My son and I are leaving our small town in southeastern United States to live for a year in a small town in southeastern France. It couldn't possibly be THAT different, right?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Shopping with Carrie and Mary

It was a gorgeous Saturday in Montélimar so Jed and I joined Carrie and Mary (and the rest of the city, apparently) for a day of shopping.  Jed would normally rather stick a needle in his eye than shop, and I don't have a lot of shopping stamina myself, but the company was so good that we had a lot of fun.  Before  hitting "the zone," we stopped by the market downtown and met Dom and Eytan at a café for a drink.

The pros, Carrie and Mary, know where to look for the good bargains.  We didn't pay more than a few euros for anything.  The sales will be coming to an end in a few weeks so prices have been slashed to 70% in most places, and there is still good stuff.  

On my fourth attempt, I got a photo of Eytan looking at the camera.

Darn!  I thought that we had moved that beer out of the picture!  It was noon, and that felt early to be having a 1664.  On market days, Jed and I often see people drinking a beer at 10:30 or 11:00, though.  The place was packed this morning due to the lovely weather.

Jed and Mary are in "the zone," the commercial district of the city.  
My big purchase of the day was Free Gun underwear for Jed and his friends in the US.  Thankfully, we found a good price on it at Centrakor.

Friday, January 27, 2012

French kissing

I have been a French teacher for twenty-three years, and this is my second time living in France, and I have to admit that I still do not have the hang of this kissing culture.  We live in Montélimar where the custom is to kiss three times when greeting.  But when greeting whom?  That is the question!

I kiss my friends Dom and Bénédicte and their children on a regular basis.  When I met Dom's husband, though, I wasn't sure if the Dom connection was enough to mean that we should kiss so I offered a formal handshake.  However, when I met Dom's friends for the first time at her New Year's Eve party, everyone immediately went in for the kiss so I complied.

Some people kiss at work, but I cannot see any rhyme or reason to the kissing.  It appears that some kiss daily but that most kiss at the beginning of the week after not seeing each other for a whole weekend.  Some seem to kiss only after a long absence such as a holiday.  Most people do not kiss the boss, but some do.  Lots did to offer best wishes for the new year.  The American greeted the poor guy with a discipline problem! I obviously have a lot to learn!

I still have so many questions about the kissing.  Once you have kissed someone, do you always kiss?  I think that I kissed Dom's nanny once, but now we just wave.  It feels like we had an awkward first date that didn't quite work out for either of us.  On the other hand, I ran into one of the men from Dom's New Year's Eve party at the grocery store, and we kissed right there in the produce section even though we didn't have much to say to each other afterwards.

When does a relationship move from a hand shaking one to a kissing one?  I have spoken to two moms on a regular basis for a while now, and I feel like they expect us to kiss when we meet at the kids' school, but I always hang back unsure what to do.  Who makes the first move?  

If you just kissed someone to say hello, do you kiss as you are saying goodbye?  That's a lot of kissing in a short amount of time some days.

I used to think that men did not kiss unless they were in the same family.  That must vary from region to region or just from person to person because I have seen plenty of men giving the bisous to friends around here.  Sam was not comfortable with that custom so he made sure to stick out his hand for a handshake as men approached.

Jed seems to feel the same way as his father about all this kissy-kissy stuff.  He wants no part of it at all.  A few times, he has been surprised by an adult and has found himself in an inescapable position, but for the most part, he is able to wiggle away from all admirers.  Bénédicte has told him that all she wants is ONE kiss before he leaves for America.  I 've told her not to hold her breath!    

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Robbing Peter, undressing Pierre

I learned the equivalent for "robbing Peter to pay Paul" today.  It's "déshabiller Pierre pour habiller Paul" or "undressing Pierre to dress Paul."  When I told my mentor, Caroline the English expression, she said, "Oh, you Americans are always thinking about money!" to which I replied, "Oh you French!  You're always thinking about getting undressed!"  I don't know why my students don't find me very funny.  I'm hysterical!


