A Tamponnaise in America Part 2

New York City. When I think of New York, the first thing that always pops in my head is a song from the musical Annie, called « NYC. » My favorite part goes « NYC, just got here this morning! 3 bucks! 2 bags! 1 me! » To me, New York will always be the city of Broadway…because that was the big dream back when I was a kid in acting class…to see a real Broadway show! My dream came true when I was 16, during my acting class trip to New York. We saw « The Phantom of the Opera, » a musical I had been obsessed with since I was old enough to talk. The story, coincidentally, was what made me fall in love with Paris, and probably what I can credit with my ending up in France…but that’s another story.

Anyway, so here we are! NYC. 3 Creoles, 2 bags each, and one taxi to the Upper West Side!

We landed on the 4th of July, which I probably don’t have to tell you, is America’s birthday. And what better way to say « Welcome to America! » to my parents in-law, than to show up on the 4th of July and see the most amazing fireworks display in the entire country? We have a saying in the US for times like these… »Go big or go home! » 

I used Airbnb to find us a great apartment in Manhattan next to Central Park. I swear by Airbnb, it is so much better than a hotel! Not only is it cheaper, you also get to discover what life is really like in the city you are visiting, and usually you have great hosts that will guide you around the neighborhood.

So after numerous trips to The Big Apple (which is the nickname of NYC I have no idea why though…) I have devised my favorite tourist program! Here it is…Jen’s Top Ten Must See Things in New York City!

1. GO TO A BROADWAY SHOW! Obviously this has to be first. I took my in-laws to see Aladdin, because I thought that they would already know the story and the music enough to enjoy it even if they wouldn’t be able to understand a word. Broadway shows…musicals especially…are like no other show on this Earth. You actually CANNOT go to New York without seeing SOMETHING on Broadway, it’s against the law.

2. Go to the Top of Rockefeller Center. It’s one of the highest points in New York and you’ll be in awe looking down on all the skyscrapers. You can tell where the really rich people live because they have rooftop gardens and pools. You can do the same thing from the Empire State Building, but I prefer Rockefeller Center, especially during Christmas time because the famous Christmas tree is there.

3. Times Square. You have to go once during the day and do all of the ridiculous shops; my Creole company loved the giant M&M store, the giant Disney store, and the Toy Store. Then you have to go to Times Square at night and be blown away by everything all lit up. Also I usually am against stupid bus tours in big cities, but my in-laws wanted to do one, so we caught a bus in Times Square for the sunset and actually it was one of the best bus tours I’ve ever been on! They took us all the way to Brooklyn so we saw a lot of the neighborhoods in Manhattan before crossing the bridge and seeing the entire city lit up and glittering at night. I totally recommend it!

4. Get some culture. My favorite museum is always the Met, but if that is not your style, New York has everything you could ask for. The Museum of Natural History was pretty impressive, it was right next to our apartment so we spent an afternoon there and it was my first time. I would definitely go back because you can’t see everything in only a few hours!!

5. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s just cool.

6. Go see Freedom Tower. This is the new World Trade Center, constructed next to the site where the old towers stood, and where the memorial now honors the lives lost during the attacks on September 11th. There is a special tree near the memorial site…it is the only tree to have survived the attacks, and now they call it the Survivor Tree. It is a beautiful symbol of resilience and rebirth.

7. While you’re down in the area, go see the Statue of Liberty, of course! I’ve only taken a Ferry out there once…and I have to say it kind of sucks. The lines are long, the ferries are crowded…it’s a long day. I can see it just fine from the pier.

8. Ok for the French people wondering where to eat!! Go to Katz’s Deli and get a pastrami sandwich. Nothing is more New York than a pastrami sandwich with a big pickle. Other New York must eat things include a giant slice of pepperoni pizza, cheesecake, a hot dog from a dude on the street, (with American mustard which is the BEST mustard!) and…my husband’s all time favorite…Shake Shack. We probably ate there every other day he loved it so much. Shake Shack is like a high class Quick. They only use the best beef possible and it is probably the best fast food burger you will ever taste. You have to get a milkshake there too…it’s in the name, after all!!

9. Central Park. Sit on a bench, or have a picnic, and people watch. You can also take a horse-drawn carriage around the park, which is a beautiful thing to do if you’re there around Christmas.

