Happy Easter!

So, as I understand this Easter thing (it’s so long and complicated… it requires knowing a series of events other than waking up, running to your pink basket and eating candy for hours before your parents subject you to over-cooked honey-baked ham), baby Jésu died on a cross a few days ago and now, today, zombie Jésu bust outta some rock in the middle of the desert. Why? I’m not sure, but I assume it was to save us from cold weather and create sunny days in the coming springtime.

Then, why is it so damned cold in Paris? It’s April 4. I already packed my coat (as I leave in two days), and I’ve come to regret this decision. Why have zombie Jésu’s efforts to make us warm and happy failed? Because France is “laïque.” France supposedly gave up on Jésu a couple centuries ago… or maybe a century ago, when they officially created the separation of Church and state in 1905.

Or, maybe, it’s because there are all these Mus-lams taking over our good, value-filled, Christian… uh… I mean… laïc country! They supposedly don’t integrate into our culture, and I’m sure this has upset zombie Jésu… and even baby Jésu… I’m sure the Jews are responsible somehow too… I was watching the Passion of the Christ with Mel the other day, and he explained to me that the Jews were indeed the people who viciously killed little baby Jésu.

But in France, we’re not allowed to officially hate on Jews any more, so let’s go back to them Ay-rabs… I mean… Mus-lams… I mean… what’s the difference? Even if they’re not Muslim, they’re all a little more brown than us, and we all know baby Jésu was blond, pale, and pasty… the way God wanted it. And you know they’re all plotting terrorist attacks… maybe… Those kids out in the suburbs burned some cars a few years ago, so obviously we’re in a war zone…

So, baby… well, zombie Jésu… look. France still doesn’t allow gay marriage… We hate on Mus-lams as much as we possibly can… and about 10 percent of our people voted for the racist, extremist right party in the elections a few weeks ago. Won’t you please give us some warmth and sun on this early-April pascal morn?


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Si j’amais la culture populaire française, si…

I was at the corner earlier today. While le Puy des Arts usually features on its television sporting events, such as Serbian basketball, for the last few days, the télé has been turned to popular music. I’ve seen the Lady Gaga / Beyoncé video for telephone at least fourteen times now. I looked up at a moment to discover one of the rarities of whatever channel is comparable to VH1 à la française – a song in French.

Since the primary lyrics to the song are “si l’on s’aimait…”, I figured upon my return home, I would be able to find this song by searching … well, “si l’on s’aimait.” I was motivated to search for it because I was bombarded with… Frenchness upon trying to drink my second or third café crème of the afternoon. In addition, I was confused, as I thought it was a sort of “We Are the World” effort for gay marriage. This piqued my interest, as I evidently am in the process of becoming a master of French social issues.

Upon searching, I realized it wasn’t part of a movement for gay rights. It was just French.

Evidently, les Foirés is some collectif of singers who get together and sing über-French pop hits to raise money to feed hungry people. I guess that’s a noble effort as well… Nonetheless, I now have this wretched melody stuck in my head and images of hyper-francitudinal folks singing in that super-Frenchy way, which makes it obvious why nasally, mumbly French-language music has not had the same culturally imperial fortitude as English. The gestures and “dance” moves captured in the video are also typically French. While Amerikan artists go to the trouble of choreographing dances and movements, French pop artists have evidently decided that looking happy is enough of an effort.

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Your mama just poked you…

Uh… My parents are not what you would call technology savvy. They had the same TV for about 15 years, and when it shat out recently, the purchase of a new, fancy-fangled flatscreen TV became the ever-present topic of each conversation conducted over Skype from France to Kansas for three weeks. I, of course, mean I called the house phone (at least it’s been cordless for a good 15 years now) from my computer. I figure asking my parents to download Skype and figure out how to use it would just be too much.

