French Culture Shock – Happy Armistice Day!

– Americans consider holidays from school and work a time to catch up on shopping. The French believe that shopkeepers deserve the day off as well, so nothing is open. Not even a grocery store. It would be a lovely day for a drive into the mountains, or a walk to the medieval fortress nearby, but it is raining. So we sit huddled around the laptop…a perfect day to write our newsletter! We desperately wish we could show you some photos, but we are still waiting for our desktop to be delivered from Scotland. We’re hoping to have it and other missed necessities next weekend.

– Even though today is a school break, Noah is supposed to go to the war memorial in front of his school to sing and quote poems in honor of the dead. However, it is raining. Is it still on? You’ve heard of “Moms In Touch?” (mothers who gather to pray for their school, kids, and teachers) I call us here “Moms Without a Clue.” Because it is such a cultural event, I just sent David and the kids over with the digital camera to check it out, and we got the time wrong and just missed the performance. But there was a good turnout with champagne, wine, and snacks for the kids afterwards under a canopy!

– School fundraising is as necessary here as in the States, but we were a little surprised when Olivia brought home 6 “scratch and win” lotto tickets for us to buy. Have they stooped this low in the States? I claimed unemployment, and sent them back unscratched, hoping the teacher wouldn’t hold it against me or Olivia.

– I have not seen the inside of Rachel’s Jr. high, nor met a single teacher. I guess we missed Back To School night, arriving late. Like all kids, she has great days and tough days, and we enjoy long talks together about all she is learning. We were hoping she would continue her violin studies, but this town is small and the demand is high, so there is not a single opening available. She has written an essay about her first month here, and you can read it on her web page:

– I spend hours translating letters and notices sent home from school…such a good source of new vocabulary! Did you know that “étiquette” means “label,” and not good manners? Yikes! Noah copies long French poems that the teachers would like him to try and memorize. Between his inaccurate copying skills, in-progress French handwriting, and the complex imagery of poetry, I have a hard time getting the gist, let alone explaining it to him!

– As I write, David is defrosting frog legs for lunch. (We notice that they came from Indonesia.) One entire shelf of my fridge is filled with multiple cream and yogurt-type products, our new milk-replacement diet. You see, a half-gallon of milk costs over 2 dollars, and skim milk doesn’t even exist. Most French use cheaper UHT, boxed milk, but our tastes buds can’t tolerate it, so we use it for cooking. The children have happily adopted the French breakfast tradition of a big bowl (not a mug) of hot chocolate to start the day. But before you become alarmed, let me tell you that this chocolate mix has some secret ingredients: malted wheat, barley, bananas and honey. And according to the box, if you add a glass of juice and a piece of buttered French bread, you have a very healthy breakfast! We add a fried egg for good measure, and Olivia complains that she is too full most mornings!

– We’ve had a couple of culture shockers at the local shopping center. They are like a Super Wal-Mart with a long indoor corridor along the front, lined with additional boutiques, restaurants, dry-cleaners, shoe repair, etc. So we’re in the middle of this modern facility, and decide to go to the bathroom. What a surprise to discover they were nothing more than ceramic holes in the floor that you squat over (we were ready for these in older, smaller establishments, and in older highway rest areas.) The other moment was probably our most amusing/humiliating public linguistic experience to date. We were just walking in when a saleslady approached us and greeted us with a question. We understood her and simply responded “Oui”. With only that response to go on, she suddenly got this troubled look on her face and asked if we were foreigners. Another “Oui” from us. She then apologized for bothering us. This was all in French. Then to add icing to the cake, she said “Sorry”, in English, and sent us on our way. Kind of disheartening!

– We had the rare privilege of attending a worship event on the Mediterranean coast with our favorite Canadian worship leader, Brian Doerksen, who was touring Europe to encourage native worship leaders to write their own songs, and not just translate English ones. I’m sure he would draw at least a thousand people in the States. Here, he was in a small church wedged in an industrial zone and attendance was probably 200 maximum. But it was powerful, and so wonderful to worship in an intimate setting and feel God’s presence so strongly. I took the kids to a pool during the afternoon while David attended song-writing workshop. For some reason, the French consider swim trunks unsanitary, and demand that all men and boys wear the Speedo bikinis. (David has declared his swimming days officially over.) A sweet French girl named Deborah took a liking to Olivia, and she hung around with us for the entire visit, chatting away and using me as a translator for Olivia. I decided right then that my real conversational comfort zone is at an 8 yr. old level!

– Halloween was imported here about 4 years ago, and they are still educating the public about its origins and how to celebrate like the Americans. One store flyer read that after trick or treating, the children gather to sing and dance into the evening! The Korean student family here cannot fathom why people would want to decorate their yards with big orange gourds! On Halloween night, we didn’t expect any visitors because you have to get buzzed in to enter our building, and I didn’t think any of the other families were celebrating either, so they wouldn’t be letting anyone in. Well, someone knocked on the door, and I opened it to find 2 kids that were well-disguised, and one said, “Trick or Treat.” Since they spoke in English, I thought they were student’s kids, perhaps from one of the families that lived off-campus. I had nothing to give them, and kept asking them to tell me who they were, and how they got in, but they just stood there mute. The eyes peering through the white sheet seemed to get a little wider as I kept I kept demanding more information. So I finally just shut the door on them, realizing too late that they probably were French, and didn’t understand a word I said! Everyone told them that this was an American holiday, so why wasn’t this American cooperating?

Until next month!



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