jeudi 26 septembre 2013

My language gaffe - in English!

Those of you who live in a country that speaks a language that is different from your mother language know all about language gaffes.

Every native English speaker living in France knows about the preservative/préservatif false friend. Never, never make the mistake of telling your French hosts at the dinner table that you think American food is full of condoms and that you prefer French food because it's not full of condoms.

But what if your language gaffe wasn't in French, but in English? It's kind of hard to imagine when your native language is English. But it happened to me. 

So, without futher ado, I present my British language gaffe. Enjoy! 

Cardiff Castle in Wales. Author of photo: Den Nation.

It is my second year of university in the UK. I am going down the stairs and am in between classes. My teacher stops me and asks: 

Male teacher: "I heard you talking in class about how you have a really important appointment later today and that you don't have enough time to make it over there on your bicycle after your last class. I'm heading to that area after your last class so I can drive you there."

(Note: This teacher had a really relaxed attitude and a friendly approach with his students. He was the type of guy that would say hello to his students in the supermarket and drive them home. He was always up for a chat and a cup of tea. He had absolutely no ulterior motives in his offer.)

Me: "Oh, thanks, that's really nice of you, but Dave (not his real name) is going to give me a ride in his car." 


Later, once I am in Dave's (my classmate) car. 

Me: "The teacher was really quiet today after I told him that you were going to give me a ride."

British Dave bursts out laughing.

Me: "What?" I am slightly annoyed. 

Dave: "You basically told him that we were going to have sex in my car." 

Me: "I did not!" Now I am really annoyed.

Dave: "Yes, you did. 'To give somebody a ride' is British slang for having sex."

I am just gobsmacked. And really ticked off. Please somebody just open a hole and swallow me up. How could I not know this?

Me: "So what was I supposed to say?"

Dave: "You should have used 'giving a lift' instead or something along those lines."

Needless to say, I couldn't look the teacher in the eye for weeks afterwards.

Edit: Read my comment to Crystal about another British language gaffe I committed. 

mercredi 18 septembre 2013

Not your everyday houseshare

We all know how difficult it is to find affordable, and acceptable, housing in Paris. It is so hard that many people are scammed in the process - I've read some blog posts written by expats who have been cheated out of their money. Finding a place to live in Paris is a long and expensive process, one that I am relieved to not have to go through.

I'm not here to talk about finding housing in Paris, though. I'm here to talk about another "type" of housing. One that I never imagined existed, at least not in cold Paris.

A few years ago my husband's friend was looking for a place to live in Paris. This friend came from Algeria and had an Algerian name. It's already hard enough for a Frenchman to find accommodation in Paris, but it's even harder for somebody who has a foreign name (especially for someone from Africa or Asia).

When my husband's friend would call a potential landlord, the conversation often went like this:

Husband's friend: "Hello, I'm calling to ask about the room to rent. Can I have an appointment to come and see it?"

Potential landlord: "What is your professional situation?"

Husband's friend: "My name is .... and I work as a scientist at the ..." (gets cut off)

PL: Rambles off some excuse to get off the phone and get rid of my husband's friend.

Two months go by like this. My husband's friend is getting tired of crashing at friends' places. One day he sees an ad for a room that looks promising. He calls the number and the person who answered the phone was surprisingly friendly. He feels that something is not quite right, but he goes over to visit the property anyway.

A café in Paris. Author of photo: Den Nation.
He is interviewed by a friendly couple in the apartment's living room. The apartment was clean, the couple was friendly, the price wasn't too expensive (for Paris), the location was all right. Everything was too good to be true...

"Oh, by the way, we are nudists," the couple mention at the end of the interview.

"Nudists, what?" said the friend.

"That's right, we believe in nudism, this is a nudist apartment."

Our friend is silent, obviously confused.

The couple continues, "Yes, there is a no-clothes allowed rule here." "As soon as we enter the apartment we remove all of our clothing and the clothes stay off." "We know what you must be thinking, but we are serious and this is something we really believe in."

Our friend is speechless.

"There are 3 of us living here now and we are totally comfortable with being nude and you would have to be too." "So what do you think?"

"I'll have to think about it," responds our friend.

He really did think about it. It's not that this kind of living arrangement bothered him, it just really caught him off guard, but ultimately he decided against it. He found a place to live shortly afterwards.

