samedi 19 mars 2011

French Food Markets

So, the three things I was supposed to do this week? Didn't end up doing any of them! Haha. Well I already said I wasn't doing the first.. the second one got postponed by the friend who invited me (because something came up) and the third... I ended up changing my mind at the last minute because I accidentally found some scary articles online about Couch Surfing which freaked me out. In hindsight it was stupid of me to get so worked out about it and reading too much into everything but I'm kinda glad I didn't go today anyway as the weather is/was crap.

Well I did do 2 random social things this week though! And I had awesome fun at both of them.

1. One morning, one of my lovely friends offered to take me around to do my errands which is so much easier to do with a car and just as well too as it was raining that day. He ended up taking me to the town market, which - as everyone knows - France is famous for. I knew about this market when I first arrived but I couldn't coordinate it with my schedule since I work every morning and wouldn't really have enough time to get there before it closed, and back before lunch was over. This time, we didn't have a lot of time either but my friend still ended up buying a lot!

Now, I'd been to and seen markets in France before of course (during my travels to other towns). But this was the first time I was shown how it all 'works' by a local. What a treat I was in for! At first I just wandered around by myself taking photos and one of the greengrocers offered me samples of his fruit to taste. All the market sellers seemed very friendly and you could freely taste anything you wanted. Apart from fruit/veges (fruits et legumes) there were also stalls selling bread (pain), cheese (fromage), dried meats (viande sechée), olives (olives), spices (piments), and other such typically French foods. There were also a whole heap of stalls selling things like clothes (vêtements), shoes (chassures) and handbags (sacs à main).

I thought I might buy something while I was there and picked out some mandarins (which the French call clementines), bananas (des bananes) and apples (et des pommes). The guy weighed it for me and then I was about to pay for it when my friend was acting all weird and told me to put my purse away.

As I quickly realised, he was going to haggle with the owner (who he'd obviously bought from before) to get a good deal. He ended up buying boxes/cases and then I got my stuff for free! Woohoo. What a great friend and what a nice lesson. Haha.

It is SO nice to be shown stuff like that by locals... I was hoping I'd be shown around more in this town but those moments have been very far and few indeed.

A bit off topic but... we made it back just in time to eat lunch in the school cantine (yes a highlight of our day - haha) and I noticed a couple of my students sitting nearby. Nothing strange about that. But because we weren't sitting with any other teachers or staff (it was almost time to pack up and not many people were around then but usually the cantine is totally crowded) I just had this feeling something was gonna happen later... and yes, it happened. Those students later asked me about him. Oh gosh. I actually think I went red with embarrassment. A few female students asked me, "Is he your boyfriend?" (yes, in English). I said, "You don't know who he is? He works at this school. He's just a good friend, that's all." Oh dear.

2. The second social/exciting thing I did this week was... last night I met up with someone in my town from Couchsurfing. Before we agreed to meet up I said I was a bit scared walking back home by myself late at night, which is something I've never done here as usually I'm with other people or with someone who has a car (not to mention it's kind of boring and freezing cold and up a big hill too so not exactly that much fun) and he kindly offered to walk me home which was so nice (and also because he didn't have a car either).

He was super nice and friendly and we shared a nice dinner in town. It was totally a spur of the moment decision of mine so I'm so happy he agreed to spend some time with me. He's fairly new in the town too, and lived in several cities/countries too like me so we had lots of stories to share. He told me he always wished someone would want to 'surf' with him and I said the problem is, noone would think to look up our town's name because it's so small! (whereas people in big cities get bombarded).

I've realised that.... How much I enjoy my time in France seems to depend a lot on how much human interaction I get with interesting company!! I really tire of people who can only talk about their work or their family or the news... and I also really tire of being asked about the floods in Australia (yes, still!) because it's obvious they have no idea what to say to me...

Pic: by me, taken in Chambéry.

vendredi 18 mars 2011

What I learned from watching Le Divorce

I briefly wrote about the film Le Divorce before and ever since coming to France, certain elements of that story pop into my head.

I remember thinking at the time that the story was incredibly UNrealistic and far-fetched and was heavily dramatised to make an interesting book (by Diane Johnson) and film.

After having spent almost 6 months here, and being surrounded almost exclusively by French people and having experienced some fucked up shit I would say that that story is EXTREMELY accurate about French people and society. Also, things that have happened that I've been aware of, that were told to me by locals, which shocked and amazed me at the time, really doesn't shock or amaze me anymore.

And also, from chatting to French people online (all over the country) I've also come to the conclusion there is a lot of fucked up shit happening here... (not saying that this sort of stuff doesn't happen in other countries... it may be even WORSE in other countries) but...

I wish I could give you all those dozens of examples (that would make your mind spin) but boy-oh-boy it's just out of this world incredible. I guess I've lived a far too naïve and innocent existence prior to coming here!

