Category Archives: French Culture

Joris Brichet, Champion de France de Skate

By   August 22, 2008

Last night David & I had dinner with a friend that we hadn’t seen in a few months. Joris had been traveling to Prague, Morocco and England for skateboarding competitions because he’s been the national champion of vert skating in France for four years. He took 2nd place recently at the European championships. If you actually watch commercials, you may have seen him in this publicité de Quick in April:

It must be awesome to be paid to do what you love. I wish someone would pay me to travel around Europe and learn languages!

P.S. He’s also a biology teacher.

Want to buy property in Annecy? I hope you’re rich!

By   August 20, 2008

The table below shows property prices per square meter for major cities/towns in France, and the increase or decrease in price from 2007. Annecy is the 12th most expensive, and it is the first one on the list that is not in the Paris region or in the south.  You can thank Switzerland and the Alps for that.

City/Town in FrancePrice per m² Difference from 2007
Paris6,342 €+5.60%
Versailles5,125 €-1.00%
Antibes4,658 €+6.10%
Cannes4,640 €+5.60%
Saint-Maur-des-Fossées4,563 €+2.10%
Cagnes-sur-Mer4,488 €+8.40%
Biarritz4,469 €+8.20%
Saint-Laurent-du-Var4,404 €+3.10%
Clichy4,289 €+3.00%
Aix en Provence4,222 €+6.10%
Nice3,999 €+4.80%
Annecy3,507 €+3.70%
Créteil3,313 €+7.70%
Bayonne3,218 €+0.40%
La Rochelle3,160 €-6.60%
Toulon3,152 €+8.40%
Lyon3,079 €+2.70%
Marseille2,996 €-0.60%
Toulouse2,883 €+3.80%
Aix-les-Bains2,880 €-3.50%
Lille2,846 €+3.70%
Grenoble2,839 €-1.60%
Montpellier2,790 €+2.70%
Bordeaux2,785 €+2.70%
Meaux2,733 €+7.30%
Sète2,729 €+2.60%
Nantes2,674 €+1.40%
Reims2,638 €+1.50%
Rennes2,638 €-3.00%
Strasbourg2,511 €+1.00%
Mariganne2,456 €-3.50%
Dijon2,419 €+3.00%
Caen2,336 €+2.50%
Angers2,306 €+5.60%
Villefranche-sur-Saone2,301 €+4.40%
Orléans2,260 €+2.80%
Le Havre2,238 €+13.10%
Tours2,226 €-3.90%
Nîmes2,213 €+1.60%
Metz2,168 €+3.80%
Pau2,133 €+2.20%
Colmar2,121 €-6.50%
St Herblain2,118 €+1.60%
Chamalières2,104 €+3.10%
Nancy2,076 €-0.80%
Narbonne2,043 €-1.00%
Perpignan2,025 €+0.90%
Besançon2,021 €+3.20%
Clermont-Ferrand1,830 €-1.60%
Quimper1,825 €-0.40%
Troyes1,801 €+7.70%
Béziers1,797 €+3.30%
Boulogne-sur-Mer1,771 €-3.30%
Le Mans1,766 €+5.50%
Rodez1,717 €+6.40%
Mulhouse1,706 €+4.50%
Brest1,682 €+1.30%
Montauban1,647 €-0.60%
Vichy1,632 €-9.70%
Limoges1,591 €+2.20%
St Brieuc1,590 €+2.10%
Nevers1,260 €+3.70%

I can definitely say 3,507 € per square meter is correct for Annecy. If our landlord ever sells our apartment, she wouldn’t accept anything less than 160,000 € and it’s only 47 square meters.

Source: FNAIM April 2008

Où vit-on le mieux ? Le Palmarès 2008 des Départements

By   August 8, 2008

I found a copy of L’Express from the end of June lying around the apartment a few days ago, and noticed it was the rankings of the best and worst départements in mainland France. The winner overall is Haute-Garonne (Toulouse) in the Midi-Pyrénées, followed by 2. Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Pau) in Aquitaine, 3. Ille-et-Vilaine (Rennes) in Bretagne, 4. Isère (Grenoble) in Rhône-Alpes, and 5. Gironde (Bordeaux) in Aquitaine.  The losers? 92. Creuse (Guéret) in Limousin, 93. Eure (Evreux) in Haute-Normandie, 94. Meuse (Bar-le-Duc) in Lorraine, 95. Aisne (Laon) in Picardie, and 96. Ardennes (Charleville-Mézières) in Champagne-Ardenne.

