Friday, October 31, 2008

Drunkin Punkins

I realized that I was suffering from Halloween withdraw as I stood in the greengrocers by my house seriously considering carving a butternut squash. Just then my phone rang. It was my fellow American tour guide buddy inviting me to a pumpkin carving contest! With real pumpkins! I promptly put the squash down and went home to get ready.

We entered the Irish bar which was stuffed full of British and American ex-pats. The floor was sticky with pumpkin guts and spilt beer. It was perfect.

We joined a carving team called the Seed Spitters. The creative vision was already decided by our group leader, a four part series of drunkin punkins. I offered to handle the vomiting pumpkin.

Traditionally I carve what we call in our family the Grandpa Day pumpkin. It's a classic design that has been carried on through three generations of carvers in the Campbell family. My mother (all star pumpkin carver) fearlessly works an eight inch chef's knife and can carve a pumpkin with her eye's closed. My other teammates were working with round tip serrated knives....I went for the henkles paring knife. While this new age design was a little outside of my classic pumpkin carving tastes I think it turned out well. It was paired with three other pumpkins who had various party night props. One was smoking, the other was grinning with a beer bottle hanging from it's lips and the last was crossed eyed and green.

Our team clenched second place. I think Grandpa Day would be proud.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

French Kissing and American Sandwiches

From French Fries to French Kissing I would say that whoever is in charge of PR for France is doing their job. The French are generally associated with nice things but why are they so lucky? Why is their culture associated both with fancy kissing and delicious potato dishes when officially speaking they did not invent either?

If you were get in a conversation with a French person about French Fries they would at some point chuckle and shake their heads saying, "I do not know why you call them French Fries when everyone knows they are from Belgium, bien sûr!". When it comes to French Kissing, which is another claim to fame that the French don't necessarily deserve, they are less likely to pass the credit along to the Belgians. Although if you push them to define a French Kiss they
are likely to say, "Je ne sais pas, kissing a French person?". In fact the French word for French Kissing is to "Rouler une pelle" which roughly translates to digging a hole in someone's mouth using your tongue as a shovel. Not very romantic sounding if you ask me.

Recently I discovered that the French are not always associated with beautiful and romantic things. The case in point being the so called Turkish Toilet. When traveling in Europe, especially by bus or car, you often run in to Turkish Toilets when you stop to fill up the gas tank and empty yours. It is essentially a porcelain hole in the ground with grips for your feet and occasionally toilet paper. You are expected, male or female, to drop your pants, hover over the hole and try to tell your bladder that this time it's ok to pee standing up. Sometimes you will find handle bars on the walls, these of course are for the foreigners who have not yet built up the thigh muscles to handle these toilettes.

Whilst traveling with a Belgian coworker last month we were giggling in a the ladies room of an Autogrill rest stop about the faces Americans make when the only stall available is the one with the Turkish Toilet. Nina, stopped me mid sentence and said, "Wait, what did you just call
that toilet?". I said, "A Turkish Toilet! Everyone knows that!". Nina laughs and laughs and says, "Mary, that is too funny. Do you know what we call them in Belgium? French Toilets?!"

So were the french just trying to pass the buck? Blame the Turks for this messy invention? It happens to the best of us.  For example, you can often find cafés in France selling something called a Sandwich Américain. This is not a turkey sandwich with miracle whip and iceburg lettuce on untoasted wonderbread. Oh no. It is a meat sandwich that is stuffed with French Fries and topped with mayonaise and/or ketchup. Has anyone EVER seen one of these sandwiches in the US? No. Were the French ashamed of this caloric nightmare? I think so. Thus they came up with the name Sandwich Américain. Genius.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My bubble has burst...

No. I am not talking about the real-estate bubble or the economic crisis. I am talking about my bubble of personal space.

Americans need an average of two feet between them. Be it at a party, in an elevator or in line at the grocery store, we feel at ease if we have an arms-with between ourselves and a stranger. The Europeans, the French specifically, work with much less. In Paris, the space between you and the person sitting next to you on the train or at a restaurant can be a matter of inches. How are you supposed to deal with the closeness? How are you supposed to enjoy a romantic dinner while knocking elbows with a stranger? How do you get used to having several arms reaching around you to grab the pole in the metro? Makebelieve.

Most Parisians have mastered the art of ignoring each other. When sitting on the metro, shoulder to shoulder with a muttering crazy person you simply pretend you cannot hear them. When walking down the street and passing pedestrians at a rate of 100 people per block you pretend you're the only one on that sidewalk. Because if you paused to process the people around you, you wold loose your mind. So Paris has decided to ignore its fellow residents for sanity's sake.

When my mother stayed with us in May, she would open our shutters every morning and greet the world like Mary Poppins meeting her bird friends. She would then break the unspoken Parisian Apartment code of conduct and wave to our neighbor across the street. We can plainly see in to his apartment and he can obviously see in to ours. We have been mutually observing each other for some time now but we pretend that we aren't. If you acknowledge the fact that a stranger can see in to your life and that the banging coming from above is likely not a basketball and that the reason the hallway smells bad because the garbage from the 40+ people living in your building are stacked at the entry, you would go nuts. So you just simply pretend it's not happening.

At first I thought this practice was cold hearted and an impossible habit for me to get in to. But as I rode the metro yesterday with a tangle of arms between me and the pole, I took deep breaths and successfully ignored the overweight couple making out inches from my face, ignored the crazy old man talking to himself about the pot smoking youth and ignored the tall kid behind me breathing on my neck. All for the sake of sanity because otherwise I would have to cover my eyes and start screaming, "get me out of here!".