10. Go to Chinatown to buy your souvenirs!! You will pay at least half the price for the same things elsewhere!!!

My Tamponaise in-laws had a bit of culture shock. The first day, they were desperate to find a baguette. The second day, they wanted to know why ordering an expresso was so difficult and why it tasted so bad. By the third day, they got into the swing of things, although I think they concluded that New York is not really their thing. If you also don’t like the fast pace of big cities…don’t worry…the rest of the country is not at all the same. 

There is no place in the world quite like NYC.

Vocabulary

musical – comedie musicale
bucks – des dollars
coincidentally – par coincidence
skyscraper – gratte-ciel
rooftop – sur le toit

lit up – eclairé
glittering – scintillant
resilience – tenacité
rebirth – renaissance
pier – la jetée

pickle – cornichon
dude – mec

horse-drawn carriage – une calèche

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A Tamponnaise in America: Part 1

Recently I took my Creole husband and his parents on a guided tour around the US. We visited New York, (because it’s New York!) Texas, (where I went to University and lived before moving permanently to Reunion,) and Michigan, (where my parents live, and where I was born and raised.) I had been planning this trip since January…and our itinerary was pretty good, if I do say so myself!! So I’m going to share it with you, just in case you ever find yourself in any of these places and you need to know the best things to do!!!

But first let’s start with how NOT to fly to the United States.

As we were traveling in prime Reunion Island vacation period, I decided not to fly through Paris, since ticket prices were sky-high. Instead, I took us through Johannesburg, South Africa. It seemed too good to be true! One direct flight to Johannesburg, followed by one direct (15 hour…ugggg) flight to NYC. Clean, uncomplicated…and we saved about 800 euros each on the cost of a ticket!

So funny story…here’s what really happened. Air Austral canceled our flight to South Africa a few weeks before, and rescheduled us to go through Mauritius, which added another day to our travel time. We arrived way too early in South Africa and had to wait the entire day in the airport until our flight to NYC. Not the end of the world, we thought, and we took turns guarding all the luggage while the rest of the family browsed the boutiques. After what felt like forever, we finally could check in our bags and go to the boarding gate

That’s when the lady at the boarding gate informed us that my mother in law’s ESTA Visa (which is required by French citizens to purchase before going to the US) was not validated. We found this a little strange, since all three of the ESTA Visas the Frenchies needed were purchased at the same time, and the other two were fine. « Go find a wifi connection and repurchase her Visa, » they told us. Except strangely enough, we couldn’t find a wifi connection. And when we did, we would fill in the info for the Visa and the connection would cut out every time JUST before the transaction was validated. This happened about 4 times, and the minutes were ticking away. I was freaking out, but there was no way I was missing that plane. I would be back home in my country in just a few (15) hours, I was sure of it.

We ran (and I mean RAN) all over the airport, asking, begging, employees of shops and cafes, the boarding people, ANYONE to help us, to let us use their interntet, to do SOMETHING. They just shrugged and said things like « I’m sorry, can’t help you. You have to pay on your phone. » I have never felt so helpless in my life. Finally, the boarding woman told us: « you’ve been removed from the flight. You can go get your bags in baggage claim. » My heart broke. I really have never wanted to punch anyone in the face more than I did at that moment.

So we were stranded in South Africa and it was almost midnight. Someone at the information desk « had a friend » with a motel close to the airport and they arranged for us to go there. The motel was dirty and had these brown ugly carpets from the 1980’s that smelled like smoke and feet. There were no towels in the rooms or any heat, and it was probably about 9 degrees Celcius that night. We asked for a heater and he gave us this dangerous looking thing that sparked when we plugged it in, and shook so loudly that we couldn’t sleep with it on. I spent the coldest night of my life stuck like glue to Richard.

The next morning, we made some phone calls and found out that the Visa was indeed validated and that there should have been no reason why we were denied boarding. Armed with this knowledge, it was time for me to go to war. I called every single person that works for South African Airways, but no one wanted to help us get on the next flight. They kept telling me the flight was booked, or we would have to go to Germany for a connection, or even better…that we had to PAY to rebook our tickets!! So we decided to take a huge risk and continue the war face to face at the airport. It was almost the same story at the airport…we were being passed around from desk to desk, person to person, told to wait for some manager who comes in at noon, and so on. I don’t fight my customer service wars by yelling or causing a scene, I do it by smiling politely, thanking people, and killing them with kindness. Up until that moment, that tactic has worked my whole life. I did not understand South Africans.

