Thursday, September 30, 2010


I have been learning some fun and interesting Belgian sayings lately. Pépé and Benjamin have been my principal instructors.  Here’s what I know so far:
            Il y a une polichinelle dans la tiroir= there is a puppet in the drawer= there’s a bun in the oven/she's knocked up
            On ne trouve pas de l’argent sous un pied de cheval=You don’t find money under a horse’s foot= money doesn’t grow on trees.
            Quand les poules auront les dents=when chickens have teeth=when pigs fly
            Après le semain de quatre jeudis=after the week of four thursdays= when pigs fly/ never

            I have also learned to recongize more impolite words, but those shall not be repeated. Besides, I don’t know how to spell them! We had an enire conversation about Darth Vader too. Darth Vader is Dutch for Dark Father. So much for the surprise and shock factor for Dutch Speakers. Julia explained that in Icelandic, they call Darth Vader what translates directly as black head. I cracked up at that point---great mental image. Everyone else laughed too when I finally got enough breath to explain.
            Today we had our first day of ‘éstages’, that is, field work/experience. We took a tour of a facility for handicapped adolescents and took notes. I frantically copied from some friends, and I understood a little of what the official said. Come to think of it, I’m not sure what his post was. I have a lot of gaps to fill in.
            We got off early for all this and the facility is really close to the school, so we ate lunch together at a friterie between the two.  We all had the ‘student box’: a ‘bicky’, drink, and small fries. The ‘bicky’ was a hamburger with cooked onions and some kind of amazing sauce, as well as pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. America may be famous for hamburgers, but man, these Europeans make a pretty mean burger too! The ‘small’ fries and turned out to cover most of the tray, and were quite good with and without mayo. Only the male in our group was able to eat all of his meal. We had a good time, and I was able to participate a little in a discussion of Lady Gaga. Her name sticks out in a French conversation, despite the accent. I guess she always sticks out, come to think of it. Elle est bizarre!
     This week we got our student id cards, and I discovered the universal, humorous quality of school photos. At first glance, my photo looks almost normal, until you notice the look of complete and utter terror. Ha. And mine wasn’t the only humorous photo. We had a good time swapping photos and laughing/moaning, just like kids everywhere.
            I was really excited today because I was able to understand most of what Madame Potar said during class!!! And she speaks like a machine gun! Or someone from NY! (Plunkdawg, anyone?) AND I had a dream last night where I had a small conversation in French. They were being very rude and told me to shut up. But it was in French, so it still made me happy. I am also starting to understand more of conversations in general, which is such a huge relief. You really have no idea how wonderful it is to understand spoken language until you can’t. 
Tonight I am going to try to make cornbread and gravy for dinner. With broccoli. From my reconnaissance(French-English word!) on the back of the cornmeal box, cornbread does not exist here, so it will be American. Hopefully. With a little bit o’ luck!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Random Things I Have Stumbled Upon

1.                    Icelanders and Belgians don’t know their national anthems and don’t give a rip. 
2.                    Unopened milk isn’t kept in the fridge. And I suspect that there’s some kind of sugar added or something; it tastes different.
3.                    Sandwiches are wrapped in foil or put in plastic containers, but never saran-wrapped.
4.                    I found a Belgian who likes peanut butter and jelly and peanut butter and banana sandwiches!!!
5.                    I guess Belgians do eat breakfast. I thought they didn’t, but I have been corrected.
6.                    Europeans drink lots of coke, pepsi, sprite, and other sodas, but I have yet to see any rootbeer.
7.                    I haven’t seen any reusable water bottles, metal or plastic.
8.                    There are no comics in Icelandic or Belgian newspapers. Although comics originated in Belgium.
9.                    Belgians are speed demons when it comes to showers. I am still working on catching up.
10.                It’s a Belgian tradition that a broom stands for every birthday. Marianne bought Alice’s mom 40 brooms as a gag for her 40th birthday.
11.      The date is logically written day-month-year instead of month-day-year. Crazy Americans. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Horses, Hercule, and Happy Birthday