My parent’s out-of-date-ness… or perhaps their fear of all these new advances in Web technology has historically created a relationship with my family that I only have with my family. It’s pretty 1980s. It consisted of phone calls and person-to-person interactions only. I do have a few cousins with whom I am facebook friendies. Otherwise, it’s always been good, olde-fashioned vocal and visual inter-connectivity. This differs from the majority of my friendships, which consist of occasionally hanging out (especially among my friends from Kansas who have dispersed across the nation, such as myself) and more frequent gmail chats, facebook wall posts, and replies to status updates.

My parents and I began engaging in modern communication this last summer when I was in France. By this, I mean e-mails. I know both my parents have had e-mail accounts for years now, but before I left, I had to ask them what their e-mail addresses were. Having seen my mother check her e-mail account (which I assume would be much like watching Marie Antoinette operate a car that had suddenly appeared in the middle of 1790s Paris, which for her sake, would have really helped out), I knew this would not be the most efficient means of communication.

You can imagine my surprise three weeks ago when I opened my e-mail one morning to find a message from Tom. “Susan Thaxton (yeah… it’s a family name… I kind of like it… I think… If I ever have a daughter, her middle name might be Thaxton… I can’t believe those words just came out of my fingers) Lattin has added you as a friend on facebook.” Uh… say wha? That’s my mother’s name…. right next to a facebook befriending announcement. I went through and made sure my facebook offering were appropriate (it’s odd how you don’t care what embarrassing info is out there in the world until your mama adds you on facebook). I did this, as it appears that’s what you do, but what I found was that, in reality, my life is pretty damn boring. No privacy settings necessary.

I called my mother the next day. It’s both interesting and telling to observe the responses to technology among people who never had it. I, myself, see 11- years-olds with cellular telephones and think to myself, “that little bastard. I didn’t have a mobile until I was 20.” My mother recounted to me in astonishment all the things you can do on facebook. “Oh, it’s great, Patrick. I’ve found all these friends from high school. Though there is this one guy who I want to de-friend already. I don’t want to look at all his bullshit Republican propaganda.”

As my mother is a high school teacher, we then devoted a good twenty minutes to establishing rules on befriending students… as though nobody has ever done this… After listening to my mother list every student she wouldn’t mind being facebook friends with and those she wouldn’t want on there, I finally bust in with the solution that is obvious to anyone who has ever been on facebook. “Mom, enough already. Just tell your students you won’t befriend them out of principle whilst they’re your students. You can add your favorite students after they graduate, so you can keep in touch.”

My mother’s facebook existence then led to my own accumulation of new friends – my aunt, an old family friend, and my brother, who I had no idea was on facebook. Then, all activity ended….

Until yesterday. I will admit, I’ve neglected my sonly obligations… I went to Germany for the weekend and have not been spending as much time sitting in front of my computer for hours on end this week. So, I haven’t called in a good week. This prompted two facebook actions from my mother.

The first was a message. To be honest, I couldn’t tell if it was some birthday-reminder application with which my mother had become fascinated or something she had devised herself. The message:

“Thinking about you and your upcoming birthday. Did you know that the Titanic hit the iceberg on April 14… didn’t sink until the 15th. Also, Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14 but didn’t expire until April 15th. Just some interesting little factoids about your birthday and of course the famous (infamous) Patrick Thomas Lattin’s birthday will be celebrated on this day.

How was your trip?

Love, Mom”

Reading this made me realize something. I’ve never known my mother in writing. Since our interactions have always relied on oral communication, I’ve never really read anything my mother has written… except maybe a note à la “going to the store. Be back in a bit.” I had this same realization last summer with my father. As I was in France and our schedules made it difficult to interact by phone, we exchanged e-mails. It’s funny. Both my parents have college degrees – my father in communications and my mother in English education and a master’s in special education. Hence, I’ve never had any doubt that my parents knew how to write, but as I’d never read anything by them, I had never thought of them different than they manner in which they speak.

I, personally, think I write just like I talk… or vice versa. I ramble… but I also create pre-meditated rhetoric. I’m neurotic in all my actions. I think before I speak, essentially, which might make the fact that I still say half the shit I do quite alarming. But I think most people are inherently different in person than in writing.

