A Travellerspoint blog

Bus Etiquette

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Wednesday saw me on the morning bus bound for Emmaus once again. This time the driver was a young man, with earbuds firmly planted in his ears, who was still able to provide a quick 'Bonjour.' Things are looking up, I thought, happy to say goodbye to the last driver. However, that thought was short lived as a few minutes later a small incident ensued. In France, as in Canada, one must give advance indication if one wants the next stop by pushing a button. When we got to the next stop, it happened to tally with a traffic light. At the back doors, a man stood waiting to get off but when the doors didn't open, he spoke loudly from the back, saying 'S'il vous plait,' the usual form for such a request. The driver then started to criticize him for not providing advance warning. The passenger insisted he had and there was some back and forth between them. Finally, the driver opened the door, allowing the man to exit. After that, two other passengers told the driver he was wrong so there was a bit more of a verbal exchange with the driver ending it by muttering under his breath. Not what I am used to in Victoria.

The time at Emmaus passes quickly, despite the uncomplicated work. There is a lot of camaraderie and joking, and I often hear different languages used among the workers. Mbinti and her countrymen speak an English Krio (just as Haitians speak a French Creole), sort of a pidgin English, as she explained. It sounds interesting but I cannot pick up anything from it so far. However, their expressions and mannerisms are quite colourful as well so tone plays a large role in understanding its gist. Mbinti understands a lot of French, more than me, so sometimes, Josiane will ask her to translate for me. Ironically, she rarely speaks French and Alpha chastised her the other day, saying, "Why don't you speak French like Muriel?" Sometimes, they say I speak French well but I know that's not what they mean; it's just that I try hard to string words together and that counts for a lot in these parts.

Today, they served a veal stew with puree, their version of mashed potatoes, which is a lot thinner than ours but just as tasty. To the French, since every region, and sometimes even city, has one or more food specialties for which they are widely known, it is a real focus for them. I have been asked many times what the specialty is of the city or region I come from in Canada. At first, it took me aback as I didn't have a ready answer. Now, I just respond with Pacific salmon. Today, the cook, Roget, asked me the question and seemed satisfied with the answer. It was easier than explaining Canadians have a wide variety of local and ethnic foods represented in many locales across the country.

Adrien, the guy from Romaina, is a bit of an odd duck, asking me a lot of questions about Canadian immigration. He wants to practice language with me so he speaks in English and I, in French, neither of us well. When I described that to my mom, she said it sounded like a Woody Allen movie. Not one I'd want to see, I don't think.

Posted by mzemliak 02:56 Archived in France Comments (1)


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

As Tuesday dawned bright and sunny once again, I decided a 'randonnée' was in order. The family had been talking about Nico showing me the Plateau de Ludres; however, Nico has gone and sprained a ligament in his foot so is out of commission for such walks. I tried to search it on the internet but didn't find anything so expected it was a local viewpoint (or 'point de vue' actually). Myriam directed me to the initial trail and I'd seen other hike markings around the area so I figured it couldn't be that difficult to find. However, once I traversed the large trail on the side of the field, waving to my neighbouring cows, I watched the path narrow significantly. However, there were still those important guideposts present so I wasn't worried. And then, I heard people behind me so was doubly reassured. I'd stop every so often to ensure I could still hear them talking nearby. After about half an hour, the voices disappeared, as did the trail markers! That said, it was fairly easy to keep track of the general direction, with a forestry road on one side of the sparse trees and a valley separating the forest from the small towns below. As I was gaining height with each step, I felt optimistic about finding the plateau. After some time, though, I discovered I was on a downward slant, and realized this was not getting me towards my initial goal. Reluctantly, I turned back, but ended up making my way through a totally different network of paths. I came out on the other side of the field and felt the farmer would forgive me for walking across it if he knew my plight of not being able to decipher the trail system. It's true France has a lot of hiking trails but the disadvantages are they aren't always consistent in their marking, they like to save on materials as the signs are about 4 cm wide, and they don't seem to put numbers or names on any of them. I should likely get some maps or experienced guides before I head out anywhere serious. Once home, Thierry showed me a route through town that might be easier for accessing the plateau so I shall try again another day.

Posted by mzemliak 14:16 Archived in France Comments (2)

The French Armageddon

Monday, September 5

The last couple of days haven't really been too notable. Myriam did celebrate a birthday on the weekend and I was surprised to find that they have the same habits we do; they decorated her gluten-free chocolate cake with these worn out paraffin numerals that have seen many cakes in their time. The four was a faded blue, followed by a half-melted, twisted yellow six. After the festivities, the candles went back in the box again, to be used at the next applicable birthday. In addition to that tradition, we i our house also put up the obligatory, Zellers-sourced, paper 'Happy Birthday' banner, initially bought for Hannah when she was three, but used now to mark each birthday. (I imagine the girls will be fighting over this important family heirloom in the years ahead.)

