Joyeux Jour de St. Valentin!

This month I thought I’d write about all the reasons why I love being in this country, in keeping with the theme of the holiday, and in obedience to Ph. 4:8, which reads: … whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things!

· I love Malcolm. He is the mascot of a restaurant we pass on the way to church. When we pulled into the parking lot for the first time, this little “Benji” dog trotted out to our car to greet us. When we left, he accompanied us back to our car and saw us off – in the rain! It was unbelievably heart-warming, esp. for a family who prefers cats!

· I love leading the students in a “chorale” time for 40 min. every other week here at the school. I was volunteered for the job, as it is a student-led position, and it has become my favorite part of the week. Since it is mandatory, and 1/3 of the students are “non-singers,” I’ve decided to make it more of a teaching time. The beginners here don’t get much out of worship times because that vocabulary isn’t taught until the end of the year. So, I’m trying to pass on my love of the language (and of worship) by teaching worship vocab. along with some songs to perform at our graduation in June, which is the main objective.

· I love this country for making an arrangement with Colorado (and 13 other states) to exchange driving licenses straight across without any testing. Trying to drive in Britain destroyed any confidence I arrived with, and I cannot get my brain around the x and y-shaped intersections in this small town either. Yet the French, God bless ’em, will hand me a license sight unseen, whereas I could never have jumped through the hoops that the British demand. And the really beautiful thing is that once I have my French license, I’m as legal as any other EU member to drive in Britain !

· I (and the kids and David) love being back in a country with 4 seasons and lots of snow!

· I love living 2 hr. from my pen pal of 27 yr. It was great to have her take me to a local restaurant and help me order new and authentic dishes, and clarify all the little things that can be awkward and stressful in that setting. She just sent me an e-mail asking me correct her English, as she prepares to study for a diploma she is trying to earn to upgrade her position as an accountant. It was most refreshing to be the expert for once! (And I pray that my French doesn’t sound as bad as her English!)

· I love the fact that it is perfectly respectable for me to kiss my pastor and my professor in greeting, and the feeling of being accepted when offered the cheeks of other French people! Hugs are actually starting to feel more intimate than kisses!

· I love being a “humble celebrity” here. I can’t hide my status as a foreigner, so I play it to my advantage, fearlessly starting conversations with strangers so that I can not only practice, but also learn more about the culture, showing the French that I value them. Everyone always continues the conversation when they find out I’m American, and so far it has always been positive! (But we aren’t talking politics here!)

· I love living in a culture where the Sabbath is still a day of rest. Only restaurants are open, so that families can eat together. Commerce reflects the value of family time around the table on a daily basis as well – only one store in town is open during the sacred 12 – 2 p.m. lunch hour, and everything is closed by 7 p.m. so that families are together for their 8:00 dinners. At least that’s the way it is in this small town. (I won’t guarantee that Paris is run that way!)

· I love the fact that I can see a big improvement in understanding what’s being said on the radio and TV, and in reading my French Bible. I cannot, however, say the same thing about films and newspapers!

· I love being back in the land of basements. Did you know they don’t exist in Britain? Perhaps the ground is too soggy? And because Europeans are suspicious of tumble dryers, the center here uses their basement to provide rooms for line drying our clothes. I don’t think you can buy a house in Britain without a clothes line in the back “garden,” but the wet weather is a constant foe. I wish they could have basements too.

· I love the economy of the schools. Why pay for a consumable workbook for each student when you have a photocopier? Rachel’s teacher even shrinks them down so that they can get 2 – 4 worksheets on one piece of paper! (She has learned to write very small!) Olivia, age 7, has occasional spelling tests with 5 words on a piece of unlined paper that is no bigger than a Post-it note! She also uses a chalkboard slate and manipulatives for math, instead of bringing home piles of worksheets, so I’m really not sure how she’s doing in that subject! We don’t see any hard back textbooks either. The teachers photocopy anything that needs to be read or done at home, and that is glued in their “cahiers,” (“kye-yeah”) which resemble our permanently bound old-fashioned exercise books.