The second facebook action, which I didn’t notice until this morning was there on the right side of my screen: “Susan Thaxton Lattin has poked you. Poke back.”

That made me uncomfortable.

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RIP: Saarlandische Zigarette-Shanty 2004-2010

This past weekend, whilst returning from a visit to see a friend in Heidelberg, Deutschland, I stopped off in Sarreguemines, France. If you’ve never heard of Sarreguemines… well, that’s normal. Most French people don’t even know where that is. I, however, had the pleasure of living in this quaint (meaning relatively boring) little town in the Moselle (the northeastern département of the region of Lorraine, which you might have heard of in the context of Alsace-Lorraine, the two regions historically slutted back and forth between France and Germany) for seven months during the 2004-2005 academic year. At the lycée Jean de Pange, I worked as an English teaching assistant, which primarily consisted of staring at little French bastards thinking about how I could never possibly be a teacher.

If in Paris people say that I’m a foreigner and speak to me in English, that wasn’t the case in Sarreguemines. After realizing I wasn’t a Frenchy, people would start speaking to me in German. You might think this has something to do with my height or blondness, but my students had names such as Lutz, Mueller, and such ridiculously long Germanonames as Wingenheimerschulenbach. That’s a little bit of an exaggeration… a little.

To better explain Sarreguemines’ proximity to Germany, I frequently recount that I would walk from my apartment down a hill, over a bridge, around a corner, and across another small bridge to go to Hanweiler, Germany. Why would I make this relatively frequent pilgrimage to a German town even less exciting than Sarreguemines? ZIGARETTEN!

In Germany, a pack of cigarettes is cheaper than in France. In Germany, for the same price essentially as a pack of 20 cigarettes, you can get a big pack of 24. I realize this isn’t that impressive, but when you’re living on a meager monthly stipend, you try to cut corners (although not quitting smoking, evidently). If that means walking a kilometer to get to another country, so be it.

I have fond memories of what I’ve always called the Cigarette Shanty. It was a tiny white building resembling an outhouse. It sat there just west of the bridge, upon which you could see two signs, one indicating you had left Sarreguemines and one that you had entered Hanweiler. The fact that you had just crossed an international border was in no way recognized.

From what others told me in the smoking teacher’s lounge (which still existed back in 04-05), people drove from far and wide to stock up on slightly cheaper cigarettes at this tiny little shanty, which inevitably was the busiest enterprise in Hanweiler, Germany.

Upon my visit, I told my friend I was gonna walk over to Germany real quick to visit my old cig shanty. I made it to the bridge and walked across. The door to the cig shanty was closed, dead-bolted. “What’s going on,” I asked myself. I walked across the street to a newer, bigger shanty with a sign reading: TABAK – BISTRO. I walked in and purchased an Orangina and a pack of ciggies. The man behind the counter didn’t even bother speaking to me in German. He bust straight into French. It was an odd sensation to be taken for a Frenchy. I was somewhat disappointed, as this would prove an opportunity to practice my (now ever-fading) German.

It was, after all, at the Zigarette Shanty that I had my first encounters with German. At the time, I lived with two Germans, so it was actually at home that I learned my first random words in German – pot holder, hot pad, apple, juice, bitch, whore, asshole… I remember my first time visiting the shanty. I was so nervous I wouldn’t know what to say, but my roommate assured me all I’d have to say was, “Ein Big Pack Marlboro Lights bitte.” It was so easy. Eventually, I’d add in niceties, like “Hallo,” “Vielen Dank,” and “Tschüss.” As my German got better, I also found myself explaining to the Sarregueminois more and more in German that I didn’t speak Germany, which was confusing.

