Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving en France

We celebrated Thanksgiving on Friday night.  I made a huge meal and had a bunch of friends over.  In the end there were 7 of us enjoying Thanksgiving in my tiny apartment (it was very tight).  I made turkey legs, stuffing, green bean casserole, roasted carrots, mashed potatoes, cornbread and pumpkin pie.  It was delicious.  I very much enjoyed my Thanksgiving dinner, and I think most of my friends did as well.  We were an interesting group: 2 Frenchies (my husband and my student), 2 Russians, 2 Americans (me and Jasmin) and 1 Canadian (Marybeth).

We started with a nice little aperitif around 8pm, then ate dinner around 9pm, and then relaxed and enjoyed some wine and nice conversation until around midnight.  Then some of us decided to head out to a bar for another drink (since Lionel had to get up early for work on Saturday).  Unfortunately, one drink turned into many and we ended up out until VERY late/early.  But all in all it was a great Thanksgiving, and one of the best that I have had in France.

turkey and hot wine (Jasmin's delicious contribution!)


 the spread

pumpkin pie


Cincinnati Reds banner at one of the bars we went to after dinner!!!  Go Reds!


my anniversary flowers for our 1 year and 4 year anniversaries

In other news, I'm extremely happy to announce that my husband has FINALLY sent the préavis for our apartment today, and so we will finally get to move out of this miserable little box in 3 months!!!!!!!!!  If you can't tell, I'm very excited about this.  But more on that another time.... 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

4 years!

Today is Thanksgiving, and it's also the 4-year anniversary of when Lionel and I met.  Four years ago I was a young grad student doing the first year of her Masters program in France.  I was studying at the Universite Francois Rabelais in Tours and my friends and I decided to come up to Paris for Thanksgiving weekend.  We had a great weekend in Paris, visiting some sites, doing some shopping, eating out, and just enjoying the city.  One of the girls in the program had studied in Paris as an undergrad and so on Saturday night she wanted to take us to a bar she used to go to called La Guillotine/Le caveau des oubliettes.  So we all decided to go out for the night.  We were enjoying ourselves, drinking and having fun, when one of my friends turned to me and said there was a guy in the corner who kept checking me out.  I turned to look and saw a good looking guy having fun with his friends.  I told my friend that I thought he was pretty attractive and so my group of friends decided that I absolutely had to talk to this guy.  So, when he walked by to go to the bar and get a drink, my friend grabbed his ass to get his attention and then told him he needed to sit next to me and talk to me.  He did and we hit it off and spent the rest of the night chatting (it was hard because my French was absolutely horrible at the time so we had to do a mix of English and we speak almost exclusively in French).  When the bar closed (at 4am) he and his friends tried to convince us to go to a club with them, but we were all too tired so we decided to just head back to the hotel.  Lionel and I exchanged contact info and that was that.

I went back to Tours the next day freaking out that I would never hear from him again.  We had hit it off so well and I really wanted to see him again.  After an excrutiating week with no news, I finally got a super cute email on Friday.  He said he could come down and visit me the following weekend if I was ok with it (he even offered to get himself a hotel sweet!).  I immediately replied and he came down the next weekend, and that's when I realized this was for real.  I was so excited to see him and the weekend went so well that we were hooked, and the rest is history.....

So, to celebrate four years together, here are a few photos of us:

our first New Years Eve together


at one of my favorite bars in Tours


at a bar in my hometown in the US


on our honeymoon in Prague


 in Blaye, visiting the citadel in April


visiting St. Emilion


at the Dune du Pyla

As for Thanksgiving, it may be today, but I'm celebrating tomorrow.  I have some friends coming over for Thanksgiving tomorrow night, and I'm making a huge meal.  It should be fun!  I'll write about how it went this weekend, but Happy Thanksgiving to all the Americans! 

Monday, November 23, 2009

One year!

Today was mine and Lionel's one year wedding anniversary.  It's crazy to think we have already been married for a year!  We didn't do much to celebrate today, but we did go out to dinner at the Chinese restaurant we ate at after the wedding a year ago.  It was nice.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing at home since the weather wasn't very nice and before dinner we did a little shopping in the KB.  Nothing too exciting, but that is ok.

So, to celebrate, here are a few photos from the wedding day-November 22, 2008:

Just arrived at the Mairie, waiting to go in for the ceremony.

Signing our lives away....

Officially married!

