Questions people like to ask foreigners, #2

Question 2: What language do you think in?

The last few times I’ve gotten this question, I’ve tried to explain that it typically depends what I’m thinking about. If I’m imagining a conversation with someone French, for example, I’ll think in French. If it’s someone American, it’ll be in English. Et cetera. However, this is how that answer usually goes:

My typical answer: [long analytical explanation of when I may think in French and when in English]
Typical reaction: Yeah… but what language do you think in MOST of the time?

… or some such thing.

My new answer is just going to be “one or the other.”

The real problem with this question is that people assume you think in words, whereas people do not think in words most of the time. We think in feelings, in images, in memories, and sometimes in words. And there’s no reason why French would ever entirely replace English in my brain, so the obvious answer is going to be both.

But it seems most people want a simple, short answer… so that’s what I’ll be giving from now on!


Questions people like to ask foreigners (a series)

To be clear, this will be about foreigners who speak a foreign language. These are questions I’ve been asked countless times, and for which my answer has always seemed unsatisfying for the person asking.

Question 1: Do you miss your home country?

My typical answer: “Non, mais tu sais, ce qui me manque, c’est la nourriture.”
Typical reaction: “Hahahahaha!”

I feel like I’m always letting people down when I say no to this. Honestly, I don’t miss the US. But I do miss the food, which is hard to say to a French person without them honestly thinking it’s a joke, because American food is so misunderstood (and so badly exported).

I know the US has a lot of qualities that are lacking in France (and vice versa), like the general friendliness and openness of strangers, and the wide open spaces. But once you crack the shell of French friendliness (it can take some time—years maybe—to find it), American friendliness doesn’t feel so absent. I can get my fix of it when I go home.

As for missing family, I think moving far away for college prepared me for long times away from home. The only hard times are when I’ve just left Texas or they’ve just left France, and it only lasts about a week.

So no, I never find myself aching for home. I don’t get homesick. I feel blessed to live in France. Maybe that’s not normal?


“Il est rompu.”

Self-portrait (not really, this is from http://www.prestigesportsmedicine.com)

Self-portrait (not really, this is from http://www.prestigesportsmedicine.com)

For all those rooting for an intact ACL in my knee, my MRI yesterday in La Rochelle handed us some bad news: it’s broken and I’ll almost certainly need surgery. My next appointment with the surgeon is April 11th.

Looks like my fans will have to wait to see me back out on the basketball court.

I’m just hoping I can be in good walking shape for our trip to Vancouver in August.


Curly Girl Update

Back in October, I started trying out the Curly Girl method for curly hair at my friend Amy’s recommendation.

I thought I’d just do a bit of an update as to how that turned out.

Hurray for the Body Shop. Why are there so few in France?

Hurray for the Body Shop. Why are there so few in France?

Part 1: Shampoo: At the time, I decided to try not washing my hair at all except with conditioner. Previously I washed my hair twice a week with regular shampoo and conditioned it every day. Well, this did not work out so well—after two weeks without shampoo my hair was very curly but also very greasy.

Conclusion: I bought a sulfate-free shampoo at a specialty hair shop but it turned out to have silicones in it. I used it for a while but ended up buying the Body Shop’s Rainforest Shine Shampoo (when I was in Spain) which is sulfate- and silicone-free. I wash my hair twice a week with it though if I’m traveling I can go a week without it so that I can leave the bottle at home. It doesn’t lather up like shampoo typically does but it smells v. nice.

Just all right

Just all right

Part 2: Conditioner: I had been using Timotei’s “pure” conditioner which is still a perfectly decent choice. However I did switch to L’Oréal’s EverLiss conditioner which is the only one of their “Ever+weird word” brand that doesn’t have sulfates OR silicones (and the shampoo version of EverLiss does have silicones). I use this conditioner every day and I like it better than Timotei’s because it’s richer and helps detangle my hair better especially after shampooing when it typically turns into a million knots (probably not exaggerating by more than ten fold there).

Conclusion: EverLiss seven times a week or whenever I’m in the shower. Wins all around.


Pretty great though I can’t buy its twin shampoo

Part 3: Plopping: I have continued plopping and am a big fan. It seems to smoosh my hair into curl form while allowing me to get ready for work in the morning. I don’t know if J fully realizes that I have co-opted certain t-shirts for this.

Conclusion: Plopping for the win, for ten to fifteen minutes, and not more, or it seems to frizz.

Part 4: Styling: Well feck it all, there are no curly hair styling creams without silicones to be had in France. I switched to a cream because it seems to dry my hair out less, and if the silicone is still the third ingredient in the list, I mean, balls. The system’s not perfect. I do buy a higher quality cream though, which I get at the salon supply store in our supermarket.

Screw you silicones

Screw you silicones

Conclusion: A nickel’s worth of Artist(e) Create Curly Cream in my hair right after getting out of the shower (where I’ve wrung it just a tad dry though it’s still fairly soaking) and just before plopping my hair in the t-shirt.

Part 5: Drying: Still with a diffuser to about 80% dry.. I changed nothing.

And there you go. I find the Curly Girl Method pretty difficult to follow in France. It would be easiest if I could do everything au naturel because “sans silicones” is pretty difficult to come by here.


Spain, knees

Just a bit of an update on the knee situation: I did go to Spain last week to visit my parents and my aunt, in Alcalá de Henares, which is where Cervantes was born, and where my mom is doing a semester as part of her university’s study abroad program.

