Day 10: Rouen

A new class started at my school today for children under ten. They are so cute. Their teacher is doing lots of creative activities with them, like giving them questions to ask other students. They are fearless and eager to try out their new French skills. Before school I introduced myself to a family (Grandmother, mom, and daughter) who were speaking Spanish. The mom said she was from Colombia and said “My daughter speaks English.” This is usually a cue that the parent wants the child to practice their English skills, so I turned to the seven-year-old and slowly said “What’s your name?” She answered in perfect English and as the conversation continued I was amazed at how great her English was. Turns out she lives in Virginia, USA. (But her mom and grandma are from Colombia and they all speak Spanish to each other.)

Sometimes I really miss my own children and wish they didn’t live so far away. Yesterday when I was telling people about my family, a man remarked. “Americans are so mobile. If the job is in Boston, they move to Boston. Or Houston. Or Seattle.” I said “Wouldn’t a French young person do the same?”

“Of course not! None of our grown children have left Rouen. Why would they put their job before family?” Heads nodded around the table. This was a new concept for me.

“But if they couldn’t find a job in Rouen, and they could in Grenoble, wouldn’t they move?”

“How would they know there’s a job in Grenoble? They wouldn’t look there because they don’t live there.”

Of course, I’d love for our family to be all together every week, but I can’t imagine putting their future ahead of my desire to be with them. But trying to explain it made it seem like Americans put financial success ahead of family. I feel close to my kids and I FaceTime, visit in person, and vacation with them. Although I miss them, I’m glad they are pursuing their dreams and living their lives the way they choose.

At school, I moved up half a level. (I’m now in a C1-/B2+ class.) This is fun because it’s all new people. I spend much of my time amazed at the creative teaching techniques these teachers have. They force the eight of us to use the language, but in such a natural and fun way. They are continually correcting our written and oral production, but they do it in a way that is so kind that we appreciate the correction. They have good explanations that make this beautiful and frustrating language a little less crazy. Today we discussed technology. We were each assigned a question, took a survey of other students and summarized the results. An interesting question was “What was the first piece of technology you received?” This is hard because I’m so old, but I said “electric typewriter”. (My grandfather invented the electric typewriter.) I’d love to hear your response in the comments. Later I remembered that I got a transistor radio when I was pretty young, and I LOVED it. My question for others was “What technology do you hate?” Also hard since I love technology so very much, but people answered “Hover-boards”, “loud stereos”, “machines that take away jobs from artists or other workers”, and “vacuum cleaner”, (because it’s noisy and because her mom makes her use it.) I agree!

The exterior of my school. IMG_3074.JPG

A typical class session. Ironic that we all have our technology out as we discuss technology. IMG_3202.JPG

A poster I liked on a church: Because the world really needs peace.IMG_3125.jpg

I like this checkerboard house. IMG_3120.jpg

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Day 9: Rouen

Since the election I’ve tried to get out of my bubble and meet people different from me. Last November made me realize I’m surrounded by people who think like I do. France has certainly brought me out of my comfort zone. I’m trying all kinds of new experiences, and mixing with people who think differently from me.

I requested a host family who lived in the center of town, didn’t have pets, and didn’t smoke. The school wrote and said “Well, we have a really nice family who lives in the center of the old town, but they smoke and they run a kennel. Hmm. They sent me pictures of the house. It’s a four-story half timbered historical home, with a pretty garden, and my own bathroom. IMG_3002.jpgIMG_2999.jpg

I took a risk and I’m really thankful I did. The couple came home from vacation in Corsica yesterday and they are super fun. Before I left they invited me to a “Feast in the country with an opportunity to do ‘Ball-trap’.” I had no idea what that was and neither did Google. Turns out it’s clay pigeon shooting. The husband hunts. My son-in-law promised to buy me an NRA membership when he heard. I’m not exactly supportive of guns. But I love new experiences, so I said I’d go. I’m glad I did.

The feast was in the forest outside of the city. They roasted on a spit a large lamb (or a smallish sheep.) There were huge plates of barbecued meat and beautiful cakes and side dishes. I met a woman who works with battered women in Rouen, and a teenager who is very keen on science and spoke perfect English, and other interesting people. One of the best parts was being able to discuss Trump with his supporters without the emotion of the USA. (Of course, wealthy gun-owners would be fans of Trump.) In the states I know only one Republican voter who is willing to discuss politics with me. I find that a shame because how can we understand each other if the two sides can’t talk?


Not my picture, but it looked just like this. I was too shy to take one.

IMG_3187.jpgIMG_3188.jpgThen they set up the shooting. It was interesting to see how to do it. Some people were great at saying “Pull” and then breaking the orange plate as it flew in the air. It’s not for me, but I’m glad I tried it.

This is my host mother and her daughter. IMG_3192.JPGIMG_3199.JPG

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Day 8: Rouen

I always say that being a tourist is hard work. Today I slept in until 10 a.m. I don’t think I’ve done that since I was a teenager. Thinking in French, taking in everything around me, and navigating a different culture is so fun, but exhausting for the brain and the body.

