Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, January 16, 2017

A day in the life

Last week, I was out all week traveling in the countryside, visiting customs in and around Cholet.  One of the days, I had just arrived on site and was in the office drinking a cup of coffee with my client and the site manager (side bar - when will I ever learn to like coffee??  It's such a social thing here in France, and refusing a coffee offered by a customer is like saying "No, sorry, I don't want to spend 10 minutes chatting with you", so I always feel obligated to accept and choke it down).   But so there we all were, drinking our dirt water coffee, and all of the sudden we see eight or nine employees leaving the building at break time.  This normally does not happen because everybody wears special clothes inside, so going outside is a bit annoying because it requires getting undressed, changing clothes, etc. 

The site manager opened the window and yelled out "Hey, Jean-Paul, where are you going?" And JP replied back "We're going to see a deer".  The three of us looked at one another like "WTF??" and then I laughed and said "Well let's follow them, I want to see the deer too".

So we all trek outside in a line and Old Jean-Paul starts telling a story about how he was on his way to work that day, and it was really foggy and he couldn't see anything, and all of the sudden "WHAM".  So he pulled over and got out and realized he had hit a deer.  She wasn't moving at all, so "since no one was around to see", he hefted her up and popped her in his trunk and continued on his way to work.  And now five hours later was coming to check on her.

He opened the trunk and we all collectively leaned back a bit in case she jumped out, but nope, there she was, perfectly untouched and frozen in time. Luckily (or I guess unluckily), she had been killed upon impact, so she hadn't sat there suffering all morning, which had been one of my concerns.  His colleagues asked him what he was going to do with her, and he replied "Make steaks and sausages".  And then we all trekked back inside again.

That too is life in France, my friends.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Karma's a b*tch, part II

So when I left off yesterday, it was time to head over to the farm house to visit his dear, sweet dad. He was pretty much the only person in Brittany who welcomed me with open arms, and who was oh, so patient with me as I was learning French. He always had time to sit and talk with me, to offer me a cup of coffee and a palet breton.  I was nervous about seeing him - Fab had mentioned that he only recognized people that he had really liked, and it left me feeling nervous, and wondering if the sentiments I had for him were one-sided.

But when I walked through the door, he light up like a light bulb, with this beautiful, huge smile, and it was honestly one of the most emotional moments I'd had all year.  To see that man, who was so strong and who had worked so hard his entire life lose nearly everything just as he was retiring - was heartbreaking.  And then of course right beside him sat my ex-MIL, who's about as mean as a hornet and who barely worked a day in her life, in perfect health.  Sometimes life really isn't fair.

Since he couldn't talk, I sat there talking about what I'd been up to for nearly the past ten years. One of Fab's aunt's was also there, which was a bit awkward, but we made do.  And his handicapped step-brother was also present, and provided for some much need levity by interrupting me and asking very loudly "Why you wearin' a ring?  You married?"

Up to that point, I had been kind of circling around the topic of C, saying "nous", but making no specific references to him.  But I couldn't really avoid it after that, so I gave him the glowing description he so wholly deserves, and they all said they were happy for me. I couldn't really be sure if they were sincere or not since the alcohol had been flowing quite freely, although not for me since I still had some driving ahead of me.

Not long after, the night nurse came to take care of his besoins and put him to bed, so I had to say my goodbyes.  The evil ex-MIL asked him to try to say my name, and my initial thought was "Man, you are cruel" as we'd just been talking about how unsuccessful his speech therapy had been, but then to everyone's surprise, he said my name!  Everyone else then went around the table trying to get him to say their names, but he wasn't having it.  So I leaned down to give him the bise goodbye, and I whispered in his ear that I had thought about him often over the years, that I was extremely grateful for everything he had done for me during my early days in France, and that I was hopeful for him.  He couldn't say anything but Oui back in response, but he put his hand on mine and we both had a little mist in our eyes as I said my final goodbye.

As I drove away, I felt both sadness at seeing him like that and the closure that I needed from seeing Fab.  I don't wish him any ill will, but even if I'm so much better off now, I wouldn't be human if I didn't admit I got some satisfaction from seeing the end of the relationship that broke up our own.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 + some gossip

Well, the New Year has come and gone. After thinking we wouldn't really have any plans, we ended up throwing together a last-minute NYE party for nearly 20 people.  It was a great time, even if I was slightly cranky that all of the smog was blocking our view of the Eiffel Tower at midnight.