· I’ve had my share of trash stress in Europe, with the emphasis on recycling and bin limitations, and I love the French attitude towards garbage! We are provided with an adequate number of bins, plus separate bins for easy recycling of paper and plastic. To add to our bliss, the trash is picked-up twice a week! I’ve never had it so good… (Can you tell I’m not a packrat?)

Je vous embrasse,
(“I send a French peck on each cheek to all of you”)


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Agoraphobia, acrophobia, claustrophobia, arachnophobia…hmmm…No, can’t find it. I’ll have to make it up. PhoneNumberPhobia. Have you ever been afraid of your own phone number? Yeah, me neither. At least not until now…in French! “Come on”, you say, “it’s just numbers. You learn 0-9 pretty early on in a new language!” Well, that would work if, in France, one just used 0-9 when saying a phone number.

Here’s how it works…

The French phone number is five pairs of digits and one says each pair as it represents one number. Add to that the method of representing the digits 70-99 and it can get pretty squirrelly for a poor foreigner such as I! 70 literally translates as “sixty-ten” and goes on to “sixty-eleven”, etc. 80 translates into “four-twenty” and 90 into “four-twenty-ten” This continues on up to “four-twenty-nineteen” (99) until the sanity resumes at 100, “cent”. Even Belgian French doesn’t put up with this tom-foolery from what I understand! ;c)

So, our phone number is: and one says “zero-four”, “seventy-nine” (excuse me, “sixty-nineteen”), etc. So, knowing your individual numbers is not nearly enough for everyday life here. Angela made a sign on our bulletin board with our number written out in words, and when I listen to a phone message, I have to listen to it about five times to make sure I get the number right!

These sorts of cultural/language challenges permeate our life right now. Even Olivia plays “Tomato-Tomato-Ketchup” instead of “Duck-Duck-Goose” on the playground at school, and translation between French and English is filled with words that are spelled the same but have subtly different, or even completely different meanings. They call these “faux amis”…literally “false friends”…and they can really lead you astray when you’re trying to understand or say something! For an idea of what an English-speaking French student is up against, check out the following compendium of “faux amis” here:

My French professor here, continually tells us to put translating behind us and try and think and speak in French all the time. That certainly works with numbers. In the end, it’s much easier to just associate the French words with 73 or 95 than to repeat the mental gymnastics listed above! And, if we don’t know an exact word, we’re encouraged to “find our way” with the vocabulary we know instead of continually looking up words in the dictionary. Translating back and forth is full of pitfalls and, while it gives us a start and is sometimes necessary, it is also a hindrance to really communicating.

As a fun exercise (which many of you have already done), you can see the pitfalls of “automated translating” by taking a bit of text in English (a poem, a song, etc.) and running it through one of the several internet-based translation pages (e.g. Select to translate it from, say, English into French. Then take the translated text and select to translate it back into English. What comes back can be quite hilarious and maybe even complete nonsense!

You may think I’m leading up to some profound spiritual point from this. Sorry…nothing profound yet. But, for us there is much translating from old to new in our life. We have the new phone number and address, of course. The kids each have a new school (and Noah’s situation has not been very effective for him so he may have another new class in January!). We think we’ve finally found a new church home (in Annecy, a 45 minute picturesque drive). Grocery shopping is a new experience with new store hours (What, it’s not always open?!) and new food choices (365 different cheeses and we can’t find cheddar or mozzarella?!). And finally, if we progress satisfactorily, we will eventually have a new language! The list goes on and on… I think if we can begin to put “translating old to new” behind us and start living more naturally in our new French world, we will be making some positive, stress-reducing steps.

