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.

Profiting from time abroad

     A few weeks ago, in music class, my son was chastised in front of the class for not having memorized the answers to a quiz.  When he indicated that his French wasn't yet strong enough to have completed the assignment, the teacher asked him how long he'd been in France.  He said two months (though he'd only been in school for about a month at that point) and the teacher said, "You must profit from your time!  Profit James, profit!"  Apparently, the exchange has continued, with the music teacher calling him up first last week and telling him that he's not really benefitting from this opportunity, because he hasn't learned enough French.
      This demonstrates that James and the teacher have rather different understandings of what it means to profit from time abroad as well as what James' "job" is here.  Overall, all the kids' teachers have been pretty understanding of the fact that they came knowing no French and that they're trying but that they don't yet know much.  However, I expect that it's hard for many of the teachers to see them making reasonably little progress in French, as it seems like they must not be learning anything about France.  Of course, that's not true.  They are picking up lots of French -- though nothing systematic -- and they are learning a great deal about social expectations, cuisine (school lunches are an entirely different animal here!), and playground games (marbles!), just to mention a few things.  They will not go back to the United States the same as when they left, whether they can carry on a conversation in French or not.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fresh -- and local -- food

   In the United States, I've made small attempts to increase our family's local eating, but they've always fizzled out.  The CSAs, for example, were mostly small and expensive (especially for a family of 6), and the one that was easy to access and not too expensive didn't seem to really have much local produce...and everything spoiled really quickly, too.
   In France, on the other hand, it's easy to eat locally grown food, especially living in the Rhône, where there are so many types of food raised or grown within driving distance.  At our local market, held every day except Monday, we buy goat cheese from the man who makes it, honey from the beekeeper herself, and apples from the people who own the orchards.  The cheese is delicious and we can tell the seller exactly how dry or moist we'd like the cheese to be.  The apples don't always look as nice as apples in the grocery store at home.  They have lines and scars and a few bruises here and there, but they taste delicious.  As one of my kids said, "It tastes like I just picked it off a tree!" Of course, some things are starting to go out of season and be unavailable (peaches, for example), while new things are arriving (pumpkins, which my kids are sure we should buy and carve).  We won't be able to buy any kind of fruit or vegetable that we want whenever we want it.
   However, when thinking about the available foods at the market and comparing their taste and quality to the same foods at the grocery stores in the US, I'm reminded of how much we've sacrificed in terms of taste in order to achieve convenience (one-stop shopping, year-round grapes, etc).


Friday, October 12, 2012

French School System

     I had big plans for this week:  meetings with scholars and plans for work at ENS-Lyon.
     So on Monday, I showed up at the Ecole des Entrepots, all excited for Lucy to have a full day of school -- and for me to have a full day of work. Turns out one of the teachers was out sick, so they were asking parents to keep their kids home in the afternoon. You could say no, but then they would parcel your kid out to another class so they could reach a better ratio. I don't think that's a recipe for success, given what a hard time she's having with the idea of full days. So she stayed for lunch and I picked her up at 1:30.  Since her teacher was going to be out sick for the entire week, it meant that I had to pick her up at 11:30 every other day.
    Then, on Thursday, I went to pick Lucy up and found Kate in Lucy's classroom. My first thought was "Oh no, lice!" But no, Kate's teacher was sick, so they parceled the kids out to all the classes...and sent Kate to preschool, where she was helping the four year olds with crafts and gymnastics.  Since I was already bringing Lucy home, I brought Kate home, too.  Then, about an hour later, I got a call from the principal, telling me that Molly's teacher was going to be sick tomorrow as well, so I am keeping all the girls. I really think I am not supposed to get any work doon Friday (along with Kate's and Lucy's).  So I just kept them all home.  
     This makes me wonder a few things.  I wonder if "sick" is code for "strike."  I suspect it's not, or they would have said, but perhaps they have a reason.  More importantly, I wonder what this says about childcare and the French public school system.  I saw many grandparents arriving to pick up the kids in Kate and Lucy's classes.  What do single parents or people without flexible jobs or without family backup do?  Often in the U.S., people point to Europe --and notably, France -- as a country that has solved the problem of childcare and working, but this experience doesn't seem to demonstrate to me the truth of that statement.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cold (or lukewarm) calls

