Tuesday, June 9, 2009

these days they go to waste like wine.

My time is winding down. Faster and faster the time seems to fly away and there is nothing at all I can do about it. It seems so unfair, as if I am counting down the days to some final, morbid deadline as each day lessens my hours, minutes, seconds in my new home.
There are times where I’ll wake up in a panic thinking of all the goodbye’s I’ve left to say, or things I’ve yet to buy. I’ll dream of home and wake up in both tears and laughter, but ultimately in confusion. When excitement hits with the thought of soon going back to the US, contrition appears immediately after as if I’m being unfaithful to France. But when I feel sad and depressed about leaving all this behind, guilt rears its ugly head and whispers mean things about how I’m not happy enough to go back.
But mainly, my days are filled with an odd sense of unreality, as if I’m drifting through the streets of Compiegne in a calm daze. Everything seems normal, not at all as if my plane is looming ever so menacing on the horizon. The only thing that grates at my serenity is a painful edge that everything I’ve become on my own is this last year is coming to an end.

As usual, I’m just being over dramatic, I know. Obviously I’m excited to come home, but I’m also so sad to say goodbye to all that has become a part of me in this last year. I’ve grown up in two different places in two very different ways. All the things that once seemed so bizarre to me are now just a habit and it will be odd to find all the things that were once so normal now done through a stranger’s hands. I’ve seen so many places and met so many people. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to visit Belgium, Holland, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Monaco, Switzerland and all over France as well as make some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I’ve gained three more Moms, three more Dads, five more brothers and seven sisters! I’ve experienced many different habits and ways of living and become incredibly close with my third host family. I’ve gained a self-confidence I wouldn’t have thought possible just ten months ago and have truly come to know loneliness and heartbreak, strength and joy, contentment and satisfaction but most of all, how it’s possible love those near and far and how it’s possible to give them all a place in your heart.
I’ve been ridiculously busy these past few weeks. Between school, rotary, friends, the gym, goodbyes and physical and emotional preparations for my depart I’m thoroughly exhausted. I go to bed each night with barely a moment to think as I fall asleep so fast.
Things I’ve done lately that should be noted are a visit up to Lille (the very north of France) to visit some of my best friends from the EuroTrip, many goodbyes to all my exchange companions and a weekend in Normandy to see President Obama make his D-Day speech on Omaha Beach. Along with him was Michele, Nicolas Sarkozy, Carla Bruni, his wife, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Prime Minister of the UK, Prince Charles and many veterans of the second world war. It was an alternatively moving and beautiful day and a wonderful conclusion to my year. My mom likes to say I started out seeing the Pope in Paris and ended seeing the President in Normandy.

I’m not telling the date of my depart, as I’d like it to be a surprise. I will say that it’s late June and that my days are coming closer and closer to the end. Don’t get me wrong, I’m VERY excited to see all of you as well as humbled by this incredible and unforgettable year Rotary has given me, but please be understanding that in leaving France, I’m leaving a large piece of my heart behind and it’s not something that’s terribly simple.
But hey, I’m an exchange student. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year it’s that if I can do this, I can do anything.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

champagne and cheese puffs

Two weekends ago was the confirmation of my twin host siblings, Edouard and Charlotte. All day Sunday included lots of family, friends, music, dancing and a very typical six hour French meal. This gives me the perfect opportunity to try and describe the wonderfulness that is French cuisine and the very traditional French ways of eating.

First and foremost, you always start with an aperitif which is usually a light wine (typically champagne) or brandy/whiskey for the men. This also includes little hand snacks such as crackers or freshly cut raw vegetables (as is mainly the case during the spring and then summer). The aperitif is generally taken in the living room, or outdoors. If you’re at a fancy party which is not in someone’s house, it’s usually taken in a random room with servers passing around the drinks and peanuts, olives, etc. and everyone stands and socializes. It’s a nice way to start the meal with light conversation and lets the hostess check up on her meals without drawing too much attention to her absence.
At this particular meal, we had champagne and finger sandwiches as well as chips and salty snacks for the children. Since I’m in the weird limbo between adult and child, I was encouraged to drink champagne and talk politics with the adults and eat cheese puffs and hula hoop with the kids.