A Parisian residential building. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I'm not against this type of living arrangement either, but a few questions come to mind. What do you do if you want to have company over? And what about the winter? I asked our friend about this and he didn't ask the first question, but the answer to the second question was that, yes, they kept their clothes off all year, even in the dead of winter. I just can't imagine that! When I think about how cold some apartments can get in France, I can't imagine living nude in January in a freezing apartment. Either their heating bill must be really high or, in the case of shared heating (where the temperature is controlled by a central source so the apartment units of a building are all at the same temperature) there are some elderly people living in the building that have managed to convince the building's management to keep the temperature high. That, or the building is insulated quite well. Can you tell I suffer during the winter here in cold apartments?

So, I wonder, has anybody else had any experiences like this, in France or anywhere else?

mercredi 11 septembre 2013

Home alone

I'm home alone.

"Yeah, so what," you may be thinking. 

It's not very often that my husband goes out without me. Yes, that's right, we rarely go to any social event separately. 

I know, I know, it sounds clingy and needy. But this is the way things are done in France, especially out here in province. 

If you are in a couple, you attend social events as couple with other couples. If you are not in a couple, you spend a lot of time with couples. You tag along. 

At least, this is the way it works when you are around my age, 30. It's unusal to go out without your other half. I wrote another post about this here:

I can picture it now, my husband arriving alone at the meal, a meal where there are only couples, and greeting everyone with la bise and having to awkwardly explain to everyone that I stayed home because I have too much work. Only it's not because I have too much work (well, I do have a lot on my to-do list).

I'm at home because I can't stand another evening of being socially awkward and being ignored. 

Maybe it's my introverted side, but I just don't want to force myself anymore. I can't tell you how many times I've forced myself to go out with my husband to these "couples' evenings" when I just wanted to stay home. I know that the best way to meet people is to force sometimes, but if I am not having fun, then it's just not worth it. 

I was out walking today and reflecting on how I feel lonely in France sometimes. But then I thought, "Yeah, but so what? You're so happy alone in your den, avoiding people that don't really care to be with you." (If you want to know more about my "den", read this post: And you know what? I am so much happier here. I feel a bit guilty about him having to deal with the social stigma of being out without me, but I am just so happy to be back in my den.

My Den. Home sweet home. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Saturday I want to a bachelorette party. I hesitated to go - I didn't want past experiences to come back to haunt me. I went because there would be no in-the-street dancing and dressing up. I also wanted to get to know the bride a little better. I don't have any problems with people who do dress up and dance in the streets, but it's not my idea of fun. No, the programme was excellent, right up my alley. Spa, medieval festival, good food, wine bar - all things that I love to do. So what was the problem? 

These women knew each other quite well. So maybe it wasn't really a cultural problem, but my introverted side rearing its ugly head. They sang along together to girly songs in the car, talked about other people they knew and made jokes that I would never understand (some cultural, but some related to their past). They are nice women, though, but I wondered why they invited me. It's my husband that is friends with the groom. My husband says it's because they found me interesting and wanted to get to know me better. Now I wonder what they think...

It is very risky for me to go out with a group of people I don't know very well. At the end of the night, I went home exhausted and was in a bad mood. Every fibre of my being was screaming out for some alone time. And believe me when I say this, that bachelorette party was not the worst of it. That was actually a success compared to some of the other epic failures I've had. No, don't feel badly for me - I have enough experience now to "feel" the potential for a failed evening. And tonight I had the strength to say no! 

So I've come to the conclusion that, while I know I should force myself to go out more, I'm just going to accept that I'm an introvert and a foreigner and I need to stay home in my den when I don't like the social setting. It's better if I get to know people one-on-one first and not in a group setting. 

I sound like I'm ranting and maybe I am, but at the end of the day, I am not an accidental expat/immigrant. I chose to leave my comfort zone in Canada and I choose to stay here (my husband and I can find jobs in Canada, unlike other French/North American couples I know), so it's up to me to do something about my problems/challenges or like tonight, just accept that this is who I am and realise that I actually prefer being like this rather than fighting it. 

You know what? I think I'll go and make myself some tea, just like a good old granny. I'll drink that in my den while listening to some cheesy 80s music and eat some goodies from the Alps. I think tonight is the night to bring out crystalgoestoeurope's Bonnat chocolate (thanks again, Crystal, I was saving the chocolate for a special occasion) and Biscuits de Chalais (cookies made by nuns living in the Alps). Crystal also inspired me today to drink some rose tea. 


vendredi 6 septembre 2013


I'll just go ahead and admit it: part of the reason I decided to go to Bulgaria was to eat. And let me tell you, Bulgaria did not disappoint. So much so, that I'm still paying for it now as I try to lose the weight I gained in Bulgaria, the food lovers' paradise.