     I would never make it as a telemarketer.  I am not fond of the telephone and particularly dislike talking to people I don't know.  Even when the format is clear (for example, a cocktail party or an awards reception), I find it stressful.
    In that context, being a historian has a lot to recommend it:  you go to the archives or library and sit with books, articles, and ideas all day.  You don't really have to talk to many people (except perhaps a librarian or archivist, especially if you need special permission or an unusual document) and the people you're researching are long past talking back.
    The Fulbright meetings, however, reminded me that I'm really not just here to spend time at the Bibliothèque Part Dieu (as awesome as their collection is for me) or other archives (ditto).  I'm also here to make connections.  I have done some of that, but I heard the encouragement to do more and I know that it's a good thing to get in touch with more people (or to email the people that I contacted once but never really connected with because my arrival coincided with summer's slow-down).
    I think that's probably important in any location and field of study, but it's especially true in France, where personal connections can make the difference between access to an archive or no access at all.
    So today, I had a meeting with a friend of a friend.  I don't really need anything from him, but I had been given his name and there is potential overlap in our interests.  We sat and chatted for about an hour, so now he knows who I am, if I need to contact him.
   What this reminded me is that A) my French is improving and B) I am really glad that I don't have to talk to my sources on a regular basis!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It always sounds better in French...


French Minister of Foreign Affairs Receives Fulbright Laureats

Fulbright Orientation

   I just spent three days in Paris with the other boursiers Fulbrights, ranging from English-language teaching assistants to research scholars working on advanced projects.  A good majority of them were in Paris or its surrounding area, though if I remember correctly, not a single research scholar is working in Paris right now (Lille, Bordeaux, Montpellier, etc.).
    It was a really invigorating and enjoyable time.  On the enjoyable side, we had a trip to Chantilly (and got to see the opening of the Delacroix/Orientalism exhibit, as well as a truly fantastic symphonic perfomance) and some great chances to connect with scholars that I would never otherwise meet.  This year's research scholars are biologists, with a political scientist and a behaviorial psychologist; I was the only humanist among them.  We had conversations about such diverse things as genetically-modified food, organic farming, and the problems of enrolling kids in French schools.   I was also able to speak with some of the doctoral Fulbrights about their work (many more of them are humanists) and their career plans, and I think I had some good advice and connections to offer.
   I left feeling both encouraged (I've gotten some work done and have had what appears to actually be an easy time negotiating school enrollment, etc,) and challenged to get the rest of my work done (make those contacts!  keep up that research!).  I now have a "to-do" list that has gotten a bit longer than before, and I'm very conscious of the fact that I have just over two months remaining.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

French Academia, Gender, and Religion

   I'm a cultural historian of France.  The questions that interest me have traditionally been ones about gender and family life, which is reflected in my training and in my research.  I had somehow internalized the idea that "gender as a useful category of analysis" (a phrase popularized by historian Joan Scott before I even thought of graduate study) was common in France as well as the United States.  Certainly, at conferences, I encounter French colleagues who study women's history and questions of gender.  It's rarely been suggested to me -- and never, in my memory, by a colleague in French history -- that studying gender is illegitimate or worthless, though I do sometimes see it as less mainstream than other types of history.
   Imagine my surprise, then, when a colleague in France told me that she believed that gender was generally not a well-accepted field of study here; that it was marginal and a field in which it would be difficult to find a job.  She said there was less research support, fewer institutes, and that it was more politically-charged than in the U.S. (She paired this with an observation that the history of religion is a "dusty" field, one that is seen as old-fashioned or boring.  Apparently, a history of religious women is both old-fashioned *and* marginal!)
   My first reaction was that this is, quite frankly, not the case in the United States.  I'm sure most women's historians have stories about the colleagues who don't take them seriously or who denigrate their research concerns, but the fact is, a research emphasis on women, gender, or sexuality is not going to be a death knell for a job application.  I've had supportive colleagues who are interested in my work, and there are plenty of institutes devoted to research on related issues.
   And then my second reaction was to remember that the Woodrow Wilson Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship in Women's Studies has been suspended for this year.  I hope that isn't indicative of a trend in the wrong direction!

Friday, September 14, 2012

What the Fulbright is actually for

     Even though my youngest is having "adjustment issues," I've finally got all the kids in school and I'm back to real history work.  This week, I've gotten some great work done on my literature chapter and had a wonderful and productive coffee with a colleague who works on young girls and religious life in nineteenth-century France.  She's offered to facilitate some introductions for me, as well, should I need them.  It feels good to be moving forward in more than a linguistic way! 
     Of course, linguistic progress continues, too.  In addition to conversations with the electrician and the plumber, I had a nice chat with the telephone shop girl, who discussed linguistic pedagogy with me.  (She confirmed that I have an accent but complimented my command of French.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The machines are conspiring against us

