Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy holidays!

Lionel and I are enjoying another American Christmas here in the States with my family.  Overall we've had a good Christmas but I know that the holiday season has been kinda hard for Lionel...he misses his family and their holiday traditions a lot. I can understand because the holiday season is a really hard time to be so far from family and friends and to be in a different culture far from the customs and traditions you associate with this season.  So overall Lionel is a bit down though I've been trying hard to incorporate some of what he misses.  But it's just not the same.

But we know that next year we will be spending the holidays in France so I'm really trying to take advantage of the chance to spend the holidays with my family.  We spent Christmas Eve with my parents and then drove up to Columbus today to spend Christmas day with my extended family at my aunt's house.  We've been eating a lot (too much!) and overall it has been a good Christmas.  Plus my company actually decided to be nice to us and decided at the last minute to let us have Christmas Eve off so I've enjoyed a wonderful four day weekend...the longest stretch of time I've been off work in over a year!

Merry Christmas to everyone and have a happy holiday season!

Monday, December 17, 2012

What's next

And now the big news regarding our plans for the future…we have decided to make the move back to France!!! And ASAP. So, while plans are not finalized yet and we haven’t purchased any flights or anything, the current plan is to arrive back in France at the end of April-early May.

That said, I don’t even know where I want to go with the rest of this post. My thoughts are jumbled and I have so many things I want to say that I don’t even know exactly where to start. So I’m just going to jump in and if you find it hard to follow, I’m sorry. But that’s how my brain is at the moment.

I am extremely excited about this move and it is the only thing getting me through these last agonizing months at my job. I know it seems ridiculous; we have literally only been in the US a year (got off the boat on Dec. 3, 2011). And now here we are, in the midst of planning and executing ANOTHER international move. I’m not going to lie, I’m getting really sick and tired of moving, especially international moves! I’m putting my foot down and this is going to be the last international move we make for a VERY long time. I just can’t do it anymore...it’s exhausting and it’s irritating to start setting up your life and then, a few months later, be looking for ways to get rid of most of the stuff you own. Not to mention how expensive this whole process is! 

And I must admit I am more than a little embarrassed by this situation, for multiple reasons. There is the fact that by going back to France we are basically admitting failure and defeat. But overall I’m ok with that because, at the same time, I know that we just didn’t want to fight back and we weren’t truly invested in our lives here. What embarrasses me more is the fact that, for years now, I have been talking about/thinking about/dreaming about how much better life would be for us in the US. Better jobs, more money, bigger apartment, less bureaucracy, more convenience, etc, etc, etc. But it turns out I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Life is not better for us here; it’s just different. And not necessarily a good different, in my opinion.

Though I gotta say that in the end I am not that surprised that we are going back to France so soon. I know that originally we had said that we would give it 2 years in the States before evaluating our situation and making a decision, but to be honest, I was never invested in the move in the first place. I was always very hesitant to make the move and I never got very excited about it, past the no longer teaching English part. I was more stressed and worried about it than anything else. And I never felt ready to leave France; I had always planned to stay longer and I knew I wasn’t prepared to go. All that I had really wanted at the time was a plan to leave Paris for another city in France, but instead Lionel came up with this idea to move to the US. I was so afraid that he would never again express a willingness to move to the US that I decided to go along with it, even though I knew it didn’t feel right. And so now, here we are, a year later, preparing to go back. And I am much more excited about it this time around, in fact, I’m downright antsy. If I had a departure date I would certainly be counting down the days. No offense to any of my friends and family…it’s not you, it’s me. I’ve loved seeing you and spending time with you this past year, but the United States just doesn’t fit our goals, lifestyle or values and it just isn’t the right place for us.

I also wasn’t particularly surprised that this hasn’t worked out because Lionel…let’s see, how to put it nicely…isn’t the most motivated or ambitious person I know. Which has proven to be even more true when he is put in an expat situation. We have been here a year and he has, quite literally, only applied for 1 job the entire time, and that was to work part time as a cook in a restaurant…not exactly a big change from working part time for my dad delivering pizzas. He claims it’s the language, and I totally understand that. I know how it is to feel uncomfortable and inadequate because of your language skills. I know this very well. But that doesn’t mean you can’t at least try. He, however, just doesn’t have the motivation and confidence. If he doesn’t think it will get him anywhere he isn’t going to waste the time. Hence our current situation. And on top of it, he doesn’t think he will feel comfortable enough with the language to really look for a full time job in his sector for another 1-2 years. Let’s just say I’m not willing to play the game of being in a crappy financial situation for another 2 years because he won’t even try. Not to mention that he doesn’t make any effort to use English daily anyway…he hasn’t tried to make any friends, he doesn’t really talk to anyone at work, and he rarely leaves the house at all unless I am with him. His English may actually have gotten worse this past year, if that is possible. Which I guess is partly my fault as well…I should be encouraging him to speak English more and helping him try to improve. Anyway, enough complaining about my dear husband. I really do love him. Suffice it to say that not everyone is meant for expat life, and I think it has become clear over the course of the past year that Lionel is definitely not cut out for living abroad.

