, but there is more food available in the evening (and karaoke on weekends!). Plus they accept tickets-restaurant, so thanks French government for paying for half of my lunch.

Cost of Living in France: My Personal Experience

By   November 18, 2010

How much does it cost to live in France? I’ve received a few e-mails inquiring about the cost of living in France, so here is a listing of my monthly bills and yearly taxes. Hopefully this information will be useful for those who are looking to move to France and want to compare the costs. I do not live in Paris, where the cost of living is especially high, but I do live near the Alps and Switzerland in one of the more expensive areas of France. My city is the capital of its department, and has a population of about 50,000. I live with my PACS partner, David, so most of my expenses are cut in half.

Cost of Living in France

Monthly Bills

Rent: 550€ total / my half: 275€

– one-bedroom apartment in old building (with poor electrical installation; can’t use hairdyer and microwave at same time for example…) about 10 minutes from train station and city center; 52 meters squared with two balconies and storage space in basement. Most apartments in this area are much more expensive (700-800€) which we couldn’t really afford so we chose the cheapest one possible.

Electricity & Gas: 65€ total / my half: 32.50€

– We have a gas stove & oven, but luckily regular radiators instead of those expensive electric ones (so heat is included in our rent.) Our hot water heater only heats at night during off-peak hours.

Water: 20€ total / my half: 10€

– washing machine but no dishwasher; hot water heater only holds 100 liters which is just enough for two showers and doing the dishes

Internet, phone, & TV: 30€ total / my half: 15€

– ADSL internet + land-line with free calling to US & Canada and free calls to land-lines in many, many other countries + basic “cable” channels

Groceries: 250€ total / my half: 125€

– Even shopping at Aldi and Lidl! We are trying to reduce this obviously.

Gas/Tolls: 150€ total / my half: 75€

– We only use the car once or twice a week – to get groceries or visit David’s parents. Our car is an automatic that takes the most expensive gas though.

Car Insurance: 30€ total / my half: 15€

Renter’s Insurance: 10€ total / my half: 5€

*Cell phone: 15€

– I just buy prepaid cards and very rarely need to use my cell phone thanks to the internet.

*Mutuelle: 30€

– This means my prescriptions and contacts are “free” and I get another 30% of consultation fees reimbursed. Government-run healthcare that almost everyone has (la sécu) generally reimburses the first 70%.

When I used to commute to work (100 km round-trip 4 days a week), I paid about 250€ per month for gas and tolls. David walks to work and I work at home now, so we have no public transportation costs. For reference, a monthly bus pass in our city costs 30€ while a monthly passe Navigo in Paris is between 55€ and 123€ (depending on which zones you need). However, it is now law in France that your employer must pay 50% of your public transportation costs for your commute to and from work.

  • Total Monthly Bills:  600€ (*cell phone and mutuelle are the only bills that I do not share with David)

Yearly Taxes

Residency Card Renewal: 110€ Unless you have the 10 year carte de résident, you must renew the yearly carte de séjour for a price of 110€.

Income tax: 611€ for my part.  Since I am PACSed, my income tax is lower than for a single person plus I received a credit of 194€ for the prime pour l’emploi. The amount of income tax I paid was 5% of my imposable income (about 15% of my gross income minus a 10% deduction). In France, la sécurité sociale which includes health insurance, unemployment & retirement benefits is automatically taken out of your paycheck, but income tax is NOT. I calculated that 18% of my gross income was deducted for la sécu. I have no other source of income in France because I am not eligible for CAF, or rent assistance for low-income individuals or families, that most language assistants and lecturers receive. To be on the safe side, most people say you should save almost one month’s salary to pay for income tax.

Taxe d’habitation: 368€ for my half out of 736€ total. This is a renter’s tax that you must pay on the place where you are living on January 1st, even if you move out on January 2nd. (If you own your house or apartment, you pay la taxe foncière.)  The amount of la taxe d’habitation depends on the city where you live, the size of your apartment, your income, etc. so it can be hard to know how much you will have to pay until you receive the bill in October or November. In general it should be around one month’s rent. Added to this taxe is the TV tax (or Contribution à l’audiovisuel public as it is now called) which is 121€. Every household that owns a TV must pay it. Two ways of ensuring you do not have to pay this tax is by living in university residences managed by CROUS or renting a furnished room (not apartment) in a person’s home. Sometimes you can get this tax decreased if you have a low income by explaining your situation to the tax center (a dégrèvement).

