Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Some thoughts and observations from my first 2 months in France: 

  • Everyone in France has the same ringtone. It may sound as if I'm exaggerating, but it's actually true. Every time I am on the bus or tram and someone's phone starts ringing, literally every person on board will pull out his/her phone. Including me. It's confusing!
  • Schools tend to teach mainly British English. I was told by a teacher I speak incorrectly when I asked a student "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" instead of "Have you got any brothers or sisters?" I feel that using "have you got" or "I have got" is extremely rare in the U.S. and, as an English teacher, I would never teach my students that "do you have" or "I have" is wrong. It's annoying sometimes because my classes are lucky to have an authentic English speaker, but it's ruins the authenticity when I am forced to use phrases I otherwise wouldn't.
  • French people really enjoy correcting grammar. Or maybe it's just my grammar they enjoy correcting. I don't blame them.
  • I have been here for a little over 2 months now and I don't know if my French has improved at all. I do speak French as much as I can and I hear it all the time, I guess the improvements have just not been noticeable to me yet. I'm thinking of taking a French class in the Spring to help things along.
  • French people love the Chicago Bulls!
  • Whenever I meet students, I'm always asked how old I am and if I like French guys. And French food.

As far as news, I don't have much except that Thanksgiving was last week and though I was sad not to be at home with my family, I had a great time celebrating here. I had a huge Thanksgiving dinner with many other assistants. It was really cool because there were a lot of Americans, but there were also assistants from England, Ireland, France, Canada, Germany, and Argentina. So for a lot of people it was their first ever Thanksgiving and I thought it was really nice being able to share it with everyone. We each brought different dishes and even had a huge turkey (which is really difficult to find in France!) I made pumpkin squares and I have never had so much trouble baking something in my life. I had to substitute half the ingredients because they're not available in France so I was afraid it would taste different. There is also no canned pumpkin here so I had to buy an actual pumpkin and cook it. Then there was the problem of no measuring cups or really anything at all with measurements, and an oven that does not have the temperature. Luckily, somehow the pumpkin squares still turned out good and most of the non-Americans got to try it for the first time.

Here is everyone from Thanksgiving:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Science Fiction and the Beach

My life lately has been a little more relaxing so I haven't had much to write about, but I have done a few interesting things in the past week.

Thursday night I went to a science fiction festival in Nantes. One of my teachers gave me some information on it and 2 free tickets if I pretended to be in high school (which I did successfully.)  I'm not the biggest science fiction fan nor do I pretend to know a whole lot about it, but it sounded interesting so I decided to go. It was fun, but I definitely felt a bit out of my element. For starters, there really weren't many women there. Though I guess I wasn't too surprised by that. They had an exhibition on "V for Vendetta" and David Lloyd, the creator, was one of the featured speakers. They had a few other exhibitions, which included some interesting paintings, science fiction films, book signings, and games. I played a couple video games for X Box and old school Sega, which was pretty cool. They also had lots of live action role playing games which I found a little funny. Most seemed to be military/fighting based, but there was also a vampire role playing game. It was definitely interesting!

After the science fiction festival I went to couchsurfing party with my English roommate, Frances. She had heard about it from a French girl she met, and it was basically lots of people who wanted to meet with people from different countries. I loved it because I met a bunch of French people! One of my main goals coming to France this time was to make permanent French friends and I fiiiiinally feel like I'm making some. I've found that making French friends here can be pretty difficult. French people tend to be a little more closed off when they are out with their friends; not at all like Americans who go to bars and are extremely social with random people. However, I have also heard that once you do make friends here, they will be your friends for life. They don't take the notion of friendship very lightly. My teachers have been very nice in inviting me out with them, but I'm glad I'm also making some French friends on my own. I think it will also help me improve my French a lot!

Saturday I went to a nearby beach town called Pornic with both my roommates, an Argentinian friend, Florencia, and another Argentinian who is an assistant in another city. The day was really quite perfect for the beach; it was sunny and in the low 60s. I cannot believe we are still having weather like this in November! I had a fabulous time just walking along the beach, sticking my feet in the frigid Atlantic Ocean, and picking up seashells. We didn't get to explore the town very much since we spent most of the time on the beach, so hopefully I can go back soon! All in all it was a wonderful weekend.

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera to Pornic so I don't have any pictures of my own. Here are a couple pictures that my roommate took:
 Photo credit: Frances Pope

 I look like such a dork in this one!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Toussaint Vacation

I am such a slacker! It's been quite a while since I posted and I have to apologize. It's been difficult getting into the habit of writing but I promise to put more of an effort into it.

The most eventful thing that has happened recently was the Toussaint Break. All Saints Day, the day after Halloween, is a very big holiday in France so the schools get 2 weeks off for it. It was weird only working for 3 weeks then having a 2 week break, but I definitely am not complaining. For the vacaion, I took a week-long trip around Northern France with 3 other American girls and it was really a lot of fun! Here are the places we went:

 First stop on the trip was Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Unfortunately, I missed the train due to my bus not running that morning... gotta love France. Luckily Rennes is only about 1.5 hours from Nantes so there are a lot of trains going there and I hopped on the next one 3 hours later. It was frustrating missing my train and not getting to ride their with my friends, but I met up with them eventually and it all worked out. We only spent one night in Rennes, but it was a relaxing night of walking around and eating crêpes.

 Half-timbered houses - Rennes is famous for having many of these. 

