November 30, 2013

Suddenly... Christmas

It's the day after thanksgiving, and suddenly, the world has turned upside down from being thankful for what they have, to asking for more things. Overnight, bright lights have been hauled up around roofs and Santas have appeared on every street corner.
And my family took me to a christmas farm.

As a French girl, I don't get all the fanfare. I can't go anywhere without being told christmas is right around the corner. It's over the top! It's so excessive! Sure, christmas is a time of celebration, but it seems as though people are celebrating for all the wrong reasons. No wonder French people lecture me about american consumerism.

November 29, 2013

Why are French Children so Independent?

Ever since I've arrived in the US, people keep fussing over me. They get worried about things like me ridding the metro or bus by myself, or making my own dinner. It was surprising for me: never before had anyone worried me like that. I keep being called brave for spending a year abroad, and people keep telling me that they themselves would never be able to do such a thing.

I'm very surprised by all this. Back home, I'm used to people being less than casually concerned with my activities. And living abroad is no real problem for me, nor for any of my friends, who are now studying in at least five different countries, and yes, that is not counting the one they call home, France. It has led me to a shocking discovery: American kids, or at least a majority of American kids, are not independent.

I have thought long and hard about why this is, and have come up with a short list of things that could possibly be part of the puzzle. So here is why French Children are so Independent.

(Note: these are generalizations, and majorities: I am aware there are exceptions both with the french and the Americans. I have seen very capable Americans and very useless French. But for the most part, this is what I've found.)

1. Parents allow them the freedom to fail

In the US, I have found parents to be very protective of their children, not allowing them to try new things because they are afraid to see their kid get disappointed. Not the case in France.

The French see failure as an integral part of life, and remind their children that failure is unavoidable, which is evident in their grading system through school. As a child grows up, the main function of a parent is to provide a "cadre", or a framework for the child to live in. Americans find this very hard to grasp, seeing as how strict and controlling this appears: but the French believe that a child knowing his limitations will allow him to blossom. As a parent, your duty is to make sure your child knows his role in society and and to give him the ability to test these limits. Kids will be polite and calm, come when called, clean up their toys. Tantrums are rare. Actually, I have never seen a French kid throw one, though I am certain they must happen somewhere

In the US, I see parents lose it when their four year old finds a knife. In France, I have made apple pie with a four year old who was not afraid of cutlery. Knowing his limits has enabled kids to have advanced skills compared to their US counterparts.

2. School limits parental interaction

In the US, the school experience with the child is something his mother or even father is a huge part of. They help with events, they bring food on special occasions, they help with homework, an they talk with teachers if they have a problem with what is being taught.

Not so in France.

In France, there is a clear distinction between school and parents. Home life and School life never cross over. Not even for lunch - children go eat at a cafeteria all through kindergarden and up, with full sets of Cutlery. There is no finger food. I once got reprimanded for eating a chicken drumstick with my fingers, as my father had shown me. Nope. Knife and fork.

A friend of the family's once brought valentines' day cookies to school with her daughter on february 14th. She was kindly escorted out of the school, and reminded that valentines' day is a couples holiday, and children celebrate what they will outside the confines of their education.

Education is sacred in France, tried and trusted, and parents should not intervene, except during student council meetings (once a term) when they can bring a few points to the attention of the school board. Other than that, they have no connection to the school whatsoever. Some may never set food inside the doors. And they can say what they will about the reading list, they are not going to be able to change it. I read dangerous liaisons in 8th grade, my mother was worried, but could not say anything. It was a good book.

School is all about the student. Every child had a cahier de liasion or, later on, a carnet de correspondance, which is a physical link between the school and the parent. Hour changes, school trips, disciplinary action, tardy slips and absentee notes are all kept together, for the parents to check out. My mother never touched mine.

And then there is homework. Parents can try to help, but rarely do. If kids need help at school, usually their older sibling is the one to provide it, because of how specific teachers are about methodology. I haven't had homework help since I was six.

Parents are kept at a distance from their child's school, on the fringes of their school life. This enables them to join society on their own, without interference.

3. Sleep-aways

In first grade, I spent ten days in the mountains with my teachers and school friends. I didn't see or talk to my parents in all that time.

