Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Musings

The holidays make me melancholy.  I miss my children and friends and the non-stop party schedule that one gets used to during the Christmas season in America.  It is not unheard of, in America, to have, literally, ten or eleven invitations to various functions pinned to your bulletin board in the month of December.

Most weekend nights in December in America, Mr. Big and I would have to go to two or even three functions in one night.  This year, we had two.  In one MONTH.  (And, one of them we hosted, so it doesn’t even count.)  All of my little black dresses are rotting away in the closet with cobwebs hanging off of them.  The other function, besides our own little cocktail party, was affiliated with Mr. Big’s work.  Let me tell you about it.  (Please note that this was NOT Mr. Big’s party, i.e. I had nothing to do with it!)

Because Switzerland doesn’t have Halloween, they dress up in costumes here at Christmas time for parties and, also, on New Year’s Eve.  That’s why, last year, on my New Year’s blog post from Chamonix, you saw people in crazy wigs and kilts guzzling champagne in the streets.  They also dress up for bachelor/bachelorette parties.  If you are ever walking in the Flon (the club district in Lausanne) and see eight guys dresses up like Power Rangers pushing a baby stroller containing nothing but a guy in an oversized diaper, that is a bachelor party.  Swear to God.  No Atlantic City, titty bars or strippers, just Power Ranger costumes and a really big nappy.  Woo-hoo!

Anyway, Mr. Big’s Christmas party, oh, excuse me, HOLIDAY party, required Medieval costumes.    You know, I am the ultimate Corporate Wife, so I did my part and ordered an appropriate costume, like, three months in advance from Estonia.  I was a completely true-to-life peasant girl.  Mr. Big, who was in denial until approximately 36 hours before the party, finally had Right Hand Woman order something online at the last minute and it showed.  My costume was totally AUTHENTIC.  His was totally SYNTHETIC. 

His sword broke in half the first time he swashbuckled it.  Cheap Chinese piece of crap!  Gawd, can’t those Chinese eleven-year-olds do anything right?

Y’all.  It was bizarre.  Picture this.  An actor troupe, dressed in Medieval clothes, acting out various skits in MEDIEVAL FRENCH to a group of 100 or so people who don’t even speak modern French.  There were gymnastics, cat fights, a lot of yelling and screaming and some crazy wine called mead which tasted like fermented peat moss. 

There was a real, live baby in a basket, who I am pretty sure was not supposed to be Moses, for some unknown reason.  Tres bizarre.  I don’t even think the Swiss people (all two of them) got it.  Anyway, I looked fabulous, so that’s all that matters.

And then, the band started playing lost ‘80’s hits and that was all she wrote.  Imaging dancing with Henry VIII, Charlemagne and Joan d’Arc to Loggins and Messina and you are starting to get the picture.


Otherwise, the holidays here make me melancholy.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  As soon as Charming Daughter arrives in 3 days, I will totally be alright again.  Then, on Christmas Day, two of our dear friends are coming and, finally, the next day, Small Son and New Girlfriend arrive.  Yes, that means that we are going to the Geneva airport three days in a row, but that is FINE!  I can’t wait.

My feelings of nostalgia make me harken (now, there’s a medieval word for ya!) back to the days when the kids were small.  People love their children when they are small.  It is so easy to love your children when they are small, because they look so cute and they say the cutest things.  You just want to EAT them, they are so cute.  Then, they get to be about 7 or 8, and it becomes a little more difficult to love them ALL of the time.  Because they are starting to get their own attitudes, which are, oftentimes, not so cute, and, oftentimes, not exactly in line with what you want them to do.  Where you used to have these perfectly cute little specimens of humanity who bowed to your every whim, suddenly, POOF!  They start to have their own opinions.  Excuse me, Small Son, but I really don’t care that everyone else is wearing Sponge Bob boxer shorts to school and letting them hang out of the tops of their blue jeans.  You, Sir, are wearing your little tightie whities and you will like it!