So what did I learn about watching Le Divorce? That there is some seriously fucked up shit going on in French people's lives!

mardi 15 mars 2011

I want a car and random thoughts

If I end up staying in Europe and getting a decent job, and if I don't end up living in a biggish city, the first thing I'm gonna do (after finding accommodation) is to buy a car! I wanted to buy one when I first arrived but then I told myself it would cost too much and be too much hassle, plus I didn't know how long I'd be staying. It was just too much work to find a car that I liked, in my price range as well since, annoyingly, I needed a car to be able to go and look at cars!!

Tonight I got invited to a soirée in another town not far from me. It's only about 15 minutes drive away. I could take the bus but it's still a hassle since I'd have to get myself to the train station, then wait for the bus, catch the bus. Of course if I had a car I could just drive myself home afterwards but since I don't and the last bus is at around 8:30pm  I'd have to stay the night (which these people (Couchsurfers) generously agreed to let me without me even having to ask), BUT then I start work at 8am tomorrow so I'd have to get up before 6am to make sure I got to class on time and I can't stand early mornings (particularly when they are still cold), so I decided not to go. :( And I'm upset because if I had a car I could've easily gone.

Oh well. Hopefully there'll be another time.

One of my friends here at the school invited me out for a girls' night out Friday night. Woohoo, can't wait!

Well, I've been speaking to someone from Shared Talk for only 8 days (which started because I was bored out of my brains here during the school holidays) and it's rare that from the very beginning we got along really well. We had so much in common, I couldn't believe it! He had travelled all over the world (which I find is rare for people I know around here as they just stay in Europe) and we had so much to talk about and this weekend he invited me over to spend some time with him and some friends (bonus: he only lives 30 minutes away by train). At first I was hesitant. I mean... we've only been speaking for 8 days, actually less than that since we obviously don't speak every single night. We've only known each other for 8 days but spoken around 5 times. I said sure, "I'd love to come over and meet you all but my last train is at..." (the usual story).... and he said, "Don't worry, you can stay over here."

Now, I have actually stayed with people I met through those language exchange websites before (but that was because I knew them fairly well. I'd talked to them for over a year!) Normally someone inviting me only after 8 days would've freaked me out and I would have had to decline, but luckily, he also does Couchsurfing and has a profile there so I checked out his comments to see that he's trustworthy. Since he doesn't live too far away he actually knows of my town (most French people don't as it's small and not well-known) and from the beginning would constantly make jokes about how it's the ugliest and worst city in France. Now I don't know if that's true or not... but when I tell people where I live and if they happen to know this town, they say that too (yes they are very blunt!! The French are not PC at all!!) It's a running joke and I just play along. Seriously, I'm not offended but I do NOT think it's the ugliest town in France by a longshot. Sure it's small and really boring but it's certainly not that ugly!

So anyway, that's THREE things I've been invited to in one week. This is all without me asking or hinting or anything. These people are just kind enough to invite me. 3 in one week, that's just too much!! ;)

Random but I've reached 100 contacts on LinkedIn (connecting me to almost 1.5 million people) - woohoo!

I can't believe how fast the time passes. I know it's a clichéd thing to say but still, it's true!

I have absolutely no hope of it snowing anymore. It's just getting too warm. There are only tiny patches/remnants of snow high up on the mountains that I see here and melting rapidly day by day. Gosh it seems like a lifetime ago where I saw my city covered in fluffy whiteness and felt like I was dreaming...

Ah yes.. the magical summer. I think a part of the reason why I've been a bit down lately is because everything just looks dead at the moment (I mean landscapes). There's no more beautiful snow, just dead trees and dead grass. In fact, the grass reminds me a lot of Australia. It's extremely dry and a yellowish shade. Often I've wanted to do something (a tourist attraction) whilst visiting a particular city but discovered it was closed due to the season being winter and everywhere I go people tell me to come back during summer because "It's beautiful during summer". So in my mind I imagine that EVERYWHERE in France and Europe just becomes super duper amazing during summer. Of course I know that that's not entirely true. For one thing I've already experienced huge mosquito bites and it wasn't even during summer, it was during autumn (and they don't have flyscreens, nor air con nor fans in houses in Europe!). However, I'm still very much looking forward to spring, and flowers, and colour... and the joy of feeling the sun on my bare skin!

On Saturday I went on a mini shopping spree and bought some spring-y clothes! Bit sick of wearing drab colours all the time and a big, heavy coat.  I bought a cheery nautical-print shirt and navy blue cardigan from Mango, a denim skirt and pair of black work pants (down to 6€!) from Pimkie, a white cardigan from H&M (down to 10€), and a professional-looking short-sleeved striped shirt from Zara (down to 7€!). I didn't actually know there was some special sale on (as I heard that France is only allowed to have sales twice a year) so I got lucky as most shops had some sort of sales rack.