  • Total Yearly Taxes:  1,089€

At the very least, I need more than 8,300€ to survive in France each year and the above figures do not include any extra expenses such as clothes, books, entertainment, birthday & Christmas presents, etc. We never go to the movies and rarely eat at restaurants – and when we do, we use David’s tickets-restaurant. In addition, every two years we have to pay 80€ for the vehicle inspection (contrôle technique) and every year our car has needed about 600€ worth of repairs (it’s a 1986 Renault Super 5 automatic with a manual choke.) And another expense that was free in the US is a checking account. I pay 33€ a year for my account, debit card and checks.

Personally I don’t feel that life is that much more expensive in France compared to the US. Internet/phone/TV is definitely cheaper here and cell phones can also be cheaper if you rarely make calls since receiving calls is free in France. However, clothes, books and especially electronics are definitely more expensive than what I’m used to. Movies and restaurants are comparable to larger cities in the US, but expensive compared to the area where I come from. Groceries, gas, and tolls are more expensive than what I used to pay in Michigan – though gas in general is much cheaper in the US and Michigan only has freeways. It’s harder to compare income tax since I’ve always received a refund in the US and never paid much attention to how much was taken out of my paychecks. And a renter’s tax just doesn’t exist where I lived.

Nevertheless, even if bills and taxes are similar and we receive great benefits in France with regards to unemployment and health insurance, the main difference I see with the US are the incomes. It is very frustrating to know that I earned roughly the same amount working full-time in France that I earned working part-time in the US. A lot of people working full-time only earn minimum wage in France, which is 12,600€ net per year. When I was an English assistant, I earned 5,460€ and only had a 7 month contract. When I was an English lecturer at the university, I earned 14,640€ per year before income tax and the job was considered full-time (I wasn’t even allowed to get a 2nd job if I wanted to) and required a Master’s degree. Most fonctionnaires (civil servants) start out between 14,500€ and 19,000€ per year. They may have their job for life, but the incomes do not increase much even after years and years of experience. French people who make American-like incomes work in Switzerland and Luxembourg, where they average 48-72k per year. French people working the same jobs in France tend to average 18-30k.

That being said, France does a good job of taking care of people who are extremely poor. People who earn minimum wage tend to receive a large prime pour l’emploi and monthly benefits from CAF. Even unemployed people get special discounts on public transportation, library subscriptions, museum admission, etc. Young people (under 25) also get a LOT of nice discounts and families with children receive very generous benefits from the state. Once you’re over 25 and earn just above minimum wage however, you get nothing. Being PACSed or married definitely helps with regards to income tax, though it also tends to make you ineligible for CAF. In a nutshell, there’s not a whole lot you can do in France to earn more money, but you can decrease your bills by living with a roommate and/or getting PACSed.  If I were single and living in the same apartment, I’d probably end up paying 900-1,000€ in monthly bills (depending on how much I used the car) with a higher rate of income tax plus the full amount of the taxe d’habitation. So my advice to everyone is get PACSed!


Decorated Shell Casings from WWI – Aisne 1917

By   November 13, 2010

Remember those old war newspapers we found in grandma’s storage space last year? We came across another interesting find recently: decorated shell casings (douilles d’obus) from 1917. To pass the time in the trenches, soldiers used shell casings as canvases to create their own works of art. You can see other examples by searching Sadly, some of them are being sold on Ebay for as little as 15€. I will probably donate them to a museum someday, but I will definitely not be making a few euros off les poilus‘ sacrifices for France.


They include the word Aisne (a département of France on the border with Belguim that saw a lot of action during WWI), the year 1917, leaf patterns, the initials VR, and the name Valentine.


I can’t even begin to imagine how long it took to hammer down the metal to form the letters and shapes.


Maybe the initials of the soldier?


Valentine; perhaps his girlfriend or wife?


According to this munitions website, the black line means this shell was an obus explosif.

I’ve uploaded the photos to my Artifacts of French History collection on Flickr.