I am even so far gone that I am feeling nostalgic about their middle school years.  Jeez, they were jerks, but I still loved them.   Remember those times when you were doing the dishes and you would find the little rubber bands from their braces on the side of the plate?  Gross!  And they would fight with each other for “touching” each others’ stuff and each others’ bodies.  Remember that?  MOM!!!  He is touching me!!!  Small Son, back away from your sister and no one gets hurt.  Remember that?

So, y’all, I am waxing nostalgic here and involving you.  Sorry!  I will continue on in the next post about how difficult it is to keep on keepin’ the faith through their teenage years.  Finally, (the whole point of this post), I will reflect on how nice it is that they are grown and what that means when they come and visit you.

Getting back to Switzerland, I also want to touch on more of the holiday traditions here and how ex-pats can better prepare for them.  For instance, the concept of a Christmas tree stand into which one puts water is anathema to them.  I’ll explain later.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pre-Holiday Musings

Well, I’m back from America from the 16th annual Misfit Thanksgiving and already throwing myself into the Swiss Christmas Hoo-Haw.  We have got a lot to catch up on, so let’s get started.

In early November, Mr. Big had a meeting scheduled in Gdansk, Poland.  Would you like to go to Poland with me, Trailing Spouse?  Umm, I don’t know, really, Mr. Big.  WOULD I like to go to Poland? 

I was picturing a country entirely rebuilt from rubble after 1945 in communist-bloc style architecture, gloomy and gray, with an abundance of kielbasa shops and women wearing kerchiefs and army boots.  Stupid American!

Gdansk was great!  They did rebuild their city, but in a thorough and historic manner and it couldn’t have been prettier.  Stay at the Radisson Blu hotel but don’t eat the eggs on the breakfast bar.  They LOOK like fluffy mounds of deliciousness, but they are some unidentified powdered product. 

I haven’t spit anything into my napkin since I was six, but the busboy at the Radisson Blu can tell you that that is no longer true.

One of the best things we did was climb to the top of the tower at the Archeology Museum to enjoy the views of the whole city.  Fabulous.  Here’s a hint.

You don’t have to go into the museum proper, which we didn’t know, to climb the tower.  The tower is free and separate from the museum.  Oh well.  We did get a sick sort of thrill looking at all the exhibits of the skeletons that were displaced during the bombings.  Sadly, when a city gets annihilated, the cemeteries are blown sky high along with everything else. 

It is common practice in Europe to stack bodies in villages one on top of the other, century after century after century.  When the dust settled, Gdansk found itself knee-deep in a thousand years of jumbled bones.  Impossible to sort, obviously.

Their scientists, after the war and during reconstruction, picked some of the most interesting examples for display in the Archeology Museum.  The rest they reburied.  (I think in mass graves, but I didn’t want to be crass and press the point, even though I was morbidly curious.) 

So, they have skulls on display from the 1300’s that show what happens to a human head after a spear has been run through it.  They have all manner of examples of some seriously medieval dentistry issues.  Scurvy, dwarfism, malnutrition, various plagues, etc. can all be followed through the centuries via these poor folks who were upended and tossed willy-nilly in the 1940’s.  Creepy but fascinating.

The Polish food, by the way, was delicious.  Gdansk sits right on the Baltic so there was abundant fresh fish on the menus.  I did make Mr. Big order sausage one night just so we could say that we ate Polish sausage in Poland.  One restaurant, Velevetka, serving typical, regional food, is located in the cellar under the Tourist Information building right in the main square. 

Order either the meat platter or the fish platter.  That’s it.  The chef sends out a big platter with various kinds of either meat or fish and bowls of side dishes of his choosing.  It was all good.

Misfit Thanksgiving also involved many big platters.  Too many.  As usual, every time I return from the US to CH, I carrying an extra 5 pounds of body fat back, which, luckily for me, I could just transport on my stomach and hips, because there was no extra space in my baggage.  I thought for sure I would be singled out in security in one of the many airports I slogged through to go through the new Peek-A-Boo x-ray machines, simply because of the crazy crap in my luggage.

TSA:       Ma’am, you’ll have to come with me.  You’ve been selected for additional screening.

Me (feigning innocence):  Me?  Why, whatever for, Nice Officer Who Is About To See Me Naked?

TSA:       We cannot determine the nature of your carry-on items.

