Posts Tagged ‘France’

Our bags are packed

  How odd that the last year of our life can be packed up in just a few suitcases and boxes… 

We’re preparing to move out any day now. We hired XSBaggage, the company who shipped our stuff here in the first place, to help us move back to the US. Basically, we packed two suitcases and two large cardboard boxes with our excess clothes, shoes, souvenirs, kitchen supplies, and chocolates, and we’re sending them on ahead of us. In fact, I’m waiting for the shipping company guy to come pick them up now. 

They should be arriving at my parent’s door in Green Bay in a few days – they might even beat us there. That is, unless the cardboard boxes fall apart, which I’m slightly worried about happening.

Other than that, we’ve returned our rental Citroen car, packed up our Indian spices and our baking/cooking foods and given them off to people who want them (peanut butter and black beans to the Americans, cookie sprinkles to the moms, spices to an English woman who likes Indian food), donated read books to the library, donated my yoga mat to the class…

Since we’re not grocery shopping anymore, we’re just eating frozen food from Picard (I have to blog about that place soon). And now we just have to clean up this place!


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As I was leafing through the Christmas ads today, I came across the store GiFi’s toy section. You might remember my initial shock that kids in France have board games. Well, today I was also shocked to see they have play kitchens, too. 

A toy washing machine

 I find this amusing because, from what I can gather about the size of most kitchens in France, these “toy” sets and their accompanying “appliances,” seem to be Life Sized.

As you can see on the left, the washing machine appears to fit about three pairs of pants. The toy oven is just barely large enough for a chicken. You get the point.

And if my American readers wonder why I am including the washing machine as part of a kitchen set, it’s quite common here in France, and in some other parts of Europe, to put the washing machine right next to the stove or sink. I feel like that is really weird, because I hate the thought of my clothing next “dirty” things, but I guess it’s just a cultural difference.

However, washing laundry with European washing machines is frustrating. Oh, sure, kids, it might look fun. But trust me, there’s nothing fun at all about cramming just four shirts and two pairs of socks into a tiny machine and watch it loudly spin and sound like it is ready to explode for the next three hours.

A make-believe Deep Fryer

A make-believe Deep Fryer

Other than the toy irons, vacuums, and dishwasher, the toys I found most interesting were the ones I never see in the United States. Specifically, a toy coffee pot (huh?) and … a toy deep fryer. Not kidding. They actually have a plastic toy “friteuse.” (Apologies for the dark photos, our camera’s shutter battery is low and we can’t figure out where to buy a new one). 

That’s weird, right? I am actually afraid of deep-frying anything, so I give props to kids brave enough to play with one of these.  Then again, the fried potatoes and chicken wing that come with it do look pretty tasty. I just wish I had some kid I could give a Christmas present to.

I would tell their parents I got a toy kitchen item from France, and, being typical Americans, they would think, “Oh, how fabulous, our child will be able to play with something so sophisticated and gourmet! Perhaps it’s a crepe-maker, or a Le creuset Dutch Oven for cooking free-range coq au vin, or maybe she bought play molds for making madeleines!”

And then I would bust out a plastic deep-fryer.

This made me wonder, though, do make-believe kitchen toys always change by culture? If they have deep fryers in France (Which I’m not even certain are really that popular in the French home),  what do they have in other countries?

If we’re on the ‘dangerous appliances’  kick, for example,  do they have toy pressure-cookers in India? Toy spritz-cookie presses in Germany? Or toy asado sets in Argentina?  

It reminds me of the time I was playing with my Pakistani friend’s young daughter, and I saw her rolling play dough with a rolling pin. “Are you making a pie?” I asked her. 

“No, I’m making chapati,” she said. 

Oh. Why didn’t I think of that?

Why is this little gori cooking with Indian dishes?

So I did some Internet research. It turns out that, yes, you can buy toy kitchen sets from other cultures. I just searched for Indian kitchens, and came up with quite a few. And I’m sure if Indian children have these, children from all sorts of other countries have their own versions, too.

I’m going to ignore the fact that there’s a blond girl on this box. Looking at the items inside it, it’s quite obviously for an Indian audience. It looks like there are those metal cups, a lunch dabba, a vegetable grater, and possibly even some sort of idli maker.

The other boxes I saw, including one called “Pure Veg Cooking Set,” have different items. “Let’s Make Dinner Together,” even has all the dangerous toys for kids who want to cook on the edge:  fake gas burners attached to a fake-gas tank and a toy pressure cooker.

Well, I know what my future child is getting for Christmas someday. “Pratima, be quiet and go play with your pressure cooker!”

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The $150 Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving!

The girls, in Val's "pilgrim hats"

France or no France, my American friends and I couldn’t go without Thanksgiving this year, so we decided to do it up the best we could. Since Thursday wasn’t a holiday in France, and our husbands had class, we decided to push our celebration back to Saturday.

