A Travellerspoint blog

Out and About in Nancy

Thursday, September 1

Since I stretched myself so much the previous day, I took a rest on Wednesday. Now that I have conquered the town supermarkets, it's easy enough to accomplish a quick shop so I now consider that part of a slow day. I generally use it as an excuse for stretching my legs and to get some Vitamin D anyway. I bought some baking supplies and christened Myriam's new muffin tins using my favorite banana muffin recipe. My mom was surprised Myriam had never made muffins before because "they're just the perfect little snack." I had to agree and immediately ate two as soon as they were out of the oven. The family seemed to like them so I shall try other recipes too. As it happens, Thierry's brother brought us half a pumpkin from their father's garden so I claimed half of it right away for my anticipated pumpkin loaf and muffins. I made another new dish for the family -- Thai chicken curry -- it's a winner as it's both gluten- and lactose-free so Myriam and I have promised to trade 'recettes' shortly.

I try to help with laundry as often as I can, as Myriam is very busy with school prep and Thierry, with doing 'bricolage' around the house. The thing about laundry in Europe is that it takes so darn long. We found this on our European trip as well, that you had to have a good long time to commit to the cycle; it's easier of course when you can do it onsite and not have to wait at the laundromat. Often, I recall waiting 2 hrs for a load to finish; here, Myriam usually uses the 80 minute cycle. After that, if one chooses, one could use the dryer for 2 hours (2 hrs, 40 minutes for towels) or hang the load to dry, the latter being the preferred option in this house. The dishwasher also takes a fair spate of time as well. I'm not sure why the appliances in North America are so much faster but perhaps they are more energy efficient here.

I caught up with what Abby was doing, which was fun, except that cheeky little kid had the audacity to say that if I could parent her from halfway across the world, then she could be an annoying, long distance teenager in return.

On Thursday, I decided to be a 'tourist in my own (new) home town' and took the bus into Nancy, this time to the end of the line. Being as I am now 'un professionel de la ligne quatorze,' I had no worries about getting lost. Once I got off at the main bus interchange, la Place de la République, I hoofed it over to the main square, la Place Stanislas, and entered the tourist bureau. There was a sign there indicating they could serve people in five languages, one of them being English of course. I swallowed hard and began in French. Amazingly, we were able to have a short conversation and the guide handed over the map I was looking for as well as another of the wider region as I was able to convey I was staying here longer than most visitors. Armed with the handy 'centre of Nancy' map, and a few suggestions from my new friends at Emmaus, I resolved to see as many of the 40 listed sites as I could. So, this day was filled with small botanical gardens, a large park, some fountains, a couple of arches, a few grand gates that used to fortify the city, a handful of statues, and much walking. I decided I would leave the museums, art galleries and aquarium to other days, perhaps when the weather wasn't so agreeable. My favourite visits were to the impressive gates of Place Stanislas, made of iron and gilded with gold, and to the small but striking botanical Jardin Grodon. I am a sucker for those small green hedges that are used in such gardens to divide the distinct sections. Also, the imposing stone gates built in the fourteenth century and used to fortify the city's walls offered respite from the sun and, looking above me, I could sense some of the medieval atmosphere still present in Nancy today.

Halfway through my touristic experience, I started to flag, knowing that lunch was a must. I surveyed a few restaurants and hummed and hawed, not quite sure how to approach the places. In some countries, you sit down at a table and someone then comes by but, in others, you must approach a host-type person first and ask for a table. I couldn't see any clues immediately and everyone already seemed to be in the midst of their meal. But, when I passed by a gourmet pizza and ice cream place, the food on people's plates convinced me to try. I approached a small window adjacent to where prices were listed and initiated a conversation with the person there. A common problem for people learning a second language is that the person you speak to in French immediately responds in English. They recognize you are doing dastardly things to their language and you still sound so much like your native language that they can tell you are an English speaker -- either reason on its own is enough to compel them to try to 'make it stop!' but both together make it almost impossible for them to answer in anything but English, if they know the language. Such was the case this day. I determinedly carried on in French. As did she in English. It was like a jousting match, neither of us giving an inch. She told me I needed to order there and then choose a table for myself, a bit of an alternative approach. Once she came by with the food, I apologized for my French but explained I was learning, since it didn't seem that obvious to her. From then on, she gladly spoke French to me, asking why I wanted to learn and how long I'd be here for. She actually ended up being very nice and I appreciated the chance to converse a bit with someone after a day on my own.

