Sunday, January 29, 2012



Normandy : France :: the Midwest : America

I have been realizing more and more that Normandy is to France as the Midwest is to America. There are so many reasons that this is an adequate--if not spot-on--comparison.

#1. Cows

There are lots of cows in Normandy, just like in the Midwest. Where I am living, specifically, there are more sheep than cows, but on the whole, cows practically outnumber people throughout Normandy. There are a lot of horses too, but drive through the country, and all you'll see is cows.

#2. Farms

Having lots of farms also means having lots of amazing farmer's markets. Most of the farms here are not necessarily corn farms (in fact most of them grow other kinds of produce), so that's a significant difference from the farms in Illinois, and most of the Midwest. The crops are not as tall, but still. Farms take up vast expanses of land, and old French barns and farmhouses are beautiful.

#3. Flatness

My little corner of Normandy is particularly curvaceous. But on the whole, Normandy is quite flat. There are not significant mountain regions by any means around here. Beautiful hills, yes. But mountains, none in sight. Driving through the country, which you have to do in order to go just about anywhere from Evreux, feels just like driving through the middle of Illinois. Flat farmland.

#4. Apples

Normandy is apple country. There are pommiers everywhere, and they give the most delicious apples around! Any recipe that uses apples is bound to be a success, and they certainly do make just about anything with apples here. I've had home-made cider, devoured more apple tarts than I should admit, eaten an apple-potato tart as a main dish that was so much better than I would ever expect. Apples rule. Picking apples in the fall was so reminiscent of growing up in the Midwest. We even picked apples in college. It was wonderful to be able to continue that tradition in France.

#5. The people. Most importantly.

I recently had dinner with an American from the East Coast, who has spent some time in the Midwest--mostly Chicago area. He told me that, if his family wasn't on the East Coast, he would pick up and move to the Midwest, simply because he found Midwesterners to be so friendly. Him talking about the Midwest like that warmed my heart, and made me really proud to be from there. 

And just like the Midwest, Normandy is known traditionally as being one of the friendliest regions of France. Particularly towards Americans (something to do with World War II...), Normans are very welcoming and hospitable, and I have been blessed to experience that first-hand. Friendliness is really tangible, and coming home after a day in Paris, for example, where you are completely anonymous, is so refreshing. I can count on being able to say "bonjour" to a passing stranger, and get a smile and reply back.

Not only do all of these similarities make for really interesting and sporadic realizations, but they are also a really big comfort for being far from home. The distance is considerable, and the language is different, but I was put here for so many reasons, and the fact that it's a French Midwest is one of them. It is that much easier to adjust when I already know this. And I am so thankful for that!

pax christi.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

my classroom's surprises


Because I'm not a real teacher, I don't have an actual classroom in either of the schools that I teach at. For the first few weeks, I was literally working in hallways, or any little space that I could find. I wasn't given any formal space to work from, but after those first weeks, I realized that I needed something I could call a home base, to teach from. So I requested any sort of semi-classroom and was directed at one school to the makeshift library (basically a converted classroom with a couple of bookshelves, an encyclopedia set, and a tv) and at the other school to a classroom used for art projects. This room is basically an array of desks, tables, and chairs constantly spilled on with paint or messy from a class not cleaning up after a project. But at least it's something, and I can use it.

Today, I walked into "my" classroom to find some new additions to the previously blank walls. Along with some maps of Normandy, I found a chart of toxic wild plants, as well as a guide for distinguishing edible mushrooms from poisonous ones. I suppose this is crucial information for French 8 year olds, but come on. In my classroom?! They don't make any sense where they are. And that was definitely the major distraction of the day. I don't think I had a single kid's attention with these colorful, informative posters crying out to them, begging to be memorized.

toxic wild plants

"very toxic plants" versus "toxic plants"

"mushrooms: edible and poisonous"

Next time I take a hike in the woods or hunt for delicious mushrooms, at least I don't have to go far to keep from poisoning myself!

pax christi.

Monday, January 23, 2012



some of the year's desserts. just some!

I could post every day for the rest of my year here on some cultural difference that I have observed between the French and Americans. Some of these are difficult to adjust to, some test my patience, some are surprising changes, and some are welcome without any reservations!