FINALLY THANK GOD we found the right man. He was a manager of something important and he actually had a heart. After catching up on our story, he looked at me and said « I’m sorry for what happened to you, » and I almost burst into tears. (Oh funny side note, I was also almost seven months pregnant during this time.) He got us on the « completely booked » flight that night, and handed us tickets. We had won!! 

The 15 hour flight was awfully long, and we arrived in NYC early the next day with what I’m sure were high fevers thanks to our freezing night in South Africa. Actually we were extremely sick the entire week…but who cares?? We were finally in New York, baby!!

And I guess since this story got a little long…I’ll have to make another podcast to tell you the rest!

So! To be continued….

Vocabulary

prime – principal
sky-high – au sommet
rescheduled – replanifié
browse – jeter un oeil
boarding gate – porte de l’embarquement

ticking – tic-tac
beg – supplier
shrug – hausser les épaules
punch – coup de poing
stranded – bloqué

sparked – étincellé
and so on – et cetera
catching up – rattraper

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Dance Therapy

A little while ago when I was feeling homesick, I talked to you about not having as many opportunities for classes or activities on the island as I would back home in the US. This month, I had an experience that made realize that having 100 options is not the same as finding that one unique treasure…which has the same possibility of existing among the hundreds back at home than it does hidden away, nestled in the sand on a faraway place called Reunion Island.

This particular little treasure I’m talking about is a dance class called NIA in Boucan. Of course NIA exists (and maybe even originated??) in the US, but what really makes this class different is the teacher. Veronique exudes passion and energy in a way that could uplift even the saddest person in the world. 

This past weekend, Veronique was invited to give some dance courses during the Wellness Festival in Mauritius, and to prepare, she started taking English classes with me. For the past month, I entered her world of dance a few times a week. 

I’m definitely not a dancer, but as a theater student I had to have the ability to learn simple dance sequences in a short period of time. So while I can grasp easier rhythm and steps quickly, I am missing that natural grace, beauty and flow that I so admire in real dancers. All of that vanishes when you dance with Veronique. I don’t know how it’s possible, but when you dance with her, you really feel as elegant and free as she looks. Her energy is contagious and soon you aren’t thinking about how silly you look, you’re thinking about how great it feels to stretch your body in ways you haven’t done since you were about 7. If I had to describe NIA to someone who hadn’t seen it before, I would say it is a dancer’s version of yoga, tai chi, and martial arts. Like swimming without water. Like meditation in movement. 

I ended up going to the Wellness Festival in Mauritius and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life! We arrived Friday night and set up our tents under the stars. Saturday morning we started around 8 and every hour or so you had two or three classes to choose from; things like yoga, pilates, tai chi, singing, meditation, and of course, dance. There were tents set up where you could buy homemade vegetarian food and healthy drinks and desserts. There were tents offering massages, healing crystals, spiritual books, and everything else you could dream of in the wellness world. After lunch we bathed in the nearby waterfall, and at night we had live concerts by yogis playing instruments I never knew existed! Every second was a new breath of life.

Not surprisingly, Veronique’s dance classes were by far the most popular!! The first day, she guided about 60 people through a dance therapy class under the big tent. It was so powerful I get chills just thinking about it. I remember specifically this little stout old man dancing in the corner with this eyes closed, as if he had never moved his body so freely and was finally flying out of a cage that he had been in for maybe his whole life. 

On Sunday, Veronique’s NIA class got a standing ovation, and people even asked her to move to Mauritius! It was truly a testament to her unique and beautiful gift.

If you’re like me, and you’re looking for a hobby here…something different, something worth your precious time and money, I think you should come meet Veronique and try out a NIA class. I think all of us could benefit a lot by learning to let go and dance.

Vocabulary

homesick – nostalgique
to uplift – élever les sentiments
to grasp – comprendre
steps – pas
to look silly – avoir l’air ridicule

to stretch – tendre
set up – installé
to let go – se lâcher

Dance Wellness Therapy, Mauritius

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A Confession

Here are some things that I used to hate when I first moved to Reunion; but have grown to like or even love:

Sparkling water, champagne, wasp larva (though definitely not at a love level yet…), the hard part of bread (I used to only eat the soft inside part), papaya, rice, coffee, fois gras, litchis…

But there is one thing that I can never grow to love. In fact; I think I hate it more and more every day.

I’m very sorry to confess, I HATE to do « the bise; »

At first it was kind of funny. I would meet new people and I would instinctively extend my hand to shake theirs, as we do in America. Awkwardly (and hilariously) at the same time, my new acquaintance would lean in to do « the bise » and I would end up kind of gently punching them in the stomach. This was about FOUR YEARS AGO and doing the bise has never gotten any easier for me.

