Tag Archives: Living Abroad


Well, my Seattle upbringing and German/Norwegain heritage were obviously no match for the Marseilles sun… ouch! It was only the spots that I missed with sunscreen but still.


Anyway, Marseilles is beautifully located on the Mediterranean Sea, the bluest blue waters I’ve ever seen for sure. While the Old Port and other heavily trafficed areas are rather nice the rest of the city is well…. icky. Now this is just my opinion but I will say that I love the weather, the old port, and the sea side of Marseilles but that’s about it for my high lights list. Luckily that was what I came down here for.

Problems with the city? Let’s start with the smell, a lovely aroma that keeps you guessing whether each turn of the corner will yield garbage, urine, or excrement smells. Kind of like Russian roulette for your nose, only they are all bullets and sometimes you get a Nirvana of an empty chamber. Sorry, I’m sure that reads a lot harsher than it should.

Now I thought Caen had a graffiti problem but in hindsight Paris was worse. If the level of Paris graffiti is, let’s say, a 6 or 7 out of ten (really not too terrible) then Marseilles is probably a 12. I honestly don’t know how they find new places to do it, they have skill for sure.

Finally of all of the French cities I’ve visited I unfortunately have to say that I feel the least safe here. In Caen I walk around no problem, in Paris I’m pretty comfortable being anywhere, but here, I’m constantly thinking about it. Maybe it’s just me.


Now, before I wrap this up on a downer note let me change the tone. I have still enjoyed my time here a lot. It was a good vacation spot and I think my time here was well spent. I relaxed, I read, I reddened a bit. There are other parts of the city that are GORGEOUS, like the church on the hill, the old port walks and some others. So, yes, there are some parts of the city that need to be improved but still a good spot.


Why hello there!

So, I just dropped my parents off on their train. They will take it to the airport and leave tomorrow, homeward bound. It was a really good visit, no major incidents and only a few items on mom’s list that she didn’t get to do. But there were things not on the list that we did do, so overall I’d call it a success. It has been really nice being back in Caen, I now consider myself Normand so it feels like a second home. Plus Caen just brought out ALL of the sunshine for us, it was happy to have me back.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Caen lately. When I first arrived I was not sure what to think about it at all and that kind of continued all the way through the year, just unsure. But now that I’m so much older and wiser, since September, let me lay it out for y’all:

Caen was virtually destroyed in the war, unfortunately destroyed while trying to be liberated. Since then it has been rebuilding, re-growing, and redefining itself. It shied away from rebuilding exactly as it was and that has led to bits of growth spurts, in my opinion. If one were to visit Caen and visit say, Rouen, Rennes, or Nantes, they would think that Caen was much more open in a way that most other French cities aren’t. Some may argue that it makes it feel less “French” as it were but to me it just makes it feel more comfortable and able to breath.

It hasn’t been easy for Caen to grow during the decades in a consistent manner. Styles changes, leadership changes, and so it has some odd buildings that stick out or a few areas that were designed in a less than aesthetically pleasing period (sorry Herouville and a few other spots). Also, from my experience, it is really trying right now. It is the Basse-Normandie capital and as such it needs a bit more, its hard being outshined tourism and attraction wise when you are the capital and yet because of the history (WWII) the coast and other areas draw the crowds. So Caen is adding, it’s building, first Zenith and Les Rive D’Orne, and now the newer, not yet finished, Parc Expo. Luckily it has lots of room to grow and expand.

Caen is also playing host to a lot of things this summer, starting small with the channel race, then going big with the 70th DDay anniversary (mostly held outside of town, but still a major part of it all), followed by the World Equestrian games, and finally the smaller but still awesome world championship of Kayak Polo.

So what does all of this, in my small, humble opinion mean? Caen is ready to be taken seriously as a major city. It is proving that it can host major events, it can continue to grow and expand, and that it is finally finding its voice in an area that smaller cities usually shine and where the capitals on each side of it tend to out shadow it as well. Really, Caen is ready and moving into the future and I can’t wait to see how it goes!

