We have now been here 3 months - that's worth some sort of blogline - right??? As you can see we are very comfortable now! A portrait of lazy French lifestyle??
So, ever since we moved in, the drain in our shower has been kind of slow. We have been complaining about it from the beginning and one time someone came over and messed with it, which fixed it for like, a few days.
We decided to just deal with it (which meant, turn on water to get wet, turn if off to soap up, turn it on to rinse off, hope it would drain by the next morning etc..) until it completely stopped draining about 3 or 4 days ago - making us resort to the tub. We told the gaurdien (French for slum, oh, I mean, landlord) and he told us our lease doesn't cover fixing drains (even though it has never worked since we've been here) and we'd have to call a plumber.
Back track a few years ago to similar plumbing problem at Gowen Circle. We tried some Drano and it basically didn't work and finally we did call a plumber who, when hearing we used Drano, started laughing at us and said something to the effect of "Those things never work, they are just a scam to get your money!" To his credit, he fixed our Gowen Circle slow drain completely, worth every penny (it actually wasn't even that much).
So we decided not to investigate French Drano and just call the plumber. He came pretty early the next morning, took a look at our drain and told us (you've guessed it) "I can't fix this, you have to buy Drano." The irony! Well, I hope French Drano works better than the American version (maybe so, based on the chemicals they used to wash the houses) or I will never get a satisfying shower!
In other news this week, our quest continues for bargains in France. You all know that I am a dedicated flea market and thrift store shopper. This has been my hardest cultural adjustment to deal with. There are no big thrift stores in France and the 2 stores I have found that sell used clothes are small and none too cheap (although I have gotten some good things there, like the kids' winter coats, etc...). We also never saw garage or yard sales in the fall when we first got here, or flea markets - all the street markets seem to have amazing artisan-quality handmade goods - fun to look at but far too rich for my wallet. We did find one large sale advertised in the paper at the end of November, but it was impossible to reach by bus. Well, I found another one, all things to be sold for only 1 euro. Perfect!
Strange thing was that it was running on a Tues, Wed, Thurs, and it was also (of course) unreachable by bus. Well, I was determined to make this one. We decided to borrow Olivier's car mid week and head to the sale on Wednesday evening. All was going according to plan until we got to Olivier's house and the car was dead! With the help of my tough French children, we pushed the car up and down a hill a few times to try to pop start it - to no avail. Olivier was not home to give us a jump start so we gave up for the night. Was it a flea market curse? Well, we did end up making it there last night and the kids got little gifts for each other for the holidays. It is interesting trying to teach them about this aspect of the holiday. You are supposed to not just get, but give. In some ways they get this naturally, in general they are generous kids, sharing candy with their friends, helping me volunteer for charity or bake goodies for their teachers but when we mention giving to their siblings... not so much! Also, different kids had different foibles. Callie kept finding things that she wanted for herself and telling me, "Oh, I think Zander would really like this..." Oh really, that pink princess crown???? Griffin just picked any random trash he saw 'This is for Daddy' - hmm.... a ceramic mug missing the handle??? Zander picked things he really did think they would like, but I knew they wouldn't. "Look mommy, it's a princess, Callie loves princesses!" But Zander, she hates Pocahantas.... I want them to learn to pick things out - but my urge is to just pick things out for them and say - get them this. It ended up some sort of blend of the two - although I don't know how much anyone will like Griffin's choices!
All in all, it worked out well, I even got some clothes for myself and some marroon colored high heeled knee high leather boots, which are tres chic. It took longer than we thought and we ended up having to resort to fast food. Yes, three months in our family finally made it to what everyone in Besancon has been telling us is their best (and only) American restaurant: McDonalds. We try to tell them, McDonalds is NOT American food! It is fast food junk... but then, what is American food anyway???
So we head to the golden arches - the kids are psyched - Zander especially who got to go to a few McD's birthday parties last year in Philly and loves the cheeseburgers... Well, the menu is not the same as in the US for sure, and Andre' reports the Big Mac special sauce is a different recipe. Also, it was just a different feeling. Seemed as if it wasn't a particularly healthy menu - and the French - they are worried about that! The place mats that your food go on have warnings about how it is bad for you to eat such fatty food and also feature a quiz on how many servings of fruits and veggies to eat per day for optimum health. (They also have health warnings running along the bottom of TV screens whenever there is a commercial for chocolate, candy or other unhealthy items - here is a shot of Zander posing next to a giant chocolate santa - gift from tutor Cecile - as you can see, these warnings work well to change eating habits - but maybe it's just because we don't speak the language well enough...) But (as usual), I digress. When we got to the register to order, we asked for no bun for Griffin's burger (gluten allergy). Response? "This is not possible" Obviously it's not "your way, right away" here in France. This 'you can't have special adjustment to your meal' theme is actually true for all French restaurants we have experienced. I once made the mistake of asking them to add some fried onions to a steak meal I wanted and the waiter helpfully tried to explain. Oh, no - it doesn't come with onions, it comes with green beans and potatoes..... Well, yeah, I know, but could I also get onions? Response? ....blank stare. In France, they consider their meals perfect as they are - you may not adjust them for personal, or allergenic, reasons. They sometimes don't even have salt and pepper on the table - our cuisine comes perfectly seasoned from the kitchen, thank you very much...