I almost turned around at Charles de Gaulle to take the next train back to Poitiers, but after a pep talk from J I stuck it out and had a great week in Spain, even if it did involve a lot of sitting. We had tapas every night, saw the inhabitants burn their giant sardine for Ash Wednesday (a tradition which no one seems able to explain), and went to Madrid my final evening. In Madrid I got to ride around the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen museums in a wheelchair, eat really delicious pintchos (like the things we ate everywhere in Pamplona where they were spelled with a Basque x), and see a flamenco show. I even spoke a tiny bit of Spanish and got back onto Duolingo (though there are some definite issues with that app and I wish they would hire me to fix them!).

All in all it was a great trip but walking was still very hard for any sort of distance. It required a lot of concentration and sometimes it hurt anyway. So I didn’t go in to work yesterday, since I had an appointment with the surgeon anyway for my feet. The same surgeon does knees so we looked at both of them, and he thought it was by no means sure that my ACL is actually broken. Unfortunately we won’t know till my MRI in La Rochelle on March 29th (in Poitiers the first appointment was even later!). He was more shocked by the state of my left big toe which I do need to get operated on at some point but I don’t know when I’ll be able to squeeze it in.

I’ll be back at work next Monday, in time for my conseil de classe, the bac blanc, and all sorts of other fun stuff. In the meantime I’m doing exercices every day and will head back to physical therapy tomorrow evening.


My super ski vacation

I didn't see much of this.

I didn’t see much of this.

Last week for the beginning of the February school vacation, J’s parents took us to Val Thorens in the 3 Vallées, in the Alps. I’d only skied a few times when I was little, and so signed up for a two-hour lesson. We arrived Saturday, and I took my lesson Sunday. J and his family came to meet me afterward and we went up to do my first teacher-less slope. About a quarter of the way down, I fell, skis splayed in opposite directions. Somehow I skied down the rest of the slope saving me yet more accident paperwork for a rescue.

Monday we (J had sprained his ankle) went to the medical center at the ski station where I started learning all sorts of new French words.

knee in french

The knee in French


The knee in English

 In French, I broke my ligament croisé antérieur and my ligament collatéral médial. I spent the week going to the physical therapist twice a day, where the string of people with knee ligament injuries could make you think this happens to everyone. But the 3 Vallées is a gigantic ski resort with nearly 28,000 people every week during the high season, so really the dozen of us with knee injuries last week were negligible. But it did help to make some friends.

When we got home yesterday I finally looked up the ligaments croisés in English and it clicked—I’ve torn my ACL as well as the inside ligament on my knee. The ER doctor told me I can’t drive for four weeks, and I’ll see the surgeon here the day we go back to school, in the hopes that he’ll tell me I can drive! Otherwise, carpooling will be pretty complicated. I’ll probably have to have surgery before the end of the school year and won’t be rock-climbing any time too soon. I am nevertheless still going to Spain tomorrow to see family and hobble around Madrid.


How I eat in France.



I remember when I first moved to France having trouble understanding what to buy at the grocery store. On the surface, French food and American food are nearly the same: aisles of dairy, meat, canned foods, fresh fruit and vegetables… yet somehow it was still very confusing. I didn’t get what lardons (=chopped up bacon) were used for. I came home with things I wouldn’t eat today, like pre-packaged croques monsieur.

Anyway over six years my diet has more or less settled, and living with a Frenchman has given me some insight into French food rules, and made me miss and wonder about some American ones.

So here are some things I’ve learned and/or adjusted to…

  1. Cheese after the main dish. In Poitou, this is very often goat cheese, and though the cheese aisle still overwhelms me a little bit (J accuses me of buying three new cheeses for every one left in the fridge), I’ve become a big fan of the cheese course.
  2. A warm or cold entrée before the main dish. J likes to cut open an avocado or tomato, and every once in a while we buy something small and hot from the butcher or the grocery store. Something with lots of flaky dough and meat or fish on the inside. Things I’d definitely never seen in the States.


    Faisselle. Miam.

  3. Yogurt after the meal (though not always if I’ve eaten cheese). Like the cheese aisle, I’m also a fan of the yogurt aisle, and all the yogurt-like dairy products: faisselle, fromage blanc, yaourt grec.
  4. Apéro! The apéro is such a wonderful part of French eating, yet it’s also possibly the least healthy. J managed to shed weight this year just by quitting all those gateaux apéritifs. We call them gateaux but they aren’t sweet, and they aren’t even remotely cake-like. They’re typically store-bought things like pretzls and chips, and we’ve tried to switch to cherry tomatoes and humus over the past year.
  5. Le petit quatre heures: This one I have trouble with. When kids come home from school, they have their goûter: normally cookies or something to carry them through to dinner. So French afternoon snacks are sugary and not salty. In fact J told me yesterday that what you need in the afternoon is sugar and not salt. I have no idea if that’s true, and I hope not, because I love salty snacks. Sweet food at 5 pm will never tempt me. I’ll always miss my American snacks: Pirates’ Booty, cheese puffs, flavored pretzls, veggie chips… sigh.
  6. A hot meal at lunchtime: Though I take a sandwich to school (I can’t be bothered to prepare a hot meal in advance), when I’m home, I never eat a cold lunch.


And here are a few American rules that no one observes in France:

  1. A glass of milk with dinner, for kids.
  2. No cookies for breakfast. Though J hardly ever eats breakfast, contenting himself with a coffee, when he does, he often goes for cookies. In fact breakfasts in France are always sweet, even if the cookie-eating is maybe a bit extreme.

Know any other “rules” out there that are totally different from one culture to another?