The second common response to beginning a conversation in French is that the person assumes you can actually speak the language well and they rattle off an incredibly fast response in return, not realizing you just spent two minutes figuring out how to phrase your opening conversational gambit. You are left slack jawed and stuttering, with only the reply of 'Repetez, svp' or 'Pardon' available. Often, context can help and with the second repeating, some more of the meaning comes through. You then just assume the rest. At times, however, context fails me. With Myriam, we can be having a conversation and then, all of a sudden, it can veer off on a tangent in an abrupt way, as she mentions a French expression that has been triggered by something we've discussed. The other day, out of the blue, we seemed to be discussing Julius Caesar and I didn't see the path to how we got there!

Posted by mzemliak 13:27 Archived in France Comments (1)

My New Job

Tuesday, August 31

So, today is my big day, starting a new job, albeit a volunteer one, and with no Myriam in sight. She's my security blanket while in France, but today I have to go it alone. Given that I am going to a new place where I don't know if I'll have any secure space for my belongings, I choose a very useful pair of shorts with several zippered pockets; right now, each of them is filled, either with my ID, some money, my trusty bus pass, the bus schedule, the key to the house, or my mobile. I make my way, full of vim and vigor, to the bus stop, confirm that it's not the wrong side of the street (an easy mistake to make), and wait for my transport. Presently, the bus arrives and I embark. Nico has given me a brief course on how to use the pass: either swipe the pass horizontally or insert it into a likely looking slot near the driver. As I look around, I don't see anything that might resemble either option so am forced to engage the driver, a long-haired, gum-chewing just-out-of-school young woman who looks like she'd rather be at the pool. I utter "Où est-ce que je..." and then wonder what the word is in French for swipe. She points vaguely in the direction of my right elbow. I look to my right but still don't see what it is I'm supposed to do. She sighs in exasperation, takes my card and merely presses it on a decaled box in front of me. I quickly move past her to a free seat, mentally appreciating the Victoria drivers even more.

I settle in and start to notice different things about the bus. There is a handy electronic display that shows riders where they are along the route and which stop is coming up next. Also, as we arrive at each stop, it is announced by an electronic voice; I'm glad it's not the driver who has to do this as it might make her even more irritable. People come and go, some paying for a single ride with Ms. Gum-Chewer giving change as necessary. Just as in Canada, it's necessary to press a button to request a stop, and another one to open the back door. The ride is pretty, taking us through towns I've heard mentioned by the family (Houdemont, Hellecourt). I make a mental note to come back to a place denoted by the stop 'Vert Village,' thinking it might offer some good scenery. After 25 minutes, I am nearing St-François d'Assise, my 'arrêt.'

Hopping off, I realize I should take a few minutes to deal with that pesky PUK issue, as I will need my phone for translating and to contact Marine. (Myriam had put her in charge of verifying I made out OK today, since I had refused her offer of having Nico escort me on the bus.) I punch in the numbers I transcribed last night. It doesn't work! I can't believe it so I try again. Nope, it doesn't open and I realize I am now sans internet for the day. Ah well, I am here now and have travelled without a phone before so will just need to rely on old methods of navigation and translation.

