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A strange phase…

2 Sep

So I’m all adjusted now, no more need to write this silly blog. Just kidding. The narcissist in me likes to hear myself write. Thing is, I’m feeling a bit different now here in Guadeloupe. Since I tied Pirate to a very uncomfortable chair and made him sign a marriage contract married Pirate in a lovely city hall ceremony where a kind man called us by the wrong family name numerous times throughout the ceremony, things have taken a turn for me…

Here’s what’s happening:

1. I’ll have my spousal visa in two weeks time, normalement. Kudos to the French consulate in Boston, MA for being more up to date on the French laws than the officials in Guadeloupe, otherwise I might still be in my plastic chair in the crowded, not air-conditioned sous-prefecture with my little paper ticket waiting….

2. I’ll be able to work again. Yeah, I’m going to regret it but I’ll go ahead and say it – not working is totally overrated. I will go ahead and be all judgy and say that ‘those women’ who say (and yes this is a direct quote from someone I will never identify) “All I want is for someone to take care of me, I just want to have my baby and stay at home” – those women- they are freaking nutso crazy. But that’s just me. Ask me again when I’m working and whining about it and ‘those women’ have it all.

3. I’ve made it over some sort of mountain in terms of culture shock and management.  There are still a few good things that get my panties all in a bunch but you know, for the most part, I’ve become accustomed to a number of things that I really didn’t get/care for in the beginning. It’s a long list, and a good idea for a post now that I think about it…But let’s just say I can kill mutant cockroaches all by myself now (of course I leave them under the shoe with which they were killed for Pirate to throw away..) and scolos have been known to crawl across my foot, not sting me, and I just let them walk away. meme pas peur.

4. The locals accept me as a local. AHHAAHHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH …..not exactly. That’s an entirely different post.

5. I use less stuff. It’s true. Just…less. Less water in the shower, less a/c, less clothes dryer(read:sun),less ice. I’ve definitely learned that we don’t really need all the stuff we have to live and be happy. Thanks for that valuable lesson Guadeloupe, sincerely one of the best I’ve learned.

So here’s a bunch of random shots from life in Gwada up until now…just because.

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Smile first. A pretty decent policy.

30 Jul

Pirate and I watched a documentary on Thailand the other day. What really stuck in my head after that was when the narrator was on this incredible train, smiling at people. He rode the night train to Bangcock – a “little fifteen hours of train” and as he boarded and searched for his seat he spoke about all the smiles. Smiles everywhere. From everyone. Other passengers, the conductor, old, young, and the women cooking and serving food in the dining car. The guy was filming as he was talking, walking down the aisle of the train car. An old lady smiled at him. He asked if he could sit with her, and asked her directly about the people in Thailand smiling. It was something like this:

“Why do the Thai people smile like that, what’s happening?”

“It’s a characteristic of Thai people…we talk and we have fun.  It’s our way of being..and firstly, why should we pout?”

“May I sit next to you?”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“So I like this philosophy. We smile first, and we talk after, is that it?”


(it’s in French, and I think I’m pretty accurate in my translation, but here’s the link, you can start watching for this particular portion at 17:46).

Pretty nice, right? I thought so. The documentary is called ‘Des Trains pas Comme les Autres’ and is focused on different or original trains for travel. Five out of five ti-punch.

Sadly, what I thought at that moment was how sad it is that in Guadeloupe the smile policy seems to be exactly the opposite. Here I have the impression that people put up a big wall, and it’s really hard to break through that. This is one of the reasons I find the culture kind of difficult here. Most folks, and certainly in any service setting I find this to be true, simply don’t smile at me. I don’t know if they smile at other people. I know that they don’t smile at me. Am I smiling at them? I don’t know. Honestly, probably I just look confused.  Sometimes I smile or try to make small talk but I find I don’t get much in return. So mostly, I smile if I’m smiled at, and I hate that it’s like that. I’d like to feel inspired to smile much more often when I’m out running errands or talking to people in the stores…  Many times however I’ve been blessed to stumble upon really nice friendly people. They stand out big time. It makes my DAY. Cheesy as it sounds, it’s cheesy-true – a smile from someone who doesn’t really need to smile at you is just uplifting. And, I might note, free and easy to do.
I’ve been observing people and their (lack of)smiles for a few days now, with this idea of ‘smile now, we’ll see later’ in my mind, and I’m sorry to report that people are just not frickin’ smiling. Next step will have to be to smile at people – REALLY make sure I’m smiling at them, and see if that helps.  There’s probably a lot more to this. I’m sure someone could berate me for being thoughtless and inconsiderate and how could I not realize that xyz and I should just smile if I want to and not expect it or care if I don’t get it in return. Sure. So, here’s the question: what will I do now? This seemingly small idea that smiling makes a huge difference I believe I believe to be true. Do I continue to smile only when smiled at? Do I try to smile first and see if it makes any difference in my day to day exchanges? I think I’ll try. I can’t force a faux smile. I’m going to try to think of something funny or nice that makes me smile each time an use that as my secret weapon in cases of no-smile-inspiration. We’ll see how it goes.

