Fun Fact of the Day

As I sit on my train to Paris this rainy Thursday morning, I find myself thinking of all the things that are so different here in France. Specifically because I cannot get any wifi on this train! In fact, if you don’t have a data plan with a French phone, you can kiss your web surfing days goodbye! Wifi is pretty much non-existent in the majority of Europe. Although it was extremely hard to adapt to at first, I’m two months in and still alive so it can be done! So much of our lives now-a-days revolve around the convenience of having access to the internet with our phones. When you lose that convenience, you start to learn a lot of lessons… First, always look up directions before you leave your house, and take a screenshot of them. Secondly, when you make plans, they don’t change after you leave your house! The time and place of a meeting destination stays the same because neither party can get a hold of each other! My family was wonderful enough to send me a phone that was supposed to have global capabilities, however it just doesn’t seem to want to connect to the French network. Since I’ve been phone-less for 2 months, what’s another 3 months?! Besides, I will be traveling a lot in that time, and the network doesn’t work outside of France, so here I go…. without a phone for 3 more months! It’s actually not as bad as it sounds. The thing I have to say I’ve enjoyed most is that when friends are together, they are talking, and laughing and interactive with each other. They’re not on Facebook, or tweeting or snap-chatting. It has definitely been a breath of fresh air compared to how some people are in America. There’s so much to see and enjoy here, that looking down at your phone all the time seems like it should be a sin. It’s been a big change, but a good one. It’s allowed me to enjoy the experience of simply walking down the street, and taking in the architecture of Poitiers without my thoughts being interrupted by an alert that someone liked my photo on Facebook. With all of this being said, I will be much more grateful for the fantastic phone service I receive in America! (I’m sure the French students at UofM are loving this change!)

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Lunch with Cécilia!

Beverages are also a bit different. I am not a big pop drinker. (Yes I say pop. I mean soda, but I’m sticking to pop!) I do enjoy juice, but I drink mainly water and tea. When I’ve been out at cafés and such, I’ve noticed that the 20oz. Coca-cola bottles have names on them. Talking to different people, I’ve learned that this is true through much of Europe and is used as a sales tool. It actually a great idea, if there was a coke bottle with “Jessica” on it, you can bet I would be buying it! (I’m on the lookout!) I think it’s quite fun though! Also, Limonade and Lemonade are not just spelling differences between French and English! I ordered a Lemonade at dinner last weekend and was brought a carbonated lemon-lime beverage. I thought the waiter had made a mistake, until I learned that Limonade is a soda in France. Curiosity struck when I was grocery shopping and sure enough, down the beverage aisle there were plenty of bottles of pop called Limonade! When in the store it’s easier to see the color and such, to tell if you’re getting the correct item you’re looking for. Before this, I had just thought they must not add many artificial ingredients, such as food coloring. Turns out it’s just Sprite! (Yes, I felt like a ditz once I realized that!)

Speaking of grocery stores, that is also something you have to plan ahead for… Since I don’t have a car here, I make many trips to the grocery store each week simply because I can’t always carry everything I need in one trip. (My fridge isn’t that big anyway!) There are two grocery stores that I can walk to from my house. They have most of your basic items. There is also a superstore (like a Walmart or Meijer’s) that I can take the bus to when I need more specific items. If I am going for more than just a few things, I usually take my backpack because it holds a lot, and it’s easier to carry home. One thing you should note when going grocery shopping in Europe, is that you need to bring your own bags. In America, you can get as many grocery bags as you want, (and I’m pretty sure everyone has a drawer in their house dedicated to these bags!). In an effort to be a greener continent, you have to pay for your bags here. They are not horribly expensive, and there are different kinds. The typical, disposal ones are about 0.04€, and one that is heavy-duty and reusable is around 2.00€. You also bag your own groceries. Because of all these reasons, many Europeans go to the grocery store several times each week. To go to the store and buy food for the whole week is uncommon. You may buy enough food for a few days because that is all your fridge can hold and all your hands can carry. Of course this is mainly in the cities where walking is the main mode of transportation for many people. There are obviously many exceptions to this, but from what I’ve learned thus far from living in Poitiers and talking with people from other towns, it seems to be quite common.

