vendredi 26 novembre 2010

It's snowing! Il neige

It started snowing about 24 hours ago and it looks beautiful. I had a look last night and this morning. However, the sun is also shining brightly now and being midday it's starting to melt. It's been such an amazing thing for me to witness. I feel like a little kid!

Pictures coming soon...

mardi 23 novembre 2010

Weather affects personality? Warm and Cold

I was talking to a French friend a few weeks back about how I was finding it hard to make friends here... He told me it's because I live in the "north" and colder weather = colder people. And the opposite is true for the south. Warmer weather = warmer people. Which I guess could be said about any country really!

Apart from not having the time (or motivation) to write on my blog I actually haven't had time to read blogs either since I moved here and am very behind. I only just managed to read this post from the Ask a Frenchman blog about people in the north of France, and people in the south.

First of all, I have to clarify that some sources say I live in the north, and some say I live in the south. According to his map with the horizontal line, I live very close to it, so I think I'm in neither the north or the south! hahaha

I guess the theory is probably true as those countries I've visited with warmer weather generally have more warm and welcoming people... I don't have much more to say on the matter as I don't have enough evidence or knowledge but I just wanted to quote what the Frenchman wrote in this one paragraph which I found hilarious:

People from the South are said to be more open, more welcoming, more fun, more laidback than people from the North. People from the North are said to be more reserved, colder, more distant, but also have stronger and better friendships once they start those. And it’s true to a certain extent (of course individual personalities play a huge part in that "certain extent").
It’s a known fact (and a worldwide one) that when you live in a warm place, you simply spend more time outside, consequently you meet more people, interact with them more for better or worse, but you also don’t spend as much time with every single individual as you know so many of them.
When you live in a place with colder and crappier weather, you spend more time indoors, so you obviously meet less people and you may be less open to meeting new people, but you also may have relationships that are more meaningful with those fewer people…
That is unless you’re British, as the British have found a way to meet and interact with tons of random people while staying indoors, they call those amazing inventions "the Pub".

lundi 22 novembre 2010

Cafeterias and Canteens, Food and Eating

So, where do I start?

This is a subject that is fascinating to me... Before I came to France I had read quite a bit about why the French stay so thin and how they have better eating habits yadda yadda. One of the reasons for the French staying so thin (apparently) is that they never eat whilst standing or walking.

Hmm... I had to think about this for a while. I admit I do this quite often! Well, during my university days and when I'm shopping and in a hurry I tend to just buy something cheap and easy and eat it on the run (or on the walk). I know this is bad for your digestive system (or something) but so far it hasn't affected my weight so I never worried too much about it...

So then I landed in France and here I am in a boarding school. I eat in the school cafeteria almost every day (that's 'canteen' for the  British and 'cantine' in French). When I first arrived I was sooooo excited and people constantly asked me why. The reason why I was so happy and excited was because I'd always see students eating in one of these in American tv shows and movies.

However, this was a foreign concept to me as I never had one in my schools and as far as I know we don't have them in Australia! They may have them in the expensive private schools but for someone like me who went to a government/public school we had to eat outside... on the ground. Every day. I didn't like it. I hated sitting on the concrete ground when it was hot and ants would crawl up my skirt. I hated sitting outside when it was cold. If we were lucky we'd get to go inside if it was really cold or rainy. Still, I also hated eating whilst sitting cross-legged. This isn't really that great for digestion...

So at my school cantine (and I assume it's pretty much the same thing in the rest of France or any country which has one), you enter and pay by swiping your card (loaded with credit). Then you pick up your tray and cutlery and choose what you want to eat from the selection.

At my school we choose:
1 entrée (which is usually a salad of some sort),
1 main (with our choice of meat, veges and carbs depending on what's available such as fish/beef/pork/chicken, steamed or diced veges, and rice/couscous/pasta/potatos/mashed potato etc) and
2 desserts/cheeses (these vary a lot and can consist of yoghurt, various cakes, puddings, muffins, ice cream, fruit, cheese, yoghurt drinks, etc).
There is also bread and we can take as much as we want. I usually only take 1 or 2 pieces but I've seen some people take 4!


Since I live in the school I also have dinner there except Friday nights because it's closed.

After you finish your meal you put it on a conveyor belt for it to be washed by the kitchen staff. You have to put all the crockery and cutlery in a certain way so it makes it easier (and quicker) for the staff since there are literally hundreds and hundreds to wash. (my school has almost 2000 students).