Next you have the entrée. When everyone has settled down into their seats at the table, the entrée is presented. Depending on the season and the formality of the meal, the entrée can vary from a soup to a salad to a vegetable or fish dish. The portions are usually half the size of a regular meal (and served on smaller plates) and are the equivalent of what we would call “hors d’oeuvre” (which, despite being a French name, does not exist according to my host family. Do not let google deceive you). The entrée is usually served with a white wine, since it’s a lighter dish, and is eaten with the first fork and knife in your setting (the smaller ones). Again, depending on the formality of the dinner you will have a varied amount of silverware and glasses. There is usually one smaller wine glass used for the aperitif (but that’s disposed of as soon as you’re at the table) and for the white wine, you use the smallest of the three in your place (or two, depending). This is getting confusing, hold on let me try and simplify. If you have three glasses in your setting, the smallest is for white wine, the medium for red and the largest for water. If you have two, the smallest is used for both the white and the red and the largest again for the water (with or without bubbles, you’re choice…but almost always bottled).
For our entrée, we had three scallops set on small nests of cooked leeks and a beet salad lightly tossed in vinaigrette. En plus, we had this shrimp paste thing…I don’t know, that’s the best I can describe it.

After all the dishes are cleared away, you are left with one fork and two knives, occasionally a spoon and always and empty spot soon to be taken up by the largest course. The plat principal, is the third plate of the meal and usually the grandest and richest portion. It always includes about two portions of vegetables (usually potatoes, mashed or not, and a steamed or cooked medley of whatever’s in season) and meat. Red wine is almost always taken with this course and it is eaten with your biggest knife and remaining fork.
For the confirmation, we had lamb as well as a carrot, onions, zucchini and eggplant mixture. We also had puree, better known to Americans as mashed potatoes.

By this time, two hours or so have passed and everyone is starting to feel the bloat of their stomach uncomfortably tight against their clothing. But we’re not done, oh no, there’s still two more courses, and what’s more, the two that rest are my two favorite parts of the meal.

Next is the cheese and salad course. A giant platter of cheese is passed around including specialties of the region as well as the more clichéd types (brie, camembert, etc.). Bread is always a’ plenty and while you cut your fromage with the knife on the platter, you have one last knife specifically for your own use. Red wine is also taken with the cheese.
Sometimes, a light salad with a bit of oil and vinegar is served as well.

Finally, you’ve reached the dessert course which can be anything. Depending on the season and meal, you could have fruit, ice cream, cake, pie, chocolate, macaroons…anything. At this point, you have one spoon left, and it is used for this course. We had a plate of macaroons as well as little fruit tartes.

Finally, with all the courses behind you, conversation has winded down and everyone settles into a comfortable silence with occasional remarks concerning how great the meal was. A few minutes after the plates are cleared, espressos appear for all who wants them as well as tea infusions, on request. Everyone begins to ready themselves to stand up (usually quite a feat) and move into the living room to finish conversation or smoke a cigar.

The longest meal I’ve ever attended was 8 hours long…starting at 8 PM and finishing at 4 the next morning. Generally, meals are around 5-6 hours, but this is really only for big parties or gatherings.

Volia. Anyway, the last few weeks have been flying faster than I ever thought possible. The next few promise to follow in a similar path as my time here winds down. My feelings towards the end of the exchange are every changing, but mainly ineffable. I’m devastated to leave my wonderful new home, but I know I’ll be back. In addition, the call of my own bed and so many familiar faces makes it hard to be completely melancholy about my return. In any case, I recognize that while this adventure is ending, the memories I’ve made will never leave me.
Plus, I’ve got pictures.

Hope all is well and see you all SOON! Bisous,

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Hills Were Alive!

