22 August 2009

More on France...

In trying to recall all of the things that have happened since we got here, I completely forgot to add that we have been befriended by a French family here (our personal banker) which has been a huge, huge help. They had us over for dinner the second week that we were here and we were all very nervous (especially the kids). We got to their house at around 7pm and had a typical French dinner. What this means is that you have about 6 courses (including the drinks) and it lasts until quite late by American standards.

We started with an aperitif or opening drinks which are supposed to open up your pallet and prepare you for the meal. It is typically something like champagne, whiskey, or wine. I recall we had a red wine and whiskey. The kids had "Coca" which is what they call Coke. This was accompanied with finger foods or what we might call an appetizer.

Next came the entree which for Americans would be the appetizer as well. This was basically a fish loaf (like meatloaf made of fish and shrimp) and was accompanied with salad (which usually comes at the end of the meal) which was surprisingly really, really good.

Next came the plat principal which was the main course. This was monk fish which was also excellent. This was served with mixed vegetables.

Next came the cheese and bread. We do not recall what types of cheese they were but we have well 400 types to choose from in France because the French love their cheese. In fact, Charles De Gaulle made the comment about France referring to their individuality and stubborness saying "How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?"

Next came the dessert which was a chocolate cake, also very tasty. There was also little candies and cigarettes (which were like cookies or something or dried rolled up crepe). The cake had little sticks that stuck out of the top of the cake which were edible as well. Somewhere thereafter we also had some fruit (strawberries).

Next came the digestif which is the alcohol at the end of the meal like wine or whiskey. I think we had some wine.

Finally we closed the meal with un cafe or coffee. This was at 12am. So we got there at 7pm and left at 12am which was when I finished my coffee. We ate the entire time.

All that said, we had a great time. They could speak very little English and we could speak very little French but that did not seem to matter. The kids hit it off very nicely. They also have a boy and a girl each of which were only a year younger that Rebekkah and Micah respectively. They played basketball, soccer (which they call "le foot"), tag, hide-and-seek (which they call "cache-cache"), and any other games they could think of while the adults sat and tried to converse with our French-English dictionary. It was a good time.

Several days later we went with them to a corn maze (which they call a "labrynthe vegetal") and then went to their house for pizza. The wife (Marie-Claire) took us to the town to pick up the pizzas and show us around to some places that she frequented and recommended (butchers, orthodontists, restaurants, shopping, etc.) and the husband (Guillaume or William) stayed home with the kids. While we were out driving we ended up picking up Guillaume's aunt who lived in town to see if she wanted to eat some dinner with some Americans. For whatever reason, we found that quite humorous. It sort of reminded me of the movie Vacation where they picked up Aunt Edna.

Again we had a fantastic time. They ordered 8 pizzas, none of which were much like American pizzas. The closest one was a cheese pizza but instead of just mozzarella it was with four cheeses. The rest had various toppings like fish, hamburger with some sort of gravy, potatoes, etc. It was very different but also very good. This time we left at around 10pm instead of midnight.

They also set up Rebekkah's first orthodontist appointment and went with us to help us out. What was funny about that is that no one in the Dr.'s office spoke English including the Launey's who brought us!

We have experienced this sort of kindness from most people here. It is funny that many Americans characterize the French as rude and arrogant but we have not experienced that in the least here in Normandy. I'm thinking this caricature comes from people who have contact with the big city French like Parisians. I think it is like characterizing all Americans by a resident of Manhattan. I have been finding that it is quite inaccurate.

What we have experienced is that everything here takes FOREVER! And I mean forever. The other night we went to return something (which must be a very infrequent event in France or it was just because it is August) and it took at least 30 minutes. The other day I went to try to get my badge and since I didn't have my resident card yet there were problems. After waiting for 45 minutes they told me that they were sorry but the department that deals with this was closed. These type of events are the norm here. So if you ever want to do anything administrative, be prepared to wait.

