Category Archives: French Culture

Convenience comes to France in the form of Auchan Drive

I often complain about the lack of convenience in France because I really miss services designed to make your life easier, which seem to be available everywhere in the US (except public transportation…)  We have drive-thru windows not only at fast food places, but also at banks and pharmacies. Some stores stay open 24 hours a day so you can do your grocery shopping whenever you want. Customer service actually exists and is usually superior to what I find here.

A lot of services in France are quite ridiculous with the amount of time it takes and the amount of work the consumer has to do. Just trying to get internet connected and it takes weeks and weeks and numerous phone calls to get it done.  Don’t bother trying to call on weekends, or during lunch, or in the evenings, or during vacations when you are not working because no one else is either. And be prepared to pay something like 30 cents a minute to call someone to help you.

But recently I discovered Auchan Drive. Auchan is one of those huge we-sell-everything stores like Carrefour or Walmart. They’ve introduced a new service where you order your groceries online through auchandrive.fr and then you can go pick them up whenever you want (at least 2 hours later).  You simply type in your customer number and someone brings your groceries out to the car for you. No more crowded aisles or waiting in line or bagging groceries yourself!

The best part is, it does not cost extra. It is completely free to use Auchan Drive. But of course, now that we are moving to Chambery, I discover that there is no Auchan in Savoie. Anyone know if Carrefour has something similar? I quite like the idea of never having to set foot in a French grocery store ever again.

Finally! We’re moving to: CHAMBERY!!!

After months of waiting and worrying, we finally know where we will be for the next 3 years. David found out today that he got placed in Chambéry!

I am very excited as of course this means we don’t have to live apart next year. Now we can finally start looking for an apartment and planning the move. No more driving 40 minutes to work and wasting 250 € a month on gas and tolls! And even more good news, Carole is going to take this apartment back when we move out, so we don’t have to worry about wasting money on rent for June.

Everything just worked itself out perfectly. The government took their sweet time figuring it all out though. We were supposed to know on the 21st, so I’ve been nervous all week waiting for the answer. Apparently a lot of people chose Chambéry because it was one of the least expensive, yet not too small, cities on the list. And even though David was number 10 on the list, it was given to him because of his situation familiale (having a conjointe who already works there.)

And just like I predicted, someone else chose La Réunion so that the woman who lives there would have to come to France. But they decided to let her stay there with her husband and kids because that would have been awful to make her move alone. So in the end, not many people got their first or second choices so I really don’t know why they just didn’t assign candidates to the city closest to where they live, since that’s basically where everyone ended up anyway! Ah France. Your logic is so illogical.

Now on to the apartment hunt!

How do we feel about Vincennes?

David received the paperwork so that he could put the cities in order of preference, and for the Paris position, it is actually listed as “Vincennes – Institut de la gestion publique et du développement économique.”  I know Vincennes is right outside of Paris and very densely populated, but do you think it’s a place I would like? The château and the bois de Vincennes look nice at least.

So far he’s put down: 1. Chambéry, 2. Lyon, 3. Strasbourg, 4. Dijon, 5. Nantes, and 6. Caen. Besides all of the Ile-de-France cities, he still needs to decide where to put Digne, Nevers, Châteauroux, and Saint-Denis.  And apparently he has heard so many bad things about Châteauroux that he wants to put it at number 17, after Saint-Denis in La Réunion!  I don’t know anyone who lives there, but David seems to think it’s the most awful place in France. Please someone tell me he is wrong because I would rather be there than Paris…

Thank you for all your input on this! I appreciate it!

Which will I hate the least? Bobigny, Cergy, Evry, Versailles or Paris?

There is very little chance that David will be in Chambéry, or even outside of Paris. We got the list of the 17 people admitted to the DGCCRF (along with what departement they are in), and David is number 10. Number 2 on the list lives in Savoie, so he will most likely take Chambery.

And in fact, since no one ever wants to go to Paris in these concours, the others will put the cities outside of Paris at the top of their lists. And since there are only 9 cities total outside of Paris (excluding Saint-Denis), David will be the first one assigned to Ile-de-France. What great luck we have.

(I do have to say I’m tempted to put Saint-Denis down because the person who lives there is number 12.  I could be an English assistant again and get paid the same amount that I’m making in Chambery. And there’s so much sun there… I’m not serious, but it is a nice thought to get out of mainland France.)

