Month: December 2014

All of the Lights: Christmas in “secular” France

The Christmas season arrived swiftly in France. Although the French are as unaware about Thanksgiving as the rest of the world, they – just like any self-respecting American should – waited until all the parades and football games were over before blasting carols and decorating trees. The Friday night after T-day saw the illumination of hundreds of lights strung through the streets of Chambéry and that weekend the Christmas market opened! From what I can tell, there is a Christmas market in virtually every single French town of a certain size (I’ve seen them in Chambéry, Lyon, Grenoble and Montpellier), and there are certain elements that make every Christmas market: Dozens of tiny wooden cabins, called chalets, which serve as the individual stands of each vendor At least one chalet, but usually more, serving vin chaud (hot mulled wine – delicious!) and churros and marrons chauds (roasted chestnuts – also delicious!). A chapellerie, or a hat vendor. I don’t know why, but every Christmas market I’ve seen has at least one. Vendors of regional products: sausages, …

Home is where the Turkey is

There are plenty of things to be thankful for when you live in a foreign country: being in a lovely city filled with friends and energy, people who have helped make your rapidly changing life a little bit easier, the fact that you’re able to experience and live abroad at all! This group of adorable 5 year olds who diligently learned a nonsense song about turkeys and even behaved extremely well while you filmed them singing… after you told them you would send the video to Washington and President Barack Obama might even watch it: I can’t express enough how thankful I am to everyone I have encountered in Chambéry: friends, teachers, strangers, colleagues, French, American, Italian, and more. But all of this is of course to tell you about how I celebrated Thanksgiving in a country where people ask about “that holiday where you eat the big chicken…I think it has something to do with the Civil War?” I never really thought about how American a holiday Thanksgiving is, until I realized that not …

Benvenuti in Italia

As brilliantly put by my good friend Julia: “Useful Italian words known: 0 Italian swearwords known: 6788984765658 Hello Turin!” The pack of Italian friends I have made here are very enthusiastic about teaching me Italian words, and I am more than happy to learn them. I have learned about 15 ways to use the word cazzo (Italian for dick, which is used in at least 50 expressions, to convey any emotion under the sun. I have learned how to say that something is disgusting, in a way that literally means, “it makes me shit” (or the even more vulgar “it makes me shit a dick”. Just one example of the many uses of cazzo!). And there’s the old standby I learned from my dad: Andiamo?! Unfortunately, very few of these phrases came in handy during our recent trip to Torino, Italy. Being the brilliant planner that I am,  I managed to make a slew of Italian friends and then leave them all behind in France while I travelled to Italy with three anglophones who speak even less Italian than …