- When in doubt, hop on a plane to a Greek Island. You won’t be disappointed.
- Bee stings do hurt.
- I am not allergic to bees.
- Beach + sun beds + the ability to order food and drinks while sea side = paradise
- I already knew that I needed meds to be on a boat, but now I know how to recognize puking passengers and distribute meds accordingly.
- A sunburn-free holiday is the best holiday.
- A 3-island boat cruise on the Arch Angel Michael departing from the port in Kos Town is not a bad way to spend a day.
- Taking the Katerina for the above-mentioned boat tour probably would have been better, though.
- When in Kos, Shrimp or Prawn Saganaki is a must.
- Making friends with the guy in the Red Sox shirt may result in two free shots of Jager.
- Local live music is never a bad idea.
- Driving a four-wheeler is fun!! (I could very well be late to the game on this one)
- The Oromedon Restaurant in Zia is great for sunsets, not so great for vegetarians.
- I suck at pool (wait… maybe I already knew that).
- The island of Kos is a holiday hotspot for Brits.
- That means tons of bars have big screen TVs and are otherwise equipped for football (soccer) games.
- If you’re hungry on Kos, look for a Taverna.
- If you don’t find a Taverna, be prepared for less-than-mediocre meals from kitchens that offer everything from nachos to indian food… on the same menu.
- Donkeys really do make hee-haw noises. At all hours of the day or night.
- I like to wear the color yellow.
I read a blog recently that talked about how Facebook has caused a lot of us to edit our lives, only depicting the happy, exciting, entertaining moments we have, and another that echoed similar thoughts about how inauthentic we are when portraying our lives via social media. Though I’m certainly no expert (and definitely am not interested in sharing all of the intimate details of my life with 500 Facebook “friends”), I would guess this behavior is derived from a desire to be thought of as witty, fun, cultured, [insert your personal list of ego-boosting adjectives here], etc. This got me to thinking that I could probably stand to be more honest in my writing. After all, much to most of your surprise, I am not perfect (but see how witty I am??).
A lot of my posts thus far have focused on the cool things I’ve done or seen, the interesting places I’ve been, or the funny moments I’ve encountered. But not everything in Paris is peachy. I’ve been here nearly five months and my French is still extremely basic (like, “my French friends/co-workers are still ordering my lunch for me,” kind of basic). Fail.
And sure, maybe this is to be expected considering I haven’t had the chance to take any French lessons yet, and I do all of my work in English every day. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I am the biggest failure alive. Here’s why:
- I know it was only high school, but back in the day I was one of the few language nerds at my school. Got awards, hung out translating all day, made up my own classes with a few other students when our level exceeded the school’s offering… You get the point. And yeah, one of the languages I studied was French.
- I studied abroad in college and specifically chose the program I did because it had a required language component. I studied Xhosa. By the end of my three-and-a-half-month stay, I was easily having basic conversations with my home-stay family.
- I can only half-read the signs around me.
- I can’t do many important things (like finding out where my French social security card is) without help.
- I can’t pronounce my boyfriend’s name properly.
All of these factors culminate into what I can only describe as extreme embarrassment. At this moment in time, I am largely illiterate, can’t do things that I need to by myself, and am constantly being corrected on the things I try to say. Sound familiar? Of course it does. You’re being reminded of when you started the first grade.
What’s worse is that, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the rumors about the French hating Americans or hating people who only speak English are false. “How can that be worse?” you must be asking yourself. Well, because they are SO nice to me here that even during my attempts to speak French at stores or restaurants, my Americanism is detected and people automatically start talking to me, pleasantly, in English. And nothing adds to the sting of the existing embarrassment like making an effort to speak the language and having it be completely rejected.
Or how about sitting in a room full of people, all of which are engaged with each other in conversation, while you sit there, alone, trying to understand any part of what’s being said (or in my case, making up songs in my head as I stare out the window)? It becomes even more embarrassing when a joke is made and the room erupts in laughter while you’re sitting there, stone-faced, unsure of what just happened. And of course you occasionally think to yourself, “maybe they’re laughing at me” because really… you wouldn’t know if they were.
Despite all of this, I must admit (not for the sake of seeking an ego-boosting adjective) that my frustration level remains surprisingly low most of the time. Perhaps it’s because I have hope that I’ll be starting lessons soon, or the fact that I’m living in Paris (!) so nothing really seems that bad, or maybe it’s pure ignorance on my part. But I just keep thinking that the more I try and the more I’m exposed to, one day something in my brain will just click and French verbs will conjugate flawlessly, pronunciations will flow out of my mouth correctly and with ease, and the girl at Subway will continue taking my order in French instead of switching to English half-way through. (And yes. I eat Subway while living in France. Don’t judge. I’m trying to be honest, here!).
