Saturday, November 14, 2015

The cursive handwriting

Hubby's family are big in letters, so we still received them from time to time. His grandmothers send us religiously a birthday card for all our birthdays, sometimes including their fête. They send us postcards when they are on holidays.

I love receiving letters and postcards but the problem is, their handwritings are indecipherable, for me. All of them write in cursive and I have hard time understanding them. I learnt cursive writing in art classes, I remember we had to buy a special pen and use it to write connected letters during several art classes.

Here an example of a letter from the family. I never quite understand why my French family chose to write in cursive which makes my head spins each time I read it.

Now that my daughter goes to standard one, I'm seeing her learning to write in cursive everyday. So it is a norm in France! French learn to write in cursive since young age and they continue it into their adulthood. My daughter is learning to write in Uppercase, Lowercase and Cursive (script) in school. And now when she writes a sentence, every alphabet is connected.

 One of her homeworks was to write her name in Uppercase and in script.

She got a letter from a schoolmate, the last sentence was written in cursive.

Hubby was the only in her family that writes in print instead of cursive. He explained that his teachers found that he wrote badly in cursive and advised him to write exclusively in print. No wonder I can understand his writing!

PS: I was checking out why France still implement cursive handwriting in school and realised that it is a tradition back to the quill time. By connecting all the alphabets, it would improve writing speed and it would require less hand lifting. However, this is less practiced in US and UK now, some schools have stopped completely teaching cursive to their students.

The world's aisle

When I go for grocery shopping, I would sometimes check out "The World" aisle. It displays the typical Asian foods (instant noodles, sauces, rice, coconut milks), Mexican foods, African foods... I would quickly browse through the Asian section, but what I usually buy are from the British and American section. Yes, I didn't realise Malaysians are influenced in some way by the British : Jacob's crackers, Marmite, Marie biscuit, pudding, peanut butter. And, I got Dr Pepper softdrink for Hubby (influenced by our time in Austin TX).

Marmite is one kind of yeast extra. I grew up eating rice porridge with soya sauce or Marmite. It has a weird taste but I grew to love it. After I moved to France, I didn't eat it for a while, until I found online that it was sold in an Irish shop in downtown Nantes. Now they even have it in some traditional French supermarkets. French in general have not heard of it or couldn't believe that people are eating it. Yes, once a coworker mentioned that his friend from Australia was spreading Marmite on his sandwiches, he couldn't stand the smell so didn't even take a bit.

As of crackers, French generally spread something on crackers and serve them during apéro. Malaysians dip crackers into milo (chocolat drink) as breakfast, I'm not sure French can accept it.

How about pudding? Have not seen pudding being served in any typical French household. Hubby doesn't like pudding nor agar-agar (a popular dessert in Malaysia).

My kids love crackers and Marie biscuit. I haven't let them tried Marmite (ok I found spreading Marmite on a sandwich weird too). Aelig accepted agar agar in Malaysia. Hubby does eat crackers. He learnts to eat British food from a Malaysian. lol

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When the dam is drained (Lac de Guerlédan)

Hubby has been telling me that we need to go visit a lake (served as a dam) that is emptied due to maintenance. I was not very enthusiasm on the idea, what was there to see an emptied lake?

But when I set my feet into the lake area, I was more than impressed, I was overwhelmed by its beauty.

Here is the Lake of Guerledan in Brittany.

When the dam is at its full operation, water would cover till where the forest stands.

Stones after years being underwater. Fishes were transfered to other places before the water slowly being drained.
There were houses buried under water for a long time. They all turned black color.

Rocky hills with tunnels.
These rocks were usually covered by water, I'm not sure if this is their natural color.

Grasses grew where the was no more water.

A breathtaking view.

The drainage milestone
March and April 2015 : Progressivement lower the water level of the lake
From mid Mai to October 2015 : Lake drained, guided visits
Starting from November 2015 : Naturally filling up the lake
Beginning of 2016 : Hydro-electrical center back to service

It was Sunday and there were many visitors at all ages. This makes me feel that banning working on Sundays might be a good thing. Instead of running errands like doing grocery shopping or shopping the whole day in a Mall, people get to do something different.

For those who are interested to visit this Lake, you have until 31 Oct.
Here is the link for more information.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Where is the swimming bag!

The swimming classes are held during the weekday, hubby handles the sending and fetching.

One evening he had to go to the teachers - parents meeting, so he sent Aelig to the swimming pool, and I was going to fetch her back.

When I arrived with Awena in tow, I quickly checked through the lockers so I can grab the towel from the swimming bag. I looked for two minutes and still couldn't find it, although hubby had told me that I won't miss it. I rushed to get Aelig, all wet in her swim suit, then spent another 10 minutes looking through every lockers. I left my phone in the car so I had to go pick it up through the rain. I phoned hubby but he was unavailable, and Aelig didn't remember where her dad put the bag.

