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January 29, 2011

My first Pierre

Thanks to my French buddies Louis and Thomas, I've been learning a lot of useful French. For example:

Baver= to drool
Roter=to burp
Péter=to fart

Thomas invited my main meuf  Missy and me to his family's home in Nevers for the weekend. I'm always happy as a clam to be invited into the French inner sanctum, but I got really pumped when Thomas revealed that his dad's name is Pierre. He's the first Frenchy I've met with the most stereotypical of French names, so I was really eager to impress him.

We stopped off at Pierre's wine shop when we got into town and he offered to let us taste a bottle of delicious Chinon. About a glass and a half in, I remembered that it had been awhile since I'd eaten, which explained the uncontrollable giggles spilling out of me. The harder I tried to stop the more I laughed, to the point where I was beet red and wiping tears from my eyes. I was so embarrassed to be in this state of drunkeness in front of my first Pierre.

Pierre looked at me with amusement and asked, "T'es pétée?" I turned an even deeper shade of burgundy and said, "Non! J'ai pas pété!" Thomas laughed and told me in English, "It's OK. You don't have to hold it in." I was shocked. "J'en jure! J'ai pas pété!"

When Pierre went to change the music, I leaned over to Missy and whispered, "Why do they think I farted?" She busted a gut and relayed to Thomas what I had just asked.

Apparently "être pété" means "to be drunk." Oh. Sorry Pierre.

January 27, 2011

The tu/vous conundrum

Besides continuously screwing up gendered nouns and badly mangling verb conjugations, the hardest thing about the French language for me is knowing when I should use the formal "you" (vous) and when it's OK to switch to the more familiar version (tu).

Rather than offending someone by getting more fresh than was appropriate, when I first got here I vouvoie-d everyone. Old ladies. My fellow professors. My students. Dogs. Eventually I realized it was slightly ridiculous for me to be so formal with teens 10 years my junior and most breeds of canines. I kept it up with everyone else-- even if they addressed me as tu-- until they specifically told me to stop. By that point, though, it had become such a habit that some people have specifically told me to stop several times, and I still slip up.

"Qu'est-ce que vous allez--MERDE!-- tu vas faire ce weekend?" comes out of my mouth all day on Friday, often accompanied by a hang-dog expression and shame waves radiating off me.

The worst is when I feel like I know someone well enough to use tu, but I'm afraid to do so until I get the go-ahead. I talk with the secretaries at school about the weather almost every single day, which I feel has made us really close. But I'm sitll vous-ing them and will continue to do so, possibly until forever o'clock. There's an older woman with whom I've had weekly conversations in French since November who, in fact, still calls ME "vous"! I want to tell her to stop because it feels really weird for someone more than twice my age to treat me with that much respect, but what if she doesn't reciprocate?

Just tu* me now.

*That's a joke, because tu's homophone tue means "kill." But I've been told things aren't funny when I have to explain them, so it's OK if you didn't laugh.

January 26, 2011

The correct response is, "Who is Robert Pattinson?"

Today I played a trivia game with some sophomores. One of the questions asked the students to name the British actor who starred in two of the decade's most successful fantasy franchises: Harry Potter and Twilight.

The students whose turn it was were absolutely stumped. "Euh...vampire?" they asked. "Yes, he played a vampire. But what was the actor's name?" Other students tried to help them out by calling out the names of the French versions of the Twilight books.

"Fascination!"

"Hésitation!"

"Tentation!"

And then one student yelled, "Pénétration!"

I probably should have punished him. I definitely shouldn't have started giggling. But dang, that was clever.

January 24, 2011

France and I are officially expiration date-ing

My dear m'ma bought me my ticket home today. As I write this sentence, I have three months, 16 days, four minutes and four seconds left until I board the plane that will take me from Mother France.

For those of you planning to meet me at the Minneapolis airport with adorable handmade signs, a bottle of Blue Moon beer (with an orange slice, please), a bowl of chicken wild rice soup, as much customer service as you can muster and a big fluffy couch, you have exactly three months, 16 days, 10 hours, 35 minutes and 38 seconds from this writing to make that happen.

And in case you were wondering, I've been in France now for three months, 30 days, one hour, 20 minutes and 55 seconds. And yes, I am enjoying the new countdown widget on my Mac's dashboard, MerciBeaucoupMonsieurDame.