The front door of Emmaus, the Salvation Army lookalike, is firmly locked. I wonder about that momentarily but then think that perhaps it's just closed to the public at this time of day. Sure enough, around back, where Myriam had dropped off her clothes earlier, there are people at the depot. I ask if I can speak with Amirouche, he who appears to be the 'chef des bénévoles,' and the man asks why. My answer suffices so he leads me through a very worn, dusty catch-all area to the person I recognize from before, a short, beefy-looking fellow with dark curly hair and a clip board. Amirouche looks blankly at me for a second and then his face breaks into a wide, warm smile. 'Ah, the Canadian!', he says, immediately making me feel more comfortable. He knows to speak slowly as he walks me through the labyrinth of hallways until we come to the main area of the store. There are different areas for electronics, furniture, books, toys, and all manner of things. I shall be working in the area for 'les vêtements' so he introduces me to Alpha, an employee, and Dominique, another volunteer, both of whom are readying the clothes for the day ahead.

Alpha is from Guinea, a short, dark man with a wild head of hair. I won't be the only one to notice that attribute as later in the day, someone says "You've met Alpha?" and points to her hair to let me know who she's talking about. He speaks to me in both English and French, fluent in both from his studies in his original country. He seems to be a take-charge sort of guy and soon has me switching the direction of all the clothes on one rod so that they face the other way. I start speedily, determined to make a good impression. After some minutes, I can't help but wonder if this is some kind of make work project as I'm not seeing the reasoning behind it. I decide to check in after I have finished my first rack just to verify I'm on the right track. Alpha confirms I am to do the remaining racks but Dominique steps in and corrects him, saying the clothes should actually all be facing the other way, as most people are right-handed and reach to look at the tag with that hand. I then proceed to undo my work of the last few minutes, wondering anew about Alpha.

As it turns out, this is mostly Dominique's area and she's the one who's really in charge, despite being a volunteer. Over the course of the morning, I come to learn she's worked in boutiques for about 15 years and has volunteered here for the last four. She comes here for a full day four times a week, spending some of the other days with her grandchildren, who live nearby. She seems a real grandmotherly type, giving me direction whenever I ask, and introducing me to the many workers who come by to chat or say hi to her. The first order of each day appears to be to check all the clothes to verify they each have a price, face the same way, and are in the right area. Olga, an employee originally from Lithuania, whose husband and three children also work here, joins me in this task. Dominique warns me that people will remove price tags, move clothes out of the pricey 'boutique' area to another less-expensive rack, or try to take the clothes to another area of the store without paying. She role-plays how we are to deal with this last situation, me hoping that I won't need to address it anytime soon. All the while, she chats a bit here and there, sometimes to me, sometimes to herself. The fact that I only understand some doesn't seem to bother her a whit, and, somehow, she has no problem with understanding me.

I planned to only stay a couple of hours, leaving at noon, but Dominique explains to me that the place offers a lunch for all employees and volunteers so I figure this might be a good opportunity for some more chatting and to see how a typical day unfolds. All the lights in the store are turned off at 12:15 for 75 minutes so, shortly before this, we make our way to the canteen. Dominique leads me to a room staffed with about eight tables, each seating from four to eight. She then invites two men to join us: Adrien , who introduces himself as the 'Roi des jouets' since he oversees all the toys, and Andre, a quiet young man in his early twenties. By the end of the lunch, I will have met about 20 people, but have only really understood or remembered half the names. I vow to make a list as soon as I'm out of here, thinking 'Alpha = hair, Dominique = grandmother, Adrien = king of toys, etc."

Over the course of the lunch hour, as I try to join in the conversation, I notice Andre staring intently at me, even when I'm not speaking to him. I must really be making a spectacle of myself, I think, and it is only after I make out his speech over the din and notice his hearing aids that I understand he is hearing impaired and desperately trying to understand people, just as I am. When the room empties of some of its people, it's easier to hear and I learn that he has come here from Kosovo with his mom, who married a Frenchman three years ago. He seems to be very friendly despite his shyness and not as intimidating as some of the others I meet. There is one man, a former Romanian (I'm not kidding -- it's like the United Nations here), who seems to want to practice his English so engages me in snippets of conversation. However, his manner makes me a bit leery, as does another tall African who asks me about my children and, learning they are two adolescent girls, says he thinks he should meet them. (In my notes later, I'm listing him as 'creepy.')

