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Friday, July 29, 2011

Vacation, and other Religions in France

One of the most important things to understand in French culture, above the food, above the wine, above the strikes, is the concept of vacation. The French pride themselves in being reasonable and not involving religion with the government. This is true, if we're speaking of Christianity, and Islam (the burqa thing was not anti-Islam, but anti-religion in public buildings, in my opinion) What we are forgetting is the real French dogma--the mandatory vacation rights that are included in every employment contract.

Let's compare shall we?
Smalltown, USA.
Scene-A couple is searching for a place to eat lunch. It's July, its hot, and as it's only 2 pm, it will be for a while. They park their car (for free) stop in any store and use the bathroom, and then find a restaurant fifteen seconds later. They have lunch, maybe sandwiches, or salads, drink their reasonably priced soft drinks, use the bathroom, with toilet paper, once more, pay their tab, leave a tip, and head off to do a little shopping. On their way out they see a sign that says the hours, "10 am-10 pm every day but Sunday, which is 11-9."

Petiteville, France
Scene-A Franco American couple is searching for a place to eat lunch. It's July, it's freezing and raining, and as it's already 2 pm, it probably wont get any warmer. They park their car, pay the meter, and quickly look for a restaurant, as the girl has to use the bathroom. They find a brasserie which serves only baguette sandwiches. They ask if there's another restaurant, and they are directed down the road. Hopeful, they see a sign outside offering the Menu which is a drink, entrée and dessert for a reasonable 11 euros. Even more encouraging, there are people eating. The couple asks if they are still serving, the response, coupled with a look of horror, is "Mais non, pas de tout." "No, not at all!" Hunger making them faint, they ask if there's anywhere open now. They are directed back up the road to the original brasserie, and as they walk out the door they are reminded that "Vous ete pas a Paris, eh?" "You aren't in Paris anymore." They walk back up and order baguette sandwiches of smoked ham, which is basically jamon iberico, (can't remember what it is in English, sorry). They order a half pint of beer, and a bottle of coca cola, which is priced more than the two sandwiches together. They finish their meal and to fit in with all the other people hanging around, buy a lottery ticket. At the last minute the girl decides to use the bathroom, again. She changes her mind when she remembers there's not actually a toilet, but a place for feet, and a hole in the ground. As the couple leaves they hear the owner say "I'm leaving on vacation next week and won't open again until September."

A year ago, this situation probably would have shocked and angered me, now it's just yet another minor difference that I have come to live with. Gui Gui, without batting an eye conceded that "Well, it's normal, it's summer time in a small village, of course everyone has abandoned their places of residence and are on vacation."

The key, is simply to be prepared. Have a flight in August? Don't rely on a bus to take you there, hitchiking is probably a safer choice, with at least a fifty percent chance of success. Plan your boulangerie trips, if you check the town hall, there should be a list of each bakery with their planned vacation, same with most restaurants, and tabacs. Grow a garden, plant a vineyard, and start learning how to create your own lightbulbs (and biofuel, while you're at it) not only will you have a thriving hobby to occupy yourself as there's nothing open in August, you can become completely self sufficient (and maybe even ask the government to subsidize you!) You should probably also seek degrees in medicine, pharmacology, and auto mechanics.

Inconvenient you say? Hell yes, but preparation is key. The thing to understand, and the pretty sweet thing about French society is the sense of equality. So what if I just drive a taxi, or own a pub, I am just as entitled as you are, banker, engineer, teacher, working professional, to have my four weeks of vacation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Color blind, Accent deaf

In 2007, about two weeks after I got back from Argentina, I went to get one of my parent's cars fixed. I walk in to see a 40 year old blonde woman getting into it with the Arab employee. He had been working there as long as I can remember, and although he was clearly not born in Dumfries, he speaks English perfectly, albeit with an accent. Before she left, to finish the argument, she yelled nastily "And learn how to speak English." Call me crazy, but I was pretty sure this woman doesn't speak Arabic (I'm generalizing), so why would she feel the need to say this? Because he speaks differently. To back herself up, the lady turns to me with a "Know what I'm sayin'" face. I just looked at her. I know I look like some white bread American girl, but I'm not a racist, thank you very much. Not to mention, I had just experienced the same mentality in South America.