Speaking of stress, right now we’re in the middle of our much-needed Christmas break. Even in this break though, we quickly remember that we’ve not had a Christmas that we’re used to in 3 years. I think that right about now, we’re dreaming of future French Christmas seasons in a house big enough to have a decent Christmas tree and maybe a fireplace (Noah mentions that each time we talk about a house in France!) Our poor little “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” was pretty cramped in this apartment. ;c)

But, one thing we’ve managed to get done during this break is to finally get some new pictures up on our web site. Check out for the latest stuff (be warned, it’s fairly complete and has a goodly amount of pictures that are more “grandparent-targeted”!)

Until next time, may God truly bless YOU!


P.S. – Several people have e-mailed wanting our address in France. Here it is and here is a tip as well. You can always find ways to contact us (addresses, phone numbers, etc.) on our web site on our Contact Us page:

50 Chemin des Galibouds

73200 Albertville


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!



A Week Under Our Belts!

Our journey went smoothly and lots of husbands/fathers from the other student families greeted us last Saturday when we pulled up to help unload the car. There are about 15 Christian families living here and they have been wonderfully warm and helpful, making our delayed arrival go much easier. Most of them are heading to northern Africa – brave souls! Our children quickly made friends as all the school-age children are American. There is a lovely spirit of camaraderie here that is keeping us afloat during our adjustment time.

Our apartment is rather Spartan – no dressers, no bathtub, no small kitchen appliances, no carpeting. But we do have 3 showers and 2 toilets! We’re waiting on our phone hook-up this week and then our internet activity will be more normal. Now we’re going to another building to do our emailing.

The views out our windows and around the school are like looking at postcards! We seem surrounded by tall mountains covered with trees peaking with autumn colors, and dotted with chalets. There are some nice places in the town (about 20,000 people) but the really incredible beauty is all God-made.

Our long school days have been tiring for us as home-schoolers. The two younger children have finished their first week in a regular classroom, being pulled out for an hour each day for French. The teachers are strict, and not very welcoming, but the children seem to be holding up well. We are glad they come back to us for lunch so that we can touch base during the day! Our six yr. old Olivia can already read several French words with a perfect accent! 8 yr. Old Noah enjoyed helping teach English to the French kids today – a welcome about-face! They will take part in lots of other activities during school like clowning, skiing, ice skating, mountain hikes and climbs, attending films, and exploring the arts.

Our 13 yr. Old Rachel has the easiest schedule and studies only French with an hour of math per week. She is being challenged socially, rather than intellectually at the moment. David is enjoying his class immensely and can tell a big difference in his speaking ability already. Angela is being challenged to change ingrained patterns of speaking French as she takes on more complex grammar rules. It is hard to find time to study with school ending at 4:30 and then giving all the children quality time, homework time, tea time, and bedtime!! We are already grateful for the French school schedule that gives you Wednesdays off!

We will attend church on Sunday for the first time here, and have several good choices…relatively a lot for a French town but some of the other Americans here can’t believe how few there are. Most of our spare time this week has been spent filling out forms, and we are eager to start exploring this beautiful town!

Blessings to all of you,

Angela and David

Leaving Paisley!


…we’re leaving! Those of you who only know of our activities via this newsletter may be surprised to hear that I’m typing this in our house in Paisley, Scotland right now. Yes, our visas (specifically the kids’ visas) were not ready at the French Consulate until today!It’s been an up-and-down wait for us and we’re very ready to get on a roller-coaster that actually goes somewhere!

I’d give you a rundown of our activities while waiting, but, frankly…it’s pretty boring. Instead here’s our itinerary for the next several days:

Wednesday:Pick up passports in Edinburgh and pack!

Thursday:Load up, drive to Edinburgh (again) and get on an overnight (17-18 hours) ferry to Zeebrugge, Belgium

Friday:Drive to Paris

Saturday:Drive to Albertville

Sunday:Unpack and strap in!

Monday:Launch into life in France!

I think it’s finally safe to say that our next correspondence will come from France!

Umm…excuse me…I have some packing to do! Talk with you soon!