Sunday, September 23, 2007

France: Part Deux

I took the Twingo about 100km north to a nice little city on a lake called Annecy. Very pretty! It kind of reminded me of a combination of Bellagio, Venice, and Amsterdam.

I've been thinking about some of the preconceived notions I had about France (and French people) before I came here, and whether my observations so far were aligned with those notions. While you scroll through these photos du 'jour, let's play a little game of "French Stereotypes: Fact or Fiction" shall we?


"French food is served in small portions."
FALSE. Every meal I've eaten has included generous portions.

"French food is fancy. Lots of duck, rabbit, and strange stuff."
FALSE. While there is some unusual stuff (I've eaten quail legs several times) for the most part, I've found the majority of the food to be quite "normal".

"French Wine is very good and very cheap."
PARTIALLY TRUE. I have to say, I had higher expectations of the wine. It's good, but in my humble opinion very similar to California red wines. I mean, they're the same exact types of grapes (most California grapes are cloned from French grapes), just grown in a different location. The pricing is similar as in the states- very cheap or very expensive: take your pick. A typical glass of wine at the hotel bar costs 6 Euro. That's $8.40. That seems rather expensive to me actually.


"Gas costs a fortune in Europe."
PARTIALLY TRUE. It's hard to calculate an exact comparison in one's head (dollars vs. Euros, gallons vs. liters- what a mind bender!) but gas is noticably more expensive than in the US. I filled up the econobox's tank today for 45 Euro. That's like $60. Gas has gotten a lot more expensive in the US lately, so $60 to fill the tank doesn't seem *that* outrageous.

"Everyone drives BMWs and Mercedes."
FALSE. Not in France anyway. While it's true that when you see the headlights of a BMW or Mercedes on the "rapidway" (highway) you should "get over immediately!" or be run over, most of the cars in France are Renaults, Peugots, and other modest cars.

"You can take the train anywhere!"
PARTIALLY TRUE. Yeah, if you want to spend a fortune and have all day. Paris is a 5 hour drive away. You could take the TGV (Train a'Grand Vittesse, the speed train) from Grenoble to Paris in 3 hours (plus transfers and waiting time). But you have to somehow get to the train station, find parking, and then pay. A lot. $125 each way. Pretty pricey. Transportation being so expensive, I could see where only the rich would be able to move about the region frequently.


"French people are rude."
TOTALLY FALSE. The people I've met here have been *so* nice to me. They're not fake-nice and all smiley right off the bat, but they are very appreciative when you try to speak French, ask questions about speaking French, or ask questions about France.

"Everyone smokes."
PARTIALLY TRUE. There's still a lot more smoking in public places here than in the states. I think an improvement here in recent years is that people don't smoke indoors anymore. They still smoke outside- say in a sidewalk cafe where it can be bothersome, but things seem to be improving in that area.


"There's dogs everywhere."
PARTIALLY TRUE. I have seen quite a few dogs, but nothing ridiculous. I haven't seen anyone bringing their dogs to eat at the table with them or anything.

"People say things like 'komon tally voo' and 'on shon tay!' frequently."
PARTIALLY TRUE. I thought a couple of these were interesting actually. With my limited knowledge of the French language I had no clue what these words meant until I saw them spelled out in my phrase book. "Comment allez-vous" means "How are you?" You see "comment" used a lot to say "comment on this...". I think it's easy to remember that way. And "on shon tay": enchante. It's a concise one-word way of saying "nice to meet you" or "I am enchanted to meet you." I'd heard that the French language often provided single words that mapped to many in English. I think "Enchante" is a great example of that.

Bonsoir and au revoir for now...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bonjour from France

I got called over to Grenoble, France on short notice for a work trip. Well, I wouldn't exactly call it "work" compared to what Deanna has to do back home, but it has been an interesting adventure so far.

I arrived to a rather anemic looking little car; a Renault "Twingo":

This little car has gotten me around just fine- though I'm glad I requested a GPS navigation system. That's been very handy.

My "French Culture and Etiquette" handbook taught me that meal-time is very important in France. I like food too, so I've enjoyed meal-time in France. Every meal is an event to be savored- even lunch in the company cafeteria. There's beer and wine available, and every day brings a new gourmet dish to sample. And the bread- delicious! And plentiful. French people eat bread with every meal- throughout the meal. If someone were to run out of bread I'm sure they'd stop eating altogether until they found more bread. Here's the appetizer course of the first lunch I had in France. Look at the presentation!

Mealtime doesn't end with merely the lunch. It's followed by espresso, and then at least a half an hour of chit-chat. The first day I arrived I didn't start doing actualy work until almost 4:00PM! I was going nuts. I was like "Alright already, let's get to work!"

Thanks to the tips I picked up from my French phrase and culture books, I made fast friends with my colleagues and customers over here. Tips like, "The historical reason for the handshake was to prove you weren't holding a dagger," proved invaluable. I was invited to a jazz concert and also to a co-workers home for drinks. Check out this fabulous view from his patio:

He recommended an itinerary for some weekend sightseeing. First, a scenic drive through the mountains. The area is very "French Alps"- big mountains all around.

I stopped in a few charming villages, and then to the "Grottes de Choranches"- very cool caverns. Kind of touristy, but hey- I'm a tourist!

It's been a very interesting and enjoyable trip, though of course I do miss my family back home. Sam has just recently begun to show awareness of whether I'm home or away, and that makes it a bit harder on everyone. Every time I go away like this I return to a massive progression in language development from him.

Deanna has been remarkably strong in my absence. Having her mom and grandma stop in for a visit sure helped. It's so nice to call home and hear her happy voice.

I'll be here a few more days. I'm not sure whether I have the energy to visit Mont Blanc tomorrow. We'll see. If so, I'll post some pictures of that for sure. If not, I'll post pictures of my record breaking 8th meal in a row at the Novotel Hotel. :)
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