That's all for now...and now for some more pictures of the cat...

20 August 2009

France Update

Before I begin, my apologies for the delinquincy of posting and not updating people who have been asking. Relocating to another country has been more difficult and exhausting that I expected and we have had almost no time to do much plus we have not had an internet connection for the last week. Now, on with the update.

DAYS 1-2: PARIS, Saturday and Sunday, 8/1/09-8/2/09

The night before the kids stayed the night at some friends house and only got about an hour sleep (on purpose). We stayed up until about 3:30 am packing and got about 3 hours sleep (again, on purpose). We wanted to be tired so we could sleep on the plane but that didn't work out well for anyone except Rebekkah who slept for most of the flight.

We left Pasco at about 9:30am and had about a three hour layover in Seattle. Our flight from Seattle left a little late and after a ten hour flight we arrived in Paris (Charles de Gaulle) about 45 minutes late. We then took an Air France shuttle to the Novotel at Gare Montparnasse.

Paris was great. It was very fun and relaxing for all of us. We got to see Notre Dame, Tour Eiffel, Sacre Ceour, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, the Tulleries, take a boat on the Seine, and to eat some French food here and there. Pretty much everyone in Paris speaks a little bit of English so there was very little culture shock for us here with the exception of the lack of public restrooms and the smallness of everything.

Random funny and interesting tidbits of our time in Paris:

  • Rebekkah asked why there were plates behind the statues and pictures heads at Notre Dame
  • Nicole got hit pretty hard by what we think was a crazy guy on the Metro (she thought he was waving at her and so she looked at him and then he hit her on the arm)
  • We ate ice cream a Haagendas on the Champs Elysees for about $70 (48 euros)
  • At Sacre Ceour where you're supposed to be quiet there was a dude that screamed in a very odd way (sounded like one of those demon possessed people on Jesus of Nazareth)
  • The Eiffel Tower lights up like a sparkler for about 15 minutes or so at about 10pm (we just "happened" to be passing by right in front of it at the right time on the Bateaux-Mouches)

Day 3: ARRIVAL IN CHERBOURG, Monday, 8/3/09
Our relocation agent picked us up at the train station and got us into our house. This went off without a hitch. Next she took us to Orange to get internet, only to find out after taking forever to fill out all of the paperwork, etc. that the actual connection would not occur for another two weeks (that's what we get for coming to France in August when everyone is on holiday).

Next when she tried to get us cell phones so we could have some sort of contact with the outside world, we found out that they could not do it because we did not yet have cards or checks for our French bank account (which we expected to be ready as soon as we got into town, but the bank, like many businesses, was not open on Mondays... and later we found out that neither had been ordered so we are still waiting). Then after being at the Orange store for about three hours our relocation agent left, and they clothes, since it was about 7:30pm and she had to get home (about two hours away).

So there we were, left alone in France with nothing but a place to stay and French TV (with Cartoon Network and Disney Channel mostly in English) and no phone, internet access, cell phones, cars (except for our extremely overpriced Volkswagon rental, almost $3000/mo, which someone had just told me that the company doesn't pay for...but which I found out later that they do), bank card, check, etc. and knowing not a soul in the area. Welcome to France! And now shall the culture shock begin.

On Day 1 in the area where we will live we learned by experience what we'd been hearing for some months, that the French administration loves paperwork, things take much much longer than in the US, places are closed at what we consider odd times/hours/days, and there are not very many free public restrooms.

The next hitch we found out on Day 4 after getting a calling card and getting on-line at McDo (that's what they call McDonalds which all have free Wi-Fi) that our air shipment wasn't coming until probably the following Tuesday (which I think is not likely after seeing how things happen in France) and our sea shipment wasn't coming until the end of the month. We were expecting both shipments by about 2 days after we got here at the latest.

