Wanted to share a little culture shock esp. with you Americans this month, as we are enjoying our spring break in high spirits …

And as introduction to my first topic, I need to reveal my love affair with books. My first real job at 16 was cleaning and re-shelving books at the local library, and some of my fondest memories of pre-missionary motherhood were the mornings when I took the children to our big, beautiful neighborhood library for armloads of free books to enhance our home schooling. Here in France, the thrill is gone, but the language barrier is not the only reason! Below are some “unfriendly” details from a friendly-looking brochure of one of our local libraries:

Shock #1: An adult library card will set you back $10! (Half-price for kids’ cards, and you must have parental authorization if under 18.) And if you aren’t a local resident, your card will cost you almost double.

Shock #2: Adults have a limit of 5 reg. books, but a limit of 7 comic books (comic novels for adults are big here in France)! (Children also have a 5-book limit, with a limit of 3 comic books.)

Shock #3: Our library is actually a tall, narrow converted house: the basement houses 3 computers, the comic books for adults, the CDs, the CD-ROMs, and the DVDs. There is always music playing in the background and it is usually something atonal, making it difficult to relax and look things over. The collection for adults is in the living/dining room/kitchen, and the children’s section is upstairs, of course!

Shock #4: The hours – every single day is different!

  • Sun.& Mon.: Closed
  • Tues: 2-7
  • Wed.: 9-12 & 2-6
  • Thurs.: 2-6
  • Fri.: 9-12 & 2-7
  • Sat.: 9-12 only!

Could it possibly be more complicated? Thank God for!

Awhile back, I described the joys of French doctors. Since then, we’ve visited the ophthalmologist and the dentist, and I’ve got to share some details, as their culture shock rating is almost as high as the library’s. Doctors and dentists are easy to find in France because they all have engraved golden plaques attached to the entrance their office. The eye doctor was in an unfamiliar town, and we found ourselves driving in circles in a residential neighborhood, peering through the rain hunting for that gold plaque. This one was attached below eye level on the front gate of an average-looking home. After making sure it wasn’t a library, we entered and found 2 more doors. The one on the left opened into a waiting room, complete with a bathroom. The dr. welcomed us in shortly and she was very short, very round and very friendly (i.e. tries to speak English.) We walked past her kitchen and into the “den,” which was where her desk and equipment was. After our exams we handed her a $60 check and left through the 2nd door in the entry with our prescriptions, but I felt like I had just visited my favorite auntie, and wouldn’t have been surprised if she had offered us a piece of pie on the way out!

Fortunately, our dentist is just down the street, making a potentially dreaded visit rather pleasant without the worries of finding the place or a parking spot. His name is Guy LeDieu (The God Guy), seriously. Again there is no receptionist or even a hygienist. You go directly into the waiting room and wait your turn until he beckons you into his office. He keeps the lights low, which is good, because it doesn’t have that comforting, new, sterile feel that you get in the US. His desk is on one end and one worn out patient chair on the other. He cleans up after the last patient, using regular dinner napkins instead of those sturdy blue sheets, and you don’t get your protective napkin-bib either. And when it’s time rinse with the paper cup and spit into the porcelain bowl, he hands you a napkin to mop up then. He likes to try to communicate in English when I’m having a hard time following him, but his accent is so strong and his vocabulary so limited that I keep speaking in French and hope he’ll revert back! But I bless his little heart because it is a rare and beautiful gift to hear a French person humble himself to speak your language. Afterwards I sit down in front of his desk, which is littered with a frightening assembly of plaster mouth castings, and write him a small check while we schedule another appt. (We are slowly replacing all my old fillings.) On the short walk home I “stop and smell the roses” outside the florist shop, pick up some fresh bread at the bakery for dinner, and the spring in my step has returned by the time I reach the house.

And finally, a surprising update on my driver’s license. It turns out that the one issued to me last July from Valence had mistakes on it, not to mention that my address had changed. The government office sent me a letter saying they made a mistake, and I needed to bring it in to have the points adjusted. (You start with 6 points that can be lost for infractions, but foreigners are graced with 12, and I had only been given 6.) That was in Sept. So this month I finally found the time and inclination to drive to Colmar to get it taken care of and I was well rewarded for my efforts because my old license also had an expiration of 2007, and I was already dreading the renewal process. But the bureaucrats here told me that a French license never expires, so that date was eliminated from my new one! And whereas I had waited 4 months to get my first one processed, this one arrived at my door in a week! We are SO called to this region…

Speaking of which, one day I was driving all over it, following a couple of teachers to collect free cardboard from paper factories. It was a beautiful morning and we were taking quiet curving country roads. Suddenly I started feeling guilty about this license that was so freely given with so much faith, as I noticed that the paint lines on the road were changing constantly from short and thick and close together, to long and thin and far apart, and then solid, and then short and far apart, and so on. I remember that there are half a dozen different dashes to denote different road hazards and warnings, but I haven’t quite learned them yet, and it feels like the road is trying frantically to send me a message in Morse code while I’m cruising along oblivious to any danger. Though we never passed another vehicle, I returned feeling somewhat lucky to be alive, and when I talked to the teachers about it, they didn’t even know that the dashes needed to be decoded…Oh my!

No we’re not in Kansas anymore, and wouldn’t life be dull if we were…


Posted in newsletter.