   I thought I might learn a new set of vocabulary on this trip.  Having my kids with me, I figured I might need to learn phrases like "cough syrup" or "gummy bears" or even "I'm so sorry for the loud noises; my kids are used to living in a house.  I will try to teach them better.  They aren't actually animals."
  I didn't foresee sentences like "The dishwasher won't drain," and "The electricity seems to be out in the entire apartment; I think a fuse blew, but I'm not sure where."
  So today, I'm waiting for the electrician.  (The dishwasher was last week and is now fixed.)  The washing-machine is tripping a breaker, so it's off...but that means that the refrigerator and the dishwasher are off, too.  (Dishwasher being of substantially less importance than the refrigerator and the washing machine!)
   But I learned that you might say that someone who gets really angry "blows a fuse" in French, too.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Americans in a French school

My oldest three kids have found the transition to French school to be far easier and way less terrifying than they had expected.  There are people around who are willing to help them, and it doesn't hurt that a good amount of their homework is comprised of things that they are unable to complete, because they don't know enough French yet.  Perhaps most of all, it's been a lot of fun for all of them.  In France, they are cool and interesting, just because they are American. Or maybe not just because, but it certainly gives them some extra caché. James is already able to parse a great deal of written French and Kate and Molly feel like they're picking up enough to get by (for example, learning how to say whatever word is not "poisson" on the lunch menu!).   Unfortunately, the youngest isn't finding her transition to be nearly as easy.  But I've promised her a puppy when we get home, if she can manage to stay in school full days and learn French.  (Let's hope shameless bribery succeeds, because I have a lot of work to do!)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

French school supplies (or Vive la rentrée!)

    We caught the bus to Auchan (kind of like Wal-Mart for Europe) yesterday in order to buy school supplies for the kids.  Lucy doesn't need much (slippers, a blanket, and a pillow for naptime, for example), but the other kids had very long lists.  Apparently, this is something new.  Public school used to be entirely free, with almost everything but the bookbag provided by the school.  Thie lists, however, included everything from a fountain pen (with refill cartridges) to special drawing paper, and many interesting office supplies in between.
     Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for office supplies, so I was pretty intrigued by the lists and thought I would know many of the things.  Some were obvious (compas/compass, for example!) and others familiar (a box of tissues for the classroom to share).  However, despite lots of previous purchases at papeteries in France, as well as a fair amount of time spent on Google Translate and with my dictionary, a number of items left me completely stumped.
   Polly Platt, in French or Foe, offers a useful phrase, which basically translates as "Excuse me for bothering you, sir (or madam), but I have a problem...."  She then suggests making a colorful story out of one's particular need, hoping to engage the interest and sympathy of the person to whom you are making an appeal.  So far, it's worked every time I've needed to use it, and ultimately, I decided that the simplest way of figuring out what everything was would be to take Polly's idea to Auchan with me and, once there, to stop a friendly-looking mom in the aisle and ask her to take pity on me.
    I debated between a few women, but one looked too harassed by her own list and another looked irritated by my children.  I eventually decided on a mom who was speaking kindly to her son and grabbing workbooks to add to a pile, figuring she had her own list and her own children and didn't seem too irritated already.  She smiled at my pleas of total American incomptence in the face of French school supplies, and did indeed take pity on me. As it turned out, she spoke a decent amount of English -- but had no idea what the English words for most of the items were, though she could point me to what they looked like -- and tell me that the list was excessive for public school, but that there was nothing to do about it except suffer through it.  It turns out that many items are things that I've never seen in an American classroom, which might help explain why I didn't have any idea.  (For example, a plastic notebook cover and a fountain pen eraser/rewriter.)  She also had a boy Kate's age, and we sent Kate and the boy off together to look for the supplies that they both needed, and we did our best to get the other things on our lists.  We debated the best compass to buy (cheap? mid-range? expensive?) and discussed whether or not her daughter (almost 3) was too young to be away from mom for preschool two mornings a week (her mom's verdict:  probably).   
    When I got to the checkout and the checker told me the total (nearly 200 euros), I made a long face and she laughed and said, "Vive la rentrée!"  Yes, indeed.
    But I do now know a lot of words for school supplies and have a pink fountain pen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ecole des Entrepots

  The girls and I went to their school today.  The director is a lovely woman who was very helpful, and it turns out that there is another American family in the school, who have been in France for two years.  (The mom is French, but the dad is American and the kids didn't speak French when they arrived in France.) Quite happily, Kate and Molly have one of each of their kids in class with them, which should be quite helpful.  We also met another dad and his sons; the dad is Russian and the child doesn't speak much French at all.  (The dad speaks almost none; I ended up doing quite a bit of translating between the director and the dad, as she gave us a tour of the school together.)
  Molly is very excited for school to start, as they have badminton, fencing, and ping-pong as sports.  Kate is less excited, but she picked up a number of sentences that I said, so she's clearly already learning some French.  Lucy was quite overwhelmed by the end.  The communal bathrooms were the last straw.  After she saw how public and open the toilets were (they just have small, low dividers between them), she started crying.  It may be a bit of a struggle to get her to go, though she is excited about the play structure in the courtyard.