I've been thinking about it these past few days, and I don't really have any solid resolutions for 2017.  With the exception of the US political situation, 2016 was a pretty good year for us, and I will be perfectly satisfied if 2017 continues along the same path.

And in today's episode of karma is a b*tch, before I left for the US, I made a short trip to Bretagne for work.  Fab, my ex - as longtime readers will remember - had contacted me after the US elections results were announced to basically ask WTF.  We started chatting a bit, and I asked if he was going to get in trouble for talking to me, and he was quiet for a second before very sheepishly admitting that he had gotten divorced this past summer.  My first thought was "Ha, serves you right!", and my second though, which I voiced, was "That is sad for your daughter".

In even sadder news, he also mentioned that his father, a dear man with whom I was very close, had had a stroke. He is unfortunately mostly handicapped now, and needs a nurse to come three times a day to take of his daily needs. He also can't speak really say anything besides Oui or Non.  So I'd had him on my mind for quite some time when this Bretagne trip came up, and I decided to ask if I could stop by the farm to see him.

It was pretty surreal to be driving through the winding country roads that used to be my home.  When I pulled up to the farm, Fab came out to great me, and brought me to his 'house', aka a very sad-looking trailer behind the main farmhouse.  My face must have shown my surprise because he said "Alright, you get five minutes of laughter and then you have to move on".  It was pretty obvious that he too was aware of the irony of the situation.

He explained that was living there because he had lost a lot of money in the divorce due to the fact that he had brought his wife into the family business, something myself and everyone else in his family had strongly advised him against, and so he had no choice but to live there.  He also lost his organic certification after an inspector discovered they had been trying to cheat by using non-organic feed (as a side note, this is one of the reasons I don't often buy organic in France - in my experience, most of the farmers are doing it purely for the extra money it brings in, not because of their convictions - which means they cut corners and make substitutes wherever they can). 

I felt pretty gratified actually that he was able to acknowledge that I had been his moral compass, and he admitted that there is some truth to the saying that behind every great man is a great woman, and that he had unfortunately been too weak to push back on all of her suggestions. We had a long chat, and he apologized very sincerely for what he had done, and said it had weighed on him every day for the past nine years. 

I was also surprised with how much he remembered of our life together.  He asked very specific questions about several of my family members and co-workers, not to mention names of places we had been, etc, many of which I had long forgotten about. Although I guess I have a horrible memory in general, and can barely remember what I blogged about last year, so I shouldn't use myself for comparison lol.  It was very obvious though that he missed speaking English, contact with other foreigners and our regular trips to the US.

But this is getting a bit long, and I haven't even gotten to the best part yet, so I think I'll continue on with the rest tomorrow!

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Friday, December 30, 2016

GHD Pop-up Store

It's a bit last minute, but through tomorrow at 6pm, GHD has a pop-up store on rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau where you can stop in for a free hair styling.  They'll either straightener your hair with their professional straighteners (the best on the market IMO) or do a quick wavy hairdo.  The hairdressers are a bit snooty, in the way that many Parisian coiffeurs are, but there was no pressure to purchase anything - just a general haughtiness and a slight mocking of my accent.  You know, the usual. ;D

When I stopped in yesterday to get my hair done, there wasn't a person in sight, so keep it in mind tomorrow if you're in the Paris region and want your hair professionally done (for free!) before you head out to your NYE party!

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

First Home Exchange experience

Per usual, I flew back to the US mid-December to spend a few weeks at our HQ before the Christmas Holidays.  My family typically does a big Christmas get-together every two years at a rented cabin in the middle of Minnesota.  This year was a bit different however because my SIL was pregnant and due on Christmas Day, so she obviously did not want to be hours away from her hospital in the middle of winter.

It ended up complicating things quite a bit though because half of my family lives in the Minneapolis/St Paul area, and the other half lives elsewhere in the US.  The ones in-town didn't want to have to pay for a hotel, and the ones from out of town thought it wasn't fair they would have to pay for one.  So I ended up exploring other options, and decided to check out home exchanges, thinking I could maybe find someone willing to exchange their home in Minneapolis with ours in Paris.

