Posts Tagged ‘france’

Grocery Shopping in France + iPhone Translator FAIL = Yet Another Expat Moment

Living in Europe is full of amazing adventures (wait until you see Tim’s coming blog on the latest and greatest castle we…uh, stumbled upon…) but it’s also full of frustrating day-to-day challenges.  Being an expat in a foreign culture has been known to draw out a side of yourself you didn’t know you had and at times, can even totally alter your personality.  I find myself being shy and quiet when I’m out and about (…say WHAT?!…) simply because I don’t know the language or the culture well enough to be my usual outgoing, gregarious self. I’m not sure if that’s such a bad thing (you were thinking it too, let’s be honest) but it is rather unfortunate when you can’t take part in the comical conversation in the line-up at the bakery or even strike up some friendly chit-chat with the check-out girl at the grocery store. 

And yet even if you successfully avoid those common interactions with a vocabulary of, oh…twenty words…you still get hammered every once in a while, just to make sure you’re not getting cocky. Today, I was humbled (again) by the ongoing culprit of grocery shopping…

Gets me every time…


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It started innocently enough.

Tim explained to Jack that we were borrowing Martin’s car for the morning and asked him where he’d like to go; France, Germany or somewhere in Switzerland.

“Let’s go to France!”, came the reply.  I chuckled to myself knowing that he had no idea how incredibly ridiculous it was that he could choose between three countries for a spontaneous family day trip.

After getting a bit of tedious shopping out of the way (hey! we have more than just wires hanging from our living room ceiling now!), we huddled back into Martin’s car and headed for the hills…well, I guess we actually headed away from the hills but let’s not get uptight about it…we were gettin’ out of Dodge!

At risk of sounding even more like my parents, we didn’t have any sort of plan in mind and just drove.  As a kid, we’d ask dad where we were going and would always get the reply “I don’t know! Ask the car.”  I still get control-freak goosebumps even thinking about how frustrating that stupid answer was.  But in this case, the car most likely did know better than us as to where we were going.  All Tim knew was that he relished in the refreshing 130 km/h speed limits where (get ready to be horrified Victoria peeps) everyone actually drives 130 km/h…and that was in the slow lane. Quelle horreur!

We pulled off and explored a few tiny french villages, eventually settling on Guebwiller, a town of just over 11,000 people.  Claim to fame: birth place of ceramicist Theodore Deck (right, so that’s not very fame-claim-worthy but let’s be honest — good ol’ Theodore just taught you a new word).

Ceramicist‘s aside, the town didn’t have a lot of mojo.  Of the 20 or so shops open, 18 of them were bakeries (seriously, what is in the water over here to keep these people skinny?!?!) but we did manage to find an incredibly authentic chocolate croissant (at a patisserie) and a coffee junkie’s dream of a Cafe au Lait (at a salon de thé). And this wasn’t your typical American latte.  Non non! This was a perfected double espresso paired with your very own single serving milk jug of frothy steamed milk.  Although what I’m about to do goes against everything I’ve ever learned in creative writing grammar classes, there’s no better explanation…



I think the only thing that could have made that cafe experience more enjoyable would have been Jack no longer picking his nose and yelling “KLEENEX!!” while simultaneously holding out his finger in my face every five minutes. But nevertheless, we were in France and it only took us twenty minutes to get there.

As we headed back to Basel, we felt a little bit ripped off, to be honest.  We didn’t do anything all that exciting and there’s nothing like a couple of bored four-year-olds to remind you of that.  The villages were quaint and cute but not really the kind of stuff to write home about. Oh, wait…

So what do you do when you have no idea what to do?

You ask the nearest toddler.

This time the boys insisted we head to the hills. And now I mean the real hills…the ones in the distance with the trees of white and random castles seeming to hang in the sky.  We promptly put away the Tom Tom and pointed the car in the direction of the snow-dusted hilltops.  We ended up in Arlesheim, a little village on the outskirts of Basel. One of the greatest treasures of Europe (and a country so much older than your own), is how easy it is to stumble across this…

J&L having a moment in front of castle ruins dating back to 1356. If you look closely, you can see Jack being all "big brother" to Liam! So cute!

Thanks to some aggressive tree-shaking, the boys got to catch snowflakes on their tongues!

Now, what do you get when you mix two Canadian boys with a pack of Swiss kids and fresh snowfall?

A good ol’ fashioned Canadian whoopin’, actually.

I’ll just start this off by saying that they started it.  We were politely walking around the castle when a snowball came tumbling down from the lookout above (you can see their little heads if you look close enough!).  So as any good Canadian parents would do, we started pelting them with snowballs, packed Canadian-style.

The steep throw was too much for J&L but they held their own critical roles in the battle. As seen here, Jack supplied me with ammunition while Liam taunted them with his "that's all you got" snowball dance.

Eventually the boys had had enough. They stormed the castle! We tried to shout after them and explain the faulty logistics of 2 taking on 8 but it fell on deaf ears. They were hungry for vengeance!

Tim and I followed after them, climbing back up to the castle courtyard. As we rounded the corner, all we saw was absolute chaos. Jack was displaying his Kung-Fu Panda ninja moves in between hucking snowballs from two feet away while Liam just ran in circles tiring all of their throwing arms with his moving target just in time for Jack to pelt them in the face.

A quick scan of the smiling faces of the other parents showed that they were in fact okay with our kids kicking their kid’s butts so we let it go on for a few more minutes.  But when we saw a little boy just standing in the crossfire with nothing but chocolate to defend himself (you’re not fighting ladies here buddy!), we pulled them off of the remaining opposition and said our goodbyes (Auf Wiedersehen!).  As far as we could tell, it ended somewhere around:

Canadian Boys – 5

Swiss Boys – 0

We may have spent time that day sipping cafe au laits in France and trampling on the snow-covered hills of Switzerland but it was all overshadowed by this very proud Canadian moment.

This post has been brought to you by the good people at Martin’s Rent-a-Ford.

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