Say Cheese!


Long term cultural differences and anticipating the assumed obvious

17 May

After three years (what the hell when did that happen?!) in Guadeloupe, I’ve become accustomed to many things I was definitely struggling with in the beginning.  There are some mannerisms woven into the culture here that I’ll just never get used to. When I was little, there was this ‘joke’ we all thought was sooo funny. Why? We were kids, so of course we thought it was funny because it was annoying.  It goes like this:

I ask you, “Do you know what time it is?”

You answer, “Yes.”

I am obliged to say, “Can you tell me what time it is?”

You answer, “Yes.”

I have to think a little and then ask you, “Will you tell me what time it is please?”

Then you tell me.

That feeling of exasperation in anticipation of what you think is the obvious is something I can’t shake here, in terms of certain interactions. I go to the bank because my ATM card is expired. I say that I have not received my new one in the mail. (As everyone assured me I would, and that mon dieu there must be a problem and il faut le regler tout de suite.)

The nice young lady says, “Oh? When did it expire?”

I am thinking: Does that matter? It’s expired. Shit. Maybe I did that thing where I read the dates backwards because the French write them day first, or is it month first. Shit. Maybe I’m wrong.

I say,”Fin Avril 2012″.

She takes my card. She reads it. She keeps an absolutely blank expression. Stone. She says, “It’s here, your card.”

I say, “Does it normally get mailed to the home address?”

She answers, “No, no it’s here. Your card is here.”

Me: “Oui, that’s very good, mais normalement is it sent to my house, or do I just know to come get it here next time?”

Her: “Oui, Oui, it’s here.”


I take my card and thank her, and ask how I activate it, because I know she won’t tell me. That’s something I would expect elsewhere, but not here. If you want to know, you need to ask. Especially when you think you shouldn’t have to ask, you’d better frickin’ ask.

“You need to use it in a distributeur and enter your code or it won’t work. Don’t try and go use it in a store if you haven’t done that because it won’t work.”

I go right outside the bank to the distributeur, which is, of course, broken. I go back inside. Does she have a list of distributeurs that I could look at since this one is broken, and was also broken one week ago when I came by and nobody including myself noticed that my card was expired and that was why it had been denied in a number of stores making my day very difficult?

“Uh…there’s one in Le Moule (far) and in Grand Camp (so much traffic, such a small place, dense, confusing) and uh…”

Will the distributeur here be fixed soon?

“….ouehhhhh…..bien sure…….j’imagine…..”

Sigh. I forgot to ask if she couldn’t just activate it using her handy computer. That’s the thing. It’s probably entirely possible. Even easy to do. But if I don’t ask, I’ll never, ever know.

Confusing words makes you funny in French

25 Jan



So the other night Pirate and I were at L’Americano in St. Anne having  three Euro Stellas and dinner with a friend. I was in the middle of explaining in French that Pirate was en route the last time I had him on the phone and that I couldn’t hear him very well..something utterly unimportant and, so I thought, easy to say. Well, if it weren’t for that evil little ‘eu’ sound in French, I would have slipped by unnoticed. I mispronounced. I outed myself as a crappy French speaker. What I said was, “Tu étais en rut” instead of “Tu etais en route”. The sound is difficult for me to differentiate. I need to concentrate, put all my energy into making that one damned vowel sound, “euuuuuuwww”  vs “ooouuuu”.

So I failed to do that, and in doing so told Pirate, “You were in heat”, not “You were en route”.  That got quite the laugh. I guess I will think twice before smiling kindly yet witl laughing eyes at someone who is French when they tell me someone is a “beech”.  Vowels are difficult people!

Bad jokes

19 Jan

You know when someone makes a joke or some sort of comparison that’s just not funny or even relevant? Happens everywhere in any language I would assume. The discomfort as a speaker of French as a second language is that I can’t retort the way I would like to. Instead, I’m left stumped, saying nothing, or using words in a nonsensical order so that I sound like someone fumbling around for some way to ask for something. It’s too easy to make mistakes in your second language when you’re slightly shocked or riled up. It’s the not so fabulous destiny of a handful of conversations I’ve (tried to) had here.