There are three main classements annexes, i.e. the best départements for:

Young people

  1. Hérault (Montpellier)
  2. Haute-Garonne (Toulouse)
  3. Gironde (Bordeaux)
  4. Bouches-du-Rhône (Marseilles)
  5. Rhône (Lyon)


  1. Hautes-Alpes (Gap)
  2. Aveyron (Rodez)
  3. Corrèze (Tulle)
  4. Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Pau)
  5. Vendée (La Roche-sur-Yon)


  1. Haute-Garonne (Toulouse)
  2. Pyrénées-Atlantiques (Pau)
  3. Vendée (La Roche-sur-Yon)
  4. Ille-et-Vilaine (Rennes)
  5. Hérault (Montpellier)

Then there are 14 classements thématiques, according to health, security, education, transportation, the economy, the environment, culture, etc. All of the results can be found here: Les départements où il fait bon vivre. There’s also a test interactif you can try to find out which département best suits you if you’re thinking about moving to France but don’t know where yet.

Haute-Savoie came in at 19 overall, which isn’t too bad out of 96. It’s at 45 for young people, 46 for seniors, and 20 for families. Higher education: 54, health: 24, price of housing: 91!!! (completely agree with this one!); security: 58, culture (museums, cinemas): 42; economic growth: 11; availability of internet: 43; businesses/shopping centers: 21; economic power: 34; living environment (pollution, access to sea or green areas): 44; weather: 75 (unfortunately, it is that bad here); social situation (low unemployment, high income): 2 !!!; medical services: 57; success rate for le bac: 2 !!! (apparently lycéens are really smart here!)

I was a little surprised that Haute-Savoie has some of the highest incomes, but I guess it makes sense considering how many people who live here actually work in Switzerland and benefit from the exchange rate between the Swiss Franc and Euro. Some of these are no-brainers though, like the cost of living is highest in Paris, the weather is the best on the Côte d’Azur, and the safest area is Limousin & Auvergne (because the population is lowest there). How is your département ranked in the palmarès 2008?

Dear Auchan, you are a jerk and I hate you.

By   August 5, 2008

Last month, I got all excited when my local Auchan started remodeling and expanding their already big store. Wider aisles, they promised. More stuff that you can’t afford to buy, they said. And look! Fifty feet of space of between the aisles and checkout lanes instead of just five! No more shoving yourself and your cart as close to the next customer as possible, and turning sideways so that the poor souls who try to go around the end of the aisle behind you can actually fit!

There are many things that I hate about shopping in France (stores that smell like fish and shopping carts with all 4 wheels that turn are near the top of the list), but waiting in the checkout lane has always been the most stressful part.  I will never understand why all stores think that customers don’t need space to wait in line without clogging up the aisles around the checkout area.

By my excitement was short-lived when I returned to Auchan yesterday. The remodeling geniuses decided to push the checkout lanes back so that there is still only 5 feet of waiting space. ::sigh::  Why did you tease me, Auchan? Why did I think you could possibly compete with American stores that actually care about their customers? And seriously, what is the point of all that extra space on the OTHER side of the checkout counters? It sure is useful having all that empty space as I walk out of the store and wish that I never had to come back again.

CAPES d’Anglais 2009

By   July 30, 2008

David has decided to prepare for the CAPES d’anglais! Normally, in order to become an English teacher for l’Education Nationale in France, students do a Licence in English for 3 years and then go to an IUFM (teacher training college) where they prepare for the CAPES for a year and then do their student teaching if they pass the oral and written exams. [This will change in 2010; Sarko is getting rid of the IUFM and those who want to become teachers will have to do a Master’s, or Bac+5, instead.]

However, David has a Maîtrise in Sociology, and he’s doing to the distance-learning preparation courses through CNED. Apparently the CNED option is very good, so we’ll see if he can pull it off without having a Licence in English. And it helps that he lives with a native speaker of English who loves English grammar.

This year, the required literature is:

  • King Lear by Shakespeare
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

And the required civilization reading is:

  • L’empire de l’exécutif : la présidence des États-Unis de Franklin Roosevelt à George W. Bush (1933-2006)

So yay for the civilization part being American! I’ve only read King Lear so far, but don’t remember much since it was almost 10 years ago… Sorry, Mr. Fuller! But I will be reading the books as well. One of these days I may try the CAFEP, which is for private schools. (I can’t do the CAPES because I’m not an EU citizen.)

David was actually thinking about doing the CAFEP too, but there are only 60 spots open in all of France! Both concours are very competitive obviously, but at least with the CAPES there are more jobs (though increasingly less and less…) However, the bad thing about the CAPES is that if you pass, you must teach at the school where l’Education Nationale assigns you. You can’t really choose where you want to work. And if you are young, unmarried, with no children, you have fewer “points” than other candidates, which means you’re more likely to be sent to schools in Créteil and Versailles where no one else wants to work. David isn’t as young as other candidates, and being PACSed should give him some extra points, but I’m worried that he would be sent some place that I absolutely do not want to live, i.e. anywhere within 2 hours of Paris.

If anyone has advice for someone without a Licence in English, and what David should focus most on for the exams, please let me know.

