Tuesday, December 14, 2010

C'est fini

Well, today is my last day in Clermont-Ferrand. This morning I woke up and went to work like I have done for the past 4 months, but today just wasn't the same. This weekend I started to say my goodbyes and it continued until I walked home from lunch. I said my goodbyes to my favorite restaurant owners, the people I buy bread from every day and the people who I work with. The interesting thing about saying goodbye to some of these people is that I didn't know if I'd get the chance. For example, yesterday I went to buy a baguette from a guy that I have bought them from for the past 4 months. He wasn't there! I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to say goodbye, but I saw him at his bakery while I was walking home, so I stopped in and said goodbye. Then there is a random person on the street that I have seen mulitple times a week and we exchange cordial hellos. I hadn't seen him for the past week, but randomly today as I was about to turn a corner, he was coming around the other way. I stopped and said goodbye to him. It is strange saying goodbye to people when I know I will never see these people again. They have been a part of my life for a year. I have seen them on good days and bad days and all the days in between. They will be what I remember most about Clermont.
As with finishing any adventure in life, my feelings are a bit bittersweet. I had no idea what this year was going to bring when I left the States on Jan 5. It has been rewarding, challenging, motivating, disappointing, glorious and unforgettable. I will never have another year like it. I'm proud of myself. It may seem like a strange emotion, but it is one of the overwhelming feelings that I have had in the past week as I prepared to go home.
One of the tough parts about going home after a year like this one is trying to put into words for other people what this year has been. I went to new countries and new cities, I visited friends, I ate animal insides, I drank more wine than I will for the rest of my life and I lived in a language and culture not my own. There is no way to recount all of the adventures for other people. I hope this blog has done that to an extent and given a snapshot into the daily life I lived in France. I'm signing off from France for the last time. Au revoir la France!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bûche de Noël

When I was little and went to a summer camp to study French they told us about all the traditinoal French foods at Christmas. One of those was a cake called a Bûche de Noël. It is like a huge swiss roll for those of you who know what that is. I had completely fogotten about these little cakes until the other day when I was walking past our local patisserie and saw the little pasty Bûche's in the window. I didn't buy one at the time, but I made a mental note to buy one sometime this weekend before I left France. Well I went on Sunday to buy one and guess what? they were all out. boooo. So today, at lunch time I went to a patisserie in the place by work and bought a chocolate petit bouchette. I didn't know that they had all different kinds. The ones that I have had in the US were all chocolate and vanilla. I ate the bouchette tonight and it was a great last dessert.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Last Weekend in Clermont

Hard to believe that it has been almost an entire year, but the past weekend was my last in Clermont-Ferrand. I started the weekend on Friday night with a few beers at one of the best bars in Clermont. It is bar called Bertrom and it was decked out for the holidays. I wish I could have captured a good photo of the place, but it made me wish I had gone there all the time. If it weren't on the other side of town I might have. There was a Christmas tree, lights, fake snow, elves on the windows and it was happy hour, so beers were half-price. We had a couple of Beglian beers and then headed to our favorite creperie in Clermont: Pescajoux. The owners are super nice and we had a great final crepe meal in Clermont. We closed the place down drinking cider with Vincente and Bruno.
Saturday we were all over Clermont. We started by buying some bug spray (for Costa Rica) at the pharmacy I frequented while in Clermont because the pharmacist is so nice. Then we had a lunch of croques, with chevre on top. The rest of the day was spent wandering around Clermont looking for souvenirs and enjoying a busy winter day in town. We stopped in a great coffee shop that I wish we would have taken advantage of earlier. We went to a hidden museum that I had read about, but that was a bit more difficult to find than we expected. Then we ended up at the market to buy the last of the smoked bacon for breakfast on Sunday morning. Dinner on Sat night was a bit more difficult than expected as we went to five restaurants before finding a place that had room for us, and conveniently we ended up at the second place we ate in Clermont. It was good, but after a filling dinner and some wine it was time to turn in.
Sunday I got up and went to my final mass at the cathedral before heading to the Michelin Adventure. It is essentially a museum of the history of Michelin and how they have grown. Since Michelin is the heart of Clermont, I felt I should go. It was time well spent. Sunday afternoon was my last rugby game. I didn't go, because it was freezing cold, but I did go to the Irish bar The Still and watch ASM bring home a winner in a close game. I drank my final Carslburg on tap, and thought about my brother the whole time.
I have by no means done everything there is to do in Clermont, but my time and year was well spent. The final weekend was just an accumulation of it all.


Here's the thing about trying to buy souvenirs for people, and myself, from France: There just isn't that much that is really, truly French that you can't get at home that isn't stinky cheese, hard to transport (heavy and oddly shaped) wine, bread, pastries or an assortment of other foods (dried meats, mustards). Everything else is either really expensive or you just buy it over the web and have it shipped to you. There also is the struggle of determining what French things are perfect for the people at home. The other challenging part of the purchasing decisions is that there is only so much room in the suitcases. I'm not going to take you through each of my purchase decisions because of course the people haven't received them yet, but boy, it is hard with all this globalization going on ;-)

Thursday, December 9, 2010


With a grand total of 5 days left of walking to and from work, my life is much safer now. Why? you ask.
There is a major street that I have to cross every day that is right in front of our boulangerie. The street I live on empties into the middle of this street so for the past 4 months I have been waiting for breaks in the traffic, or for street lights to hit just right on the two roads that merge into one about 40 feet to the right of where I cross. There is also a road street directly opposite where I cross where I have to dodge cars turning right onto the street while I am crossing. Each day there are probably 20 people with me each time I cross. Sometimes I let other people walk closer to the merge, nicely figuring that if cars come flying around the corner and decide not to stop, at least I won’t take the full impact. You know a street isn’t safe when you are considering the options of not getting ran over and they include letting someone else get run over instead. The traffic is at its absolute worst when I walk home from work, and when it backs up it can sometimes take 3 or 4 light changes to get across the road.
In a development that has been slowly progressing for about a month now, there is now a crosswalk. They added a light literally 20 feet after the merge so that the cars stop at the fork, then they stop 20 feet later after they merge. It is a logistical nightmare. The good news is that now that the crosswalk exists I don’t have to worry so much about cars flying around a blind corner and taking me out. The only problem now is that the crosswalk isn’t in my regular walking path so I have to go out of my way 20 feet. Sheesh, the things we do for safety.

