Thursday, July 26, 2012
Now on my previous list I should have been clearer that the differences are based on what I have experienced in a very localized part of France. It is like comparing a large town / small city in the Midwest USA to New York City...what I observe here in Compiegne is going to be different from major cities like Paris, and even from other regions in France. Many of the differences may very well be my misinterpretation because I don't know the language or the "why" behind certain behaviour. Nor am I passing judgement in the slightest (unless expressly stated) because things are simply different from what I am accustomed to, not necessarily better or worse.
Except for the number of vacation days I now get, those are way better.
I will adapt fairly easily. Except maybe for the morning hand-shaking / cheek kissing routine, that is hard to get used to; I can't wait for cold & flu season.
So caveats aside, some more of the differences I've experienced lately:
*for grocery shopping everyone brings their own bag because the stores don’t provide the cheap flimsy plastic bags we are used to in the US and you bag your items yourself (just like Aldi now that I think about it, but that is not that common of a store in my area)…no bag, too bad (and everyone stares at you)…finally I fit in with all my reusable shopping bags! My kids laugh at me because I have my own bags but now I have the last laugh!
*the grocery store has the normal things you walk between to detect shoplifters but also has security guards at the entrances. I'm sure that's normal in parts of the US too, but not where I live. And those shoplifter detectors go off when I wear a certain sweater because of something in the name/care/size tag. You'd think I would have remembered that from the first time it happened but nooo, not me. They almost didn't let me in tonight because I was setting off the alarms. I had to rip the tags off to get out of the store without setting them off again. Thankfully it was the sweater tags setting them off and not the tag on my pants because that one wasn't coming off without scissors.
*if you ask for butter for your bread or ketchup for your fries you may get stared at (in one case in a restaurant in Paris my American coworker got a horrified look complete with a gasp & raised eyebrows for asking for butter for her bread. Now the waiter may have been having fun with us, I don't know, but it was quite a visible reaction); in the store I went to here in Compiegne the ketchup bottles are the size of mayo bottles in the US (small) and the mayo bottles are US ketchup sized (large)
*there is no “Diet” Coke or “Diet” Pepsi…here it is branded as Coke or Pepsi “Light”
*ice in your water/Coke/etc is not a divine right; neither are free refills
*you have to ask for the bill at the restaurant. I have been told it is because it is considered rude and seen as rushing the customers if the waiter brings the bill to you before you ask for it; if you pay by credit card they have nifty little hand held machines they use right at your table (and very few places accept American Express). Imagine my surprise at check-out after staying at a little bed & breakfast here for 2 weeks - which was booked for me by my company travel agency - to learn that the B&B did not accept AmEx. Now I already knew that most places in this area did not take AmEx but I had assumed (bad me!) that the agency knew I had AmEx as my travel card and would therefore book me somewhere that accepted it. Now I know to stipulate form of accepted payment up front when making reservations.
*the credit cards all have a little chip in them so they just get inserted into the machines, no swiping a magnetic strip. I usually get very strange looks and my cards get scrutinized since US cards don’t have chips; sometimes the person swipes it backwards or upside down b/c they are not familiar with no-chip cards. This also means there are some things I can’t do right now, like buy a train ticket from the machine or get fuel for the car unless I go to a place with an attendant who can accept cash (which I have avoided doing, again due to not knowing the language and fear of putting the wrong fuel in the tank and therefore killing the rental car)
*On average most of the people I have seen are smaller than in the USA; of course here I feel very large and overweight compared to a lot of the women I see or work with although I know I am not (size-wise I am a medium in France and a “small” in the US due to our vanity sizing). On the plus side I don’t think I’ve ever seen here any of the fashions modeled by the People of Walmart which is a very good thing. If you don't know what I mean go here:
*Another good thing…no Walmart
*there is greenery EVERYWHERE…there are trees, shrubs, flowers, plants literally everywhere, along the road, in parks, on balconies & roofs…everywhere…and lots of parks…compared to Detroit & the suburb where I live it is like being in a greenhouse here (and is most awesome)
*no Mexican food (supposedly there is Mexican and TexMex in Paris but I have been told it is not what I would expect) and no Starbucks in Compiegne and nothing comparable, although there are 50+ Starbucks in Paris it is a bit far to go to get my fix
*many more foods are eaten with a knife & fork, including things like hamburgers and pizza and fruit (and the pizza I've had in the restaurants is more like a thin crust than our regular pizza except the crust is soft instead of crispy)…although there is a Dominos Pizza just down the road that I haven’t been brave enough to order from due to my almost non-existent French, which might be closer to what I expect from a pizza. I will also mention that while I have seen many people eating a hamburger with fork & knife I have also seen people pick one up to eat with their hands.