Monday, August 27, 2012

School Enrollment

   When I preregistered the girls for school, I was told that I had to meet with the director (principal) of the school in order for enrollment to be complete and that I had to call James' school in order to set up a meeting with them.  I quickly figured out that no one would be available until the week before classes, which meant that today (August 27) was the first day that anyone would be in the office and available to set up a meeting or talk about school enrollment. 
   I made some notes for myself and got out the girls' forms, then I called James' school to talk to them.  I got transferred right away to the director, who told me that it is the correct school for the location where we live, but they can't take him, because they don't have any assistance for French as a foreign language.  She took my number and said she'd call me back.
   I called the girls' school before I could get too nervous about the possibilities, but I got an answering machine.  Rather than stutter a message, I hung up.  About forty minutes later, the phone rang, and the director of the school said, "You called?"  Um yeah, when I had all my notes in front of me and was mentally prepared to talk to you....
   She was very nice, despite my stumbling though the explanation of what I needed.  They also have no extra resources for the girls, and she offered to see if they could transfer to a school with some support.  As she and I talked about it, though, we decided to leave all the girls in the same school, figuring they'd catch on.  (The extra support is mostly grammar-oriented and is only once a week; I don't think it really matters, given that the kids will only be in France for 4 months.)   I'm going tomorrow to finish enrolling the girls.  They'll come with me to see the school, too.
    James, however, still doesn't have a school....

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The universal language of insecurity

     When I was talking to some fellow travelers on the train from Lyon to Toulouse, one of the French women in the seat next to me observed that "The French are well-known for not having good language skills."  I kind of goggled at her and told her that was not my impression at all, and that I had the impression that France was not at all known for a lack of language facility, especially when compared to the United States.  Another woman chimed in and said that she agreed with the first woman and that though students study language, their study tends to be formal and written, so that many French people are not facile speakers and are uncomfortable about speaking foreign languages.
     I have had a couple of other conversations like that since then, with French speakers expressing their discomfort with their English language skills -- when in fact, most of the time, I hope I sound as fluent as they do! 
     Today, I hurried out to the courtyard in order to run into the woman who lives in the apartment above ours as she was walking her dog.  My kids have been playing in the garden and, from time to time, making enough noise that her dog (a smallish dog, maybe a Yorkie) yaps loudly at them.  I wanted to catch her in time to introduce myself, apologize for the noise, and make it clear that I'm trying to get the kids to keep it down.  Also, I planned to mention that the kids don't speak French, so if they're in the garden, they can't really understand anything that is said to them.  (Just in case she decided to tell them to keep it down and thought they were ignoring her or something...)    She was not only exceptionally kind about all of it -- mostly a "kids will be kids, and sometimes dogs will yap" response -- but she wanted to warn me about a couple of places in the garden that she thought were a bit dangerous (and why).  As we spoke, I made my usual apology for not always having access to the right words, etc., and she smiled kindly and said, "I would be happy to speak English as well as you speak French!"  We haven't spoken English yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that in fact, she does speak English as well as I speak French.  It's nice to know that I'm not alone in my insecurity, though!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Récépissé de demande de carte de séjour

     Now that it's after August 15, I am in possession of all the proper documents to apply for my residency permit, so I went to the Prefecture this morning. 
     When I got in line (the right line!) at 7:45 am, there were already about 35 people ahead of me.  (The line begins to be admitted to the building at 9:00 am.)    When we were admitted, I was given a ticket with the number of S700, which meant that I was the very first person in line for a residency permit attached to a scientific visa/research visa. (Ie, none of the 35 persons in front of me would be dealt with by the same administrator as the one I needed.)
     Despite that, my number was not called until 9:35 am and when I went to the proper window, the same man who had been giving out tickets was the one processing my application.  In other words, he had been giving out tickets for the past half hour, so there was no way that I would have been called any sooner than 9:30 -- though if I had arrived later than I did, I could have been waiting substantially longer than I did.
     The process took about 25 minutes.  He first asked if my dossier was complete in a very serious and almost cranky tone of voice, making me quite glad that he was not the person I encountered the first time I went to the Prefecture!  I told him that I believed it to be and mentioned that the last time I was there, I was told that the only thing I needed was a translation of my marriage license, which I kind of waved at him.
     He asked for my passport, which I gave him.  He told me that he'd never heard of Bozeman, Montana and it must be a very small town.  I told him that there aren't any big towns in Montana.  He said, "Yes, just a lot of open space."  I said, "But it is beautiful country..."  He said, "If you like open space and you don't like big cities."  Fair enough, but probably not as friendly as the last bureaucrat.
    He looked at the copies, then asked if I had the originals.  I said I did and started to pass the packet of them over.  He gave a wave as if to say, "Whatever.  I don't need them.  I just need to know that you have them."  He then confirmed that I'd been married in Saint Louis (not Las Vegas, he said, offering me a glimpse of a sense of humor...) and confirmed that I have four (yes, four) children.
    It took him awhile to fill out all the forms -- and pass them over to me to sign, but by the end, he had warmed up substantially.  When he was careful to note that my first two signatures had to remain within the limits of the box, I asked if there were any requirements about where I ought to put the final signature.  He smiled and dryly said "No.  Feel free to express yourself."
     By 10:00 am, I was in possession of a paper certifying that I have applied for my residency permit.  And no one ever even glanced at the very expensive translation of my marriage licence, which took me hours to arrange.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Are you German?

