gift guide: books

I love to read, ‘yo! Here are the books every girl should ask for this year! (My top 5 of 2011).

1.) Let the Great World Spin, by Colum Mc Cann

Wonderfully written, intertwining stories, captivating, inspiring, Irish lads, perfect for a lost soul.

2.) BossyPants, by Tina Fey

This book made me laugh so much because just about every embarassing thing that happened to Tina growing up happened to me. It’s so nice to hear that even very successful women have gotten hearts broken and worked at the front desk of the YMCA. Every bossy girl needs a hero like Tina Fey.

3.) The House of God, Dr. Samuel Shem

Recommended to me by a future med student, this book manipulated words to form imagery I never thought was possible, and at times almost unbearable. I also learned never to go to the hospital in July.

4.) Something Blue, Emily Giffen

This was not a good book. This was a book you don’t want to admit you’re reading, because it’s frivolous and trashy (but I was smiling and giggling and enjoying it anyway).

5.) Ken Follett, The Fall of Giants

Even after I lived in the city where the  majority of the first world war took place, I couldn’t soak up one bit of historical information until I came across this rare gem: a period romance that somehow connects the life of a Welsch miner with a Russian princess with a German military officer. Ask me any trivia question about the Battle of Somme and I’ll tell you it’s where Billy almost lost hope he would reunite with the Wendy in London.

What do you think? The traveler would ask for these on the Kindle, but I still haven’t given up my library card! Any recs for 2012? Another question – how does Amazon always know what I want???

Bonus: Diane VonFurstenberg talks about travel as a lifestyle from Anne.

“If you pack lightly, you live lightly” – DVF

confessions of an ex-expat

I watch the news in French from my podcasts every morning

I’m not exotic anymore :(

I have yet to find people that think my baking is extra-special

I talk to myself in French

I haven’t done the bise in over a month

I was excited to visit my sister in rural PA because I missed cows.

bring back the cows.

In other news, I made a video to cheer myself up.

Back to the USA

I’ve been home for almost two weeks now, although it feels much longer. There were so many things that struck me as odd once setting foot on U.S. soil. Flying into Newark, I was shocked to be charged 5 dollars to use a luggage cart. The day after I got home, I met a friend for dinner near the mall. It was already 7:30, and I couldn’t believe the amount of cars in the parking lot; what is everyone doing here after seven? Aren’t the stores closed? I found the server to be so friendly, I thought it was cheesy. Why is she so enthusiastic about appetizers? At dinner we were served huge portions and then sent home with doggie bags. While running in my town, instead of passing cows, fields, and rivers, I ran by 611, Starbucks, and Wawa.

I forget words in English, which makes it seem like I’m showing off. I want to speak franglais at every opportuntity, which no one arounds me understands. I miss eating dinner with friends, planting ourselves around the table for hours, and talking.

A big smile came over my face when I saw my post on Anne’s blog, Pret A Voyager, this morning. My city, in the big lights! What perfect timing. Take a look at Verdun in summer on her blog, and be sure to check out her fabulous series highlighting all of the arrondissements in Paris.

the faces of verdun

If there is one question that everyone keeps asking, it’s this: what will you miss about France? The easy answer is the obvious highlights of the savoir vivre French culture compared to American instant gratification. The beauty of an open clean road compared to super-highways filled with advertising and traffic jams. Long lunch breaks, even longer apéro time, and four hours at the table with friends. Going around the corner for a freshly baked baguette (or éclair, or millefeuille, or tarte aux pommes). Climbing cathedral steps in Alsace, wine tasting by the Garonne, biking through the Lorraine countryside. Country-hopping to Belgium, Germany, or Luxembourg for the day.

But what they don’t know is that the things I’ll miss the most don’t have anything to do with buttery croissants or road trips to Germany. Although that is all exciting and wonderful for me, it’s not what I’ll be longing for when I’m back in the US, eating peanut butter on whole wheat bread and leaving lights on in every room in the house (oh consumer societies).