   The horse show yesterday night was actually a show put on by a sort of school for stunt horsemanship. It was pretty amazing; the teacher had 4 miniature horses in all kind of formations without any lines or direct control on them, one student stood on  two galloping horses, and there were a lot more acts. The professor, an old man, looked a little frail (on purpose) but was standing on one foot on cantering horses, hanging on to the tail of a cantering horse, and driving his team of minis at a gallop in hairpin turns. It was very impressive. The show itself was actually in France, so that was kinda cool to see how easily it is to be international here.
    We just got back from having dinner at Veronique's (Marianne's sister). We ate a lot of good food (cheese-stuffed mushrooms, roast ham, a luxurious French potato dish (the potatoes are cooked in butter for 3 hours before being baked with ham), bread, some kind of creamed fish-sticks for appetizers, and then cake and coffee. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera) and a lot of good conversation too. (A note on Belgian table manners: napkins don't go on your lap, you don't unfold them to use them, and you fold them instead of crushing them. Also, bread goes on the table next to your plate, not on the plate.) I am understanding a bit more during group conversations, which is a very very welcome improvement. Jean-Luc (Veronique's husband) is very friendly and interested in politics and history, so we had a discussion about WWI and WWII. He was saying that WWI was a lot worse than II because all the survivors had absolutely no support when they tried to go back to being civilians. I mentioned All Quiet on the Western Front and he knew the French version. Julia told me that our school was used as an English hospital during WWII, which I didn't realize (wow). We also had a good discussion about Hercule Poirot and comics. Apparently there is a small village in Belgium with an actual Hercule Poirot recorded as being born there, so they say that that is his birth place. Hercule is also the name of their greyhound. He was found in a well in Spain, with a broken hip and leg, with 6 dead dogs. He is rather shy, but improving.
    I took my 5 lb bible with me to church today so I could read the scripture in English. It helped a lot in guessing the gist of the sermon. Everyone at the church is very friendly and I like to go.
       Julia and I gave Gilles his birthday present today: a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam, and a spoon to eat it with. Simple, quirky, and well-received. Gilles had Jean try it, and poor Jean bravely said he had to get used to it. I guess it's only Americans and half-American ex exchange students who like peanut butter. Speaking of which, one of the dogs found my peanut butter stash in my suitcase and ate a package before I caught her. Dagnabbit. Thank goodness it was only one dog and one package. I might have cried if they had eaten all of them. Belgian Peanut Butter is just not the same. I have moved my stash to a safer spot, so everything's under control now. Although I do have 6 dogs in my room at the moment. The more the merrier.

PS: Marianne, Jean, Gilles, and even Julia liked my American cookies. Gilles says they're not what he calls American cookies, they're Alaskan cookies, and he's used to Wisconsin cookies. Even so, he liked them.  Jean (the artist) happily remarked that there was a rainbow in his cookie. And Gilles also noticed that they were the colors of the gay pride flag, so that was perfect. Success.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Not-so-Innocent Notions

Today I had the innocent notion that making American chocolate chip (except there are no chocolate chips. I decided m and m’s would do) cookies would be a good thing to do on a Saturday. I had been mulling this over for several days, so I already had flour and sugar. All I needed was baking soda and some brown sugar.  I knew the little store nearby doesn’t have baking soda so I set out for the bigger store further off. After walking through the rain and searching for baking soda for half an hour (I DID find corn meal, though!) I had the brilliant idea to ask. Turns out baking soda isn’t used for baking here; I continued the search at the pharmacy. I made it home and triumphantly asserted that I was going to make cookies. Then I discovered that there was no butter. So off to the nearby store I went for butter (note: all butter here is salted. Unsalted does not exist). Even with conversions, I’m not quite sure if the scale here is functional, so I just guesstimated everything. 3 hours later, I have succeeded at putting the first batch in the oven. Unfortunately, I think they needed more flour, so they are rather melty. Oh well, I’ll just have to eat the bloopers. Ufda. I miss Costco. (Everything here is in teensy packages).  And my wheels. My kingdom for Garfunkel! It’s amazing how difficult doing something little like making cookies can be in a foreign country. I’m discovering a lot of those.
Tomorrow is Gilles’ 21st birthday (not a big deal here; the only new thing you can do is get into a casino) so yesterday night Jean organized a surprise party for him. 6 or 7 of his friends from around here came and spelled ‘Joyeux Annie’ (happy b-day) in balloons for him and hid in the living room. When Gilles arrived with Jean he was very pleasantly surprised. Julia and I came and hung out with them for several hours while they drank, smoked, ate birthday cake, and took turns wearing a balloon hat.  They were very friendly with us and did their best to speak as much English as they knew. They were mildly horrified that Americans (or at least I) live without drinking, smoking, sex, and eating( they don’t think Americans eat  much because I turned down some chips and remarked about how Belgians eat).    They made a bargain that if I tried to sing a French song they would try to sing an American song. So I tried Toi plus Moi, but discovered that particular tune is unpopular with this particular crowd. Champs Elysee went over much better, and they joined in. Then they tried to sing Yellow Submarine, which was quite humorous. We said goodbye around midnight, but apparently the party continued until around 5. I didn’t notice, because I slept like a rock. A very happy rock.
This week has gone alright. I am understanding more, slowly. I had my first real test Friday in Psychology. I think it went alright, but the grading system here is very different. 50 percent is passing, but next to no one earns 100 percent. 100 percent is if you go above and beyond perfection. Teachers grade tough. So we’ll see.
Tonight we are going to a horse show, so that should be fun. Tomorrow I am going to try to catch a ride to church, and then we are eating at Marianne’s sister’s place. Jean and Gilles are here through Monday because it’s a holiday. I’m not sure if we have school. I’ll have to find out. Jean showed me some of his art today---wow. He’s in his second year at art school. He really likes Halloween, which doesn’t really exist here. He has a lot of cartoons with vampires and witches and ghosts and whatnot---makes me feel at home. He also showed me a lot of his studies, which are also really cool.
Fall is barely starting here, with the first leaves falling. No frost yet.
Other random fact: because I just got done telling my family that we never eat beef here, we had steak and fries today for lunch. And spinach. Nom.
YUS! I finally got the flour right and my cookies look American and amazing! And they taste good too! Phewf. Only 4 hours. Now I can share the superb nature of American cookies! (Cookies here are hard and more like biscuits---not soft). MUAHAHA, I feel accomplished. Saturday’s mission is now complete.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I AMsterdam