I have so much left I want to do here, and now that I've secured my return ticket the clock is ticking. There's no way I can leave France with my pride intact before I:
  • Buy a beautiful article of clothing that I'll wear forever. When people ask me where it's from I'll sniff, look forlornly in the distance and say, "This? I picked this up on Rue Croissant de l'Amour on a sunny day in Aix-en-Provence, where the lavender scent on the breeze was mingling ever-so-tantalizingly with the earthy scent of the truffles I had scavenged myself in the Forêt des Pâtes Sauvages that very morning. The salesman told me it made me look onctueuse, and I was in no position to disagree."
  • Am mistaken for a native Frenchwoman... after I open my mouth.
  • Bring a drageur (pick-up artist) to his knees with an insult so original and beautifully crafted that said dude will be so ashamed of his catcalls and whistles that he can do nothing but join the monastic brotherhood who craft Chartreuse in the Alps, for his days of womanizing are over. Every time I hang out with my French friends I have them teach me the vulgarities of their language, so I feel this day is coming soon.
  • Participate in an impromptu song and dance number on the streets of Gay Paree, as illustrated in this little ditty from Funny Face (hat tip: Kellstar):

Any other ideas of must-dos before I leave Cheesy Wineland? Leave 'em in the comments below. Time is running out, mes amies. I now only have three months, 15 days, 23 hours and 44 seconds to git 'er done!

January 23, 2011

The French word for pony is poney

I've had incredible strokes of luck since I've been on this side of the world. Like when the plane that was supposed to take me out of Morocco broke down and we ended up being trapped in the airport for the entirety of one day and part of the next, I made best friends with a guy named Brian.* Because of the massive delay he wasn't going to make his connecting flight to Delhi via Riyadh until three days later. So I invited him to stay with me and my little brother in Paris, and we ended up having the very best time in all the history of all the world.

Bonus: having a third wheel meant that Brother Sam and I could take a series of excellent jumping pictures in front of all of Paris' monuments. Like so:


This weekend was supposed to be terrible. For the first time in months, I was going to be stranded all by my lonesome in my cell in Digoin. Due to said trips to Morocco and Paris, I was too poor to take a weekend trip (I have 50E to my name until I get paid next week... eek). And my regular Saone-et-Loire homegirl Missy had plans to be in Paris for a Patti Smith concert. So I was looking at an entire weekend of horrible, poverty-induced loneliness in my 7 ft x 9 ft cage with nothing to do but laundry.

But! Lady Luck intervened and Missy decided to stick around S+L to save money, and she proposed a staycation in her exotic hometown of Charolles, pop: 3,500. We planned to watch episode after episode of How I Met Your Mother and play Backsies Backsies (a game I invented where you rub my back and I rub yours... maybe) and not much else.

But! Lady Luck intervened once more and Missy's Austrian roommate Sigrid invited us to go along with her to visit PONIES!


Let me say that again. POOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSS!

Sigrid's 5-year-old Leoni has been here a few times already to go riding. This time she got a pony-horse named Vagabond (pronounced va-ga-BOHN). He was brown and shaggy and so cute and small and perfect and Mom can I please have him PLEASE???


I couldn't ride Vagabond because I would probably make him dead, but nothing on this earth could stop me from jumping in front of this--France's most glorious monument to little girls' dreams everywhere.

This one's for you, Brian.*


*Brian's real name is Eric. But since he looks more like a Brian it's just too confusing to call him Eric.

January 22, 2011

Pillsbury Croissants and Their Impact on My Life

There were two staples at our dinner table when I was growing up: Dole Caesar salad in a bag and Pillsbury croissants in a tube. There are six people in my family and eight croissants in each tube. The only way I was going to get a second delicious, flaky croissant was to wolf down my dinner like a ravenous child-beast and pray that my three siblings were slightly less savage/grabby than I.

As a result, I grew habituated to stuffing food down my gullet at lightening speed.

Then I moved to France, and I was forced to eat in a way completely unnatural to me-- i.e. with my fork in my left hand, a knife in my right, and both hands on the table at all times. Every time I get too comfortable and revert to my preferred table manners (fork in my right hand, left hand in my lap), I need remind myself that everyone thinks I'm creepy when one hand is mysteriously below-decks.