So there I am with some people. We’re talking about culture, how I like it here, how they view the Americans, stuff like that. It’s all normal and good and anticipated. I can almost quote the conversation before it happens. Undoubtedly we will hit upon some comment about how I’m not like ‘the rest’ (because I’m here and I speak French. Mind you, I am the last of many of my friends to speak a second language)  Then something about the ‘speed’ in the States (can’t really deny that when I’m in the land of never rush a thing, but I’ve yet to argue it’s about efficiency), how the shopping is great over there, and then onto the inevitable discussion of food. I find myself defending the number of people in the US who want better food for less money, how there are a lot of people studying to become farmers now, how not everybody in fact eats McDonald’s every day, if even at all. How it’s a very big country and that one view of that country simply cannot suffice. How of course we have cheese that isn’t orange processed cheese food. Which, not for nothing, I grew up on, and I can attest to seeing a rainbow of options of that exact sort of cheese food in the supermarché here in Guadeloupe.

So the food thing usually lasts if we don’t get stuck on why we elected Bush, and I mean people really get stuck on how an entire country – or at least enough of it – decided on the Decider. Twice. So, food. We talk about quality and quantity. We talk about traditional American and French food. I say I find French food delicious if not heavy for my liking, not being huge on meat or deli or heavy cream, and they talk about how difficult it is to find a real espresso in the States, real cheese, decent wine, and a real, sit down, take your time attitude towards a meal. They sort of have me there, except for the wine and the cheese. Hello, California? Ever heard of that little state, gets quite a bit of tourism, and I might mention makes damn fine wine and cheese. Hmph. So my French vocabulary surrounding cheese and wine and food might be up to par. What I was not prepared for was the little tiny remark that was just coming around the corner.

As mentioned, we discuss quantity. Now, in general it is true that Americans have a different culture of eating. I would say that we stick to the three meals a day thing. I would say that the French do it slightly differently. Eggs, bacon, toast, coffee and juice at 7am is horrifying to most French I’ve met. They simply cannot imagine this as petit-dejeuner.  As for dinner, lunch, the meals are longer, more drawn out. (not including work lunches, that’s going the way of the Americans I’ve been told) There is a drink with snacks. There are appetizers, which are not the same as snacks. There are a few small plates, then the main dish (also small), and then something like cheese perhaps with fruit, bread, then something sweet, and of course, coffees. It’s quite elaborate. And the quantity overall is still perhaps less than a plate at the Cheesecake Factory. It’s true. In discussing this, one woman said to me, “I was with some American friends who asked me how I stayed this size, and I showed them their plates, I said, ‘I don’t eat like that. You have to eat less'” Then she said:

“I told them, you see the people in Aushwitz? There were no fat people in Aushwitz. Think about it. There’s a reason for that.”

Mmhmm. I’m just gonna let that one sink in. Theeereyago….let out your breath and let your eyebrows come back from the top of your head. I still haven’t found mine. I was stupefied.  Seriously? Did you really just make some ….sort of….comparison ….not being fat….concentration camp….if I were to be…so then….oooh right I totally see what you’re saying, ignoramus.   So here I was, in one of those moments where I just needed some clever concise (ok I’m nothing like concise but whatever I can work on it) whippersnapper of a sentence to roll off of my skinny tongue (and I wasn’t even there, imagine?) and you know, I just couldn’t even come up with anything in French that would have been cutting yet classy enough. I’m working on not just giving my standard middle finger stress response, you see. Perhaps I should have made an exception?

So, helpless when stressed, that’s me. At least in French. It’s motivated me to start working on my vocabulary. Perhaps I will simply prepare standard responses to all sorts of possible infringements. That could work. I’ll start on that today….

I don’t understand the egg on the pizza

11 Jan

Pirate could live on pizza alone. I’ve suggested we do a tropical version of the Burrito Eater from San Francisco, and rate all the pizza in Guadeloupe. There is a LOT of pizza. I like how it is often prepared and served roadside from the canteen trucks. I find it impressive that the entire operation doesn’t exist until about 6pm and then there they are, full pizza oven roaring for the evening until it’s all packed away again, including the generator (have you ever eaten roadside beside a generator? Interesting ambiance) and doesn’t reappear until the next evening.  As with all food, the quality of the pizza varies depending on where you get it and I suppose, what your expectations are.