We invited 17 people over to my place – not just Americans, but also Canadians (same thing, eh?), Israelis and Russians. And the best part? We made everyone pick a traditional American Thanksgiving dish to make. For a few of the dishes, (like the green bean casserole) we handed out recipes and supplies (French’s Onion Rings) that we brought back from America. 

I think people were hesitant about making unfamiliar food, but everything turned out great. Our Russian friends brought the corn pudding, which actually tasted better than the usual stuff, and our Israeli friends made things like candied yams and green bean casserole, which tasted just like the ones my family makes.

The Thanksgiving spread

Getting the turkey was the tricky part. One of our fluent French-speaking American friends went to the weekly market in town and talked to the butcher. It turned out he would be able to get a turkey with some advance notice. The French eat turkey, but in slices – it’s not common to request an entire turkey. He said he had to tell the butcher exactly how he wanted it (no feet, no feathers, no head, gizzards taken out) and apparently the French people in back of him in line were laughing at how silly it would be to get a turkey with its head already chopped off… whatever. It still had a few feathers on it he had to pluck off Saturday morning, he said.

Anyhow, it turned out delicious. I don’t eat meat, but I did have a tiny little bite of the bird and it was cooked to perfection.

Good thing it tasted good, as it cost more than 100 euros! Can you believe it? As my friend said, that whole “supply and demand” thing is really a b****h.

For my part, I made my grandma’s recipes for pumpkin pie and chestnut stuffing (which, to everyone’s confusion, we didn’t actually stuff in the turkey). I also tried a new recipe for vegetarian mushroom gravy, which was good.

Overall, it was a huge success, I have to say. The dinner made sure we Americans didn’ t feel homesick , and our non-American friends said they were happy we shared this holiday with them – no one had celebrated a Thanksgiving before, even though everyone had heard about it in books and in movies. Even better, we got to prove to people that “traditional” American foods are every bit as tasty as those of other countries.

I think it’s a shame that Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday that gets “imported” to other countries much. I mean, it seems like everyone in the world celebrates Valentine’s Day, or Halloween, lately, but Thanksgiving is such a nice family holiday with yummy food and a good purpose — giving thanks for blessings — why can’t we promote that abroad, instead of Cupid and Jack-o-lanterns?

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Where the heck am I?

The toilet at a champagne-tasting place

With apologies to all those who don’t expect to look at a toilet first thing in the morning – this is what greeted me last week, as I walked away from a French champagne-tasting bar and into the bathroom.

I couldn’t believe it. “How much champagne did I drink?” I thought to myself. “I’m not in India. I must be hallucinating.”

Because, honestly, the only time I’ve ever seen these toilets has been in India. I know they’re common in Asia and parts of the Middle-East as well. I try to avoid them, but sometimes, it’s impossible (like at museums). Most of my husband’s relatives have Western-style toilets, and those that don’t have always been kind enough to arrange things with their neighbors so that I can use their bathrooms, if I need to. Because I think using a toilet like this takes a lot of skill, and some practice, and I’m usually only visiting for a few days.

So, this was really the last thing I expected to see in France, of all places. But my friends told me that these toilets are really quite common down in the South of France, and they’re all over Italy. Interesting…

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Fog over the Village

Blogger’s note: I wrote this post a few days ago, and the air has cleared since then. However, as I still find the topic interesting, I’m going to post it anyway.

The half of the village I live in is nestled in between two small hills.

And while this allows you to descend into lovely fall foliage as you drive to our house, it also means that, for all purposes, we are nestled in a valley. Which isn’t a big deal. Except…

People in France love their chimneys. They’re so popular here that bags of firewood are not only custom-ordered, but also sold in large bags in supermarkets and gas stations.

People here also burn leaves. I’m not sure why. My village is about a 3-minute walk from a huge national forest. They could easily leave a pile of leaves there to decompose, if, for some reason, they felt they couldn’t just let the leaves stay in their yards. But no, they insist on burning them.

This, combined with the nightly fireplace-burning, means that, starting in the early morning hours, my house is stuck in a thick blanket of smog. Chimney smog. Just call me Pipp. Or Oliver. Or some other Dickens character.

It’s not too bad, generally, unless the wind isn’t blowing. Then, I start to have an asthma attack upon waking up. And when I leave my street in the early morning hours, I can barely see through the thick smog. It’s sort of like being in Delhi, except that I don’t get the good food to go along with it .

And, of course, except that the air clears mid-morning.