First of all, it is not my first instinct to lean in for the bise when I meet someone or see them for the first time that day. At least once every day, I « leave someone hanging, » meaning I say hi and wave while they are extending their cheek expectantly in my direction. This causes me to snap awake, apologize, and mumble in my head about how I will never get used to doing this.

The worst might be at parties. I really really hate arriving at a big party, because you’re supposed to go around to EVERY SINGLE PERSON at the party, interrupt them, wait for them to stop what they are doing and turn around, and kiss them. This is annoying because it takes like 30 minutes to enter a party, and it’s really just awkward interrupting people who are in the middle of talking or eating to touch my cheek to their cheek. I’m actually laughing as a type this. Who ever thought that tapping cheeks together was a good way to say hello? Ok anyway, the other reason I hate entering parties is because I normally know only like 5 people at the party, which means all the rest of them are complete strangers that I will most likely never see again. Some of them are sweaty. Some of them are sick. Some of them are a little TOO friendly. I DON’T WANT TO TOUCH YOUR FACE WITH MY FACE! Oh and it’s usually at parties where I encounter a lot of people who don’t do the kissy noise when cheek tapping. I find this even more weird than doing the normal bise. If you don’t make the kissy noise; it’s just…uncomfortably silent and kind of creepy

Avoiding the bise has become a subconscious hobby for me. In the mornings I find myself walking the long way around school halls to avoid groups of adults, or keeping the farthest away possible when greeting someone. « Good morning! » I’ll yell down the hall to the teacher, hoping that it counts as our initial contact for the day. I can see it in people’s eyes when they unexpectedly run into me in the break room and want to go in for some bise time. But I just wave and run away. I think it’s very possible that I am the « Weird American Girl » in all my schools.

I don’t feel like that ALL the time, of course! I like to give the bise to my friends every so often, especially if I haven’t seen them in a few days and I’m genuinely happy to see them again! In situtations like that, the bise is just a natural extension of my love and friendship. Granted, in the US I would hug you instead, but that’s not too far of a step away from doing the bise!

In general I try really hard to not offend anyone, and to take part of the culture in which I have chosen to live. And I am doing so well drinking my champagne now and eating some wasp larva…but the bise is something I will never ever like. And here is the cherry on top as to why:

There are a few guys that seem to be without a home and hang around the streets of St Gilles where I live. I always make it a point to say hi to them, smile, and make eye contact, so that they at least don’t feel invisible. One of them once shook my hand and told me his name is Patrick. Patrick and I say hi whenever we see each other in the street. One day, while on the way to a private lesson not far from my house, I ran into Patrick. We talked for a second, and then he said « well, we should do the bise! » and I hesitated (for long enough a time that anyone else would’ve considered it very rude) before saying ok. Then when I leaned in for some cheek on cheek action I got quite a surprise…Patrick left a big wet sloppy KISS on both of my cheeks. As soon as I got to my client’s house I washed all that spit off my face and vowed that I will NEVER LIKE DOING THE BISE!! 

During our lesson, I asked my student why; WHY do some people do that during the bise? Why do they literally kiss your cheeks?? What does this mean?! And he explained that there is a lot of unsaid communication that goes along with doing the bise. A whole world of saying stuff without saying stuff that I never knew existed. With a simple cheek to cheek touch, you can snub someone, flirt with someone, offend someone, profess your undying love, or a million different things in between.

I find normal French difficult enough, I have no interest in learning secret cheek language.

And that is why I will forever hate doing the bise.

Vocabulary

to grow to like – apprenez à aimer
shake hands – serrer la main
awkwardly – maladroitement
to lean in – penchez
to punch – cogner

to wave – saluer
to apologize – s’excuser
to mumble – marmonner
creepy – qui donne la chair de poule
to hug – embrasser

cheek – joue

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Homesick

I have been traveling in and out of my country since I was 18, but I’ve recently realised that this is the longest time I’ve been away without a little month’s break or something in the middle. Lately I’ve been feeling kind of homesick, so I thought I would share with you a few reasons why.