As we still have half an hour after our warm lunch of pasta and sauce, bread and cheese, fruit and salad, a drink and cake, Dominique walks me to a nearby park with lots of greenery and shows me the black swans, telling me of tourist sites I should be sure to see. For the afternoon shift, we are joined by Josienne, another French grandmother. Together, the three of us monitor the customers, bag items and talk together when there are fewer clients. From time to time, Alpha pops in from his neighbouring area and we talk of this and that. I decide to finally leave at four, promising to return on Friday morning. All in all, it's an interesting bunch and I'm grateful I've been placed with Dominique. I feel hopeful about the opportunity to spend more time here in coming weeks.

The bus ride home offers no issues and I walk quickly back to the house, eager to see what's up with the phone. Once home, I sign onto my French provider (ironically named 'Free') and see that they generate a new PUK upon each request, noting the first one must have been time-limited. I plug this one in and it works! Ah, my third best friend and I are now reunited. I hear a series of dings and see the messages Marine has sent over the course of the day, wondering where I am and when I shall return.

Posted by mzemliak 08:28 Archived in France Comments (6)


Monday, August 29, 2016

Today, I awoke early. (I now consider 8:30 early; gosh, I've got to get a job!) Since I had a full day planned, it was necessary to get on the move at a decent hour. I needed to get my blood test done so headed down to the laboratory I'd seen on a previous outing, practicing my spiel as I walked. I was so focused on my speech that I walked straight to the desk, prepared to deliver it to the first person I saw. However, when seeing that I was about to speak, the clerk pre-empted me and said something rapidly, which I understood, roughly, to mean that I'd need to wait till someone else arrived. I hung back from the desk but still hovered closely. I noticed a young man sitting nearby, waiting as well, but I wasn't sure where he was in the entry process. Shortly, someone else arrived behind the desk and the first clerk then looked up expectantly. Sensing this was my cue, I leapt forward, ready with my well-rehearsed lines. She then looked behind me to the man who had begun to rise, and I realized I had jumped the queue at the same time he said 'désolé' to me. Realizing I must seem pretty edgy, I took up the chair the man had just vacated, trying nonchalantly to read the French newspaper he'd discarded. Finally, he was escorted to a nearby room and it was my turn.

I started by explaining my French wasn't good, that I was Canadian and was staying here for three months, and that I needed a blood test. At this point, I shoved the requisition under her nose so that she couldn't help but understand the primary objective. She apologized for not knowing English well; I understood her to say she hadn't used it since school and would only go to Quebec if she travelled to Canada. 'Pas de problème,' I said, sounding more cocky than I felt. She then started asking questions, again in her rapid-fire way. Fortunately, I'd been through this routine quite a few times so knew what to expect in the way of questions. Recognizing the words 'date of birth,' I provided it. Hearing 'address,' I gave the Poirot's, grateful I had memorized it. I stumbled a bit when she asked for my husband's name -- not that I didn't know it (!) but I wasn't sure why she needed it so thought I'd misheard. When she asked for my telephone number and I started to ever-so-slowly read off the European-style number (a series of double digits that still give me problems), she gently but purposefully took the phone from my hand so she could verify the series more quickly. Except for that small hiccup, I thought things were going swimmingly. But when she asked what dosage of medication I was on, and I provided it, knowing it bordered on the very high end of the scale, she looked at me with suspicion, no doubt thinking I was having number issues again. When I confirmed the number, she still looked at me with a doubtful look. Interestingly, she then turned to the young man who had preceded me and who was still waiting for his blood test and asked him a question. She and he then briefly talked about the medication dosage and he confirmed it was OK. I was wondering why he had been brought into the picture but then, with some chagrin, she indicated he was a pharmacist. What bonne chance! I thanked him for the consultation, glad he hadn't held my earlier transgression against me.

After our meal of blueberry pancakes, Marine, Nico and I went to source bus cards. Nico needed one for school and I, for my jaunts. Already in line, it dawned upon them that I would likely need a photograph for my card. I wondered how difficult that was going to be to get but, as it turns out, these handy photos booths are relatively common in commercial areas. They provide 5-6 standard issue photos for about 7 dollars and are widely used for identity cards, passports, driver's licences, etc. As I only needed the one photo, I'll be able to bring back some of the criminal-resembling duplicates for my family. The bus pass costs $50 a month (even cheaper if you're buying an unlimited stay card) and allows me access on the transit throughout the many small towns and the large city of Nancy, possibly even the local train. It's quite a good deal.