This weekend has been one wild ride in a wonderful way! I may have to split this up. Friday I had an actual school day, including two hours of gym class. We ran again, and this time I knew where I was going, which is a very precious sensation for an exchange student! Then we played hockey. PE here is not coed, which I initially thought was silly, but now I love it. Girls can actually play a game, hockey for instance, without getting run over or standing on the sidelines the entire time. And you don’t feel as slow when the boys aren’t blasting past you all the time.
Julia was feeling better so we went on a shopping expedition to the mall, via the bus(I checked that she had pushed the button about 50 times on the way home). Then we found out that we were going to a birthday party that night. It was nice, and I tried a Spanish type of light alcohol called Spagria or something like that (wine, fruit juice, and some specific type of fruit that I didn’t understand in French). We didn’t get home until midnight.
 After 4 hours of sleep, we got up to get ready to catch the train with AFS to Amsterdam. (!!!) We joined another group of AFSers in Brussels for a total of about 20 students and volunteers. We had a great time swapping host family and first-day-of-school stories. Our first activity in Amsterdam was a boat ride through the city’s canals. I spent the first half of the ride on the outer deck taking photos before I realized that there was a tour (in English too!) going on inside the boat. So I was able to recognize Anne Frank’s house and some historic churches that we passed, and I have photos of the rest!
After that we walked to the main square and split up for lunch. We walked through the tourist traps and eyeballed all the marijuana tshirts and wooden shoes. We passed a Vodka museum and a Sex museum. I guess Amsterdam is the pot and sex capital of Europe.
I absolutely refused to eat McDonald’s while in Amsterdam, so I went with another American girl to a Friterie and enjoyed some European fast food.  My first actual friterie fries with fritesaus were definitely impressive. I am spoiled for life.
We regrouped to take a tour through Madame Toussaud’s. I had never been to a wax museum before, so I was impressed by the level of detail in all the figures. We had a lot of fun mugging for the camera with Van Gogh, Johnny Depp, Charlie Chaplin, Ghandi, and lots of other notables. Obama was the newest attraction, but you had to pay to have your picture taken with him, so I skipped that one.  There were several fake tourists set up at strategic points, and I apologized to one for bumping into him before I realized he was wax. There was also a sort of haunted-house section. I got caught between groups and ended up all alone. Yeek. I spent the entire time in cautious, frozen silence, trying to anticipate the next spook. Some of the other girls lost their voice.
  Next I chose to go to the Van Gogh Museum with several other students. SO AMAZING. We saw the ACTUAL Bedroom, Crows in a Cornfield, Potato Eaters, Sunflowers, and so many others!!! Van Gogh is my favorite artist because his work is so full of movement, color, and feeling. In person, the effect was even stronger, and you could actually see the globs of paint and brushstrokes he used. The security for the museum was very strict; no cameras, coatcheck, no backpacks, and a full body scan, but the paintings are definitely worth it!
On the way back from the museum, in between dodging bicycles (there were more bicycles than cars), we stopped for dinner. I had a ‘hot dog’ which was much too good to be a real hotdog, and tried a Dutch dessert: Stroopwafel. It’s basically a waffle-wafer with honey and caramel. Quite tasty.  
We laughed at the menus in English, their sizes were: Small or Big. There was a lot of English everywhere. I kept speaking French and then realizing that no one knew what I was saying. Sometimes I would explain that I was American in French when they adressed me in English. It was very befuddling. I have started speaking French involuntarily when I’m speaking English with Julia. I am starting to understand more in school too, thank heavens!
 After dinner we took photos with the I amsterdam statue and headed back to catch the train. After several late trains, we finally got home around 1:30. Luckily I had decided not to try to go to church the next day, and I slept like a rock. I managed to drag myself out of bed before lunch, when Pépé, Cecile, Sabine and her son, and Catherine’s family came over.  After Poulet en Peau (roast chicken) and Madame Blanche (vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream) we headed out to the Tournai fair. The fair had a lot of ‘American’ booths; I laughed at their depictions of hamburgers with pasta and how exotic American stuff is. We went on several small rides and watched Catherine’s 5 year old daughter  enjoy pony rides. Before leaving we tried Croustillons, basically doughnuts with powdered sugar. Really good, like all deep-fat fried food. The sweet stand also had 5 kg (10 lbs ish) jars of Nutella sitting on the counter. Julia and I took pictures of them.
Whew. I think that's all. Good weekend.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

