Category Archives: Culture Shock

Le Casque

A lot has changed in the skiing world since Franck and I last skied about fifteen years ago. Now that I think about it, a lot has changed in our lives too – least of all the creation of the bevy.

The new shorter, more manageable skis are a huge improvement, same goes for faster lifts and non-fog goggles. But there was one new development that made Franck balk – helmets.

Fifteen years ago there was nary a helmet to be seen on the slopes, but now everybody – and not just les enfants – seem to be wearing them.

Franck found out about this disturbing state of affairs on the second morning of our ski adventure as he was leaving to rent his equipment. He didn’t need to rent a helmet, my brother-in-law said kindly. He could surely borrow one – everyone wore them now.

“Helmet?” Franck snapped to attention. “I’m not wearing a helmet!” And then he muttered something about us Canadians and our overzealous control needs under his breath.

And yet, what was he wearing when he and I headed out to the slopes the next morning?

Un casque, bien sûr.

When I pointed out this fact as we were whisked over the treetops by the fast lift, he didn’t even have the good grace to look sheepish. The French are truly gifted in the audacity department.

“It keeps my head warm,” he said. “Besides, remember how I’ve always said that les casques were an excellent idea?”

Grumpy (and Messy) French Biathletes

Believe it or not, I survived the ski trip.

The packing drove me half way mental, and Clem did her darnedest to finish the job by being a defiant, danger-seeking 2 year old demoiselle all weekend. She consequently spent a good chunk of her weekend in the “coin” – which I had decided would be the stairs, because there was no room to set up a chair facing a wall without everyone tripping over it – casting baleful looks in her mother’s direction.

Her general obstreperousness led to a rather gnarly and very public fight between Franck and I on the second night, but that is not the topic of today’s blog (maybe tomorrow).

Rather, today’s blog is about the grumpy French biathletes.

Before leaving to go up the mountain we had found out that the French Olympic cross country skiing and biathlon teams were training on Mt. Washington. Quelle cadeau!

So the second morning Franck and the rest of our gang headed down to the Nordic lodge while I looked after Clémentine, Treya, and Manon, doling out several mugs of hot chocolate and basically banishing Clem to the coin every half hour or so. I am thrilled to report that it seemed to have absolutely no dissuasive effect whatsoever.

Franck was initially delighted to see his fellow countrymen who were doing some very serious biathlon training. But when he tried to talk to them they were incredibly rustre (read: rude and gave him the brush-off).

At first Franck thought perhaps they were so rustre because they were preoccupied by the utter lack of snow over in Vancouver. However, he finally decided that non, it wasn’t that, it was of course explained by the fact that all of those biathlon guys were “les gars de la montagne” aka “mountain boys”.

Apparently the gars de la montagne are legendarily rustre (I should have known this, Franck implied), in stark contrast to les gars des vignes like Franck.

“They were messy too,” Franck said. “The German and Swiss teams had these helpers armed with buckets who cleaned up the bullet casings after the shooting part, bu the French just left them strewn all over the snow. It was embarrassing.”

I ask you – could my husband possibly be morphing into a Canuck?

A Very "British" Christmas Party

Last night we enjoyed a most British Christmas evening.

At the stately old Union Club (referred to for reasons unknown in our family as the “Onion Club”) across the Inner Harbour from the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, we danced and feasted under the watchful eye of Winston Churchill and The Queen.

It was Clémentine’s first Onion Club experience, but as you can see above despite being French-born she plunged headfirst into the ambiance. She was the one we ultimately had to haul off the dance floor at around 9:00pm.

We got dressed up in our finery, which included matching Minnie Mouse dresses for the four eldest granddaughters, feasted on Prime Rib and Yorkshire puddings, and danced the chicken dance and the conga line.

It was wonderful. However, to inject a little Frenchitude into our celebrations this year we’re having a “Reveillon” Open House tomorrow evening (an evening earlier than the official French “Reveillon” celebrations, but there will be mulled wine so I don’t think anyone will complain) and I am going to attempt to make a buche de Noel à la Mémé Germaine on Thursday.

Wish me bonne chance. I think I’ll need it.

Recovery…And A Lot Of Christmas Spirit

This past week was devoted to recovery from the past three weeks of three-sick-kids-and-one-parent in the form of a Vancouver Christmas shopping and relaxation trip with my sisters and my Mom (heavenly), and now that I am back and refreshed my family and I are throwing ourselves into the festive spirit with every atom of our beings.

Yesterday was Camille’s Christmas Choir concert and the grand old Empress Hotel in the Inner Harbour, and today is the Dicken’sFaire” at the girls’ school.

