Chances are, you might know someone who has uprooted themselves and relocated to a foreign country. Depending on the strength of your connection to that person, your reaction may vary from vaguely annoyed/impressed, to overly thrilled/depressed at the prospect of their new life. Perhaps they’re moving somewhere exotic for an amazing job and you couldn’t be happier, or maybe they didn’t have the choice and you’re saddened by the sudden distance this move will create. Regardless of where your emotions lie on the spectrum, I’ve created a list of Dos and Don’ts for those who have expats orbiting their universe. Read More →
Browsing Category Life Lessons
Standing on American Soil in France
[NOTE: Originally written on August 6, 2013] Today marks the anniversary of the D-Day Invasion by Allied forces in France. Since I have recently visited the very area of the world where the invasion took place, I felt today would be the perfect day to share about the sights and sounds in Normandy.
I’d heard about the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial quite a few times over the course of my life, but it wasn’t until last year when a dear friend made a visit and happened upon a grave site that bore not only my family name, but the middle name of my father, as well.
After that, the memorial site was a no-brainer to be added to My List, as I was curious to discover more about the history of the war and the sacrifice of so many soldiers.
Although the cemetery wasn’t the only thing we visited on the trip, it was by far the most moving. Normandy is a beautiful region, with gorgeous seascapes, cute tourist-towns that dot the shores, and weather that is reminiscent of being back in New England. But nothing impacted me so much as the museum on-site at the cemetery.
The museum was designed to immerse visitors into the soldiers’ experience, and it does exactly that. Everything from personal objects to videos containing real footage and photographs to interviews with soldiers who served and family members of those who were lost is on display, and does nothing short of transporting you into what life must have been like around the time of the infamous D-Day.
Here’s a look at some of my favorite shots from Normandy and its impressive dedication to the soldiers who gave their lives:
On a lighter note: The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is actually staffed by American (and British) employees, and their presence is immediately felt. As soon as we pulled into the cemetery parking area, something stood out that was distinctively un-French: order and organization. From parking in designated rows (not just wherever you want), to lines that were actually kept and moved at a reasonable pace, I was easily reminded that I was on American soil. Needless to say, my short run-in with orderliness was very refreshing!
Year Two: A Story of Progress
Last year, I wrote a post reflecting on what my first year in Paris had been like. Though I acknowledged a lot of positive elements from my first year, I also described the sensation of struggling between the person I was inside and the person I was forced to be due to my lack of ability to express myself in French.
Now I face a whole different kind of struggle. One which I can’t really get into here (yet! but maybe if all you boys and girls are good I’ll save you a nice story for later…;) ), but mostly with money. HOLY HELL Paris is expensive. And the taxes are just, well… that’s a first world problem and I’m just going to go ahead and bite my tongue (can’t hurt any worse than those bills from the government! Ouch!).
However, I am able to happily report that, for the most part, I feel a lot more like myself than I did 365 days ago. There’s a few reasons for that, which include:
- I’ve kept a lot of the friends I met in year one, and have been able to let go of my insecurities around them. I no longer fear that they’re going to think I’m stupid if I make a mistake in French, and I no longer worry that they’re going to think I’m stupid if I butt into a conversation in English. I think they know me, now, and they’ve decided to stick around. They’re either loyal to a fault, or messy conversation isn’t all that bad.
- I’ve improved my French. I mean, let’s hope so, right? Seriously, after being here for 2 years, I’d like to think I can answer my own cell phone and not have a heart attack. Okay, I’m still working on that one, but I can definitely participate in conversations now that I couldn’t before, and people remind me all the time that I’ve come a long way.
- I’ve gotten into the rhythm of how life works here. Do I still get frustrated at processes that are painstakingly inefficient? You bet. But do I expect them now, and have a good laugh about it? Most of the time. And it doesn’t hurt that even on its ugliest days, Paris is still pretty.
- I made some catastrophic mistakes in 2012. How can that make me feel more like myself, you ask? Well, first of all, I wouldn’t be me without some huge blunders now and then. And second, I forced myself to look at who I was and what I was doing, and realized I was starting to get off track. I have this weird philosophy about myself that I’m always changing, and I still am, but I’d like to at least be changing in positive directions. I was starting to go the other way, and was able to reroute myself.
