Category Archives: French Culture

Yup, we bought one.

By   November 3, 2008

The Nicolas Sarkozy Voodoo Doll.

He tried to have it banned in France, but he didn’t succeed. Not yet, anyway.

Maybe it will be worth money someday.

Or maybe we’ll just let the cat eat it.

Apéro and Universités

By   October 19, 2008

Friday night at an apéro chez des amis, we somehow got on the subject of universities. David mentioned that his mom’s cousin teaches French in Boston, and at the end of each semester, she had to let her students fill out evaluation forms. Everyone but me was surprised and thought it was a bad idea. I said that was normal in American universities and I didn’t really understand why it wasn’t done in France. They were also stunned that websites for rating teachers and professors had been around for 10 years in the US, whereas the only site like that in France had been shut down last year by the courts.

Personally, I think teacher evaluations are a good thing because the students should have a say in the quality of their education – especially in the US where they pay a small fortune each semester for the privilege of going to college. If they have horrible professors that don’t really care about teaching, the students have a right to complain. Professors grade students, so why shouldn’t students grade the professors too?

But I guess the main difference here in France is that students only pay a few hundred euros a year to go to university so they don’t seem as motivated or invested in their education. If they fail a final exam, they can always retake it the next month. If they fail a class, they can always retake it the next year. So even if the professors are bad, it doesn’t really matter since the students get so many chances to “succeed” in the end.

However, I have a problem with the traditional “more money = better education” line of thinking. Just because France subsidizes university education doesn’t mean it has to be bad. Just because the students don’t pay much doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn. The opposite is true for American universities. Just because it’s expensive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. And just because the students (or their parents) pay a lot doesn’t mean they actually want to be there and want to learn.

So why are the American and French ideas about universities and higher education different? Is it the role of the professor that differs so much? Or the role of the student?

Anyway, Corinne did such a good job preparing the apéro, I wanted to show off pictures of her hard work:

And something that I hadn’t come across before in France: an elevator that only stops on odd-numbered floors. Of course, the other elevator stops at the even-numbered floors, but there are no signs indicating this, so I guess you’re just supposed to know?

The Past, Poverty & Perspective

By   October 5, 2008

Thanks to David’s dad and his generous gift of Chèque Lire, I got yet another French as a Foreign Language book at Decitre today, in an attempt to improve my faltering French since I can’t afford actual classes. The first chapter was about traveling, and more specifically, Quebec. The second chapter was about rencontres and had an excerpt from Nadja, by André Breton.

I’ve obviously taken a break from studying to type this in English, not because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t stop thinking about studying in Quebec and being a French major in college, circa 2002, when I first read Nadja. There are a few things I wish I had done differently back then – studied in Europe in addition to Quebec, for one – but I don’t regret the choices I did make.

I suppose now I’m just longing for the student life because things were so much easier then. I knew what was going to happen for the next few years and I had hope for the future. That’s not to say that I don’t have hope now, it’s just that life is different now. I’m different now. I know I will have a job for two years, but beyond that… I have no idea. I would still like to move to Quebec or at least leave France for a while, but that’s going to cost a lot of money and it’s too hard to think about the future with the current state of the economy.

Being poor has really gotten me down lately. I was poor in the US too, but now that I’m further away from friends and family in a country where prices are twice as high and salaries twice as low as what I’m used to… let’s just say it’s a never-ending challenge. It’s frustrating to be so close to foreign countries and not be able to visit them and learn about their history, culture, and especially language, firsthand. I would give anything to see the world, but instead I’m worrying about paying the taxe d’habitation. I’m not even sure yet how I’m going to afford both of my siblings’ weddings across the ocean next year. I doubt David can come with me since we can’t even afford repairs on his car right now.

My habits have changed too. I used to read so many books and study languages constantly. Now I have very little motivation or dedication to do so. Apparently I’d rather check all of my accounts and worry about paying bills than learn something new. My mind keeps wandering whenever I do try to read or study. I can’t concentrate on anything anymore (as evidenced by my blogging while I was supposed to be studying French. ::sigh::) Maybe it’s just because I’ve been out of the university mindset for two years, but I really miss being productive and accomplishing something.

I realize it’s all a matter of perspective and that there are definitely many, many people in the world in worse situations than me. I have my health, my job, my families, my apartment, my car, my boyfriend… I just wish I could feel that there is more to life than worrying about money and dealing with all of the ridiculous bills that France throws our way. And I absolutely hate having to leave David out of my family’s functions just because of a lack of money. I feel like I’m being punished, but I don’t know by whom or for what. I do feel like it will last an eternity though.