It’s odd, though. I’ve had this conversation with some other foreigners here in France, and we’re all surprised at the copious amount of fireplace- burning that goes on. From what some French people have told me, they look at it like they are saving on gas or electricity for heating, hence, saving the Earth. I can see this point, to a certain extent, and I applaud them caring about the atmosphere. But,  isn’t polluting with fireplace smoke just as bad? Or am I missing something here? And that’s not meant as a rhetorical question, I’m actually curious what other people think about this. Let me know.

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Connect 4 - in French

As D. and I mentally prepare to leave France in just a few weeks, I’m keeping my eyes open for cool gifts to bring back home for the holidays.

Naturally, I think mostly of food gifts — honey from our village, vinaigrettes, flavored mustards, glazed chestnuts, spice for “spiced bread,” poppy syrup, etc.

But today I opened up a store advertisement someone had placed in our mailbox, and I noticed it was the Christmas gift edition. And, guess what? The French have the same children’s games we have in America — only in French!

Shocking, I know.


Operation, in France

But I keep thinking about how cool it would have been, when I was a little girl, to have received a board game I knew how to play – but in French.  For example? “Docteur Maboul,” which we, in the US, know as “Operation.”  You just know that if you had owned the French version of this game when you were in elementary school, you would have been the most popular playdate friend around.


Guess Who?

I’ve also seen Connect 4 under the name “Puissance 4,” and, my personal favorite, “Que est-ce?” — or Guess who? You remember — the one where you play the part of a Maricopa County detective, using racial-profiling to nab suspects?   “Does he have dark skin? “Does his look Hispanic?” “Does he have a funny-sounding name?” “Is he driving a minivan?” (Just kidding, “Guess Who” fans. I know, I know, it’s an innocent game ).

 I think it would be really fun to play “Guess Who?” in French.  Especially because, from what I can tell, they’ve “Frenched” the game up a bit, changing the characters names to things like “Sophie” and “Phillipe” and “Bernard.” Unless these were the original English names, too, I’m not sure.  On a positive note, at least  the woman who wears a beret in her photo doesn’t look as ridiculous when you play the game in France.

The advertisement also shows the game Pictionary: Un mot en un coup de crayon. I think I’d really like to buy this game, then suggest playing Pictionary with my US friends. Without telling them, I’ll just bust the French version out and watch their confusion grow as they pick cards and realize they can’t read them. Same thing with the game “Taboo.”

Anyhow, I doubt I will actually end up buying any of these games. They’re too bulky and heavy to bring back on an airplane and, plus, I don’t really know any 8-year-olds who would enjoy them. Which is a shame. Because I would really love to be the “cool” aunt or cousin who brings back foreign board games. Oh well. Maybe someday.

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You never know what you will see on the side of the country roads here in France.

To get from D’s school (and the center of town) to our place, you have to travel for about 5 minutes on a 4-lane country highway that goes through the forest of Fontainebleau.

Sometimes, especially in the evening, you see deer. Or wild boars.

Other times, especially in the day, you see men peeing on the side of the road. Or, prostitutes.

Yes, that’s right.

Young women (and sometimes, unfortunately, young teenagers) stand in pairs just a few feet off the road’s shoulder, wearing puffy jackets, tight pants and too much makeup. They’re strategically located a few kilometres from one another, and they’re standing on each major road that leaves the city, so there’s obviously a lot of forethought (and a business plan?) that goes into this.

They’ll usually be there for a day or two, then leave, and not come back for a few more weeks.

The first time I saw these girls, I drove past and thought,

 “Oh wow, someone’s car broke down, that sucks! I wonder if I should help…no, I don’t speak French. Well, they probably have a cell phone anyway.”


Hmmm that’s weird, they don’t have a car. How could it have broken down?”


 “Wow, they’re dressed like …. Ohhhhhh!”

What can I say, I’m a bit slow on the uptake?

This summer, my friends and I were driving back from a store and were practically in an accident after some dumbass guy decided, at the last minute, to stop for one of the girl.  Basically, he slammed on his breaks so hard and suddenly that about 6 cars behind him (all, of course, tailgating because that’s what they do here in France) had to slam on their breaks, and we all almost crashed into each other. Fortunately, we didn’t.

Thanks, dude. Glad it couldn’t wait.

Honestly, though, I’m really surprised that this goes on in France. Remember, we aren’t in some really run-down, dangerous part of a big American city, where you might see women walking the street. No, these spots are on country roads in the forest, near pretty pricey real estate in the nearby villages. It’s shocking to see these girls standing by the side of the road, and the police just ignoring it – we’re not in a poor country, here, we’re in France!

What the hell? Does anyone have an information about this? It seems that prostitution is illegal in France, but obviously the officials don’t really go after it. Even more disturbing, a lot of these girls look  like they aren’t French, meaning they were trafficked here. Which gives an entirely more seedy and sad dimension to the whole thing.

Is this common in other parts of France, too?

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