So there you have it. I spent my Two Year France-iversary watching the rain come down outside of my apartment and watching Saving Private Ryan (for the first time) in light of our recent trip to Normandy. Oh yeah, there was wine in there, too. For what is an anniversary without a toast…
Far From Harm That Happened Close to Home
Almost two years ago, I arrived in Paris, ready to embark on a new adventure. During my first few weeks here, it was the National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs back home in the states, and my home town team, the Boston Bruins, had made it to the finals. My hockey allegiances had been split in college between the NJ Devils (after following a certain player that helped them to a Stanley Cup win), and the Bruins, whom I had watched on TV as a kid, and had seen a few times at the Garden with my Dad.
The Boston Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup that year, and I experienced something interesting: pride in the place where I come from, that was actually heightened by distance (and a love of sports). I wrote about it, here, and was happy to wear some New England sports attire to work that day (it was a Red Sox jersey, since I didn’t have anything Bruins). Although I smiled on my walk to work, proudly displaying my Red Sox gear, I knew my clothing would only signal “Boston” to those who were American, but I didn’t care. I was expressing myself just because I was happy and proud to be from New England, not because I cared if anyone else could see what I was doing, or to prove my fandom (because trust me, I know some super serious hockey fans, and I don’t rank among them).
Today, I’m doing something that is simultaneously very similar, yet very different to that day in June. Today, I’m also wearing something Bostonian, to show my pride, and not because I care who can see me or if they recognize the green color and signature leprechaun that represent the Celtics. But the pride I express today is a different one. This is the kind of pride I don’t want to have to express, the kind that is caused by things we always think happen to someone else. This is a quiet, pensive pride, where support means thinking about all of the people who have been hurt or have lost someone in an explosion that rocked an otherwise awesome event, and counting my blessings.
Funny how pride can exist in two different forms, despite being tied to the same thing.
So here’s to you, Boston, and all the people who make the city as strong as it is. Like the emergency personnel and the race volunteers that I saw on the news who were rushing to the aid of the injured, like the former Patriots player who was seen carrying an injured woman, and like the rest of the city who I know will support one another every step of the way. I am far away from the danger that has transpired, but never too far to be proud of Boston and to show my support for the city that myself and so many other New Englanders call “ours.”
My Grown Up List
I love making lists. Not necessarily To-Do lists, or lists that are even functional. I think I just like enumerating and organizing my thoughts in some kind of logical order. I even have a great book that feels like it was made just for me where I can make lists for fun (check out Curious Lists: A Creative Journal for List-Lovers).
Tying the Knot: French Style
This summer I had the pleasure of attending my very first French wedding! It was a beautiful affair from start to finish, despite the threatening rain, and my French getting put to the test. The event was interesting to me on many levels, one of which being the ability for me to observe differences in ceremonies and traditions that exist between French and American weddings.
In no particular order, I present to you the 10 wedding things that French and American couples do differently (in my experience):
- Although the United States also asks couples to officially marry in a clerical setting, such as a court house or town hall, very rarely does it happen on the same day as the wedding and reception, with guests piled into some official room. In France, the civic proceedings happen just before any other ceremony or reception is to take place. At this wedding, as many friends and family members as possible were crammed into the tiny room, though I’ve been told that sometimes it’s just the bride, groom, and witnesses, and everyone else joins for the reception.
- Speaking of witnesses, that’s what the bridal party is called here. There is no maid of honor, best man, bridesmaids or groomsmen. There is usually one person (sometimes two) for the bride and one (or two) for the groom to act as witnesses to the marriage.
- The witnesses do not usually coordinate clothing or colors to match the bride, groom or any wedding theme.
- A bouquet is thrown, but a garter is not.
- There is no cake or cake-cutting ceremony.
- There is no father-daughter or mother-son dance.
- I also don’t recall seeing the couple’s first dance, but this may have been around the point where things got hazy. 🙂
- Speaking of hazy, the reception (aka when dinner was served) started around 9pm, with drinks and dancing intended to last until around 5am.
- Since there is often no outright “ceremony,” there is no rehearsal the night before the wedding (although in this case, there was actually a ceremony at a church that included a choir, who held a rehearsal at the church, which preceded a barbecue).