At least three times in the past month, when I've told someone that my French is imperfect and asked someone to speak more slowly so that I could catch all of what they said, I've had them stop and look at me and say, "Are you German?"  When I say, "No, I'm American," they seem surprised.  I am sure that some of it is that there are more tourists in Lyon from Germany than from the United States, but some of it may also be that they don't expect Americans to speak French.  In either case, it may indicate that my accent is not as terrible as I thought (or differently terrible).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Waiting at the bank

     Today I made a second trip to a local branch of HSBC.  I've been there once before to sign the papers to open my account, but this time, I needed to pick up my debit card and give them a signed paper that would authorize the deduction of my rent payments from my account.
      The bus stop is nearly directly in front of the bank and when it dropped me off, my watch read 2 pm, but I could see that three employees were waiting in front of the bank and at least one was smoking a cigarette.  Since the bank is supposed to re-open at 2 pm, I figured that my watch might be fast.  Rather than stand and look as if I was trying to speed them up, I took a few minutes and went into a nearby supermarket and bought some small things that I needed.
      I took my time, but when I got done, my watch read 2:15 and the employees were still outside.  I mentally shrugged and went across the street.  When I got there, they apologized profusely and said that there was something wrong with the electronic opener on the door, so we were all locked out.  They said it might be an hour and did I have any shopping to do instead?
      Since buying a pencil sharpener and a birthday candle for Molly had already been more than I was planning on doing, and I didn't have a grocery sack with me, I didn't really want to go do any shopping, so I told them that it was fine and I was willing to wait. 
     This bothered them, so the supervisor got on the phone and called whomever was supposed to be bringing the physical key over, to ask how long it would be.  Eventually, they agreed on 15 minutes.  While that 15 minutes passed, I chatted a bit with the employees -- who were very kind -- and they checked my paperwork and discussed whether or not they thought that my debit card was in fact available in the branch.  (It was.)   They kept peppering the conversation with apologies for how long it was taking, especially as, at the 15 minute mark, the man bringing the key called and said it would be ten more minutes.
     I observed that even if my debit card turned out to not be in the branch, I'd waited at the mairie for much longer than 30 minutes for what ultimately turned out to be a fruitless search.  That didn't seem to make them feel any better.  They told me that this is the first time it's happened with the door in 13 years (which would seem to demonstrate that they shouldn't feel bad at all about it!), that he would be there soon, that they were very sorry.
    All in all, I was surprised that they were so concerned about my half hour wait; it's not the kind of attitude I would have expected.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Good Mother and Rhubarb Jam

Finally actually bought some rhubarb jam.  Let me say that a good mother might buy rhubarb jam -- or if she doesn't, it is because it tastes like rhubarb pie and it's too much of a treat!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is it a gift?

Another of today's errands was to buy a birthday present for one of my nieces.  Right by the mobile phone store, I knew there was a shop with funky clothes and jewelry, and I was pretty sure that I could find something that would appeal to her taste.  Not only did I find some things I think she'll like, but I got to answer in the affirmative to the question: "Is is a gift?"

You see, even when it's not a gift, even when it's just something for me, I'm always tempted to say that it is a gift.  Why?  Because one of my favorite things about French shops is the way that they wrap gifts.  They take paper and cellophane and maybe a little bit of string and a staple or two.  They twist it and fold it and: voilà!  A perfectly lovely cadeau.

You'll have to take my word for it, but inside this sack is another sack and a small package, each with their own ribbon and decoration, each one folded just so.

And since almost every American is probably wondering:  no, they don't charge extra for that.  It's just part of the service when you buy from a neighborhood store.