Of course that's not the only reason I decided to go to Bulgaria. I first visited Bulgaria 10 years ago when I was 20 years old at the height of the 2003 European heat wave. I wanted to go back exactly ten years later to see what, if anything, had changed. 

One of the things that struck me the most about Bulgaria back then was how poor the elderly people were. I remember getting off the train in Burgas and being met by a crowd of elderly people offering rooms to rent in their homes. I was struck by the numbers - there were at least 30 elderly people, mostly women, offering rooms. 

This time around I noticed that there were less elderly people milling around the stations offering rooms. However, I felt that the elderly people were still very poor. On more than one occasion I saw elderly women begging on the streets. These were not homeless people - it was clear that they were begging because their retirement pensions don't cover their basic costs. 

Since the fall of Communism, elderly people have seen the value of their pensions fall greatly as after the fall of Communism, wages increased and prices skyrocketed. A lot of elderly people don't even have the money to live in proper accommodation; I saw a lot of elderly people come out of homes I would only describe as being shacks. 

While there were still very little signs or information in English (or any other language), there were a lot less scammers looking to take advantage of tourists. Back in 2003, the bus station was full of men calling out to foreigners, offering this or that, and making false promises. I remember one conversation with a young man: 

Young Bulgarian: You know that there are no more buses for Varna today. The last one left 20 minutes ago. I know of a place where you can stay cheaply for the night. I'll take you there in my van. 

Me: Yeah, right. I'm pretty sure there's another bus. 

Young Bulgarian: No, there isn't, I'm telling you.

Well, yes there was. I just turned the corner and there was the bus loading passengers for the trip to Varna. And that was not the last bus of the day. 

Another reason why we went to Bulgaria? It was the cheapest ticket we could find at the last minute. I wondered why that particular airline flew to Burgas, as Burgas is not a particularily attractive city. On arriving in Burgas we discovered why - organized buses were waiting to take all the Danish tourists to Sunny Beach. I had never heard of Sunny Beach and from the sounds of it, I will never go there.

I have Danish friends who loved going to Sunny Beach in the early 2000s, back before it became the Danes' place to get drunk for cheap abroad. I went through Sunny Beach and was horrified to see all the new high-rise buildings. It looked just like the places I had seen along the Spanish coasts. The coast is now being built-up for mass tourism, but I can't really say I'm surprised by that. 

While the Black Sea was warm, in my memories the water was of better quality back in 2003. There was a lot of seaweed in places and the lifeguards yelled at everyone not to go in too far because there were a lot of waves. I am not an expert on currents and am unfamiliar with the Black Sea, but to be honest I didn't enjoy swimming in the Black Sea as much as I enjoy jumping around in the cold waves along France's Atlantic coast. Trying to swim in knee-length water full of seaweed is not my idea of fun. To be fair, I visited beaches that had a high number of visitors, so maybe if I went closer to the Turkish or Romanian borders where the beaches are quieter, I would have enjoyed it more.

In my opinion, the heart of Bulgaria lies in its historical sites. There are so many monasteries to visit, Roman ruins, fortresses, medieval towns, coastal landscapes (where there are rocks and cliffs), mountains, vineyards (yes, the wine was actually very good), intricately decorated churches, folklore festivals, wildlife, etc. Not to mention the food. 

I'm happy to report that the food is just as good in 2013 as it was in 2003.
Fried fish along the coast. Author of photo: Den Nation.
Poached eggs with yoghurt and cheese. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I know the above photo doesn't look like much, but it was one of the best dishes I had in Bulgaria. Bulgarian yoghurt is delicious, slightly-sour with a tangy lemon flavour.

Shopska salad. Author of photo: Den Nation.

How can something so simple be so good? The Shopska salad is to Bulgaria what wine and cheese is to France. It is so good on its own that there is no need for any dressing. We ate a Shopska salad at almost every meal. What is its secret? Fresh ingredients. And what they call "snow cheese", or Sirene cheese, a feta-like cheese that is eaten all over the Balkans. Other ingredients include tomatoes, bell pepper, red onion and cucumber. That's it.

Sea bream. Author of photo: Den Nation.

