La fête des galletes

I’m still catching up with my blogging. In the beginning of January we went to the fête des galletes. It’s a yearly thing organised by Dire-Lire, the people who run my French course. In France you eat galette des rois to celebrate the holiday of Epiphany.

In Austria Epiphany means kids dress up as the three Magi and go from door carolling and collecting money. It’s a yearly donation drive by the catholic church. I just did a little googling because I was vague on the facts. Apparently it’s organised by the catholic Jungschar (similar to the scouts, I guess, but closely affiliated with the church).

When we talked about epiphany in class, I looked up the word Sternsinger in the dictionary and there was an entire sentence to translate the concept. That’s how I found out that the tradition of dressing up kids as magi and sending them around town to sing, collect money and bless people’s houses by writing something in chalk is a tradition of the areas where German is spoken, not something practised by catholics everywhere. That was also the reason why I could score with detail knowledge in class. Nobody else knew that the three magi are called Gaspard, Melchior et Balthazar. 

In France Epiphany is celebreated on January 6 or the first Sunday of January and you celebrate it by eating galette des rois. It’s puff pastry with frangipan, a delicious filling made from almonds, sugar, butter and eggs. There is a fève, a broad bean, hidden somewhere in the cake. Nowadays it’s rarely an actual bean but a little plastic figure. The person who gets the piece with the bean is roi/reine of the day and gets to wear the paper crown. Here’s a recipe by my favourite French food blogger (she writes in English).

Boulangeries sell galettes des rois not just on January 6, but starting in late December all through the month of January. The galettes come in all sizes and with different fillings as well. There are even cakes where the fèves are figures of one of the last couple of animated Disney films.

Epiphany is not a public holiday in France, just a cake eating day. The Christmas school holidays only last until January 2nd. School kids still get 2 weeks off though, it just starts earlier here.

The fête des galettes was organised for a Saturday night in January. All people from all the French classes are invited and are asked to bring their family.

When we arrived we were asked to put a sticker on the map. My sticker covered most of Austria. The woman from Kazachstan brought an excellent salad.

We were asked to bring a savoury speciality from our country. It couldn’t be a warm dish, because there are no cooking facilities available. We ended up deciding on Styrian salad with runner beans (according to Leo) and pumpkin seed oil which is Steirischer Käferbohnensalat mit Kernöl.

Steirischer Käferbohnensalat with pumpkin seed oil. And a little too much onion. The pumpkin seed oil makes everything dark green

Somebody actually made France from styrofoam and covered it in tinfoil. I’m not sure what for, but I was impressed by it anyway.

They even had a little programme prepared. All the teachers who were there introduced themselves. There was a quiz on Parisian sights and a little film about France. It was supposed to introduce the country and help us decide where to go on a weekend trip. Then they showed a music video that probably everyone in France knows. They called it karaoke and expected us to sing along. Some teachers bravely sang along but we foreigners just stared at the screen wondering what that was all about. I didn’t recognise the song, didn’t know the words and don’t sing in public.

Despite not having been home for the holidays this year, I got the full epiphany experience: I was sitting there, feeling terribly awkward while unexpectedly being sung at by strangers. It’s really almost like the Austrian epiphany tradition, only in France at least we had pastry afterwards.

La rentrée scolaire

My French course only started two weeks ago. Next week the autumn holidays start and we already get a break. I moved the courses around so I’d only have to go to class on two days. On the plus side, I don’t have to get to the other side of town on Monday morning. On the downside, my Friday course now starts at 9 am and I don’t leave until noon. By the end of the second course we are all wearing our coats and scarves because the classroom gets so chilly.

There are lots of new faces in the course and a lot of different countries of origin. I find it tremendously interesting, that there are women from Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, Romania, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Guinea Bissau, Marocco, Syria, Egypt and Iran.

We have to do “getting to know each other” games, of course. I usually hate them. I always end up after three women who just said “married, two children” and say something like “not married, no children” and it ends up sounding a little sad. I’m really happy with this situation though, I assure you.

This year the games were more in the vein of “finding things in common” and “finding things that are different”. That turned out to be quite interesting. Also I learned that Far East is called l’Extrême-Orient and Middle East is called Moyen-Orient.

I’m also hoping for another round of “bring a speciality of your country” this year. There were some delicious baked goods last Christmas.

Le fin d’été, le debout d’automne

This summer I spent 3 weeks travelling to and in Austria and had 4 sets of visitors in France. I really enjoy having visitors. I can show Paris to them and a bit of Palaiseau. I noticed this sumer that people find the same things remarkable that I noticed when I first arrived. High up on the list are the street signs making exceptions for bikes and taxis.

sauf taxi

It’s only funny if you are not a French speaker – sauf means except in French. And it means to drink alcohol in German.