Classe verte (Green class) are week long field trips organized by the school so that the children can discover part of France by themselves. In first grade, I went to the Ecrins park (a little like a national park) to see the alps, see how cheese was made, meet some beekeepers, and much more. I got the flu and a temperature of 106, which lasted for two days, and my parents didn't know until I got back. In second grade I went to the beach to lean how to sail and kayak; in third, how to ski; in fourth, we went to the mountains to mountain bike; in fifth, to the Basque region, to learn about marine biology. They were awesome trips, and helped kids learn to distance themselves from their parents.

4. Freedom of movement

You may think than an American child has much more freedom; they have time (school ends at 3) they have a car and the ability to drive (at 16), they have jobs and can pay for things. But the French children are a lot more free than their american counterparts. Why?

We have a bus; a train; and blurred european boundaries.

With my friends, we often joked how we could go to London for the day, and our parents wouldn't even notice. You pay 100 euros for an unlimited yearly bus pass; and trains are cheep and frequent, so that if, say, you wanted to go for a day at the beach on a whim, you hop on a bus, reach the bus station, pay 3 euros for a ticket to the coast, hop on the train, hop off, grab a soda and a baguette at a bakery, walk down to the beach and relax for the day. No hassle.

And most parents encourage this, because of how much fun they will have with their friends. And it's not like we don't have a phone.

(Sidebar here: you kids will never be independent if you get those tracker apps. Come on.)

5. You grow up, you work accordingly

I was 8 when I started doing my own laundry, cooking for myself, and cleaning my room with a vacuum cleaner. Today, I see kids in the US only learning to do this when they are getting ready for college. I mean, what?

In France, you get old enough to stick clothing in a washing machine, you are going to be sticking clothing in the washing machine. That's just how it is.

6. Teens left to their own devices

French children do not act out, because they have nothing to act out against. I have never seen anyone go through a phase - well, I saw a goth once, but I think he was in his twenties - to rebel against their parents. Why would they? Their parents are not holding them back!

Once you reach the age of 18 and are legally allowed to drink, you've already passed the age where you've tried some, abused some, and gotten used to it. So like in the US when you turn 21, the eighteenth is a booze fiesta; and then you calm down, have a bit of beer or rosé at a few parties, you drink moderately and you don't over indulge. You've grown up knowing you could. Why revolt?

After this, you graduate, and you are a fully formed adult. There is a huge difference between american 18 year olds and french 18 year olds, comparable to americans after college graduation. Not to say that they are mature - just that they have all the skills they need to move out, get their own place, take care of bills, insurance and taxes, or travel. Of course, there are many American teenagers who are capable of this. but it seems as though most are still babied, even through college.

I am not used to the fuss. People (very kind people!) send me care packages, and I wonder what I did to deserve them. I speak to my parents once a week, to the surprise of many, who assume I have to see them every day. I can't tell you how happy some family members were that I mentioned missing them, because at least they could relate to home sickness.

I have trouble making friends with teenagers my age here in the US, because we lack so many shared experiences. Their school experience is all about success, events, shared with their parents. I find it easier to relate with college students, college seniors, even, who have gotten this freedom, and enjoy discussing travel plans.
Plus, I haven't had a beer in months and it's annoying as heck. And when I mention cider int his country, all I get is sweetened apple juice!

November 25, 2013

20 Signs that you're a TCK

Sometimes, being a third country kid is the best thing on the world. Other times... it feels like the worst. Being in any case, here are some signs that you're a TCK.

1. You've become a master mathematician by trying to calculate when your friends in other countries are available for skype.

Or just figuring out how to message them, actually. You leave a message for then on faebook when you go to sleep, and wake up to a response sitting in your message box. Like elves left it during the night.

2. You have sounds from every continent on your playlist, mostly sent to you by friends who think it's the tops, which makes for an entertaining car trip.

I have French rap and K-pop, Israeli rock and spanish pop, to name a few. When you shuffle my ipod, you shuffle the world.

3. Speaking of car trips, you are the absolute best at keeping yourself entertained on ten hour long trips, being by car or boat or plane.

You know how long of a book you need for the trip, how much video and how much music. Car games? You're the boss.

4. A birthday tradition is seeing how many languages you can sing the song in. And, calculating what time to have the party so your friends can skype in.

Blowing out the candles becomes a game of patience.