My goals today were to set up a rental car for next weekend and to buy leggings so I have more clothing options. I accomplished neither. BUT! I did have great adventures. It feels like there is a beautiful church every few steps here, but they aren’t open when I pass by them. Today I elected to actually go in them. They are all so magnificent. Mostly they are Gothic style. (The same style as Notre Dame in Paris.)


Someone had told me that the Joan of Arc museum was good, so as I passed it, I thought “Why not go in?” OMG it was amazing! The building itself, inside, was beautiful, and the museum was more like a guided immersive experience. I knew very little about Joan of Arc, but immediately I was transported (via videos projected on the walls and holograms) to Joan’s trial–as if I was a witness in the middle of it. As I was directed to the subsequent rooms I took part in the whole story of a young woman who heard God’s voice and followed it, stood up for what she believed in, and was unfairly tried and condemned to death. She took risks and cared more about following God’s will than man’s laws. She broke conventions and helped her country. Twenty four years after she was burned at the stake in Rouen’s market square, she was pardoned, and later the church declared her a saint. The state of the art experience was beautifully done, and left me with a lot to think about.

The museum is set in a 15th century archbishop’s palace beside the cathedral. This is the palace chapel:


The State Room IMG_3134.JPG

Cool artistic interpretation of the trial. IMG_3135.JPG

After the museum, I climbed the Clock Tower. The history is interesting because it was designed before Galileo figured out that the earth revolved around the sun, and is one of the few clocks of its time to show the days of the week and the phases of the moon. The views were great!

My real host family came home from vacation, dropped their luggage and we all left immediately to eat at a night market in a little town nearby. Their daughter manages a brand new bread bakery and was selling artisanal bread at the night market. There were food trucks, craft vendors and all kinds of performers. It was super fun.

My host dad and his daughter. One thing a lot of buyers asked her was what time today the bread was baked. IMG_3161.jpg

Children’s show:IMG_3172.JPGCool drum line performance. IMG_3167.JPG

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Day Seven: Rouen

I was so happy to wake up today and find the temperature at 70º. After a week of 90º weather (and 80º at night) without air conditioning, this was big news. Whew!

The best part of the day was the evening. It was my last night with my substitute host family. (My real host parents are on vacation and come home Saturday.) They invited their daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, and the granddaughter’s boyfriend to dinner and to see Rouen’s Cathédrale de Lumière, a beautiful art movie projected onto the cathedral. I was touched both that they included me in an intimate family event and that they went to such great lengths to make it special for me.

Dinner was incredible. Fruits de mer.


Here’s my host dad cracking the hard-shelled crab with a hammer from the garage. IMG_3087.jpg


The best part was just being an intimate observer of and participant in normal French family life.

The projection was extremely well executed, telling the stories of both William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc with beautiful images and music incorporating the cathedral itself in the movie. Here’s a less than two minute sample.

And here are some of my photos. IMG_3110.JPGIMG_3103.JPGIMG_3105.JPG


On the way home my host dad pointed out every chocolate shop and bakery to explain the finer delicious points of each. A man after my own heart. As their children and grandchildren left, everyone kissed, as is the custom. I love it, but can’t picture 10-year-old boys in the states offering their cheeks to an almost stranger to be kissed goodbye. I’ve been in train stations, grocery stores, the post office, and more where when a new person arrives at work s/he kisses everyone. Men/women/old/young–they all seem so happy to be at work. Can you imagine your boss kissing you when you get to work? Me either. Although they would say that hugging is too intimate. (We only hug our really good friends, though. Not all our colleagues.)

Earlier I attended a special class on pronunciation. The teacher was incredible. He took ten of us with strong various accents (people from Brazil, Japan, China, the American South, and me) and helped us all sound exactly the same on one French Baudelaire quote. He explained how the mouth is like a violin, and it’s how you play it that makes the sound. It’s not that Japanese people have one kind of mouth (violin), and Mexicans another, for instance, but rather that each has learned to play the same instrument differently. I wish I could sit with this teacher all day for a week. It would really improve my French. My prononciation is what makes people screw up their faces to listen hard when I speak French.

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Day Five: Rouen

My French classes are super interesting. The teachers have such creative ideas for practicing the language and the time flies by. It’s fascinating to hear about how world events have touched people in Ghana and Turkey and Ecuador. My classmates, (all young girls), are passionate about making the world a better place.