At the Mairie after the ceremony

The English-speakers enjoying some champagne after the wedding

out to dinner

And there you have it, the major events of our wedding day!  Looking back I think it was actually very nice, even if I didn't have the white dress and most of my friends and family couldn't be there.  If I could change one thing it would be that they were there, but that is why we are doing this second wedding in the States in a month.  The one in France was a lot less stressful though!  But it's been an amazing year and I'm so happy to have Lionel in my life!  I'm looking forward to many more!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One more month!

That's right.  Only one more month till I am on my way to the US!!!  I can't wait.  I get to spend 2.5 weeks in the US for Christmas.  I have only spent one Christmas in the US with my family in the past 4 years and I'm so excited to get to go home for the holidays this year (not to mention I haven't seen most of my family and friends in over a year).  And even better, Lionel is coming with me!  It will be his first American Christmas, and (this is pathetic) only his second trip ever to the States (last time was to visit me for a month at the end of the first year of our relationship). 

This is going to be one of the best Christmases I have had in years.  Not that spending the holiday's with he in-laws is bad, but every time I'm in France for Christmas I miss all of my family's holiday traditions and just the atmosphere and spirit of the US at Christmas.  The houses are all decorated, the cities and towns have much nicer decorations than they do in France (in my opinion), we have a large Christmas tree, Christmas music is playing on every radio station, we have a fire in the fireplace and a house warmly decorated for the season.  I miss it all and I can't wait!

I do enjoy Christmas in France/Europe as well and there are things I wish we did in the US.  For example, the Christmas market.  I absolutely love the Christmas market with the vin chaud and the holiday atmosphere and the cute chalets full of ornaments and other seasonal goods.  It's a great Christmas tradition, but for me, nothing beats being in Ohio for the holidays.

This trip home is also going to be excited because of the upcoming wedding that Lionel and I are planning for December 19.  It's been stressful, but I am confident the end result will be worth it.  And it will be nice to finally celebrate our marriage with my family and friends.  And to get to wear a white wedding dress!  Plus it's going to be a great opportunity to get to see everyone I miss at once since I won't have time in 2.5 weeks to go visit everyone I know.  I think this holiday season is going to be the best ever and I just hope it lives up to my expectations!  And I hope our trip goes smoothly because I'm really looking forward to it!!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Musee Carnavalet

This afternoon I went to visit the Musee Carnavalet with some friends.  This is by far my favorite museum in Paris.  You see, I'm a big history nerd and I'm completely obsessed with French history.  The Musee Carnavalet is the Paris history museum and for a history buff like me, it is heaven.  Ever since my history professor recommended it to me years ago, I've been in love.  On my next trip to France I made sure to visit it and I go back quite regularly.  It is just that good!

The Musee Carnavalet is located in the Marais district of Paris, snuggled in between falafel restaurants and the beautiful Place des Vosges.  It is also free.  All the time.  For everyone.  All the permanent collections are free, you only have to pay to see the special exhibits.  And even then the price is very reasonable.  Usually 5 euros for full entry, 2.50 if you are under 27 years old.

This specific trip was to see their new special exhibit, La révolution française, trésors cachés du musée Carnavalet.  It opened in October and I've been dying to go.  This is totally my kind of exhibit because I think the French Revolution is one of the most fascinating historical events ever.  And it definitely lived up to my expectations.  The Musee Carnavalet already has the largest permanent collection of French Revolution items, but for this exhibit they took out everything else they have that is not normally on display.  I think my favorite thing were the clothes worn by le dauphin (Louis XVII) and la dauphine (his sister) while they were imprisoned in the Temple Prison during the Revolution (and where Louis XVII died of tuberculosis in 1795).  Unfortunately, photos were not allowed in the exhibit, but I recommend going to see it yourself.

The exhibit itself was somewhat small only 5 or 6 rooms, but in my opinion it was definitely worth the 2.50 euros.  After we wandered through the rest of the museum and went to check out the permanent French Revolution collection to continue the theme of the day.  I was in heaven.

A model of the Bastille carved out of a block from the Bastille.  After they tore it down people collected pieces of the Bastille and carved models out of them to keep as souvenirs of the event.  This is one of those.  This is actually part of the permanent collection since I couldn't take pictures in the exhibit.


View out of a window of the musee Carnavalet overlooking the courtyard.