One of the greatest differences between French and American culture is the general attitude towards food and eating. The French eat very well, although that is on an astoundingly different scale than Americans. Here, good food is measured in terms of fresh ingredients, thoughful preparation, and classic recipes, all mixed with a little pride. It is a far cry from the typical American diet of fast, easy food. True--food here is made with plenty of butter, and other ingredients that Americans are generally wary of for their fattening qualities. But here, that is not a concern. I have noticed that on the whole, the French are concerned with eating healthily, but they would never deprive themselves! What Americans would consider indulgence, the French recognize as completely normal.

In particular, I have noticed this attitude with desserts. A typical meal consists of the apéritif, some sort of appetizer (usually a light salad), a main dish, cheese, and then dessert & coffee. Even lunch follows this outline. And it may seem like a lot, but portion sizes are modest to allow for the maximum enjoyment of each course.

Earlier in the year, I had lunch out with a French friend and her parents. They made an observation about my meal that stuck out to them, and that they asked me about. Besides the fact that I'm a vegetarian (which they quickly realized), they also noticed that I didn't get a dessert. Therefore, my meal wasn't complete! I knew a French meal ends with dessert, but it was just lunch and I wasn't particularly hungry, so I decided to forgo a dessert. Americans don't usually eat dessert with lunch, anyway. At least, nothing fancy. I explained that to them, but they were still a little shocked.

They insisted that I at least eat the little chocolate that one of them got with their coffee. I needed something sweet for the end of my meal! They also told me that I could buy a pastry later in the afternoon as compensation for not eating dessert directly after lunch. I was fine with that compromise, and it was just unheard of for them, that I would have had an incomplete meal!

Even with the welcome abundance of pastries, desserts, and sweets in France, it isn't in my American mentality to eat them all the time! I can't help that I'm not used to including dessert in an average meal. With that said, I certainly do indulge more here than when I'm in the States. When in France!

pax christi.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

le panorama


Most typical French Sundays include the following: Mass (for the practicing Catholics, of whom there are sadly few), a big midday meal, and a walk. Everything is basically closed except the church, so deviation from that isn't very possible anyway.

the public gardens in evreux

Today was a lovely day in Evreux and so, to celebrate Sunday, I went to Mass, enjoyed a yummy brunch, and took a long walk outside. Here's a bit of what I saw.

I walked up one side of the hills surrounding Evreux to the Panorama. It's a beautiful lookout point from where you can see most of the town. The perspective is perfect, and so it's a really great place to go, pray, and reflect on a blessed life in this little French town!

evreux from the panorama--can you spy the cathedral?!

As an added bonus, on the trek home, I found this on my apartment's corner. Which I had never seen before, ever. I knew Mary was watching over me, I just didn't know how very close!

mama mary, pray for us.

Happy Sunday!

pax christi.

Friday, January 20, 2012

pizza & beer


As wonderful and sophisticated and delicious as French food is, sometimes all an American wants is just some beer and pizza. Tonight was one of those nights. I don't feel guilty. I don't feel like I'm betraying French cuisine. But tonight was the perfect night for classic American college fare. We ordered pizza (Evreux has a Dominos!) and, as a compromise with our adopted country, we drank Burgundy instead of beer. But it was still fabulously American. It's little things, the little consolations like take-out pizza, that just fabulously remind me of where I get to come back to in a few months!

pax christi.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

a french haircut!


That was one of the best experiences of my life. And that is only a slight exaggeration. I am still a bit in shock of how much I enjoyed that haircut, and how pleasant of an experience that was.

So I was quite nervous leading up to the big show. I researched all of the particular words I needed to know, rehearsed exactly what I wanted, and kept reminding myself how cool it would be to say I got a haircut in France, but I still had the jitters. A French friend recommended a salon to me, and even a stylist, so all I had to do was walk in, ask for an appointment, and pray for the best!

It turns out, I had absolutely nothing to be worried about! For starters, my stylist, Michel, was awesome. It was the first time I had gotten my hair cut by a man, and he was wonderful. He started with a little consultation, and listened to what I wanted and gave some of his expert advice. Then he washed my hair. That was by far my favorite part of the whole experience. It was more of a scalp massage than a hair-washing. Oh. My. Goodness.