It's really hard for me to push chunks of food onto the back of my fork and then get said fork to my mouth without spilling things everywhere. Like couscous. Can I please get a pass on couscous so I can eat it the creepy American way, where my right hand shovels it into my mouth? Please?

Anyway, now I eat a lot more slowly.

The end.

January 20, 2011

This is the way I am sounding when I am speaking the French, of that I am sure

Of more and more time I speak to myself in my head in the voice that is that of English translated very bad. For it takes much years before one to stop the direct translation from one language in another one and starting to speak the one new extra fluent, and I am so much surrounded by people who speak like this I no more remember the way correct.

I have fear that when the man to which I am marry arriving here the next month, I have the impression he not know what is my meaning. "Why are you so perhaps?" he to demand of me.

Someone propose me to march along the river, and in my head I says, "I am in accordance." Someone propose me to eat of the croissant and in my head I am saying, "That walks." Someone propose of me to march along the river after the eating of the croissant and I am thinking, "I have very much tired for to do that." Then I bed myself.

January 10, 2011

My current fève collection stands at three

The Fête des Rois is a French celebration that merges two ancient traditions: the Roman Pagan celebration Les Saturnales and the Christian Feast of the Epiphany.

If you want more information about the historical significance of the celebration you can go here. But the most important thing you need to know is that there is a special frangipan-filled cake, La Galette des Rois, that is eaten throughout January. Inside this cake is a fève, which used to be a bean but is now usually a small figurine. If you get the slice of galette with the fève in it, you are crowned the king. In other words, this tradition is like a game. A game you can win. And I LOVE winning.


I went to Charolles to visit my besties last Thursday at the end of what the French would call a bad, dirty day. I broke the chain of my most precious necklace that I've worn every day for three years. I had one class that never showed up and I ended up waiting for them for an entire hour. Most tragically, I received the news that in three days I would have to temporarily leave my grand palace of a two-bedroom apartment and go back to the cell-- the tiny, cramped studio I lived in when I first moved here.

We got a galette at the local bakery and I made it abundantly clear to everyone that the only way my day would turn around was if I got the fève. After dinner, Thomas hid himself under the table (traditionally the job of the youngest in the room) and directed which slice should go to whom. This is done so the person cutting the cake doesn't intentionally give the slice with the fève in it to someone-- you can often feel it with your knife as you're cutting into a piece.

As Missy started eating her slice, she chomped down on something hard. Woe! It was the fève. I was devastated. But then, oh, but then, I chomped down on something hard too! There were two fèves, and one of them was mine! I won!


Bonus: When you win you get to wear a crown.

Fève count: 1

Two nights later Missy and I were at my buddy Suzanne's house for dinner. After a scrumptious meal of raclette (melted cheese atop potatoes and charcuterie), she busted out her own homemade galette. I again informed everyone of my burning desire to win, and tried to blast magic mind powers into Suzanne's daughter Elise as she covered her eyes and doled out the pieces.

Alas, the winning piece went to Elise's boyfriend. And the fève was a really excellent one too: Hermione Granger.


He insisted on giving me the fève, and I protested, saying he won it fair and square. He countered that he was the king, and the king could do what he wanted. As one of his loyal subjects I didn't deign to argue.

Fève count: 2

Suzanne then took out her extensive fève collection. She has one box for regular fèves (movie characters, a family of ducks, Vercingétorix), and one for those that are meant for a nativity scene (Jesus in a cradle, a donkey, the town lazy bones). She's been collecting them for awhile, so she has quite a few. I was in awe, and to use a new vocabulary word: "J'ai bavé d'envie." (I drooled of envy.)


Because she is one of the most generous souls known to man, Suzanne told Missy and me we could each have one of the fèves from her collection. Missy chose another Hermione, and I chose the town lazy bones because he's lying on a couch. I really miss couches.

Fève count: 3

Morocco Part 3: The Medina

The Fès medina, a 1200-year-old market, was my favorite part of the city. Thousands of tiny, winding paths are lined with stands heaped with scarves, pointed-toe slippers, hand-embroidered tablecloths and caftans if you go down one street; olives, nuts, dried fruit and spices if you go down another.


