Category Archives: French Culture

For the France & French Lovers in America (and Elsewhere)

By   July 14, 2010

It’s too hot for me to stay at the computer and do a real update. It was about 37° C / 98.6° F here today and it’s still not that cool at 10 PM. The Tour de France started in Chambéry this afternoon before heading down to Gap and I feel sorry for the cyclists who had to deal with this heat. Unlike the rest of France, it has not rained here at all. Normally I love the heat but without air conditioning or a pool, I’m a little over it.

As today is la fête nationale in France (NOT Bastille Day! French people have no idea what that is), here are some new resources for gaining exposure to French language and culture, especially for my fellow Americans:

  • The news channel France 24 is now available everywhere in the United States on the DISH network in its original French version. Previously, only a few states had access to the English version.
  • TV5Monde (also available on DISH network) has a new program dedicated to Francophone related events throughout America: Rendez-vous d’Amérique
  • France finally created an official tourism website for the entire country,, that was officially launched today. It also includes information for residents of France who are studying or working here instead of just visiting as a tourist, available in 5 languages: French, English, German, Italian and Spanish. Unfortunately the servers have already crashed because so many people were accessing the site so it is currently down. Hopefully it will be back online soon!

Adventures at the French Post Office

By   June 27, 2010

Since I work from home at the moment, I haven’t been going out most days because 1. the weather has been crap until about 2 days ago and 2. I’m slightly anti-social, so living in Europe with its high population density stresses me out. And usually when I do go out to accomplish some mundane task, something ridiculous happens and I wonder if it’s France getting back at me for loving Germany more or if it’s just a natural inclination of mine to end up in strange and awkward situations.

Right after I got home from traveling, I needed to run to the post office to mail the rest of my postcards and presents. If you didn’t get a postcard from me, either I didn’t have your address or France didn’t want you to receive it. And I hope the 4 people I sent the presents to actually received them or my 2 hour ordeal in the tiny post office of downtown Chambéry was all for nothing.

I hope the boîte à lettre did not eat all of my pretty postcards.

I only live 5 minutes from the main post office, which is actually open between 12 and 2 PM – a rarity even in a “large city” such as Chambéry, with its massive 50,000 inhabitants. I thought I would be able to run this errand in a few minutes and get home before the storm came in and go back to lying around watching L’Agence Tous Risques because I was still too sick and tired to do anything else. So I grabbed my jacket and the 4 packages and dashed outside, noticing that it was in fact already raining and I should have probably brought my umbrella. But the post office is only a few blocks away, right?

Right. Except when I get there, I notice signs posted all over the walls and windows that this particular branch is closed for construction until June 29. Of course.

It starts raining harder as I try to figure out where the other post offices are. Of course x 2.

I reach into my pocket where I thought there was an entire packet of tissues, but only find one slightly wet kleenex. Of course x 3.

I shove the packages under my coat and start running towards the downtown pedestrian area, hoping that none of my former students are out and about. They already think I’m the weird American who can barely speak English anymore (remember Do I still speak English?) and I really did not want them to see me with a runny nose, unbrushed hair, and a bulging coat like I had just shop-lifted something.

Finally I find the tiny office and go inside to see 9 people waiting in line. A woman asks me why I’m there, and I respond intelligently “to send some mail.” She asks how I’m going to pay, and I say “with my bank card?” almost as a question because I have no idea why this strange lady is so nosy. Then I realize she actually works there and is trying to get people through the line as quickly as possible. A fonctionnaire who is helping customers in a timely and orderly fashion? What? Am I still in France??

She wants to know what I’m sending, and of course I forget the word for fridge magnet (oops, just spoiled a gift) and can only think of aimant, which does mean magnet, but not a fridge magnet. I explain it’s for the frigo, and she says ah, un magnet. ::facepalm:: I need to stop forgetting that French nowadays is just English spoken with a French accent.

These are magnets in English or “magnets” in French.

She informs me that I can use the automatic machine to weigh and print shipping labels for my packages, so I don’t need to wait in line. She even stands next to me and helps me choose the correct buttons on the screen. I weigh all 4 packages and pay with my card and I think everything is working like a charm, until the machine spits out one of the four labels I need and then barks at me “transaction interrompue” and won’t give me the rest of the labels even though my card was debited the amount for all four.

Um, ok. The woman has no idea why it didn’t work and even apologizes for leading me to the machine because it’s just wasting my time instead of saving it. I look back and still see 9 people in line, albeit 9 different people, and sigh. This is going to be a long day. And my one kleenex is not going to last much longer.