So then he worked his magic, we chatted about France & America, and he finished the show by SCULPTING my hair. He literally sculpted it. He even used that word. I was watching an artist at work, and it was so cool to see it all in the mirror--and that he was doing that to my hair! I told him that if he ever opened a salon in Chicago, I'd be his first customer. And I was not joking!

When can I go back?!

pax christi.

Monday, January 16, 2012

wintertime is here...


our beautiful blue sky behind the Cathedral

Winter is approaching quickly in Evreux. Last week, we enjoyed upper-40's to mid-50's, but this weekend brought about a sharp contrast. The temperature is hovering right around freezing! It's a very dry chill. No snow, no rain, no sleet. Not even any clouds in the sky. Which is lovely to look at, but it's too cold to actually enjoy the sun outside!

I managed to leave my apartment twice today. This morning, to go to Mass. Then again this afternoon to straighten out some more paperwork. Both times, I was bundled up. Both times, I just about froze, even though I wanted to walk around! So I hibernated the rest of the day, and it was lovely.

Here's to the chill, and its beautiful blue skies :)

pax christi.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

sundays in france


Sunday is the Lord's Day, the day of rest. France, as a very historically Catholic country, takes full advantage of this! Sunday means that life slows down and, in many cases, even stops. It is a day for families to relax together, to take walks, and, of course, to eat! Basically nothing is open, except for a bakery or two in town to buy bread and pastries and maybe a restaurant. Other than that, no grocery stores, no shops, no library, no cafés. Nothing. The streets are deserted.

Sundays are lovely. Even if I don't have my family to spend the whole day with, I have my French family that I get to spend extra time with on Sundays. And I have so much time to relax, take walks in the beautiful weather and Normand countryside, read. With everything closed, you are forced to forget about errands and rather to focus on what is so much more important.

In college, it was the goal to not do any school work on Sunday. This was the ideal, but honestly, it rarely happened. That would have meant finishing homework and reading and studying on Friday and Saturday. Not likely. Towards the end of senior year, I wasn't as caught up in the stress of studies, and would allow myself a work-free Sunday even if it meant some major catching up during the week. I was learning that it's worth it to spend at least one day of the week focusing on what matters most: God, and family (that includes friends who feel like family).

Now, I am practically mandated to not do work on Sundays. (And it doesn't hurt that I have Mondays off--to catch up on my work!)

Take advantage of Sunday. The Lord rested, and so should you!

pax christi.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

no snow for evreux...


Thanks to several social media outlets, I have been getting frequent winter weather updates from the all around the US-- from the East Coast to Chicago. And it looks like snow. I'm jealous! I really shouldn't be complaining, however. This weather here is very unusual, but it is beautiful. Today was another upper-40's, sunshine-y day, with no forseeable change. Again, I'm not complaining. I'm just starting to worry that I may not see snow at all this year, and that would be a first!

For everyone dealing with the snow, I know it's not fun driving to work or bundling from head to toe just to get the mail, but know that I'm wishing I was in your place!

pax christi.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

love this.


This is what Evreux looked like today. Sun. Blue skies. Perfect reflections. This is my Evreux, and it is beautiful.

pax christi.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

french basketball


The big show Sunday night in Evreux was the city basketball game. Evreux has a "professional" team and I went with some of the assistants to watch. It was interesting, to say the least, and I thoroughly enjoyed comparing a French sporting experience to an American one.

the fan section

First, most blatant observation: the "stadium" they play in is smaller than my high school gym. I don't know if the Bulls could even fit in there to practice! It was tiny, and so much smaller than I would have expected. But on the other hand, it is Evreux, so it shouldn't be too surprising in fact. There were certainly plenty of devoted fans packed in there, both young and old, to cheer on the Evreux...