    I had an interesting cultural experience in the teacher's dining room the other day when I asked if there were sites where one could type in a student's work to see if it had been plagiarized.  You could have heard a pin drop as all of the teachers looked at me.  Mais, pourquoi?  When I explained that I thought that a student had copied and pasted entire passages of a report since the other parts were so poorly written compared to those in question, they said, "Well, at least he made the effort!"  Honest to God!  The assistant principal was there and had the same thought.
    The opinion of the table was that the child could have just handed in any old thing without going to the trouble to do an internet search.  Instead of giving him a zero or even taking off points, they recommended that I write on his paper that I would have preferred the same quality of writing throughout.  They did not mean this, but to me that sounds as though he should have just copied and pasted the entire paper!
    I am sure that there is intolerance of plagiarism at some level in France, but I have not had the time to investigate it thoroughly.  Perhaps they just do not start talking to students about it as young as we do in the US.  Or maybe it depends on what type of paper is being written.  Anyway, I guess that I do not have to be vigilant about checking sources this year.  Honestly, that's kind of a relief.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Special present

Jed received his present from Grandmom today, a Kindle Fire.  Sam sent it when he returned to the US because it is still unavailable for purchase in Europe.  I kind of poo-pooed the idea of a sophisticated electronic device for an 8-year-old at first, but I must say that this is pretty cool.  Jed is really excited about buying books for it, and he has already discovered all of the free game apps.  In this photo he is showing a page that he found on the internet about rare marbles.   

The day that Jed received his present, his friend, Ange squealed on him and told me that Jed had made a 1 out of 20 on his multiplication tables.  In order to have Kindle time now, he has to go through these flashcards first.  He didn't protest too much the first time, but this old-fashioned game might quickly lose its appeal as graphics and music beckon from his tablette.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Oh Happy Day!

As Jed said, Sunday was all about me.  We didn't do anything fun for him at all.  Sorry, kid; some days are like that!  The day was not complete torture, though.  We went out to a Chinese buffet restaurant with my English-department colleague, Françoise and her daughter, Aurore and the Italian teacher from my school, Raphaella.  The Chinese food was delicious, and there were even French fries for the picky eater among us.
Afterwards, Jed and I went to a free gospel music concert at the Espace Mistral in Montélimar.  Three choirs (from Nîmes, Nyons and Montélimar) performed mostly American music for a packed auditorium.  The quality was excellent, but I had a hard time understanding the lyrics at times.  H's, th's, ch's, and w's are really difficult for the French to pronounce, it seems.  I recognized most of the songs, though, so it wasn't really a problem.  They sang, "Oh Happy Day," "Lean On Me," "What A Wonderful World," "I Believe," "Down By The Riverside," and lots of other great old songs.
I wanted to stay afterwards and see where to sign up to sing with them, but Jed had had enough after a hours of sitting so we walked home to let him run around a bit.  I can look the choirs up on the internet anyway.  
I've been having a little bout of homesickness lately so listening to the music of my Baptist childhood was just what I needed---that and the chili and cornbread I made for dinner!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fencing mom

 For the second Saturday in a row, I devoted much of the day to Jed's new sport, fencing.  We volunteered to work the concession stand at an adult tournament in Montélimar again, and we found some familiar faces there.  I worked with Nathalie (the mom of Max, Jed's coach-in-training) again, and Jed played with brothers Jules and Paul plus Bastien and Grégory.  I also met a new couple (Gregory's parents) and really enjoyed working with them.  It was a gorgeous day that we probably should have spent outdoors, but being in contact with lots of people always gives me a lot of energy so I'm glad that we did it.

Paul and Jed

Jed throwing a ping pong ball to Paul

After running all over the gym playing cops and robbers and hide and seek, the boys finally settled down to have a snack and play their video games.   


The guy in the foreground is Jed's coach, Clément.  He appears to be winning this match, but what do I know?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tough love

The beginning of January has been tough from a disciplinary stand point.  My students continue to test me every chance that they get.  The difference now is that I am starting to win a few of the battles.  I know where to send them and with which slips of paper and what to write in their correspondence notebook so I no longer fumble when I should be firm.  In the last two weeks I have written up two kids for insolence, two others for lying to me, four others for cheating on tests, and one for disturbing class.  I have also made an entire class write "I will not talk when the teacher or a classmate is talking" twenty times.  I let a boy slide who used the verb "sauter" to say that I had skipped his name when calling the roll simply because I did not want to put in writing that he had actually said that I had f^#*ed him.  Jeez!  What will they think of next?  I'm afraid to ask!


