Tuesday, March 6, 2012

too much vacation

DSC_7376 wheeeeeee, it’s vacation!!!

Annabelle’s school has a whopping two weeks’ vacation (les vacances) nearly every six weeks.  That’s a lot of vacation.  Granted, French school is more challenging with longer hours and just two months off for summer holiday.  Still, two weeks of interrupted schedule is a hefty imposition. 

If we were real Parisians, we would head to our ski chalet in the Alps or drop our kid at the grandparents and enjoy a blissfully child-free sojourn.  Alas, we are not Parisian.  Not one bit. 

Initially, I took pride in those moments when people assumed I spoke French but I soon realized they were only speaking French to me because they didn’t know English.  I do my best to dress the part, speak in hushed tones, walk with a graceful stride and abide by cultural norms, yet my lack of French-ness is undeniable.  I am petite, yes, but not brunette or peroxide blonde and I am too curvy to pass as a bona fide French woman.

DSC_7297 french bistro: check. french scarf: check. french blazer: check. french lady: nope.

It helps that when Annabelle is in school I don’t have to talk much.  Sure, I have the skills to interact with salespeople and when all else fails, I play the, ‘I am the silent-type’ card.  The French are rather aloof, I reason, therefore simply not talking is a brilliant foil.

The clincher is the moment I open my mouth.  I sound American.  I tried to hide this initially by over-enunciating in French but that only led to puzzled musings as to where I might hail from.  People would scratch their heads in bewilderment and comment on my unique accent.  Was it Spanish or perhaps Australian, they would inquire. 

My decision to own up to my rightful nationality was spurred on by Annabelle.  I could go an entire day convincing myself that I had everyone fooled until I picked up Annabelle after school and had to throw in the towel.  To put it mildly, she has a lot to say after a day of immersion in French grade school.  Walking beside your kid while they yammer away in English is a surefire bust and more than a little confronting.  Who did I think I was fooling?

I have since come to a place of ambivalence.  I still do my part to fit in but I’ve stopped trying to kid myself.  I have never personally begrudged someone their country.  Why should anyone begrudge me mine?  It helps that the French aren’t as anti-American as they were during the Bush administration.  I’m not raising the American flag or anything drastic like that because, ‘when in Rome’…

Like all kids, Annabelle was ecstatic for her break from school and with good reason.  French schools are tough.  I can see why they have breaks as often as they do.  The homework load alone is enough to cause a nervous breakdown.  These lengthy vacations signify the French notion of working hard and playing hard.  It’s not a bad concept, really. 

jump for joy

We were one of few families who actually stayed in Paris during the break.  Naud is new at work and the French have a silly rule about not ‘officially’ taking vacation during the first year of a new job.  It’s not written in stone but we figured we could hold out until summer.  There’s plenty to see and do in Paris, as it is.  In addition, Annabelle’s teachers had the gall to assign homework… over vacation.  Now that’s just cruel.

Annabelle had no qualms about spending vacation at home.  She spent her days alternately reading, writing letters, and playing dolls.  We slept in, spent leisurely mornings in our pajamas and ventured out in the afternoon.  We frequented parks, lingered over late lunches and made a point of slowing down and taking it all in. 

considering the possibilities (with saint sulpice cathedral in the distance)

My child has become a champion letter writer since moving to Paris. She uses her adorable French fountain pen and writes all correspondence in neat cursive.  In fact, I don’t think she even knows how to write ‘not in cursive’.  What is that called, anyway?  Normal?  Well, cursive is the new normal and letter writing is the pastime du jour.  The criteria for her chosen recipients: either you’ve written already or she has a notion that you will write back.  If you are reading this and never receive your letter, just assume it got lost in the mail. 

IMG_0275 view from the post office.  for real.

As of vacation, I am beginning to think that Annabelle might be a director when she grows up.  Whenever she finishes reading a book, she spends hours creating miniature sets, costumes and props in order to act out scenes from the chapters, using dolls as actors.  She narrates and does voices for each character, relying on her books for inspiration.  Who needs television when dolls are reenacting the Thanksgiving feast in uber-chic Native American ensembles?

DSC_7318 what native americans would have worn had thanksgiving been in paris

After reading a book about a depression-era birthday celebration, Annabelle conjured up an entire scene using our drying rack as center stage.  So much for hanging laundry.  There was a full-on party in session.  She even made an itty bitty piñata filled with tiny candies and she fashioned festive party hats from recycled magazine pages. 

DSC_7289love the piñata  

In addition to our daytime antics, we dined out on several occasions.  Nothing says staycation like throwing in the proverbial spatula and boycotting kitchen duty.  There was ‘bad pizza night’ at a jam-packed place with high ratings, followed by ‘mediocre pizza night’ at our mainstay ho-hum pizza joint.  With France’s proximity to Italy, I can’t understand why it’s so hard to find decent pizza in this city.

Before indulging in lousy pizza, we kicked off vacation with an authentic bistro dinner.  The food wasn’t noteworthy, save for an absurdly charred bone protruding from our cassoulet.  It was no fluke.  Shortly after our meal arrived, a South American woman at the next table received an equally blackened femur.  Like us, she eyed the bone with equal parts horror and fascination before fearlessly digging in.  It was my first cassoulet and, blackened ‘leg of whatever’ aside, it wasn’t half bad. 

DSC_7304  on the plus side, i got to sit across from this guy.

Two weeks with my constant companion was a loo0ng time.  Fortunately for us, Annabelle and I are a good team.  We cleaned out the desk because three months is how long it takes for clutter to take over.  We tackled a mountain of homework (Can that be my vacation highlight?).  We made new friends, had park play dates and did our part to keep the post office in business.  We went a little collage crazy with two pairs of scissors, a glue stick and a pile of magazine cutouts.  We slept in.  We discussed plans for someone’s upcoming birthday and that someone got a long overdue haircut. 

IMG_0338 after her haircut, annabelle said, “that was sooo luxurious, mom.  whatever you paid, it was totally worth it.”

And just like that, it was over.  We didn’t get one of those telltale ski goggle suntans.  We didn’t eat fondue in the French Alps.  We didn’t spend our vacation driving out of the city and back into it.  We were spared the hassle of packing and unpacking suitcases and there was no airport security to contend with.  We did right by vacation, by George. 

annabelle’s newly shorn locks.  stop growing up, already.

Of course, if we had gone somewhere, we’d probably be feeling sorry for people like us. 

That’s all I have to say about that.


  1. Enjoyed your post! When I visited Paris I was the cause of a small riot at a tiny bistro. I was trying to get a coffee and baguette and the man working the counter was very rude. Another nice gentleman intervened and told me it would help if I tried ordering in French, just try he says, that's what counts. I told him that was my French..with an Oklahoma accent. The bistro patrons chose up sides with some taking the workers side and some tanking mine. Finally he sold me my coffee and baguette to get rid of me and I hurried out of there! It was one of the highlights of my Paris experience:) And I think you look very Parisian in your scarf and blazer!

  2. What a great story! I haven't had any run ins like that since moving here. My three years of high school French have come to my rescue on many occasions. I applaud you for standing your ground!