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The traveler: An expected journey This time it's the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden & Norway before England again for several weeks and on to Croatia.

France: the second language and second pair of neighbors

FRANCE | Tuesday, 27 October 2015 | Views [159]

I have indeed fallen behind in sharing my travels with you! However the last month of my trip will not go amiss. Now I am home again and no longer planning my next stay I hope to finish with my trip postings in the next couple weeks.

My last night in Switzerland I started learning a few phrases in French. Even before I reached the French boarder though everyone had switched from German to French. In Geneva I was surprised to find that there was a boarder control for all of the trains leaving Geneva for France. Switzerland is after all not a part of the EU. They simply waved me through though before going back to their conversation.
Once I was actually in France I saw again the friendly faces of two neighbors. What a welcome change to speak freely in English without worrying about forgetting or mispronouncing a few unfamiliar words. We went for a relaxing walk around the town of Anncey; through the old streets, by the lake and past the differing display gardens in the park. Then I boarded the bus to their friends with whom I was staying.
It always takes a little time to get a feel for new people, or in this case those I'd met once many years ago. Our intentions of talking and getting to know each other were good, but hindered a bit by the fact that my French vocabulary consisted of about a dozen words, while the Mother's English was a bit better than my French, the father spoke only French, and the 2 kids who spoke English were out at school or work for the majority of the time. By the end of my 3 day stay though we'd gotten much better at communicating, though not through any improvement in my language skills. We had many laughs as we tried to find the right way to express what we were thinking and a few visits to Google Translate.
The next morning the mother and I met up again with my two neighbors and drove into the wet mountains. After passing some time walking around a small town, and collecting cheese to add to our picnic we drove up slightly higher as the day thankfully dried off a bit. We ate beneath a menu sign for a restaurant, which was closed for the season. Our beautiful spread appeared to be the food denoted by the sign. Once we'd eaten we set off on a walk around a mountain lake with the ringing of cow bells. With interest we examined the zip lines which ran across the lake, but unfortunately were closed for the season.
On the drive back we stopped at a working watermill museum. First they explained a bit about the history and process of the timber harvest (in French). I received the summarized, translated version from my neighbor along with what I gathered from watching the gestures. We all watched with fascination though as they started up the saw and it cut along the length of a tree. It was surprisingly noisy, and easy to imagine how dangerous it probably used to be. Outside we learned about the ways they once moved the trees from the slopes to the mill. I still don't see how the trees would have "slid" on the snow very well, even if it were down hill. The pulley system up and down the slope seemed like a much better innovation.
Once back at the house everyone chipped in in making 7 pizzas for the full table of family and guests. Outside next to the garden from which some of our picnic had come the farther was in charge of cooking the pizzas in the pizza oven. The mother's parents, who lived just next door, would bake bread every week in their outdoor oven, but the husband preferred to use their oven for pizza instead. Perhaps not surprisingly with so many pizzas there were left overs at the end of the evening.
Come the next morning we set off with my neighbor's brother in the rain once more. Rather than go for the hike in the mountains which we'd planned on we ended up having lunch first where my small salad and omelet came out on a much larger plate than I had expected with the addition of French Fries as well. What else would you expect in France?
Due to the still heavy rain outside we headed for a museum of rural French life. Though the descriptions were of course in French the exhibits themselves communicated the most. There was a collection of farming tools, a shoe shop, a wooden craft shop, a draper's, a kitchen, bedroom and a school room to name most. Perhaps one of the most interesting objects was a chair in the bedroom which ingeniously unfolded into a short step ladder. What an idea! In the school room each double desk had ink wells set into it, which my neighbor remembered using at one point in school. In the shoe sector we admired the heavy wooden shoes that used to be common. Certainly no one would win a race in them despite their style.
When we later emerged from the museum we stepped into a completely different world of sunshine, vanishing mist and mountains. My neighbors returned to their aunt's place in town while her brother and I drove back toward the friends with whom I was staying. While our kind chauffeur for the day and the father sat back to talk with a cigarette or two the mother took me up into her parents barn where their cat had a litter of 3 kittens. They were incredibly fluffy and small; small enough to fit in one hand. How amazingly cute all babies are!