So at this point, I figure we are better off cutting our losses and running rather than sticking around in a less than stellar situation for another couple of years only to go back to France later and lose even more of our time. Lionel’s chances of finding a decent job in IT get smaller and smaller the longer he is out of the field and I have just realized that I can’t actually live in the US and that I’m ready to start putting down some actual roots and to get into a more stable and permanent situation.

I’ve personally found it very difficult to come back and try to live in the US again. In fact, I never thought it would be nearly this difficult for me. After all, I am American and this is where I grew up and spent most of my life. But I find it so challenging and stressful being back here. I’ve come to realize that the old American Michele is gone and I no longer feel comfortable in my home country. I don’t feel like I fit in at all; in fact I feel like I stick out more here than I did in France. When out in public in any kind of situation, I almost never feel comfortable or at ease (or it takes a lot of drinks to get me there). I am much quieter than I have ever been and I find I rarely have anything to say or contribute to the conversation unless it is just a small group of very close friends. I always feel awkward and I feel like more of a foreigner here than I did in France. I have always heard that once you really live abroad, you no longer feel like you fit in anywhere, not in your home country or your adopted country. But at least I felt more comfortable in France. In social situations in France usually my biggest concern was my horrible accent, but I still talked a lot and enjoyed myself. Here I can’t even get past finding something to say and contributing to the conversation, and when I do say something or participate it just feels like my comments don’t even fit and set me apart. Then I get stressed and usually just end up sitting quietly and listening to the others.

As if that isn’t bad enough, I find that I have trouble relating to most people in terms of their thoughts, opinions or lifestyles. Things that seem utterly strange to me now are actually normal and common here and sometimes it just amazes me how much I seem to have changed. Before I wouldn’t have even questioned it, and now I can’t even begin to understand it. It just makes it even that much harder to adjust to being back in the US and it makes me yearn for my life in France where I felt like I was finally starting to fit in. My views, opinions and values have changed so drastically that I can’t even identify with anyone else I know here. It’s gotten to the point that I just generally keep my mouth shut and rarely express my opinion for fear of the response I will receive. In the end I just feel self-conscious, uncomfortable, shy and awkward most of the time, and this is not who I usually am and it’s absolutely not who I want to become. Suffice it to say, I seem to no longer be “American,”but I’m not French either; I’m somewhere in between.

So I guess that our many reasons for wanting to leave are very confusing and complicated, but I do feel like we are finally making the right decision. Even though things may be uncertain economically in France and in the world right now, I do feel like this is what is right for us and I am looking very forward to our return to France. However, I will not regret this move to the US. Not only has it given me the opportunity to really understand what it is exactly that I want in life but it has also given me the chance to discover who I am now, to better understand who Lionel and I are as a couple, and to realize what is best for us moving forward. I’ve come to terms with the fact that we will never live in the US and I’ve found out that I am perfectly OK with that.  Life in America doesn't quite line up with my goals and desires, and now I know that for sure and I won't always be wondering if things would be better for us here.  This has been a great chance to decide where we want to live long-term and it’s given me the opportunity to gain some valuable job experience that I hope will help me find a job I like in France. Not to mention it has been incredible to get to spend some time with family and friends that I hadn’t seen much of over the past few years.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The past few months

Despite the fact that I’ve been less than thrilled overall with the move to the US, not everything has been bad and we have been having some fun and enjoying quality time with the people we care about here. In my 4.5 month break we have spent a lot of time with friends, been to more parties and gatherings than I can recall, tried some new things, celebrated holidays and anniversaries and just overall taken advantage of the opportunity to be with American friends and family. Some of the highlights have been:

My blog turned 3 years old on September 2, though I wasn’t blogging at the time…

We watched the WEBN Labor Day fireworks, one of the largest displays in the country, sponsored by WEBN, a local radio station.  The fireworks are synchronized to music that you can listen to on their station.  I used to love going to these fireworks, put off over the Ohio River and seen from all over the Ohio and Kentucky sides.  This year we had a great view from a hill in Kentucky that overlooks all of downtown Cincinnati and the show was incredible, as usual, even if the weather wasn't as cooperative as I would have hoped.