I'm loving the fashions at the moment. I love the red/white/navy blue stripey nautical theme and even 'collected' clothes like that back home... In winter I hated the French fashions (too many drab colours and weird designs) but loved the shoes (boots) and now I love the spring/summer fashion range but hate the shoes! I can't win. The summer shoes are just not nice and not comfortable at all. I tried on lots and couldn't find anything much that I liked. Just as well. I remind myself I am supposed to be saving... oops!

I'm such a nomad at the moment. I wonder if I'll ever settle down. Perhaps I'm just immature. I do not look forward to having a mortgage and spending my weekends cleaning the house at all. I feel like I can't relate to a lot of my friends and co-workers because apart from work all they talk about is home stuff and child(ren) stuff (neither of which I have). I don't want to settle down. Or maybe I just don't want to settle ;)

La Carte Vitale and Healthcare in France vs Australia

Ahhh gotta love French bureaucracy.. not! I've been here nearly SIX MONTHS and today was the momentous day where I finally received my Carte Vitale. What is a Carte Vitale you ask? Translated as "Vital Card" (LOL) it's a card that means you're subscribed into the French healthcare system! Which means that you are finally part of the 'tax paying' community of Frenchies... sort of. In my job we don't really pay any income tax but in each monthly pay packet, part of our salary is deducted for social security and this is the card that lets us make use of that wonderful thing called French social security (for health purposes).

In case you were wondering, I actually purchased a rather expensive travel insurance plan that would cover me for anything health-related as well as theft, unforeseen circumstances, etc. And this was for any country in Europe. So it didn't worry me that I wasn't subscribed into the French system for months.

When I went searching for a pic of the Australian Medicare card to compare on Google Images, it occurred to me that they come with chips now (mine doesn't have one). If you look above, the two cards are coincidentally the same colour with similar type of font as well! Usually partners/spouses and kids are listed on the same cards as their parents and so you can have up to 4 names (or is it 6?) on a single card! When I was 16, I went and got my own so I could finally go to the GP without my parents!

Americans seem to rave about how great the French healthcare system (because it seems like they have to pay for EVERYTHING there) but coming from Australia, I have to say that ours is pretty good too (and without the long paperwork delays). Actually both are good, but after doing some reading/investigating I think the French system is still superior (only because of how little you end up paying). It's hard for me to judge though as I haven't been here that long and I have not really used 'the system' all that much...

One thing I didn't like was that I had to make an appointment to see my local GP and that usually meant a several day wait! Also, he was naturally closed during lunchtimes (which was when I wanted to go!) so I either had to get there at 7am or wait forever amongst the after school/work crowd. I know it's probably different in other cities but this annoyed me. As well as that, I don't know of any pharmacies that are open late or on Sundays. And of course in my town they are all closed during lunchtimes and Mondays too (this stupid lunchtime/Monday closure crap is really getting to me now). What the heck do you do if you are sick during those times? I've learnt to stockpile medication that's for sure.
Fact: France spends more on ‘welfare' than almost any other EU country: over 30 per cent of GDP.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility if the info provided here below is wrong. Both the French and Australian websites were terrible for navigation and information.

French Healthcare Australian Healthcare
Eligibility • French citizen
• EU National
• All Students in a State institution
• Employed in France (including self-employed)
• French retiree who has worked a certain amount of time prior
• EU Retirees receiving the pension in their own country
• Australian citizen
• Australian permanent resident
• New Zealand citizen
• Students from the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium or Italy only
• In most cases temporary residents with a valid work visa or diplomats are not eligible to access Australia subsidised health care system unless they are from a country that has reciprocal health care arrangements with Australia (United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Malta and Ireland).
Pharmaceuticals Reimbursed 15-100% depending on what kind of medication it is Subsidized by the Medicare scheme/government (known as PBS) but still more expensive than France. Healthcare card holders (unemployed/low income/pensioners, etc) pay $5.60 for almost all prescription medications and vaccines like the annual flu shot)
Vaccines Reimbursed 60-70% Reimbursed for babies/children. For adults, Reimbursed 0%. Ranges from $20-80 per shot up to $460 for the Gardasil 3 course shot, for example.
Cost of a visit to a GP Usually 22€ reimbursed 70% (therefore you pay 6,60€) If you go to a Medicare-enabled GP/medical centre (AKA "Bulk Billing") it's reimbursed 100%
Cost of a visit to a Specialist Reimbursed 70% Reimbursed 80%
Dentistry (check-up) Reimbursed 70% Depends. But generally quite expensive, usually reimbursed 0%
Optometry (check-up) Depends Reimbursed 100%
X-rays 1€ Reimbursed 100%
Hospitals 18€/day or13,50€/day for a psychiatric clinic. Services reimbursed at 80% Public Hospital:  Reimbursed 100%(but months/years-long waiting list!)