More on Daily Life

By popular request, here is a sketch of my daily schedule.

6:45 Wake up, kick the dogs out of my bed, kiss Marianne good morning, get ready. I eat breakfast, which is very un-Belgian, but I feel it is necessary to start the day with some kind of nourishment. Belgians sometimes eat something small and sweet for breakfast with coffee, so to be more culturally accurate I have pared breakfast back to more of a yogurt-cereal affair rather than all-out breakfast. Julia normally comes streaking in at the last minute for some bread and Nutella (nom!).
School starts at 8:10, and it takes 13 minutes to walk to school. Once we’re there, we mill around and wait in the courtyard for the teacher of our first class to call roll and lead us to the classroom (same room each time, but it’s always locked. They also lock the bathrooms most of the time.) We have two classes, each about an hour long, before a 15 minute break. Most people then eat waffles or chocolate or some kind of snack, and this is the time to buy a ticket for what you want to eat at lunch(baguettes, fries, pizza, pasta). The bathrooms are momentarily available. An important note on the bathrooms: you take the toilet paper from a big roll outside the stall. Also, there are no paper towels or other methods for drying your hands, so most people don’t wash their hands at all.
After the break, there are two more classes and then one hour for lunch. The first part of lunch is spent in the ‘refectoire’, the commons, where the actual eating happens. After that, everyone goes outside to hang out or play soccer or whatever. Then we get shooed back inside by a teacher and we have another 3 classes until 3:30.
After school we walk home and I play with Touchtou, do homework, blog/email/facebook people, read (Middlemarch at the moment), or undertake some sort of expedition to the mall or the store. Marianne finishes work around 8 PM, so that is when we eat dinner. After dinner Julia and I clear the table and wash any dishes that don’t fit in the dishwasher. After dinner Marianne lets about 10 of the dogs inside to help clean up leftovers, and then the entire pack follows her upstairs to sleep on the couches and watch TV. Then to bed I go, after kisses.
 Wednesday and Thursday I have half-days (unless we have observations), so I eat at home with Marianne, Marie, and Catherine (the two women who work at the clinic). For meals we eat a lot of different things. Marianne normally cooks for lunch, and then sometimes in the evening. Often we have sandwiches for dinner; cheese (the good stuff. Gouda, Camembert, Brie, etc.), ham, salami, Filet Americain (I have no idea why it’s called that or really what it is. It’s a meat spread. I joke that that’s what they do to Americans they don’t like.), shrimp, butter, etc. Other times we have rice with chicken, roast pork, pasta with meat, some kind of casserole, mashed potatoes(instant) with meatballs, tartiflette(amazing French casserole with cream, potatoes, ham, etc.), salad, and whatever else is handy. Sometimes we go to friends’ houses for dinner and Pépé and Cecile come to eat dinner twice a week. There is also a drawer of chocolate and Belgian goodies open to the public. In short: there is absolutely no danger of starvation.