As part of Myriam's birthday present, we cleaned the house (she still hasn't been able to replace the femme de menage), and I made a simple supper of parsley potatoes and green salad with poppy seed dressing. The dressing was a bit of a stretch for them as many French families only have a salty vinaigrette on their salad and not a sweet one, like this was. Even though they liked it, I know it will always take a back seat to 'salade verte,' the main salad staple in this house and in many others in France. It consists of green lettuce of some kind (usually escarole or Boston, similar to a butter lettuce), to which you add the classic vinaigrette. And that's it, nothing else. The classic recipe follows: 2 T red wine vinegar, 6 T oil, 1 generous tablespoon Dijon mustard, salt, garlic powder and 1 diced shallot. To make the vinaigrette is usually my first job when helping Myriam with supper. We have this with the meal about 4-5 times a week and it was almost a 'catastrophe' yesterday when we ran out of mustard.

Myriam bought another 7 kilos of mirabelles -- that now makes for 35 kilos in total so far this season -- but she did give a flat to her parents, who visited on their way home from Paris. We had a wonderful Sunday lunch of fish baked with carrots and leeks, completed with a dessert of her mirabelle cake (what else?). Before they arrived, Myriam told me a bit about her parents. I can see now that her brother, whom I met in the Canaries, is the spitting image of his dad, save for not missing two digits and being blind in one eye, both the result of childhood accidents. Apparently these traumas, along with losing his father at a young age, meant that Myriam's dad didn't get thrashed at school by the teacher, while his classmates regularly faced beatings. The silver lining, you might say. Despite the language barrier, we managed to converse some as I steered the conversation towards subjects I could address: their large vegetable garden; the weather between their Vosges mountain home and Canada; and the European wars (we all agreed they were terrible).

Monday saw me getting another blood test, this encounter not nearly as smooth as the initial one. However, I managed to fumble along without the friendly pharmacist at hand and won't have to go for another month. Afterwards, Marine invited me to go shopping in Nancy so took me to her favourite stores, which was great for tops and jewelry but less so for pants. I had to ask her where I might find 'les jeans pour les vielles femmes' when all I encountered were those super skinny pants. Aside from Sephora and Lush, I didn't recognize any of the chain stores here. The clothes I saw were similar in price to those in Canada. Aside from me exiting out of a grocery store via the emergency door (no alarm, thankfully, just an agitated store manager), no issues arose.

I finished the day by watching a French-dubbed Armageddon, with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, your typical boy-loves-girl, boy-blows-up-asteroid, boy-saves-world movie. I just needed to read the plot online first and then use the French subtitles -- I mean, it basically wrote itself.

Posted by mzemliak 08:52 Archived in France Comments (1)

Missing You

Saturday, September 3

The word 'manquer' provides an interesting lesson in French. In English, when we miss someone, we say "I miss you" but in French, the proper form for such a sentiment is 'Tu me manques,' which actually suggests the opposite to most people new to French: YOU miss ME. Consequently, we newbies often get the order wrong, assuming that the subject and object follow the rules of the other French verbs. Why this one is different , I don't know. (I have long since given up asking 'Porquoi?' Now, I just try to learn.) The way I found this out was to state emphatically at the dinner table one night that "the bread is really going to miss me when I return to Canada." That was good for a laugh or two around the table.

Of course, I knew that I would miss my family while I was away but I was surprised it started so early in the trip. It seems the strong differences and adjustments had me longing for the familiar, and this translated itself into a yearning for the people I know the best. Now that I am five weeks in, I feel more settled and able to deal with the change. However, I think a lot about those back home and the strong feeling of wanting to be with them. That's why this blog is so important to me, as I feel it's a real link to them, as are the calls and texts.

On Friday, when speaking with Mbinti, who came from Sierra Leone a year ago, I had a sense of her longing for home. She looks to be about 25 or so, and doesn't mix too much with the folks at Emmaus, at least not that I've seen during the short time I've been there. I expect it is due to her reluctance to speak French. She came here from her country totally alone, not knowing even one person in Nancy. She talked about meeting one lady with whom she was able to stay for a short while, and this person helped her set herself up here. Of course, she had to learn how to do the day-to-day activities, figure out administrative items, determine how to get around, and understand virtually everything else that comes with relocating to a new country. Before this experience, I couldn't have understood just how difficult that must be for new immigrants. Now, I feel I have a bit of an inkling, but just that. My situation is much different, and I know it is temporary. Also, I have a very large safety net in my French friends. But to have no one, to know you are not returning to your homeland, and to have to forge your way through -- that seems incredibly daunting. Mbinti also spoke of missing her family, and while she has several friends now, "they are not family." Her loneliness was evident as she spoke. She has worked at Emmaus for a month, and has finally come to terms with having to learn French. She says she understands a lot more now but finds it difficult to speak and make herself understood. I can relate. We spoke about how people finish your sentences, wanting to be helpful, and become impatient waiting for you to construct a thought before speaking it aloud. I hope, with this new understanding, I can exercise more patience when I return to being the one who is welcoming those new to Canada.