+ Some of the best people you'll ever meet (Laura - Kansas, Frida - Sweden, Nina - California, Alex - Candad) in Monaco
+Neens and I with some killer Italian pizza (but shhh, Otown still makes the best)
+My brother has certainly grown
+Romeo and Juliet in Verona
+ Jumping around in Germany
The past few mornings I have woken up to a sad combination of gray skies and uncharacteristic (at least for me) May rain. I usually like the occasionally misty morning as it’s just the thing for curling up with a good book and warm mug of tea, the ideal comforting “me” day. The constant gray makes time seem to stand still as the morning, midday and evening all seem the same; hours disappearing into hours until finally its dinner time and you’re confused as to why you’re still in pajamas. But living in a part of France infamous for unceasing drizzle has unfortunately begun to match the weather to my mood.
For one, the bright colors of last month’s flowers and trees contrasting with the darkened sky seem the perfect metaphor for my past month. I changed host families for the final time April 4th and from that time to this very hour while I’m sitting typing, I’ve been occupied. My new host family is very nice and is another family of six: Sandrine and Norbert (the parents), Mathilde, the oldest girl (fifteen), the twins Charlotte and Edouard (thirteen) and the youngest girl, Alix (ten). They live in a little town outside of Compiegne called Pierrefonds which is famous for its gorgeous and fairy tale-esque medieval castle. The town is spot-on with every clichéd image one can imagine of a small provincial French town and the looming castle overlooking us all adds to the wonderful romance of the place.
Pierrefonds gets quite a bit of tourism due to the castle (and due to the fact that the BBC films their popular ‘Merlin’ series there) and so the town has strict rules on appearance. All houses and stores must remain in good shape as well as remaining true as possible to their mid-century origins. This means that there are not a lot of new buildings and people live in old houses, shops, bars, etc. My new house for example is the old prision!
Barely a week after changing, I took a week off of school for an early vacation. The occasion? After nearly seven and a half months without seeing my family (skype doesn’t count, Zach) they came to visit and spend a week in a Paris apartment with me. I arrived Saturday morning, fresh off the metro and with nervous giggles waiting to explode in the pit of my stomach. After all, it’d been practically a lifetime since I’d seen them. I’ve changed so much and was nervous about showing off what has been my first home away from home in my life. What would my family say upon seeing me? How would the week go? I was even so stressed, I went the opposite direction on accident trying to find rendezvous point and had to rely on a uncharacteristically kind Parisian to help me find my way.
But the week passed well if not too fast with visits around Paris’ lush historical quarters and museums, a visit to Compiegne including meetings with my host families and even a quick day trip to rainy Bruges in Belgium! Before I knew it, I was waving goodbye to them and hello to my next adventure.
The day I left my family was the day I started Rotary’s annual EuroTour. For twelve days, I, along with 47 other Rotary exchange students, visited Germany, Austria, Italy, Monaco, Switzerland and, of course, a bit of France. The trip was ineffable...I don’t even know where to begin. I suppose I shall try to describe, each city visited in one word or phrase, as best as I can:

Paris, France – been there, done that (I’m a shameless French snob), Reims, France – rainy, Strasbourg, France – ice cream on a bridge, Munich, Germany – has nothing on the Louvre (but pleasantly modern none the less), Oberamergau, Germany – quaint Tulfes, Austria – “Can I have noodles with my schnitzel?” along with many obscure Sound of Music references, Verona, Italy – wonderfully sunny, pizza, Venice, Italy – sad and rainy, I had a feeling that years of overflowing boats of tourists had killed the life in the city, Milan, Italy – ate in a mafia restaurant, many angry citizens (most likely because the majority are very hungry, aspiring models), Avignon, France – sur la point d’Avignon on danse, on danse, Geneve, Switzerland – twilight-zone clean, Dijon, France – did not buy mustard...AGAIN.

I met some of the most amazing people ever born and cried like I’m not even sure what at the end of the trip. This brings me to my second point about my weathered mood metaphor...

The day I left all my friends on the bus and said goodbye, I had the impression I was saying goodbye to France itself and a significant chapter of my life that is nearing an end. There rests only a few weeks (alright a significant few, but few none the less) and while I am surely melancholy, I could not be more appreciative of all that I’ve been through, learned and become these past 8 and a half months. France has given me so many opportunities, opened so many doors and I can truly say I don’t know where I’d be without it.