Back to Books: Libraries in France

By   July 29, 2008

In an attempt to stop being so lazy and actually learn something again, I finally got around to renewing my library card tonight (it had expired in December). Then I quickly remembered why I hadn’t renewed it. Let’s just say that I’ve never been too impressed with French libraries.

[Even though you learned that bibliothèque means library in French, most libraries in France are actually called a médiathèque. This just reflects the fact that you can borrow CDs & DVDs instead of simply books & magazines.]

Comparison of the library in my old town in Michigan and the library in my suburb in France.


US: Free.

FR: Around 20 euros a year (less for students).


US: Open 9 am-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 9am-5pm Fridays & Saturdays, and closed on Sundays.

FR: Most erratic opening schedule I’ve ever seen and can never remember. Closed Sundays & Mondays. Open Tuesdays 2-6pm, Wednesdays 10am-12pm & 2-6pm, Thursdays 10am-12pm, Fridays 2-7pm, and Saturdays 10am-12pm & 2-6pm.


US: You can check out as many books as you’d like.

FR: You can check out 10 things total; a combination of: up to 8 books/magazines, 4 CDs, 3 DVDs, 1 CD-ROM, and 1 “méthode de langue.” (But this is mostly because French libraries are rather small compared to American ones with much fewer resources to borrow.)

Due date:

US: 4 weeks.

FR: Everything can be kept for 3 weeks, except the méthode de langue, which is 12 weeks. During the summer (a.k.a July), it’s extended to 4 weeks and 12 things total. But here’s the problem, a méthode de langue is any foreign language book that is not a novel, so even though you can keep it for 12 weeks, you can only check out one at a time!  Not that the library has good language books anyway… So I just head down to the children’s section and check out their language books, because those aren’t considered méthodes de langue. And they have pretty pictures.


US: Put them in a box and you’re done.

FR: If you return materials when the library is open, you have to bring them back to the correct sections and wait for them to be checked back in so you can check out new books without going over the limit. Books here, CDs there, children’s comic books here, adult comic books there.

Yearly Closing:

US: Not closed for summer vacation.

FR: Closed for the entire month of August!

Air Conditioning:

US: Ridiculously cold. So cold that I couldn’t stand to be in there for more than 10 minutes.

FR: Just right.

So even though France seems to be losing this fight 6-1, the air conditioning counts for a bazillion points, therefore, France actually wins. I absolutely cannot stand places that are so frigid my skin hurts when I walk inside, like every single store, movie theater, restaurant and public place in the US when the temperature is above 70 degrees. I will always be anti-A/C and I hope France will be too.

These are just examples from my personal experiences with these two libraries. They’re not representative of all libraries in the US or France!

The Best Photo Ever

By   July 12, 2008

This photo of David & his sister, Carole, was taken about 25 years ago at the OK Corral Western Theme Park in Cuges-les-Pins, just east of Marseille. I absolutely adore it because they are polar opposites.  Notice the arm holding Carole in place!  She smiles a lot more for photos nowadays, but man, did she look unhappy back then. David’s jubilant and adorable smile hasn’t changed at all.

This photo had been in the storage space for who knows how many years. Now it will forever be hanging on our wall because it makes me laugh every time I look at it.

French Postcards from the Early 20th Century

By   July 8, 2008

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.

More Changes in France as of July 1

By   July 1, 2008

France takes over the European Union Presidency until December 31.

Public transportation gets slightly more expensive. SNCF tickets increase by 10 cents, while subway tickets in Paris now cost 1.60 € for a single ride or 11.40 € for a booklet of ten tickets. The monthly Carte Orange-Navigo also increases: Zones 1-2: 55.10 €; Zones 1-3: 72.90 €; Zones 1-4: 90.20 €; Zones 1-5: 108.40 €; Zones 1-6: 122.10 €

The SMIC (minimum wage) is raised to 8.71 € an hour / 1,037.53 € (net) a month.

Unemployment benefits increase by 2.5 %.

All EU citizens except Bulgarians and Romanians have full working rights in France and no longer need a visa or carte de séjour.

P.S. Happy Canada Day!

Operation Escargot & Bac Philo

By   June 16, 2008

Truck drivers across France have been participating in “operation escargot” – driving very very slowly on highways and causing major traffic problems to protest against the high price of gasoline and diesel.

Today the operation did not start until 9 AM because the drivers didn’t want to disturb the thousands of students (615,625!!) who were taking the Philosophy Bac this morning. Isn’t that nice?

Here are some sample questions on the Philosophy exam. Students have four hours to write their essays, but they won’t know the results until July 4.

“L’art transforme-t-il notre conscience du réel ?”
“Peut-on désirer sans souffrir ?”
“Est-il plus facile de connaître autrui que de se connaître soi-même ?”
“La perception peut-elle s’éduquer ?”

How would you do on this exam?