So, back to McDonalds. We decided to skip the "mcdrive" - i.e. the drive-through! It seems that it is uncommon enough here they can get away with just calling it mcdrive. Inside, they did have nuggets, fries and burgers - and also mcCroque sandwich - sort of a french grilled cheese with ham inside. For dessert??? We'll have chocolate mcmousse of course! They did have a fun play place area that the kids ran around in and the 'happy meal' with a toy. The play area was in a sound insulated glass cube, separated from where the adults were dining - nice! Also, we saw lots of families there obviously hanging out for an entire evening - the little ones were playing in the cube while teenagers set up games - like RISK!!! Fast food, perhaps, but no fast eating!
Well, the week is officially over and the 2 week winter break has begun. Callie and Griffin had a big party at their school complete with cakes and a visit from Pere Noel. Both Callie and Griffin wanted to get dressed up for the occassion - Callie even had a fancy hairdo. When we came in that morning, one of the mothers commented to her son (one of Callie's classmates) on how pretty (jolie) Callie looked this day. His response? "Oui, Callie est toujours jolie" (Yes, she is always pretty!) So cute. One of the interesting things about the schools here is that there seems to be no holiday concerts/celebrations put on for the parents. Callie told me her class sung a song for the other children - but parents weren't invited. How about Zander? His school had nothing. Perhaps this is a function of the fact that there is no separately paid music or art teachers in the schools here who are usually the ones to put these types of things together, but I think it is sad. No sense of the school as a community.
The kids did do some cool art projects - here are some shots of their stuff....
Griffin did the diorama. Zander the ornaments, Callie the big wolf. I hope this is the end of the grand loup (big wolf) unit they have been doing since the beginning of the year and she also decorated a floating candle meant to be lit in the window so Santa can find your house. As you can see, the teachers do a TON of helping out with these projects. Every day, without fail, when I come into the school, there are one or two teachers' aides cutting up paper trees or cutting perfect shapes out of paper - they paint, they glue, they decoupage. (Actually it looks pretty fun to me) The resulting art is pretty impressive for the preschool set. The big drawback, in my opinion, is that the individuality of the art is lost - they all look the same. I mean, when Griff brought this home and Daddy asked him the classic "Wow! Did you make that for us?" His answer was a simple, no. When pressed, he admits he glued on the bon bons (candy). I prefer his art to be more natural for a 3 year old - it still comes out great if you ask me. Take a look at this 'feather' picture - it is of our whole family.
Finally, I had my appointment for my carte de sejour (green card) today. I left Griffin for the full morning at school so he wouldn't have to come with me. Of course, he pooped in his pants...oh well. We'll see what happens over the break.
Poor André had to take time off work to come with me to the prefecture since they don't speak any English there. You know you are desparate for a date when you are excited to spend some time with your spouse in a government agency waiting room. Oh, how we miss the babysitting co-op! The appointment went pretty smoothly (thanks to André for all his hard work to get all the papers in order), and I should have my card in 4 weeks or so, but we had to pay a 275 Euro fee for my visa. André's was free, since he is working, but they charge for mine. Just another bill to pay, and another injustice to the stay at home mom!
So, does André have his carte de sejour?? Of course the answer is, no! He was supposed to get it within 2 months of arrival and, after waiting for a month for it to come in the mail, called to see what the hold up was. Turns out it is one of those things that has plagued our interaction with beauracracy our entire married life: that we are Dhondts! That's right, André's card is being held up due to his decision (over 10 years ago now) to take my name when we got married. I had always wanted to keep my name and have my kids have my name since, otherwise, there would be no more Dhondts to carry on the name. When we were dating I mentioned this to André and he thought, why not? No big deal. (one of the many, many reasons I married the guy). Well, this is strange enough in America and always draws comments from people. Apparently it is so unusual and unheard of in France that he needs to get some sort of special permission from the minister of immigration in Paris to get a carte de sejour in the name Dhondt. Who knows when that will happen... and what if the guy says no?
I can just hear it now--"We're sorry--you have to go back to America because you took your wife's name. We don't do that kind of thing here in France." I think we'd have to organize a greve (strike)! That'll show them how french we are!
While we were there we thought it would be good to mention we will be heading to Switzerland and Italy in a few weeks in case they knew of some extra paperwork we might need besides our passports. "Oh", the very nice prefecture employee said, "you can't leave the country." Say WHAT????? Why can't we just use our passports and pretend we are normal american tourists????? Well, the (unnapproved) visa papers are part of our passport - we might be able to get out of the country, but will they let us back in? Curses, Curses, and more curses!!! We have to call the french embassy in Lyon to check on the specific rules for this - but it is highly possible that there will be no border crossing for our family during our vacation - thank goodness the studio we rented is in the French Alps - but I am going to be spitting nails if we can't see Italy! Time for another greve!
We also headed to the social security office to try to work out our papers for the money we are supposed to recieve simply because we have three children and I am not working - this money was an integral part of the budget we created before we got to France and hasn't shown up yet! We fear we won't get it at all since the forms imply your need is based on the income you were getting 2 years ago... with no spaces to put what you are earning now. Since we are making 1/3 of what we made in the States here in Besancon - that is worrisome. I guess we will worry about being rejected when we actually are rejected!