Another postal worker comes out to help but he can’t find the right key to open the machine. Third postal worker tries to help but he doesn’t have the code to punch in the machine to put it into maintenance mode. Finally fourth postal worker gets the thing open, but can’t figure out why the labels didn’t print. The woman is busy writing a note on official La Poste paper stating that if my card had been debited the full amount even though only one label had been printed, I could come back to the office and try to get it sorted out.

Number four asks me a bunch of questions about what buttons I pushed, and it becomes clear that he has no idea how the machine works. He thought it was only for buying stamps.

Number three returns and seems to be a little more knowledgeable about this mystery machine from the future, but doesn’t understand why I was weighing four different packages. He thought you could only do one package at a time.

I just stand there with my kleenex in one hand and the packages in the other. Is this really happening?, I ask myself. I know more about La Poste’s machine than the people who work at La Poste. And then I realize Why yes, I am still in France. The familiarity of the “everything in France ends up becoming a strange and bizarre adventure that I will never forget” feeling begins to set in and I’m surprised I haven’t been given the Gallic shrug yet.

But eh, whaddaya gonna do, right?

The machine seems to be functioning again, so I decide to weigh the remaining packages and hope it works correctly this time. Number three stays next to me, presumably so he could help me, but I really think it was so he could learn how to use this new and exciting technology.

Finally, everything works perfectly and it prints the labels and accepts my card and I’ve taught a fonctionnaire how to use a stupid machine. I hand over the packages to the woman because she is the only one that I trust and wish an old lady who wanted to buy some stamps from the machine bon courage as I leave. Now all I have to do is check my bank statement and hope La Poste didn’t charge me for 7 packages instead of 4 so that I don’t ever have to come back to this place ever again.

Walking home I was so grateful that my level of French is near-fluent because I think I might have just started crying dealing with all of that ridiculousness in any other language.

And that pretty much sums up every encounter at a French store/pharmacy/bank/post office/train station/anything located outside of my apartment that I’ve ever been in. It’s like one big series of bizarre events after another. Like the time the bank lady said she didn’t know how to do a cashier’s check or where to find them even though I needed it within 2 hours so I could buy my car or when we needed to buy a new box spring and had to drive the scary minivan that we rented from the mafia men or every single time I have ever stepped foot in the préfecture. I’m on residency card #7 in less than 4 years, mostly thanks to screw ups by… you guessed it, La Poste!

So other expats, is it me or is it France?

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?

Staying Legal in France: More Residency Card Crap (for lack of a better word)

By   March 9, 2010

La Préfecture, the love of my life. Immigrants in France must have a very close relationship with the préfecture. It’s the place where we have to go – every 3 months, in some cases – to obtain our residency cards and make sure we are not sans-papiers. France doesn’t exactly have a “permanent resident” status for most people, so almost everyone starts out with a carte de séjour that must be renewed every single year. Well, those of us who were already living in France before the visa rules changed this past June. For the newbies, the visa serves as the carte de séjour for the first year, and then every year after that, it may be changed into a carte de séjour depending on if your préfecture likes you or not.

Anyway, it’s a rather annoying process because the préfectures are usually too inept to put the list of required documents on their website, so you must first go the préfecture and wait in line for an hour just to pick up this magic list. And then when you do return to the préfecture with all of the documents, they usually require something else that wasn’t on the list and that you had no idea you would even need, so of course you didn’t bring it with you (or its photocopy since you must have originals and photocopies of everything.)

Even if you do have all of the documents, it can take months and months to get your actual carte de séjour, so you have to keep going back to the préfecture to find out why you haven’t received it yet, or to request a new récépissé – the receipt that proves you did apply for it – or to apply again when the post office loses your carte in the mail (been there) or when you move to a different département and your old préfecture refuses to send your dossier to the new one (done that). In the 3.5 years I’ve been in France, I’m already on carte de séjours #6 and #7.

Carte de sejour
Why does it take so long to make these little cards?

I’ve already explained the first three years of my CDS adventures in the Love Affair with the Préfecture post, so here’s an update:

Technically, I applied for CDS #6 way back on June 16, 2009, right after David & I moved to Chambéry. I needed to change the address on it, which involves making a whole new card, so even though I had just renewed it in Annecy, I had to apply all over again. I did receive a récépissé on July 1st, which was good until September 30, but of course that date came and went and no word from the préfecture. I used to return every month and bug them about it, but they just kept telling me that Annecy hadn’t sent my dossier to Chambéry yet and that I would receive a new récépissé soon. That never happened. The card with my Annecy address on it is actually still good until May, so I wasn’t too overly concerned about it – especially since the only real reason I would need to have the correct address on my CDS would be for CAF, which I’m not eligible for since France thinks I’m so rich now with my 13k a year.