Honestly, I don’t mind not staying in Chambery because I’ve wanted to leave the Rhone-Alpes region for a while. And I am scared about the cost of living in IDF, but I suppose I’m more saddened about the fact that we have to live apart next year.

The thought of both us living in tiny overpriced studios, separated by a 3 hour TGV ride or 5 hour car ride, makes me want to cry. I cannot and will not give up my job because I like it too much, but next year is going to be hard on me. There’s really no point in me living in Chambery until September, especially since that would mean paying three rents for the months of May and June, but it will be harder to find a place to live then. And if David does have a studio, that would be awful to live together with the cat in 20 meters squared.

Luckily I have many lovely blogger friends in IDF that I will be able to see often when I move there in May 2010. But we need some help putting the IDF cities in order of preference. I know nothing about these cities except which departement they are in. I’d like to be near the countryside or some type of espace vert (if that’s possible), but being close to an airport would be nice too, so I can escape more often.

So if you had to choose among Bobigny, Cergy, Evry, Versailles or Paris, which would you choose?

Les français aussi ont un accent.

I wanted to read Les français aussi ont un accent by Jean-Benoît Nadeau, the same author of 60 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong, because I thought I would enjoy a Quebecker’s take on expat life in France. This book is in French, which is half of the reason why I wanted to read it, but I found myself more and more homesick with each chapter. Nadeau’s frustrations with France are the same as mine – being corrected for using the “wrong” word or accent in French (European snobs want you to believe that Quebecois French is not proper French just as American English is not proper English), all the ridiculous paperwork needed just to do the simplest things, and even the showerheads that are not attached to the wall (douches-téléphones-sans-fixation-au-mur), for example. Quebec and the US are very different in many ways, but they are both in North America and that culture is what I miss.

En plus, the fact that a native speaker of French has the same problems with France that I do makes me realize that I was partly wrong about culture shock. Before I moved here, I always thought not being able to speak French well would be my biggest obstacle. It was hard in the beginning, but now that I can understand 99% of what people say and can carry on conversations easily, I’m realizing that it has little to do with the language. It’s simply the little things that are different that you never anticipated would be different. Why would stores, banks and the post office close for lunch? Why is absolutely nothing open on Sundays? Why does the whole country shut down for 6 weeks during the summer? Why can’t I choose my own PIN number?  Why can’t I find cheddar cheese? An why oh why is the showerhead not attached to the wall???

I had heard about culture shock being worse for those who move to countries where the same language is spoken (i.e. Americans who move to the UK) because you just expect everything to be the same as well. But I guess I never thought about someone from Quebec adjusting to life in France. Quebec may speak French, but it is not France. It is North America. So even though we’re separated by a native language, I feel much closer to les québécois than I ever will to les français.

French Postcards from the Early 20th Century

David & I are down in Provence for the week at his mom’s cousin’s (Bobby & Martine) house in Sarrians, in the département of Vaucluse. The weather is perfect (hot and sunny), the sound of the cigales (cicadas) is so relaxing, and we have trips to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Salon-de-Provence, Aix-en-Provence and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue planned. I have no idea why there are so many hyphens in these names.

Today we went to the big Provençal market in Bédoin, where I limited myself to only spending 6 €. This afternoon, we were looking at some old postcards that were sent between the eventual grandparents of Martine around the time of World War I (most of them date to 1914.) I think they are the coolest things ever. [Click on images for full size pictures.]

A sampling of the fake color photos on French postcards of the early 20th century

Happy New Year, April Fool’s, French Army, and babies in a bag.

Lesson for boys: Romantic things to say.

French penmanship. Can you read this?

Even if you can read the words, can you understand what it means?  “Je viens de recevoir ta lettre à l’instant et je te fais réponse de suite pour te tranquilliser au sujet de ta lettre du 1er août. Je ne t’en parles pas sur ta dernière lettre car ce n’est qu’à la derniere que je te fais réponse…” Uh, what?

The best part was finding a series of postcards with this guy on them:

“Look honey, I’m opening your letter with care.”

“And now I’m holding it close to my heart.”

“And now I am actually reading it with this ridiculous smile on my face.”

“It’s a new day, as evidenced by my suddenly green tie, and I’m writing you back with this large feather pen and a pensive, yet still corny, look on my face.”

“And to prove how much I love you, I’m including a FLOWER in my letter!”

Like I said, these postcards are the coolest things ever.