view of Cincinnati from the hill where we watched the fireworks

fireworks over the city skyline

A high school friends 30th birthday party at her house out in the middle of nowhere on the Little Miami River. I saw a lot of people I knew back in high school and hadn’t seen in years. The theme was “dirty ‘staches” and a great time was had by all. She even had a keg and jello shots, which brought me back to the days of college parties. It was a real stroll down memory lane!

dirty 'staches party

Halloween. This was Lionel’s second Halloween spent in the US, but the first one when we had enough time to really enjoy all the typical American Halloween activities (last time was when he came out to visit me when we were still dating and I was busy with grad school and 2 jobs). So we took Lionel to his first (and second) ever haunted attraction. The first one was the Haunted River at a local canoe livery which was really interesting. I had never been on a haunted river ride in the dark either, and so we really enjoyed the experience, even if everyone in our group agreed it wasn’t as scary as we expected. We also did a haunted barn/haunted corn field that was pretty scary. And we had a Halloween party at our place complete with Halloween decorations and creepy Halloween food. It was a great success, if I do say so myself.

haunted river

Halloween party...with Michelle and Lindsay.  I was a vampire (minus the very uncomfortable vampire teeth) 
and Lionel was a lizard

my incredible skinless face cheeseball...I was very proud of this creation!

the spread

and more of the spread

my pumpkin..a graveyard scene complete with zombie hands and a ghost,
probably the fancies pumpkin I've ever carved! 

Also for Halloween we participated in “Run Like Hell,” a 5K déguisé through a cemetery to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. It was Lionel’s first ever 5K, and my second with my first having been at the end of September.

 Susan and I grabbing a drink after Run Like Hell

We went to a couple of street festivals including the BBQ and Blues Festival and the Apple Festival, both held in my home town, the Greek Festival in Columbus and the Sauerkraut Festival in a nearby town. We had lots of great food, checked out some interesting booths and listened to some great music.

the Greek Festival at the Greek Orthodox Church in Columbus

Lionel at the BBQ and Blues Festival

I learned how to make egg rolls from scratch when I helped my friend Susan prepare TONS of food for a party she had. We were pretty proud of ourselves in the end as it was a major undertaking. I don’t know if I would ever do it again…it took the two of us 3 hours to make them!

I went on a work trip to St. Maarten/St. Martin, the Caribbean island where our time share is located. I was only there 3 days, but it was a great experience and I’m happy I had the opportunity to go. I see it as the only perk to my otherwise thankless and miserable job. And luckily, very little work was done and most of my time was spent drinking bottles of incredibly nice and expensive wine with my boss, given to us for free by the hotel employees (our company also owns the hotel) and eating delicious food on the company dime. I wish I could have explored the island a little more, but I wasn’t there long and we mostly stayed near the hotel, located on the Dutch side. Though one night for dinner we went to this incredible restaurant on the French side overlooking the beach and we also went to a little bar/grill on a bay near the airport before flying out.

St. Maarten, and if you look closely you can see St. Barth's in the distance

the view from our table at the French restaurant we went to on the French side of the island...
very expensive (40 euros 3 course menus!), but the company was paying! 

my delicious meal at the French restaurant, shrimp and scallops in coconut and curry sauce
with sweet potatoes and plantain chips 

the beach in St. Maarten

feeding the iguanas

on the island

 Simpson Bay, the view from the bar and grill where we had lunch near the airport

We celebrated Thanksgiving with most of my family…20 of us total. My mom and I did all the cooking and everything was delicious and we ate ourselves into a turkey coma. It was my first Thanksgiving in the US since 2006, so I really wanted to do it up and enjoy it. I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the morning while tending to all the food preparation, and then took it easy that night because my company made us work on Black Friday…so un-American! Not that I would have participated in the shopping extravaganza that the consumerist tradition of Black Friday is, but it still would have been nice to have the day off and get a four day weekend like everyone else I know who doesn’t work in retail or food service.

Also on Thanksgiving Day Lionel and I celebrated our 4thwedding anniversary! Of course, since our anniversary fell on Thanksgiving Day this year, we didn’t really celebrate at all…maybe next year! I guess I can’t complain though since last year we spent our 3rd anniversary on a cruise…

And then 4 days later we celebrated the 7thanniversary of when we met. My how the time flies! Sometimes I can hardly believe that I have known Lionel for 7 years, but it’s been a wonderful 7 years, despite all the obstacles along the way.