Anyway, I returned to my friend’s house from my little walksy and recounted to her (a teacher with whom I once worked and chatted daily in the salle de prof fumeur) the cigarette shanty not being open. Her response broke my little heart. It had closed… forever. The bigger, newer, fancier Cigarette House had won out, causing the shanty to go out of business. However, the remains of my shanty still sit there, a reminder of simpler days gone by, of a time when French folk only required four shoddily constructed walls and a tin roof  to exploit transnational pricing differences in tobacco products. I guess that’s how the world works. Build a bigger building and add some cheap booze and German nudey mags, and people forget all the cheap cigarettes that good-ole shanty had brought them…

Well, here’s to you, ZigShanty. Vielen Dank. Tschüss.

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le rolls

So, I’m a creature of habit. I pick one thing and go with it for a while… usually until I find something new or get sick of what I had previously chosen. Back when I only had a CD player in my car, I’d put in one CD and listen to it for a few months, usually inciting a hatred among my friends of riding in my car (oh, I miss Okrah Winfrey) and of whatever musik I happen to be listening to. Earlier this year, I decided I needed to eat more cabbage, so I essentially ate cabbage soup at least five times a week for a month or two. Still, when I go to Free State Brewery in Lawrence, Kansas (oh, man, I miss that too), I get a Cyclist (panaché, lemonade & blonde beer) and either the basil-ciabatta sandwich or the fish & chips. I don’t change. Sometimes I also get the cheddar ale soup.

Now that I’m in Paris, I haven’t changed. I go to the boulangerie during the day for lunch several times a week and get the same thing – a chicken sandwich and something called a rolls. Each time I order this pastry, similar to a pain au chocolat but more chocolatey and undoubtedly even worse for you, I order by saying, “et… je prendrai un roll.” Clearly, the name of this pastry comes from English. As an Amerikan, I speak English… somewhat well, I’d say, but it’s all relative.

Every time I order a rolls, the woman repeats back to me, “et un rollzzzzz.” I’m always fairly certain that she emphasizes the S at the end to demonstrate to me that I’ve mispronounced the name of the pastry. What she inevitably does not realize is that when I order a roll sans S, what I’m actually doing is demonstrating that the S at the end of rolls makes it plural, so when I order one, it’d be a roll.

This is my one-man battle to indoctrinate Frenchies with something resembling a basic comprehension of the English language. It’s not that complicated really. An S at the end of a word indicates plurality in French, as well.

I’m sure this thought has already crossed your mind if you’re actually reading this blog post, but the worst part of this one-man war on bad English among the general French populous (a battle that thousands of English teachers, frequent interaction with Anglophones, and constant submission to English-language musik and entertainment hasn’t come close to winning) is that this is what I spend my time thinking about…

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happy ME day


So, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day, and I’m in France. Evidently, the tradition of everyone getting drunk and boasting Irish heritage in the perpetuation of cultural stereotypes hasn’t quite caught on here with the same fortitude as it has in Amerika. Either that, or I don’t have any friends…. which is also inherently true…

Nonetheless, happy Saint Patrick Day from France. Thank God Paddy brought Christianity to Ireland, setting an environment for a more civilized, peaceful society to come!

On a related note, I totally forgot that Jennifer Aniston was in Leprechaun. Man, that’s gotta be embarrassing for her, though at the time, I’m sure it seemed like a great opportunity.

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On the subjekt of German advertising…

So, as I spent more time than I’d like to admit watching Haribo commercials on YouTube, I was reminded of the banned German Sprite commercials that I once watched on YouTube and decided to look for them. I couldn’t find them… Evidently, Sprite (or maybe 7-Up) fellatio is inappropriate or something. However, I did find these gems, which reminded me why I want to be German.

In case you’re in a locale where watching inappropriate commercials might be considered of ill-taste, I’d recommend that you don’t watch this next one, which is for an English-learning program, whereas the condom commercial I just linked to was actually appropriate for any viewing space, except maybe a Catholic / Evangelical Church… or in Arkansas, but what’s the difference really? I would also recommend that children not watch this:

And there you have it… what I do with my life!

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