Though I do understand the association: you can buy a small plastic bottle of chilled wine in the supermarket. And the little bottle has a little plastic cup attached.

little wine bottle with built in cup

I guess it’s for picknicks, or pique nique, as they are called here. The wine wasn’t very good, by the way.

A lot of people also remarked on the large number of magpies around. There are very few tits (Kohlmeisen, not breasts. There are on average as many breasts as in Austria per person) and blackbirds compared to Vienna. And I don’t remember consciously seeing magpies before, though our last visitor said that Dublin was full of them as well.

Gergö doesn’t like the noise from the airport. Depending on the weather it can get pretty loud. Some visitors agree with Gergö and wake up from the noise when it starts around 6 in the morning. Our last guests however barely registered it. Except for the little girl who’d point at the planes and blow rasperries :-)

Our last two visitors also did most if not all of the dishes during their stay, so they are even more welcome to return than everyone else who visited.

After having so many guests, I was looking forward to this week of alone time. Though the only difference to having guests is that I can sleep and eat according to my own slightly messed up schedule. Since Gergö spent three days at a workshop out of town and I was completely alone at home. I usually go from “yay, I have the place to myself” to “Making my own food sucks” in a day or two. I can wear sweatpants all day and eat junk food whenever I want, after all. It wasn’t very different this time. When we went food shopping a couple of days before Gergö left he suggested a 5 pack of ramen noodles, so I wouldn’t starve while he’s away. I made jokes about it on facebook, but I ate three packs of them and didn’t touch the vegetables in the fridge.

Now he’s back and I have had several healthy meals on actual plates containing vegetables.

There are no visits planned for the near future, but Gergö and I will go on a trip to Futuroscope in late September. It’s a theme park that’s supposed to be a lot of fun. I wanted to do something in September before my French course starts up again.

Last Saturday we went to the ville d’associations, where all the associations of the town had stalls on the town square and advertised their services. I had no idea that there’s a archery club in Palaiseau and a diving club as well. Apparently there’s also a committee for the memory of Général de Gaulle.

I didn’t sign up for any of that, but went for my French course again. This time I decided to take a second Friday morning class instead of the Monday morning one. The Monday class is inconveniently far away from where I live and most people from my Friday class take both Friday classes. I’ll also retake the Thursday grammar course and see if I remember more this time around. Future tense still completely stumps me (What do you mean, no auxiliary verb?!) and let’s not get started on conditionnel as well.

I have a lot of flyers with information about pilates and yoga classes, but I haven’t signed up yet. All of them expect you to pay by check. When I got my French bank account I rashly said I wouldn’t need checks. Now I already had several occasions where checks would have been really handy. I just might have to visit my bank and get a checkbook. Who would have thought that’s a sentence you read in 2016?

La fête de la galette des rois

In January in France everyone eats Galette des rois. I think originally it’s to celebrate the epiphany, but somehow it manages to stretch over the entire month of January. Gergö went back to work on January 6, which is not a holiday in France, and I think every single day since, somebody brought in a cake to share.

A Galette des rois is not a pancake, as the name suggests, but a big round pastry filled with Frangipane, which is  an almond filling a lot like marzipan. The cake traditionally has a little figurine inside and the person who ends up with the figurine in their piece of cake is king/queen. A lot of the galettes des rois come with a paper crown that said person then has to wear.

Tonight, Dire Lire, the people who run my French courses, have a fête de la galette des rois. Everyone is invited to come, bring family and something to eat from their country of origin. Gergö got us some Mozartkugeln to bring back home and I also volunteered him to make Makos Beigli (Mohnstrudel). Gergö always makes makos beigli for Christmas, but you can’t buy ground poppy seeds here.

After some googling, he determined, that there are Polish and Hungarian shops in Paris who, internet legend has it, sell ground poppy seeds. So last weekend we went to Paris to look for these shops. We couldn’t find them. There were different shops and cafés at the addresses we had found online. The whole exercise reminded me a lot of finding vegetarian restaurants in strange cities based on 4 year old online recommendations. We ended up walking from Gare du Nord to Les Halles through a really cool area of the 10th district, with lots of interesting looking ethnic restaurants and shops.

We ended up buying a cheap coffee/spice mill to grind the poppy. Gergö is in the kichen right now, making the filling and trying to decide what to add instead of apricot jam: honey or crème de marrons.


The autumn holidays have started today (two weeks!). And it was about time, too: I’ve already had three weeks of french classes, three times a week. Thursday is for grammar, Friday is for conversation, and I’m not really sure about Monday. Last time we read a page of Jules Vernes, discussed it and got a writing exercise as homework.

The other students are a very interesting mix. Women (and one man) from so many different countries: Russia, Italy, Vietnam, Kambodia, Colombia, Ukraine, Estonia, Syria, Ethiopia, Portugal, UK, Romania, Poland, Hong Kong, Japan, China.