You might laugh, since French cuisine is among the best in the world, but I miss my American food! Although I’ve recently become vegetarian, I can tell you that when I go back to the US this July, I will not be adhering to my new diet, although I must add that the vegetarian and vegan restaurants are so incredible that even meat eaters would be surprised to learn that what they are eating isn’t actually meat. Vegetarians have so many more options there!! But the thing I miss the most is Tex-Mex, which is a mix of Texan and Mexican cuisine. Think spicy salsa and guacamole with tortilla chips and everything covered in lime juice, fresh tomatoes and cilantro. Also, if you have never eaten a thick Texas rib-eye steak, you have not yet lived. Sadly I know the difference involves things like injected hormones and chemicals but if I only get to eat it once every 2 or 3 years, it’s OK, right? Speaking of beef, did you know that hot dogs are made of beef and not pork, like they are here? They are a billion times better, especially with fresh onions on top and some American mustard. Finally I have to say that one of the best culinary inventions is the giant soft pretzel. I love them so much that I found a way to make them from scratch here! It takes me three hours but sometimes I just have to have them. The only bad part is that you absolutely need American mustard with them, and I’ve just run out of my stash!

Another reason why I miss the US is because of the opportunities there. If you want to study oceanography, there is a university only 20 minutes away from you, teaching it! (Also, side note, why is oceanography so difficult to study here, the ocean is RIGHT THERE!) If you want to learn vinyasa yoga, well you have a choice of 7 studios in your neighborhood! If you want to take piano lessons, there are 30 teachers in your area and someone will probably even come to your house. If you want to order a spiralizer (seriously this is a recent problem I have had here, I can’t get anyone to ship one to Reunion!) (oh and a spiralizer is something that turns vegetables into noodles.) well you just take five minutes deciding on the style you want on Amazon and it shows up at your door in only 8-10 working days! If you want ANYTHING at ANYTIME, whatever you can dream up, you can have, be, or do. You are only limited by your ambition and imagination. And I guess by money too.

Did you know in the US, the customer has the power? Capitalism certainly has it’s flaws, but when you decide to spend your hard earned money somewhere, the company at least pretends to make you feel important. Because they know you can just as easily turn around and spend your money somewhere else. And they definitely want you to stay. I used to wait tables at a bar. The wait staff is paid $2.13 an hour, just enough to cover taxes. You bring home only what you earn in tips. (Which, by the way, is 20 percent of your bill in the US, if you ever travel there! That’s why the restaurants are so much cheaper, gratuity is not included!) So the wait staff is motivated to make you the happiest/drunkest person you can possibly be. The more happy you are, the more likely you are to come back, to tell you friends to come with you, and to request your really lovely waitress who always takes good care of you. We have a time limit in the US. In general, you are supposed to be greeted at your table within one minute of sitting down, and a drink should be in your hand within the first five minutes. If your beer is down to the last quarter, you will be handed another one without even having to ask for it. The last few times I’ve been to a restaurant here, I’ve waited about 20 minutes for someone to stroll over to my table and ask what we want. Then they either forget what we ordered or mess it up somehow, or they take another hour to get the food on the table. I’m not exaggerating, this happens more than it doesn’t here. And in Reunion, when your hot water breaks down in your apartment, your landlord will apparently take the first few days to argue with you about why you should pay to replace his fifteen year old water heater, and then when he concedes, he’ll send two incompetent guys who can’t fix the problem for another five days. Back home, the landlord would have that changed out in a day, and if for some reason he couldn’t, he’d offer you some kind of « I’m sorry » gift like restaurant tickets or a fruit basket. They want you to stay and be happy, write nice reviews about them online and tell everyone how awesome they are.

So, I invite anyone to meet me in the US in July! We will share some great Tex-Mex at a restaurant with excellent service, and then go off to our yoga/singing classes because YES WE CAN!

Vocabulary

realise – se rendre compte de
lately – récemment
homesick – nostalgique
diet – régime
actually – en fait

lime – citron vert
cilantro – coriandre
a billion – milliard
from scratch – à partir de zéro
run out of – à court de

side note – notes secondaires
noodles – nouilles
pretend – prétendre
wait tables – servir des tables
tips – pourboire

cheaper – moins cher
drunkest – plus ivre
somehow – d’une façon ou d’une autre
break down – tomber en panne
landlord – propriétaire

fix – réparer
gift – cadeau
fruit basket – corbeille de fruits
awesome – impressionnant

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Where Do I Come From?

I have a small problem. 

I’m a little confused about what I should be answering when people ask me where I’m from. 

Well ok. I know that I’m from the US. But after I say that I’m from the US, the next questions is always « Which part of the US? » And that’s where I run into some trouble.