Me:        What?  Have you never seen a woman lugging a sewing machine, the seat and backrest of an Eames lounge chair, including down-filled insert, a bag of corn meal, a bottle of cream of tartar and a small container of allspice?  Really?  Where have you people been?

Y’all.  I took a brand new sewing machine (remember I blew up my last one?) through 4 airports and no one batted an eye.  Apparently, you can’t take a half-drunk bottle of water through security but various needles and a seam-ripper are OK.

Anyway.  Misfit Thanksgiving 2010.  Uneventful except for our walk-in fridge died halfway through dinner.  On any other night this would be a minor issue, but on Thanksgiving, one must guard the leftovers.  Many people, myself included, like the leftovers more than the meal itself.  A Thanksgiving without edible leftovers would be like, umm, something really bad. 

So, our pictures this year include shots of the two, glistening golden brown turkeys, the three tables set with sparkling china and stemware for 26 guests, a Martha-Stewart-Worthy rum cake with caramel sauce brought by one guest who is DEFINITELY invited back next year, and . . .

shots of the asses of Mr. Big and Small Son hanging out of the ceiling as they try to repair the refrigerator.  Lovely.

Now, it is back to normal life in Switzerland and I am checking our outfits for his work Christmas party.  Long blond braids?  Check.  Chainmail head gear?  Check.  Sword?  Check.  Ahh.  Switzerland.  You see, they have no Halloween.  (No Halloween and no Thanksgiving.  No wonder they always look so dour!)  But they like to dress up in costume just as much as the next guy, right?  Dilemma, dilemma.  I know!  Let’s dress up at Christmas parties!  Done.

Last year, when we were just newbies, we didn’t realize that the invitation was serious until we arrived at his office party and everyone else was in some crazy get-up.  I was in an LBD and Mr. Big was in a suit and tie.  We told people we were dressed as the Clintons with better stylists.  They didn’t buy it.  THIS year, we are prepared.  The theme is Medieval Times.  Mr. Big is wearing tights.  I am going as the honest and hard-working peasant girl from the village who enjoys the occasional dalliance with the knight who lives in the castle on the hill.  THIS year we even have a backstory.  I hope we get some pictures early in the evening before Mr. Big starts to shed parts of his costume.  I cannot foresee him wearing those tights for more than, oh, 11 minutes or so.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Top Ten Lists for Ex-Pats That Really Mean Something

I am dedicating this post to those of you who are ex-pats and read this blog for stress relief or to have an “ah ha!” moment every now and then when you recognize yourself in one of my many foibles.  Dear friends and family who read this just to catch up with me, you can probably skip this one!

I am well into the “acclimatization” stage of our transplantation.  There comes a point, for ex-pats, where one has to decide if one is going to acclimate or if one is going to just fake it for the duration.  Basically, from my experience and in talking to other transplants, it boils down to how long one anticipates being “in country”.  If you think your assignment will be between 1 and 3 years, I’m sorry to break it to you, but, unless you are an EXTREMELY fast adapter, you are probably still going to consider yourself whatever-it-was-before-you-came even as you are packing your stuff for your return “back home”.   You will look, I hope fondly, back at your experience as a really, really long vacation involving multiple mishaps.

If, however, you anticipate a longer stay, say 3-10 years, there is a better-than-even chance that you will come to see yourself as quasi-Swiss or quasi-Ugandan or quasi-Whatever.  These are the people who fall off the ex-pat radar on the internet because they have actually made  a REAL life in their new country and no longer rely on ONLY other ex-pats or countrymen for support.  I promise not to become one of THOSE people!  (Don’t worry, I’m nowhere near that stage, yet.)

To help you better acclimate, I’m going to give you the low-down, the nitty-gritty, the skinny, on some of the bigger hurdles you must learn to jump.  For those of you who are reading this who have just found this blog and are only in the beginning stages of your overseas adventure, STOP READING RIGHT NOW, or you will never do it!  Go back to the beginning of the blog and read from there.  Please.  OK, I warned you.