The banner for the French Revolution exhibit.  Unfortunately the photo is a little dark.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Seine swans and falafel

I had a great Friday night. Jasmin and I made homemade falafel entirely from scratch (without a mix or anything!). It was delicious, but hard work to mash the chickpeas and fry all the falafel balls. It would have been restaurant quality if the pitas had been better, but we couldn't find much at Franprix. We wanted to make stuffed grape leaves too, but we couldn't find any grape leaves for sale, so we bought some already stuffed with rice and spices that were delicious and we also served it all with humus and red wine. A great meal and if you want the homemade falafel recipe we used you can find it on Jasmin's blog.

After dinner we decided to go out for a drink. Since we couldn't think of any quiet bars along our common bus route we finally decided that since it wasn't too cold we would stop at an épicerie to pick up a bottle of wine and drink along the Seine. We were enjoying ourselves and chatting away when all of a sudden two swans swam past! Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough to catch a picture, but it was amazing. I've never seen swans on the Seine, and neither had Jasmin. Usually there is nothing, or maybe some very brave ducks. But this time we saw two beautiful, white swans gracefully swimming against the current from Notre Dame toward la Bibliothèque Nationale. A very interesting day!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The glamourous life of a professeur d'anglais à Paris

On this wonderful day off for Veteran's Day (or Armistice Day), I would like to take some time to reflect on the misery of my job. People usually think that living in Paris means that one leads a glamourous and magical life; however this is not often the case for the unfortunate, young American who finds themselves with little to no career opportunities, except to teach their native language. This is what I do because France HATES foreign degrees and has diplomas and certificates that correspond to EVERY job. So, I teach business English at companies in Ile de France. I teach to small groups of 1-3 people, at all levels and I have to teach them English that will be useful at their jobs. So, what are the pros and cons of being and English teacher in Paris? Read on to find out.

The Good:

  • I have a job.
  • I have job security. Everyone needs English lessons no matter what the economic situation because English is generally the international business language. And companies in France are required to pay for training for their employees, and more often than not that training is English training.
  • It is an easy job to find. If you are a native English speaker with a college degree in anything, you can basically find a job teaching English somewhere in Paris.
  • I have a CDI (permanent contract). This means I have a job for life if I want it and it is going to be really hard to find me. It also means that I can move more easily, get loans, etc. I basically get to feel like part of the successful, working world in France.
  • I get to meet lots of new people.
  • I get to explore various parts of Paris and the surrounding area.
  • I get to learn a lot. I learn about working in France, different companies in France and around the world, various French vocabulary (ranging from horses to finance), different views and opinions on different subjects, etc.
  • My language school provides books. This makes lesson planning a little bit easier.
  • Every day is different. I see different students every day, go to different places, and talk about different things so it is always interesting.