So, I gave up and stopped bugging the préfecture about it. Then March came and I needed to gather documents to renew my card for yet another frickin year of temporary status, and I was a little worried that they’d yell at me for something. Luckily the woman was really nice and discovered that Annecy had FINALLY sent my dossier to Chambéry a few weeks ago and CDS #6 was in the process of being made. I should receive it soon, even though it expires in less than 2 months. How amazingly useful.

Since I had all the documents and David was able to go to the préfecture with me this morning, I told the woman I was just going to do the renewal process today and get it over with since CDS #6 would basically be useless to me. She agreed. She didn’t dispute any of the documents, even though some of my “originals” were color copies of older documents (I love my printer) and some were a lot older than 3 months (2007 anyone?) and she actually remembered the communauté de vie paper that they tried to forget the last time. But it was all of the same paperwork I had given them in June, and that card was actually being made – albeit NINE MONTHS LATE – so my documents must be good enough for them.

Though of course I won’t stop feeling stressed out about it until I receive CDS #7 (that’s my renewal card, not my change of address card; are you still following me?) since we are flying back to Geneva from Croatia, which is NOT in the EU or Schengen zone yet, on May 8 – exactly one day after my current CDS expires. Plus the university cannot and will not give me my salary for the remaining months of my contract unless I have a valid CDS.  So it’s not only the fact that I could be “illegal” in France; it’s also a matter of being let back into France and being able to pay rent.

I can start applying for citizenship in October, and hopefully get it by the end of 2011 or early 2012. I will feel so relieved to finally have  a permanent status in this country. Except apparently even French citizens have their citizenship questioned nowadays, so that’s not very comforting.

David said that people joke about the fonctionnaires who work at the préfecture. Ceux qui ne réusissent pas le concours de la Poste travaillent à la Préfecture. I wonder how true that is…

In the end, I still choose France (for now)

By   January 10, 2010

Remember that list of reasons why I live in France that I posted a few months ago? Numbers 2, 5, and 8 are really relevant right now. I’ve only worked two days since December 16, and I still have another week off before the second semester starts. The 3 inches of snow we got last week meant I couldn’t use my car to get to work, but I could very easily hop on a bus. During my vacation, I’m trying to focus on German since I will be going there in June and it’s quite nice to be able to switch on the TV to Deutsche Welle and Arte.

So why am I bringing this up now? Various reasons, I suppose. Christmas and winter always make me homesick since I don’t particularly like either of them in France. I’m going to have to renew my residency card this spring and I’m afraid French bureaucracy will continue to screw up, meaning I will be slightly illegal here and I won’t be able to receive my salary. (I’ll leave my rant about why I hate being an immigrant for another day.) And of course, I will be unemployed once again this fall, which is the biggest problem I have with France at the moment. I am beyond tired of temporary jobs with low pay. I have a Master’s degree and 5 years of teaching experience, yet I still can only get jobs as an “assistant” of sorts and not a real teacher. I just feel like I’m worth more than 13k a year, you know?

Once again I’m weighing the pros and cons of living in France vs. the US. But similar to how I felt last summer, I’m sure it’s just a matter of the grass being greener on the other side. Yet every time I cross over to the other side, I find out it’s astroturf and I’m quickly reminded why I wanted to leave in the first place.

Right now I’m struggling most with the money issue. I thought by now I’d have a real career – maybe even a house if I ever decided to stay in one place long enough. Having a fulfilling job and feeling like I’m actually contributing to society is really important to me. I wanted to be able to donate money to charities that empower women and fight against poverty and start a scholarship fund for students learning foreign languages. But I need to earn money in order to give it away. I don’t think I will ever have that opportunity in France.  Even if/when I become a French citizen, starting a career will be just as hard and the salaries will be just as low. Having a job you like isn’t exactly important in French society, and changing your career even once is rarely done – not to mention few French people donate to charities because they don’t have the money and they assume the government will take care of people anyway.

Career-wise, I really don’t see how I can ever be happy in France. I will always equate living in France with being poor. Unless I can somehow make a living with my website instead of constantly searching for a job in this country. But getting paid in dollars when you live in the eurozone is just depressing. Even in Germany, salaries are higher even though the government is just as socialist and taxes are just as high. So why does France have to keep its people so poor?

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?