French Healthcare
Medicare Australia
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) Australia

Julien Gaudfroy, French guy who speaks Chinese like a native

When I talk to French people via the various language learning social networking websites (that I've talked about hundreds of times on my blog), I have found it increasingly common that apart from English, they are learning an Asian language as well, usually Chinese or Japanese. I'm not sure if this is a trend or it's for work purposes or just for personal interest or what... but it's fascinating.

Not that most Australians care about learning a foreign language, but Asian languages have always been relatively popular here (compared to European ones) because Asia is our nearest neighbour.

When I was in University I took up Chinese as a minor elective because none of the subjects in my own faculty interested me. OK I lie. I did actually take Film Studies but after only 2 lectures I was already bored and frustrated. It was a hard task to coordinate taking another subject from another faculty but it was totally worth it. For one, I got to meet people outside my own tightly-knit (and often snobby) faculty but I got to improve on what I had already learnt before... and I had fun doing it.

I ended up taking it over 2 years with a break in the middle. The funny thing was, I even met up with an old family friend that I hadn't seen since I was about 8 years old who was also taking a subject outside his own faculty and we've managed to stay in contact ever since! (the way I look at it is - good things always happen when you go outside your comfort zone). Anyway...

Chinese is definitely a language where it's hard to get accurate pronunciation because of the different tones.  I've read that the only major benefit to learning a foreign language when you're young is to get an accurate pronunciation because after a certain age (usually around puberty/12 years) your hearing isn't as acute and if you can't hear the subtle little differences you can't pronounce them.

I came across Julien Gaudfroy on YouTube quite some time ago so now I'm finally doing a post on him! I found his story truly remarkable. Before I'd read about him though, I'd guessed that he must have extremely good hearing to speak and pronounce Mandarin EXACTLY like a Native would. And guess what? He only started learning it at age 20! So anything's possible!

I actually often wondered if there was a correlation between music learning and foreign language learning (in terms of having acute hearing ability) because I learnt piano for 8 years and wondered if that actually somehow contributed to my success of learning French... I don't know...

From China Daily

For musician, the sweet sound of Chinese
By Viva Goldner
Updated: 2007-11-16

When circumstance put an end to Julien Gaudfroy's first great love, the former musician discovered his passion for the Chinese language.

Before carving a career as a media personality in Beijing, the Frenchman was a professional cellist, performing at the Paris Conservatory with top classical players and conductors.

The gifted 28-year-old was forced to stop playing due to injuries eight years ago - which he still does not want to mention - and decided to focus on the "challenge" of learning a new language.

With the same dedication that saw him rise to the top of European musical circles, Gaudfroy would not rest until he attained the level of a native speaker.

Those impeccable language skills, coupled with a good dose of charisma and keen sense of humor, propelled Gaudfroy into the limelight. He co-hosts a Chinese talk show, broadcast daily by the CRI network, called "The Foreigner's Point of View". He travels China as a popular TV host, and is an accomplished cross-talk performer.

Gaudfroy began studying Chinese in 1998 while still in France, creating within his Paris apartment an "almost 100 percent Chinese environment". Helped by a Chinese girlfriend, he studied at home for hours and engaged in conversation with any Chinese person he happened upon.

"I didn't have much else to do so I would spend all day long studying Chinese in any possible way," he says. He tried a language course at a Paris university, but lasted just weeks, finding tapes and self-study to be a more suitable method.

Gaudfroy recovered from his injuries two years later, but was not prepared for the investment it would take to revive his former musical career. He used to practise cello for up to eight hours a day, and risked recurring complications from his earlier injuries. Instead, he chose to further his Chinese studies.

"It was some kind of desire," he says. "I think the main thing is, from the start, I really wanted to get myself to the level of a native speaker."

Hailing from Lille, Gaudfroy first came to China in 1999. He left the following year, but returned in 2002 and has lived here since. To improve his reading and writing skills, Gaudfroy consumed whatever Chinese language material he could - novels, newspapers, magazines and historical texts.

He constantly listened to television and radio shows, and would repeat new phrases to himself until he was sure the pronunciation was perfect.

Gaudfroy believes his musical background helped him pick up the tonal sounds of Chinese, but puts his successful quest in learning mostly down to hard work.

He is a regular performer of cross-talk, the popular art of stand-up comedy with a linguistic bent. He says it has brought a new level of sophistication to his Chinese.

"It has helped me with the way I use it, to feel the rhythm of the language for the stage," he says.