I fly home to the US Friday morning and get to stay there for 2 weeks, to meet with the moving company, preperty management company, go to the French Consulate to turn in our Visa and residency applications, and have my Dad hang the last few doors and put in the house trim. And start packing and get my son moved & re-registered for school & moving on his Eagle project & get his Dad motivated to help him and get the pets microchipped and & and & and.
I will be very glad when the move is finished. I come back to France for 1 week in mid-August to sign the lease for the house and then back to the US again to finish packing. And - I hope! - get our Visas in time to come back at the very end of August for good.
And my question for the day: If windows in France do not have screens how do people keep their pets inside the house without keeping the windows closed all the time? I don't think I can live without opening the windows, it gets too stuffy to breathe, but I don't want the animals going outside either. The yard is completely fenced so I'm not worried about Stupid Dog but the cats can get past the fence.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
On my initial "look & see"' visit to Compiègne I received a ''Sports Guide'' listing all the clubs and teams available. It is quite a bit different from where I live in southeast Michigan.
Some of the possibilities include:
* several types of martial arts
* circus arts
* rowing / canoeing / kayaking
* rock climbing
* mountain boarding / skateboarding / rollerblading
* motor biking
* table tennis
* shooting / archery
Plus the common things like dance, soccer, track, gymnastics, baseball, basketball, horseback riding, etc.
Many of these are available where I live in MI, but not necessarily close by, and are typically offered as a class at the community college so not necessarily practical for continuing practice.
To continue with karate I will need to start in a different style, at the ''beginning'' again, which is OK as it is a new challenge. I think I will also look into fencing. I took one class in college for my gym credit, with my boyfriend (and whooped his behind 'cuz I was bad-ass even then) and really enjoyed it. I also used to watch re-runs of the old Disney series Zorro as a kid and always thought fencing was super cool.
There are so many possibilities that I will have no excuses to slack off on the fitness once we're moved here!
Monday, July 23, 2012
I am in the process of moving to France for work. I was offered the opportunity a few months ago...with no specific position named at the time but a promise of one to be found...and since I work for a French company an international posting, to France in particular, is a major coup. Few Americans get that opportunity and I'd have been short-sighted to say the least not to take advantage of it.
So we started the process and in the interim I had about 3 different potential positions until the final decision, which ended up being a promotion to the position I had expected last year. Bonus! So since June I've been going back & forth, starting my new position & closing out my old one, waiting for my work permit & Visa to be approved so I can make the final move.
Needless to say it is somewhat stressful. In addition to not speaking the language (yet) the culture and environment can be a bit different than Americans are used to. Fortunately I've been to France several times for work so it's not a completely new experience but somehow it just seems different from a short term visit.
For my fellow Americans, some of the differences I've experienced so far (outside of the obvious language & metric system ones):
*toilets are in a separate room from the sink/shower/tub in homes & hotels
*shower heads are typically the hand-held kind with a hook or something attached to the wall to hold them
*no shower curtains, just a short glass/plastic rectangle that is maybe 2-3 feet wide (so needless to say one gets water everywhere until figuring things out!)