Two Years in France: Un Bilan

By   October 2, 2008

My two year anniversary in France was this past Friday, September 26. I realize I have done a lot  / accomplished a lot / suffered through a lot over the past 24 months in France:

  • obtained 5 Carte de Séjours from my best friends at the Préfecture
  • exchanged American driver’s license for French one and bought a car
  • moved 3 times to other suburbs around Annecy, but never to Annecy proper
  • finished 14 months of being forced to teach British English as an assistant
  • received my American Master’s degree in Linguistics & Teaching ESL
  • got PACSed to my adorable Frenchman and adopted a cat together
  • survived 10 months of unemployment/boredom
  • found a job post-assistantship that I adore

Of course there are some things I haven’t been able to accomplish, like teaching that Americans don’t, in fact, ever say “I speak American” unless they’re being overly patriotic. But I suppose my largest “failure” as I see it, is not adjusting to French culture more. I am just as American as the day I arrived… and considering how un-American I thought I was when I actually lived in the US, it’s a bit of a conundrum.

Do I have many French friends? No. Do I speak French all day? Nope. Do I watch French TV? Oh god no. I do read French newspapers and watch French news shows – but the TV shows I watch are American dubbed into French. Most of the food I eat is not very French. I do not dress like the French because I have no fashion sense. My hair doesn’t even look French because I’m too lazy to get it cut more than twice a year. I will never drive like the French because I want to stay alive. I will always think having 2 hours for lunch is a complete waste of time. And doing the bises is a never-ending source of awkwardness and discomfort for the germaphobe in me.

I agree with the government on health care access and lots of vacation time, but I do not agree with the French idea of focus on the family. I never want to have kids, and so I get really annoyed when people mention that David’s younger sister already has a baby and we don’t. Well, so what? I guess the baby thing is universal though – I’m sure I would get that in the US too – but I just feel that it’s more of a personal attack in France since there are so many government-sponsored benefits for having kids and it’s kind of just expected of couples here.

But you see, every time I disagree with something that is “French” I feel as though I will never fit in here or that the French will hate me because of it. I will always be the strange American girl who thinks sea food for Christmas dinner is disgusting. The rebel who doesn’t want to have kids, but rather cats and dogs. The weirdo who never, ever drinks alcohol, not even wine! ::gasp::

There are a lot of things I love about France; and a few things I hate, which I won’t get into now… But overall, I am much happier here than I was in the US, and not just because of David and my job. I used to say that I was almost ashamed to be American, but I suppose the truth is that I was ashamed of the conservative government that limited human rights, denied science, ignored the rest of the world and favored the rich. I am proud to be American, though I may not say it out loud, because it will always be a part of who I am. But I am also proud to be (hopefully one day) French, even if I don’t feel very French right now.

ANPE is on my list now too…

By   September 10, 2008

The ANPE is half of the unemployment services here in France. The ASSEDIC is the actual agency that gives you the unemployment benefits (unless you worked for the rectorat), while ANPE helps you with finding a job. When you sign up for unemployment, you have a mandatory meeting at ASSEDIC and a mandatory meeting at ANPE. I did both of those back in June. If you still haven’t found a job within 3 months, you are supposed to have another mandatory meeting with ANPE.

Well, I have found a job so I e-mailed my conseillère at the ANPE to tell her, and I sent a letter to ANPE (both back in August) so that my mandatory meeting in September would be cancelled.

Guess what happened? I just received a letter from ANPE saying that I missed my mandatory meeting and will be taken off unemployment within 15 days if I don’t reschedule. It also says to let them know if I have found a job… WHICH I ALREADY HAVE TWICE!!!

Needless to say, I am annoyed. And worried that I won’t be able to pay October’s rent if I can’t receive September’s benefits. ::sigh::

Possibly Free Public Transportation & Museums next week in France

By   September 8, 2008

September 16-22 is the Semaine Européenne de la Mobilité so check your city/town’s public transportation websites for information on the programme for the week. La journée des “transports publics” is Wednesday, September 17, so buses, bikes, trams, etc. may be free or have a reduced fare for the day.

Here in Annecy, Sibra buses and Vélonecy bikes are FREE the entire day! In neighboring Chambéry, the fare will be reduced to 1 € from the regular 1,10 €.

September 20-21 is the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine where many museums and historical sites are free and/or have special guided tours. Additionally, many private collections are also open to the public so it may be the only time of the year you will have access to them.