So…Where do you come from? What does that question actually mean? Does it mean « Where were you born? » « Where were you living before you came to Reunion? » « Where do you call home? » 

You see, when I first came to Reunion, I was only supposed to be here for 7 months with a work contract as an English assistant in school. Back then, I was living in Dallas, Texas, and had been living in Texas for 5 years. My life, my college, my friends, my job… were all in Texas, and I planned on returning to live in Texas after my 7 months in Reunion. I LOVED my life in Texas. So naturally, when I first arrived in Reunion, my response to the question « Where do you come from? » was Texas! I had literally just come from there!  

Except..I never made it back to Texas. Nope, life had a few twists and turns in store…and now, my life and time in Texas seem a little like a distant memory…   

On the other hand, I was born in Michigan, and I lived in Michigan for the first 18 years of my life, until I joined the Army and started traveling the world. My childhood memories are of snowy Michigan winters, chasing chipmunks and deer in the forest, and raking up colorful leaves every fall. My family still lives there, and when I go back to the US to visit, that’s where I go.   

At some point, it stopped feeling normal to say that I come from Texas…since I won’t be going back anymore. And even though I was born in Michigan, it’s been so long since I’ve lived there that I have no idea where anything is, the roads and shops aren’t familiar, and my childhood friends are long gone.   

Half of my heart is still in Texas. My heritage and my family remain in Michigan. And me…I’m on the other side of the world living on a volcano in the middle of an ocean. 

So, where do I come from? I don’t know. What do you think?

Vocabulary

To run into – rencontrer
Actually – en fait
Back then – à l’époque
College – la fac
Nope – non

On the other hand – d’un autre côté
To travel – Voyager
Childhood – enfance
Winter – hiver
Chipmunk – écureuil 

Deer – cerf
To rake up – ratisser
Fall – Automne
At some point – à un moment
Since (because) – puisque

Childhood friend – ami d’enfance
Long gone – parti depuis longtemps
To remain – rester

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Gypsy Party

One day, I decided I really wanted to camp outside near the ocean, since I hadn’t done it before. I gathered up some friends and named this important event a « Gypsy Party, » and required everyone to dress up like cool traveling nomads.

We arrived at Etang Sale in the late afternoon and spent the first hour figuring out how to make some kind of shelter. We ended up stringing a tarp between two trees and then we put lots of colorful pillows, blankets, and snuggly things under it. We finished our little gypsy home just in time for the sunset, so we opened a bottle of champagne (I guess we were being rich gypsies) and toasted to Mother Nature.

After a while, we lit up the mini-grill and started to make dinner!! We grilled jumbo shrimp, lobster tails, sausages and a lot of veggies. For dessert, we made a classic American camping treat—s’mores! You grill a marshmallow and then you put it between two graham crackers, which are like digestive biscuits here, with a piece of chocolate in between. So you have a kind of delicious chocolate marshmallow sandwich. It was my favorite thing to do after a BBQ when I was a kid.

After dinner, we danced around near the ocean under the moonlight. I remember the stars seeming particularly bright that night, and we were all quite happy. I think we even went to bed early…around midnight! That night, I had this crazy dream that there was a pigeon who took me by the hand with his beak and was going to fly me to spiritual enlightenment. I was worried I would be too heavy for him, and suddenly I woke up—in the middle of a rainstorm!! We all got up to put the rest of our gypsy decorations under the tarp with us, thankful that it was holding strong.

Early the next morning, we made some coffee which we drank out of the left-over coconut shells. While we were discussing the events of the night, a REAL gypsy came wandering over to our camp, plopped himself downin front of us and asked for some coffee. He was wearing a torn pillowcase for a shirt, and he muttered how there aren’t many people left like us—people who know how to live off the land. He went on a long, strange rant about the government and finally, we were able to give him some food and send him on his gypsy way. You know you did a gypsy party right when you start attracting real gypsies! 

Vocabulary

To gather up – rassembler
To travel – voyager
To figure out – comprendre
Shelter – abri
To string – attacher

Tarp – bâche
Pillow – oreiller
Blanket – couveture
Snuggly – câlins
Shrimp – crevette

Lobster tails – queues de homard
Marshmallow – guimauve
Moonlight – clair de lune
Enlightenment – éclaircissement
Rainstorm – pluie torrentielle

Left-over – qui reste
To wander – vagabonder
To plop down – s’asseoir
Pillowcase – taie d’oreiller
To attract – attirer

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Halloween

Halloween was always my favorite holiday. It probably has something to do with the thespian in me…dressing up in costume, pretending to be someone else, living out a fantasy…I quickly learned that Halloween in the States is much different from Halloween in Reunion.