Before I start getting all sentimental, I’ll highlight some upcoming events. Tomorrow (Wednesday), I plan on spending the afternoon in Paris with my good friend Brit from New Jersey. It’s been ages since I saw her (well...a good month at least) and we have a lot to catch up on. Then this weekend is the communion of the twins and so the house will be filled with family and friends. The weekend after that is a Rotary weekend where we’ll meet the kids leaving on exchange next year and share our ~wisdom~. I believe the day after that, if not the weekend after I’ll be going to Disneyland Paris with my friend Victoria. Then there’s another Rotary rendezvous at Park Asterix and an unofficial weekend in Paris with some friends. From now till my departure seems filled with events, so I’m sure by the time I’m on that plane back home I won’t even now where half of the time went.

Well, I think I’ll stop there. I have a bit of a headache and a cold (not the swine flu, Mom, but thanks for your concern) and am trying to battle it the best I can on a busy schedule. I hope everyone is well and as always send you all my love and best wishes!!

Bisous!! Kristen

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The End of the Worst Month of the Year

Well, here I am a whole month and a half from my last entry not knowing where the time went. It’s March 29th, people. MARCH 29TH. Do you all read this date with the same sense of shock and awe as me? Do you all look at this date and say “Lord, was it really over 7 MONTHS AGO that you landed in this strikingly strange yet similar country? Was it really a whole 214 days ago that you didn’t know how to properly use ‘oh la la’ or purse your lips in French disgust?”, because that’s what I’m thinking.
In addition, I HATE March. It's such a blah month. Blah, ugh, ehh. But I loved this March and am sorry to see it go. This year, when I look in my planner and this incredibly advanced date pops maliciously out at me, instead of a sigh of relief, I feel confused as to how quicklky it passed. Now, when I look at this date I say to myself “Gee-wiz, a bunch has happen” and my mind quickly recaps through:

+Winter Break and a few more trips to Paris.

+ The Rotary one week bus trip through the south of France and Spain. When thinking of this, images of silliness, sun, forgetting to buy mustard in Dijon, bull fighters in very tight pants, rain, Barcelona, speaking Spanish, sangria, Picasso and Dali, 40 other exchange students , BAGELSSSSSS, some slightly shady hostels, and sleeping on the bus dance through my head while a slightly nostalgic and yet mischievous smile spreads across my lips.

+A very French speaking visit with Stephane (last year’s exchange student from France to Oneonta) in Paris.

+A few soirees here and there.

+Several visits to a local kindergarten class to teach English as well as a 5 year old slightly accented chorus of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”.

+Some babysitting and slight panic as the 4 year old boy is now prone to nightmares which I try desperately to sooth, occasionally to no avail.

+Another French strike. You guys, it’s not cute anymore. You work 35 HOURS a week with 5 WEEKS of vacation each year. I’m afraid they’d die of shock if coming to work in America for a year; they’re itch to strike so strong that they face scratching off their own skin if they don’t get out of there as quickly as possible.

+Flowers. In early March. I didn’t know such a thing existed.

+Another Rotary trip, this time 6 days to sunny Toulouse. All 350 exchangers to France from 28 separate countries crowded into one room for dinner: the chaos of so many languages and so much adrenaline as a hearty cheer of “YES WE CAN” from all the Americans tried to drown out Mexico’s loud “Viva Mexico” and Brazil’s even louder “-insert something Portuguese here-“. Poor Russia, with only three lowly voices trying to overcome the rest of us.

+My 6th month mark in France.

+My 7th month mark in France.

+A whole lotta lovin’, and a whole lotta livin’.

So, as you can see in addition to my internet not working, I’ve also been incredibly busy. It’s not entirely my fault I didn’t update…

Anyway, my last few months here are equally as occupied. This Tuesday I’m heading up to Lille for a Jason Mraz concert (!!) and next weekend I change my host families for the final time. April brings a weeklong visit from my family (:]!!!) and directly after that the Rotary Europe Bus trip where we’ll visit Germany, Austria, Italy, Monaco and the south of France. Then it’s May where I hope to visit Meredith in Italy for a week, maybe go to London with a friend and have a few Rotary things here and there. And then it’s June and my exchange is at its end. This thought is greeted with both melancholy and excitement. Oh dear.

