Monday, November 26, 2012

Faits Divers

The "Faits Divers" section of the newspaper is where they put all the stories that don't really go anywhere else, and consequently, one of my favorites. It's all the weird random interesting stuff, instead of the usual dreary news. Today I bring you my own Faits Divers, not from a desire to avoid dreary news, but from simple lack of having much to say on any one topic. {That's also why I haven't posted in like a week and a half}.

  • You know, you hear all the time from a variety of sources that French women dress nicer than do American women on a day-to-day basis. Even up until this trip I would have said that this is true. But now that I'm here and paying attention to what everyone else is wearing, I'm not sure it is. Now obviously, I'm looking at only a small sample of the population, and it's only my opinion, but based on the women I see at work, on the tram, walking around town, and in stores, I don't think there's really a big difference. Certainly there are differences of style, but not so much in terms of quality or "fanciness". The things that women wear to work here look just about the same as what I generally see women wearing to work in the US. The moms shopping at Carrefour look more or less like the moms shopping at Target. I'm going to conveniently leave out Walmart; that's a whole different beast. So I think we need to move past this stereotype of well-dressed French women; sure, they look put together, but not any more so than women of other nationalities. 
  • The other day I was just in a macaron kind of mood, and when you're in a macaron mood there's only one thing to do. Buy some macarons. I got two salted caramel, a chocolate, a mint, and one that I'm honestly not sure about. They were super delicious!
  • I contributed to the crossword puzzle! Twice! Every day after lunch all the grad students go get coffee together and do the crossword puzzle from the paper. I don't like coffee, so mostly I'm just there for the conversation and the puzzle. Side note: I'm the only non-Frenchie who goes. There are other foreigners in our group, a guy from somewhere in Asia, and a Russian girl for example, but they don't speak French and they just head back to the lab after lunch. Anyway, since my French is not to the extant that I can guess a word given a tricky clue and a number of letters, I generally just sit there trying to look pensive. It has become a goal of mine to contribute to the crossword puzzle. And Friday I did it! The clue was "limite" and I (correctly) guessed "terme", and to put the icing on the cake, it was a clue that stumped the Frenchies. Today I helped too, in a less glorious way. The clue was something indispensable, and they wanted to put "necessaire", but it wouldn't fit. A few minutes later, after doing a lot of counting on my fingers, I proffered up "necessité". So proud of myself. 
  • I have Christmas lights! Let's be real, I got gyped out of Thanksgiving. No turkey, no pie, no football, no Macy's parade. I guess I could've had turkey if I'd gone to the dinner the Fulbright people put on for us, but four total hours of train riding is a bit much for just a dinner. And a round trip train ticket plus the entry price would make it a pretty pricey meal. So I stayed in Caen and didn't really celebrate. To compensate, I spent the better part of Sunday making a Christmas music playlist and putting up lights I bought at Carrefour. They are of course multicolored and on top of it, the lights have 8 different animation programs so you can go absolutely schizophrenic with holiday joy. 
  • Walking around Caen I came across this in a park. Apparently this is a modern art piece entitled "Modified Social Bench" according to the plaque. Feel free to offer interpretations. You know what it says to me? Don't sit here. 
  • I also came across this awesome thing. This is the most awesome house ever. They have their own castle tower. The street is lined with like row houses, and some of them are now businesses (or at least their first floors are). So I kind of couldn't resist verifying that it was indeed a home and not like offices or something. And I may or may not have slowed to a snails pace in order to sneak a peek in a window. Definitely a private a residence, or else the most cluttered waiting room in all of history. I'm so jealous of these people. 
    The most awesome house ever.
  • I have yet to figure out my thermostat. I'm either freezing or it's like 90 degrees in here. Thank god my utilities are included in my rent or they would be through the roof.
  • I saw an article on CNN about a calendar's worth of trips you could take, a sort of list of the best place to be each month of the year. One of the places was some tiny town in a Scandinavian country that's apparently the best place to watch the Northern Lights. Someday I am going to see the Northern Lights. I have a lot of places on my travel dream list, but someday I am going to see the Northern Lights. It will happen. And it occurred to me that I am right now probably closer to the Aurora Borealis than I have ever been before. I'm still over 2000 miles away, but right here I'm closer to that goal than I have ever been. Mind boggling. 
  • Interesting Fact: Marseille is a French city on the Mediterranean coast of France, and is at approximately 43.3 degrees North. New York City is a city in the northeast of the US and is at approximately 40.7 degree North. o.0 Mind boggled. 
  • I'm currently reading Lord of the Rings in french in preparation for Hobbit movie #1. I can't wait; it's going to be awesome. 
  • There are quite a lot of things that I consider kitchen staples that I can't even find in France. Peanut butter for example. Monoprix had two jars of Skippy (which I refuse to buy on principle; give me the good stuff or none at all), but Carrefour didn't carry any at all. There are a whole host of things though. Like bacon the other day. Where do they hide it? Even when I do manage to find what I'm looking for I'm confronted with a selection of brands that mean absolutely nothing to me. You never really notice how much your decisions as a consumer are determined by packaging until you move abroad. In your local grocery store, you know which brands you like and which you don't, because you've used them before, or your mom did. You're brand-loyal on certain products, probably the ones you unconsciously label as "the ones that matter", but for others you go with whatever's cheapest, "because you can't really taste a difference". However in a foreign country that goes out the window. I'm not really brand-loyal when it comes to bread, but all the same everyone has their quality standards to be met. Do I go with the cheapest one? Why is this one so much cheaper? It looks okay...Maybe I better go with this middle range one...It looks a little nicer. Why? Because subconsciously we assume that a company that puts more effort into their packaging probably also puts more effort into their product. Almost certainly not true, but that's how we work, and the advertising industry knows it. Thus grocery shopping takes me forever because I'm staring at a variety of brands the quality of whose products I know nothing about, and I'm stuck guessing based on which ones have packaging most similar to what I consider a balance between good quality and well priced. It is such a relief to run into a familiar brand. I had to buy a bottle of shampoo and it was so nice to see the familiar brand names lined up and all I had to do was decide which sent I liked best. Thus we get to the real point of this diatribe, my innocuous walk down the ethnic foods aisle. Ok, technically this happened ages ago, but stick with me. They had the usual assortment of Asian food, and then, lo and behold, right there in northern France was a whole collection of Old El Paso products. Old El Paso! The tex-mex kit people! In France! I just about fell over. And they didn't just have a couple bottles of salsa and a few taco kits, they had the whole line. So I bought some tortillas and some shredded cheese and made myself a quesadilla. Just like home, except the cheese was Emmental (swiss cheese), instead of my normal mozzarella. 

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