To start with, pretty much ALL Americans get into the Halloween spirit, and it starts in the beginning of October. Halloween goes hand in hand with thefall. In Michigan, we would always go to cider mills and eat fresh donuts and drink warm apple cider in the forest. In Texas, we’d have pumpkincarving contests on the patio at the local bar. Haunted houses were on every corner. EVERYONE decorated their homes in spider webs, tombs, and other spooky things. And then, the weekend of Halloween, we’d always have an amazing costume party. Scary movies would scream in the background. Everyone dressed up—kids, adults, dogs, cats, and we’d drink way too much vodka punch out of a smoking cauldron.

The American version of Halloween may be incredibly commercialized, but it’s fun that way! You can dress up as anything you want—Spiderman, a princess, President Obama…it doesn’t HAVE to be scary. In France and especially in Reunion, it seems that many people are afraid of Halloween. Here, they have kept the real origins of Halloween and so it’s equated to horror, the dead, the scary.

I learned this when I threw my first Halloween party in La Possession, our group costumes included 3 devils, one witch, and the rest of the guys wore ugly masks that came off the moment they opened their first beers. We couldn’t find any pumpkins to carve, so someone tried the same thing with a watermelon and a coconut. We didn’t have any creatively themed desserts, but I did spend a little too much time making spooky appetisers. There were no kids to take trick-or-treating…but I did have a little trick up MY sleeve….

I was planning on secretly setting up my friend Julie, (who was part of my original host family when I first arrived in Reunion,) with Richard’s friend Christian. Julie came to the party in a pink wig and cat-eye contact lenses, and still it was still love at first sight! The two of them hit it off and interestingly enough, they just got married a few months ago.

So I guess it goes to show you…you never know what you might encounter on Halloween night!

Vocabulary

To dress up – se déguiser
The States – les Etats Unis
The fall – l’automne
Cider mill – cidrerie
Pumpkin – citrouille

To carve – sculpter
Spider web – toile d’araignée
Spooky – qui donne la chair de poule
To scream – crier
Cauldron – chaudron

To throw a party – organiser une fête
Devil – diable
Witch – sorcière
To come off – enlever
Watermelon – pastèque

Trick-or-treat – bonbons ou un sort
A trick up my sleeve – un tour dans mon sac
Wig – perruque
To set up – jouer les entremetteurs
To encounter – rencontre

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Thanksgiving

During the first year I was with my husband in Reunion, I really wanted to celebrate all of the American holidays. Looking back I guess I was a little homesick, but also I really wanted to share these cultural traditions with him. We had hot dogs and s’mores for the 4th of July, a big costume party for Halloween, and when November came along, I decided to host Thanksgiving dinner.

In the US, hosting Thanksgiving dinner is a huge responsibility. I believe it is the only day of the year where Americans eat like the French, and we aren’t used to preparing such a giant feast! Over there, in true American style, you can buy most of the Thanksgiving essentials already prepared or at least half prepared. You throw the store-bought turkey in the oven, mix the rest of the stuff out of their easy-to-make boxes, and voilà! Thanksgiving dinner in just a few hours.

In Reunion, things are a little different.

Thankfully I had the help of one of my girlfriends and her mother. We woke up very early and went to the butcher to pick up the turkey. We had to order a turkey in advance, since it isn’t something the butcher usually has in stock. This already was a shock for me, but when we arrived and he asked if I wanted him to chop the head off or if I would do it myself…I almost fainted. It was the first time I realized how far removed we are from our food in the US, (and it was also the start of why I became a vegetarian!!)

Then we started cooking. EVERYTHING had to be made from scratch. Normal Thanksgiving foods include: stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, a baked green bean casserole with fried onions, and cranberries. Ingredients that were so easily available in the US; like canned mushroom soup and fried onions for the green beans, were now things I had to look up separately and figure out how to make myself. And of course, things like stuffing mix, cranberries, and yams don’t even exist here. We somehow found a jar of something resembling cranberries, and we used sweet potatoes for the yams. So in the end, everything worked out…especially the home-made pumpkin pie!!!

Everyone arrived and I played some Youtube recordings of things we usually watch on TV; the epic Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, and of course, the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. I tried to explain the meaning behind Thanksgiving; the history between the British settlersand the Native American Indians…but it didn’t seem to translate as easily as I thought it would. Above all, I explained, Thanksgiving is a day where we give thanks for what we have in our lives. Traditionally, each person around the dinner table says what they are most thankful for. Everyone was happy to play along and we had some great laughs.