Jed and I do not have a lot of time to watch TV, but it is a great way to learn more about the culture and to pick up some new vocabulary words so we try to catch a few shows each week.  Our favorites are either count downs of the best music videos of the week or game shows.  

Famille en Or is the French version of Family Feud.  Richard Dawson is still my favorite host, but this guy and his kooky sidekick are entertaining.

Questions Pour un Champion starts out with four contestants (I think) who answer questions on a wide variety of subjects.  They dwindle down to two finalists who face off for the big money in a timed competition.

Des Chiffres et Des Lettres has both word and number competitions.  

This is Jed's favorite at the moment.  This is also an American import, apparently, but I had never seen it before coming here.  Contestants bet 250,000 euros on their answers to all kinds of questions.  We have never seen anyone win very much, but it's exciting.   

The week's highlights January 16-20

We're into the phase of our stay where this really feels less like an adventure and more like home.  We have not done anything special this week, but it has been wonderful nonetheless.
On Monday, I showed Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech all day and talked about his work for justice.  There were kids who could not have cared less, but most of them were really interested.  They asked good questions and actually listened to what I had to say.  Those moments are rare so I have learned to savor them.
On Tuesday Jed lost his seventh tooth at school. It was a molar with a silver cap on it so it seemed like even more of a treasure.  The Tooth Fairly had trouble finding us in France, though, so she came on Wednesday morning after we were already awake.
Later on Wednesday, Jed and I walked into town to pick up a package from the Qatawis.  It contained packets of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix, taco seasoning, chili seasoning, candy, chewing gum, a Scooby puzzle, some Scooby magazines, and a Redbook.  I cried as we opened it on the steps of the post office.  We have such nice friends!
We finished out our favorite day by having lunch with Dominique and Néo (stuffed cabbage leaves for the adults) and going to fencing practice.  I took a walk while Jed sparred and ended up buying a winter coat.  I think that I am now going to avoid the shops until the sales are over!
On Thursday, our friend, Bénédicte, called to say that the sports coach would let Jed join his after-school group now that Jed speaks more French.  He will be with Mattéo and Kylian so he should have fun.  They do a different sport every three months.  The one that they are doing now is hand ball.  I can't wait!
My Friday mornings are another moment of calm in my busy single-mom life.  I usually do something fun like laundry and grading.  I was in the middle of both when the census man came a-callin' today.  We had a lovely chat for about thirty minutes during which I learned that he likes his job because he gets to relieve the loneliness of the older people on his schedule.  Sweet!
I picked Jed up from school at 5:00, and we walked to the bakery to buy a baguette and a cookie.  The baker had sold out of Jed's favorite chocolate chip cookies so she struck up a conversation with me about how the best cookies are from the U.S.  She told me that if I bring her a recipe for a good cookie, she'll make it and sell it one day in the bakery!  How cool would THAT be?    

Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Fencing Tournament

Today Jed and I drove to Annonay about an hour and a half north of Montélimar for his first-ever fencing tournament.  I had looked up directions on the website viamichelin, and they turned out to be pretty clear until we got to the end.  I took a one-way street into the centre ville and then just prayed I'd find my way out.  Somehow I did, and I immediately pulled over and called Jed's coach who helped me get back on track.
Getting lost in France is turning into a theme for the year, I'm afraid.  That's why I do not go on hikes by myself.  I have called myself a geographic dyslexic ever since reading that term in the novel "The Accidental Tourist" years ago, and it really does apply.
Anyway, we made it to the tournament and back, and in between, Jed was in five fencing matches.  He lost each one, but two were close---5-4, I think.  If he was bothered by defeat, he did not show it.  He was cool all day, not at all nervous or upset.

Montélimar fencers

Jed and his wonderful coach, Clément

First match

Getting killed in the second match

Third match

My handsome, shaggy boy

No haircut is in our future, apparently.  I'm leaving this decision to the 8-year-old.  