And luckily I did! I went to meet them in-person this summer when I was back in MN, and their home was amazing.  It was only a few years old, had five bedrooms (one for everyone out-of-town family), four bathrooms, and two very large living areas to accommodate my extended family. 
It really was the perfect place for us - the owners put up plenty of Christmas decorations for us, and they have three small children, so there were plenty of toys for the kids in our family to play with. The kitchen had a very large island and was also fully stocked, which made preparing Christmas dinner for 25 a breeze.
The downstairs area was also great - you can see the beautiful bar with marble counters in the back, the biggest couch I've ever seen on the right, and just to the left was a spa room with a brand-new sauna.

The only stressful bit was that I felt the need to constantly be picking up after everyone, sweeping, etc, since it was me who was on the line for making sure we left her house in the same state we found it (ie spotless).  I found out after we left that she had booked in a cleaning crew to come in after our departure, so I probably went a little bit overboard in my cleaning, but oh well.

Her family will be coming to stay at our place this summer, when we go back for a wedding.  Our home isn't anywhere near as fancy as theirs was, but hopefully the location and the view of the Eiffel Tower/Notre Dame will make them feel like they received an even exchange...

And in case anyone's curious, my SIL had her baby on the 20th!  We were so relieved, as I had been worried she'd be born after our departure and that we wouldn't be able to meet her until this summer.  But she came out early like a champ, and we were able to get in plenty of quality time with her before flying back to France.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

*Sad Face*

So it's over and done with.  Yesterday was a sad, dark day for me. For as much as I did a media blackout in the days coming up to the election, I was glued to the TV yesterday.  Starting at 6am when a girlfriend called me from Maison de la Radio and until C came home from class at 9:30pm.  I woke up horrified with Trump's number of votes, and that horror continued to grow as the day went on. To my disbelief, even my own state didn't call the election until yesterday evening.

I know so many people thought it wasn't possible, but I've had this sneaking suspicion for the past six months that it really was.  I come from a blue state, and the number of people I've spoke with there who said "I just can't vote for Hillary" far outnumbered the ones who said they could.  And the fact that these were normal people, educated people, people who had traveled abroad, people I respect - that is what scared me.

Hillary wouldn't necessarily have been my first choice as a Democratic nominee, but I would have been proud to call her our President and there is no denying that she is by far the most qualified candidate we have had in recent history.  And now we are faced with the most unqualified candidate in all of history.  But it's done.  (Half of) our countrymen have spoken. And we are stuck with Trump for the next four years.  So the question now is what do we do?  How do we face a president who has complete control of the government and the upcoming Supreme Court Justice nominations?  How do we protect those that the Republican party stands against? How do we safeguard all of the progress that has been made in the past 8 years? 

These are the questions I woke up with today. I was inspired by both Hillary and Obama's speeches yesterday and they sheer grace they both showed in defeat, but I am struggling with how to respect both the voice of the people and fight for what I believe in.  I am scared for the future of my country, and I worry about how we can find common ground.  I'm concerned about how I can continue to work with people who so obviously supported Trump - I'm just so baffled by how people who travel as much as I do were still able to vote for him.  And what am I going to say to all of our customers abroad?  I'm sure with the exception of China and Russia, they are all like WTF??   Plus, so much of our business is à l'étranger - how will Trump's supposed "tariff renegotiations" affect us?   And how can so many Americans think other countries are just going to sit back and say "Okay US, you can increase your import taxes, but we will just keep ours the same for you"??  But I digress...

I have no answers to these questions.  But I do know we have to take time to grieve and then get back up. I know expats struggle with how to help from afar, but one concrete thing we can do is prepare for the upcoming elections in France. I know many of you can't vote, but the FN is already gearing up to put into place some of Trump's campaign practices, and we can still make a difference in France by having those complicated conversations with our friends and loved ones here.  Immigration, le mariage pour tous and fear of the other are just as hot button topics in France as they are in the US, and we can help change that by putting faces to those issues. By explaining how changes in the laws governing them will affect you or those you know personally. By encouraging civil discussion instead of hateful rhetoric.  I have had some heated discussion with my in-laws over these very same issues, and it is so hard you guys...but I am making the commitment to continuing to have those discussions with them, as well as with my fellow countrymen.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Well folks, today's the day.  Since we won't know the answer until early tomorrow morning (pending no recounts), I'm planning on staying away from the news as much as I can since my blood pressure can't really take it anymore.  I'm going to go to pilates, bake a cake, get some work done and then go to a movie tonight. The 'secret' Facebook group "Pantsuit Nation" is probably the only election-related thing I will look at today, just because there are some beautiful posts on there and they are slowly restoring my faith in humanity.

Bon courage to everyone, and here's hoping for the best possible outcome.