Friday, August 17, 2007

An Update

I have been on Ile d`Yeu since August 8th, with only sporadic internet access at an internet cafe because there was a problem with the house`s connection. Happily, access was restored today.

The bad news, though, is that Wednesday the AC adapter for my laptop broke. I ordered another one from Dell`s parts-vendor in the UK, but will not have it until Monday when I go to Paris to see my French brother Olivier, and my youngest French sister, France (the French version of "Francis"). I had it delivered there in case there was a problem it would not arrive after I left the island.

What this basically means is that I have less than two hours left on my laptop battery, which I am guarding very carefully. Right now I am typing this update using Jacqueline and Pierre`s desktop. However, the keyboard is not the same as in the US. You can imagine the problem this poses for me. I normally type 80 words per minute. It has taken me twenty minutes to type this far. I am going to type the alphabet in the order I would on a US keyboard so you can see what has moved: qbcdefghijkl,noparstuvzxyw. In addition, the following keys have moved: ?,;.:/§! Also, to have the number keys work above the alphabet, you must hold down the shift key. It took me at least eight trys to enter my password before I realized why it wasn`t working.

This is the one part of travel in a foreign country that I had forgotten. It is not that there are tremendous differences - after all, the US and Europe are Western democracies. However, there are a multitude of little differences. For example: (1) My sister Kelly sent me a package by DHL. I found out that it was very important to have not only the address, but also the Family's name on the package for it to be delivered. When it finally was delivered this morning, I did not know that I should have tipped the driver. (2) Jacqueline took a baguette out of the freezer to thaw and put it on a table in the sun. After a while, I flipped it over to thaw the other side and found out that one never puts a baguette top-side down for reasons of "tradition." (3) One never fills people`s water glasses at the table before they are seated, even though you know they will want water. (4) One always finishes one`s piece of bread, even if you leave other tidbits on your plate. This particular bit of etiquette began after the war, I am told.

I could go on and on...

The point is that I am here, in this family, trying not to make gross errors of etiquette, but am pretty much blowing it at every turn. Also, it is downright exhausting: Everytime anyone says anything to me, my brain has to translate it - and the same for anything I say. Sometimes I cannot think of a word in either English or French. It is as if my brain temporarily freezes. I finally had a bit of a meltdown and spent several hours yesterday in my bedroom sobbing.

Despite these difficulties, I am very glad to be here. I cannot believe that I have not seen this family that I love in nearly 19 years. I am resolving here and now to not go more than two years without returning to Europe. Jacqueline and Pierre tell me that I "parle très bien le français." This is nice to hear because I have been reluctant to speak French during the past twenty years because I have had a complex about my accent. Even though I could do more to perfect it, Jacqueline and Pierre tell me that my accent is good. Fortunately, I can trust what they say because Jacqueline treats me like one of her daughters and is not reticent to critique me when warranted.

As soon as I fix the power problem with my computer and have regular Internet access, I will update the blog with photos of the island (georgous!) and tidbits about France and my family here.

The plan for the near future is: Monday - go to Paris and spend the night Chez France. She is an attorney so this should be fascinating. Tuesday - spend the night Chez Olivier and his wife, Marie-Helene. They have an eight-year-old son, Alexandre, whom I have never met. Wednesday - Olivier will take me to the airport at the crack of dawn for my flight to Rome.

One thing I am very grateful for is that this time in France is sort of a "buffer zone" between Holland, where everyone speaks English, to here where I at least speak the language, to Italy, where I do not know much Italian and I suspect that English speakers are not as plentiful as in the Netherlands.

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