Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My woman, my teacher, my......

There is no word for ‘wife’ in France. We only get the possessive ma femme, translated my woman. Mistresses have their own word and so do husbands. More on that…….
To live in France for any extended period you have to pass a physical. Ours was today and we arrived at the OFII offices and were put through our paces. I’ve read a lot of US immigrant stories lately and this finely tuned medical machine that processed us reminded me of those-- stories of teeth being checked, eyelids lifted and chalk marks made on the clothes of people fresh off the boat at Ellis Island.
First, we had chest x-rays. P went in while I waited. When it was my turn, I was told to ‘enlever’ everything on the top and put my hair up high. No gowns or sheets for modesty. I had to stand there in my skirt and sandals while the nurse explained that I should get into the box, press my front against the x-ray wall, take a deep breath and hold it when she said, ‘Ah, la la’ or something along those lines. My consolation was that P went before me so any germs I was pressing myself up against were his.
Next was the nurse who asked the questions, sadistically stabbed my ring finger for blood, and checked weight and height. She spoke to me in French for the most part after she told me the baby was cute and I understood.  She asked me if I’d had a tetanus injection in the past 10 years to which I replied, ‘Oui, j’etait une maitresse so I had one then.’ Her eyebrows raised, ‘Une maitresse?’ Yes, une maitresse, dans l’ecole,je suis une matiresse !.What’s the deal with French people not understanding when I tell them something quite clearly in French?! Her curious expression turned to a half smile and she nodded and said something to let me know she understood.
On to Monsieur docteur. P went in alone again and I stayed behind. When he came out he and the doctor were laughing and seemed to have had a jolly old time together. The doctor then threw out some English, ‘I’ll be right back for your woman.’ Now as I said before, I know that wife is simply woman here and it has been a curiosity. I’d just never heard it translated literally. And in relation to me. Uh….your woman? P and I looked at each other and laughed. Ha, ha, you’re my woman, very funny stuff indeed.
Back to the sadistic nurse….while ‘wife’ is simply ‘my woman’ the word for mistress is dangerously similar to the word for teacher. And this is precisely the word I was describing myself as—une maitresse. Hence the raised eyebrows, confusion and half-smile. ‘Yes, I’ve had a tetanus shot because I was a mistress.’ And I continued to insist when she seemed confused. ‘A mistress, in a school, a mistress I tell you!’
Today I made myself a mistress and became someone’s woman.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Life's a...

Yesterday we went to the beach for the second time this week. We’d go to the beach all the time in Ireland, the Irish Sea with its promenade, stone beach, ‘boulders’ to climb and sea glass waves just a short walk from our house. The difference here is that while many people regularly swim in the Irish Sea, its freezing temperatures always kept me firmly in the stones, never once venturing further in than my ankles, which immediately became numb from the cold.
While the Mediterranean is no Caribbean temp wise, at least not in May, it certainly is a far cry from any of the water surrounding Ireland. No offense meant to my soul’s second home and a lifetime of good friendships made but it is just sooooo much warmer here. After lounging long enough in the fine sand to work up a sweat, the Middlest and I hit the water. Holding hands and giggling at the shock of chilly water on our tummies we counted 1, 2, 3! and dunked. As we came up, refreshed and happy my sweet boy said, “Mommy, you look pretty!” He’s a charmer that one.  
Most of the afternoon was spent ‘digging holes to China’ (guess I should look at the globe and figure out what’s on the other side of France), catching crabs and trying to keep the kids from ogling the boobies. Why don’t French kids act silly around all the exposed breasts? I guess you’d think it’s because they’re used to it but even the baby couldn’t get enough booby watching. 
And the kids can’t be convinced that being French doesn’t necessarily equal not understanding English. ‘Look at that lady’s boobies!!! They’re so LOW!’ Or when Ma Fille so pleasantly told me, ‘Go ahead Mommy and show your boobies, everybody will understand because they can see you have three kids.’

Well, thanks a million. Sometimes I wish I didn’t understand English.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Today I met with the regional big fromage and guardian of the French language in public schools. He is alerted when any non-French speaker registers for school and then evaluates what each child needs in order to successfully learn French and therefore learn everything else one needs to know from school. If you don't speak French you cannot read Harry Potter en francais no matter how good you are at reading it in English. If you don't speak French you cannot solve word problems or follow instructions for measuring and calculating. If you don't speak French you cannot read the history of the kings, the explanation of condensation and evaporation, the life cycle of the frog or how snails really are delicious and so are mushrooms too.

At first I thought he didn't like me. Or that he was establishing his authority through the withholding of courtesy. He asked me if I spoke French. 'Oui, je parle francais un petit peu.' I told him I understood more than I could speak so he could go ahead. 'C'est normal.', said he.

The remainder of the interview (which is exactly what it felt like) was conducted in French. He explained that he'd met Ma Fille and had tested her. That she was clever but very shy and shyness would not be good for her in this situation. He asked if we were going to be here for a few months and then move away. He asked why I had not put them in school sooner. He asked, and asked, and asked. All in French, all very serious, no hint of a smile or softening gesture.

When he'd worn me down sufficiently, he decided to build me back up. And to start speaking extremely passable English.
In English he told me that both kids should learn very quickly especially if I were to 'welcome France into my home'. He said that he wasn't worried about my kids and that I shouldn't either. Now he tells me.

But then, he told me that I should not speak French to them at home. I should not speak French to them because……my accent is horrible! He said, and I agree, that they should have a strong base in one language before learning another one. He said that one should know a language well enough to allow beauty into it. He said that the new language should be properly taught. Wait. Am I offended? Am I relieved?