In other Clermont news, remember me telling you about a gym being built across the street from school that I hoped was going to be finished at the beginning of August? I’m proud to report that it still isn’t finished. Ha. I walk by it each day and lately there is more exterior work going on like siding and stucco, but still dirt and no parking lot and no finishing touches. Not exactly biting at the dust to start exercising now are we?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Working in a French office environment has been quite interesting. There are a bunch of similarities between American and French workplaces, but there are some interesting perceived differences as well.
One day about a month ago, a guy that works down the hall from me came into the office that I share with two other women dressed in a suit and tie. One of the women asked him if he had a meeting with the Americans or he was just trying to look like one. I was a little confused at first, because I have seen men in suits in the office, but then I realized that it was the fact that he was wearing a tie that did it. The business attire here is pretty laid back. I have worn business clothes every day, suit pants and a sweater or dressier shirt. My boss wears suit pants every day and has a suit jacket with him at all times. Everyone else runs the gamut from jeans and a button down to suit pants and sweaters. I think it just depends on what they feel like wearing that morning or who they have a meeting with that day. Wear a suit and tie though and you’re teased for trying to look American.
Also, when I first started, no one really told me the hours of the office. On the first day it said show up at 8:30. I have shown up at 8:30 every day since then. Also on the first day, I asked when to be back from lunch, they said any time between 1:30 and 2. I make it back generally around 1:30, sometimes closer to 1:45. I didn’t really ask what time to leave the first day, I just left at 5 and have every day since. I learned later that this is a truly “American” thing to do.
Apparently the French work “long hours”. The come in between 8 and 8:30 and work til 6 or 6:30. This isn’t everyone, but it is the salary people. There is a host of other people walking out of the building at 5 with me. Now the French will tell you that they work longer hours than Americans and hint at that meaning that they work harder. At that I just shake my head. Here’s why. Let’s calculate. Let’s say the day starts at 8:30 and goes til 6. That is 9 ½ hours. So take out 1 ½ for lunch. 8 hours. Take out 15 minutes for coffee from 8:30-8:45 (yes, in the morning, after you have just arrived). Take out 15 minutes for coffee from 10-10:15ish (that’s a wimpish break) Then take out the 15 minutes for coffee from 3-3:15 and, well if it has been a long day, take out the 15 minutes for coffee from 4:45-5 (yes, an hour before you leave). Add that all up and you have… 7 hours of work spread across 9 ½ hours. (I didn’t take into account the “chat” time that randomly happens when someone gets bored). Now, I am in no way saying that coffee breaks and chat times don’t happen in American offices. I know they do, but, the insinuation that Americans don’t work hard because they leave the office at 5 and are finished with work is just misleading. I know plenty of Americans who work 60 hour weeks or leave the office at 5 but spend another 2 hours each day working at home.
Another note on the French “work time”. Most salaried people work 40 hours a week while the non-salaried work 35. If you work 40 hour weeks in France? You get 8 weeks of vacation. Only working 35 hours a week, you slacker, 4 weeks of vacation for you.
Man America, get with the program.

*disclaimer…this is a blog written from my experience in the French office environment, I’m sure, that like everywhere, hours, breaks and vacation allotments change depending on the employer

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like...

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in France. They put up the lights over the streets and on the light posts, so it is pretty festive walking around. There is a restaurant that I walk by every day that has a Christmas tree and a neon light wishing everyone “Bonnes Fetes” or “Happy Holidays”. In one of the main squares that I walk by each day on my way to work, there is normally a little flower market that is enclosed, so it is there all year round. This week the flower market became a Christmas tree farm and lots of live trees are out there for the picking. The trees here are all the same and they look a bit like Charlie Brown Christmas trees. There is lots of room for hanging ornaments! There are big trees and little trees, but they pretty much all look the same.
In Place de Jaude, the huge square in the center of town they have erected a Ferris wheel just like the one that was here last year when I arrived. I’m not sure the appeal of riding a Ferris wheel when it is negative degrees outside, but my roommate did it and had a grand time. She’s trying to get me to go back. Next to the Ferris Wheel is a massive Christmas tree with ornaments on it.
I have gone to both masses in Advent and while the Cathedral is much too big to decorate fully, there is a nativity scene in the back of the church that is pretty decorated. I didn’t say prettily decorated for a reason, but it is there. You know who is still missing though.
Right outside of the Cathedral is a Christmas market, where vendors sell their wares out of little wooden huts. You can find sweaters or toys or wooden games. You can also find truffade (the local dish with potatoes and cheese), Canadian pancakes with maple syrup and any kind of cheese or dried meat you desire.
Bars around here have started serving Bier de Noel. The one we had on Saturday was the Delirium Christmas Beer and it was bitter and tasted like coffee. Not my cup of …..er…beer.
There are Christmas concerts going on around town and lastly, the stores ARE OPEN on Sunday. It is the first capitalist thing I have noticed all year. Welcome to the season kids!