5. You actually use Facebook as a way of staying in touch with all your friends who have left. Because good-bye is never really good-bye...

6. Even so, you've said more good-byes than you'd ever want to say. And it hurts every time.

7. You tend to use the correct pronunciation of words, so people think you're presumptuous. 

"What was that?" Oh, I'm sorry, let me add an accent for you. Noooooow it makes sense.

8. You don't speak English with your friends, or English; you speak Frenglish and everyone gets what you mean. Because sometimes, one language has a word that just fits better.

The english language has just beautiful descriptive words. Splash, fling, I just love saying them. How many different words for throw do you have? More than the french do, for sure.

9. One of your friends speaks seven languages, and all it does it make you jealous because it puts your 2 (and a half!) to shame.


10. Fast food is like a strange exotic experience for you. 

11. You get culture shock every time you step into a supermarket, no matter which country you're in.

12. You can still remember a time that there were no oreos in your country. You laughed when a friends ran up to you with a pack of "amazing cookies!" they had just bought at a local store, before crying for joy.

Oreo day. June 3rd, 2010. Ah, I can see it clearly now...

13. You dread the question "where are you from" because THERE NEVER IS A SIMPLE ANSWER!

Yes, i'm from France; my english is good because I'm american; no, I was not born in the states.... every. single. time.

14. You know that fitting into a country isn't just about speaking their language, but also how you present yourself. Your demeanor changes every time you speak a different tongue.

It has often been said that the French as cold people: they are not, they are just more reserved to strangers. They think American's are a little 'too much', over the top. It's all a question on perspective.

15. You know how to calculate how long someone will take to answer "how are you doing?" because it's entirely cultural.

Because in the US.... they will actually tell you.

16. When you grandparents freak out about you taking the metro by yourself, you smile and remind them you've flow across entire continents alone. 

17. Your extended family always says 'welcome home' to you, no matter how many times you remind them that your home is 'across the pond'.

18. Vacation? what vacation? you mean going from door to door under your grandmother's wing, as she shows you off to family you haven't seen for two or three years, yet who somehow know everything about you? I may need a vacation from my vacation.

Speak French for the man! Was my grandmother's whenever my sister and i went to visit her. I didn't know half the people I met, but they sure knew me.

19. Planning a trip? Let's call so and so and see if she'll be available to hang out once we get there!

They always know the best places to eat, too!

20. The day you finally knew what it was like to be the one leaving home; and had to say good-bye for probably the last time.

Are you a TCK? is there anything I left out? let me know in the comments!


November 24, 2013

Writer's Block

It is now the last week of NanoWrimo, and I find myself stuck in a rut
I'm actually only writing this post because I'm procrastinating. I know I need to get this first draft done, but I can't get myself to write another word. It's not that I don't have a plot, it's that I have no desire to continue.
Have I run down my creative well? I know what needs to happen next, so why can't I write it? And why the heck are my characters so terrible this time round?
These are the problems that plague my mind. I'm stuck. I can't move forward. I need to find something to do to take my mind off of it. Or bring my mind back to it. But what?

When I tell myself I'm doing serious writing, it's never as fun. With Jump, a series I've been working on for the past 3 years now, that has just reached a collective 1 million words, it was always effortless. maybe because I'm sure no one will ever read it - it's just for me. But writing this new book is tough - I have to create new characters and work with them, and it's hard going.

This is writer's block, 2013.

November 21, 2013

Girls: A Rant

I'm sure you've all seen this beautiful video circulating around the interwebs at the moment:
First of all, let me highlight just how awesome this video is. Yes, thank you, finally! Not only has the song been stuck in my head all day, the video has also really got me thinking about something that has always been nagging at me: someone wants me to want dolls, and I don't like them.

Not that I have anything against dolls, per say. It's the gender stereotyping that I have issue with, Something I think pretty much everyone can agree with me on. The fact that the christmas catalogues have already arrived, and the "girls toys" look the same as every year... and don't seem to have very much range. From the kitchenette to the play house set, along with the princess costumes, and last but not least the pink "computer" (that plays songs about being spechal and dainty and darling), while the boys have all the awesome lego kits and chemistry sets. Sure, of course you're trying to make it even over those gender lines - so long as guys are alright playing with pink, right?