And I think I notice a bit of an improvement: I still have to ask pardon a lot, but now I usually understand it the second time around. Not that “C’est sera tout?” and “Veuillez un sac?” are very complicated concepts, but I still often don’t catch it the first time I hear it.

Today as part of the course, we got a guided tour through the Médiatheque where the course is twice a week. In case I ever think of going back, just remind me of the children’s librarian and I’ll change my mind. She makes sure she only gets quality material in proper good french. Our teacher chipped in with the lament of the terrible way the kids these days text all the time.

I found it really interesting that the library doesn’t collect any late fees. If you don’t return your items, you’ll get a notice and you can’t get any more items from the library. But at no point to they collect any fines! The librarian who guided us visibly disapproved of this policy.


Trois tortus à triste tête trottaient sur trois toits très etroits

This week my French classes started. I go to three different classes with three different retired elderly ladies as teachers on Monday, Thursday and Friday morning. One is for grammar, one for conversation and the third one I’m not sure about yet.

Friday is conversation class and today we learned the tongue twister from the title. A tongue twister is called virelangue in French. I think it was to practise pronunciation.

Other things I learned this week: vocabulary related to my being ill. Je suis enrhumé means I have a cold. I looked that up and also décongestif (nasal spray) for my visit to the pharmacy. I was ill prepared (pun not intended), again, though. The pharmacist asked me about “moucher“. I didn’t make a connection from se moucher (sich schnäuzen/to blow one’s nose) to mouchoir (tissue/Taschentuch), but instead thought of boucherie, which is means butcher. We could clear up that misunderstanding with mime and I got a nasal spray with essential oils that burns like hell and brings tears to my eyes but is very effective for about 3 minutes.

After class today, I revisited la boulangerie de notre défait (the bakery of our defeat), as I like to call it. When Gergö and I wandered about Palaiseau for the first time, we decided to get a sandwich at a bakery. It had just turned noon and the place was empty. We walked in, ordered a sandwich, understood that there were two options: thon et jambon (tuna and ham). After that part it got difficult. The baker told me the amount and I handed over a 10€ note. But she refused my money. She explained but I didn’t understand, neither did Gergö. At some point he caught on, that she wanted the exact amount in change. Apparently she had seen that I had 6.40€ in change in my wallet and wanted it. I was pretty flustered by the time I handed over my coins, we got the sandwiches and turned around to leave. That’s when I saw that there were about 15 people queuing behind us, having watched our exchange. The queue went all the way out the door.

Now that I’ve been here for almost two months, I know that lunch queues of 15 people are nothing unsusual. And I am getting used to embarassing exchanges. Today actually went pretty well. I’m starting to appreciate the queues, because they give me time to listen in on the ordering process and let me prepare answers (no drink, thank you). There was one moment of hesitation today: I knew she was asking if I wanted anything else but I wasn’t sure if the appropriate answer would be “yes, that’s all” or “no, nothing else”, so I smiled and nodded through that part of the interaction. I wasn’t even flustered at all! Unlike yesterday, when I bought salmon tarte at the market only to discover I didn’t have enough cash on me and I didn’t know the word for atm, enough, or embarrassing.


Ce week-end je vais aller à Rennes

Gergö will have a project meeting in Rennes on Monday and he was encouraged to check out the city on the weekend leading up to the meeting. So tomorrow noon we’ll board a TGV to Rennes.

My knowledge of French geography is even more vague then that of Austria, so I agreed to come to Rennes before I knew anything about the city or where it is. After a quick Wikipedia session I knew it’s a city about the size of Linz, north of Paris, in the Bretagne. Oh.

I wasn’t sure why, but I was wary of the Bretagne. Then I remembered: It was one chapter in my French book in school. And I detested French class with an intensity only 15 year olds have. Our teacher was a mean spirited old woman who wore mustard coloured cardigans and returned exams with nasty comments.

I guess it’s time to overcome this misplaced mistrust in the Bretagne. I don’t even remember what we learned about it. Just a colourful page of photos. At least one showed young people in traditional clothing dancing folk dances. As long as I don’t have to write an essay about the Bretagne, I’ll be fine!

While I was at it, I decided it’s time to overcome my irrational hatred for “The petit prince” as well. We had to read an altered version of it in – you guessed it – French class. It was adapted and shortened for the stage. And we read it in preparation for seeing a performance of it.

I don’t remember much about the little prince, either. Talking roses, mostly. I don’t think we got much further. What I do still remember is that our teacher wouldn’t tell us what the new words meant. We should learn to derive the meaning by context. The context being a prince flying around in space talking to plants and animals made that impossible for me at the time.

I think almost 20 years for a grudge against a fictional kid is enough. (Though I remember joking with a friend that if someone tells you their favourite quote is “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” it’s a good sign you don’t want to keep the conversation going for much longer.)

I bought the book during our last shopping trip. You can place bets now, if I will soon have a new favourite quote!