Thursday, September 16, 2010



Today I took the bus all by myself for the first time. I made it to the mall (les Bastions is its name; it’s where the old defenses for the city used to be) without incident, and found everything I needed without too much ado. So I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I had found the right bus for the return trip and was riding swiftly and easily home. Only I didn’t know about hitting the thingamajig to let the driver know I wanted to get off. So I went riding right past the front door of my destination. Very dismaying. Luckily several stops later someone else pushed the button-dealie and the bus stopped so I scrambled out and found my way home. Then I encountered some trouble with opening my old nemesis, the front door. It doesn’t have a doorknob, so you have to unlock just so and push it to open. Which isn’t so hard, except I didn’t know that the door was already unlocked. Meanwhile, Touchtou was flinging himself at the door in excitement. Luckily for the door, the dog, and myself, I finally got the door to open after an opening-prayer. Belgian doors are out to get me, I tell ya. And you never notice how many doors are necessary for life until you have issues with them. Trust me.
So far, every Wednesday and Thursday I have had a half-day at school. Quite delightful, because not only do I get extra time off, I can walk home to have lunch with Marianne, Marie, and Catherine. Not that the school food is bad; their food costs less than ours and is made fresh every day. They have different kinds of baguettes, fries, pizza, and full meals. And then there are vending machines with drinks (soda---American schools would be horrified), candy, and WAFFLES. Anyway, there is no danger of starvation here.
Another good point about school here: basically no homework. I have had 3 assignments so far. Not only are the academics easy (only trouble is that they’re in French), but things are never due the next day. I have my first test tomorrow, but it’s in English, so it doesn’t really count. I am curious to see what the tests are going to be like, since our entire grade is based on them.
On a different note, Marianne bought a new fridge recently, so we helped Cecile clean out the old one before dinner one night. We found several items with expiration dates in 09, but nothing too gory (leftovers here basically don’t exist; the dogs eat well). There was a lot of ice in the freezer (Alaska!) and we found some old tubs of the ice cream for the canines. So when we finally put the tub of melty vanilla ice cream on the floor for the pack to enjoy, Hortense (the Basset) immediately head-butted everyone else out of the way. She plopped her snout right in the tub and set to work. It was pretty gruesome; ice cream was ALL over her face, her ears, her throat, the floor, and she was drooling more than normal ‘cause ice cream just tastes so good. And then she shook. Oh dear. I laughed, but was careful not to get too close.
Saturday Julia and I are going with the regional AFS group to AMSTERDAM!!! I’m stoked. Julia is sick right now, so I hope she has an abrupt recovery so she can enjoy Amsterdam to the fullest! Thanks to Marianne, the early departure and late return will not have to be by foot. She called herself ‘autobus’. Bless her heart! 

Monday, September 13, 2010

More About Speculoos

   Ha, I'm not sure how to explain what kind of cookie it tastes like, because the cookie itself is called Speculoos too! It's like a cinnamon-gingerbready biscuit-thing. It is good enough that I am considering sacrificing some chocolate space for Speculoos on the return trip...

Learning and Misadventures of Late

Gilles just taught me an amusing Flemish game called Finger (Vinger).  Two people stand facing each other and each points with both their hands at the other person. You take turns touching each other’s fingers with one hand at a time. When you touch the other person’s finger, they add the total number of  fingers together and then they have to put out that many fingers on that hand. When you get to 5, you ‘lose’ that hand and it goes behind your back. You can take a turn to clap your hands and bring back a hand, but you divide the number of fingers you have between your two hands. The object is to make the other person lose both their hands. Good fun. I think I’m addicted.
I also learned why the two species of Rhinos are called white and black, even though they are obviously not white or black. Jean-Pierre told me that it is because when the English heard the Dutch-speaking Afrikaaners in South Africa describing the White Rhino, who has a wide mouth for grazing, they heard ‘white’ instead of ‘wide’. And thus, the brilliant English decided that the other type of Rhino (with a pointed mouth for browsing) must be black. Ha. I always wondered about that…
This weekend I helped set up for an event for Greyhounds in Nood. Every year they have about 5 dog walks with ‘barbecues’ for fundraisers. (I put the ‘barbecues’ in quotes because it’s more of a banquet; barbecues here are much bigger and well-provisioned than in the US). I helped set up tables and package items for a sort of raffle Saturday, and Sunday after church we all went and enjoyed grilled bacon (SO AMAZING---nothing like bacon here), grilled ham, three types of sausages, couscous, three types of salad, bread, pineapple, tomatoes, and more things that I didn’t have room to try. We then went for a short jaunt with Touchtou and Piout and enjoyed the felicitous sunshine.
I have survived two hurdles that I had been dreading: PE class and the eventuality of getting lost all by myself without a cell phone. And both in the same day, nonetheless. I managed not to get left behind when we ran around the locality for PE---I was so worried I would get abandoned out in the countryside with no idea where I was! But after school I managed to get turned around on my way back from the bank, and take several wrong turns before I retraced my steps, found the school, and made it home. Boy, was I tired when I got home!
I am feeling much more comfortable and confident at school. They have decided to keep us in three classes of 18, fortunately. The schedule is still a little goofy, but I don’t have to worry about getting lost anymore. I was supposed to give a presentation today in English, but there was a fluke in the schedule and we only had 5 people in the class. I wore my obnoxiously-glorious bright yellow Alaska Grown shirt with the presentation in mind, but instead I just ended up looking exceedingly bright and very American all day. Take note, all Alaskan fashionistas: AK grown is coolest in the US. Not so much in Europe. I think I will wear something else when I give the presentation next week. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Words, Frisbees, and Amazing Things in Jars