I think the worst culprit by far is TV. Not having Tv at home growing up, my sister and I received gifts from our parents (telescope, trampoline...) and gifts from family back home (dolls, barbies, play tea party sets...) which were lovely, but not our type.
Not that we complained (if we did, I cant remember). Our barbies went on intergalactic voyages to save creatures from evil super villains, and our dolls developed superpowers and fought for justice and peace. We got into playmobil - great variety in playmobil - and found our father's legos, and created cities which were fighting to remain sustainable with their refusal to run on oil. I even remmeber my dad had something called a marble maze, a game made up of stackable wood blocks you could set up so that a tiny marble would roll from point a to point b.

Today I'm enrolled in a university so that I can study Astrophysics and astronomy. My sister is considering going into 3D animation.

Living in the house with a 7 year old now, I see a side of TV I never experienced growing up. The TV that lures you in with fun and flashy shows only to try and sell you something you don't want or need until they tell you that you do. These advertisements have one goal: getting the kid to nag. To beg their parents for this toy.
The people behind these ads want to make something that sells. They generalize their audience (girls = pink future homemakers) and decide what they're going to want. And then they tell them what they want.
And some of those shows are no better. Only a third of animated characters are girls, and something like 10% of those girls are actually leading characters in a show. The rest of the time, the ladies are in the background, being, well, the background. Infusing this stereotype that girls want to shop, shop, shop; that we want clothes and shoes and hats and tiny dogs. No wonder so many of us grow up just like them: they're the people we see, and look up to. Isn't it strange how kids will watch a show with characters just over their age group? It's always easier to sell to a market you've created.

And then we have our science shows - wonderful, inspirational educational shows... hosted by, you guessed it, men. I have no problem with the men hosting those shows: as a matter of fact, I look up to them. Carl Sagan; Bill Nye; Neil deGrasse Tyson. They are some of the people that encouraged me to go into science. But man, I sure wish there was a girl in there.
Of course, there are many programs that are trying to encourage women to go into STEM programs. (Natalie Portman is doing fabulous things, check her out!) Their intentions are pure; but they're missing one key factor. Once the kids have reached middle school, it's going to be tough to tell them that their TV personalities have told them wrong. That they're cut short. That they can be the pretty girl, and the scientist at the same time!

I don't call myself a feminist. I'm just expressing a fact: those young girls aren't going to fell the freedom to ask questions, to be curious, or to be creative if we're telling them to spend their time focusing on something else.
I would point them to Hermione Granger. I would point them to Violet Baudelaire. I would point them to Katniss Everdeen. These women are heroes, and not defined by their sex, but by their actions. Smart. Women.

Until that day when every girl can grow up knowing that she can engineer that, I will keep making noise.


Arlington and Georgetown

November 16, 2013

Personality Testing

Am I the only one around that finds personality testing to be... inaccurate?

It seems as though whatever result you get on the myers briggs test, everyone suddenly says "That's so you!". Well, in my case, I misread one of my letters and found everyone suddenly agreeing with the"wring" result. And then again with the "right one". It's made me wonder - just how accurate are personality tests?

The truth is, you know who you are. If not, you would not have been able to answer a single question on the test. No. A personality test isn't for you, it seems to be entirely for the benefit of others. People who just want to have another label to put on you.

Most of those questions you will find to answer differently depending on your mood. For example, the question on parties. Do you tend to stay late with increasing energy, or leave early, because you're warn out? Well, doesn't that fully depend on the party? I don't like going to bed late, so I get exhausted at later parties, but I still stay if I have friends I want to spend time with. And if I do leave early because I need some sleep, it does not mean I''m an introvert.

Or, on the question about having friends. I prefer having friends that I am incredibly close to, but I also enjoy knowing lots of cool and interesting people. But i have to reply one answer on that sheet.

And then there's the fact that people use these labels to make themselves exceptions. It's as if, as soon as they "know who they are", they instantly try to fill out that role, OR simply use them as excuses. You're working on a project, and suddenly one of your teammates says "I'm an introvert. I have to go." and leaves you to finish on your own. Or one person will not complete they're work on time and says "I'm Perceiving, so that's just normal."

Can you please just do what you have to do without excuses? Or maybe that's just my own personality talking, you could say. Maybe it's because you are what you are that you get annoyed at others who are different.

