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November 15, 2001
The Home Front (Gail)

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Our car and home for the next few months

Now that we are in France we have a wonderful opportunity to settle back into something close to our normal home life. For the first time since leaving home in July we are able to completely unpack everything we need and actually have a place for all of it. The boys have been able to spread out and play without having to listen to me telling them to quiet down and settle down. They are once again discovering their Lego and home schooling.

Of course with a normal place to live comes the need for groceries so off to the Géant Casino market for supplies. At this point we have been in so many different stores around the world that I was at least a bit more prepared for the feeling of being overwhelmed. With my trusty Joss translator by my side I set off to find food for my tired, hungry family. Having Joss along helped when a woman started talking to me in the aisle, turns out she was a vendor with samples. Joss was only too happy to chat with her and very happy to accept the chocolate snack bar she offered (how did she know?). He located the confiture avec frais (strawberry jam) and confirmed that noix de coco is coconut (how did he know?).

Eventually he tired of his role and went off to find Cameron and Dad. This left me with my pitiful French to conquer the aisles alone. Just reading the labels was an experience and slowed down the process considerably. But I am very happy to say that I was able to have tomatoes weighed, a simple "bonjour" and the grocer did the rest. Asking for the parmesan cheese was a bit more involved but accomplished by first admitting to the clerk that I speak very little French, she was not surprised and "Où est la parmesan?" She pointed across the aisle, said something, and when it looked to her that I didn't understand she kept pointing and gesturing more vigorously. She was very happy when I ambled off in the general direction and watched me carefully to be sure I left with the cheese.

At the check out, the clerk kept repeating something and gesturing to the cart. I assumed she wanted to see under my coat which was in the cart but it turned out she wanted the small hand basket that was still in there. Luckily Russell rejoined me at this point because my credit card would not scan and I am not sure we could have resolved that problem with out a translator.

We are now driving again. This brings with it a sense of freedom and some frustrations. Let's just say that we are working on our communication and have discovered that pointing and saying "turn here" or "go over there" does not work. It also helps if the driver wears their glasses. Thankfully there are roundabouts and if you miss your exit you can just go around again.

For the first time in months (not counting Mauritius), I have been able to do laundry like a real, uh make that western person. You cannot imagine what a luxury that was. I had established a routine while in China and on safari that whenever we were in a hotel or lodge the very first thing I would do was wash whatever I could, by hand, in cold water, in the dark (on safari the power and water would come on only after 6 p.m.) so that it would have a reasonable chance to dry by the next morning. Needless to say our clothes while acceptable were not really "clean." I had heard so much about European clothes washers from the French parents at our school, how they just clean so much better than the US models, that I was very excited to be able to finally use one. Well it's true. I cannot imagine a Whirlpool getting these much worn clothes as clean as the French model did. What was also good was that someone was able to show me how to work the thing. It is nothing like a US model and the instructions are all in French.

We have also purchased some clothing to help battle this freezing weather. Since Russell had no interest in this he left me and went to wander the toys and electronics departments with the boys. So this was another experience in language barriers. First I had to figure out my European size, let's just say it sounds huge, and then do the dollar conversion. Luckily most of the items were also tagged in Euros, which are about 1 to 1. The next challenge? Where do you try on clothes and how do you ask when you don't speak the language? I was able to figure out that the cabine d'essayage was the changing room, but had no idea if it was men's or women's. Taking a chance I walked into one, found the door lock broken, and decided to wait until another was free. Turns out they were unisex.

Other things have been just as amazing or frustrating. Just something as simple as plugging in an appliance has left me baffled for a few moments, I couldn't get it to go in. Cooking is exciting as measurements are in metric, directions are in French and ovens are marked in Celsius.

At the Gruyères fromagerie the toilets cleaned themselves, really. First there was a little automatic air freshener that went on when I entered the stall. Then when I touched the flush the most amazing thing happened. An arm came down over the seat, sprayed water and rotated the seat, drying it as it went around. Really. The sink water went on automatically (not new) and the cloth hand towel retracted as I dried my hands. I fully expected the door to open automatically too. It was the cleanest bathroom I have used in months.

After many weeks of eating restaurant food, home cooked meals were so welcome and so delicious. Now after just one week in France the boys have become accustomed to having a meal that includes soup with bread, a "dairy" course, usually yogurt, plus fruit. We are eating lighter foods and eating later than we do at home, usually around 7-7:30. Joss has taken up the tradition of tea with great zeal and is sure to check if it is about 4 pm and teatime.

Even still I am trying to track down the supplies for a real American Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie and cranberries are nowhere to be found but we will do our best. What I find hard to understand is that this close to Nestlé country and I can't find chocolate chips. How can we have the holidays without Toll House cookies?

We had hoped to be able to experience life in France and not just pass through. We are very happy that the boys will be using their French more now that we are away from the larger cities. I will also have to use more of my meager French and am still gathering useful new phrases.

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Gail back in her element and Russell in his... both with room to spread out


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