What's interesting is that he was basically a self-taught learner and I think from all the stories I've read of people who are good with foreign languages and/or are polyglots, they are self taught. I think when you're self taught you have to be really dedicated and motivated in the first place as you can't just turn up to class and rely on the teacher to do all the work for you! Having taught teenagers for some months now, my opinion now is that the 'best' age to learn a foreign language is in your late teens to mid 20s (which funnily, also corresponds to the age range when you're at your peak physical condition!). By that age/time when you have actually acquired some maturity and WANT to learn it as opposed to being forced to by the school curriculum/your teachers/your parents, I think is the best time. And you're still young enough to have some hope of getting close to the native accent. But it just depends on how good your ear is, of course :)

I think it's a load of crap that people of European origins think they can't learn a non European language. When I was living in Shanghai I met lots of foreigners including French, Americans and Australians who could speak Chinese. And if you go on YouTube there are stacks of them too who have successfully 'tackled' the language.

If you can't understand Chinese Mandarin you won't understand the videos above so check this out instead (it's in English, which he speaks fluently too, of course):

lundi 14 mars 2011

Blogs: What I'm reading

I might do this regularly if it turns out to be interesting for my readers...

Marianne en France: On Humility
Marianne does the same job as me (I don't know her). I could definitely relate to this post a lot!

Francey Pants: Land of Funny Names
Funny city names in German.. this post had me in stitches!! Fricken!

Francey Pants: Your daily WTF (Welcome to France) moment
I can't say my adventures at the laundromat are half as interesting as hers but I related to this part: "I have a fear of making telephone calls in French because it's approximately 43 times harder to understand and be understood than when you're talking in person."

Crumple-proof and waterproof City Maps via Detours
Pretty cool, huh? Although I have to say that they seem to take up a lot of room! I thought of another use for them too... when you want to sit on something wet or dirty they might come in handy - haha.

TCF French Test Online Simulated Test

Simulation du TCF (Test de Connaissance du Français) avec le CIEP sur TV5MONDE

I found this test by accident and it's awesome! I love the interface. It looks nice AND it functions well (a rarity I find).

They give you 90 minutes to answer 80 questions which for me was more than enough time. I finished the test in 57 minutes. The first few questions are all listening exercises and the 'tape' just rolls on. It's up to you to click through to each question. I diverted my attention for a split second, and that's why I missed Q.2. Then during Qs 28-30 someone was talking to me on Skype and I didn't want to be rude and ignore them and had to explain I was doing this test blah blah blah which made me miss a whole bunch of questions!

All the questions at the end are reading comprehension ones (and I got almost all of them wrong. LOL).

My score... I'm not sure I quite agree that I am only at B1 level. Surely I haven't gone backwards? And how could an overall score of 76% be B1 when I scored an overall score of 61% on the TEF test and got graded B2? (and this was almost a year ago!) OK OK I know they are different tests but anyway...
Pfft...  I know I have a lot more work to do!


Votre score pour l'ensemble du test est égal à 76 % de bonnes réponses.Vous êtes du niveau d'un utilisateur indépendant (niveau B défini par le Cadre européen commun de référence) pour la compréhension orale, la compréhension écrite et la maîtrise des structures de la langue.

Compréhension orale

Votre score pour la partie Compréhension orale est égal à 80 % de bonnes réponses. Votre niveau de compréhension orale en français est celui d'un utilisateur indépendant (niveau B défini par le Cadre européen commun de référence).

Structure de la langue

Votre score pour la partie Maîtrise des structures de la langue est égal à 85 % de bonnes réponses. Votre maîtrise des structures de la langue en français est d'un niveau fin de B2 (utilisateur indépendant), début de C1 (utilisateur expérimenté).

Compréhension écrite

Votre score pour la partie Compréhension écrite est égal à 67 % de bonnes réponses. Votre niveau de compréhension orale en français est celui d'un utilisateur indépendant (niveau B défini par le Cadre européen commun de référence).

dimanche 13 mars 2011

How to live and travel as a young, single woman

I thought I'd do a post on this subject as it's something I think about and get asked about a lot.

It seems to me that it's 'taboo' in France (and almost everywhere) to do things alone... especially if you are a young woman. Afterall, you can't be seen in public alone! I mean, what a loser! Of course nobody says this to my face but the looks I get when tell people I travel around France alone, go to restaurants and cinemas alone... well it says a lot more about their insecurity than anything else.

It's true though. If I look around the only people walking about alone are old people. It's even worse in countries like India or Muslim countries though. When would you ever see a woman out walking by herself? It's just not done! Ugh. You have no idea how much that infuriates me.

I guess we're fed stories that as girls, we have to be 'rescued' by our fairytale prince and if he doesn't come along we just sit and wait in our tower in the castle... Pffft! I'd rather die than put my life on hold like that. We're also fed stories that the world is full of 'bad people' so we need to go out with a man or in a group for our own 'safety'.