They were all quite confused, however, when I put all of the food down on the table. To my surprise, they were expecting the usual number of courses during the meal…something I was not used to! I explained that we don’t really have courses, and that we eat everything together. Befuddled, they helped me bring the food to the table, including the pumpkin pie. Laughing, I told them that we DO at least wait to have dessert until after dinner!

Reunionais Thanksgiving turned out to be the best tasting Thanksgiving of my life!! I was really amazed at what a difference everything makes when it’s made from scratch. I ended up going to the US a week later, just in time again for American Thanksgiving with my Dad…and so I saw the huge difference between what we did in Reunion and what store-boughtAmerican Thanksgiving tastes like.

It was a great day…but that was the last time I tried to host Thanksgiving. Eventually I learned that if I was going to be happy here, I had to stop trying to make Reunion into America. Things just aren’t the same, and I shouldn’t resist the fact that life has changed. Instead, I’ve learned to embrace the unique and special things that Reunion has to offer, live in the present moment, and let the past rest happily in the past.

Vocabulary

Holidays (US) – Jours fériés (UK- Bank Holiday)
S’mores – Sandwich sucré fait avec de crackers
Feast – Festin
Stuff – Des choses
Butcher – Boucher

Chop the head off – décapiter
To faint – s’évanouir
From scratch – de A à Z
Stuffing – la farce
Mashed potatoes – Purée de pommes de terre

Yam – Ignames
Cranberries – Canneberges
Canned – en boîte de conserve
Figure out – calculer
Jar – pot en verre

Pumpkin – citrouille
Settlers – colons
Seem to – semble
A good laugh – rigolade
Courses – plats (entrée, plat principal, dessert)

Befuddled – confus
Store-bought – acheté tout prêt
Instead – Au lieu de

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Meet the Parents: Créole Style!

My husband Richard has deep roots in his hometown, Le Tampon. For generations, the family business was fruit farming, so this means that Richard spent much of his childhood outside on the land. When he was a kid, Richard would go out with his dad to hunt wasps for dinner. The taste of wasp brings back memories of bonding with his father, and to this day, the whole family goes crazy for a big plate of wasp larva.

When we first started dating, Richard invited me to meet his parents for the first time over lunch at their house in Le Tampon. I was kind of nervous because my French at the time was pretty horrible and they didn’t speak any English. Well actually, they didn’t really speak French either, but a mix of French and Creole. I remember being quite lost and pretty embarrassed, but we all got along just fine. That’s when I asked what was for lunch…and Richard and his dad exchanged a secretive glance. “Come on,” Dad said, “Let’s show her.”

So we went outside to the small kiosk in the back of the garden, where a large black skillet was slowly cooking over the fire. Dad handed me a giant spoon and invited me to stir. Inside were these little blackened white balls of something…

“It’s wasp larva!” Richard told me, like it was normal, and I almost dropped the skillet! “You’re joking.” “No no no no, it’s our FAVORITE plate. Some wasp, some rice, a little tomato salsa…and a GREAT red wine…and voilà, you have the BEST. MEAL. EVER!” Richard said. I gulped. I couldn’t be rude and refuse…it was my first time meeting the family, and I really wanted to make a good impression…

Later, we sat down to the table. They all thought it was hilarious to see an American with a plate of wasp. Thankfully, they let me pick out the wasps that had already developed legs and wings! I loaded up my fork with a LOT of rice, some salsa, and a few wasp larva…

Actually, it wasn’t so bad!! (Much better than the wormy zandettes, but that’s another story.) But I certainly didn’t eat anymore that day. Now, almost three years later, wasp night at the in-law’s has become a monthly occurrence. We had them again last weekend, and everyone laughed and laughed as I served myself a heaping spoonful of wasp. Funny how things change…

When I have visitors from the US, I always make sure that their trip includes a wasp dinner night at my in-laws. It’s certainly a great way to make memories!

Vocabulary

Wasp – Guêpe
Larva – Larve
Dating – Sortir ensemble
Pretty horrible – Assez horrible
To get along – s’entendre

Glance – Coup d’oeil
Skillet – Poêle
To hand – Passer (qq chose)
Spoon – Cuillère
To stir – Remurer

To gulp – Déglutir
Rude – Mal poli
The in-law’s – Chez les beaux parents

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