So, that’s all for now. Sorry for such a pitiful update - I’m tired, I’m busy, I’m French. Blah, blah. I also don’t have that much English left; boy was it a shock to speak with other English exchangers and realize how poor my vocabulary, grammar and basic understanding of my native tongue has gotten. I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the warm weather I hear you’re having. I’ll let you all know when I’m in and settled at the new host house and as always appreciate all your love and support during this unbelievable journey.

Gros Bisous,

*EDIT: I added some pictures as I'm at my new house WHERE THE INTERNET WORKS!! I plan on updating...sometime.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pancakes and Paris

+PERFECT pancakes
+Pauline, Sarko et moi
+Emilie, Ms. Monroe et moi
+Victoria and I at Rotary

Well, well, it seems I haven’t been fulfilling my blogging duty as of late. Not much has happened, yet so much has, what to say? I’m so thoroughly content over here on the French front; I’ve never felt so young, free and…multicultural?
I’ve been with my host family for a good six weeks now and we get along wonderfully. Two Saturday’s ago (Jan 31st), I went to Paris with my oldest host sister and her friends and we went shopping while there was still the soldes (the French have HUGE SALES a month after Christmas…it’s a beautiful thing). Paris is…how to describe Paris? I mean, obviously, it’s a world renowned city, but how do I describe MY feelings for Paris? I was first there on a class trip two springs ago and the feeling I had from my first moment off the plane always returns to me when I visit that magical city. I have such a feeling of belonging, of being, of...every other clichéd saying you can think of. No but seriously, they best way I can describe it is that every time I’m there, I get this giant bubble in my solar plexus that is constantly threatening to burst with glitter and hearts and rainbows.
Anyway, back to shopping. Sadly, there wasn’t much left as the soldes had been going on for a good month and hungry, post-holiday crazed Parisians had already had their way with many of the clothing racks, but I did manage to find two pairs of shoes and a beautiful Longchamp bag in robin egg blue.
That night, the rest of my host family met us and we went to a wax museum in Paris. It was really cool and very Scooby Doo creepy. We saw lots of famous French actors, singers, models, etc and some American’s as well. I kept expecting the figures to move, and once or twice, they did! The museum hires people to pose next to the statues and move every now and then…it certainly drew some colorful vocabulary from my mouth (in TWO languages, I might add).
The Friday after (Feb 6th) found me in Paris once again, but this time with my class. We visited the French newspaper “Le Monde” and met their famous (and controversial) political cartoonist Plantu. He was very funny and down to earth and I was amazed with some of the things he’s gotten away with printing! Alongside his autograph, he drew me his famous mouse. I didn’t want to let him know I was an American (I don’t like to shove it in people’s faces), but as I went up to ask for his autograph, or rather, hand him my paper and pen so he wouldn’t hear my accent, my friend Blandine shouted (specifically against my wishes) “SHE’S AMERICANNNNNNN!” and so he added an American flag to the mouse’s hands and told me how much he admired my country. I was flattered, as I always am when my nationality is complimented, but couldn’t help but think “but why would you ever want to leave THIS country?”
Because seriously guys, I LOVE France. It’s my 169th day here and I’m already mourning the year that isn’t even over. I love everything about France. Its strikes that made me miss school two weeks ago, its capital city (see proclamation of love above), its cheese (oh camemberttttttttt), its wine, its people, its shops, its towns, its honesty, its history, even its RAIN. I clearly remember having a terrible cold two months ago but being perfectly okay with it, because it was a FRENCH cold; clearly superior. I love the language and I love being able to speak it. I just am so….happy.
I’ll stop myself before you think me too intoxicated from the vineyard fumes. What else to say? OH YES! A few weeks ago, I received a spectacular gift from one of my best friends in the whole world, Miss Lauren Perry. She saw it fit to send me a care package from home with all the American essentials: Lucky Charms, Oreos, Swedish Fish, Reese’s, Kisses, Snickers, cookies, Pancake Mix, Maple Syrup and lord knows what else. I made pancakes (“fat crepes” was how I explained it) for my host family and they loved them! They also ADORED the Oreos…I swear, they were gone in like 3 days. THANK YOU LAUREN(TARDBORIN)! :]