My final stop of the day was at Cora, France's answer to Walmart, where the 'juene' and I parted ways, Nico to buy supplies for his return to school (commonly known as his 'rentrée' in these parts) and I, to try to find some more ingredients. I found an international foods section, which provided me with the Thai curry sauce. I had to laugh at the peanut butter, Canadian maple syrup and Mac and Cheese included on those shelves. I couldn't stomach paying $6 for a small jar of peanut butter but I have been missing the syrup on those pancakes so succumbed there. The Mac and Cheese was easy to resist as it wasn't the 'real stuff' (as the kids call Kraft, even though there's actually very little that's real about KD); besides, I still have some from the cache with which Abby provided me before I left. I searched high and low for anything resembling pureed pumpkin so I could make the Poirots a nice muffin or loaf. However, the French do not eat pumpkin in sweet things so I could not find anything that would do among the mushrooms galore and cans of cassoulet (a typical French bean and meat stew).

Thinking a homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookie would be a novel dessert for the Poirots, I found the baking area but choked when it came to the chocolate chips, which go for $3 per 100g. I instead bought a whole chocolate bar and will chop it up. I then recalled the story that Hannah told me of giving Myriam her ingredient list for Nanaimo bars and Myriam buying four of those packages; Marine and I shared a similar experience in Canada when I purchased whole vanilla beans for an exorbitant amount so that she could make us French custard. The final stop was the meat section but do you think I could readily find the poulet? There were gazillions of 'viande bovine' options; lots of duck, turkey and tiny birds of various types; and enough rabbit, veal and tripe to satisfy anyone. However, that chicken proved elusive until my eye caught sight of a small amount of breasts by the meat vendor. I did end up seeing other whole chickens eventually and I know that's what Myriam buys (complete with head) but I just needed a few fillets.

I walked the hour back from Cora, happy to get in another promenade. The last event of the day consisted of me accidentally locking my phone while forgetting my SIM pass code. Uh oh, where was Ben when I needed him? And then I remembered that I was doing this on my own. Righto. My next best friend right now, after Ben and Myriam, is Google so I sought help there. How many of you know what a PUK is? Well, I figured it out, logged into my French provider's website, and found the code that I needed. The iPhone warned me I had ten chances and if I used them all up, it would blow up or something. This was enough to dissuade me from doing anything with the code that night as it was almost midnight and I wanted to be on top of my game for this. So, I wrote the code down for later and had a fitful night's sleep.

Posted by mzemliak 04:39 Archived in France Comments (4)

Typical Sunday

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Today was another 'home' day; for the kids, this meant relaxing with friends, although I know Marine has started to review her school notes from last year in preparation for another tough year ahead; for Myriam, it meant another day of prep for her teaching year; and for Thierry, it was a day of doing 'les travaux' such as fixing the toilet and repairing cupboards. As for moi, I made a list as soon as I rose, as this would help me focus on some concrete activities.

I plan on taking the bus quite a bit during the next two months so did some research on the area's public transit. The first priority was finding out how to get to Emmaus, my new volunteer post. It's perfect as there is a direct bus route from Ludres into Nancy and it goes right by my destination. Now, I just need to make sure I get on in the right direction :) .

I then wrote a grocery list based on a couple of recipes I want to make for the family. Once I translated it into French, Myriam reviewed it to see what she already had in stock. She stumbled over lime leaves but was familiar with all the rest. As they do not have muffin tins, I shall have to purchase those. I just felt I couldn't leave without making muffins though, as they are such a Canadian staple.