Once upon a time (like most people I know) I had never lived alone. It's actually not very common for Australians to move out of home when they go to university and I know people in their mid-late 30s with extremely high paying jobs who still live with their  Anyway, I just moved straight from Mummy and Daddy's to live with Boyfriend. But now it's been almost 3 years since I've lived alone and sure there are some lonely and boring times but it's been a HUGE learning experience for me. I honestly could not have learnt anything about myself and especially learnt of my capabilities as a person as well as a woman if I had always been one half of a partnership, always relying on someone else and having someone else rely on me. So for what it's worth I have really enjoyed this time to learn about myself and my strengths!

The Turning Point

One particular moment sticks out in my memory. In my apartment (back in Sydney) I had an old shitty fridge that a friend had donated. It worked fine but the freezer section was always frosting over and needed to be defrosted on a regular basis. Let me tell you it was hard work. I distinctly remember my boyfriend helping me (it had now been several months since we broke up) and my now flatmate didn't offer to help so I was stuck doing it alone. It was not a fun task freezing my fingers off and scraping and hacking at the ice and even using a hairdryer to melt it, swearing under my breath, etc etc... It wasn't just the job itself but also the fact that I started feeling sorry for myself that all my friends had nice, big, new fridges as well...I actually broke down and started crying because it was just TOO hard! I mean, how could I possibly cope without a guy around the house? And why is life so unfair?! But I told myself to get it together. It's just a freezer for God's sake! At least I have one. Get over it. It was a huge turning point for me and now no task really scares me anymore. And then over the next few days I went shopping, researched prices, and bought a nice brand new fridge :)

My Friends

I guess having lots of single friends really helps as they're the only ones who can possibly know how you feel and they, like you, are always seeking to go out and do 'stuff'.  I love my coupled-up friends but I rarely ask them to do stuff with me anymore because there is always one reason/excuse or another so usually I just give up. Plus I don't they don't feel the need to go out because there is always someone at home to talk to and to do 'stuff' with!

What I really miss is living in the same suburb as 1-2 of my good girl friends. I can't tell you how great it is that we could walk to each other's place in 10-15 minutes instead of having to go through Sydney's horrific traffic or worry about public transport. We could just invite each other over spontaneously (none of this giving 3-4 weeks' notice like with some of my other friends), eat together, go to the movies, take photos (she is a keen photographer like me), etc... How I miss those days!

Now here at the school although my friends live nearby, they aren't close enough to me to want to do anything with me on a regular basis. I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you have a lot of friends and a busy, active social life you never really feel that lonely or bored.  And pretty much every single person I know has a busy, full life. That's just the way it goes.

Going out alone

I used to be a huge Mr Bean and Rowan Atkinson fan. And when I heard he was coming to Sydney for the opening of his new film, the (first) Mr Bean movie, I thought to myself, "I HAVE TO BE THERE." I called up one of my good friends and asked if she wanted to go and she said, "No" so then I decided not to go, afterall, I couldn't possibly go all the way into the city alone. But that was another turning point for me and I remember it well because I really regretted it afterwards. From that point on I decided if I really want to do something and can't find anyone to do it with me or go with me, stuff them! I'll go anyway.

Adult Education classes

Let's take my learning French as an example. Most people would try to drag along a friend to the adult evening classes but not me. I often think that if you drag along a friend you're doing it all for the wrong reasons - ie you just think of it as 'fun' and don't really want to go to learn anything. I see it all the time. these are the people who never come back for the next term. But if you've actually been to any sort of adult evening class you'll find that the majority of people do go alone and noone gives a stuff! I guess I've always been sort of independent like that, even as a teenager.  If I want to do something that's important to me, I'll just do it. I don't need any hand holding (AKA peer support) from a friend.

Restaurants and Cinemas

So back in Sydney I went to restaurants, cafés and the cinema by myself very very often. It didn't even seem weird anymore. I had this one favourite Vietnamese restaurant of mine (that I still salivate over thinking about) that was close to where I lived, had great food, was cheap and the waitresses were super nice. I went there roughly once every two weeks. I remember I'd only just started learning French when I first started going there and would bring my ipod and listen to Michel Thomas and Pimsleur. It was sooooo nice and relaxing to have a nice, hot delicious meal and to do something good for my personal improvement too.

I love the movies but I didn't go to the cinema all that often because it's really expensive in Sydney.  But I try to go when I can here because the cinema in my town is really cheap and nice.

It's probably one of the best things you can do alone because it's all dark so noone can see you and noone cares! I guess for me there is a downside though. If I missed something they said, I have noone to ask, and then after the film I have noone to talk about it to.


It was only over Christmas when I was in Paris that I realised that museums are a GREAT thing to do by yourself! In fact it's probably better so you can fully absorb and appreciate the artwork.


Of course there's the old classic. Who needs friends when you have books? ;) Or magazines, or newspapers, or blogs, or anything... I've always loved reading. These days, I read on the internet because I don't have much money to buy extraneous stuff nor any space to store it.