The Bad:
  • Paid by the hour. This is how it is with pretty much all the private language schools in Paris, except Wall Street Institute (who pays a very low salary instead). It sucks. Also, since I am paid by the hour I only get paid for the time I am actually giving a lesson. I do not get paid for the time I spend on the metro going from company to company from one side of Paris to the other. I also do not get paid for the time I spend at home preparing lessons, doing paperwork for my job and responding to work-related emails. This really sucks.
  • No stability. Because I am paid by the hour, I do not get paid when my students cancel lessons. They can cancel whenever they want and as long as it is earlier than 24 hours before the lesson, I do not get paid. And they cancel a lot. In October, at least one fourth of my lessons were cancelled (probably closer to one third) and so I lost out on a lot of money. It just hurts thinking about the money you are losing each time someone tells you they need to cancel. It also sucks never knowing how much money you are going to make each month. It makes it hard to budget and hard to know how much money you can spend on things like rent and bills. Plus, on days like today, it is a day off in France. My students were all happy to have a day off. While I was happy, I was also worrying about the money I was losing by not having 5 lessons this week.
  • No paid vacation. Goes with the being paid by the hour. While most French people get at least 5 weeks of paid vacation a year, if I take vacation I don't get paid. And in August all of my students are on vacation which means I get very little money in August. This vacation situation also sucks.
  • The metro. I spend about 20 non-paid hours a week on the metro. I will soon know the entire Parisian metro by heart, and not by choice. It is quite boring to spend this much time on the metro. I can't do anything except read or listen to music. I lose 20 hours a week to the metro which is time I would rather spend relaxing or preparing lessons. Also, when there are metro problems I am late to lessons and I can't do anything about it. And god forbid there ever be a major strike. I can't even imagine how much money I would lose because of a metro strike preventing me from doing my job. And I am sick of running through the metro to try to do impossible trips with limited time (like one hour to go from rueil malmaison to ivry).
  • The schedule. I work insanely long days and when I get home, instead of relaxing I have to prepare lessons. I know most English teachers in Paris tend to complain about not getting enough hours at their job and needing to work 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet. But at my company I do not have this problem to worry about. I teach 35 hours of lessons a week. Add to that the metro time and preparation and paperwork time and I am working at least 60 hours a week and only being paid for 35 of it. So much for those short work weeks and long vacations that the French are known for! I work 12-14 hours a day BEFORE I come home to prepare lessons and do paperwork.
  • The students. This is not the case for all of them. And I think I am actually quite fortunate because right now almost all of my students are amazing. However, I do have that one horrible bitch and I can't imagine what I would do if I had more students like that.
  • The preparation. I HATE coming home from work and having "homework" to do. It sucks. And I hate having to work so hard to plan lessons. I just want to take everything from the books and save myself some time, but some of my students don't want to work out of the books because it reminds them too much of being in school.
  • Low pay. In my opinion the pay should be higher because I am helping people learn English so they can perform well at their jobs and get promotions and raises. But I get paid poorly. Especially when there are cancellations.
  • Lack of organization. The language school I work for is not very well organized at all, which just makes more work for me. They send me lessons to start which are at the same time as lessons I am already doing which means that I then have to contact the students and arrange new times to see them or push back their start dates. I also look like an idiot because of this, and sometimes my future students get angry.
  • The down time. It is horrible when someone cancels a lesson in the middle of my day or a group whose lessons were in the middle of the day ends and I don't immediately have anyone else to start with because I end up with an hour and a half of nothing to do and not enough time to go home. So I just end up sitting around Paris trying not to spend money (since I don't have a lot). This was ok when it was warm out, but now that it is getting cold, it really sucks to sit around in the cold for that long with nothing to do.
Well, I think that about sums it up. So what do you think, does my job sound glamourous or not? Do the pros outweigh the cons? I don't think so which is why I am going to start looking for a new job ASAP!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Un petit peu overwhelmed

I'm feeling very overwhelmed lately. It's understandable...between my insane work schedule, planning the trip back to the US with my hubby and the in-laws in tow, planning the wedding, starting to work on the miserable moving process and just normal, everyday things like cooking and cleaning, my life is hectic! I almost can't believe it! Just a few months a go I was bored and miserable sitting around my extremely small apartment with no job, no projects, no money and absolutely nothing to do except send out my resume. And now things are so crazy I feel like I can hardly find the time to breathe!

My work schedule has become insane. I know that most people with a similar job to mine, teaching business English in and around Paris, complain that their companies never give them enough hours and they can barely make any money and they need at least two jobs to survive. Well, that is certainly not the case for me. I currently am teaching 23 lessons a week! That is a lot. Especially considering they are not all near one another and I have to spend a good portion of my day on the metro going from one company to another. I currently teach 34.5 hours a week (the time I am actually in lessons). Add to that 18-20 hours of metro a week, and you already have way more work than most French people could even imagine doing. And then add to that the time I spend preparing lessons, doing work-related paperwork and responding to work emails when I get home (sometimes up to another 2 hours of work/day) and you can see that its chaos! I'm happy to have a job and be working, especially during the economic crisis when people are losing their jobs, but this is crazy! Most of my days are 11-13 hour days not including the work I have to do when I get home!

Then there's the wedding. Once I finally get home and get all my work done I have to focus on the wedding plans. And let me tell you, planning a wedding from another country is not easy. Thankfully I have some wonderful friends who are helping me and my poor mother who has basically become my wedding slave since she has to go meet with everyone and do anything that can't be done by phone or email. It must suck for her to. It will be a relief when this wedding is over! I just hope it all goes well and that we don't forget anything! I'm pretty excited for it though. My friend, Michelle, is making my dress, we are going to have a Christmas theme since the wedding will be Dec. 19, and it should be fun, just stressful since we arrive in the US two days before the wedding and will have very little time to take care of all the last minute details! I'm lucky I have a lot of friends and friends of friends planning weddings right now cause they definitely made it easier to find vendors. My friend, Susan, hooked me up with her DJ, a friend of a friend hooked us up with her photographer, another friend of a friend hooked us up with an officiant. It's nice to know that someone else has used/is using the same person and that they seem trustworthy since I can't meet any of them until the day of the wedding!