Mascots. Most French (or really any European) team don't have one! Running around during the game and time-outs were a clown and a lion. So I guess if Evreux has any semblance of a mascot it would be a...circus? It was random, and hilarious.

the starting line-up, complete with lion and mini basketball players

The game itself was fairly normal. Evreux played very poorly--no defense and a very low 3-point percentage--but it was still exciting to be at a game. And to learn French basketball vocabulary! There are 3 Americans on the team, which is pretty cool. The game started with the Bulls theme song music (typical), and the players came out of the locker room with little players--like Big Brothers or something. It was cute, and one of my students was in the pack! The game itself did resemble a high school game, to be honest. And half-time consisted of the clown playing a game of pick-up with himself.

evreux in action

Evreux lost, though deservingly. They really didn't play well unfortunately. But we had an enjoyable time making fun of silly players names (Steeve Ho You Fat. really?!), singing to pop songs released 5 years ago, and planning dance parties for the near future. I think I'll leave the professional sports--besides soccer and rugby--to Americans.

pax christi.

Monday, January 9, 2012

a note on food


A French friend told me a while ago that all French people anticipate every single meal. After breakfast, it's time to start thinking about lunch. As soon as lunch is finished, dinner is being prepared mentally. He also told me that if a French person wakes up and doesn't think about breakfast right away, something must be wrong.

And so, with attitudes like this, I cannot live in France for a year without at least once dedicating a whole post to FOOD! And I can just about guarantee this will not be the last such post. France is world-renowned for, among other things, its extensive gastronomical history and elaborate food culture. In fact, I took an entire university course dedicated to French food! With my year already almost half finished, I have made innumerable observations about the culture of food and dining for the French. Food is sacred here, as is anything related to food--it's preparation, ingredients, cultivation, accompanying beverages, you name it.

I've been blessed to have shared many meals--breakfast, lunch, and dinner--with French people and I am becoming more and more familiar with a typical French meal and its associated rituals. In general, dining is a much different experience in France compared to in America.
  • L'apéritif--Both lunch and dinner usually start with a cocktail. Nothing crazy. This drink simply sets the mood for the meal, encourages conversation, and incites your appetite!
  • Le fromage--After the main course of a meal, out comes the cheese plate! The French habit is to wipe your plate with a bit of bread so that it's clean for this delicious next course. Some popular post-meal cheeses are Camembert, chèvre (goat's cheese), Comté, Neufchâtel, Morbier, and Emmental. None of these cheeses are overly powerful (i.e. no strong, smelly blue cheeses! Even those these are delicious!), as they are meant to cleanse your palate and help digest your meal. The French love their cheese, and so do I!
  • Le dessert--A meal, any meal, would not be complete without dessert. Even at lunch, dessert is expected even if it a piece of fruit or a yogurt.
These are merely a few of my observations and insights into French cuisine and dining. There is so much more to be said--I haven't even mentioned bread or wine! So much goodness that, frankly, America misses the mark on in so many ways. I am eating so well here, and I'm taking every opportunity to try something new or indulge in a delicious, fresh pastry! The possibilities are's a good thing I still have 4 months left!

wine and dessert. perfect.

pax christi.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

lessons in jet-lag


I love to travel, but my body is often at odds with this passion. As exhilarating and mentally stimulating as travel is, it takes a lot of physical energy! I got back to France on Monday morning--almost a week ago now. It doesn't usually take me so long to get fully re-acclimated but, this time when coming east from the west, it has taken a particularly grueling toll on my body. I'll sleep 10 hours one night and not at all the next and my brain and my body do this frustrating little tango until they finally get that circadian rhythm just right.

There is not a lot to do to avoid this, however. I've made the trip from the United States to Europe 3 times in the past 6 months, and each time has required a different adjustment period. So I can't even say that I have learned how to properly adjust, or what my body needs to feel normal, or how long the whole process will take. I can guarantee that for, at least a few days, I'll say silly things, forget where I am when I wake up, have trouble falling asleep, and basically be out of it. But it's worth it!

This weekend was just what I needed to feel completely normal again. No hazy, dream-like wandering around Evreux anymore! I'm caught up on sleep, in tune with the time zone, and full of energy finally! I think it was the Epiphany that did it :)

pax christi.

Friday, January 6, 2012

galette des rois.