Plymouth Part 2: Tantrums and Teachers

Well! The house is too small. The beds are impossible. There are too many of us. It’s too small. Two people have to eat in the kitchen!! There isn’t enough room in the rooms. It’s too small. The coordination is horrible. We have to take two cars to get there. It’s just too small. C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable.

MERDE! Pardon my French, my actual French. The professors were the biggest whiners I had ever met and I was super embarrassed to be “one of the group” at that point. Sure, our host family couldn’t understand them but still. It was terrible. To try and feel like I was being polite I ended up talking with the two, generous people taking us into their house and cooking for us, for about an hour. I was still just mortified. I felt, and continued to feel for most of the trip, that I was jumping in front of bullets just because I would be the one not killed by them.

The next morning didn’t help anything. Note to well-meaning British folk, if French people ask if you have coffee, don’t give them hot water and Maxwell House instant mix. Let’s just say, they won’t be impressed.

Then of course the actual bus pick up spots with the kids was a nightmare too. Two buses, different locations, no list of which students would arrive where, all of the teachers at one stop, the coordinator nowhere to be found, and then to top it all off one taxi takes the students directly to the school without telling anyone.

Can we focus on the taxi part for one second? Perhaps it was just my K-8 school at home (Go Maplewood!) but parents would not stand and teachers would probably be on probation or something, if it was known that students were put into taxis with no supervision to get from one place to another. I thought they were joking at first. No, they were not.

Anyway, EVENTUALLY, with all students accounted for the next morning we got them settled into the school in Plymouth, kind of a technical college, for their morning classes and then us teachers got to sit and wait for 3 hours.

Oh, you think the hissy fit about the house was bad just wait until lunch. I thought the teachers were about to mutiny. Was it a great lunch? No. Was it edible food? Yes. Was it edible food to this group of French teachers? Hell No. I just sat there, eating my little lunch and not saying a word, while once again the world was coming to an end all around me. White Bread!!?!?!? Are you kidding me! This juice box? Is this a joke? A bag of chips? Impossible! C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable. C’est incroyable.

For the afternoon we went to the Eden Project. It has two biomes, one with a rainforest atmosphere, one with the Mediterranean. It was a cool place, the kids had fun and the weather held out nicely. On the way back do you think that the bus driver took the same, wide road, way that he came? No, no he did not. Going a good 30 minutes out of the way on tiny, one lane roads with hedges half-way up the bus he wandered around until getting onto the road that we came on. Only then to take another wrong turn and driving on the wrong side of the road while we all yelled “LEFT” (in French) for about another 45 minutes. So yes, we were late again to meet all of the families and this is when the yelling and screaming between the head teacher and the coordinator commenced. It was quite a site.

“You’re unprofessional!”

“I’m unprofessional? This is terrible planning and ridiculous communication. The worst ever.”

“You’re making a real site, you know.”

Plymouth School Trip part 1

So, last week, starting at 5:15am on Sunday I was on an adventure with 90+ middle school students and seven other teachers to the United Kingdom. Our destination was Plymouth out on the far south west corner of Britain. After orientation onto busses (with what I would come to appreciate later as the worst bus driver ever!) we were off to the ferry. The ferry from Ouisterham to Portsmouth is about 6 hours but it passed relatively quickly. And we were soon clearing customers, where I got to finally speak with some more native English speakers (you miss it, a lot).

Next we had a long and I mean long drive out to Plymouth. The plan was to drive to Exeter, give the kids and drivers about an hour break, see a bit of the city, and then finish the trip out. However, I quickly realized that A) I was the only teacher in the lead bus still awake and B) our driver had turned onto small town roads where the bus barely fit and he had clearly no idea where he was. Imagine a bus driver (French) driving a gigantic bus through small British streets, with his archaic map ON the wheel, looking up, looking down, and clearly lost.