- Instead of a brunch the morning after, there is often an all-day event where food and drinks are served.
So there you have it! And if there are any international brides/grooms or wedding crashers out there, please share some interesting traditions you’ve seen (or missed)! 🙂
Things I Learned: in Kos
- 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.
Some things to tide you over
I have just arrived from a fantastic holiday on the island of Kos in Greece! I am busy adjusting to being back in the real world, and until I have time to actually write some decent posts, here are links to a few things that should provide good reading material in the meantime.
The amazing Mama over at HJ Underway wrote a post echoing my thoughts about speaking a language other than the local one, and the American language debate. Check it out, here.
My latest article for MyFrenchLife, talking about tennis in Paris, was published while I was away. You can read it, here.
Benny the super Irish Polyglot found my blog post about my addiction to excuses, and he posted it on his site, with some of his commentary (and EXCELLENT feedback in the comments for those of you looking to learn another language). Check out his site, here, and the blog where my addiction post makes an appearance, here.
Until next time! 😉
A post that has inspired me like few others…
A Trifecta of French Frustrations
They say things happen in threes. I hope that’s true, because if I experience another run-in with the Parisian rudeness that I have been actively assuring others doesn’t exist, I might just lose my mind.
After gaining the confidence to try to speak some French in public, I have been surely and swiftly knocked off of my little pedestal. For a city that is known for its culture and class, the people here certainly can lack tact. Here’s a recap of my descent from moderately confident to fearing foreigner:
- At my neighborhood grocery store, an old lady asked me where she could find a “boite de sel,” or, a box of salt. Not knowing the answer (or what exactly a BOX of salt was), I told her, in French, that I would ask someone. She understood me and thanked me for offering to help. I found the nearest grocery store employee, to whom I said: “Je cherche une boite de sel…?” knowing that I was looking for something rather odd. His response: “Vous n’êtes pas français, hmm?” (or, “you’re not French…”). He then laughs, and follows me to the aisle where the old lady is searching. Um… did I make a mistake here? Am I speaking so unintelligibly that you cannot understand me? Obviously not. So stop focusing on the fact that I’m not French and tell me where we can find a freaking box of salt, damn it!
- At a restaurant ordering lunch last weekend, a waiter makes a joke about what I’m ordering in French. I smile politely and nod, not even realizing he was making a joke, which prompts him to ask Frog Prince why I didn’t get the joke. He of course responded that I don’t really speak French. At the end of the meal, the waiter looks me in the eye and asks me in French if my plate was good. I responded “C’était bon!” Meaning, it was good. At which point he proceeded to sarcastically ask me if it was “bon ou bonne?” in an attempt to correct my French, and he was in fact, making a mistake (insert French grammar lesson about masculine and feminine forms, here). Nice try, buddy. I didn’t realize French teachers also worked as waiters on Sundays.
- On the same day as incident number 2, we were at the lake enjoying the rare Paris sunshine. Somehow we started playing football (soccer) with a little boy nearby. The great thing about little kids is that I can speak to them in French, probably making plenty of mistakes, but they totally understand me and don’t judge me at all. However, a group of pretentious mommies who arrived after our game of football had started, who sat themselves directly adjacent to our playful little match, proceeded to tell us we were playing too close to their children, and DO like to judge. Apparently they heard me speaking to the little boy and felt that my French was sub-par and felt it necessary to talk among themselves about my poor language skills. After being informed of their comments to each other, overheard by Frog Prince, that I should learn how to properly speak French, we decided to ignore their warnings and played until they left. Hopefully, they went to find something better to do, like pay attention to that baby they were so damned worried about that they strategically placed him near an ongoing football game.
To be completely honest, after getting home from the lake and having all three incidents hit me at once… I cried. For the first time since moving to Paris, I cried solely because I felt so completely frustrated with living here. On the bright side, it took me almost a year and a half to reach this point.
But have no fear, friends, family, and faithful readers… after my pity party passed, I have made a resolution: I’m gonna learn the SHIT out of this language, if for no other reason than to go back to that waiter and tell him what I think of his français de merde. After my meal is finished, of course.