The Musée-Château in Annecy is offering guided tours about the history and architecture fo the castle each day at 2:30pm and the Palais de L’Ile will have tours at 10 am each day, as well as a special kid-friendly Moyen Age raconté aux Familles tour at 2:30pm Sunday. The Archives Départementales will have a photo exhibit of vacances en Haute-Savoie from the beginning of the 20th century and there will be an ouverture exceptionelle of the Roman bell tower in Annecy-le-Vieux. And of course, I will be first in line for the guided tour of the Préfecture of Haute-Savoie because I haven’t been there enough times over the past two years…

Retirement in France

By   September 5, 2008

I recently requested my code confidentiel from the Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Retraite so that I could check to see how many trimestres I have accumulated towards retirement in France. (Just type in your social security number and they’ll mail it to you.) For those born during or after 1952, you must accumulate 164 trimestres (41 years) in order to enjoy full retirement benefits. But with the trimester system, each month doesn’t really count – only every 3 months do.

So I have one trimestre for 2006, when I worked October to December during my first year as a language assistant. In 2007, I worked January to April and October to December, so I have two trimestres. And I will have another 2 trimestres in 2008 for working those same months.

Luckily starting in 2009, I will receive 4 trimestres. So if David & I decide to stay in France forever and I can continue to work at a permanent full-time job (Ha!), I can retire at the young age of 80.

I’ve worked on and off in the US since I was 16, so how can I check the status of my American retirement benefits? I have no idea how the system works in the US. And how does it work for expats who will most likely never work in the US again? And what if we end up working in Canada or Australia one day?

Free English lessons for French students

By   September 3, 2008

BBC reports:The main teaching union in France has criticised the education minister’s plans to offer free English classes in the school holidays next year.

Xavier Darcos announced the plans on Monday, insisting that speaking fluent English was the key to success.

He said that while “well-off families pay for study sessions abroad, I’m offering them to everyone right here”.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is likely to back the plan.

He has already infuriated traditionalists by suggesting that the French should no longer insist on speaking their own language at international negotiations.

Interesting… I wonder who will be teaching these courses and where the government will get money to pay the teachers…

What la rentrée really means to me.

By   September 1, 2008

Tomorrow, September 2nd, students in France go back to school. Do you know what this means?

I can finally go to the places I want without being surrounded by annoying kids!!!

La rentrée is the most wonderful time of the year.

101st Département of France: Mayotte

By   August 30, 2008

Mayotte, currently an overseas collectivity of France, should become an official overseas département of France, after a vote in April 2009. Geographically, Mayotte is part of the Comoro Islands (north of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean), but it voted to remain a French territory in the 1970’s instead of joining the Union of Comoros which gained its independence from French rule at the same time.

Metropolitan France has 96 départements, including Corsica. There are 4 overseas départements, La Réunion, French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique; as well as other overseas collectivities, such as French Polynesia, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon and Wallis et Futuna. New Caledonia also technically belongs to France, though it will vote on independence in 2014.

Mayotte is also known as Mahoré, especially by those who do not agree with the French status of the island. Most inhabitants speak Shimaore, Shindzwani, and Kibushi as a first language, while French is the only official language. The island has no railroads, but 58 miles of highways and one airport. The currency is the euro and the population is 186,000.

The controversy surrounding the French control of Mayotte is still a problem today. Many Comorians believe Mayotte should belong to the Union of Comoros. Even one week ago, the president of the Comorian assemblée , Saïd Dhoifir Bounou, refused to be subjected to the contrôles of the French border police because he claimed that Mayotte belonged to the Comoros and that France had no legal right to question him in his own country.

Another problem that will need to be addressed is illegal immigration of Comorians to Mayotte. A third of the population of Mayotte is said to be Comorian, most of whom are illegal. Many come from the island of Anjouan to have children in Mayotte, hoping that they will gain French citizenship someday. Mahorans are 10 times richer than Comorians, and this gap will only get wider when Mahorans are able to benefit from French prestations sociales, such as the RMI. Even though France plans to introduce short-stay visas for Comorians to go to Mayotte in the hopes of discouraging illegal immigration, the département status of Mayotte may actually attract more immigrants.

Until recently, Mahorans did not have last names. They were forced to choose one in order to have an état civil and receive birth and marriage certificates. Yet half the population today still does not have an état civil, which is required for Mahorans to become French citizens.

Obviously, there are many obstacles to overcome in the coming years, but normalement, Mayotte will become the 101st département of France – the first to be added since 1946.