Until that day, my face will continue to turn red when I try to speak French, I’ll still buy the wrong things at the store, and I’ll keep waiting for that French social security card to magically appear without me having to chase it down. Here’s hoping I don’t break a leg…
For most people, packing is probably one of the most unpleasant parts of traveling. But since becoming a Perpetual Passenger, I’ve got this annoying “art” down to a science. Here are some simple tips I try to stick to when loading my luggage that are pretty universal:
- Pack light! Bring only what you need and you won’t find yourself lugging your weight in clothing or sitting on your suitcase to get it closed.
- Go with what you know! One way to make sure you pack light is to bring outfits you’ve warn before that you know fit well and that you feel comfortable in. Why bring “options” when you’re probably only going to end up wearing your tried-and-true favorites anyway?
- Think with your feet! Men are already doing this – and it’s time us ladies caught on. Find one (or two at the most) pair of shoes that jibe well with a lot of your wardrobe and that are comfortable. Nothing takes up more useless space than several pairs of shoes, and when half of those shoes hurt your feet and only match with one outfit, you’ll be wishing you brought those practical pumps you usually wear.
- Keep your toiletries together! Since security regulations now require all liquids that will be brought on board an airplane in your carry-on luggage be 3.1 oz or less and kept in a clear plastic bag (no larger than 1 quart), why not go out and get travel sized toothpaste, deodorant, perfume and hand lotion and keep everything in a clear bag as required? Better yet, get it all together now and leave it in your suitcase, never taking it out except to use when traveling and when going through security. That way, you never have to worry about packing those things or making sure you’ve got what you need. (I actually go one step further and keep an extra toothbrush in with my toiletries. I hate arriving somewhere and realizing I didn’t bring a toothbrush!)
- Plan your carry-on wisely!
- Think about what you’ll be bringing on the plane with you, and what you’ll want to have access to. Will you be using a laptop? A book? Are you bringing toiletries? Be sure to pack anything that you will want to access while on the plane or in security in an easy-to-reach location. I personally put my toiletries in the front most pocket of my carry-on suitcase with nothing else on top of it so I can easily reach in and grab it, and have my laptop unburied in my tote.
- Also – If you are checking luggage (which I don’t recommend and almost never do unless I have to), make sure to keep the essentials in your carry-on! Have those toiletries, a clean set of clothes and any important documents on hand in case your luggage goes AWOL. Those lost-luggage horror stories aren’t just the stuff of legend…
When I follow these steps, packing goes from being a pain to easy peasy. So try it out, and maybe you can get on to enjoying your destination instead of brooding over how to organize your bags.
I had two posts that I planned to publish this week, but they are still waiting as lowly drafts thanks to the stomach flu that decided to grace me with its presence. But while I was laid up for a few days, I learned some interesting things, so I thought I’d share…
- I forgot how much I love the show Friends.
- I miss American-style grilled cheese (why on earth…?!).
- There is a very nice, English-speaking doctor not too far from where I work. Victory!
- Crappy French daytime TV is better than Glee in English. Yeah, I went there.
- Spending three days in my own head is enough to create unnecessary problems.
- When strangers show up unexpectedly in your home for some obligatory service you were unaware you needed to have done while you are sweating and trying not to get sick, you will most certainly begin to feel worse.
- Being ill is much more difficult to endure when it’s absolutely gorgeous outside.
- I can handle a fever. I can handle an upset stomach. I can handle body aches. But combine the three and you can call me Ms. Cranky Pants.
- Toast with a super-thin layer of PB works best for me as my safe-for-the-stomach food.
- Being told you look pretty when you feel (and undoubtedly look) like death is probably the best medicine. EVER.
- Many drinks in Paris are served with candy as an accompaniment.
- “The real party starts at 7am” (At least, that’s what I’m told).
- Not all expat bars are created equal.
- You’re not supposed to eat chocolate when drinking wine (aaahhhh!).
- It’s not important to win every fight (I think I’m still learning this one).
- A (fake) mustache is the secret ingredient to making a great party.
- September in the Netherlands requires my winter wardrobe.
- If you can drive in Amsterdam, you can drive anywhere.
- I can still function on three hours of sleep… though I’d prefer not to have to.
- Alcohol + heels + bicycles = a bad idea.
- When friends are coming to visit early in the morning, set the alarm.
