The Little Things

I was really, really, really happy to be back in the US these last couple weeks. Even though I love France, being there for 2 months has given me a renewed appreciation for my home country. My absence also has me missing those certain little, familiar, often taken for granted things in US life….

Not A French Home

  • Big, beautiful American houses. They’re so colorful, pretty and have so much life. While French homes have old charm  and are built to last, they also seem a little sad. 99% are gray with a brown or orange roof. There, you’d never see a great big  house with a grand front porch and a meticulously landscaped yard.

A Small Line at the Prefecture

  • Government administration. Oh, I could write a book on the inefficient, incompetent, heartless, blood pressure raising experiences of dealing with French administration. After waiting for 5 hours at one of the world’s saddest places, the Immigration office (called the Prefecture), a week before I left, I walked out of the building without being able to extend my visa. It’s a long story, but I was advised to return at a date closer to my visa expiration so my next one could be issued with enough time to carry me until the end of May.  Considering this, on top of my initial visa experience, I’m not sure how I will survive the 4 years until citizenship.  But, I am sure a french friend who is living in the US would say the same thing about American administration after she waited 4 months for her work permit only to have it lost in the mail. She was then told the process must be restarted from the very beginning.

  • Convenience. Business’s in the US want to make money so they are driven by customer wants and needs. For example, if I wake up at 3am and decide I want to eat a taco, buy a pair of yoga pants, followed by a workout at a gym it’s not a problem. In France, it would be nearly impossible. In fact, one time I walked into a Paris restaurant and was told that they were not serving food that week because the cook was on vacation.
  • Cheap gas. Yes, you read correctly. In the US it cost $60 to fill the tank on my Pontiac G6 compared to $108 to fill the economically friendly,  Henri in Europe.
  • Breathing. And what I mean by that is being able to take a good breath outside without inhaling second hand smoke. This french stereotype, unfortunately, is true. 

Of course, being back in the States has me realizing a few things not so good. Things that give other countries a lot of ammunition to making fun of us and things that I, myself, have been guilty of (I won’t admit which ones).

Never would this happen in France and thank God for that...

  • First things first, unless you’re Mark Zuckerburg, put the pajamas away. Those are for sleeping only, not for going out in public, America.
  • Young American girls, I mean this with nothing but love – stop dressing like skanks. I never realized before spending 2 months in France, but a lot America college age girls could take example from their French counterparts. Last Friday night, in Nashville, we went to a sports bar on the Vanderbilt University campus.

    These only belong one place and that place contains a pole and super expensive drinks.

    Throughout the bar were scantily clad girls. One had on a red dress that barely passed her underwear line with a pair of glossy red stripper style shoes. The only instance where that would happen in France is if the girl was “working”. On a weekend night in Orleans, most of the girls could be found in something stylish, classy, but yet sexy and pretty.

  • Anyone denying our obesity epidemic needs to hop on a plane to France for a couple of days. Search for a fat person and maybe you’ll find one. Sadly, it’s true.  I can go for a week without seeing someone overweight. Basically, it’s

    In France there are 857 McDonald's compared to the United States 12,804.

    made me realize we must do something before we all die of heart disease and diabetes. Also, it’s just not fair that the French are so thin.

So, the past two weeks I throughly enjoyed American life, time with Fabien, our animals, going shopping, running, reading, watching Netflix and just relaxing. The past two weeks have me refreshed and ready to tackle the next 3 months with gusto. Also, I ‘m working on Spring Break trip that gives me heart palpitations and butterflies in my tummy! Details soon…

The Good Week

"I'm ready for school."

Let me just get this out of the way….. brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  If you haven’t heard, we are freezing over here in Europe. Check out these photos. I have spent most of the week bundled up in the warmest clothes I can find or with my feet against my bedroom radiator. But other than that, it has been a good week!

As I write this, I have finished my 5th week of classes. If you read, Testing My Confidence, you know that I made it into the Level 2 group, which was a pleasant surprise.  My happiness was quickly destroyed because the first week at the University, I understood almost nothing of what was going on in class. I was also frustrated because it seemed as though all the other students were following along easily. But after a few days,  I discovered everyone in my group had much more experience (3, 4, 5 years).  Based on my 1 year of formal classes (at 1.25 hours per week), I was actually doing pretty good.  So, I’d say the first week, my comprehension level was about 5% (generously speaking). To bruise my ego further, a professor approached me and asked if I would like to move down a level. I can’t say I didn’t consider it, but after much thought, I decided to tough it out and stay put.

So, in my group there are 15 students. 4 Japanese, 2 Americans, 2 Turks, 2 Serbians, 1 Russian, 1 Moroccan, 1 Finnish, 1 Syrian and one guy who I can’t understand, but I’m guessing he’s from somewhere in Eastern Europe. There are only 3 men. Girl Power! We range from ages 20 to 50.  Only a few of us have a common language, so most of the time we speak french. Basically, it is quite a diverse group.  My classes are 22 hours per week with 12 different professors who cover the subjects, writing/oral comprehension and expression, civilisation, grammar and phonetics. Right now, my favorite class would be writing expression and least favorite (hands down) would be grammar. I find it interesting most of the teachers rarely ever break stride and speak English, when I know that most of them are totally capable.