There is not a single escargot in sight…

Frenchitude Lesson #55: Eat Slow

With Franck away in Burgundy I’ve been handling what I call the “arsenic hours” of 4:00-8:00pm on my own. Homework, dinner, dishes, bath (all with, in my case, a whinging toddler attached to one of my legs).

However, I still have managed to get the bevy down to a hot, sit-down dinner every night and take a moment to unwind and chat with them about their day. I am of course, having to discipline Clem throughout, i.e. “Sit down, sit down, SIT DOWN!” and “Don’t you dare throw your food on the floor…ah, dammit!”

So, really, it is not all that relaxing for me, but I believe the bevy need it to give a sense of normalcy to their lives when Franck is away. So even though my mind is inevitably three steps ahead of dinner, as it is wont to do during the arsenic hours, I try to slow myself down and encourage the girls to take their time eating.

Two nights ago Charlotte who, along with Camille, is doing some culture catch-up of her own in the form of becoming obsessed with the movie High School Musical, was bolting her food.

“Slow down,” I say. “You have to rush at lunch at school, but you don’t have to rush now.”

A sheepish smile. “I want to finish quickly so I can watch High School Musical again.”

Camille lifts one disdainful shoulder. “If you start eating fast Charlotte, you’re not French anymore.”

Si! I am too still French!”

“Not if you eat fast,” Camille decrees.

“Mom!” Charlotte wails. “I’m still French even if I want to finish to watch High School Musical, right?” (I can’t help but notice that this argument about not being French takes place entirely in French)

“Sure,” I agree, distracted. Clem has just dumped her pasta with bolognaise sauce all over the floor.

“Non,” Camille insists. “French people eat slowly. That is what being French is all about.”

So there you have it. According to one Grade 2 girl at least, eating slowly is the essence of Frenchitude – even in the face of such worldly temptations as High School Musical.

Bienvenue en France, Franck (et la flu)!

In about an hour Franck will be boarding an airplane like this to fly himself and potentially the flu virus to France. Although he still hasn’t come down with any symptoms I cannot – from the sheer amount of sick and spewing children in our house this week – see how he could bypass it.

Franck did make several pilgrimages to Lourdes in his formative years, so maybe this explains his virus-repelling powers.

One thing is for sure; he will DEFINITELY be getting a better night’s sleep than me.

Départ Imminent

The above is a close-up of a huge ancient globe that you can see in the Beaune library. I love how Vancouver Island is shown as attached to the continent, and just called “Nootka“. Do go and have a look at it when you are in Beaune.

***

Franck is leaving for his three weeks in Burgundy tomorrow. These ideas always seem so good on paper, n’estce pas?

He goes back to Burgundy for three weeks and does the necessary repairs, maintenance, and managing of our vacation rentals as well as squeezing in a few visits with friends and family. I hold down the fort here with the help of my friends and family. Fantastique.

Time for a Reality Check.

As of today, we have two girls out of three home with H1N1. I can’t in all fairness ask anyone to come and help with childcare as we are essentially in quarantine. I am still a bit shaken by my own trip to the ER this weekend. In all likelihood Franck and I harbouring the flu virus after being barfed, sneezed, and coughed on for going on two weeks now. I slept a grand total of 45 minutes last night.

And yet as of this morning we are still very much planning on Franck going. It seems impossible right now, but we could all be feeling better in a few days, right?

Besides, I’ve ordered myself the Complete Series of “Sex and The City” to watch in the evenings once I get the bevy to bed. I cannot tell you how much that little thing is keeping me going.

I always try to remind myself and others to look beyond the surface of things. In this case, our Trans-Atlantic lifestyle is not feeling very glamorous at the moment!

More Than Bargained For

I knew that this year’s Halloween – as our first one back in North America after 5 years in France – would be pretty exciting for our family, but I hadn’t bargained on being taken by ambulance to the hospital.

It all started on Saturday afternoon as I was sitting on the couch in our living room threading a white ribbon around the collar of Charlotte’s Princess Lea costume in preparation for Trick or Treating. Completely out of the blue, my heart started pounding. This has happened to me a few times before, but it has always gone back to its normal rhythm within a few seconds.

Not this time. It was Halloween, after all.

After five minutes of walking around and still having my heart feel like it was beating out of my chest like Jim Carey when he spots Cameron Diaz in “The Mask” Franck and I decided to call for an ambulance.

I was sitting on the bench in the front hall when not one, but two ambulances arrived. The first thing I saw when the first one pulled up was the huge “ON STRIKE” sticker on the side.

“That’s reassuring,” I muttered.

But that wasn’t all…the paramedics rushed into the house with their defibrillators, stretcher, and oxygen tanks and looked quite surprised to find me relatively calm and collected sitting on the bench in the front hall, with my jacket and scarf on, all ready to go. The heart was still pounding though.