We went to the medina our first day in Fès, and I was extremely grateful to have our pack of strapping Moroccan men to guide us through the maze. We were so exhausted from (not) sleeping chez Charles de Gaulle the previous night that without them we likely would have gotten lost and trampled by the donkeys used for transport in the tight passages.

Fayçal seemed to know everyone in this city, and we stopped several times to greet various family members and friends. One of his cousins hopped the counter of his three-foot-wide caftan shop to lead us into the fez shop of another relative. Along with the city's eponymous tasseled caps, there were felt hats of all sorts of colors and styles. After making our purchases we headed upstairs to the factory, where we got to see the fezes being made in real time.


Emily and I returned to the Medina by ourselves a few days later, and the absence of our escorts was sorely felt. As an obvious Westerner, I felt like I had a bullseye on my face. "Coucou!" "Bonjour!" "Where you from, beautiful?" and, surprisingly: "Hola!" rang out from every corner as we sauntered along. "Not for buy, just for look!" they promised. "Where you from? America? New York City! I go there one day, Inch'Allah! Welcome to my country. Come inside. Very good price."

Once you showed the slightest interest in something you were doomed to at least five minutes of politely extricating yourself from the situation, so I tried to only stop when there was something I actually had intention of buying.

Emily, though, was the bartering queen. A trinket might be advertised as 80 dirham. Emily would offer 40, insisting that they had quoted her the tourist price. The vendor would clutch his heart and wonder aloud how he would feed his family, and then go down to 70. Emily would go up to 50, final offer. The vendor would dither and Emily would start to leave. "OK OK OK!" he would yell, with a hint of panic. Then he would turn to me, shaking his head. "Your friend is Berber."

And then they would offer us some mint tea.


Not everything in the medina was as deliciously fragrant as those heaps of spices and olives. There were also live chickens and cock-a-doodle-doo-ing roosters, along with the heads of various beasts strung up on butchers' hooks. If you're squeamish you're going to want to skip the next picture.


BRAINS! And lettuce over their tongues. I don't know about you, but that surely whet my appetite.


I like to show this picture to my students and tell them it's my new boyfriend. It takes them awhile to figure out it's a camel head, and then they laugh uproariously. OK, they only giggle a little bit. OK, three of them cracked a smile. But those three thought I was HILARIOUS.


If you're a long time Francey Pantser you know how much I love a good creepy mannequin, and Fès did not disappoint. It was like Christmas for creepy mannequin lovers (in fact, it was Christmas... for everyone). The problem with drawing attention to yourself by, say, taking a photo, however, is that you'll have shopkeepers descending on you like bees to honey. So I only got this excellent shot of the Child Barbie Shawl Revolution before running away.

Next time, next time. Inch'Allah.

January 5, 2011

Moreover they kiss in the elevator

One of my fellow English teachers (not at my school) gave me the awesome task of helping him grade his students' descriptions of the scene in Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" where the two meet each other for the first time. I give to you two of my favorites, in all their unedited glory:

The story begin in a bal who is creating of Juliet's father, or there have Romeo and herself. But Juliet's family don't know that Romeo is there with friend who is Mercutio. When Romeo and Juliet are meeting, they are fall in love but Juliet don't know Romeo is a Montaigu and Romeo don't know Juliet is a Capulet. But their love is stonger and when Romeo is discoverded he decided to leave the ball. But when Romeo is ready to go he decided to join Juliet in her house.

He wants to see Juliet discreetly but he drops a statue that bring out the monitoring of the pool luckily, he don't see Romeo and he goes. When Juliet comes out he follows and speacks of love and her name with him. When they are kissing Juliet is call by his nurse and she gets out of the pool and she says good night to Romeo.

This was hands down the best I read:

At the biginning. Capulets organise a party and Romeo and Mercutio come on. Mercutio is singing and Romeo comes in the bathroom, and though the aquarium he see Juliet, during an amor song. He is dressing in a knight warrior, and Juliet in a angel fairy. In the party there are a Devil, a Mousqueteer, a Skeleton, a Roman emperor and a Cleopatra. After that, Juliet dances with an astronaut. Then Juliet's cousin see the young Mantague and wants do him go out, but his godfather no allowd it.