I chose relieved. "And with the Baby?", I asked. "Should I continue to say small things like, 'vien avec moi and tu vieux un banane?'" The immediate response, "No, no. Don't do that." Well. He said that Ma Fille is doing well because when she says French words she has a French accent and when she speaks English she doesn't have an accent at all."Unlike yours. Yours is very Texan." Really?

I left feeling confused. And exhausted from concentrating since it was about my kids and their education and so very important. And from trying to say things, to ask questions, to defend my decisions in a language that I don't know well enough to make a clever turn of phrase or inject a flourish or subtle touch of beauty.

But, if my kids can do that in two languages I will be thrilled. Let me be the one to ask the woman at the Hyper-U if she has a 'chapeau de nager' when I should have said, 'bonnet de bain'. I don't mind laughing. As a matter of fact, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 'Hat for swimming' has a nice ring to it. Much more of a flourish than 'bath bonnet'.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

French School & Lunch!

In a matter of two weeks we've gone from being 'on holiday' and feeling unsettled to really living here. How do we humans acclimate so readily to our surroundings? Things that feel huge before you've done them end up being little medals of courage you can tuck inside your heart after you've succeeded. And sometimes, most of the time, success is measured in the tiniest of ways.

Our first weekend in the new house was the same as for anyone who's just moved. Boxes, boxes everywhere, mattresses on the floor, fishing around for something essential that you know you put in that one perfect place you knew you'd remember but somehow have utterly forgotten. 

I love to watch the kids in a new environment. How they run around inspecting everything. Where does this door lead? What's under here? What are the boundaries of my new space? We have an upstairs terrace with three sets of French doors (yes, they really are) leading onto it. They create two circles between inside and outside when flung open. The Baby couldn't stop spinning. He just kept circling in and out in giggly awe of his new playground. 

Tops on the 'to do' list was school. This was one of my biggest fears coming here. In Ireland I would worry endlessly about how it would be for the kids and if we were awful to do it to them. Being here, I feel like it would be silly to put them anywhere other than French public school. Their ages are perfect for learning a new language and as I am continually reminded--we live in France and they speak French here! 

{Can you see the fear in our eyes?}
Here are the most important and interesting parts of French school, at least to my children. 

First, there is no school on Wednesdays. It is reserved for extra-curricular activities, social clubs, and family time.

Second, one word—dejuener. As most of you know, food is big with my kids and France has opened up incredible new ways of eating to them. On school days they get two hours for lunch. You can either leave them to eat at the cafeteria or you can bring them home. The cafeteria was a major draw for the girlie. After eating cold brown bag lunches of salami and crackers every day in Ireland she was intrigued by the idea of eating lunch at school. And the lunch isn't your typical pizza, sausages, and nuggets either. 

This was the menu on their first day:

        Choux chinois et mais 
        Poulet roti et frîtes
        Mousse au chocolat 

This was no ordinary school lunch. Ma Fille was incredibly impressed. First of all, you don't go through a cafeteria line to collect your food. You find a seat and are then served your lunch. 

First the starter. On this day it was Chinese cabbage and corn in 'a lovely dressing'.This was cleared away and the main course was brought. Is this a restaurant or a school cafeteria? 

The roast chicken wasn't slices of chicken either; there was an entire little poussin for each child. 

Did you get that? An entire small chicken served up whole with French fries on a plate for each child.

You could raise your hand to have them help you cut it which made this experience even more wonderful.

Then came the cheese course which they have every day. Did you know there are more than 100 officially certified cheeses in France? Ma Fille said it was delicious and creamy and we have to buy some at the store.

But the piece de resistance was dessert. Little pots of chocolate mousse described thusly: 'you know those chocolate bars with the bubbles inside? Well, mommy it was like that. The chocolate pudding had bubbles inside!!!!' 

She was 100% won over by the lunch and there's been no looking back. Lamb, boeuf bourguignon, cordon bleu…all on the menu. No joke. I wish I could eat there every day too. No wonder the French love their food.
They are trained from a young age how to eat and to respect the experience of the meal. 

The Middlest came home for lunch that first week and got the extra attention he needed. We had our lunch and took a little rest, making sky drawings with our fingers and recharging his love battery to get him through the day. This week he's had extra French lessons after lunch so he's feeling even happier. He's even scheduled to have a play with his new friend Mateo. 

Today is Wednesday so they're here with me and we're going to the beach. It's a lovely way to break up the week. Can you imagine sitting in a classroom listening to nothing but French all day long? I'm sure their brains are exhausted from all that neuron action. It's a much needed and well deserved break for mes enfants

So many little medals to tuck away, so many little victories.



Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Enfin, I am connected

At last! My Internet is connected. I've spent two weeks in the 20th century, back when we didn't use this new-fangled thing my friend Kristin likes to call the 'interweb'.
Have I missed it? Yes and no. I've missed having a thought like, 'what's that guy's name who was in that movie?' and being able to hop onto www.imdb.com to find out. I've missed writing and posting this blog. And I've missed reading my favorite fellow bloggers' thoughts and goings on. Oh, and skype, I really missed skype.
I have not missed all the time I used to waste sifting through one stream of consciousness thing to another. Instead, I've been doing things. Playing with the Baby more, unpacking boxes, scrubbing these old tile floors.
Now I'm going to use my online time more wisely. I'm going to shop at the store rather than the website (pictures of Ikea stuff never show you what it's like in real life and the 50 cent hot dogs are good), do Facebook only from the phone, maybe indulge in a little DWTS on youtube, and post like there's no tomorrow.
So much has happened in the past couple of weeks. We've moved house, bought furniture, started school, seen horse meat at the grocery store, enjoyed boxed pink wine.... If I'd done as my beloved suggested and written backup posts to have at the ready for this day then you'd be reading about all of that. Alas, I am not that organized so you'll just have to wait. I hope you will wait.
Je reviendrai....................