Before I sign off, I’ll just mention that this past weekend was a Rotary meeting with all the kids from District 1770 (my district) and the Paris District 1660. I spent the weekend with my friend Victoria which included a lot of laughs, macaroons and an 80’s dance party and seeing everyone at the meeting was a blast! I hope I never forget every moment from this year.
Also, the internet at my host house doesn’t work too well, so I’m pretty rarely on. If I haven’t answered anyone’s emails or comments, please know it’s not personal!
Hope all is well! BISOUS!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Le neige

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have witnessed weather history. Yes, it’s true, I have witnessed one of France’s rare snow-days and lived to tell the tale.
About two weeks ago it started to get colder and colder dropping from the regular 5-6 degrees C to a freezing -15. And then the snow came. It flurried here and there, the wind so raw it burned one’s skin when walking outside and the air so cold it made the eyes water. Overnight, everything was covered in a beautiful white powder that I had so long been waiting for and missed so dearly. To me, an upstate New Yorker used to trick or treating in wintery conditions, January flurries was nothing out of the ordinary. To France however, it made national news.
Schools were shut down (some even for a week), the city bus stopped running and cars didn’t dare venture out on the road. The internet didn’t work and stores closed early. There were many snow fights accompanied by just as many falls and injuries…it was truly a spectacle to see. All anyone could talk about for days was the snow, people asking me bewildered if I had ever seen so much. On the outside, I continuously smiled and nodded explaining that we get quick a bit of snow “where I come from” and “yes, it’s very exciting”. But on the inside I’m still having trouble with how panicked/exuberated the French were by the mere 4 inches of snow. I mean it literally made the news. For a week. It’s all gone now and is back to being rather warm (in my opinion…around 30-40 degrees F a day).
Although it was especially pretty to see beautiful monuments, chateaus and cathedrals covered in snow. I can appreciate the awe, if only for the beauty that the frost lent to the buildings older than my native country.

In other, warmer news, I changed host families on the 4th of January and have settled in quickly and happily. The first few days were a little rough as my drama queen tendencies went berserk and I went on stress overload trying to adjust to new bus times, new eating times and new shower times. But I’m really quite content now and absolutely adore my new family. I have two host sister who are close to my age (Pauline who will be 17 next month and Emilie who is 15) and two host brothers (Arnaud who is my age and currently at university and Sylvain who is 12). We don’t go to the same schools, but Pauline has already introduced me to some of her friends and the two sisters, their friends and I get along well. I get along nicely with Sylvain as well…and will soon dominate him on Wii MarioKart.
My host parents, Odile and Phillipe, are very kind and work together. I’m not sure what they do exactly but it’s very important (they work in a big shiny building and everyone else in it works for them) and they often work late and lots. But just because they work a lot doesn’t mean they lead a hectic life style. On the contrary, Odile is always home to make lunch and dinner (and not little things either…we had steak for lunch today, STEAK) and they don’t seem as stressed as I imagine someone with a similar job in America would. It’s just the French way…relax and think about what matters first; food and family. And whoever said you should never trust a skinny cook has obviously never met Odile. The woman knows what’s she’s doing in the kitchen and is in perfect form.
That’s part of the reason I’m joining a local gym I found here. The other two reasons are that my limbs have finally grown ridiculously restless from lack of use and exercise (the last few months were a nice break from 15 years of ballet, but I’m done relaxing for now) and also that it’s next to the library where they have a shelf of English books. I took that as a sign of fate and decided to join up. The fact that the owner reduced the price for me because I’m American helped too.

I’ve officially reached my half way point and couldn’t be more confused about my feelings. As I start to count backwards the days till I come home I’m filled with both dread and apprehension. I’m excited to see my family and friends, visit sites I haven’t seen in a year, eat some glorious Otown pizza and the like, but there’s lots here I’m going to miss. I’ve passed the toughest part of the exchange and have really grown to adore my new country. Almost everything about it just fits me. I’ve grown as well. I’ve changed a little and begun to become my own person…I don’t know, it’s very difficult to explain. All I know is that I half wish June would never come and half think it can’t come fast enough. Mostly though I’m just trying to focus on the present and savor every second I have left (and every croissant I can get my hands on).