Posted by mzemliak 02:28 Archived in France Comments (3)

Emmaus Part Two

Friday, September 2

Hopping on the bus at the requisite hour of 9:30, I settled in for the 25 minute ride to Emmaus but soon became distracted by a very interesting article on French negation (I kid you not). Fortunately, I looked up in time to find that I was merely one stop away from my destination, thankful I hadn't overshot. I entered the place by the back entrance again, but soon became lost in the entrails of the depot. I knew I had to find a way upstairs to the store area and, after a couple of false attempts, was intercepted by some kind workers who suspected I was 'perdu.' Elias, as I came to know him, offered to take me where I needed to go if I helped him carry some prosthetic items (they sell all manner of things here, it seems). On our way to my designated area, he told me of some of the places he'd lived and the languages he'd picked up along the way; originally from Algiers, he now speaks French, German, Italian, Norwegian and some English. Humbling indeed. He seems quite kind and encouraging and I've since seen him sequestered away in the electronics shop, exchanging a word with whomever passes by. Meeting up with Dominique that morning, I found she had a gift for me: an old French dictionary which she'd retrieved from the donation bin. I was touched that she thought about me ... although I suspect I'll stick with WordRef for now. She was quick to introduce me to a couple of shy women from Sierra Leone (Mbinti and Itata), both of whom only speak a small amount of French and rely almost solely on English. It was a novelty to meet people here who know less French than me!
Heading off towards the clothes area, confident that I now knew the routine (i.e., which way the hangers are supposed to face), I was expecting to be able to immediately start checking all the clothes. This morning, though, it appeared all had been dealt with already so, instead, they asked me to look through a large bag of linens, verify they were in good shape and add them to the right piles according to usage and size. Now, this might sound easy but I found it somewhat challenging given that even bedding can be different here. Duvets (couettes) and duvet covers (housses de couette) I recognized but the bed pillows are different shapes, either an elongated rectangle or a square. The word for pillow is 'oreiller,' very close to the word for ear ('oreille') so that confused me too while receiving instructions from Dominique. Fortunately, as with the clothes the other day, Dominique muttered the name of every item aloud as she touched it; perhaps it was even for my benefit.

With this job done, there wasn't much else to concentrate on for some time. Therefore, a large chunk of the morning was spent conversing with the folks who were there: Dominique, my trusted mentor; Alpha, he of the hair; Josiane, the other grandmother; Mbinti; and Jean-Paul, a native from the Republic of Congo who seems to be the overseer of the area. I can see he is well -respected by the others and appreciated for his kindness and manner (' Il est très cultivé,' Josiane says). When he learns of my objectives, he begins conversing with me by alternating English and French, ensuring that he's providing enough context and background in English so that I can better understand the French. We discuss colonialism, politics, Canadian refugees, and global responsibility for endemic problems like the drug trade; it's almost more than I can speak to at the best of times, but in my limited French, I cannot contribute much. He was patient and filled in most of the air time anyway. After an hour and a half of discussion on various subjects, with the circle of people widening and shrinking at different intervals, I realized I now have the perfect study group. Even though it's hard to follow, no one looks askance when I don't understand, someone often takes the time to rephrase a thought or ask me a question, and gestures and facial expressions aid the context. The many cultural backgrounds and personalities, the casualness of the atmosphere, and the flexibility of the schedule all contribute to making this opportunity at Emmaus the perfect fit for me, and exactly what I'd hoped to find with a volunteer experience in France. It's crazy how things can work out.

Heading for the bus at the end of the work day, a man called out and walked towards me from his parked car. My first tendency was to quickly run away but I knew that would seem rude so I steeled myself for the encounter. He seemed to be wanting to find the LeClerc store. I said I didn't know the city well and he asked where I thought he might be able to get some help. When I suggested Emmaus, he perked right up, recognizing it, and I was able to give him directions. It was such a small thing but I have to say I felt some satisfaction in actually being able to help someone in French.

I finished the day on my own, watching a funny Franglais movie ('Hollywoo') that Myriam and Thierry had suggested to me and from which Nico, Marine and their cousins liberally quoted while in the Canaries (similar to how Jim and Caleigh spout verses from The Princess Bride).

Posted by mzemliak 08:14 Archived in France Comments (5)

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