Au revoir, Sam

After a month in Montélimar, Sam finally had to go back to work.  Jed started mourning at least a week in advance and began making plans to sabotage his departure.  He was especially drawn to the idea of burning Sam's plane tickets.  He wanted Sam to quit his job and be his personal hot dog griller and in-house marble-playing buddy.  Alas, he was unable to convince Sam that his job was unnecessary, and Sam left Montélimar for Paris on the 5:40 train Thursday night with a few marbles in his bag to remember Jed by.  
A few days before he left, Sam and Jed started working this 500-piece UNICEF puzzle, which is now a permanent placemat on our table.  I got drawn into it one night too after they had already done a lot of the work.  
Jed spent a half day with Sam on Monday and a full day with him on Wednesday and Thursday.  We took Sam out for a Bon Voyage dinner on Wednesday night to the most American restaurant in town, Buffalo Bill's, a nice steak restaurant.  We all opted against steak tartare.  No surprise there, I guess!

I liked the paintings on the restroom doors.
I thought that Jed might cry at the train station, but Sam was the more emotional one.  Jed waited until he got home and then cried all night.

Les Soldes

I learned this summer that French merchants are only allowed to hold sales twice a year---once in July and once in January.  Local governments monitor these to make sure that everyone plays by the rules.  Stores might get by with reducing some items at other times, but the big sales where merchandise is up to 50% off is at these two times only.
Wednesday, January 11th was the first day of this year's winter sale.  I had heard so much excited talk about it at school that I decided to check it out.  I never get to shop here because Jed hates even walking past clothing stores so having Sam around allowed my escape.
The atmosphere downtown was pretty lively.  Not only was it the first day of the "soldes," the twice-monthly flea market filled the streets.  Pretty much anything one could want was on sale.  A more seasoned shopper than myself could have gotten some great deals.  I just walked around overwhelmed by it all.  I ended up scoring a new pair of black socks, a knit hat, and a knit skirt in my four hours downtown.  That's ok, though.  I'm told that the best deals will be two weeks from now when most things will be 70% off.  I might just go crazy and buy some brightly-colored socks at those prices!
My new brown hat

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to Fake French

Jed, Sam, and I have been laughing about this all week.  I think that we could rename the video "Sam goes to France."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Break down

When I took Jed to school this morning, our friend Dom told him that she thought that he looked sad.  I told her that he was sad about his dad leaving on Thursday, and he burst into tears and ran away.  I followed him around the block, and he refused to go to school with red eyes.  He didn't want any of his friends to see him cry, and he didn't want his teacher to ask him any questions so I just hugged him and took him home to Sam.  He spent the morning at the apartment with his dad and then went back to school in the afternoon.  

Contrex ad

You might have already seen this video on Facebook, but I'm putting it here anyway so that I don't forget to show it to my students next year.  I drank a couple of liters of this water this week, and I thought about this ad each time.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Village provençal miniature in Grignan

I don't know who ran through this exhibit faster Sam Howie or Néo and Jed!   

Dom tries to get Eytan to appreciate the detail of the santons.

The boulangerie-pâtisserie

Looks like the priest came just as the wife was carting away her drunk husband!

The boucherie

Folk dances

The café

The crêche, complete with "le ravi"

Lighted street scene

Grignan and its château

About thirty minutes from Montélimar we discovered the town of Grignan, which is known for its lovely château where the prolific letter writer Madame de Sévigné lived during the eighteenth century.  Our travel companions were the usual suspects:  Dom, Néo, and Eytan.  

On the way up to the château, we stopped at the Église Collégiale Saint-Sauveur (built between 1535 and 1542) to see its animated crêche.   

In the courtyard of the church

Jed shows off two of his many "boulards."  He and Néo seemed to think that the purpose of today's trip was find new places to play marbles and skip rocks.

Dom is even smaller than this photo makes her appear.  She stood on the step above Sam in order to be closer to his height.  

Le Château de Grignan

There were beautiful views everywhere we looked.

Jed and Sam with "the hills" in the background.  Where I'm from those would be called mountains but they're hills when you're this close to the Alps.

Another a-typically beautiful January day

Néo in the bedroom fireplace

On the path to the château

The rooftops of Grignan

Cross near the chateau