So, the current State of the Union – I’m happy to report that I am on fire this week! There are many reasons…

  1. Normally, I dread Wednesdays and Thursdays due to them being jam-packed with grammar and teachers that are not my favorite. However, this week I understood a lot (estimating 60% comprehension). Also, I received the results of my relative pronouns test and did surprisingly well. Even better than some students who are in their 2nd semester. Needless to stay, I was pumped! **NERD**
  2. A few times, I have found myself responding (correctly) without thinking – huge step.
  3. One day this week, my group met with “real french students” at the University and because my partner was kind of lame, I lead the entire conversation, for 2 hours! She seemed to understand me, but maybe she was just being nice. Whatever, I was happy to be understood, even if it was just a little bit.
  4. Next, I received news that I’m finally getting my student card next week. This gives me big discounts when using transportation, going to the movies, restaurants, etc. And more importantly, I need my student card to apply for a long stay residence permit. Good thing since my current permit expires in mid-March. Oh, the efficiency of French Administration.
  5. And lastly, Henri and I are getting along famously. In other words, I have driven a whole week without any stalls or major catastrophes. I even successfully ventured outside my 5km comfort radius to give cousin Jade a ride to the equestrian stables.

In the past month, I have grown a lot, but still have a long way to go.  At the end of May, I plan to take the DELF exam (Diplome d’Etudes en Langue Francaise) . This would certify my language ability and be essential in the event I ever wanted to get a job here. Realistically speaking, it’s a bit of a longshot, but, with the luck I’ve been having lately I might just surprise myself and pass!

And for your viewing pleasure, here are a few pictures of the University campus.

The tram which I often take because I'm too scared to drive into Orléans by myself.

One of the 3 student cafeteria's. Here you can get a 4 course meal served by a disgruntled kitchen worker for 3€!

The "Lake" in the center of campus - more like a pond if you ask me...

The department where most of my classes are held.

“Home”: St. Cyr en Val

Downtown St. Cyr en Val

When we made our recent move to Smyrna, Tennessee, I wrote a post about my new city. So, its only fair that I tell you a little bit about the place where I’m living now.  This is St. Cyr en Val.  It’s a typical french village 20 minutes south of Orléans, which is a city most famous for it’s Cathedral and being the hometown of Joan of Arc. St. Cyr en Val has 3,170 inhabitants (census 2009) who call themselves St. Cyriennes.

There are a few bakeries, a post office, church, convenience store, car dealership, pharmacy and two restaurants, both of which I have never seen open (welcome to France). Yes, it’s pretty small. However, while out for a run one afternoon, I discovered the village (like our home in Smyrna) also has a picturesque little river.

The adorable little river

The Church of St. Cyr en Val

The car dealership of St. Cyr en Val (LOL)

The church shown is where Fabien and I will get married (again) this July. Nearly every hour during the day, I can hear the church bells play from my bedroom. On Christmas Eve, they played my favorite Christmas song ‘Carole of the Bells’. Even though it was freezing, I opened the bedroom windows and shrieked with excitement. This is also the church where Fabien’s mother had her baptism, communion, confirmation and wedding. Now, it’s Fabien’s turn to complete the quadfectra.

Rue René Godin

In addition, the village is full of family history. His Grandparents, Jean-Claude & Raymonde Godin, are very well-known and loved throughout St. Cyr. The first time I came to France, Jean-Claude told me stories of when he was young and saw the American soldiers come into Orléans during World War II. Jean Claude’s father, René Godin, even has a street named after him.  When René Godin died, he gifted land to his family, which they used to build houses. So, the Chevrier’s live directly behind Corinne’s sister, Valerie, right next door to her brother, Gilles and down the street from her parents who live next door to her other brother, Eric who lives next door to Corinne’s other sister, Veronique. Got all that? Most of you will remember Veronique as the crazy Aunt at from our wedding who ran around taking pictures and speaking french to everyone who only spoke English. Well, can you imagine what it’s like to live in a whole village of crazy French people like her? FUN is the answer! But in all honesty, it’s quite amazing how many family members are in close proximity and how know one is in each others business. They each have their own lives and reserve the weekend for little visits.

I really can’t thank the people in St. Cyr en Val enough for how friendly and patient they have been. Often, I butcher their language while asking for items at the convenience store, but they just give me a gracious smile and hand me what I was asking for where as in a bigger city, I might be considered a nuisance. Overall, the family and residents of the village are the reason I am loving small town life in France.

Oh, and St. Cyr en Val is one quick ride away from this little vacation cottage of Francois the 1st that I visited last weekend (for more pics, click here):

Just a little vacation home...