French & France News

By   November 24, 2009

Twitter is now available in French! And yes, I recently joined – though I prefer to say to that my website joined since my username is ielanguages. I’ll most likely be posting more website info and language teaching & learning news and links on there, unlike this blog which usually includes personal stuff like missing Michigan snow and endless pictures of my cat.

Did you know that 90% of French films on DVD are NOT subtitled for the deaf or hard-of-hearing (or French learners)? The main television channels in France are supposed to work towards 100% subtitling through 2010, but there are no similar statutes for the film industry. How sad.  Especially for DVDs that are exported and encoded in other regions, it would be such a great resource for French learners to listen and read at the same time.

Fighting words from the Parti Québécois, upset about the recent overturn of loi 104, which now allows children to attend English public school if they’ve attended one year of English private school instead of having them remain in French schools: “Au nom d’une Constitution que le Québec n’a jamais signée, des juges nommés par une autre nation veulent nous empêcher de défendre ce qu’il y a de plus précieux pour la nation québécoise. La Cour suprême nous dit que notre manière de défendre le français ne lui convient pas. Eh! bien, au Québec, c’est la Constitution canadienne qui ne nous convient pas.”

Only 38% of French people say they base their identity at the national level compared to 45% who prefer the local or regional level. The largest percentage identify most with their city, followed by neighborhood, région and département.  This isn’t too surprising considering how many regional divisions there are within France, and it does seem to be a slight blow to Besson’s debate on national identity and how he wants everyone and your uncle to be proud to be French.

Speaking of Besson, his xenophobic views are at it again. In a circulaire distributed to prefets across France, he poses the following question: “Comment éviter l’arrivée sur notre territoire d’étrangers en situation irrégulière, aux conditions de vie précaires génératrices de désordres divers (travail clandestin, délinquance) et entretenant, dans une partie de la population, des suspicions vis-à-vis de l’ensemble des étrangers  ?” Why, France? Why do you let this man have power? He’s turning out to to be the Lou Dobbs of France, except he’s the freaking Ministre de l’Immigration!

The Simpsons parodied Sarko & Carla a few weeks ago, but there’s another video clip making the rounds in France. After Hortefeux’s racist comments were caught on camera, apparently it was Chirac’s turn.  I expect ignorant comments like that from ultra-conservative nutjobs like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, but Chirac was president of this country for 12 years. I don’t remember Bush ever making any openly racist comments and that man was a moron. Isn’t Chirac supposed to be educated (even if he has a very shady political past)?

And one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard in a long time: a group of students at a high school in Paris sent an insulting and threatening letter to their English teacher because she had ::gasp:: banned cell phones in class! She got fed up with them constantly texting in class when they should have been paying attention, and the students think that they can do whatever they want, so they demanded that the teacher change her behavior or be replaced. At the risk of sounding old, what is wrong with kids today???

Premières Papillotes

By   November 23, 2009

We’ve already started eating Papillotes even though it’s not really Christmastime yet. I’m a bad American and should wait until after Thanksgiving to do anything Christmas-related, but too late, I’ve already started listening to carols and bought all my gifts. Papillotes are chocolaty goodness though, so I don’t feel bad for eating them. Plus they come with witty (eh, maybe not all of them…) quotes and proverbs.

La Papillote, le chocolat des fêtes de fin d’année

These are the first three quotes I got:

On s’étonne trop de ce qu’on voit rarement et pas assez de ce qu’on voit tous les jours. – Madame de Genlis

Une idée qui n’est pas dangéreuse ne mérite pas d’être appelée une idée. – Oscar Wilde

On ne doit cesser de se taire que quand on a quelque chose à dire qui vaut mieux que le silence. – Abbé Dinouart

Friday the 13th / le vendredi 13

By   November 13, 2009

The number 13 and Fridays are usually considered bad or even evil according to Christianity, and the tradition of Friday the 13th being a very unlucky day still persists in many cultures. Yet in France, vendredi le 13 is considered a lucky day when people buy lots of lottery tickets. Have you bought your ticket yet?

As Le Pourquoi du Comment explains, “les jeux de loterie n’ont pas hésité à s’approprier le vendredi 13 pour vendre du hasard à grand renfort de matraquage publicitaire, et pour prendre dans leurs filets, sans avoir à redoubler d’efforts, les esprits les plus cartésians alléchés par l’appât de gains collosaux.”

It’s all about money, of course!  I wonder why the US lotteries haven’t tried to reverse the superstition and get people to buy more tickets. Though getting Americans to stop believing in ridiculous things is a huge battle….