After all that mess, I suddenly thought of a possibility : would the bag in the male changing room? Aelig suddenly remembered : it was in the boy's room! We rushed to the boy's room and we immediately found the bag.

Ok, I have two daughters so I never have the problem to bring my kids to toilet or bathroom. I had never thought of it would be a complete issue for hubby. Bringing his daughter to a room full of girls, showering and changing into their swimsuits, what were I thinking? He would be considered a pedophile! Not easy to be a dad if you only have daughters.

And this might not only concern dads with daughters. I was in the swimming pools and after a training session, the trainer dismissed the students. One boy was moving towards the girls' changing room but the trainer asked him to go to the boys'. He protested : "but my mother is coming to pick me up, she is waiting for me in the girls' changing room!" Ok, so we have girls and boys taking shower (with swim suit on) together. Not easy also for mothers with boys.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Swimming pool and love at first sight

Aelig loves to go to the swimming pool, so I had been wanting to enroll her to swimming classes. Unfortunately I'm someone who is not very up to date on enrollement dates, so I missed the pre-enrollment day. By chatting with my coworker I realized that she had enrolled both her girls, while I would have to fight with a bunch of people on a Wednesday afternoon. She advised me to arrive 45 minutes early in order to secure a place.

Well, I was not keen on queuing for such a long time in advance as Awena would get bored and complained. So we arrived 15 minutes before they started accepting enrollment. There was a long line outside the registration place, I was given #47. We all wondered if there would be enough place for all of us, seeing that more and more people arriving. There was a pregnant woman coming with a foldable chair. Some moms knew each other so they were gossiping about schools, teachers, activities for kids....

The registration started at 2pm. People rushed inside the gym to form another queue. We were told to go inside the swimming pool in order for the trainers to see which level they should put our kids in. We went into changing room, parents and kids were packed along the corridor. Trainers called out numbers, so there was no use to rush actually. I put Awena inside a baby carrier, she was curious and tried to get free. Aelig was proud to be able to walk from one end to the other in the swimming pool, as expected she was put into the beginner class.

Once the level testing was done, we headed back to the gym to submit all kind of documents : registration form, medical certificate, a check for the whole season, proof of our income group (you pay the fee according to your family income group), proof of our current address. We waited for at least one hour there. The gym was packed with kids so I let Awena out to play with them.

And then I met the boy, and his mother. Apparently he was one of Aelig's boyfriends. They were there for the registration too, so I chatted with the mother. She told me that her boy likes Aelig a lot, and it was love at first sight. She suggested that we choose the same time slot so that they kids can swim together. I agreed to her suggestion.

Now, the little girl is happy to go to the swimming pool after school once a week. The hard part being that she has homework in the evening and she is not keen on doing them. So, after a long day (school + swimming class), there would be dragging, threathening, yelling, crying. How I wish Wednesdays are still no school day (she has class on Wednesday mornings since sept)! At least she could stay later on Tuesday night.

Anyhow, this episod just made me realise that the "kiasu spirit" (afraid to lose in Malaysian language), exists as well in France, at least where I'm. Moms were fighting for a spot for their love one. I hope all the kids enjoy and appreciate the classes after all the hard work their moms put in. :-)

PS : Most of the public swimming pools are run by the local Town Hall. It offers relatively affordable price, that's why swimming lessons are one of the popular after school activities.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The unlayoffable

Two weeks ago there was this news reporting that for 12 years, a French railway  (SNCF) employee was getting paid 5400€ monthly, even though he was sitting at home waiting for his new assignement. He now claimed a 500000€ compensation as his career life was ruined. Apparently, he was put into cupboard after disclosing a fraudful pratice in the company.

Over the years, I have worked with several ex-government turned private companies including SNCF. It seems that some employees in these companies have a special status that make them unlayoffable, or the layoff process is tedious and time consuming. It creates an okward situation when there are no suitable positions for some of them as the skills set required change. Instead of laying them off and let them venture into other career opportunities, these companies have to or choose to keep them, thus putting them into projects without clear job descriptions. Just imagine, you are working with these companies and you are at a meeting where one member just keep disrupting the discussions, or just keep quiet as nobody knows why he or she was there. Some of them tried very hard to catch up, to integrate into the new teams, while some of them just dropped out, feeling discouraged, or even lost their selfworth in the new organisations.

And, from what I heard, civil servants in France are unlayoffable, it is a lifelong employment contract.

As for the private companies, it depends on the sectors. I heard that some sectors layoff easily, for example in the construction. Some private companies prefer to not layoff their employees, even though they arrive late, sleeping during working hours, take long lunch break...and some know how to protect themselves : they become the délégue personnel (Elected employee representatif). If you layoff employees with this status, changes are you will lost if he or she sues you in the Labor Court.