I’ll miss the Lieutenants teaching us to dance “rock” (still never got it). I’ll miss singing weird ’80s french hits at la Planete. I’ll miss Wednesday night basketball practice. I’ll miss running along my favorite routes in Verdun and seeing my students, who never fail to make me laugh and remind me how precious life is. I’ll miss watching the sun set over the Meuse, going to Franck and Sophie’s for dinner, and escaping on the TER Lorraine with Christine via the stupid SNCF. I’ll miss Tony serving me my favorite beer at l’Estaminet, trekking ito the movie theatre in the bitter cold with Kristie, and cooking dinner with Craig. I’ll miss the people who took the time to get to know me and welcome me here.

 

Je ne veux pas dramatiser mon départ, mais j’aimerais exprimer ma gratitude pour les gens qui ont partagé leur vie avec moi. Pour tous ceux qui m’ont accueillie cette année, je vous remercie de tout cœur. Je n’aurais jamais eu la même expérience si je ne vous avais pas rencontré. Grâce à vous, je vais rentrer avec de beaux souvenirs et des histoires drôles de mon année à Verdun. Merci !

sisters

Every year for my sister’s birthday, we used to go to a restaurant called Marabella’s down the shore. It was a typical family Italian restaurant, but we thought it was the coolest thing in the world, because my sister’s name is Mara. She was treated like a little princess, with her round cheeks and curly brown hair (she was always the cute one!). My grandparents always made a big deal of it, and afterwards we would come home and have cake at the house. Now, on her 21st, I am far away from ma petite sœur.

There is really no bond as strong as sisters. Sisters are best friends. They know exactly what to do to push each other’s buttons, and they know exactly what to do to cheer you up. Sisters call you no matter what. They write you letters. They never forget a skype date. They make you laugh til’ your sides split. They have spontaneous dance parties with you. They share bunkbeds, and stories, and late-night whispering.

Happy 21st birthday to my little sister. I wish I could be there with you, Marabella! Thank goodness my best friends back home took care of her in my absence. Love you girls.

ps. happy father’s day to the best dad in the world. sorry you are overshadowed by the sis.

transatlantic adjusting

Nine months ago, I moved over 3,700 miles away to rural France without knowing a single soul. While I am finally starting to acclimate to the pace and rythym of life here, I am about to leave in two short weeks. I thought I might write a post with tips and tricks on how to adjust to a new place.

Even as a natural extrovert, I had difficulty getting settled here in the beginning. I was used to easily striking up conversation, making friends in a snap. Yet, no matter how outgoing you are, in France most people tend to keep to themselves. This was extremely frustrating at times, and in the beginning, a misunderstanding of these social guidelines left me disappointed and confused.  My American-self likes instant gratification! It is important to be patient with yourself and with others.

The best advice I can give is to immediately throw yourself into community activities. I was lucky enough to meet a lovely family at church. They invited me to their house for lunch, and after having just one connection I was able to meet lots of other people. After much convincing, I joined the club basketball team in Verdun. Very slowly, it started becoming more social as well as a way to stay in shape. My golden rule is to “never say no”. If I was invited somewhere to do something, I was there. It is rare in French culture to immediately get an invitation from a stranger, so when you do, hang onto it for all it’s worth! This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone, but this might also reap the most beautiful rewards.

I also have been enjoying the surrounding area of where I live. Asking others to participate in runs and walks have helped me to discover the area as well as make new friends. I have also utilized Couchsurfing, which has allowed me to meet up with other young people in neighboring big cities. I also tried WOOFing, and met a lovely family while volunteering on an organic farm in the Vosges.

But on days when I was frustrated – with the language or culture, my anglophone friends here were always willing to listen. Having a solid base of support can be really comforting when you’re having a bad day. Even connecting with others through my blog has made me realize we all go through the same things sometimes.

Overall, I have met some amazing people over this past year, and count each and every person who has helped me adjust to life here as a blessing. But for all of you struggling to move someplace new – remember to have patience. Count each extended invitation as a victory, and in the mean time you can always try to recreate your favorite American baked goods to use as a bribe. Frenchies love cookies. Or muffins! They have a thing for anglophones and muffins.