Each afternoon the school organizes a free extra event to practice French. Yesterday it was a drama class. It was super fun acting out different scenes. Today it was a book club discussion. For part of the class we had to write a noun on one piece of paper and an adjective on another. Then we mixed up the papers and chose a new noun and a new adjective from the pile. These two words became the title for our book and we had to describe the plot. Titles like “The Delicious Mouse”, “The “Inflatable Notebook”, and “The Crazy House” made for some funny explanations, and were great for learning vocabulary.IMG_3016.JPG

After book club a small group of us went to the music festival in town. It’s pretty famous and the streets were packed with tourists and musicians playing every sort of music imaginable. Even little kids with instruments almost as big as themselves were performing. And they were great!IMG_3047.jpg


My favorite part was having fun with new friends. (The waitress was grumpy and the picture didn’t turn out great.) I love it that these 20-somethings seek me out. They are trés cool. IMG_3054.JPG

The weather has been the only down side. There’s an unusual heat wave and the temperatures are in the 90s all day and much of the night. Most of the homes and restaurants don’t have air conditioning because the temperatures are usually much cooler here. Even people who come from cities with hot weather (like Istanbul) complain about how hard it is to sleep.

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Day Six: Rouen

So, this happened while I’ve been gone:

I swear she went from standing alone to walking the whole length of the driveway in just a few days. I really miss my family. I see little French kids and they remind me so much of the girls.

School was fun today. We talked about what the French do to help the less fortunate. We debated whether young people should be required to perform community service, and learned what countries had this requirement. We learned the history of how different groups like Amnesty International and Doctors without borders formed. Often, we’ll learn something from an audio file, and then after listening only once we have to answer questions about what we learned. I’m terrible at it. I can get the gist, but if you ask me numbers I don’t know if the answer is 64,000 or 23. (They throw in a hundred numbers to throw you off. Mean.)  After school we watched a French detective (Maigret) film from 1944. I didn’t understand it all, but really enjoyed seeing scenes of Paris from that year.

After the film I went shopping, but before I was ready to go home, I was hungry. The French don’t eat unless they are sitting down at a table, usually with other people like their family. It’s a production. With my hypoglycemia, I’m hungry ten times a day, (only slight exaggeration), and am used to being able to grab a snack here and there. Here, I can’t eat in the street without feeling awkward. This is a problem. At home I could eat a granola bar while I’m out. Here I thought of stopping in a grocery store to buy a yogurt for a snack. But how would I eat it? It would feel totally weird to walk down the street eating a yogurt or an apple here. They just don’t do it. I remember my French ​​teacher telling me she was appalled the first time she realized Americans eat IN THEIR CARS!! Yeah, totally guilty on that front. So I had to actually sit, and order something to eat, wait for it, eat it, wait for the check, and pay the check. I love the part about everyone makes it a priority to be together to eat, but I don’t like the part where it’s hard to eat between meals even if you’re hungry.

Random pictures of Rouen:

The park next to my school:IMG_3071.jpg

A better angle on the Joan of Arc Church. (Built on the site where she was burned.) OK, burned as a heretic and later made a saint? Must be a lesson in that. There’s also a huge daily farmer’s market just behind it.


Random fountain. I love all the public art everywhere. IMG_3077.jpg

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Day 4: Rouen

The school is so well organized and the whole staff seems to really care about all the students–always asking about our host families, and making sure we have everything we need. Today at the break all the teachers circulated among the students encouraging us to ask each of them a question. The young woman next to me (from China) asked the prof “What’s your dream?” (Excuse me, young woman, can we be best friends?) This led to an interesting story from the prof: “That’s a hard one because I had a dream to learn an Asiatic language, but I just returned from Japan, and I’m pretty fluent. That was my dream, but right now I don’t really have a dream. I must find a new one! What’s yours?”  (Turns out Japanese was his seventh language, and he’s pretty famous because he wrote a widely-used series of textbooks for learning French.) Hers was to learn French and study fashion in Paris.IMG_3041.JPG

I was pretty excited to get my unlimited transportation pass. It’s not worth it to buy it if you’re only here a week or two, but makes sense if you’re here a longer time like I am. Somehow having it makes me feel like I fit in more with the people around me. I have an official-looking city document with my picture on it!


I love riding public transportation, but I love walking, too, and I’ve done a lot of both. It’s fun to walk through the cute town past the cathedral, the beautiful big clock, and all the little boutique shops on my way to the bus. I’ve bought fruit at the open air market in the morning right alongside the French people. And the vendors didn’t even switch to English! It’s really fun to do these normal French activities.


Another huge accomplishment was learning to write French accents in Google Drive. If you know me well, you know I love Google, and it really bothered me that I couldn’t use it for French assignments. My internet and people resources couldn’t tell me how to do it, so I had to write in Pages and copy it to Google Docs if I wanted the words spelled properly. Here, three young people tried and gave up. Lots of people said they spell it wrong, and then when Google says it’s spelled wrong they choose the corrected word from the suggestion. Not very practical! Finally, a kind Japanese teen figured it out for me. Yeah!

I also found a great coffee shop with comfortable couches and yummy pastries to hang out in and study, where no one will pressure me to hurry up and leave. Interestingly, a “café” here serves alcohol–it’s more like an American bar. If you want an American-style coffee shop you look for a “Salon de Thé.”


Food picture for Kirk because he’s such a loyal friend and blog commenter (and he loves food and food pictures): Here’s the dinner my host father made us and was just what I wanted. (Bacon salad with Brie Cheese toasts.)  The husband does all the cooking–I love it.




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