While all the wedding stuff is stressful, and is very hard to deal with from another country (luckily I'm not picky or bridezilla or anything since I haven't seen anything...not even the wedding location!), I am looking forward to getting to have a "real" wedding! Not that my wedding in France wasn't real, but it was kinda depressing. I wore black, I didn't have any of my family and only a few friends who I met since I came to just wasn't the same as this is going to be. It will be so nice to get to celebrate with my family and all my friends who I've known for forever, and to get to wear a wedding dress and follow American traditions! I just wish Lionel could have some of his friends and other family there too. But at least he will have his parents!

And we are also trying to plan our trip to the US. While most of the time will be spent in Ohio, of course, we are hoping to travel a little between Christmas and New Years. It will be my in-laws first (and perhaps only) trip to the US, so we want them to have the chance to see a little more than just Ohio (and mainly all the restaurants and I want to go to and all the stores I'm looking forward to shopping at). We were originally thinking New York City, but we are a little concerned about the prices (since the cheapest flight I have found is $400 round trip). I know it is the worst time of the year to go, right at the holidays when everyone wants to visit NYC so flights are expensive and I've heard (I'm too scared to look) that hotels are even worse! So now we are branching out a little and also considering maybe Philadelphia, Boston or Washington DC. What do you think? Where can we go with a car and not have too much trouble driving around? What would be most interesting for Frenchies? Cheapest at Christmas? Or would it be possible to do more than one of these cities in 4-5 days? Any suggestions/advice would be appreciate since we have to figure this out ASAP!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Married to a Frog

Last night was the 3rd meetup of the Married to a Frog meetup group. For those who live in Paris or Ile de France, or who are visiting Paris and want to meet some other people in a similar situation, this group is great. It's for foreigners who are married to Frenchies (or who are dating or engaged to Frenchies) and who want to meet and talk to others with similar experiences. The people are a lot of fun. Every time I go I find myself meeting new people who are fun to talk to and who understand my situation and are in a similar one themselves. New people come every time, but also a lot of the same people come back for each meetup. It's a great way to meet new English speakers in France, and ones who are here permanently, or at least who are going to be here for a number of years. As an expat I so often meet people who are in Paris for only one year and then they are gone, and it is very difficult to create real, lasting friendships. But with this group, the people are going to be here and it's nice to know there is finally a way to meet someone who is here to stay!

So far the group has met at three different bars either on Thursday or Friday evenings. Last night we met at a bar in the Marais and had some drinks while chatting about life in France, among other things. There were about 25 people there from all over the world. It was a nice way to spend a Friday evening and I'm looking forward to the next meetup!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Halloween à Paris

Last weekend was Halloween, and I celebrated it almost American-style here in Paris. I guess I'm lucky that Paris has a huge American ex-pat community and so there are still a lot of Halloween events going on and plenty of Halloween parties. Nearly every Anglophone bar has a Halloween party and most of them include costume contests and free drinks for people who come in a costume. I even finally found some decent costume shops here in Paris that aren't too expensive (at least for accessories) on the rue du Faubourg Montmartre. My Halloween was as close to American as I could made it. All it needed were more people in costumes in the streets and bars, but unfortunately the French may never understand the true wonders of the holiday and how much fun it can be. Most of them just seemed puzzled that I was dressing up; they all think it is only for little kids to ask for candy. I had to explain that even adults celebrate in the US, just we prefer to go to Halloween costume parties rather than go trick-or-treating. Maybe one day Halloween will finally catch on in France, but I don't really expect it to.

On Friday night I went to an American Expats meetup at The Thistle. We had a pumpkin carving contest. The organizer brought all the pumpkins he could find and then everyone split into teams, paid a few euros for a pumpkin and carving supplies, and got to work. We had an hour to carve pumpkins and then we lined them all up on the bar, put candles in, and enjoyed the site of a bar covered in jack-o-lanterns. Unfortunately, our team did not win, but it was still fun and there were some amazing pumpkins!

My team's ghost pumpkin

The pumpkins lined up on the bar

Another team's pumpkin: a cat vomiting

On Saturday night I went out with a few friends and we went to a couple of the different bars having Halloween parties. I was a witch, Marybeth was a bunny, my husband was a cowboy and our Polish friend, Catherine, was a flapper. Our costumes weren't perfect, but we did the best with what we could find at a reasonable price. We stayed out late and had some fun with the other Halloween aficionados.

Catherine and I

Catherine and Lionel