They walked me to the ambulance and although I was of course very, very scared I amazed myself by seeming very calm. They did a bunch of things all at once – ran a few ECGs, put in an IV, hooked me up to oxygen, and then when the paramedic asked how I was feeling and I answered, “Really scared actually. I have three children who need their mother,” he offered to put something to “take the edge off” in my IV.

I waffled for a moment, and then he said, “I’d take it if I were you.”

Twist my rubber arm. Yes. Hook me up please Scotty. But although the Valium certainly enhanced the ride to the hospital, it didn’t slow down my heart.

I was rushed into the Emergency ward where they ran a few more ECGs and the cardiologist tried twice to slow my heart down by pressing very hard on my carotid artery (which he informed me is not something one should try at home folks).

Didn’t work. My heart was still beating fast enough to actually shake the metal bed I was lying on.

The next step was to inject some kind of hard-core medicine into my IV to make my heart slow down. The nurses and the doctor warned me ahead of time that it would make me feel “truly awful” for a few seconds. The room filled with paramedics and nurses who apparently had never seen this particular medicine administered before.

On the count of 1-2-3 the cardiologist and two nurses injected it into my IV, to a riveted audience and one very scared person lying on the stretcher.

It did feel dreadful – kind of like a full-body lurch where you half pass out.

But as promised it was over very quickly and my heart reverted immediately back to its normal rhythm. They did another ECG which they all pronounced “beautiful” and then the cardiologist came to talk to Franck and I about what had just happened.

It was not a heart attack, nor a panic attack of any way, shape or form, he assured us. Rather, it was an electrical problem in the heart where the heart mistakes an echo for a beat and gets caught up in a loop beating in the wrong rhythm.

It is not dangerous, he said. It could and very likely will happen again, but now I knew what to do – come into the hospital and get it stopped. There are options if it becomes really problematic – long term medication or surgery – but for now he is going to run some further tests and then see how it plays out…

The main gist of the cardiologists speech was that I should NOT live in the fear of it happening again and should NOT do anything differently i.e. stop running, stop drinking coffee (crikey), traveling, etc. (though I didn’t drink coffee yesterday – which I realize is an anxiety driven attempt at exerting control over something over which I really have no control – and now have a MASSIVE caffeine-withdrawal headache as I write this).

This not living in fear thing though…it sounded completely logical at the time, but in reality it is easier said than done for me. I surprised myself at how calm I was throughout the whole thing, but yesterday felt drowned by the backlash of all that fear and emotion; I was exhausted and very spaced out.

Thankfully I am reading a great novel “At The King’s Command” by Susan Wiggs, who was a presenter at the Writer’s Conference I just attended in Surrey. Again, I was blown away at how comforting a good book can be when real life becomes too much.

Strangely, I also couldn’t wait to write about the incident. More for myself than for you, my cherished readers (merci for your indulgence). Not because it is particularly fun to relive it but because that is how I am wired – writing is how I get things OUT of my brain in order to obtain the distance I need to process them.

So I will remember our first Halloween back in Canada as being the scariest Halloween for me ever even though when I reflect back on the events I realize I have a lot to feel thankful for; top notch medical care, the fact that Franck was home with me when it happened, and the fact that my sister Suzanne swooped in and made sure my girls had a wonderful Halloween anyway.

So for the next little while I will be working very hard to “Keep Calm and Carry On” like the Brits during the Blitz in the face of my Halloween scare.

De Grill From Sandwich Was Walking On Crunches

Camille at her first Terry Fox run (that’s a tattoo of Terry on her forehead). She is now a voracious supporter of the campaign to have Terry Fox’s Mom Betty light the Olympic Flame.

Charlotte and Camille are working so hard on improving their English and becoming not only little Frenchies, but real little Canucks too.

And I’m not helping them one bit.

For the first month of school Charlotte wrote “the” as “de” because that was simply how she heard the word in her head. Did I correct her?

No.

“My nem is Charlotte, I em de auldest of tree grills.”
translation = “My Name is Charlotte, I am the oldest of three girls.”

I ask you -which is cuter, the top sentence or the bottom one?

I rest my case.

She also talks very seriously of a girl in her class who broke her leg and has to come to school on “crunches”.

One of Camille’s good friends at school has to take the bus every morning from a local municipality called “Saanich“. Camille says, “Can you believe it? It takes 30 minutes on the bus to come all the way from Sandwich.”

Do I correct her?

No.

Instead, when she mentions this friend, I always pretend like I don’t know who she’s referring to just so I can hear her say, “You know Mom, the girl from Sandwich!”