Now we are getting ready for Christmas and are busy decorating, shopping, wrapping, packing, shipping and making merry. I love Christmas, so my spirits are a little higher than they have been the past few months, which is a nice change and should help the time pass quickly through the New Year. Unfortunately, we don’t really have any specific or exciting plans for this holiday season. Since I’m still in my first year with my company I have basically no paid days off, so I can’t take any time off to enjoy the season or travel anywhere, so it looks like we will be having a very low key holiday.

The only other thing happening in our life right now is our big news and deserves at least an entire post, maybe more, so I will save it for next time. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'm back

It has been ages since I’ve posted or even kept up with any of the blogs I normally follow. I’ve been a bad blogger. But in the past week or two I’ve started catching up with some of my favorite blogs which made me miss blogging and convinced me to return after a long hiatus. So why such a long break? Well, there are a lot of reasons why I’ve kept away not only from my blog, but also from the blogosphere for the past 4-5 months. But what it all comes down to is unhappiness with my current situation.

The move to the US has been much harder than I ever thought, and isn’t exactly going as planned, to say the least. As a result I haven’t wanted to read about anyone else’s happy lives, life in France, experiences abroad, etc. I especially have not wanted to read anything about France since it just brings me down. I have been working hard to avoid everything I can that has to do with France…books, movies, blogs, magazines, TV shows, restaurants, etc. I just can’t handle it. The only way for me to really avoid blogs about France has been to also avoid my blog, hence the lack of activity.

Also, I just haven’t had anything really to say. I mean, I’ve written up one or two depressing blog posts in the past months, but haven’t managed to get myself to post them. I haven’t been wanting to sound completely miserable and I’ve been trying to avoid complaining constantly on my blog, so I’ve found I don’t have much to say. I’ve had ideas for maybe 5 other, less depressing posts, but I haven’t actually written them up. But I’m going to try to do better and actually post about some of these ideas, as well as some of my more depressing thoughts, and try to find other things to post about as well. I’m determined to get back into blogging and I’m no longer going to shy away or avoid other blogs just because they talk about France.

So, if anyone is actually still reading this blog, consider this the official return of Michele’s life en franglais. I’m really going to do my best to stick with it this time, and I already have quite a few posts planned including what has been going on in my life the past 4-5 months and some big news.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Samedi a Columbus

Lionel and I spent Saturday up in Columbus visiting friends and family and enjoying the nice weather.  We grabbed lunch with my aunt and uncle at North Market which is an indoor market that sells specialty foods, meats, cheeses and has food stalls selling Vietnamese,  Thai, Indian, Mediterranean and other international dishes. Afterwards we walked around downtown Columbus and checked out some of the improvements they've made in the city center over the past few years.

Downtown Columbus

giant chess in the Commons, a new park where the City Center Mall used to stand

My aunt, uncle and Lionel in the Commons

Lionel at the little outdoor market they had Saturday in front of North Market

a fountain in the Commons

Downtown Columbus and the "Scioto Mile," a new walkway along the river, as seen from a bridge

Next we went to visit our friends Lindsay and Tom who just had a beautiful baby girl two weeks ago. We had a nice visit and got to meet their adorable daughter and spend the afternoon catching up and relaxing with them.

Finally we headed off to meet our friends Lauren and Jeremy at this little whole in the wall authentic Mexican restaurant and taqueria (called Cuco's Taqueria) where we had amazing tacos, delicious margaritas and great conversation.  Lauren was my roommate in college and I don't get to see her as often as I would like because they have an adorable 4 year old daughter who keeps them quite busy so it was nice to have a chance to catch up!

pepper shaped salsa bowl at the taqueria

When dinner was over we hopped back in the car for the 2 hour ride home after a long but wonderful day!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Quatorze Juillet

In celebration of le 14 juillet (or as us Americans like to call it, Bastille Day) we invited a few friends over and I made a kinda Frenchie feast along with plenty of good (though expensive) French wine.  I really wanted to do something for Lionel because he's having a very hard time adjusting to the US and he's really missing France.  In fact we both are.