Learning new words in French & English while traveling in France: Des Oiseaux / Birds

By   September 4, 2010

Yesterday David and I went to the Parc des Oiseaux in Villars-les-Dombes and then to the medieval city of Pérouges, both in the département of Ain. The only things I knew about Ain were its capital city (Bourg-en-Bresse) and its number (01). I had never been there before or heard much about it. Even though it’s the départment directly to the north and west of Savoie and Haute-Savoie, there really aren’t many mountains and the landscape is mostly flat (at least in the western Dombes area) with lots of cornfields, forests and ponds.  Since it’s bordered by both the Saône and Rhône rivers, fishing and wine are also important industries. It seemed radically different from Savoie even though it’s only 1.5 hours away – yet another reason why I love exploring France. Everywhere you go, it’s as if you enter a new country every few hours.

Département de l’Ain

At the Parc des Oiseaux, I learned several new words in both French and English for different types of birds. I do love animals, but I’m not exactly an expert on the classification of birds or know where their native habitats are. The park was divided into Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and Oceania, with over 100 species of birds and the signs had translations of their names in English and German so I was able to learn more vocabulary in more than one language.

We started in la forêt tropicale des toucans and then walked through la volière (aviary) du Pantanal and saw beautiful colorful birds from Brazil. Next was the crique des manchots where we watched the adorable penguins swim in their little wave pool.


Le bush Australien was my favorite part because there were wallabies! I love wallabies!


La vallée des rapaces (raptors/birds of prey) was a bit creepy because of this guy sitting next to the entrance. Not that vautours (vultures) will kill you… but they wish you were dead so they could eat you already.


Past le champ des cigognes (storks) was la plaine Africaine with the largest bird of all: l’autruche (ostrich). Some males can weigh up to 155 kilos / 340 pounds! They can run 70 kph / 45 mph for half an hour! Their wingspan is 6 ft. 7 inches / 2 meters and their height can reach 9 feet / 2.75 meters! In short, they are one badass bird.  Except for their adorable, funny-looking faces and eyes that are bigger than their brain.


Afterwards, we entered the terre des calaos where I learned about the hornbills. These birds were the most unfamiliar to me. Their beaks are slightly like toucans, but with an extra something (apparently called a casque in both English and French) on top.


We ended our tour du monde of birds with the étang des pélicans and the baie de Cuba with the bright flamants (flamingos). But before returning home so I could look up the differences between nandous, émeus and autruches (rheas, emus and ostriches) or why manchot is the translation of penguin even though most books still say it’s pingouin* (though no one in France ever calls them that), we decided to stop in the medieval town of Pérouges.


Pérouges is listed as one of the plus beaux villages en France and it is indeed a beautiful place. Founded by Gauls returning from Perugia, Italy, in the 12th century, the town officially became French in 1601.


Most of the buildings date from the 15th century.


I don’t think I would want to live in a medieval town today, but they sure are interesting to explore.


Check out my Flickr account for the rest of the Parc des Oiseaux and Pérouges photos!

*Pingouin in French is actually a razorbill in English, which is technically an auk and not a penguin. Manchot is the correct translation of penguin in French, even though most other Indo-European languages also use a word similar to penguin. French just likes to be different. It still doesn’t explain why the character of Penguin in Batman was translated as Pingouin though!

More Snow and More Vacation

By   January 7, 2010

Rhône-Alpes is supposed to get more snow on Friday. The forecast says neige forte, and they’re predicting around 6 inches for Chambéry.  Good thing I don’t have to go anywhere and David’s work is only a few blocks away so he can walk. I’m already back on (paid) vacation after two days of phonetics exams (for which I will be paid overtime).  Eleven more days off!

In the meantime, I’m going to try to get the rest of my lessons prepared for the entire semester and work on my website more. I am trying to respond to all the e-mails, but I’ve still got a long way to go. With upcoming trips to Germany and possibly Italy this summer, I want to focus more on those languages (and especially the comparative tutorials with French.)

I actually have some rather ambitious travel plans this spring & summer, and I can’t stop thinking about where to go and what to see. Darn you Rick Steves and your Europe video podcasts that make me want to see everything on this continent!