Recently, I heard some people mentioned about "rupture conventionnelle", where employee employer come to agreements so that the employee will leave the company. It is not considered a layoff, nor a resignation, but both parties wanted to be separated. With this, the employee walks away with a severance package (sometimes amounted to several months or years of salaries), and since it was not a resignation, the employee could enjoy unemployment benefits. Employers use this to:
1. Get rid of employees who were under-performend, this could avoid going through the Labor Court
2. Get rid of those with high salaries and close to retirement. A win-win situation for both : employer got rid of the older employees so that they could lower their labor costs, while employee got to enjoy early retirement while being paid the same or almost the same.
3. Get rid of employees who were not motivated. I know of real cases of those who slept during working hours, refused job assignments, they managed to negotiate a severance package before leaving.

Coming from a capitalist country where under-performed employees are fired, it was difficult to accept that the incompetent coworkers or unprofessional behaviors could be tolerated in companies. With the rigid layoff process, it was a challenge for companies to go through reform even though they might be in financial difficulties. It was a vicious cycle : companies do not recruite easily due to the inflexibility in laying off people in case business going down; employees find it difficult to find other jobs thus prefer to stay put in the same job even though it might not please them.

As for this SNCF employee who sat at home for 12 years doing nothing but still received his paycheck every month, surely his career life was ruined. I presume he did try to find other job, but he probably didn't find any that would give him the same salary and benefits. These semi private semi public companies often offer abundant of paid vacations, interesting working hours and attractive retirement schemes. He actually has the courage to disclose his situation to the world, some in his shoes would maintain it until retirement.

What would you do if you were him?

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Why French women don't buy Louis Vuitton

I do not know of any French woman who owns a Louis Vuitton bag.
I seldom see anyone carrying one in the streets where I live, except in Paris, where tourists are everywhere at anytime.
I wonder why?

Yesterday I thought of these reasons:
1. French women do not get invited to wedding dinners as often as Malaysians or Asians in general. In Malaysia, you invite everyone to your wedding, including those that you have not seen in years. But in France, weddings are for close friends and relatives. And weddings, are time to show off in Malaysia, so every lady dresses up with luxury accessorries. And LV bags are seen often. So, less wedding invitations = less show off opportunities = less need for LV bags.

2. In general, French separate their work life and social life. In this case, you do not need to bring your girlfriend / wife to company gatherings. Less gatherings = less show off opportunities = less need for LV bags.

3. In general, French women are financial independent, they do not have the mentality to marry rich in order to get the golden bowl for the rest of their life. French men buy small gifts, romantic activites to win the heart of their girlfriends. And, French women could be the one taking the step when they are interested in someone. So, there is no need to buy LV bags to show that you are genuine in the relationship.

4. French women do a lot of sport. They bike, they run, they go hiking, they swim...It goes better with a backpack than a LV bag in these situations.

5. The most importantly, showing off is not in the mentality in general in France. Less showing off = less need for LV bags.

There are of course exception.

Going for a trip. See if I can think of more reasons. Have a nice weekend!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer camp around a Castle

Last summer I read on our community newsletter that they were having a summer camp for kids of 4-6 years old. I immediately contacted the Town Hall, but I was told that all camps were fully booked.

Around March this year, a friend told me that the Town Hall was organizing different activities for kids and we could get all the information during an exhibition in a castle. We went there to check out, and Aelig was intrigued by the camping coordinators who dressed as a queen, a fairy, a knight and an elf (lutin). So, on a Saturday morning, hubby set his alarm clock to make sure he woke up on time to enroll Aelig to this camp, as we were told that the spot would be gone within the first 20 minutes. The enrollment went through, Aelig was going to her first summer camp.

We chose the first week of July for her camp, right after her summer holidays started. We brief her about the camp, she realized little by little that she was going to sleep in a tent with people that she didn't know. But, she was brave, she didn't protest. So off we go. On Monday and Tuesday, she got introduced to new friends and got used to the new environment. She still came home in the evening.

Starting from Wednesday, she slept in the tent, we only picked her up on Friday evening. On Thursday morning, we got an email from the organiser, who gave us some news of what was going on in the camp.

Friday evening, we went to pick her up. Her first reaction was crying in hubby's arms. After hugging us, she calmed down and started showing us what she did.

We were invited to a performance where some of the kids (total 18 of them) describing what they did during the one week camp. They drew castle, forest, tent, queen, elf and knight to show us the adventure they went through.

Before we left, Aelig was surrounded by her new friends. They hugged her and said goodbye.

Overall, it was a good experience, for us and for Aelig. I was worried that she would be scared to participate in this camp since she knew nobody. Most of the kids enrolled with their friends and asked to sleep in the same tent. But, she did well, and she enjoyed it as she was so excited she wanted to join the camp again. Well, 120€ well spent.