Congratulations on the new president!! I watched on BCC news and couldn’t have been more proud of my country.

That’s all for now from the French frontier. Hope all is well with everyone and we head quickly into the second month of 2009. Gros Bisous!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

First Post of 2009!

+The building said "1776"...obviously I had to take a picture in front of it
+Brugges the "Venice of the North"
+A cheese store in Holland
+My host siblings and I "a la mer" (in Belgium)
+Touching the ground in Holland
It has come to my attention that there are many English phrases that just don’t translate into French very well. I’ll never forget the looks I got after declaring I had “butterflies in my stomach” before going on a rollercoaster in EuropaPark with my host siblings. I’m not quite sure what they thought I meant, but in honor of that experience, here are few phrases/expressions and their French counterparts:

“I have butterflies in my stomach” = “J’ai les gilliewillies” (I have the gillie willies)
“She has eyes in the back of her head” = “Elle a les yeux dans ses oreilles” (She has eyes in her ears)
“Ouch!” = “Aie!” (pronounced aye as in “aye matey , there she blows)
“Shhh!” = “Shoooot”
“Jinx!” = “Chips!” (and sadly, the French never owe another a poke or a coke)

There are more, of course, but I couldn’t possibly name them all. One of my favorite expressions is “C’est pas grave” literally meaning “it’s not grave” but used like “whatever” or “it doesn’t matter”. I also like “Oh, la vache!” which is used in surprise but literally translates as “oh the cow!” One thing I find strange though, is that they call ballet “classique” and not ballet. However, most of the moves are named the same (pas de chat, rombe des jambs…I’ve been speaking French for years apparently). And as a quick side note, “Oh la la!” is used as an expression of distaste or shock, NOT the way we use it in America. It is always accompanied by a raising of the eyebrows, lowering of the voice and an occasional scornful glance.

So Christmas has come and gone. I had an absolutely wonderful Christmas, easily the most memorable and unique yet, and met over 62 new people (we counted in the car). I spent the holiday vacation in Belgium visiting both host parent’s families, touring Belgian cities (including Brugges, the “Venice of the North”), making a quick stop in Holland, and just being French. I tried many new foods, learned many new words (such as kitsch meaning tacky) and had a really fun time being too busy to even miss home all that much. However one thing that was definitely lacking this holiday season was the Christmas songs. Oh sure, there was the typical “Silent Night”s and “We Three King”s and such, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean those obnoxious but irresistible “Jingle Bell Rock”s , “Baby It’s Cold Outside”s and the “I’ll be Home for Christmas’” (which, actually, on second thought it’s probably better that I didn’t hear that). I have a strange adoration of those cheesy but oh so cheerful melodies and let me just say, the French (and Belgians…and Europeans) are missing out.
New Year’s Eve was celebrated at the house of friend’s of my host parents (boy is that a mouthful), and included lots of champagne and an odd French tradition: spit balls. At midnight, we broke out these festive giant straw-like things with millions of tiny colorful paper balls and…spit them at each other. It was a blast and the dinner party lasted six hours with us arriving at 8 and leaving at 2 in the New Year. My favorite part of New Year’s Eve was hands down when I called my family at 2:30 a.m., Jan 1st (my time…8:30 pm, Dec 31st home time) “from the future”.
Other than that, my upcoming month or so isn’t too busy. I have a Rotary thing next weekend as well as the first weekend in Feb, and I’m changing families soon (we don’t have an exact date yet). I miss you all bunches, but have finally started to really “belong” here…meaning, for the first time, I totally understand when Rotary says how hard it’s going to be to leave.

Here’s to an exciting New Year (and some fabulous French champagne…)! Happy 2009 everyone, I hope everyone passed an amusing and safe Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanza/Boxing Day/Winter Solstice/New Years! The sales begin on Jan 5th here in France, and I plan on spending my Christmas money with an air of frivolity.