Tidbits, Vol. IV — The Answer to “Snow?” and other stories

Snow?  Barely.  None had fallen by Friday at 11am, then a few flurries started, and there was about 1cm on the ground by Saturday morning.  School wasn’t cancelled on Friday, but the busses weren’t running, and the cantine (lunch service) was closed, so there weren’t very many kids there (I snuck a peek during recess while passing on my way down to town).

But strangely, the little valley of L’argentière was one of the only places where snow did not blanket the ground as far as the eye could see.  Lablachère, about 20km away, got hit so hard that no one could leave their houses.  Valence, the city about 2 hours away, got a full 2.5ft, according to other assistants’ pictures.  And no one this far south in France is prepared to deal with the snow.  I don’t actually think snowplows exist in this department.  According to the teachers, this area usually gets about 5-10cm of snow every 3 or 4 years.


I have officially found the funniest English/French word resemblance.  We just started a unit on food with the older kids, and I brought in an old Lois Ehlert book that I’ve loved pretty much forever to get them started.  I turn to a page, they ask me what a certain fruit or vegetable is, I tell them, and then ask them if they like it or not.  Cut to this little exchange with the CE2s (3rd graders):

Kid 1: What is this?
Me: This is a beet.
3 of the boys: *practically hysterical giggling*
Me: Yes, this is a beet.
3 of the boys: *giggling continues at a feverish pitch*
Me: Ok, ok, what did I say this time, c’est quoi un “beet” en français? (What does “beet” mean in French?)
Kid 2: Bite (pronounced “beet”), c’est un autre mot pour, uh, pour, hahahaha, pour le zizi.

Basically, it’s a fairly vulgar term for a guy’s you-know-what.  This would explain why only three of the boys were giggling madly, while the three other kids in that group just looked a little clueless.  “Zizi,” incidentally, is what little kids call it.


Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend an afternoon with a German-by-way-of-San-Francisco-by-way-of-Lablachère family in town, whose daughter is in my CM2 class.  They are, of course, one of about three families I know with blond hair, for fairly obvious reasons.  They also invited a French family over, close friends of theirs for years, and I got an up close and personal taste of how French hospitality and social calls work.

First off, the French language is used bizarrely sometimes, in that French people provide a self-narrated running commentary of almost anything they do, especially either when asked or when there’s only a few people around.  Secondly, everyone knows everyone here.  Thus, a conversation such as the following is a very common occurrence:

German Mom: Please, won’t you have a seat?
French Mom: Oh, thank you, I’ll sit down.  Let’s see, where should I sit?  Here, I’ll sit on the couch, right here at the corner.  This couch looks very familiar, where did you get it?
GM: Oh, we just bought it yesterday actually.
FM: Did you buy it new, if you don’t mind me asking?  Because I know this couch, it looks very very family to me.
GM: No, we got it from [French resale store that I don’t remember the name of].”
FM: Oh, of course you did, of course you did!  That’s a wonderful store.  But let me tell you, this was the [other French family’s] couch until about a month ago.  They didn’t need it anymore, so they sold it and this armchair you have, but there were actually two armchairs, although they kept one for her husband to use in his office at home.  So if you ever want the other armchair, just ask me, because I know the [other French family] still has it, and I can always tell them to give it to you!

And on and on and on like that.


But eventually, we got around to the real reason we were there: to eat a galette des rois for Epiphany.  This is a delicious delicious pastry that is traditionally eaten for Epiphany in France.  I had one last year when I visited a friend in Paris in early January.  EVERYONE does them — it’s a really simply and tasty tradition that has absolutely no connotations about anything anymore.  Originally, it had something to do with the Three Kings (thus, “des rois,” which means “of kings”), but no one really remembers the story anymore.

The best part is the fève, a little trinket hidden in the pastry before baking it.  Whoever gets the piece with the fève in it is the king or queen for the day and gets to wear a paper crown and name his queen or her king.  And apparently, in the more provencal regions of France, it’s tradition for whoever gets the fève to pay for the galette the next year.  It’s lots of fun, something that kids and adults can do together.

‘Course, I was introduced to this tradition long ago.  My high school French teacher taught us about the galette and the requisite festivities, only galettes don’t really exist in the States, nor do fèves.  So we celebrated Epiphany with doughnut holes, one of which was stuffed with a TicTac.  Points for creativity and awesomeness!


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