But I guess I'm just going to embrace being ENTJ for the rest of my life: but it will never be a crutch or an excuse. It's just another label.

A bientôt,

P.s. I was referring to the Myers Briggs personality test. If you want to take it, it's available online. It is quite fun to do with friends.

November 12, 2013

I like Pie.

Todays just going to be a short story.

I was working at the Air and Space Museum, watching the paper airplane contest to help prepare me for the day when I will be giving the demonstration. While I was there, a vibrant kid, a young 6 year old bubbling with excitement, was asked to come up on stage. Not shy at all, he stood up in the demo pit and proudly proclaimed:

"I Like Pie."

We cheered him on. Who doesn't live pie? He happily went along with the task handed to him, answering all of the questions with cheer and ease. He was smart, that much was evident.

He sat back down beside me. "I like pie," he said once more.

"I like pie too," I replied.

And then... the six year old began to chant.

"3. 14 15 92 65 35 ..."

He loved Pi. He gave me 33 digits of pi. All with this sly, proud smile on his face.

I wonder who this kid will grow up to be. Who did I just meet?

November 10, 2013

French Music You Need to Hear

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about music preferences. We discovered we liked many similar bands and styles, which made for a fun talk comparing songs.

Then I brought up C2C, and she looked at me, as confused as confused could be.

It turns out, so many bands that are popular in France are not so much so in the US. A lot of bands actually sing in English to get a wider audience, yet you probably never heard of them. So I'm going to introduce you to some of them today.


I was young when his first song came out, in 2006, and it hit France by storm. It played everywhere. You couldn't avoid it. Instant classic.

Listen to that range. That guy can hit the highest notes.
More by MIKA:
- Grace Kelly
- Lollipop
- We Are Golden

2. C2C

I am so surprised that no one I talk to in the states knows about C2C. We hear their music everywhere back home, it's hard to miss!

Also recommend:
- F.U.Y.A.
- Happy

3. Phoenix

Phoenix has slowly reached the states. I think their song "Entertainment" was actually at the end of "Now you see me," which really surprised me. I love their music, it's an easy listen. I love the hint of a french accent as they sing.

A few more for your lsitening pleasure:
- Entertainment
- If I ever feel better

4. Alt-J

This is some of the strangest music I have ever heard - and I love that.

Also great:
- Taro
- Breezeblocks
- Tesselate

5. Woodkid

I have fallen for this voice. I don't know how. But more people need to know about him. like, Now.

And make sure you listen to:
- Conquest of Spaces
- The Great Escape

And that's all for today, folks! I'll post more soon. 


November 9, 2013

Ridding on the Bus

This is a true story about my first time riding the bus alone in Maryland. Specifically, about the people I saw there, and overheard during my trip. This is in NO way a racial commentary - the people just happened to be of different ethnic groups, which is not uncommon in DC transit. And it's a little easier to identify them by their groups, because of the fact that I never heard their names, and would not post them on here if I had.

It was early afternoon when I got on the bus, probably closer to noon time, because I felt hungry, and my stomach was rumbling. I immersed myself into the novel I had brought with me - A Dance with Dragons (George R.R. Martin), if you're interested - and tried to ignore the passage of time.

Around me were very interesting people. I was sitting next to an Ethiopian woman, and was across from an older Chinese man, who was probably in his early sixties, maybe late fifties. The rest of the bus was practically empty, even at this time. A few more people sat quietly at the back of the bus, minding their own business. It was quiet, and was a perfect time to read.

We stopped at a few stops, and a few other people came on, including a woman with two kids, one of whom was in a  stroller. She was obviously struggling to climb in, her three year old rushing to the back cheerfully without a second thought, leaving her alone with the stroller and a bag of groceries. A hispanic girl helped her, before sitting down next to/across from the Chinese man.

I went back to reading for a few minutes. Eventually, I started to feel a little car sick - as one does when they immerse themselves in books in moving cars - and had to look up through the window to try to regain my wits. Across from me, the Chinese man and the young hispanic girl (I would guess she was only just 20, if even) were in a close discussion about god. The young woman had her lavender bible in her hand and would clasp it every few seconds as she spoke.

"Are you christian, yourself?" she was asking the man, who had a saddened look on his face.
"No," he replied to her, "Though, I have always wanted to know more about him. Are you?"