Today is the traditional date of the Epiphany! This is the day recognized when the Three Kings (Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar), led by the great star in the sky, arrive at the stable in Bethlehem to greet the baby Jesus. They bring Him gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh, and they worship this new, little King, Our Savior.

The French have a delicious tradition for the Epiphany called the galette des rois, or 'Kings' cake'. This, unfortunately and like so many other originally religious traditions and feast days, has become secularized and commercialized in French culture. Every bakery sells dozens of galettes in the days leading up to the Epiphany, and for weeks after as well.

There is a very particular procedure for eating a galette des rois. There is a little figurine baked somewhere inside the cake, called la fève. It used to be a fava bean, which is where the name comes from, but now it is more commonly a little porcelain figure. Whoever finds the figurine in their slice of cake is named the king (or queen). The expression for serving this cake is tirer les rois, and it is cut into enough slices for each guest, plus one. This extra slice is called the "Virgin's slice", the "Good Lord's slice", or the "poor man's slice", and is traditionally reserved for the first beggar to come to the door. As the cake is being sliced, the youngest child hides under the table and shouts out names of the guests, indicating who each slice is to go to. This insures that there is a fair distribution of the slices, especially for the fève.

So even though the Church liturgically recognizes the Epiphany this Sunday (always the first Sunday of January), I decided to have a little soirée to share a galette des rois with some friends today, to celebrate the Epiphany and the start of the 2nd half of our year! We cut the cake, enjoyed some almond-y deliciousness, and my friend Laïa found the fève! She wore her crown proudly for the rest of the night :)

la fève

i wasn't exactly the queen, but i can still wear the crown!!!

pax christi.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"how do you say 'uno' in english?!"


the day's aftermath...

I spent the day playing UNO. With like a zillion kids. Apparently the rules are a little different in France. Not very much different, but enough to get a few of my kids riled up! We weren't playing "real UNO" according to them. One of my students went so far as to say that it was actually "fake UNO"! He was joking and I thought it was pretty funny. Who knew UNO could spark so many debates, or even be an important cultural point of reference?!

For the record, UNO is a fun, educational game. They're learning colors and numbers at the same time. It's not just my excuse for jet-lagged laziness...

pax christi.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the midwest


F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of my favorite authors and another member of the infamous group of American expats living in Paris in the 1920's, ends his classic The Great Gatsby with a little reflection (that I love) on his own memories of the Midwest and coming home for Christmas.

When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

That's my middle-west--not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns but the thrilling, returning trains of my youth and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feeling of those long winters...

I am spending the year far from what I have known my whole life. A foreign country, a foreign language, and a foreign culture all surround me and, even though I am relishing it all, there is still nothing like traveling home for Christmas. In college, the two and a half hour trip north meant an end to exams and papers for the peace of Christmas with family and rest from school. This year, the 16+ hour journey meant even more to me. I came back to something that I am part of, and that is part of me--much more deeply than what France is to me. I felt that same nostalgia Fitzgerald describes in coming home. Like him, I came home west, and I also got to experience the unique wonder that is winter in the midwest. What a wonderful feeling.

pax christi.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

i'm back!


I'm back in Evreux! And I barely remember yesterday. I was so exhausted, but I somehow fought through my fatigue to navigate myself home from the airport. A day later, I am still bone-tired, jet-lagged, and fighting through a day of school. But it is great being back in France yet again, as much as I loved being home.

My little vacation in Chicago was fabulous. Lots of family, friends, food, and Americana to hold me over for the next four months! I ate at Chipotle four times, enjoyed Starbucks and trips to Target almost everyday, spoke English pretty much exclusively, and basically just savored every little bit about America that I love, and that I miss when I'm in France. To most people, these little luxuries are hardly given a second thought. These things are so normal in American life, but they hardly exist in France. It's just different, but it's also so comforting to come home to the little things.

Here is a bit of what my two weeks at home looked like:

I didn't take nearly as many pictures as I had hoped. Instead, I have plenty of memories and mental snapshots of everything I did! Those two weeks were full of seeing my beautiful family, and the ones who feel like family :)

Though I have a lot to look forward to coming home again in May (ordinations, graduations, weddings!), I still also have four more months to live this blessed life in France!

pax christi.