Top Ten Scariest Things To Overcome

10.          Ordering food in a restaurant from a menu that you can only decipher every 5th word.
9.            Shopping for clothes, shoes, etc. in completely different sizes than what you are used to when the sales person does not speak your native language.
8.            Buying a bus/train/tram/metro ticket from a machine or person that does not offer your native language.
7.            Buying fruit, veg, meat, cheese, etc. from a vendor in an outdoor market in metric quantities
6.            Going in a teeny, tiny shop where the salesperson is intimidating as opposed to shopping in big stores where the salesperson is nonexistent.
5.            Answering someone on the street or in the bus or wherever who directs a question at you in your “new” language.
4.            Making an appointment with a doctor/dentist/dermatologist, hair dresser/dog groomer, etc.  in another language.
3.            Conducting any banking or monetary business in a foreign language.
2.            Making friends outside your comfortable ex-pat circle with people who don’t speak your native language.

And, the #1 scariest thing:  Getting into a conflict, i.e. an accident, anything involving the police, an irate landlord, etc. in your new language.  TERRIFYING!!!

Did you notice a theme here?  Unfortunately, if you do not learn your new language beyond “hello, goodbye, thank you, I would like a beer, etc.” you are never going to get past #6.  Learning the language, including verbs!, separates the men from the boys.  There’s no other way around it.  Sorry.

Well, don’t you know, that Mr. Big, who is in no way, shape or form, ready to encounter Scary List Item #1, did just that.  Yes.  He nailed some poor guy in another car and it involved police and the whole nine yards and it was completely his fault.  Later, when he got home and told me of his Swiss Encounter of the Worst Kind, I was in shock.

ME:  Mr. Big!  What did you do?

MR. BIG:  I stood around and looked stupid.

ME:  Did you go to the police station?

MR. BIG:  No, it all took place right there in the middle of the street.

ME:  What do you have to do now?

MR. BIG:  I have absolutely no idea.  I don’t think I have to do anything.  I just signed some papers and they let me go.

ME:  What papers did you sign?

MR. BIG:  I have no idea.

So, dear Mr. Big may or may not be going to jail.  He may or may not owe somebody some money.  We just don’t know.  These are the kind of things that happen on an ex-pat assignment.  One must just accept that these curveballs will be thrown from time to time and then one must either learn to duck or get hit in the head.

Top Ten Signs That You Are Adapting to Your New Country  (I admit that these are skewed from an American adapting to a European point of view.  Sorry!)

10.  When you open your closet, it’s like being sucked into a Black Hole.  All colored items have slowly been weaned out and only black is allowed to come in.  You do not find this depressing.
9.    You stop drinking mixed drinks and abandon the idea of ice in a beverage all together.  Ice just becomes something you scrape off your windshield or avoid on the roadway.
8.    You automatically check that you have at least 50 dollars/francs in your wallet before going out to lunch with your girlfriends.  You are not surprised when your bill is 48 dollars/francs for a salad and a glass of wine.
7.    You stop worrying that your grown children are going to become homeless beggars without you living near them.  You begin worrying that they don’t need you at all.  But then, they call and ask for money so you chide  yourself for being so ridiculous.
6.    Gypsy beggars with one leg and a baby no longer merit a second glance but a fat person does.
5.    People think you look like a local and ask YOU for directions on the street.  You are able to answer them.
4.    Loud conversation in public causes you to turn your head to see what all the fuss is about.
3.    You come to accept that dressing appropriately for even the most horrendous weather renders it a nonissue and you must now find something else to complain about.
2.    You stop practicing anticipated dialogue in your head hours in advance of leaving the house.

And the number 1 sign that you have adapted?  You initiate a conversation with a total stranger without a second thought.  (I have never done this.  Just thinking about it gives me an anxiety attack.)

Now, I am off to America for the Thanksgiving holidays.  While I am there I will be attending my 30th High School Reunion and probably gathering material for a new blog entry about people who still act 18 but are actually 48.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back to Tuscany

Sorry, I got sidetracked there with my French class.  I was going to give you some more scoopage about Tuscany, since approximately 95% of you will, some day, want to visit there.  After we woke up in Granny’s hotel there in Castelfiorentina, with aching backs from the concrete bed and being diligent not to flush too vigorously lest we violate the plumbing protocol, we crept downstairs and snuck out without breakfast.  We were convinced that if La Familia had seen us, we would have been forced to consume vast quantities of oatmeal and unidentified pork products.