- There’s a decent following of American Football fans in Paris!
- I am not a huge fan of grappa. Yet.
- If I spill one glass of wine on someone, there’s a good chance I’ll spill another.
- In Amsterdam, a sign reading “pin storing” actually means “We apologize for any inconvenience, but credit cards are not accepted at this register.” See the obvious connection?
- In the US some of us have been taught that trust can only be given after it has been earned. The French don’t work this way.
- Seeing good friends in other countries is just as fun (if not more) as seeing them in your own.
- There’s a Frank song for every occasion (including, but not limited to, dancing in living rooms).
- Writing notes to myself serves as an effective method for clearing my head.
- When you’re really happy, even work doesn’t feel like work (but you still can’t wait for the end of the day)!
As I was preparing for the big move to Paris earlier this year, I received countless “words of wisdom” (read: warnings) about French people and their culture. Now that I’ve been here a while, I have a pretty good understanding of which French stereotypes hold true, and which have more holes than that piece of Swiss cheese you just ate, which probably came from Ohio. It’s time to set the record straight.
Stereotype: The French Hate Americans
First of all: this may have been true in other eras (I’ve had more than one conversation about the opinions of America during GW’s glorious reign), but my personal experience has yielded very positive encounters with anyone who learns of my nationality. Second of all: It’s important to remember that a) just a short time ago, Americans called French fries Freedom fries, French toast Freedom toast, and so on, in an attempt to vocalize distaste over France’s choice not to join us in (a stupid/pointless/unnecessary) war with Iraq, and b) much of the previous negativity directed at Americans comes from us living with a set of our own stereotypes that the rest of the world has created. So I can confidently say that the French have been très tolérant of Americans given the treatment we’ve shown them throughout the course of our co-existence following American independence (which, by the way, America would not have had without French support).
Stereotype: Pretty Much No One In France Is Fat
The rumors are true: The French consume more wine, cheese, bread, pasta or pastries than most Americans I know, and yet they are all thin. Most that I know personally exercise very little. What’s the secret? PORTIONS. The French have this very impressive way of consuming food and drinks more slowly, appreciating each sip or bite, allowing themselves to really taste what they’re putting into their bodies. When this happens, they don’t eat as much because they feel satisfied. The difference between “full” and “satisfied” could be a few dress sizes.
Plus food here is much more simple. Less chemicals. Little to no hormones. Fresh. It’s wonderful
Stereotype: The French Are Rude/Arrogant
They don’t smile at you if they don’t know you. They are very direct when they do (i.e. “Yes, you look bad in that dress” type of direct). Despite these differences in communication, I find French people to be warm, friendly, inviting, and some of the most helpful I’ve encountered. All I can say is that I can’t imagine getting as much help as I did when I moved here if I were a foreigner moving to the United States. So does this make the French rude, or are Americans just sensitive?
Stereotype: Everyone in France Smokes Like a Chimney
HALF FACT, HALF FICTION
Not everyone in France smokes. In fact, most people I know do not. However most of the ones that do smoke A LOT.
Stereotype: French Guys Are Feminine
They care about how they look. They dress better than I do. Their shoes are more expensive than mine. They wear scarves in the summer. They think flowers are beautiful. And shopping with one of them is the equivalent to shopping with a hoard of fashionable girlfriends. And they do it all while still exuding a serious amount of manliness.
What makes them not feminine is the fact that they don’t care if you think they are manly or not (among other things). Somehow the lack of excessive assertions of masculinity serves as a pretty good indicator of masculinity. Who knew?
Stereotype: French Tempers Flair More Than Hairstyles in the 70s
It’s happened to me more than once that I’ll be in the middle of a conversation with someone and suddenly voices are raised and faces are red. Most of the time I didn’t even see it coming. And these aren’t just political or religious conversations. I’m talking “what kinds of flowers should you plant in a garden” kinds of conversations. But there are just as many reasons to love the passionate French as there are to fear them, and the storm passes just as quickly as it strikes. Like the old adage about weather in the month of March: their tempers come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.
Stereotype: French Women Don’t Shave
Stereotype: The French Are Very Sexual
Of course I am from “puritan America” where sex is largely censored in the media, sex education in schools is still extremely controversial, and nudity on most beaches is illegal, so my views are inherently biased. But I have never heard people talk so openly about their (very active) sex lives before. Sex is on TV, sex is in the movies, sex happens. Here, it’s just part of life and not some taboo topic you can only discuss with girlfriends or after too many glasses of wine.