I finished my blog for Saturday, did some online French, and then checked my list. What was next? A ha, a movie! Yay, a movie in the middle of the day, with no guilt either, as it's considered French homework. Marine, Nico, and his friends were watching a film already on the big screen so I sequestered myself in my room and borrowed a DVD from their extensive collection. The Day After is about how climate change affects the planet and in the space of a week, Earth becomes engulfed in a new ice age. I was quite engrossed in watching the thriller, when I looked up to see the weather change here -- the heat wave finally broke with a rainstorm and lightening. It was kind of unnerving as it echoed the weather currently on screen!

I played a few games of Tarot with Nico, Marine and their friends, with Valentin and Nathan not seeming to mind my presence. Their conversation was fast and furious and I could only catch a few words, the critical ones being trèfles (clubs♣), carreaux (diamonds♦), cœurs (hearts♥), and piques (spades♠). From time to time, I heard 'fou' (crazy) as well. In France, to distinguish themselves from the older generations, sometimes adolescents will reverse the letters in a word and use that new slang word instead, so 'uof' is also passable as a synonym for 'fou'. Hannah, with this added difficulty, I can see you didn't have a chance with the language!

For dinner, Myriam tried a new salad recipe, a mixture of shredded carrot and zucchini with diced mango and a vinaigrette made from nuoc-mâm, a type of fish sauce. It's Vietnamese but I hope it will suffice for the Thai chicken I'll make soon. The kids then realized that Sunday had come and gone without me making pancakes so I was commissioned to make them tomorrow in lieu. Home one week and it is now part of the routine.

Posted by mzemliak 02:25 Archived in France Comments (3)

Why am I Here?

Saturday, August 27

Today was a difficult day, largely because the heat has drained incentive from me; consequently, I haven't been outside lately and am feeling the doldrums come upon me. To distract myself, Al Pacino and I shared a movie (he acting and I, listening -- well, actually, reading the French subtitles). Insomnia was a film I'd seen before (so as to help me understand the plot). What helps when I feel melancholy is, firstly, to connect with family, which is harder when it is 4 AM their time. (I haven't yet needed to breech the barrier and call them in the middle of the night, thankfully for them!) Another thing I do is to review the reasons why I chose to come here.

There were several reasons I wanted to have this 'adventure.' Firstly, to learn French. Ever since I returned from our first European excursion 24 years ago, I promised myself that I would learn a second language. Being exposed to so many who had learned not only one, but two, three or four, languages made me feel quite ignorant so I vowed I would try to become bilingual, and French seemed the logical choice given that I supposedly still had remnants of Grade 11 in my brain somewhere. Immersion seemed to be the best way to achieve this, although I may have left it too late, as my brain does feel its age in this situation. As the perfect opportunity presented itself in the Poirots' invitation, it felt like an offer I couldn't turn down, given my desire to be accountable to my original pledge. The second reason was to do something on my own. Ben and I have shared so much over the last thirty years and while that brings much contentment and many benefits, it also leads me to rely on him for more than I should. He's a very capable guy so it's easy to allow him to take the reins. I wanted to place myself in a situation where I had to rely only on myself for decision-making and achievement. This seemed to offer that opportunity. I also wondered whether this would provide a chance for me to take some time for myself without the responsibility of others. But I'm learning that while I don't have immediate influence or responsibility for those left at home, the emotional ties keep me from relinquishing the feeling of responsibility. Likely, this is a good thing as I will be returning to that realm soon. Another reason this was important to do was that it scared me! And if I let the fear keep me from doing it, then that fear may stop me from doing other things in the future. I find that to develop and keep that courage 'muscle' strong, it needs regular exercise. When Ben and I decided to travel with the kids for nine months i 2012/13, that scared me too. It sounds like an amazing time and experience, which it was, but it was also scary to contemplate, and required much bravery both to go against the grain and to actually face all those new situations. In the same way, I knew putting myself in this circumstance would require courage too, on many fronts.

And tomorrow is another day. I've learned in life that if I don't like the mood I'm in, I shouldn't worry as it will change shortly anyway. A long sleep, some hearty French food, some good conversation, ..., and voilà!

Posted by mzemliak 02:11 Archived in France Comments (6)

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