Later on Day 2 in the area we got a hold of the other AREVA expats who were renting the house before us (after we sent an email to them and they sent a contact number back) and they said to try their internet box and connection that they had left in the basement to pick up when they came back from the US. Also, I picked up my company cell phone at work.

At this point, everything started to turn around. The connection worked and they also had an international phone that we could make calls to the US with. Ahhhh, contact with the outside world! Right away we were able to start making calls and sending emails and were able to set up local help to get cars and household appliances.

DAY 5: CARS AND APPLIANCES, Wednesday, 8/5/09
The previous day, our expat friends talked to their French teacher in the area to ask if he would mind helping us get some cars and our relocation agent spoke to our landlord and the owner of the house to see if he would be willing to help us find household appliances. Both agreed and so Wednesday we went to look for cars and household appliances.

First, Andre the French teacher came over to our house in the afternoon to make phone calls to the car dealerships in the area to see if he could find an automatic (they call it, boite automatique). After calling about four dealerships he found an automatic at the Peugeot dealer in Cherbourg. Apparently it's near impossible to find automatic automobiles in France so I was told we were "lucky." So we decided to go down to the dealership to look at the car and we had anbout an hour before our next appointment with our landlord to go looking for household appliances.

Unfortunately they did not have the car there because it was at another dealership a bit south of here but they were able to show an example which we really liked. It was a silver 2003 Peugeot 307SW with about 94000 km on it which is a station wagon style sedan that the French call "breaks" (though from the Wikipedia article it seems that there is actually a distinction between a "break" and an SW: the SW version has silver roof bars and a 3/4 length panoramic glass roof as standard equipment).

Then after looking at this and saying that we were interested we asked them if they had another vehicle that was less than 3500 euros. They then took me over to show me a blue 1998 Peugeot 306 Equinoxe 5P with about 81000 km on it. (the other cars in the picture are the previous tenant's which they will pick up next week)

After we were done picking the cars out we went to a store called Darty with our landlord and picked out a refrigerator and a washer and dryer since our house came equipped with a fridge the size of which most people have in their cubicles at work and only a washer in which you could only wash three towels at a time. For some reason dryers are not a necessity in France and how people dry their clothes in the rains of Normandy is beyond me. Anyway, we found a Whirlpool set that has been working out nicely for us and a generic brand "frigo" that has a decent sized freezer in French terms and we moved the other into the basement storage room.


Here are some highlights of the last two weeks:

  • We have found out by experience that August is a very bad month to try to move to France. If I hear, "after all, it is August."
  • After using the old renter's Orange livebox for a week and after theirs was disconnected for a week, our internet finally got connected this Monday (it's August).
  • We picked up the two cars last week and with the help of our relocation agent we were able to get them insured and we are now both driving them.
  • Last Friday we finally received our air shipment which we have now almost entirely unpacked and organized combined with three trips to IKEA to make the already furnished house work best for us.
  • We adopted a wonderful three month old kitten at the local rescue shelter called the Society for the Protection of Animals (S.P.A.).

  • We almost adopted a Jack Russell Terrier 2 month old puppy but all decided against it when going to pick it up and discussing how much work it would be.
  • We have visited the castle at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, the Abby of Lessay, the Castle Ducal A.K.A. the Castle of Caen, the Abby of Men, the Abby of Women, and Le Mont Saint Michel A.K.A. Saint Michael's Mount.
  • Rebekkah has found the horse riding club which is right down the street and has ridden twice already (even free riding in the country) and will ride again tomorrow on the beach! She is very, very excited.
  • I fried Micah's old xbox with 220 Volts...we are trying to figure out how to recover since you cannot play US games on French consoles. Any ideas on international shipping/mail services would be much appreciated.
  • I started French language immersion training this past Monday and it is very exhausting. I've been getting to go to cool French restaurants and eat good local food on them, but I am not much enjoying the training. I am sort of at the point where I just want to practice on my own.
  • We will update you with picture of what we've been doing and of our place when we have more time. This is all you get for now.