Stereotype: The French Hate Anyone Who Doesn’t Speak French
This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. English is taught in schools starting at a young age, and a lot of people I’ve met are happy to practice their English with a native speaker. What they do hate is when they are approached in their own country and spoken to only in English, with the offender thereby making the assumption that a person can and does speak English. I don’t think this is such a hard concept to grasp, actually… can you recall a time when you’ve been somewhere in America and someone starts trying to talk to you only in Spanish, Chinese or some other foreign language? Your reaction was probably “Come on, we’re in America!”
However, if you make even the smallest attempt to speak French, the effort is typically well-received and often the conversation turns to English quite easily and with no ill-will.
So there you have it. Maybe I’ll write a future post on some of the stereotypes the French have of Americans and share them. Some might be true, others might only be good for a laugh, but in the end it’s the exploration of each other’s cultures that’s really insightful.
- You can drink alcohol in public in Paris.
- I cannot walk from the arrondissement where I work to the one where I live after dark.
- I understand more French than I think I do.
- The guy at the salad bar I frequent has a crush on me.
- The view from Montparnasse Tower is pretty spectacular!
- Cocktails are sometimes referred to as cocktails, but other times are referred to as “long drinks.”
- A PlayStation 3 purchased in the US and plugged into an outlet in Paris will not blow up/catch on fire/self-destruct.
- Eastern Europeans wear their wedding rings on their right hands, and now some Western Europeans are following suit.
- I enjoy running with a running partner! (And, subsequently, I also learned that I can run further and for longer while with one.)
- Fresh baguette + goat cheese = pure bliss (and my friend Célia tells me I need to try adding honey)
- Sometimes you just have to let go. And sometimes you just have to trust people.
- Rain during a picnic does not necessarily ruin said picnic.
- I don’t know anything about life.
- Black sheath dress + black heels + metro at night = uncomfortable
- Sometimes the best sentences are spoken without using words.
- The tolerance required to consume as much wine as is common in French culture is higher than my own. But I’m working on it.
- No, I don’t care that you are from NYC and used to be in a band. And no, I won’t go to a concert with you tomorrow. (Something I learned, but the guy did not)
- Sharing a dinner table with strangers is a recipe for a good time… even if you don’t speak their language.
- Sophia thinks I sing “like a Disney Princess.” (Is that good or bad?)
- I LOVE laughing. And when other people laugh. And when we laugh together.
- I miss the NFL like WOAH. (Must… find… way… to attend… yearly… Patriots game!!! Ugh!)
- Things change fast. Roll with it.
- Ask first. Buy later.
- Having to rely on others isn’t so bad. Although I still don’t like it.
- Beautiful flowers are available for delivery in Paris. From at least two different vendors.
- Teams winning championships while I’m not there to celebrate isn’t so bad. Although I still don’t like it.
- Men here pee outside. During the day. While sober.
- Spending 7 hours in the sun with 90 degree temps and no way to cool down will result in more than just a nice tan.
- The French equivalent to FML = VDM (for those who are acronym-deficient, please inquire within)
- A good playlist goes a long way.
- Sending snail mail is just as good as receiving it. (Which is good, because I haven’t received any – hint hint!)
- Prince is an amazing performer – and at 53 what he does on stage becomes even more impressive.
- I miss Netflix.
- Do all your grocery shopping on Saturdays, because you won’t be able to get anything you’ve run out of on Sunday.
- Foster’s beer apparently has 5.1% alcohol by volume and is sold by the pint in France. Four of these do not equal four 12oz Blue Moons in the US.
- The train ride to London is fast, though not cheap.
- I can put furniture together all by myself! And it doesn’t fall apart immediately after!
- There is something equally as good as Pinkberry in Paris. This is amazing news.
- Pigeon poop is green. And doesn’t make for good hair conditioner
- I can survive without a working stove.
- It doesn’t pay to cut in line at a taxi stand.
- I don’t miss having a car. At all.
- Outside, no one makes eye contact. Inside, even strangers say hello.
- Buying your veggies fresh daily is awesome.
- When they say “delivery at 9am,” expect it either an hour early or an hour late.
- You’ve probably seen the Eiffel Tower more often than Parisiens have.
- Chivalry is alive and well in this part of Europe.
- Buy a step-ladder if you’re living in a Parisien flat. Unless you’re approximately 7 feet tall.
- Ikea delivers over here. Whaaaat?!
- On Fridays and Saturdays, you’ll never stop saying “Bon weekend!”
- Paris recycles! (Love this!)
- You can get from Paris to Amsterdam in 3 hours by train.