What I learned at school today: how to say gun, how to say machine gun, and how to say kill. (Hooray, world peace!) And that the word for machine gun is also a type of sandwich with fries. Just about everything is connected to food here. I also learned that while there is not a French word for Alaska, there is a French word for Alaskan: Alaskien(ne). Go figure.
I got out of school at noon today because it is the first week of school (normally Thursdays are spent on actual work with actual people as we learn to be social workers), so I enjoyed sandwiches at home with Marianne, Gilles, and Marie. After that I took Touchtou out to the back ‘garden’ (it’s more like a pasture) to play frisbee. He really loves to run and play, and we play frisbee almost every day. Today my frisbee skills (meaning a lack thereof) were a bit problematic, as I underestimated the distance of my throw and sent the frisbee sailing over the fence into the veritable wilderness of the ditch. Hence, I did some fence-hopping, discovered a new variety of European Nettle, squelched through the mud, and found the frisbee with some help from Touchtou. So that was my wild foray for today.
This afternoon Gilles took me to a shopping area (sort of a gathering of stores) for school supplies. I needed a lot of things, among them a ‘cutter’---basically a retractable razor blade. And it is totally legal and normal for me to carry it through school. So now I can not only drink alcohol, but carry a knife in a school. Hoo hoo hoo. We strolled around the store and made a stop for peanut butter and jam. It turns out that Gilles’ favorite American food is peanut butter (he practically lived on it while he was in Wisconsin). And of course, it is also my most favorite food in the world! We also bought some Speculoos, a uniquely Belgian food, for me to try. Speculoos(Spekyoolohse) is a type of Belgian cookie, but recently they have invented a spread. It looks like creamy peanut butter,  and it’s sticky like peanut butter, but it tastes like cookies! It blew my mind. Cookies in a jar. Spread on bread like peanut butter. And it tastes super good. The marvels of modern innovation. 

Happy Birthday, Julia!

Yesterday it rained cats and dogs, apparrently the first time it has ever done so on Julia’s birthday. Julia also did not have a rain coat. Fortunately, Marianne offered to drive us to school so we were spared the 13 minute (yes, we timed it) walk to school. Even so, we were pretty wet by the time we got  from the car to the building! My class have half-days on Wednesday, so I walked home early to have lunch at home, but poor Julia had more school and walked to lunch at a restaurant with her coat over her head. As soon as she came home she expressed her earnest desire to purchase an umbrella and raincoat. I didn’t say much because I knew that Marianne was buying a raincoat for her birthday present! Marianne planned a big surprise party that night.  Marie (one of the women who works at the office) came and led both of us over to the office waiting room, where about 20 people were waiting to yell ‘Bonne Anniversaire!’ for Julia. She was so surprised! She had never had a surprise party before, so it was a special way to celebrate her 18th birthday. There were presents, champagne, sandwiches, and a beautiful birthday cake (that even had Julia’s name written with all the correct accents on it).  And a raincoat. She won’t have to drown in the rain again! A success on the whole. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