I felt like I was intruding, so I tried to back away. Eavesdropping was rude, especially about matters of the spirit. But I couldn't. The woman spoke louder and louder the more excited she got, the more involved she was in the conversation.

"I was in an accident, a few months ago," she was telling him, I overheard, her voice growing in the bus. "I was driving on a slippery road, and lost control of my car. I was terrified in that moment, but I gave the control over to God. I felt his hand reach into the car and pull me out. I was thrown clear of the wreckage."
"You weren't hurt?" the man asked her eagerly, leaning in closer.
"Only scratches. I should have died that night, but he saved me. And since then, I knew I had to tell people about his miracles."

Wow, I thought. That woman had a story, and was sharing it. I wondered about my own faith silently. I had seen God acting in my own life, yet I was silent.

And then she came onto the bus.

She was at least 6 feet tall, big and black, dressed in a frilly purple skirt, a tight corset, and was wearing a feathered mascarade mask to top it off. She carried with her a glass vase of over 30 red roses. She was speaking loudly as she entered, laughing about something, before she was caught between the three year old and his mother, who was trying to push the stroller out of the bus.

She pushed her way in and put the vase on a chair of its own, broadly proclaiming to anyone that would listen - and those trying not to - that this was the fourth day int he row that she had to dress up in mascarade, and this Halloween thing was getting out of control. She sat herself down next to the hispanic girl, who was still in deep conversation with the Chinese man.

"Riding the bus with kids must be horrible," she said to the Ethiopian woman next to me, who reached out to hold the roses as the bus shot forward, before they could fall of the chair. "Do yourself a favor and don't have kids until after college, alright?"
"I don't intend to," the woman next to me replied. I couldn't guess her age, but I think she said later that she was in college at the moment. "I want to wait until I've got a stable job and a good husband."
"You much wiser than girls these days," the black woman proclaimed. "They all throwing around their sex like it's something you can just give away. And them guys - not the prince charming they were looking for, but they don't care. Are you a virgin?"
"No ma'am," the Ethiopian woman said nervously.
"You still with him?"
"Yes," she stated proudly. We plan to get married after college. We've been together four years."

This led to an awkward conversation, as it turned out the Ethiopian woman had had an on again/off again relationship with the man. She also noted how most of her graduating class had kid already. The black woman was not ashamed of voicing her opinions for all the bus to hear.

Now, the Hispanic girl and the Chinese man were praying together, almost to quiet for anyone to hear over the woman's loud rants, they hands joined. The man looked like he was on the verge of tears. As the prayer ended, the black woman noticed they were done, and turned to speak with them.

"You prayin'?" she asked.
"Yes ma'am," the girl said proudly. "You Christian?"
"Of course, no question!" she replied. "And him?"
"Yes," he said quietly. "Yes, Yes I am."
"Good, good. Where your church?"
She replied something I cannot remember. Again, I was trying to hide back into my book, feeling like an intruder. But I couldn't help hearing the conversation.

The girl said something about not believing in organized religion. She said her belief in Christ was more important than entitling her religion. The black woman replied in agreement.

And then, they began to argue.  I missed how it started, but suddenly, the black woman was yelling something about "Church not being a building!" and the Hispanic girl, terrified, trying to stay strong, agreeing, but obviously not in the way the woman wanted her to, because now she was spurting out scripture at the girl.

And the Chinese man watched in wide eyed shock, as their voices rose to fill the small bus.

There, my stop was up. I rang the stop and rose to my feet, trying to make my way to the door. Her voice yelled after me, the words clear, still ringing in my head:

Jesus Loves you!

And that's my bus riding experience. What's the craziest ride you've ever had?


November 6, 2013

DC update

Hi there everyone,

So lately I haven't been writing much, but that's due to all the stuff that's been going on. I just started my job at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, and I'm loving it. It's the absolute perfect job for me. I do, however, still need to find another part time job. Not looking forward to that.
And that's it, really. I may write a top five post in the next few days, though, once I have time. Possibly something on TCKs.
I'll just put some more pictures I took for your viewing pleasure.

I also got a Chris Hadfield autograph. So happy!


November 5, 2013

Mountains in the Fall

Again, this is going to be mostly a photo post, since I don't have much time to write anything at the moment. So here are some pictures of the mountains in Pennsylvania.