It all sounds pretty basic and boring but for me it's still pretty fascinating. And the funniest thing is I don't mind the meals at all! They do rotate so by the time they've rotated, many weeks have passed and it always feels like we're eating something new and different so I never get sick of it. Plus the meals are quite big so I feel full and then I don't need to snack. This is funny because French people all think the worst food is found in a school cantine! All I hear from the students is "dégueulasse!" (disgusting/gross).

In Mireille Guiliano's book French women don't get fat she mentions in there something about how the French don't snack. Here is an interesting discussion (started by an Australian woman). When I first arrived in France I was constantly hungry because I wasn't eating well before I got here (more on that later in my ongoing diary saga...) and due to the time difference my body had no idea of the time so I just ate and ate and ate... my stomach felt bottomless.

Then, pretty soon I realised that the school had 2 breaks during the day. One at 10am and one at 3:30pm (they don't finish until 5:30pm!) During those breaks nobody eats!!! The teachers may have a cup of coffee or something but the kids just hang outside in the playground and talk.

At first I found this pretty hard to take but now I'm in the habit of not snacking anymore either. I find that if I make sure I am really really stuffed at each meal then I can easily last until the next one. I guess you could say I had to re-train my stomach, after way too many years of snacking throughout the day. However, I'm not perfect though and when it's cold and rainy, or when I'm on a long train journey I find I still need to snack. Luckily there are so many cheap and tasty things in the supermarket for me to snack on (such as muesli bars, biscuits and mini cake things).

So, to sum up:
* In schools in France they eat their meals inside, at a table.
* In schools in Australia, we eat our meals outside, sitting on the ground.

Now the second part of my post is this...

Food courts in shopping malls do not exist in France. Yes, it's worth writing that in bold. This infuriates me! It's as if tables and chairs cost a lot of money (or the ground they are resting on I guess). In a shopping mall (which is a rare beast in itself) you'll find all these little food stands (usually selling baguettes) and all around there will be nowhere to sit. I finally found where the people were going - they were sitting on the stairs! How stupid is this!

In a country that promotes good eating habits, you go to a LARGE (and I mean the Part Dieu shopping mall in Lyon which is huge) shopping mall and there is not one large space where everyone can eat. Now, in this particular mall (which I've become well acquainted with) there is a pizzeria/salad bar (buffet style), and a Quick (which is a French version of McDonalds, how ironic because it's not 'quick' at all...). They are mini-restaurants I guess you could call it so they do have tables/chairs inside but guess what? They are always always packed. I would never bother waiting that long.  And while I'm talking about packed, it seems anything that is classified as fast food and NOT French (ie a boulangerie) is packed at lunchtimes. This includes kebab shops, sushi bars, McDonalds, Subway or any other American chain, basically everything. I always see a big long queue of people and this is in several different cities.

This is really frustrating when I'm walking along and just want something quick to eat. I get so frustrated with waiting I always make sure I am carrying a snack of some sort (when I'm out and about) for those hunger pangs.

So my second finding is:
* In shopping malls in Australia, we have a large variety of food stalls and comfortable food courts for shoppers to eat at.
* In shopping malls in France, the food stalls are scattered about in different places and there is nowhere to sit to eat your food.

So don't say you don't learn anything from my blog! ;)

(Image from

dimanche 21 novembre 2010

The pros and cons of living in a small town in France

OK so I have a boyfriend back home but this long distance (and I mean LONG as in 15,000km) relationship is taking a toll on both of us. We can never find the time to talk on Skype because of the now 10 hour time difference. But even if things are going well, I'd still be literally alone here. In France. In a non-English speaking country.

Before I left I had lots of people tell me I was brave and courageous for doing what I was about to do. That is, pack up, leave everything that was familiar to me (family, friends, house, city, country, language, monetary system, weather, etc) and go to a foreign place far far away where I basically knew noone, had no house (just one tiny room), did not speak the language well, was not familiar with the monetary system and the weather was going to be far far colder than anything I was ever used to!

Well I've been in France almost 2 months now and yes it has been hard but I believe that anything in life that is worth doing is hard! But 'hard' is a relative word. What's hard to one person may not be hard to another.