So, we run to the car, complaining all across the plaza about our stupid backs and how it sucks getting old, scoop the map up off the floor and zoom out of Castelfiorentina in a very stealthy and sneaky manner.  Did you miss the part where I scooped up the PAPER map?

The men who are reading this are saying, “what, is Mr. Big some sort of Neanderthal?  Has he never heard of GPS?”  In Europe, never, ever, ever trust a GPS.  Yes, it is correct about 80% of the time, but it is that other 20% of the time which causes divorce proceedings to begin.  I cannot tell you how many times the woman on the GPS, with whom I am convinced that my husband is secretly in love,  says “take the second exit in the roundabout and continue 8 kilometers”.

Dutifully, like the robotic GPS follower that he is, Mr. Big takes the second exit on the roundabout and trundles on down the road, never stopping to wonder why THE ACTUAL ROAD SIGNS in the roundabout did not correspond to his desired course.  

Eight kilometers later, down the wrong road, (which I knew was the wrong road 8 km ago but have been biting my tongue),  we are invited by Mr. Big’s secret GPS lover to “please make a U-turn as soon as possible”.  THIS is when I subtly shake out the REAL map and find an alternate route.  Ladies, pay attention.  This is never a good time to pour salt in the wound.  No “I told you so”, no “well, if you had only listened to your wife instead of blindly following that godforsaken GPS”, etc.   I have learned through many a screaming match that it is just not worth the lung expansion.  Here are some key phrases you must master when trying to get a tried-and-true GPS follower to abandon his beloved device and take direction from you and your (correct) Michelin paper map:

*Oh, honey, the GPS must just be out of sync/confused.  (Never say the GPS is wrong.  To men, the GPS is never wrong.  Ever.)

*Well, honey, you might try this little road here.  I’m not sure if it is right, but it is going in the right direction.  (Of course, you know that it is right.)

*Gosh, sweetie, I get confused too when your GPS girl says “haaalf left” or “haaalf right”.  Who wouldn’t, snookums?  Let’s just try taking that little road right there, shall we?

***All of the above must be delivered in HONEST TO GOD sincere tones with big, big eyes.  Y’all know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

Trust me, girls.  If you are going to Europe, get yourself a Michelin map and spot check everything your man’s GPS is telling you to do.  Follow the actual, real road signs, not the Garmins.  Europe, (well, except for Ireland, but that is another story) is well marked with directional signs.  Trust the signs!  They have been correct for 1,000 years!    The villages have not moved since William the Conqueror came and conquered!  If you are in a roundabout and trying to get to Small Village A, follow the signs to Small Village A, not the Garmin which is trying to get you to take the exit for Big Town.  GPS’s are programmed to always try to get you out to a big freeway, even if it means travelling many, many kilometers out of your way.  OK, enough.  Back to Tuscany.

Oh, wait.  My favorite Europe—Garmin story.  Some couple, NOT US, were driving to the island of Capri in Italy.  Hubby types “Carpi” into the Garmin by mistake.  Of course, they wind up in Carpi, Italy, which is about 500 kilometers away from their destination.  They go to the tourist information office in CARPI and ask where they might find their hotel.  Well.  You know the rest of the story.  The dude in the CARPI information center asks them why THEY DID NOT NOTICE that they never crossed A LARGE BODY OF WATER en route because CAPRI is an island.  They made the BBC news, the idiots.  Would have never happened if that wife had had a Michelin map.  I’m just sayin’.  True story, swear to God.

The area in Tuscany where they make Chianti wine is beautiful.  The villages like Castellina in Chianti, Panzano, and Radda in Chianti are all very picturesque.  The vineyards are open for tastings, but you really don’t even need to drive out to the vineyards.  Each village has local wine stores where you can taste and sample to your heart’s content.  (It’s all pretty much all red wine all the time, though, I’m just warning you!) 

