Saturday, November 24, 2012

The boulangerie

   Right after we moved into our apartment, a new bakery opened up down the street.  They opened up in August, right as everything else closed for vacation, and they were initially open every day of the week, the better to serve the neighborhood.  They were great, offering reduced-price baguettes, free samples of things we weren't buying, throwing in extras of things we did buy, and offering tastes of items that my kids were curious about.  They also were extremely solicitous of our family (and, I assume, everyone else), apologizing if we had to wait for the bread to come out of the oven or if there was a line of customers.  I explained to my kids that this was fairly unusual as a method of doing business in France, but that people tend to be loyal to their local merchants, as they have a personal relationship with them, so if one decides to open up a new bakery, the best way to get people to change their loyalty to you would be to offer them a better alternative, especially during vacation when nothing else is open.  (Also, their bread is delicious, as are their cakes and cookies.) 
     It has become "our" boulangerie not only because it's close and they are friendly but because their bread is excellent.
    I had mostly forgotten this conversation until this past week.  I've been occasionally giving my two oldest daughters a little bit of change so that they can grab a sucker or small treat after school gets out.  On Friday, I knew I'd be home late, and I suggested to my daughter that she and her sister grab a baguette after they get off the bus, so that they would have some bread in case I was later than planned.  I added that, if they didn't want to make two stops, they could just buy a baguette at the bakery that's right by school, the one where they buy their small treats.  She said, "No, I would really rather go to OUR bakery."  She thought just a second and said, "Hey, that's like what you said about having a special relationship with your baker.  We do now!  I'd rather go two places than buy bread from someone who isn't MY baker.  That's kind of cool."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reading and Intellectual Engagement

     In the United States, when someone asks me what I study, and I say "eighteenth and nineteenth century French history," I usually expect a disinterested response.  Sometimes, people are puzzled ("Why?"), equally often, they are actively dismissive ("Yuck.").   Here, people are far more interested.  One might think that it's the difference between working on French and American history, but for the fact that, in the United States, the aforementioned "Yuck" often includes a phrase like "I hate history," with no qualifier for the type of history being studied.
   I was reminded of this difference by a conversation with a neighbor yesterday.  She is an older woman, who has raised all of her children and is now widowed and lives alone, though her daughter and grandchildren live in Lyon.  We run into each other from time to time, especially waiting for the bus, and she always makes an effort to have a conversation with me.  Yesterday, our conversation centered on my research interests (which include motherhood and parenting) as well as her perceptions of local contemporary breastfeeding practices and we had quite a nice conversation about her interest in the topic.  She told me about some books she has read about the history of motherhood and parenting, and she really wanted to remember the author of one of the books because she was certain that I would find it of interest.  Right before my stop, she remembered the author that she was trying to recall -- and it was Elisabeth Badinter, a woman whose work is both academic and political, very engaged with the currents of the conversation that we were having.
    This type of conversation, with someone who is interested, well-read, and engaged, seems to me to be more likely in France than in the United States.  Here, I see people on their way to work reading difficult sociological texts and novels -- not 50 Shades of Grey but real, serious novels -- in the hands of a significant number of people on the train or bus.  Intellectual inquiry is taken seriously in a mainstream way that it isn't in the United States.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Being tourists v. living there

We've been taking advantage of the Toussaint holiday to explore more of Lyon, including the Parc Tete d'Or and various museums and churches.  We even took advantage of some of the recent beautiful weather to ride one of the open-top Lyon tour buses around and see Lyon from a different -- more touristy -- angle.  My oldest daughter remarked that we were being stared at like we were tourists, but "we aren't!  We live here!  At least for a little while!"  When I said that we were certainly playing tourist, she insisted that wasn't true, since we weren't just "touring" Lyon, or France, for that matter.   For her, it seemed important to recognized that she has learned more about France and experienced more of Lyon than a typical tourist.  I'm sure some of that is just pride, but I think it also recognizes that she's making France her own, that she wants to be a part of Lyon and not "just" a tourist in this city and country.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Vacation time

   We've struck up a bit of a friendship with an older French woman who lives in our apartment complex.  She frequently ends up waiting for/on the bus at the same time that we do, and we have talked a bit about Lyon and France.  She says that Lyon is, in her opinion, more closed and that it's harder to meet people than in many other cities.  She has lived here for years but didn't want to move here initially, when her husband got a job here.
    Today, I took the kids -- who are on All Saints break, which is two weeks long -- to the Beaux Arts museum in Lyon.  On the way home, our neighbor boarded the bus and sat nearby, chatting.  I mentioned that we were taking advantage of our vacation time to explore more of Lyon and she smiled knowingly and said, "Oh, yes, there are certainly a lot of vacations in France, aren't there?"  I said, "Well, it seems like there are more than in the United States..."  She said, "Oh, everyone knows that Americans work very very hard.  And French people do like their vacations.  That is well-known, too!"

Thursday, November 1, 2012

French Theme Songs

My kids have been watching the Disney Channel on cable in our apartment.  I make them watch it in French, and they pointed out an odd phenomenon.  When there is an American show, with a title sequence that has a song, it's invariably higher-pitched in French than in English, even if it's the exact same song.  So, for example, Selena Gomez (really popular here in France, at least according to my daughters and their friends) sings the theme song to Shake It Up!  In the US, it sounds like this:
but when listening to it in France it sounds like this:
The same is true for Good Luck Charlie, Jessie, and others:  all modified to be at a higher pitch.  I welcome thoughts on why that might be!  (I am especially curious since Selena Gomez is popular; I wouldn't think they would change her voice that much more here than in the U.S.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween, such an American holiday

     The kids have been disappointed to not get to dress up and trick or treat while they are here, and they asked if there was any way that we could carve a pumpkin.  I told them that we would look for one but that since pumpkins were grown for eating here, not for carving, we might not be able to find an appropriate one (either in size or price).  We've been seeing them here and there, but mostly they've been out of our price range or discolored and small.  Today, we went to the market with a mission:  search out a pumpkin!
     After not too much searching, Kate spotted a fruitière who had a few whole pumpkins available.  The price was not too crazy, so we walked over and, after asking if they could touch the produce, I let the kids decide which of the five had the best carving face.
      The fruitière tried to point us to a small, squat, pumpkin that she declared perfect for Halloween. Clearly she has never carved a pumpkin. No, no. We need that big one. Yes. That one.  She weighed it and said "It's ten kilos..." clearly expecting that I would balk at the price and decide that her attempt to assist me by pointing us to the small pumpkin was far better judgment.  Of course, it may have been, but I nodded acceptance and pulled out my wallet.  (Compared to bags of candy and costumes, one large pumpkin isn't that big of an investment.)
     She gave it to us after making quite a show of how heavy it was and how it was difficult to pass over.  I suspect that was less about the weight of the pumpkin than the fact that she knows that we are going to cut a face in it, throw a candle in, light it up, and then throw this perfectly good pumpkin away.  Of course we are going to do that!  I expect we will have a good time doing it, even if we have to use an electric knife -- or maybe especially if we have to use an electric knife.  However, the fruitière's suspicion of our motives made me realize that Americans do indeed waste a great deal compared to other people, in contexts that I never even think about it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Aren't they cold?

Got three comments today at the marché how cold my children must be (they were all wearing tshirts and jeans or leggings; it was about 60 degrees).  When I said that they had refused the jackets that I was carrying in the market bag, so I suspected they were not cold, I got warned that they were going to get sick.  (Isn't that an old wives' tale?)  When I said that I hoped not, they shook their heads reprovingly and you could tell they were kind of saddened by the combo of my stupidity and poor parenting.