I love love love my music! My ipod is practically glued to my ears. Can you believe I actually forgot to pack it to bring to France? So I had to go without for several weeks until my dad sent it to me in the mail. And then my earphones broke so I had to get new ones and it was hard living without it for so long... The French seem to love their music too as almost everyone I have come across has asked me what sort of music I like and then told me what sort they like, and asked me if I play any instruments etc etc. So it's a good conversation starter as well!

Have a Bath

I don't have a bathtub here and miss it like crazy. One of my favourite things to do in winter was to have a nice long hot bath where I'd almost fall asleep and start meditating because I was that relaxed. And when you live alone you have NO distractions. Noone nagging you about one chore or other or wanting to talk to you about their boring day at work, or having to hear the tv blaring in the background... It's pure bliss and a real treasure to have this quiet 'me' time.


When you have no responsibilities to anyone else and only yourself to answer to, you have all the time in the world to devote to your health and exercise. When I exercise I feel much happier and relaxed afterwards and it's so nice to go for a walk or a jog anywhere... To all those people who say they can't find the time.. if you don't have the time when you are single, you certainly won't find the time later when you have billions of chores to do and kids to look after!


I LOVE shopping alone and would choose to do it alone for the rest of my life. I feel anxious when I'm with others and never end up buying anything. I hate feeling rushed and I get impatient with others.

Learn a new skill, Start a new hobby

Now is the perfect time to do that thing you've always wanted to do but put off. For me it was learning another foreign language and to get involved in volunteer/charity work. I accomplished both those things successively in 2009 and 2010 and I felt a lot more fulfilled because of it. I actually wanted to do more but ran out of time. I also wanted to tutor kids after school in English who were refugees from their countries. I think that would have been incredibly rewarding but unfortunately I couldn't coordinate a time/place with the organisers as I lived quite far away from that area. I think most people (myself included I'll admit) spend so long thinking about ourselves that we don't take the time to think about others and how we can help them. I don't want to get to an old age and know that I made absolutely no contribution to the world. As soon as I move to a big city I can't wait to start finding out more about volunteer/charity work again. I cannot describe the amazing feeling you get when you give all your time and expect nothing in return. The thing is though, you receive a LOT in return. Those warm fuzzy feelings.

OK so if doing all those things isn't enough..

Make more friends!

By being alone/single it actually forces you to get out there and meet new people, create new networks and friendships and keep your current friendships strong. All of which are important skills I think. I'm constantly searching for ways to meet new people. Trust me it's hard when you live in a small town and where you can't go anywhere without a car (and you don't have one)...

Here are some websites I recommend:

Look for events in your town:
Couch Surfing
Meet Up
Meet In
On Va Sortir (France/French)

Find a language exchange partner. Learn a foreign language AND make a new friend!
My Happy Planet
Shared Talk
• Hello Hello
Lang 8

There are more sites but they are the only ones I've used. It takes a while to find someone with whom you can connect and communicate regularly with but just keep persisting... NB: These are not dating websites although some people seem to think they are!!

Another thing is, if you are invited to go somewhere, go! The more time you spend thinking about it the more the fear develops and then you decide to change your mind and not go. As Nike says: Just Do It. Something that carried over from my Sydney days... I go to pretty much anything I'm invited to because then you increase your prospects of meeting even more people and who knows where that can lead you? I think you have to be more open-minded and allow possibilities to happen. I met both my last exes (one here in France and one in Sydney) because one of my friends invited me to a party at her house. I can honestly say that I did not go because I wanted to meet somebody, but it kind of just happened that way because I was being myself and being happy I guess. Look at it this way. You could meet someone that helps you find a new job, or helps you find a great new apartment or just gives you great advice about a pressing problem, or anything. But you'll never know if you never go.

Even when I was younger I'd been invited to parties where I knew noone other than the host and trust me that is scary as hell but I still did it and met some very nice people because of it.

People usually applaud me when I tell them some of the 'scary' things I've done by putting myself out there... However I don't really think it's such a big deal. It's just that I never had to do that before because I was always one half of a couple. It's quite liberating to be my own person and to know that I'm the only one responsible for my own happiness.

Travelling as a single female

All those scaremongers will have you believe that it's impossible to travel as a single woman, or heck, a single anything but millions of people do it every year. Why the hell not?

Now before I start, I have to say that I grew up with extremely overprotective parents who instilled fear into my head till it got to the point where I was afraid of everything but over the last few years I had to turn it all around. I got sick of them telling me what I was supposed to think. I fully believe in the Law of Attraction in that the more you think about something, the more likely it is going to happen. When I'm out alone (particularly at night) I don't think "OMG I'm going to get mugged and killed!" It's simple really. Just don't think about. It doesn't mean you can't be cautious and wary but don't be so bloody scared about everything.