I think many people in America use these ‘disposable’ grocery bags as garbage bags. Here, they are like gold so we do not throw them away! Garbage bags are inexpensive if bought at the store, but you can also go to city hall and they will give you a roll of garbage bags, and a roll of bags for recycling for free! Garbage was not an obvious question when I first moved into my apartment, but became a concern quickly afterwards! There is no dumpster, or trash can to put my trash bag into. There are recycling containers abundantly all over the city where you can recycle your glass, plastic, and cans, but where does the trash go? Where I’m from, we have a large trash can, and once a week on our designated day, you roll it to the end of your driveway, and the trash man will come and empty it sometime that day. In Poitiers, we put our trash bags right on the street pavement outside our gate, and we have trash pickup 4 nights a week! You put your trash out after 6:30pm and they take it sometime in the middle of the night! There is also one day a week where they will take your recycling if you don’t take it to the bins in town yourself. It’s all very convenient! However, if you put your bags out too early, or on the wrong day, you get a fine of 76€! The garbage system here was very interesting to me. (I never thought I’d be writing a whole segment on trash!)

Most everything in Poitiers closes at 7:00pm during the week, and is closed on Sundays. However, there are certain things that are open longer, like the laundromat, and a school building where students can go to do homework. Since both of these establishments have extended hours, and neither of them have security, the doors have a special button to allow you to get in and out. There is a button, that looks like a doorbell, that unlocks the door. There are also similar buttons in hallways which activate the lights, since most lights are motion activated. If you find yourself locked inside a building, or roaming around in the dark, look for a doorbell type button to relieve your panic. It’s quite alarming to think that you’re trapped inside a dark laundromat by yourself at 9:00pm!

The last fun tip I will share with you is something I’ve found to be a benefit, but I still haven’t gotten used to it yet. In the past, I have worked a handful of jobs where I’ve depended on tips. Because of that, I always try to be a “good tipper”. In France, and most of Europe, it is actually insulting to tip! The wages here are much different and the waitstaff is paid much more than what is considered normal in the states. Their tip is figured into their wages, so employers have higher expectations from their staff. If you do leave a tip, you are implying that you don’t think they make enough money and you are giving them charity. This is the same for restaurants, bars, hotels, etc. Although I think it’s a good thing, I’ve found myself trying to tip more than once, then remembering that it’s not normal here! While sitting at dinner one of the first nights I was here, I learned this gesture. We had finished eating, and the waitress asked us if we wanted an espresso or dessert. After replying no, she walked away, and for about the next 30 minutes we continued to watch her walk by us constantly while we talked at our table. Finally, one of the girls said, “Her tip is going down by the minute! Why isn’t she bringing us our bill?” We soon found out that the phrase she just spoke was one of the most American things she could’ve ever said! First off, we learned that you don’t tip. Secondly, dinner (and all meals for that matter) are meant to be long and social. Lunch here is 2 hours long. The social aspect is the biggest and longest part if the meal. After you’re finished eating and socializing and you wish to leave, you have to ask for your bill, or, in many cases, find the counter with the register and pay there. A bit difference from what I’m used to, and definitely something that’s good to know!

In the past two weeks, there have been a few American events that I’ve embraced 100%! Every few weeks, Aloha (a student-run group within the school) organizes a party for the international students, and we get to vote on the theme. The last party was an American Party! Obviously, I went all out, (as you can see from the picture), and even got my friends to join in! It was so much fun and we had a great time! The Olympics have also been a big thing here. Since none of us have televisions, we have been going to the sports pub in town to watch many of the events. Men’s hockey was a big deal for me (shocker!), and living with a Canadian made it much more competitive! I was also a big Sweden fan since many of my favorite players (and best friend here in Poitiers), are Swedish. Obviously, I was disappointed in USA’s last few games, and upset that Zetterberg is out for the rest of the season, but CANgrats to my Canadian neighbour! (See how I added the ‘u’ there!) A big thank you to my Aunt Sue and Uncle Tommy who got me a Winter Classic sweatshirt for Christmas before I left. I was unsure if it would fit in my suitcase, but it has come in very handy, and my Canadian friends absolutely love it! (And I’m slowly turning my Columbian friends into ice hockey fans as well!)

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The American Party!

I am very excited to announce that I am signed up for a 5K! On April 13th, I will be running (more like walking), in The Color Run Paris! This is my first 5K, and although I will not be able to run the whole thing, I am just excited to be a part of the experience! I’ve wanted to do The Color Run for a few years now, but never had the opportunity. To be able to be a part of it, (and in Paris!), is simply amazing! There are about 30 of my international friends who are doing it as well, so it will make for another memorable weekend and Parisian adventure! Now I am off to enjoy my first weekend in Paris!

*Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Travelers don’t know where they’re going*

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