Well please indulge me for a minute while I point out the things I founded the 'hardest' so far:

* Internet, or lack thereof
At the beginning I did not have proper internet. Because I live in a school in a dorm (an 'internat') almost every single site was blocked. Even innocent ones like my bank. Then when I finally found a way to access all the sites, Facebook was still blocked. That, and I've had the constant problem with uploading pictures (to ANY website). It's amazing I've been able to upload a pic for this post! Not having internet when you are bored out of your mind and already feeling disconnected to your former life was one of the most depressing situations. Yes, it's true!

* The shop opening hours, or should I say, closing hours. 
I am not used to all the shops being closed on both Sundays and Mondays and lunchtime every day. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the 'lunchtime' that they are closed are not the same for every shop. It can vary anywhere from 11:30am to 2:30pm and in between. Given that I work every day except Monday it's a struggle to find the time to even do basic chores like grocery shopping and banking and going to the post office. I have the middle of the day free but then during the middle of the day I can't do anything! ARGH.

* Walkability or lack thereof
The fact that I live in a smallish town that is incredibly hilly making it not that walkable. In fact, everyone drives. There is a bus which I take but it only comes roughly once an hour and when it's late it is a pain if it's a cold or rainy day (which it has been lately). Not having a car was one of the first thing which made me depressed after I realised I basically couldn't go anywhere without one. There is not a big variety of shops in the town centre ("centre ville") so one has to go elsewhere except it's a nightmare to get to without a car. I actually contemplated buying one but then I changed my mind as it's too expensive and too much of a hassle. It's expensive because I only know how to drive an automatic car and most cars here (and in Europe) are manual and I don't feel like I want to learn it from scratch (nor do I have the time or patience).

* Paperwork! ("paperasserie")
Yes I had heard of it and prepared myself for it but oh là là... it's painful. That's all I'll say on that subject!

* Not being able to make friends easily
Because it's a small town of less than 15,000 people it's been hard for me. I come from quite a big city (4 million people) and I know how to meet people and make friends in big cities with the means of various websites but in a small town... there seems to be... rien.

* Not having the comforts of home.., um, a TV, a couch, a living room, a kitchen (yes, unbelievably I have no kitchen, just a microwave and a small fridge), a bathtub, a laundry. Gosh I miss having a washing machine the most! I am sick of washing my clothes by hand (in my bathroom sink!) and waiting forever for them to dry. I don't even have space to hang them in my room so they hang in the bathroom. Luckily the heated towel rack comes in handy for that.

I would say those were the hardest things. At least all the ones I can think of for the moment.

Now for the GOOD things about living here

* The Food! 
It's true what they say about the food in France. It's wonderful, it's delicious and it's so affordable! The food in Australia is good but it's really expensive. Even basic staples in the supermarket cost heaps more than in France. Let's not get started on the difference in price for cheese, bread, and salads! They are soooooo cheap in France. It's a joy going through the supermarket and seeing what goodies they have (however it is also a bit depressing at the same time realising I don't have a kitchen to make anything decent to eat).

The Pâtisseries/Boulangeries
In every town (however small) there are LOTS of them! (that, and pharmacies, beauticians and hairdressers!) I love the smell that wafts out of them, I love that they are open longer than most other stores (in fact, some don't close during lunch time!) and everything is just so delicious and beautifully made. I have my fave, which is the largest one in town and everything is just beautifully displayed. They also have a noticeboard in there which is handy. I may put an ad in there for English lessons when I work out my schedule.

* The Language
It still sounds wonderful and sexy to my ear! And one of the big bonuses about living in a small town is that you are pretty much forced to use French. Nobody (almost) speaks English! So I was really thrown into the deep end there. And I think I have definitely improved. I speak much faster than I did before and I'm picking up new vocab every week.

* The Architecture and Scenery/Landscapes
Both are SO different to anything I see in Australia. Every time I take the train somewhere (almost every weekend) just looking out the window makes the time pass really quickly and it always takes my breath away. It must definitely be a case of the grass is greener, because one of my French friends currently living in Australia tells me that he thinks the scenery in Australia is more spectacular! haha.
I have always loved that "old style" architecture. Who doesn't? It's what makes Paris so special and beautiful. Going to ANY French town is like going back in time 2-300 years ago. It's so wonderful. I curse all the cars because they ruin the picture perfect scene. I am also fascinated by all the windows on the buildings.