Business, Lyon-style

In Lyon, stores tend to be closed Sunday and Monday.  That means that Tuesday marks the first day of business after a couple of days off -- and more businesses take days off here than in the United States, especially during school holidays.  So, come Tuesday, the market at Croix Rousse is extra busy (and has extra vendors), stores have longer lines, and everyone has more business to conduct.   Like everyone else, I'd saved up a number of errands for today. 

My first stop was the mobile phone store.  There was one guy working the store when I arrived, and there were already three people in line.  Rather than get impatient, I just made a good mental note of who seemed to be last -- and who was already there, so I knew my place in line -- and settled in for a wait.  Soon after I walked in, another woman came in.  Then soon after, another man, and another woman.  The man serving customers had made it through one person, so the queue was getting quite long.  Eventually, he walked to the back of the store and called for some additional support -- but not with any real urgency.  By then, I was the next person due to be helped.  When the woman came out and asked me what I needed and I told her (a mobile phone with minutes, as I'm getting an extra one to have on hand for when my husband/kids arrive), she shrugged and looked at the line of people and said, "Does anyone in line have anything quick?"  She then gave a few examples of "quick" business (things that didn't involve starting a new line!), but no one took her up on it.  Once she was satisfied that it was actually my turn, she gave me her full attention.

At that point, I'd probably already been waiting about 20 minutes.  If someone had stepped forward, it wouldn't have been a problem for me, but I can imagine how frustated someone in the US might be if, at the open of business, a line of 8 people was piling up and the store didn't have enough service people on hand to deal with them quickly or skipped across the line of people!

Friday, July 27, 2012

More on Lyon

What with all my posts about bureaucracy, one could almost forget that I'm spending the rest of the year in an incredible city, a city that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  And of course, there is bureaucracy, but there is a human face to all of this and people have been generous and kind. 

That goes for the bureaucrats, too!  Yesterday at the Mairie, the woman helping me was very apologetic about not being able to do what I needed her to do, and that was after the woman at the desk complimented my French pronunciation.  (I have an obvious American accent when I speak.  If someone compliments my pronunciation, she is likely being kind!)

Later in the day, I went with friends to the Resistance/Holocaust memorial of the prison of Montluc.  It was overwhelming, and as I was standing, thinking about the victims deported to Drancy -- and then sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I must have had a funny look on my face.  One of the museum guides stopped and made sure that I was doing okay.

Yes, there have been documents to collect, calls to make, trips to the prefecture and the mairie and long waits in line, but throughout it all, I have been treated kindly.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Carte Cigogne

    Inspired by my success at the mairie, I decided to go to one of the transport centers in order to get my public transportation pass.  You wouldn't think that would be all that difficult (pay them some money, get a pass) except that to get a pass, you have to prove that you are a resident.  (I have those forms!)  Also, as long as I'm proving that I'm a resident in order to get a pass, I figured that I might as well take advantage of the "Carte Cigogne," which is the reduced-rate pass that they have for families with three or more children.  (It's a savings of almost one-third the total monthly rate.)  Of course, to get that card, I have to provide documentation (birth certificates, etc.)  (I have those forms, too!)
   It was surprisingly easy, so much so that I ended up getting all of the kids their transportation passes, too.  (School passes, requiring proof of age, etc., so the same forms that I needed for mine, plus a photo for each kid.)
    Oh, and the name "Carte Cigogne"?  It means "Stork Card." 
    At least it doesn't look any different from any other card....

Children: Half-Registered

Or half pre-registered, so is that a quarter registered?  I went to the Mairie for the 4th Arrondisement this morning and registered my children for school.  Except they only accept registrations for maternelle and elementaire (primary/grade school) and not collège (middle school), and I still have to contact the elementary school to speak with the director in order for the youngest two to be fully enrolled.  The older two kids have a separate registration process, so I have a number to call in order to find out which school is the proper one to contact.  (Yes:  a call in order to be able to make a call.)  But I still consider it a success!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

First trip to the Prefecture

Verdict  not totally unpleasant.  It was also unsuccessful in the sense that I didn't get the titre de séjour or residency permit filed.  On the other hand, I didn't expect to get it filed, and I got closer than I thought, so it was definitely a positive experience in that sense. 

Got there around 8 am (they open at 9 am for my type of document.)  Found and stood in the right line, got told it was the wrong line ("No. No. Carte de séjour over there.")  Moved to the "right" line.  Got to the front, got told to go back to the old line ("No.  Visa Scientifique over there.").  Line was now much much longer.  Woman behind me eventually verified that I was indeed likely in the right line.