Finally some other teachers wake up, question the time, and help navigate. We are forced to stop 15 minutes outside of Exeter at a tiny rest stop for 45 minutes and almost an hour behind schedule. We bypass Exeter, having no time to spare, arrive in Plymouth 45 minutes late and this is where the fun starts. Yeah, the fun starts…

It’s pouring down rain and we finally find the parking lot to meet all of the host families. The coordinator never received our text or calls so all the families and taxis, yes taxis, have been waiting in the miserable rain for 45 minutes. Caroline is a rough woman with little patience and is unimpressed at our arrival. She tries to coordinate all of the kids with their families and taxis but I’ll be completely honest, if I didn’t take the reins to get everyone to their right places, we’d still be there.

So, with a supposed arrival time at 7:00pm, we, the professors finally get to our host house a little after 10:30pm that night. And it is here that my lovely colleagues, many of my actual favorite co-workers, confirm every French stereotype in the book. Stay tuned.

Friday and Saturday

So, as I mentioned in the video, I finally got to have lunch with Jennifer from Chez LouLou “chezlouloufrance.blogspot.fr/” and it was fantastic. We met at a restaurant in Caen called Dolly’s which is a British run traditional British lunch and tea room type restaurant. It was good food and we both liked what we got. The conversation though was by far the best part. She is hilarious and we connected on tons of subjects and really just had a blast. Originally she is from Spokane, Washington (pronounced Spo-can for those of us in the know) and has lived in multiple places, including Seattle itself. So it was fun to both chat a bit about shared places and life and also all of the differences and her and mine adventures.

I am really hoping that she and I can get together again before I am finished here, not a lot of time to make it happen but always possible. Next time I think we’ll get together in Bayeux since she lives out that way. Check out her blog for all things French food, living, and more!

So, as I mentioned, I had to cut our lunch short. We were having such a fun time that I barely glanced at my phone to realize that I had a train to catch at 13h05 (1:05pm) and it was already 12h46 (12:46pm). We quickly said goodbye and I ran, yes ran across the city, having just missed a tram. Boy were those the wrong shoes to run in. But I made it. I was panting, but safely on the train for Paris to meet my friend Ronnie.

Ronnie is a flight attendant and had a day layover in Paris and suggested that I come down, so of course, I did! Got to his hotel room and woke him up from his nap, he said he’d be ready to go but that didn’t happen. Anyway, we set out to see some of Paris. He’s been here before but only seen a few sights and the inside of a few bars. I got to play tour guide and if you know me you probably know that I LOVE to play tour guide. I was pointing out monuments and buildings, telling anecdotes, it was a hoot.

After walking more than halfway across the city (the best way to see everything) we decided on dinner and ate at a fine little roadside café with a great people watching location. Next we went around a bit, bar to bar to just have a beer or two, enjoy the Paris night life a bit, and called it an early night since he had to get up SUPER early for his next flight.

The next day after Ronnie left I was going to just hang around Paris, drink my café, people watch, read my book, as is my normal Paris past time, but then a thought occurred to me…I had the ability and the time to go to… DISNEYLAND J

You can make them write English…

But you can’t make them not French.


With one of my better classes this week I decided to do a writing day (brilliant idea Tim, why thank you). I asked them at the beginning, “Have you ever been able to have fun and be creative with English?” The response, “Mais, non”. So, I had them do what my lovely high school teacher had us do, write a story in 100 words. It was always one of my favorite exercises and I’m going to be using it more now.


Well, they wrote and they wrote and I said, “let the story telling begin!” So one by one they read their stories and I realized, fully, the difference between my happy, Disneyesque stories and their grim, tres Francais stories. Let’s just say that 4 out of the 5 ended in death. 4 OUT OF THE 5! Even the one that seemed cute and not death related, ended in death. But it was fun and they all enjoyed it.


So remember, you can make them write in English, but you can’t make them not French.