So we went to a great little restaurant last night, Bahia Lounge Cafe in St. Francois. The menu is a big mix of Asian-inspired cuisine, typical local dishes, and of course, pizza. There is always pizza, it seems. So Pirate gets a pizza and I get an awesome salad with chevre toast. When the pizza arrives, I notice something I’ve seen before but chose to ignore because it kind of made me nauseous.  In the center of the pizza, there is a half cooked egg, fried egg style, sunny side up. Just laying there, on top of the pizza, big yellow yolk all runny, with the white of the egg around it, all slimy and undercooked. On a pizza. With ham and cheese and some olives.  Now, food is one of the biggest cultural things to explore when you are Someplace Else. I am open to some things, I eat sushi, I tried beef carpaccio, didn’t like it, tried escargot, wasn’t really a texture I enjoyed, but I’m not criticizing people who eat things I don’t. It just depends what you like. But seriously. An egg on a pizza? I know, I know, I must be ignorant. I don’t get it. Such refined eating habits are above me. (turns green) I admit it, I don’t understand. Was it a mistake someone made one day and just called it the newest thing so they wouldn’t have to throw the pizza away? Was it a college student’s hangover creation when there was nothing but leftover pizza and one egg in the house? Why? Why would you ruin a delicious thing like pizza, cheesy golden goodness on the perfect amount of slightly crispy yet soft dough, with an undercooked egg? (turns more green) Sigh. It ranks right up there with beef tartare, raw ground beef served in a bowl with a raw egg on top, you mix it and eat it. If that’s your thing, go nuts, but I can’t fathom putting one forkful into my mouth without vomiting. Even if I could eat it, I’d be worried about getting seriously ill – may I reference my past post about W for worms…. Yeah yeah I eat raw fish. Maybe it’s the same, I don’t know. Eesh.

In any case, Bahia Lounge Cafe is recommended by moi. The lady (I’m not sure if she’s the owner) who is always working there is so kind. Always smiling. The food is systematically great and presented nicely. (see my salad, I don’t know why I didn’t snap a better picture of the stupid egg-pizza, but you can see it! The yolk…to the right of the frame!) There are a lot of options and great appetizers like nem, samosa, accra.  I’ve never been there for live music but from the looks of their facebook page it seems they’re quite busy, I’d check it out. It’s very spacious and open air.  Easy parking at the marina in St. Francois.  You might want to ask about the egg situation before you order any pizza….

More I don’t understand – Ham.

8 Jan

Let’s be clear. I speak French. I never said I speak it well.  Once in a while, you realize you have been wrong about something you thought you knew for quite some time. Like the time les Monstres got the chickenpox and I realized Pirate called them chicken pops. When questioned, he admitted that’s what he thought it was really called. Cute. Back to my own realization…. So there we are, at the deli counter. Now let me start by explaining that there is an ever presence of ham on this island. It’s everywhere. In everything. You got your sliced prepackaged ham with slight differences like the slimy casing cut off or not…you got your dried ham, your smoked ham, and your little diced up morsels of ham, ‘les lardons’. The word lard being in the name was enough for me to not want them in my salads, but they are quite lovely in an omelet. Each cube has half ham and half fat. Total diet food.

So as far as I knew, the word jambon meant ham. Look at the screenshot from Larousse dictionary.  Did I misunderstand? Apparently. So I’m looking in the glass case at the deli counter. I’m saying to Pirate, “I just want some freaking turkey. Why is that not possible?” He replies, “Mais oui, it’s right there, look – jambon dinde“.  To reference Larousse again, dinde is defined as ‘turkey’. So. I implore you. What do I take from this written on a sign sitting on a big lump of meat? ‘Jambon dinde’ or ‘ham turkey’? Ah hah! Pirate’s eyes opened wide and his smile slowly spread, I know that at that moment, after all of my jabs corrections on his English, he was thinking, “At last! Mockery is mine! Muhahahaha!”  He explained to me that jambon refers to a piece of meat of any kind, so I guess I could substitute the word deli for jambon to explain it. Like deli turkey, deli salami, etc. Now when I see the second definition of jambon as ‘thigh’, that makes a bit of sense. But godammit, why did it have to be the same word as ham?!  So we took some TURKEY slices and now my whole view on the world of deli has changed. Apparently the entire window is not filled with ham-turkey and ham-chicken and ham-salami and ham-ham. Well fine then. I’m going to go make a sandwich. Without butter. Because really, what is it with the butter on the sandwiches?!

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