When the line began to move, an obnoxious student pushed in front of me.  Got my number (6 people in line ahead of my for my visa type), and sat down.  Waited.  And waited.  Consoled myself with the fact that only 2 women appeared to be servicing the same kind of visa/titre de séjour that I needed and if they were taking their time with other people, they must be reasonable people who weren't looking for excuses to send us all away.  Eventually got my turn and a quite nice woman looked at my documents.  My marriage license needs to be translated (too long and complicated) and I can't come back until the first date on my rental agreement (makes good sense, plus I don't even know if I'll have the translation by then!).  She looked at all my documents and put them in order for me and got me a list of translators (the link on the Prefecture's site is broken, which is really the most important reason I was there today).  Very helpful.  And now I know which line to start on -- and stay -- in when I return.

There is a moment in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan where Peter Pan does something of which he is unreasonably proud -- I don't remember what the minimal accomplishment is -- and he crows.  I felt like that when I left the Prefecture.  I found the right place, I stuck with it even knowing it wouldn't be successful, I got a list of translators, and I found the right bus to make it to the Mairie to register my kids for school.

Then I got to the Mairie to see the sign:  Fermeture Exceptionelle:  24 Juillet.  And here I was hoping my good luck was going to continue!  Still, a productive day.

Friday, July 20, 2012

More documents to gather

I thought that I had all my documents (in triplicate or even more!), but it turns out that I was mistaken.  Given what I've heard about the bureacucracy involved in getting a visa, this isn't too surprising.  So far, I know that I need a different form of identity photo than the ones I brought (though it looks like it might be available at Monoprix, which is kind of like a French version of Target) and official (judicial) French translations of my marriage license and birth certificates. More running around and more money -- and that's only what I already know I need!  Once I get to the prefecture, they may tell me I need something else...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    Saw this jam on the shelf in the supermarket today, next to fig and sour cherry.  There's been some recent discussion of the book French Kids Eat Everything (for example, the Huffington Post has an article about it), and the irony of seeing this right after reading that discussion wasn't lost on me.
    In fact, I'm not even sure it was ironic.  A nation that can offer rhubarb, fig, and sour cherry jam on its supermarket shelves is certainly a nation that has different culinary expectations for its children than the United States.  An American "Good Mother" would not be serving her children rhubarb jam!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In Lyon...with a phone?

I was congratulating myself on avoiding the Olympic mess...until I realized that my flight (and thus, my luggage) goes through Heathrow on one of the busiest baggage days of the year (think horses, boats, surfboards, etc.). 

Fortunately, my luggage arrived just fine, as did I.  After a bit of unpacking and a short nap, I walked up the hill to make some necessary purchases, such as a mobile phone.

I went to the SFR store and debated my options, but decided on just buying a prepaid phone and paying as I go.

This seems pretty uncomplicated, right?

Somehow, it tooke from 5 pm until 6:30 pm... and it's still not working.  The salesperson first rang up the wrong SIM card, then spent an hour trying to make it work so that she wouldn't have to cancel the order.  Finally, she cancelled the order, but because I was assigned one number at first and then another number with the second SIM card, there is a glitch that may take some time to process.  She recommended that I give it two hours.

I won't be surprised to be back at the store tomorrow, but on the positive side, I got a lot of language practice in that hour and a half.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

No need to change my airplane ticket

The kids and I went up to the French Consulate on Tuesday, and it was a remarkably easy process.  I don't have the kids' passports yet, as they want a copy of my husband's passport and a notarized statement that he is okay with my taking the kids to France for five months.  Other than that, it all went smoothly, and I have my passport -- with visa inside! -- in hand.  Should be no problem making my July 16 flight.  (They didn't even bat an eye.  Clearly this is not all that unusual.)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Convention d'acceuil!

I have spent the past six weeks worrying about the fact that my "convention d'acceuil" (necessary for the visa, which is necessary for a vist over three months) has been stalled.  I filled out all the forms at ENS-Lyon when I was there in April and it was to go to the prefecture right away, then get sent to me.  Weeks passed with no word.  I assumed that it was stuck at the prefecture.  In fact, it seems to have been on some random desk at ENS-Lyon.

My contacts emailed it to me the day that they received it (July 4), and I have made my appointment with the French Consulate in Chicago for July 10 (the next available set of 5 appointments, as I need one for each of us).  Now I just have to hope that everything goes through okay so that I can make my July 16 flight.  (I think that might be a long shot, but I'm not changing it yet!)

So now it's just a question of filling out all the forms and getting copies of everything!  By nexgt Tuesday afternoon, I should know where I stand.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Getting Ready

There are days when I feel like all that I am accomplishing is getting together the documents necessary to spend the summer and fall in France.  Today, I realized that I need a copy of my birth certificate.  Yet one more thing to order -- the list keeps getting longer!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Loud Americans

Since returning from my brief trip to Lyon, I am reminded how loud Americans are when compared to most French people.  In particular, I see how loud and rambunctious my kids are compared to French kids.