Whereas Romeo tell with Juliet and try to kiss her. Moreover they kiss in the elevator. But after she learn Romeo is a Montague and Romeo go out. Then, he leaves in his friends' car but he goes back to Juliet's place and spies on her. She speak about Romeo's name and she asks he to change is name. Finally he shows itself and they fall in the swimming pool. Juliet is innocent, loving but careful whereas Romeo is loud, brave, irrational and passionate with she. They talk about love, the moon and mariage, they plan to get married soon. At the end, Juliet keeps coming back and they say goodnight a thousand time.

January 3, 2011

Morocco Part 2: The Hammam

The thing I was most excited to do in Morocco was to visit the hammams, or bath houses. I was pumped for the cultural stuff too, of course, but the prospect of spending time in a spa-like setting, getting all renaxed and shiz, really appealed to me.

There are different kinds of hammams you can go to, depending on how pampered you want to get and how much you want to spend. We went to one where we just paid 30 dirham (the equivalent of 3E) so we could take a hot shower. There were no frills, no extras, just a room with a showerhead and a bucket. As I understand it, there are also ones where you strip down and sit in a shvitz for awhile, soaping and exfoliating yourself while trying really hard to forget how uncomfortably Minnesotan you feel about being in a room full of nakey people.

But we decided to go for the full-bore, 100% luxury experience at a fancy modern hammam for a whopping 100 dh, plus 30 dh for the exfoliating glove (about 13E total).

Having never done this before, I was full of trepidation. Were we supposed to be naked? Were we supposed to wear swimsuits? Would they be offended by my circa-2007 teal-and-red flowered bikini? After a brief conference in the dressing room, Emily and I decided to go with both halves of our swimsuits, with our towels clutched tightly around us. The Moroccan woman in charge of us indicated we should bring our soap and shampoo, as well as the tokens indicating we had paid for fanciness.

We descended to a marble room that I like to imagine resembled the old Roman bath houses. There were showers in one corner, a steam room on the opposite side of the room with a jacuzzi adjacent to it, and four raised marble tables in between, where women in black tank tops and skorts were exfoliating their bodacious clients--all of whom were topless. Got it. I hung my towel on a hook and nervously plucked off my bikini top, mentally assuring myself that no one was staring at me and everyone has a body and it's OK to be half-naked--really!--it is.

Our Moroccan lady beckoned us into the steam room and handed each of us a gob of gooey, caramel-y savon noir (black soap) that kind of reminded me of Gak, miming  that we should rub it onto our skin. She then left us to our own devices. This was our first time around hot water in two days, after a night spent in Charles de Gaulle and a day of dusty touristing, so I was eager as could be to de-stinkify. My handful of savon noir took a surprisingly long time to run through, so I got really, extra, super clean.

After we'd soaped and rinsed to our heart's content we didn't quite know what we were supposed to do, so we did some awkward stretching and lounging on the tiled seats. "See?" I told myself. "You're a champ at being half-naked! Ain't no thang! Nobody's staring at you! Oh wait. Everyone's totally staring at you. Better cross your arms over your chest and act real casual. Good."

The lady finally came to fetch us, and pointed that we should get our tokens and exfoliating gloves and go to one of the raised marble tables in the middle of the room, where more black-clad women were waiting for us. I smiled meekly at the one assigned to me and handed her my token, which she promptly stuffed inside her skort.

After hosing me off with a shower head, she took to me with that black, sandpaper-y glove, and exfoliated the crap out of me as if my skin were a scourge on humanity that the King of Morocco himself had ordered her to remove with whatever force necessary. Great gobs of grayish dead skin cells came wilting off me as she violently rubbed me EV-ER-Y-WHERE. Parts you wouldn't think someone other than your partner would see, much less touch: oh, she went there. Sensitive parts you'd think she'd go a little easy on: ha! nope. At one point she flipped me onto my stomach and yanked my swimsuit bottom up so she could get at my cheeks, giving me the worst wedgie of my life as I stiffled a yelp.

My skin tingled all over when she finished, and I gave thanks to God that I didn't suffer from eczema or any other ouchy skin condition. She hosed me off again, and then squirted half my precious bottle of Aveda rosemary mint body wash onto me as she massaged me. "Ahhhhhhh," I thought. "This is nice. I could just lay here for--" She abruptly yanked on one of my legs, trying to flip me over. I was slip-sliding all over the soapy stone table, trying desperately not to fall and crack my head open, as she pushed and prodded me into different positions.