A moment for what I did this weekend:
Saturday Julia and I accompanied Marianne to an adoption day for ‘Greyhounds in Nood’ (greyhounds in need, I think), the organisation that Marianne works with to save Greyhounds from Spain. I had no idea so many horrible things could be legal in Western Europe. If dogs don’t race well, the spaniards think that they have to suffer, so a lot of dogs die gruesomely. Some are hung just high enough that their paws touch, so they jump until they can’t, and then they hang. Others have a noose around their neck and food is placed just out of their reach so they either starve or hang themselves. Then there is shark baiting and outright abandonment. Horrible stuff. One of the workers explained that they save about 40 some dogs each time they go to Spain with their dog-mobile(I said it looks like Marianne’s house on wheels!). This week they found homes for about 50 dogs, and Saturday was the day when the families came to pick up their new member after weeks of recuperation, operations, and good food. We watched Marianne answer questions and do little checkups for the dogs, and watched the new families having their photo taken together. So many smiles for dogs and people alike! Marianne also came home with 6 new dogs, 4 for boarding and 2 for keeps. Both of the new additions are very sweet.
Sunday I went to the Protestant Church. Normally they only have about 15 people, but there was a baptism so there were more. I told them I came from a small church, about 100. They laughed. I got a lot of ‘wows’ when I was introduced as an Alaskan. I guess ‘wow’ has penetrated the French  language. I had real wine for communion, they don’t use grape juice here! Everyone was very welcoming to me, and I enjoyed it. 
After lunch (Salmon! Very Alaskan. Julia doesn’t like fish---and yes, she’s from Iceland, where all their money has fish on it---but she bravely ate it) we drove to the ‘mountains’ for a promenade with Jean-Pierre. As Marianne said, the ‘mountain’ was much taller thanks to the trees. So the mountain wasn’t very tall, but the trees---wow. They were truly beautiful, and I kept expecting some classic poet to step out and start romanticizing about the graces of nature. (I’m reading a George Elliot novel at the moment and I could definitely see her in this setting).  We had a lovely walk with Touchtou and Piout, all the way to a restaurant in the middle of the woods, where we had dessert. Jean-Pierre said that a lot of the people were not walking for the walk. And I can see why! The ice cream I had was called a Coup Brésilienne (I think that’s spelled right): basically caramel icecream with more carmelized bits and whipped cream with caramel sauce. Delightful, of course.
After our return to the car (by way of several ‘detours’, aka, getting slightly lost) we stopped by Marianne’s sister’s house to say hello. Her sister only has 4 dogs, but she looks a lot like Marianne. She and her husband just got married a few months ago---for the second time. Apparrently they were married, divorced, and then got married again! They brought out the photos from 30 years ago and the photos from this year. At the first wedding Marianne wore a gaudy blue dress (fun to see old photos of people!) and thus, at the second wedding, Marianne wore the same gaudy, crazy dress (albeit over overalls this time)! There was a lot of laughter and jokes about the dress and the weddings in general. They invited us to stay for dinner, but first asked if we ate tongue at home. Julia’s face said it all. Thus, we ate pizza at home, in safety, instead. 
Link for Greyhounds in nood:

Monday, September 6, 2010


My head might explode, (the only thing left would be: exploser, v. To explode) but otherwise the first real day of school went well. Most of the friends I made Friday are in my class, amazingly.  However, the administration has changed its mind and is going to reorganize the 54 5th level Education students into two classes instead of three tomorrow. I hope it doesn’t change too much.
Today we had 6 classes, psychology first. I think it will be an interesting class if I can get past the big new words.  I am super duper glad that I did a teensy bit of a human development course before I left, so stages and some terms were more familiar(Thank you, Mom!). The course is also going to include Piaget and general human development. The teacher seems very helpful and asked several times if I had questions or needed something explained. English class was baby easy, as Mr. Bowker would put it. The teacher told me that he would like me to give a presentation in English for the class---so much for my laboriously-created powerpoint in French! The hardest part of math class was the French. In general, the level of academics seems easy, but once again, the language issue will be a challenge.
Thanks to a lot of help from some new friends, I was able to obtain lunch and find the bathroom without too much damage. Here you can buy a ticket during the break at 10 pm and order what you want for lunch so that it will be cheaper. I think you can also leave the school and go to one of the little restaurants thereabouts. I think I’ll start with figuring out the ticket business.
The school in general is very different. Only 500 students, so first impressions count. The brick building is rather patched and well-loved, and the hallways are a lot narrower. Like most buildings and homes I’ve seen here, tile floors and walls reign supreme. Promethean or white boards don’t exist, and I didn’t see a computer all day. There are a few lockers, but most people don’t have one, so bags get carried around all day.
The students and their habits are also different. In general, everyone dresses better. The high heels resound through the halls, and there are no sweatshirts to be seen. Emo or street styles are nonexistant. In class, everyone writes in pen all the time. My papers are a mess, with scribbles everywhere, but they write like typewriters. A lot of students write on graph paper rather than lined paper. Despite all these differences, similarities persist: kids talk in class and teachers threaten to move them to the front, the teacher drops the chalk and everyone stares at the chalk as the oblivious teacher somehow manages to miss stepping on it as she paces the room, and you raise your hand for rolecall. Such is life.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Response to Comments

I don't know how to respond to comments with my own comments, so I will respond like so.