Now here's a true story for you. I have been mugged 3 times in my life.
The first time was in China. Someone tried to get into my backpack and take my camera out. Luckily I'm highly sensitive and felt it and stopped him and then he just ran away.
The second time was in Paris at an ATM some guy tried to steal my credit card.
The third time was in China again (different place) and someone tried to steal everything I had on me - my handbag with all my money, my video camera, and my normal camera. I wrestled hard for my camera (it was just an instinct) and luckily he only made away with my purse (I say 'lucky' because money is easily replaced but memories from photos/videos are not). I ended up with a bruised and bloody nose because of what happened and I was rather traumatised for a few days afterwards. It was honestly one of my most traumatic experiences ever.

Now I'm not telling you these stories to get sympathy but because I wanted to say that in each of those 3 times I was with someone else.
The first time I was walking alone with my mother, the second time I was with my then boyfriend who only left me for a split second, and the third time I was with both my sister and my then boyfriend who once again left me for a split second.

In each of those times I had some else with/near me and yet, when I travel alone nothing like that has ever happened to me.


Well I think it's obvious. It's because when I travel alone I know that I'm the only one responsible for my welfare so I'm much more alert and sensible than usual. I'm also a billion times more organised. I know noone is going to rescue me if anything happens to me. And what would I do if something happened anyway? Call my parents in Australia?! So I'm pretty vigilant but I'm not at all paranoid. I believe that if you keep thinking "OMG someone's going to mug me!!" then really you're not going to enjoy your trip much, are you? It's like those people who think, "(insert nationality here) are so rude" and then wonder why when they go to that country the people really are that rude. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I've had so many female friends and my sister question me when I say I did ____ alone. I've read that 'baddies' can smell fear, and they can only attack you if you are weak. I don't go out displaying 'fear' so I don't attract 'baddies'. Then again, I'm not stupid and would not purposely go into some dark dingy alley in a shady area late at night nor have I been to any stereotypically dangerous places but as a single woman I've travelled in cities in: Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, China, Malaysia and Singapore and never had any incidents. In fact I have FAR more incidents when I'm with somebody else!

One really good thing about travelling alone

No fights! How many stories have you heard of couples that broke up because they realised they couldn't get along after spending 24/7 together during their vacation. By travelling alone there are no compromises to be made. You do whatever the heck you want, when you want and how you want. And you can spend as much as you want. No negotiating or arguing. It's GRRRReeeat!

  1. Tell someone when/where you're going and when you'll be back (just in case).
  2. Try to stay as close to the centre of town as possible (you don't want to be stuck in the outer suburbs and have no way of getting back).
  3. Do not come back to your room/hotel too late. If I'm alone I usually try to get back at 8-9pm at the latest. I think it's still safe then because there are still a lot of people out. I also turn my back every few minutes to make sure noone is following me. And if I'm in a really dark place at night I never take out my map or camera and I never use my ipod so I can be more aware of my surroundings.
  4. Do not stand in the middle of a busy road with your map opened out. What I do is to fold the map so only the most important part is visible, or I simply take a photo of it and look at it through my camera.
  5. Do try to dress like the locals. Many tourists tend to stick out like sore thumbs because of the way they dress.
  6. Avoid eye contact with strangers.
  7. Don't talk to strangers (unless they seem decent of course)
  8. Always have your mobile phone with you (and remember to fully charge it up beforehand!)

Disclaimer: I will say though, perhaps it's 'easy' for me because I think I'm a reasonably experienced traveller. I can find my way around places and navigate public transport, understand/speak several languages and here in France it's really pretty safe so I don't have a problem. I wouldn't recommend travelling alone if you've never travelled overseas before as that is daunting enough in itself.

Here are some links for finding a travel partner:
• Trav Buddy
Mango Tree
Lonely Planet Thorntree Travel Companions
Help X
Travel Chums
Boots 'n' all Travel Buddies

This whole post was spurred on because I was talking to one of my language exchange partners on Skype (where both of us talked about doing things alone and it's always other people who have a problem with this) and he said: Mais si les gens ont toujours besoin d'être accompagnés, c'est qu'il y a un problème aussi (If people always need to be accompanied, it's also a problem). I have to agree as I know many many people who can't seem to do anything alone (and going to the shopping mall for 2 hours doesn't really count. I'm talking about spending an extended period of time alone or travelling alone). And for me, knowing how to be alone is an important life skill to have. If you can't stand yourself, who else will? Voilà ! Ma vie.

United Diagrams of Europe

What is the difference between the European Union (EU) (l'Union Européene/UE in French), Schengen and Eurozone and all those other European groups? Check out this helpful diagram!

Schengen Area: Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Monaco.

The rest in the European Union are: Bulgaria, Romania, UK, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden.

The 17 countries in the Eurozone are: Cyprus, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Malta, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain.

And the 15 countries belonging to all 3 zones are: Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Malta, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain.

Strangemaps link

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