*no window screens (and no mosquitoes!)
*occasionally see men urinating on the street (which is technically illegal but happens anyway)
*opening a bank account is a big deal - I had to provide proof of residence, a letter from my employer, pay stubs, my contract, and an utility bill.
*not that I will do this but the bank made very sure I am aware that bouncing a check is a major deal - if it happens, no more bank account...anywhere...ever...in addition to the legal penalties
*renting a home or apartment is also a big deal - I had to provide all of the same documents as above but also my current property tax bill and my income has to be a minimum of 3 times the rent
*homes are much smaller than we are used to in the US, and more expensive (than my area in MI anyway)...the house I am trying to rent is just under 1300 square feet and the rent will be as much as my mortgage in the US for a 2400 sq.ft. home
*yards are also much smaller (at least as compared to my neighbourhood, which is old though so the yards are much larger than the norm today for new housing)
*yards are typically completely fenced in around the entire property, front & back
*real estate agencies are all independent and there is no master on-line data base of all the houses/apartments for sale/rent in the region...so unlike the US where you can go to any agency and see everything regardless of which agency lists it, here you have to go to each individual agency to see only what the agency is listing. This really slows down the process
*at work one is expected to greet & shake hands (or kiss) all coworkers every morning...this is probably one of the hardest things to get used to
*no tipping in the restaurants, this is already included in the bill...another thing difficult for us to get used to
*there ARE "real" grocery stores and people DO shop for more than a day or two at a time...unlike what we are led to believe
*no peanut butter or Keurig coffee makers/k-cups...Nutella is just not the same and the Keurig equivalent is Tassimo
*air conditioning is not a divine right
*cars tend to be stick shifts and use diesel, not gasoline
*malls are not the norm, most stores are in street store fronts
*stores/banks/offices tend to be closed during the lunch hours, and close by 6-7 at night; they are also generally closed on Sundays, and some on Mondays as well; my bank, for example is open from Tuesday-Friday, from 8:45-12:30 and 2:00-5:15, and on Saturday from 8:45-12:00
*closing time does not mean you come in at 11:55 am when they close at noon and still expect to take care of your business; closing time means the time all business is finished.
*there are coins for 1 and 2 euros, not bills
I will be located in or near to a city called Compiegne, which is about 45-60 minutes northeast of Paris. Here is the wiki link if you are interested: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compi%C3%A8gne
The house I found last week is in a tiny village (population 556) called Guiraumont, about 5 miles away from the Compiegne city center & about the same from my company. I'm still waiting to find out if I can rent it. Here are some pictures of the front & back of the house:
We (me, my daughter, Stupid Dog, and 3 of my 5 cats) will be here in France for 3 years. There may be a possibility to extend my contract for another year or two, but it's impossible to say what will happen 3 years from now. We have to go to the French consulate in Chicago on 8/6 to submit our Visa applications and the lady in immigration thinks we should be approved by mid- to late- August, at which time we will make the official move.
In the meantime my Dad is coming to MI for a week (from SC) to hang the last 3 interior doors and put in all the new trim & door mouldings in the house. I had thought about letting my son stay there when I move, since he is staying in the US to go to school. He will be 17...but I don't think he is quite mature enough to be allowed to stay on his own. He would survive but I don't think my house would fare well. So he will go live with his Dad which means he will have to go to a different school than the one he planned, and find a different job, since his Dad lives about 45 minutes away from us.
My daughter will be going to the regular French public schools. She just finished 9th grade in the US but will be repeating it in France since she is not fluent in French and is also "behind" in math - in MI our schools teach geometry in 10th grade but apparently in France the students have already learned it. So for her first year (anywhere from 3-9 months) she will be in the "special" French school to get caught up in her subjects (French & math) and when she is fluent enough in French she will transfer to the regular public school.
And in the meantime I am racking up the frequent flyer miles going back & forth!
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