Follow this daily blog to track Kate Haverkampf and her family adventures while living in Caen, France.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
March 8 -10, 2009: Madeline is Just a Book
March 8-10, 2009: Day to day life - living and breathing here in France. That is how you learn to speak more French. It is unbelievable, thinking back to learning French in high school and college, and never once having any immersion. I now know that no amount of tutoring, tests, class time or recorded tapes can teach you what immersion in the native country can do. Each time I buy a croissant or baguette from the bread guy across the street or pick up my girls from school, I have another conversation that teaches me something. And it teaches me those things that schooling does not - proper intonation, pronunciation, and the actual REAL way that French people talk on a daily basis. When I say real, I mean the informal banter that no one ever taught me in school. At present, I seriously speak the French I was taught by teachers to people around here and they look at me like I am talking Swahili. Often times, I hurry home and type what I just said to someone into Freetranslation.com to check and see if what I said was correct and it really was correct. But it was probably stated so formally and with such utterly bad pronunciation that they didn't understand a word I said. In the few short weeks that our family has lived here, I have already noticed that I comprehend more of what people are saying. Initially, I couldn't pick up on anything. Now I feel like I hear more, understand more. So in an effort to further my hands on learning of the French language, I have decided two things:
1. I will never start a conversation with a French person by asking if they speak English. I will always attempt French first and keep going until they cut me off.
2. I will try to seek situations that trigger more conversations in French (wink wink - think manicures). I think I have done a pretty good job of that the past few days, as you will see from my examples below.
On Saturday, we all went to a zoo. It was really neat and very odd. It was neat because of the set-up of the zoo. It felt like we were on a safari in the middle of wide open fields full of exotic animals. Andrew and I were laughing about the comparision of Lincoln Park Zoo to this French Zoo. In Lincoln Park, there would be a cement wall of 12 feet, a barbed wire fence of 15 feet and then a plastic guard rail that separates you from the animals by about 5 feet. And then 3 signs warning you about the dangers of the animal. At this French zoo, and I am not kidding, there was a barbed wire fence that one might use for fending off rabbits and deer from their carrot garden that was 5 feet tall. And this was for the most vicious animals such as brown bears, funky monkeys, and leopards. At first we were all a little frightened, but we figured heck, this zoo is still around and lots of people are here so it must be OK. Then I began to think, maybe in the US we are a little too paranoid and overprotective? Maybe we are all afraid of lawsuits due to dumb asses that decide it is a good idea to jump a fence and pet a cute little tiger? It didn't take long for us to decide to progress. We had a really fun time, despite the cold and rainy weather. We saw lots of unique animals and were amazed we got to go into a kangaroo population that was completely open without fencing or wires and saw a cute little baby in a mommy's pouch. Only one hour away and having great scenery to view along the drive - we will be coming back to visit this zoo often when the weather warms up.
On Sunday, it was market day. All of us were sick with colds except Andrew and Ella. That meant a pretty inactive day of in-house play. I went to the market and picked up some fruits and veggies, eggs, butter and bread. Later, Andrew got out for a walk, roaming randomly around the city. The girls have not been on their best behavior lately, so I think between my cold and that, Andrew and I were basically just allowing each other to take breaks from the chaos.
On Monday, it was finally back to school for all of the girls. Grace and Mia were feeling much better. Hoping for another successful day at school, I dropped them off and left to seek out my own personal adventure. My initial plan was to head straight home and take a nap. I hadn't slept well the night before and I felt just awful. But then I kicked my own butt and decided to start walking and I did that for about 2 hours. I discovered a community swimming center, a huge running track, and noticed that most stores are closed on Mondays. On my way back home, after thinking about this non-stop after a view of my reflection into a store window, it became my goal to find a place to make an appointment for a haircut and color. Having felt like my wardrobe and footware were not up to snuff and my hair "style" growing out, I have been feeling a little ragged and gross. It turns out I couldn't find an open hair salon, so instead I went to get a manicure and pedicure. There is a place across the street from my apartment that I have seen before so I went there and just my luck - she could fit me in maintenant (right now)! This was not a typical manicure and pedicure - atypical in the sense that I was lying down on a massage table the whole time and there was not water immersion for foot soakage - but it actually was totally fine! It was here that I decided I should pamper myself more and my excuse was that it helps me have French small talk and learn to speak better French. Good plan, right?
When I got to school that night, I had the misfortune of the head of the school telling me that Grace and Mia were not acting well. Specifically, they were not putting toys away, had very poor manners at the lunch table and were loud and whiny. I have devoted a whole blog post to this, as it really caused me distress and embarrassment! Let's just say that Monday night, we practiced our manners at the dinner table and we practiced cleaning up. And Ella practiced telling Grace and Mia just what they needed to do to be perfect just like her ; ) She loved it.
Today, Tuesday, I had made an appointment with the plumber to come over. Our water heater had been dripping. The plumber visit was pretty uneventful but as I stated above, it proved to be very good practice for my French. He spoke little English. I now know 100% more words about bathrooms, water heaters and thermostats then I did yesterday!
After the plumber left, I had a big chore ahead of me. The past 4 nights putting the girls to bed have been painful. I am sure they are extra painful because most of our lives, Andrew and I have considered ourselves masters of the bedtime ceremony. No dilly dally, no getting out of bed, no crying. But lately in Caen, we put them to bed at 8 pm and they are still up joking and laughing like they are at the Comedy Club until 10 pm! And this includes 8 visits from us with scolding, punishments (no TV for a week) and threats (if I have to come in here one more time, I will separate your bedrooms tomorrow and there will be no more sleeping together. No more Madeline.) . None of it worked. So today I moved around the rooms while the girls were at school. I mean, if you say you are going to do something, you HAVE to do it! So I spent a large part of the day taking apart beds and moving mattresses and rugs and dismantling our little world of Madeline. The end result was fine. Ella loved her new digs and tons of space and the twins did, too. Let's face it. Madeline is just a character in a book. She sleeps and eats and walks in straight lines with girls that have probably been sent off to private school - which you probably have to be at least 8 years old for? So to expect 3 and 5 year olds to stick with the program is just plain over optimistic and slightly crazy. So in the end maybe I had to adjust my thinking, our children's thinking, and our furniture. But I can tell already that they know why it had to happen and not much resistance was received tonight at bedtime. Ella did say she didn't want to sleep alone as I was leaving her room for the night. However, I reminded her as to why it had become necessary. I have also started to play Pachelbel's Canon at bedtime to help lull the girls to bed and they have enjoyed this very much.
All in all, I think it's best to stay flexible. Visions of perfection and happiness that you had three days ago can change so quickly. If you remain incapable of constantly reevaluating situations, then you set yourself up to fail. Andrew and I could continue to let the girls all sleep together in the same room and yell at them 10 times each night to go to bed, just to preserve our dreams about a Kids Stash, a perfect playroom and living a scene out of a Madeline book. But realistically, they need the sleep and will forget in one day about the changes that have taken place.
Tomorrow brings Wednesday. The day of leisure for the girls and myself. A day of adventure and exploration of this new country where we reside. What will happen? Where will we go? Only tomorrow and Google maps will know...
Pictured above: Kangaroo with baby in pouch, the girls at the zoo on a statue, Mia looking at the bear.