When that part was over, I stumbled over to the shower where I was blessedly allowed to wash my hair. The first Moroccan lady cut my shower a bit short, and ushered me over to the bubbling jacuzzi. I didn't mind; I could go for a nice relaxing sit in a hot-- holy mother of nards the water was freezing! I suppose the point was to close our newly cleansed pores, but come on! A little warning!

Our final stop at this Sadist Spa was the Chambre de Relaxation, which was actually quite nice. We lay there for awhile on lovely leather recliners, meditating on what we had just been through and making plans to come back.

January 2, 2011

Morocco Part 1: The People

Fayçal, Amin, Emily, me and Hattim visiting a fez factory in Fès

It's a bit complicated how I ended up in Morocco this winter. I originally had other plans for my two-week winter break, and when those fell through I tried in vain to latch onto other assistants' holiday voyages. I was relating my woes to Emily, an assistant in Angers who I'd never actually met in real before, and she said her plans had similarly gone bust and she was thinking about heading to Fès to visit her friend Fayçal.

Fayçal ended up being an incredible host. Together with his friend Hattim, who lodged us, and various family members and friends, he made sure we got an authentic view of Moroccan life.

I've never before experienced hospitality like what we encountered in Fès. I had only the most tenuous of connections to Fayçal, yet his family and friends welcomed me as if I were an old friend. His parents hosted us for three delicious, elaborate meals (more on that in a later post), one of which was to celebrate the 16th birthday of Fayçal's sister Boutaina. I came as a stranger and left feeling like one of them.

Fayçal, Boutaina, Mama Bouzoubaa, Amin, Papa Bouzoubaa, Hattim, and little Wael in their home.

It wasn't just the Bouzabaa family that welcomed us. As we walked through Fès' ancient market streets one day, we ran into a man we'd briefly encountered playing a traditional Moroccan instrument in an alley of the Medina a few days earlier. Without hesitation, he invited us to partake in some "Berber whiskey": the delicious mint tea that's ubiquitous in Morocco.

Emily and I had some trouble communicating to a taxi driver the name of a café where we were meeting our friends. We went back to the restaurant where we had lunch, and the host there used a payphone to call Hattim on his own dime, and then accompanied us to a taxi so he could explain to the driver in Arabic where we needed to go. Like, who does that?

Also, I spied several people wearing this fantastical cloak with a pointed hood, like they were straight out of Whoville or something:


Man they're cool. My biggest Moroccan regret is not buying one.

January 1, 2011

Bonne année, 2011!

I can't remember ever having a good New Year's. I remember plenty of bad ones: the one I spent being a grossly underpaid babysitter; the one I spent alone watching The Hangover, taking a bath, and packing; the one I spent watching a movie about a Palestinian suicide bomber the night before flying to Israel; the one I spent fighting with an ex-boyfriend outside in sub-zero Minnesota weather....

But last night reversed that NYE shame spiral. Last night was awesome.

Nick and Kelly invited some of their French and American friends over to their apartment, where we feasted on my ever-present pear and goat cheese crostinis and toasted each other over Fruit Star Expresses, my love-magic-and-danger-filled signature cocktail brought out of a long retirement for the occasion.


At 11:00 we left clutching two bottles of champagne and plastic cups as we made our way to Montmartre via the métro. We were worried we weren't going to make it to the top of the hill by midnight, so we scrambled up the steep sidewalks and staircases as fast as we could until we arrived, panting, to the hillside just below Sacre Coeur.

A cheer went up at midnight, as the people around us lit their flares and firecrackers and fireworks. Our new French friends let the corks pop on the champagne, and poured a glass for everyone. We couldn't see the Eiffel Tower through the fog--the reason we had come up to that elevation in the first place--but that didn't matter.

In France, instead of kissing that one special person at midnight, everyone does "les bises." As I kissed the cheeks of my friends, old and new, French and American, and wished them a "Bonne Année!" I felt so happy, so lucky, so grateful.


Wishing all you Francey Pantsers a 2011 filled with health and happiness.