So I'm going to confess, that nothing bothers me more than seeing/hearing people in the United States say "And NO one spoke English!" Wrong, they do, you just aren't taking the time to understand their accent. I don't think a lot of people understand just how international English has become. And that's lucky for us, almost anywhere I go in the world, I can be reasonably sure that I will hear a heavily accented "We are four, please" at a restaurant in Germany, or "I look for beer" in the Czech Republic. It's the reason the French, as we're speaking in French, ask me if I speak French. So guess what, people, everywhere you go, you will encounter different kinds of English (I couldn't understand fifty percent of the people in Scotland), so get the hell over it and listen to the words.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love, Redefined

I'm pretty sure I figured out how you know you're in love. You find a whopping FOUR ticks on your legs, and your significant other spends an hour going over your entire body with tweezers and rubbing alcohol to help you pry those blood suckers off of you.

Yeah, my two week summer camp that I just finished with, paid me not only in cash, but with a death cough, and a variety of new friends that have been mooching off of my blood. Yesterday, when I found the three ticks on my legs I wasn't all that surprised, we spent several hours a day wandering through the woods. Then I found the fourth one after we got back from the pub. Gui Gui graciously laid me down on the couch and pulled that bastard out. Fearing the worst, he combed through all of my hair (not finding anything, fortunately) and stripped his sheets when I admitted that one may or may not have escaped before I could off it.

I'm sure there's some ancient proverb that equates love with mite removal, I'll let you know when I find it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Su casa es mi casa? Et rien faire

This morning I woke up (kind of) to Gui Gui leaving for work (He got a summer job! Woohoo!) His parents were also leaving for vacation, and two of their children were at home. Because I'm too lazy to get dressed and head back to my house, I was watching CSI and drinking coffee in Gui Gui's bed. Outside the door I hear Gui Gui's dad say "Elle est ou Robin?" and his mom reply "Dans sa chambre." "Where's Robin?" "In her room." Then a knock at the door and JC (the initials of his dad's very French name, not Jesus Christ) and he hands me 50 euros to "share" with Gui Gui, his brother and sister.

Yes I am aware that I am 24, and some might call it strange, even pathetic that I'm essentially living with my boyfriend's parents, but it's nice to feel comfortable somewhere. It's not that I'm unwelcome chez Franco-American, but things are always different when your rolls aren't really defined. Example, this week the kiddies and the mom are in England, so it's just me and the father of the family. I've been working at a summer camp, (which has been both refreshing and demoralizing,) so I leave before N wakes up and leave again for the evening before he get's home from work. However, we do occasionally see eachother. Last night, for example I was making a tarte au oignon, which I offered to him. He was going out, so we didn't end up eating together, but we did take a few moments to chat. We talked about which groceries I had bought in the fridge and I offered to continue to do his laundry, although I'm not technically getting paid. Of course I don't really mind, because they're letting me stay for free, but the problem is knowing if I should or not.

I feel that they respect my boundaries, and I hope they understand that I don't want to be antisocial, but I do like to have my personal space. On the weekends, I spend my time in my room, not because I don't like the family, but just because I like to have my alone time, to do what I want (which usually involves internet tv and Swedish suspense novels), because while when I was younger I always wanted to be surrounded by people, now I find that solitude fits me. During the school year, I essentially am working from 7 am to 10 pm. Granted, it's just school and shipping children around, but it's still me having to interact with people. So when I have a few hours before I see Gui Gui or go out with my friends, I can do nothing, and not feel like I wasted my day.

When I'm at Chez Gui Gui, we can sit in his room the whole day, watching American Dad and talking, and there's no awkwardness. It's nice.