I love, love, love grilled fish, the speciality along the Black Sea coast. This fish was so good that we ordered it for lunch and dinner. I have to say, last night I ordered the same fish in Arcachon, the closest beach to Bordeaux, and it wasn't as good as the sea bream I had in Bulgaria. Not all food is better in France!

Pizza in Veliko Tarnovo. Author of photo: Den Nation.
I'm serious, this pizza was so good that I can comfortably say that it was better than most of the pizzas I've had in Italy. I don't think that all Bulgarian pizza is created equal, though. I think that it's this particular restaurant that makes excellent pizza. This restaurant is famous in Bulgaria - people from around Bulgaria travel to Veliko just to eat at this place! If you are ever in Veliko Tarnovo, please go and eat at Shtastlivetsa.

Bulgarian dessert in Veliko Tarnovo. Author of photo: Den Nation.
This is Shtastlivetsa's signature dessert; you will not find it around Bulgaria unfortunately. I'm not really sure what it consists of, but I know it was made of marscapone, walnuts, chocolate and honey. Desserts are not Bulgaria's forte, but this was one of the best desserts I've ever had in my life. 

Tarator soup. Author of photo: Den Nation.
 Tarator soup is perfect on a hot summer's day. It is a cold coup made of yoghurt and cucumber (garlic, walnuts, dill or oil are sometimes added).

Roasted peppers. Author of photo: Den Nation.
When I was a child I would recoil in horror every time my grandparents would eat roasted peppers. Now I love them and they were everywhere in Bulgaria. These peppers were served with chunks of garlic bread and Bulgarian cheese. I could hardly move the night I ate them.

Veliko Tarnovo's fortress. Author of photo: Den Nation.
Veliko Tarnovo's fortress reminds me of Carcassonne in France, only without all the crowds and souvenir shops. The fortress contains the ruins of 14 churches which leads me to wonder: What kind of fortress needed to have 14 churches? 

I hope to make it back one day to discover the western part of the country. I'd like to make it out to Bulgaria's wine country, Melnik, in the south-east part of the country. I would also like to visit the city of Plovdiv and Rila Monastery. 

The food is enough to pull me back one day!

dimanche 1 septembre 2013

I'm back

Hello everyone and welcome to September, my favourite month of the year!

This summer just passed me by in a blur; it seems like just yesterday that it was only starting. I can't believe I last posted in July. I missed posting and thought about blogging, but I physically couldn't find the time to sit down and post. I couldn't even keep up with all the blogs I love to read. It was all I could do to keep up with my professional work. Every year I swear I will work more in August when everyone else is on holiday, but every year I get caught up in the French way (not only French actually) of travelling in August.

I spent July in Copenhagen welcoming many visitors to Denmark and into our home. I never imagined that we would have so many people come visit us! I also took Danish classes the entire month of July and discovered that I liked the language more and more as the month wore on. August saw us travelling a lot: we came back to Bordeaux to bring back some of our belongings, went to visit family and friends in Grenoble, went on a last minute trip to Bulgaria and spent one last week in Copenhagen. Our last few minutes in Copenhagen saw us running in the rain to the metro. In all of our months in Copenhagen, it only rained a couple of times. Then, just as we are leaving, it was as if the gods were angry and all of the previous months' built-up rain was dumped on us in the span of a few minutes. Seriously, I have rarely seen it rain that much in such a short span of time. I guess it really was time to go.

Bordeaux hasn't changed that much and I am so glad for that. Before leaving in January I was so afraid to leave because I was afraid of change, but now I am just so happy to be back here in our apartment. We had a couple of issues with public transport (every time we fly through CDG I swear it's the last time), but of course it wouldn't be France without some sort of pesty problem coming up.

I'm just looking forward to September: the last few days of hot weather, the availability of so many great fruits and vegetables, the leaves changing colour, grapes ripening on the grapevines and the way the light hits the landscape.

When did I become like this? When I was an adolescent in Canada I used to abhor the last months of the year. I swore that I would never like autumn and winter. Now the crushing summer heat bothers me more and more. I like long winter nights, isn't that weird?

Christiana, an autonomous hippy neighbourhood of Copenhagen.
Author of photo: Den Nation.
Good-bye Denmark, Copenhagen and summer.

Monument aux Girondins during the October fair in Bordeaux.
Author of photo: Den Nation.
Hello France, Bordeaux and autumn.