For the last day of my stay their daughter took me with her into town in the new used car she'd just bought. For a couple years she'd been working with the Best Western Hotel in Anncey organizing group events and conferences. The day before she'd signed a contract to continue her work with them for several years to come. Apparently contracts are becoming more a thing of the past because of the employment regulations companies try to maneuver around. Meanwhile the son is in college playing football (soccer), and studying advertising. Because of the large emphasis on football he'll take an extra year to complete his studies. This sounds like the way to go to me. Why not make school more enjoyable?
In Anncey I met up with my neighbors once more and their aunt. Though she didn't speak English there were a few times she told my neighbors in French that we should just speak in English because she'd understood exactly what I said! The the four of us walked the short distance to the market where the street outside the normal shops was lined with locals selling all varieties of meat, cheese, fruits, and vegetables. What a joy to the eyes! My neighbors stocked up on cheese to bring back, though not nearly as much as another neighbor when I got to Italy!
We made our reservations at a Crepery for lunch before returning briefly to the aunt's place to deposit all of the goods from the market. Back at the Crepery we had 2 pages of crepes to pour over (luckily they came in English too). Unlike the white American crepes I've seen these were made of a brown, unrefined flour. The first one I had was with lettuce and goat cheese, and the second a desert crepe with chestnut cream. The latter has a light flavor, and is just a bit sweet. Imagine my surprise when I later found a jar of it not in France, but in Italy! After our delicious lunch I said goodbye to their amiable aunt and the three of us headed for the lake. For a very relaxing couple of hours we pedaled around a small portion of the lake with the warm sun showing it's face. The water was so clear you could see the sand very clearly as my young neighbor navigated around the tethered boats.
After a last walk around town and up to the local castle we made one last stop at the pastry shop where I collected a variety of slices of cakes and pies for my hosts due entirely to the help of my neighbor. Then it was time to say "Au revior" to my neighbors and head back for the birthday party at my hosts home that evening.
The daughter was throwing a surprise party for her boyfriend's 25th birthday. Unfortunately it appeared that their friends only spoke French too. So for the first part I simply hung out in the background, by now well accustomed to simply watching, and listening without understanding. When the daughter had a minute between bringing out the food she told me that their friends would like to talk to me, but didn't speak much English. With her translating some of the girls started a conversation. It gave them a bit of courage I think because after she was pulled away they continued to make an effort at talking. Compared to not speaking hardly any English they did quite well. They were very curious about America and me as well. I had an enjoyable time talking with them. They were very excited when one of them asked if I had any American dollars with me and I gave them one to look at. Were as all of our dollars are the same size, both Pounds and Euros vary in size depending on the denomination of the bill. I had found that concept quite odd at first. I still prefer our method though because it means all of the bills fit in my wallet, where as the 20 pounds and euros were a bit tight.
Throughout the party the young men and a few of the girls kept stepping outside to smoke. I'd grown accustomed to people smoking, but up until then I hadn't really been around young people smoking. It's a bit shocking because the vast majority of people I see smoking in this country are past their very early 20s. It's a bit sad, but there's also a different attitude towards it in Europe, perhaps less judgmental; it's common and accepted. I do think though that there's a bit less smoking in the UK compared to the continent. Unlike in America though everyone I met went outside to smoke whereas in this country people who smoke are likely to smoke inside as well it seems.
There were several later comers to the birthday party, which was surprisingly more in the realm of a dinner party than a college party. After the lasagna, fruit and cream or cakes, and the opening of the new soccer jersey a few people headed out probably around 11 pm. As I was on my way up to bed one of the late comers came up to me and said she was sorry she'd ended up at the other end of the table because she would really have loved to practice her English. We talked for a few minutes and I truthfully told her her English was prefect. I would have loved to stay longer, but I still had things to do and an early train the next morning. Before bed, sometime after midnight, I attempted to learn a last minute bit of Italian vocabulary in an effort to prepare for the language change the next day.
In the morning I took a few photos with the family I'd stayed with. The mother and I fell to pieces laughing when the father accidentally held down the button and took several dozen pictures of us in a row. It looks just like an old real of pictures from the early days of films. Then before long I was off on another one of Europe's wonderful trains, heading south for Italy.


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