Saturday, February 6, 2010

"Lousy French"

Ok, so our French isn't really that terrible. It is also not really that good. But we can get by even if at times it is a bit of a tag-team effort. One of our biggest challenges is that sometimes things in France just don't make sense to Americans. So while we may be in fact understanding something quite clearly, our American brains are telling us that this is not possible. Instead of assuming cultural differences we often assume that the misunderstanding is due to our lousy French.

For example, just last week Teena and I decided to walk through Montparnasse cemetery (don't judge - this is such a normal thing to do that the guard at the gate happily gives you a map as you enter). Not 5 minutes into our "sightseeing" we saw a sign on a badly neglected grave that we thought was saying that the grave was going to be repossessed.  I read it, Teena read it, I read it again...we looked at each other, pointed to the words, decided that this was not could a grave be repossessed? "Lousy French." Why didn't Berlitz teach us the verb "to repossess?" We read this sign on various unattended graves hoping for clarity, but we kept coming to the same conclusion: It is not saying that the graves are going to be repossessed, that's simply not possible.  We just aren't reading it correctly.

Stumbling upon a groundskeeper I decided to ask him what the sign said. With a cigarette dangling from his lip we had the following rapid-fire French conversation:

Me:  "I was hoping you could explain what the sign on those graves says?"

Groundskeeper: "There is a lot of room to bury people. Sometimes 12-15 people in one spot."  
  {{Repeatedly stacks one hand on top of the other to indicate that many bodies can fit into one grave}}
  "If you don't take care of it, well it is good business to re-sell...oui?"

Me: {{Internal thought}}, not do I ask this politely?
  "But, and I'm sorry if this is a dumb question, what do you do with the people that are already there?"

Groundskeeper: "Well it is very easy, we dig them up to make room for the new bodies....oui?""

Me: {{Internal thought}}, not oui...I think I'm misunderstanding this...
  "You take them out of the ground? The dead people? And you bury new people there?"

Groundskeeper: "Yes...but only if you have 25,000 Euros to buy the spot. You see it is good business....oui?"

Me: {{Giving up}} "Oui."

Note:  "reprise" = to take back; to repossess


How does this gravestone come to happen?!? 
"So honey, I know we may not both die at the same time, but I was thinking..."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cheese Cheese Cheese

I feel like a cheese baby is forming in my stomach. Tonight, I went to a cheese tasting class where I proceeded to eat 13 types of cheese, along with bread and fruit. Top it off with some champagne, wine, and port...and you get a cheese baby.

I found a wonderful lady here called Gerri who teaches a cheese tasting class, complete with handouts, a powerpoint, and a tasting experience. So I organized a tasting class for my new exchange student friends. The 9 of us spent a night indulging in cheese heaven.

As with wine, we started out with lighter flavors (Fromage Blanc, goat cheese), then to soft cheeses (Camembert), hard cheeses (Comte), and then more pungent ones like Pont L'Eveque, Fourme d'Ambert (blue cheese), and Roquefort (blue cheese).

My observations:

- There's no good way to pair wine and cheese when you want to serve several types of cheese. What you should do, is to choose who you want the superstar to be. Superstar wine? Pick a cheese or two that compliments it. Superstar cheese? Pick a wine that goes well with it.

- I love Comte cheese. Comte Jeune (aged 12 months) was delicious and smooth. Comte "Fruite" (aged 4 years) was even more delicious with its amino acid crunches. Think of a cheese version of the Crunch candy bar.

- Camembert and Brie are very different in France. I prefer Camembert in France, and Brie in the U.S.

- I still don't like goat cheese. I keep trying it, hoping that one day I'll learn to enjoy it since everyone seems to love it so much. Today was not that day. My mind thought "You can do it!" but my mouth responded with "No, there's something that repulses me." Maybe next time...

- Pont L'Eveque smells like dirty wet socks. I tried not to let the smell interfere with my taste, but I couldn't help it. I even told myself that it was like Taiwanese stinky tofu which tastes better than it smells. Alas, nothing helped, and I decided that I do not like eating dirty wet socks. Even MC (who cleaned her plate) decided that she couldn't eat this cheese.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Marrakech, Morroco

According MC, if you are what you eat, MC and I are: "Tagine, Couscous, Brochette, and Mint Tea."

Niiko, MC, Johannah and I had a wonderful 5 day vacation in Marrakesh. What made it even better were the amazing accommodations at Le Meridien. Thank you Starwood points!

On Thursday, MC and I attended a private Moroccan cooking class at a local riad (hotel). Aida, a local Moroccan, was our head chef but since she did not speak english, we had a translator called Mohammed. Mohammed asked us "how did you find out about this class?" I replied "On" Mohammed then mentioned that he gave a ton of advice on tripadvisor to people traveling to Morocco and that his screenname was "TrueBeliever." When I heard this, I gave a little I just met a movie star. When I was planning this trip, I read tons of reviews on tripadvisor and "TrueBeliever" was THE Morocco expert. MC had to shush me so I didn't disturb the other guests at the hotel.

Other highlights of the trip include: bargaining for taxis. You must determine a price before you step into the taxi, otherwise you will be taken for a ride (figuratively). My french improved dramatically when I was negotiating. To get home one day, MC and I approached a taxi, determined to only pay 20 Dirhams, which was the going rate for a taxi to the Meridien hotel from that location. The taxi driver asked for 30 Dirhams, so in French, I proceed speak rapid-fire: "It's 20 dirhams I know this I left yesterday from the restaurant over there and it was 20 No It's 20 No, I'm only paying 20." The taxi driver agrees to take us to the hotel for 20 Dirhams.

MC and I decided to buy some 30 Dirham ($4) sunglasses since we forgot to bring any. MC tries to negotiate the price down...unsuccessfully. To my surprise, the shopkeeper starts to braid my hair, into what he calls a "Berber style." For those of you that know me, I have a personal aversion to people touching my hair. I was also disturbed that he was touching me, especially in a Muslim country where men are more respectful of women. Being the amazing negotiator that she was, MC asked the shopkeeper for a discount, for the rights to braid my hair. My roommate just pawned me off to get $1 off sunglasses.....I'm worth much more than that.

Throughout my time in Marrakesh, I was constantly referred to as "Japan" or "China." At first, I gave into this and introduced myself as "I am Japan" whenever people asked. At some point though, I decided that I needed to educate people about Taiwan. So I started to say "I am Taiwan, not China. We make cell phones." When a shopkeeper asked me if I was Taiwanese (without prompting), I was so excited I purchased overpriced items from him.

Other highlights of my trip include: a 2-day overnight desert trip, a camel ride, a guided tour of the souk markets, steam baths, a night out at a local club, and lots of meals on the roof terraces. Overall, Marrakesh gets two thumbs up. Wait, according to MC, in Arabic countries, giving someone a thumbs up means "GO **&^%*&" (translation: something highly offensive).

Overall, Marrakesh get 2 gold stars.

Photo: Camel Riding
Photo: Gorgeous plate store at the Souk markets

Photo: Morrocan men wear this traditional Jalaba which comes in all colors and sizes. Notice the pointy hood - it was a bit creepy when I first saw it.
By the way, I chased this man halfway around the Souks trying to secretly take a picture of him.