So what delicious French foods graced our table and acted as a bit of an introduction to la gastronomie francaise for our friends?

the poulet basquaise

Well to start we had some little aperitifs/entrees, fig and olive tapenade and savory palmiers.  Then came the main course, poulet basquaise and finally I made an Americanized dessert of bleu, blanc,  rouge cake which would normally be red, white and blue cake for the 4th but hey, the colors worked, it was pretty easy and I am certainly no pastry chef!

some photos of the bleu, blanc, rouge gateau, not very pretty but as I said, I'm not a pastry chef!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Le boulot

Once again I'm back from a long hiatus and I'm really going to try to post more regularly now.  It has just been so busy that I've been having a really hard time finding the time to post much.  But things seem to be calming down now so I'm hoping to have a bit more time to dedicate to this blog and to catching up on all the blogs I like to read!

I figured it was about time I posted some details about the job I started in April.  I can't believe it's already been three months!  Without going too much into particulars I am working for a hotel management company.  The company not only manages hotels but also sells timeshares in the Caribbean.

I'm not exactly sure what title you would give my position, but I work in the timeshare department as the go-to French speaker.  About half of the timeshare owners are native French speakers, and until April they didn't have anyone at the home office in the US who could speak any French to assist the Frenchies with all of their questions, especially when it came to the financial aspect of timeshare ownership.  Basically I am in charge of all written and oral communication in French, translations, customer service, etc. as well as French and English collections.  I know, collections sounds horrible, trying to get money from angry and dissatisfied customers, but it really isn't too bad.  Besides, most of my time is taken up with the French aspect of my position, which is definitely more interesting for me and much more of a challenge as prior to this experience I rarely used French in a very professional setting since I was an English teacher and all.  I find the challenge of writing and translating professional, well-worded and thoughtful correspondence in French to explain financial concerns and calm the angry or dissatisfied customer to be the most interesting part of my job in fact.  I have always loved translation because I see it as a language puzzle that requires a great deal of logical thinking and reflection to solve it...just my kind of thing!

So overall I am happy with the job and I'm really thrilled to have found something that allows me to use my French, especially since that's what I went to school for.  And I really enjoy proving all those people wrong who always said that I couldn't do anything with a French degree besides become a teacher!

However, while overall I like the job for the moment, there are definitely some things I'm less than thrilled with.  Most of which would have been the case with any job in the US because it's just the absolutely ridiculous way things are done here, but a few are job/company specific.

In general you could say that for the moment I am professionally content, and definitely much happier professionally than I was in France.  And in the end, at the very least, this is a good learning opportunity, a great chance to build my confidence in my French language skills, and a good experience to help me professionally down the road, whether that be in the US or France!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July

For all the Americans out there, have a Happy Fourth of July!  I for one will be enjoying the day off, though we don't really have much planned for Lionel's first 4th of July in America.  But at the very least I want to head out to see some fireworks tonight and maybe take in a free concert as well!

Hope everyone else enjoys their day!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mammoth Cave National Park

Lionel and I decided to take advantage of my three day weekend for Memorial Day last weekend and we headed off to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky to visit the cave and enjoy the great outdoors.  We ended up having an amazing weekend, despite the record high temperatures.  Luckily the caves were cool but our hikes above ground were a little more painful with the humidity and the temperatures that got up to 97 degrees Fahrenheit.  On the way home on Monday we even stopped to visit Abraham Lincoln's Birthplace in Hodgenville, KY, which was interesting and good for a short stop on the way back.

Here are a few photos of our weekend:

inside Mammoth Cave
Lionel and I inside Mammoth Cave

the historic entrance to mammoth cave

waiting to drive onto the ferry to cross the Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park...only 3 cars at a time.  Seems like it would be easier to just build a bridge!

hiking in the park

having lunch inside the cave

exploring the cave on a 4.5 hour, 4 mile cave tour!

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Memorial

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace cabin inside the Memorial

view over Mammoth Cave National Park and the Green River on one of our hikes

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ohio fun in photos

At Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati watching the Reds!  Lionel's first baseball game! Unfortunately I don't think he's going to be a fan of America's favorite pastime.

Hiking at Fort Ancient State Park

view of the Cincinnati skyline from the ballpark

hiking at Fort Ancient

view over the Banks, the Ohio River and Covington, KY from the ballpark

Lionel's first baseball game.  Go Reds!

waiting to get into Great American Ballpark.  Unfortunately the game was sold out because it was Joey Votto bobblehead night.  But we got bobbleheads!

Spring wine tasting with the Bacchanalian Society in the Cincinnati Masonic Center.  The Bacchanalian Society is a non-profit that sponsors 4 wine tastings a year and all proceeds go to a different local charity each time.

Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati at night.