 The adorable crêperie we went to (the darker timbered house).

 Yummy galette with ham, egg, and cheese and cider at the crêperie we went to. My favorite French food!

 Rennes' château. Older than the one in Nantes but not as pretty.

The streets of Rennes.

Next, we took a bus and a train to get to Bayeux, a town in Normandy. I would call Normandy the Wisconsin of France; they were very proud of their cows. Only Normandy also has a beautiful coastline with cliffs and beaches. Bayeux is a pretty small town, but it is famous for the Bayeux tapestry, which depicts the story of William the Conqueror and the Norman conquest of England. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the tapestry because photography was forbidden. The main reason we went to Bayeux is that is it very close to the D-Day beaches. Someone from our hotel hired a taxi driver to drive us to several WWII sites and he actually came to all of them with us and was able to tell us a lot of interesting information.

 Bayeux Cathedral

 Our hotel was recommended by Rick Steves! 

 Pointe du Hoc - the first D-Day site we visited. It's situated between Omaha Beach and Utah beach and the German guns there threatened the Allied landings on both beaches. The U.S. sent Rangers to destroy the German weapons here early on D-Day. Due to weather, the Rangers were 40 minutes late and the Germans knew they were coming and moved their guns back. The Rangers scaled the cliffs, found where the weapons had been moved, and destroyed them. Only 90 of about 225 Rangers survived, but they succeeded. There were supposed to be 500+ more Rangers joining them there, but they instead landed on Omaha beach and probably helped avoid a disaster there.

 Cliffs with barbed wire at Pointe du Hoc. 

 Me at Pointe du Hoc. It was weird thinking about how beautiful it was, and also about all the men who fought and died there. 

 More of Pointe du Hoc.

 The memorial for the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. 

 Lots of barbed wire. 

 Pretty flower at Omaha Beach. 

 Our next D-Day destination was Omaha Beach. One of the beaches where U.S. troops landed during the Allied invasion of German-occupied France.

 The beach was very pretty, and again it was strange thinking of so many people fighting and dying in such a gorgeous place. Omaha Beach was the location of the most American deaths during WWII: over 3,000.

 American memorial at Omaha Beach. 

 The American WWII Cemetary. 

 There were many graves for unknown soldiers. 

 The last place we visited was Arromanches-les-Bains. The British set up a Mulberry Harbor here to get cargo to the beaches during the Allied invasion of Normandy. 

 Cannon at Arromanches.

After our day/night in Bayeux, we headed to the Champagne region. We stayed two nights in Reims, famous for its cathedral where the kings of France were coronated. It was absolutely beautiful! One of our days there we also went to Epernay, a smaller town nearby that is famous for its champagne. We visited 2 champagne caves: Moet & Chandon and Mercier. We had tours in the caves and learned all about how champagne is made, the history, and the difference between traditional champagne and vintage champagne. It was unbelievably fun and informative! I even bought 2 bottles: a Rose from Moet and a Vintage 2007 from Mercier. Unfortunately, I was feeling a bit under the weather during this leg of the trip, but I still really enjoyed it.

Reims Cathedral

 The cathedral's gargoyles are all different types of animals. This one is a cow.

 Kings of France. 

 The cathedral has really cool stained glass windows. 

 These stained glass windows were designed by Marc Chagall. It's a little blurry unfortunately. 

 The cathedral is also known for its smiling angel (all the way on the right). 

 Avenue de Champagne in Epernay!

 Moet & Chandon: probably the best and most well-known champagne. 

 Inside Moet's caves. 

 The numbers tell how many rows and bottles are in each area. 

 Gift from Napoléon who was a frequent visitor of the caves.

 Light showing the sediment inside the champagne that gives it flavor (not in the champagne when you buy it). 

 So much champagne!

 These vintage bottles have clearly been here for a looong time. 

 A true bottle of Dom Perignon always has it written at the bottom of the bottle. Reeeally expensive champagne that I someday want to try. 

 Mold at the top of the caves. 

 The different sized bottles of champagne one can buy. 

 Our samples! 

 The Mercier caves. 

 Champagne is so beautiful. 

 Barrel of champagne that Mercier brought to the World's Fair in Paris. 

 Me in the Mercier caves. We rode an electric train. 

 The 3 different champagnes we tried at Mercier: A Brut, a Vintage 2007, and a Rose. 

Me with my vintage purchase outside Mercier.

The last stop on our trip was Orléans, a town a couple hours from Nantes in the Pays de la Loire region. The town itself is famous for Joan of Arc, who defended it. The reason we came to Orléans, however, was to see the nearby château Chambord. It is the largest château in the Loire valley and was built to serve as a hunting lodge by François I. I have wanted to see this chateau ever since we learned about it in French class in high school, so it was really exciting finally getting to do so. It was incredible! 

 First glimpse of Chambord. 

 It's so big!! 

 The autumn trees made it look even prettier. 

 I was so happy! 


 I can't believe it was hardly ever used. 

 The entrance. 

 The famous double-helix open staircase. The two staircases ascend 3 floors and never once meet. 

 Inside of the staircase - it's so cool! It is likely to have been designed by Leonardo DaVinci. 

 View from the second floor. 

 At the top!

 The beautiful woods and river. Made me wish I liked hunting. 

So that is it for my Toussaint vacation. I am back in Nantes now and I will be sure to update this more often!