We learned that REAL Chianti Classico from the region will always have a paper band around the top of the bottle with a rooster on it.  Who knew?

But the cutest town of all was Greve in Chianti.  And, the best hotel location in the village is the Albergo Del Chianti.    Here is the website:

Stay there.  You won’t regret it.  It’s right in the main plaza and it has a pool and a fabulous backyard bar/outdoor space.  Really nice.  We, of course, did not arrive in Greve in Chianti at an opportune hour to stay the night there.  We arrived at lunchtime where we enjoyed a delicious Italian 2-hour meal at the Ristorante Verrazzano.  For you history buffs, the man who discovered the Hudson Bay area in the 1500’s and after whom the famous NYC Verrazano-Narrows bridge is named after, was born in Greve.  Cool, huh?  Although, the Americans apparently screwed up the true spelling of his actual name because the MAN has two z’s, but the bridge only has one.  Sorry, dude!  Sorry, Italy!  Here is the website to the restaurant/hotel where we had lunch:

On we proceeded, using the paper map all the while, over hill and dale, on tiny dirt roads, through glorious scenery and impossibly quaint small villages, to Siena.  I would consider Siena the crown jewel of the places that we went in Tuscany.  This is rather a large city, but the quaint part is all happening perched up on the top of the hill in the really old part of the village located within the medieval walls.  I’m warning you right now, there are only 2 or 3 hotels up in this historic, quaint part.  Book early if you want to stay up the hill in the cool part!  Luckily, the NH Excelsior, right in the center had a room left and we took it, gladly.  NH hotels are a dime-a-dozen all over Europe.  Some are just OK, some are really nice, (comparable to Radissons or Sheratons).  Here’s the link:

Folks, Siena has great shopping, especially for leather products like shoes or bags.  (It also has fabulous old churches and buildings, etc., but I live in Europe and I’m getting used to that stuff!)  I bought a beautiful pair of leather riding boots for (compared to Switzerland) a good price, even though the only riding I do is on the number 9 bus.  But still.  Nice boots.

So, all around, a great weekend in Tuscany, if one doesn’t count the concrete bed.  On the way home we did stop in Parma (home of the famous Italian ham) for lunch and it, also, is a happening, upscale town.  Some of the others, out there in the “flatlands”, uh, not so much.  And, incredibly, we did drive through Carpi.  It’s no Capri, I can tell you that much.  Poor saps.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

French Kissing

Today was a banner day.  I had my 14th lesson in my new French class and I didn’t quit.  Yay, me!  If you remember back when I first moved here, I jumped right into a French school and I quit after my 13th lesson.  Well, now I’m going to this other school and I think some of it may be soaking in.  A little.  A very little.  But still!

It is making all the difference that there are other people in my class.  Last time, it was only me and I was petrified, PETRIFIED, I tell you, to speak, because everything I said was wrong and I felt stupid.  But, now that there are other people in class, it has become apparent that all of us SOUND STUPID!  We each have our moments of glory, mind you, however brief they may be, where we sound legitimate, but for the most part we sound stupid.  It is as if someone came up to you in America on the street and said, “Hello, ma’am”.  Then, with an incredibly awkward pause in between, finally said, “Could you me tell”, and then about 30 seconds later, finally spit out, “where is to the city center the bus appropriate?”.  You’d be like, um, what?  Could you say that again?  You see?  This is how speaking we are.  Like Yoda, but not as cute or famous.

I am amazed that my teacher does not spend the whole 3 hours just cracking up.  Really.  We are that bad.  We think we are good, but then we open our mouths and it goes something like this:

TEACHER:  Ma chere, je vous veux conjuguer le verbe “connaitre” dans le passé composer.

ME:  (Under my breath in forbidden English), OK, she wants me to conjugate the verb “to know” in the past tense.

TEACHER:  Oui.   (Because she heard everything I just whispered to myself in forbidden English).

ME:  Uh, …um, je, no, wait a minute, j’ai, uh…you said “connaitre”, right?  OK, OK, uh, j’ai connaitru, no, that’s not right, uh, it’s right here on the tip of my tongue, I swear, oh, maybe, j’ai connu?  YESSS!  J’ai connu!!  Final answer:  j’ai connu.

