Thursday, November 27, 2014

It's The Little Things...

First of all, I'd like to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope you're surrounded with family and friends, that the weather didn't ruin your plans, and that you're safe, comfortable, and warm.

Now, with that out of the way, let's get to the real point of this post; I'd like to complain a little bit. Just a little.

Even though I'm not currently in the U.S. I know today is Thanksgiving--the day we think about what we're thankful for...and then eat a whole lot. Don't worry! I've got the eating a whole lot thing down pat. I ate two pain au chocolats for breakfast.

And I am thankful. Very thankful. Mostly, I'm thankful for all the privileges I have: I got to move to France for a year and teach. I had the chance and money and access to loans to attend college. I had an amazing public education experience with fantastic teachers and plenty of resources. I can afford books, music, and movies. I can pretty much wear whatever I want, express myself however I want. Although strict, I grew up in a loving family. I have white skin in a culture in which people with white skin systematically benefit from being white. Although I wish racism were dead and that everyone was treated fairly regardless of how they look, I recognize the privilege my skin grants me.

So, yeah. I have a lot to be thankful for.

It seems inappropriate to complain about menial things--small differences in culture that are basically insignificant, but still irritate me enough to be noticeable. However, if we spin this with perspective, we can see the things about 'Murica I, in fact, appreciate. Here we go:

1. Cheddar cheese

You'd think France, the country known for its decadent cheeses, would cover all my cheese-needs. Not true. There's nothing like a hunk of Cabot. I don't routinely buy cheddar when I'm home, but I like having it available to me, especially when I feel like making a bagel sandwich or nachos.

2. Black beans

You probably saw this one coming if you've read my post about feijoada. Basically, in America, you can go to the grocery store and find black beans. Black beans don't function the same way in France. In France, you have to go to an Indian specialty shop and buy dry black beans in bulk. I don't mind soaking my black beans, but oh my God, I've never valued the ease and luxury of canned black beans more since I moved to Nice.

3. Large trash cans
It seems pretty common in France to have tiny, miniscule-sized trash bins. This wouldn't bother me so much, except it does. I appreciate the European tendency to minimize and reduce waste. I really do, honestly. But our kitchen bin is the size of an extra large popcorn at the cinema. We have to take the trash out daily. When I lived at home, we had a large trash can, but we took the trash out weekly. The France way seems to be the same amount of trash, but with six times the effort.

4. Generic brand contact solution

I like to think I'm a fairly pragmatic shopper. I try to stick to a budget, so I shop generic. Especially with contact solution, where the only difference in brand is the style of the packaging, it makes sense to buy the cheaper version. Well, in France I can't do that. I have to buy the expensive Opti-Free stuff that costs an arm and a leg, and I have to go to the Pharmacy to get it.

5. Cars

Don't get me wrong; public transit is super efficient in Nice. Well, when the transit workers aren't on strike. I love being able to leave my house and get to the grocery store, movie theatre, café, post office, bank, etc. in a timely fashion by foot or bus. But when I need to carry my backpack, umbrella, purse, and the green beans for the pot luck, and the pastries for book club, and the...a car would be nice.

What about you? What sorts of things about America or home do you miss, look forward to, or appreciate?

Once more, have a very lovely Thanksgiving! More cultural comparison stuff coming soon...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

I've Been to Antibes and Other Places

I've been doing some traveling.

The last week of October was Toussaint, a Christian and national holiday in France. Basically, I had time off. Ellen came to visit me in Nice for a several days.

I showed her around town. We went to vieux Nice, the beach, a flea market, and a waterfall.

And then we missed our train to Paris. Americans no understand military time!?

So we took a covoiturage (a ride-share). We went with Pierre, who drove us from Cannes to Paris in about 9 hours.

In Paris, Ellen and I saw the Eiffel Tower (both at night and during the day), hung out with Siri (Ellen's friend from college), walked through the Tuileries gardens, went to Breakfast in America, and met Emma (my friend from study-abroad in Paris) and her friend at Les Deux Magots.

Restroom in the Tuileries.

Non-stop drip coffee.

Ellen and I hitched a covoiturage from Paris to Poitiers, where we met Ellen's friend at Bibliocafé, a café full of books that patrons are welcome to read as long as they like. Buying is optional. Also, the drinks are themed. I had a Jane Austen, a beer flavored with violet syrup.

On to Montmorillon, Ellen's beautiful town, where I posed with typewriters, browsed bookshops, and ate macarons. (We went to the macaron museum. Yes, such a thing exists).

And then I went home. 
Where I slept.
A lot.
After a week of work, I decided all that traveling wasn't enough for me, and so I joined Kirsten, her visiting friend, Liane, and Amy on a day-trip to Antibes, a costal town 15 minutes from Nice by train.

One of the highlights of our trip to Antibes was the absinthe bar. Basically, it's this cave-like room with various hats strewn about that patrons are welcome to wear while they drink the absinthe. Instead of downing shots of the infamous alcohol, I felt very proper when I twisted the knob for the spout, which let out water from a pitcher; this water poured over a sugar-cube, which disintegrated into my glass of absinthe. The actual amount of absinthe given is very small, which is why the diluting process is necessary. Very cool!

What have I learned from my travels?

a. Covoiturage is a good way to practice speaking French.
b. Never eat saumon-fumée sandwiches from a rest-stop.
c. Ellen and I are very good at problem-solving.
d. A macaron is different from a macaroon.
e. I like absinthe. 

More tales a-comin' soon.