Jake: Glad you like the blog! Rambling...good word! And another way to think about this year. I didn't know you'd toured the West Coast! Cool beans! Where in Europe would you really like to go? Good luck with your classes! And especially the homework!

Searcher: No, I have not seen that movie, but I will put it on my rather long list of movies to watch! What is it about?

Much Better Than Bootcamp

Well, today I did NOT have bootcamp---Julia did! I guess the cooking students had real-to-goodness army people yelling at them and putting them through obstacle courses. Julia came through pretty well, and said that she had actually been interested in the military a while back (however, Iceland does not have a military. Instead, it is illegal to attack the country.).  Thank goodness my day was not so grueling! Instead of bootcamp, the education students got bussed about an hour away to a woodsy area for sports and a barbecue. First we played a lot of ‘getting to know you’ games, which was rather helpful and not painful at all.  It was interesting trying to tell people my name, though. Everyone here says it like SIRrah Red, and it’s rather hard to recognize sometimes because ‘Sara’ sounds like sera, a relatively common french word. There are several other Sara(h)s in the school, however. So it’s not completely foreign.
Later we were divided into teams and played a circuit of sports including volleyball, soccer (football), Pétanque (I like this one! You throw a small ball, and then everyone else tries to throw their ball closest to the colored ball from a starting line. Good fun.), Frisbee golf, and Badminton. The we had an hour lunch. I tell you, Americans need to learn how to have cookouts like the Belgians; their sausages served in baguettes with tomatoe, lettuce, ketchup, and mayonaise were quite superb. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to eat a hot dog again. Then we split into teams and did a sort of scavenger hunt/game stations activity. I discovered what European nettles look like without too much damage, and had some interesting conversations about the US. They wanted to know what we eat, what the roads are like, if we have igloos, if we eat dogs, if we have Walruses, if it is cold, and if we have Obama on any money yet (He is extremely popular here). Nobody knew who Sarah Palin is. Phewf. I hung out with several people I met yesterday. They were extremely kind to me and explained how to get a locker and told other people to speak more slowly for me, and made sure I knew how to get home from the school. They all seem to be very nice and more of the ‘good kid’ type than some people I have met. I feel much better about school now that I have found some nice people. We were able to request to be in the same class, but it is unlikely because 3 of the 5 are taking Flemish rather than English. One can only hope. We’ll find out our schedules and class groups Monday. I think.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


PS: I forgot to mention that all the cars are stick-shift. Add to the intensity factor.

Today was my first day at school, and I can happily say that I didn’t get lost.  However, we were only there two hours and we were only in two rooms. Still. Baby steps. I find that I feel very much like a small child here…I need help with so many routine things like using the microwave(the accomplishment of the day) and I have the grammar and vocabulary of a three-year old. Thank heavens for nice people who help the foreign kids! To everyone still in highschool: be really really nice to exchange students. Talk slowly, act things out. Let them follow you around like lost sheep. They are exhausted from trying to adapt a different language, eating style, sleeping style, and trying to be friendly and happy at all times. And not get lost.
 Tomorrow we are supposed to show up in sport clothes with a pen and paper. I’m a little afraid to find out what we’re going to do. Marianne says boot camp. Har har. I hope not! I don’t know how all these young people can still breathe; they smoke like chimneys, like chimneys on fire! The smoking age here is 16, and a lot of people, young and old, smoke. And if they’re not smoking cigarettes, they’re drinking or smoking hookah. Oh la la.
   After all this, I went with a friend of Fezzy’s, Leila, to mass in a chapel in a large house where poor and older people live. Leila is from Lebanon, and is very ecumenical; she goes to Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox services. She is going to take me to the Protestant church Sunday. I was so happy to see some other Christians, and they were so very kind to me! The priest even introduced me to the group during the service and explained that he was going to speak more slowly than normal for me. I understood a little; I know the reading had to do with Jesus, boats, and fishing. That leaves a lot to choose from, but I had an idea. Leila helped me with the different song books and liturgies, and how to take communion. They also pass the peace here, with many kisses. Two of the priests decided to be American and gave me hugs instead. It made me realize that I hadn’t been hugged since I got here, and I appreciated it. I think church will be a great thing not only for my spirit, but for my French; seeing words written while they’re spoken is helpful, plus I can guess at a lot of words because it’s a familiar text in English. For instance, I know we said the Lord’s prayer and Psalm 23 even though I didn’t know most of the words. I am so glad to be able to go to church; it’s very comforting