TEACHER:  Oui.  (And then, under her breath, in French, Oh, la, la.  When is lunch?)  Out loud, she says, Oui, et qu’est ce que les autres neuf pronoms et leur verbes?

ME:  (Whispering).  OK, she wants to know what the other nine forms of the verb are with their pronouns.  Oh, my God, when is lunch?

And on and on and on it goes.  It’s painful, I tell you.  PAINFUL.  I am nearing 50.  As a matter of fact, I may BE 50 by the time I conjugate this verb in the past tense.  But she is so cute, my new teacher, that I want to do well.  I want to make her like me.  It’s like Stockholm Syndrome!  I mean, I wish I spoke French just so I could be friends with her.  I’m sure she is really cool and Swiss and does grand things on the weekends like attend concerts and the theater and hobnob with fabulous people.  I’m sure she is a hit at all of the cocktail parties with her stories about her brain-dead students.  I, myself, have probably provided her with fodder to last throughout the upcoming holiday season.

But, today, my 14th lesson, was tres special.  Inadvertently, I made her tell us a swear word.  Let me just go on the record right now and tell you it was ALL HER FAULT.  Innocently enough, she asked me for a sentence containing the verb “to sleep” in the past tense.  So, my sentence was (in English here),” The princess slept until the prince came to kiss her.”  OK.  I was good until I got to “to kiss”.  I didn’t know the verb “to kiss” in French.  So I looked up at Teacher and said my favorite word in school, which is “uhhh?” as in, I don’t have a friggin’ clue.  And then, I guessed, and said “Bisou”?


It’s like in Alaskan Inuit.  You know how the Eskimos have 3 million words for the word “snow”?  Because their world revolves around frozen water?  The same thing goes here in the French language for the noun “kiss” and the verb “to kiss”.  So, here is cute little Teacher trying desperately not to blush as she explains “le crescendo” of kissing.  OK, right there, she earned her money today.  Did you know that, in French, the “crescendo” was the advancement of something going ever higher and higher?  Neither did I, but now I do.  It sounds much nicer to “va crescendo” than to “go up the ladder”, doesn’t it?

So en crescendo, here is how one kisses in French-speaking countries:

Un bec                                                  A tiny air kiss in the vicinity of the cheek

Gros becs                                            A few, slightly bigger pecks on either cheek, more sound than                                                                  contact, if you know what I mean

Bisou                                                     Actual contact with the cheek, among friends,
                                                               generic word for kiss

Bisous                                                   The act, in Europe, of giving multiple kisses on cheeks, upon
                                                               greeting, among friends

Gros bisous                                        Giving bisous to friends with gusto, may include actual         
                                                         lip-to-cheek contact and squeezing of shoulders or biceps

Je t’embrasse                                    An actual hug and kiss, perhaps even on the lips, heartfelt,
                                                          among good friends and close family

Gros/tendre baiser                         An intimate hug/kiss between lovers

BUT, BUT, BUT baiser (pronounced exactly the same way as the last one on the list above) is also a verb which means a very vulgar way to have sexual intercourse, as in the difference between saying “I want to make love to you” and “I’m going to **** you.”

Aaaaach!  Do you think Teacher was blushing by now?  Well, yes, she was.  I tried to reassure her.  I said, “Beloved Teacher, until I get much, much, much better in French, I will not come within 100 metres of the “baiser” word.  I will stick with “bisou”.

Do you think I will quit French now?  No, I will not.  At least not until I can conjugate baiser with all ten pronouns.

*****Hello, again.  I just have to tell you that in between the time I wrote this and the time I am sending this, I have learned that “baiser” is NOT the equivalent of F*** You.  It is only the equivalent of “screw you”, which is pretty benign.  So how cute is Teacher, who blushed and could not even bring herself to properly translate it?  Lawd knows what Miss Thang is going to do when I inadvertently stumble upon a REALLY bad word!

Since I have no pictures of any of the natives bisou-ing, I will post some pictures of downtown Lausanne and the surrounding canton de Vaud.  xoxoxo