When they go tearing through the house or yell up the stairs to one another (or just make random loud noises for no apparent reason, as they are prone to doing....), I have started telling them, "You have to knock that off, or you will get us kicked out of our apartment in Lyon!"

I'm not entirely sure I'm kidding.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I was really frazzled about my meetings at ENS-Lyon today. I was meeting with the administrator of the research group and then meeting with the colleague in charge of the research division that I'm joining while I'm here.  I was nervous about communicating my research interests without sounding like a fool as well as comporting myself in a professional fashion.  It went surprisingly well!
My conversation with the administrator was great (entirely in French on both sides) and we started everything rolling for the forms that need to be filled out for me to get a visa for the summer. It was good that I was here in Lyon to start things, far easier this way and with very quick/easy communication possible (I could ask questions and not wait for an email response etc). He figured out what I needed and then we worked through it with the person in charge of foreign researchers. It's just waiting on a signature and then it will go to the prefecture, so it's farther along in the process than it would be if I hadn't come to Lyon.
My conversation with my colleague was excellent, too. We made small talk in French about families and research leave and the like, then we talked about our individual projects. For that, I spoke in English and she spoke in French. (Professionally, that was perfect; I could be sure that my ideas were conveyed clearly and she could respond fluidly.) There's a lot of engagement between our work and I'm really looking forward to working with her. I think she feels the same way; she seemed excited about our conversation. And since she spoke *to* me in French, I'm pretty sure she doesn't think I'm an idiot. (I know it's pride, but I still hate that.)

I also took care of professional affiliation things; I have an email address now and a badge. Very official :)

I am exhausted from just a few hours of work -- I find that's true almost every day -- but it was a very productive few hours!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mass at St. Denis

I went to Mass this morning at St. Denis, which is right around the corner from this apartment.  It was the Scout/Guide Mass, so I got to see what Boy Scouts and Girl Guides wear in France (their shirts are pretty different and the neckerchief/scarf was worn differently too).  One thing that was the same was the attempt to provide kid-friendly music (not so much to my taste).

Mass was full -- there is only one Mass at this parish, so maybe that makes good sense.  I was sitting in the back, but people around me were saying the responses and singing, which surprised me a bit.  What surprised me the most was the number of men at Mass.  Lots of times, in Paris, I'd go to a French Mass and there would just be a few men -- a couple of older men with their wives and maybe a young couple or two, but rarely men alone.  At church today, there were families with both parents, single men by themselves, older couples, and even a group of old men sitting together.

The priest was great -- not least because his sermon was interesting, reverent, and spoken slowly, with good enunciation ;)  The consecration took a very long time; you could tell he was emphasizing every word.  (Though I will admit that when I left the church and looked at my watch and saw 11:20 --mass started at 10:00-- I did think, "My kids are not going to appreciate this....)

And now, the response "Et avec votre esprit" doesn't seem so unusual to me!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lessons in Humility

When I applied for the Fulbright, I thought that it was a win-win situation.  If I didn't get it, I'd get to stay at home, with my husband and kids, and go back to teaching (including one of my favorite classes, 19th Century Europe).  If I did get it, obviously it's a big win -- feather in my cap, more time off, more research, and the opportunity to make more professional connections.

Mostly unspoken was the fact that it would also be a huge challenge.  Because I was a Chemistry major initially, I've only taken three semesters of college French -- the bare minimum to graduate.  There was a time, when I was single and in France and dating Frenchmen (or Tunisians or Italians, but in any case, men who spoke French with me), that my contemporary spoken French was pretty passable.  But that's not the case now.  I did most of my research in small chunks, split between Los Angeles, Green Bay, or St. Louis, and Paris.  My passive comprehension of 18th and 19th century written French is excellent.  But I live with Americans.  I almost never speak French.   So my spoken French is rusty *and* weaker than I would like.  Given how important language is to me, this is a particular embarrassment.  I hate sounding like a fool.  (And don't even get me started on my very American accent...)

So when I received notification of the award, there was a fair bit of "Oh my goodness" along with the "Woot!"

This current trip has certainly helped play that out.  I imagine (it may be true, but perhaps not) the librarians and archivists thinking, "This woman got a Ph.D.?  But her French!  Can she really work in this language?"

This is one reason I applied for the Fulbright.  I knew it would take me out of my comfort zone, which is really the only way to improve.

But being out of my comfort zone is, of course, uncomfortable.