In Australia we don't use shutters over the windows but they are used everywhere in France and in Europe. Also, in France they tend to have smaller and narrower windows and they put flowers in front of their windows. Now that it's much colder most of them are dying but when I first arrived there was rainbows of colours everywhere and my heart just filled with joy looking at the simple beauty of a window display :)

I have always loved water for as long as I can remember. I don't play any sports but I love swimming and snorkelling. Whenever I sit on a plane or a train I have to sit next to a window. I just love looking out the window and looking at the scenery and water (if there is any). I live near one of the main rivers of France, and I have seen some other rivers and lakes and once again, they are so different to anything I've ever seen in Australia. I do miss not seeing the beach but I haven't missed it that much since it's too cold now to go to one anyway.

* Ease of being able to travel to different cities and countries
Definitely one of the reasons I wanted to come, I admit! It's a pain to travel within/around Australia and to/from other countries due to the extremely large distances we're trying to cover. Also, in Europe the cities are much closer to each other. Every weekend (almost) I've been discovering all my nearby cities. I like that I have seen 'uncommon' cities and not just go to Paris like every other tourist on earth!

On that note I should also mention the train service. It's so comfortable and it's easy for me to buy the tickets online and pick them up at the station from a machine (no queuing!). There were a few weeks of hell with the famed strikes (about the retirement age) where only 1 in 3 or 4 services were running :( but luckily that's over now.

* Politeness of French people
I have never met a nationality of people who are so polite. I will ALWAYS get a "pardon" whenever someone gets in my way or bumps into me. Without fail. Even from kids and teenagers. Even when they are 2 metres away from me and have not touched me. Even if there is the prospect that they MAY get in my way, I get the "pardon". I try to be as polite as I can and it's just a habit now to say Bonjour or Salut to everyone I deal with. Also I hear Bon Appetit often. A stranger will even say that to me if they see me eating. Then of course there is the bise (the cheek kiss) and the farewell greeting. My head gets a bit muddled up on that one! Will I see them again? (ie au revoir or not), should I say something else? salut, ciao, à bientôt, à la prochaineà demain, à (day), à ce soir, bonne soirée, bonne nuit, etc... The possibilities are endless!

* The pros of living in a small town
Apart from the language thing mentioned above, another con is that people really are friendlier. After I went to visit bigger cities I actually found myself feeling a bit 'scared' (which is crazy considering they are still WAY smaller than Sydney) and wanting to come back 'home' to my safe, comfy, small and homely city. I feel incredibly safe here. I imagine crime is very very rare. I never see or hear of anything. Even graffiti is rare.

I have met some nice people in the town such as my Bank Manager. He has been absolute angel for me, even trying to help me by speaking English to me. I can call him or email him for any problems regarding my account and when I go into the bank he always seems happy to see me. That sort of thing would NEVER happen in Sydney (or any big city!)

The Librarian. The first (and only time) I went into the town library she talked to me for ages and was really interested in finding more about me and then telling me more about the town.

My Keycutter (cordonnier/shoemaker). I had a long saga (which I'm not going to mention here as it's too personal and maybe boring) where I ended up going back to him 5 times. The last time I was going back to get a refund (as the key still didn't work) but he told me he had fixed the problem and cut me a new key. I tried it and it worked. He went to a LOT of effort for me and I really appreciated me. He also started asking me more about myself (which kind of 'proves' they are trying to form a more friendly bond with me I guess).

The Bus Drivers
There are maybe 4 in total and 2 that I see all the time. They know me as I catch it all the time and I get on/off at the same stops. Early on, when I wasn't sure of the route yet I asked him where the stop was to get back (after I was about to get off) and he pointed in some vague direction and I still wasn't 100% sure. He said, "Don't worry. If you can't see it and I see you on the road. I'll just pick you up." I couldn't believe it!
Another time there was a big street fair (that I didn't know about!) so the main roads were all closed and the bus was doing a shorter route. I didn't know this and stupidly sat at the bus stop outside Carrefour waiting (for what would be an eternity for a bus that would never come) until a stranger came up to me and asked if I was waiting for the bus and that I should go 'over there' instead!

I guess anyone that I see on a regular basis would come to know me after a while and become more friendly towards me.

That's all I can think of for now, but I'm sure there are many more pros and cons. Luckily the pros totally make up for the cons :)

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