Thursday, October 17, 2013

Adjusting to French standards

     Years ago when we were living in Texas, hubby told me that in certain aspects/standards Malaysians are closer to USA compared to France. I thought he was kidding, there was no way an Asian country is closer to USA than an occidental (Caucasian) country. Now, I think he could be right.

 1. Note pad
     Several days ago I started a new note pad, and I was surprised to find the tiny square layout (left hand side on the photo above). I didn't know how to write on it, should I write within the squares, or one alphabet could be written on three line of squares... I hesitated for a while so I started looking at how people write on this type of paper. There is simply no standard, everyone writes the way they want.

     In Malaysia, after high school,  people pretty much writing on line format (like shown in the right hand side of the photo above), just like in the USA. Years ago my MIL gave me a note pad like the one on the middle of the photo, where it has a big square with three horizontal lines inside. I couldn't get used to it. I found it hard to read writings in these square formats. Wouldn't it save ton of money if note pad producers simply print papers with lines?

2. Comma vs Full stop

     In France, a comma is used as a decimal mark compared to full stop in most part of Asia and English speaking countries. So 12.34€ (twelve Euro thirty four Cents) are written as 12,34€. In my job I deal with numbers everyday, I struggled at the beginning but now it just comes by naturally. However, I have to deal with this difference frequently as it produces many mistakes.

a) When working with Excel. I have data coming from different systems, some of them are using Comma standard, the others are using Full stop. We have to use a Macro to turn all these data into the same standard. Sometimes data extraction coming from the same source changed from Comma standard to Dot standard, or someone sends me an updated file which changes all my Comma to Dot resulted in formula mistakes all over the sheet.

b) When using group reporting tools. Our group reporting tools are using the Dot standard. So we have to enter data accordingly. I have many painful experiences being trapped in situations where data entries didn't match the awaiting results just to realize that my 12,34€ has become 1234€ in the reporting system. In one tool, we have an automatic function to feed an Excel file to the system. It has a bug : all the numbers after the decimal marks disappear after loading. The support team told us that it would be too complicate to load these fraction numbers, but we can enter the numbers manually. Hah? How about entering hundred of lines of data manually?

     The map above from Wikipedia shows countries who use Comma vs countries who use Dot or Full stop. I'm surprised to learn that more countries (67) are using Comma than Dot (42). But in terms of coverage Comma standard covers 24% of the of world population, much lower than 60% coverage for the Dot standard.

     France uses AZERTY computer keyboard compare to QWERTY layout in Malaysia and in USA. I get use to the AZERTY keyboard now that I have problem switching to QWERTY layout back in Malaysia. It is easier to type those French accents : é, è, à, ç, ù (only use in one word “où” = where in French)

     Anyway, I’m surprised though to learn that only France and Belgium use this type of layout. The only issue I encounter is when I type in Mandarin using PinYin. For some reason when I switch to Mandarin (provided by Windows 7), the keyboard also switches to QWERTY mode. It is very painful to locate Q, Z, M, A, and W as what I see on the keyboard is not what is shown. I have not yet found a solution to fix it.

     I'm not complaining here, I just want to point out that as an expat I have to constantly adapt to standards practicing in my host country. It is not a problem switching to one standard, it is just painful when we have to juggle between different standards practicing in different countries.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

It takes time to adapt : winter

          Over the weekend the temperature has dropped drastically : 10°C in the morning. I was freezing, am still freezing in my own apartment, as it has center heater and usually it gets turned on late October. I was told that maybe some senior citizens in the apartment complex would appeal to our syndicat so that they would turn on the heater earlier than planned.
          When I arrived in the office, I was surprised to learn that we are still in summer mode so the air conditioner is on and we have to put it to minimum. How ironic that the temperature inside the office is lower than the temperature outdoor in winter! Some coworkers wrote to our facility manager and the response : the company who handles the heating system has to come and do something, but they will not come until middle of the week because a storm was expected beginning of the week. I don’t think it is a norm here, as hubby’s office has switched to winter mode, but he knows other offices that are experiencing the same thing as us.

          Coming from a tropical country, winter is always harsh for me, but it gets better over years. My moral is still low, I have no desire to do anything, and couldn’t understand how people can claim that winter is their favorite season that they are so eager to walk outside or practice winter sports. My legs used to freeze up even with two layers of pants, but last winter a pair of jeans were enough to put me through the whole winter.
But a walk outside at 0°C with strong wind would trigger a running nose, and I get sick a lot in this season (cough, cold, running nose…).

          I’m glad that the first few years outside of my comfort zone were spent in Texas, where winter was very mild, I didn’t even have big thick coat like I own today. I hope we have center heating system like in Texas though, we just have to put it to 19°C the whole year. We can stay in the cozy apartment and not realizing the weather outdoor. I was told that heater and air conditioner work on two different systems, and maybe center heating is less ecologic, as I have not heard of it in Nantes.

          Anyway, after hearing all my whining, my friend told me that Nantes actually has nice weather in general, I should have gone to Northern part of China to experience the real winter. And in some Southern cities in China, there are no heater during winter.

         Ok, I admit I have not seen the worst, but I don’t think I would want to.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

She has two papas

We were playing outdoor when I pointed out a little girl to Aelig.
The little girl and Aelig looked and observed each other.
I continued reading my book, then I heard my daughter telling me : "Maman, she has two papas."
The little girl was entering a house, with two men.
I didn't know how to react, I wasn't expect to talk to my kid about homosexual at this young age.
So I chose the safe way : "Well, the other man is probably her uncle, just like you have a tonton (uncle in French)."

I believe what we parents tell our children will greatly sharp their belief systems in the future.
But, I feel that sometimes what I told my daughter was not entirely right.
For example, at one point, she didn't know how to differentiate between a boy and a girl.
I told her, a boy has short hair. Wrong! There are many men with long hairs these days.
I told her, a boy wears pants. Wrong again! In certain cultures boys wear skirt.
Nowadays she pretty much knows how to judge the gender of kids she encounters.
But she kind of builds up her own judgment : a girl who wears dress or skirt is beautiful, a girl who wears pants are ugly. That probably my fault : each time she wears a dress I would praise how beautiful she is, but I say nothing when she wears pants.

The other day we went to a fest-noz (Brittany dancing party). There was a dwarf dancing. She observed her for a while then asked me why that lady is so small. I told her she was a dwarf, but didn't explain further. A little while later she pointed at the dwarf and threw me the same question. I told her the same answer but I wish I can tell her something more intelligent.

I hope I now how to deal with these awkward moments, for example by coming out with answers that are humorous and educative at the same time. It comes with practices and experiences I guess.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Addressing families : France vs Malaysia

My MIL once commented that she found it horrible that I have to address my sisters by the birth order in my family. France has a long history of fighting against hierarchy in the society, she couldn't understand why we are doing this in families.

Well, I have more than one sister, so I call the eldest one "big sister", the second eldest "second sister", the third eldest "third sister" and so on. This also applies to brothers, uncles, aunties and cousins, so I have people to whom I call big uncle, small aunt (the youngest aunt), third cousin... And since in Mandarin we have distinctive words for people older or younger than you, people from parental side or maternal side,  it is easy to know the relation between two people, if they are related by blood / marriage.

In France, just like in Asia, people address parents and grandparents by their title , but for everyone else in the family they simply call them by first name or last name. It used to be very confusing for me, as when a friend introduced me to, say a cousin, I didn't know if this cousin is from the parental or maternal side, or if he is older or younger compared to my friend. And, it took me some times to accept calling my parents in law by their first name, which in my culture is considered very rude.

There is also a practice that surprises hubby and my MIL : the first thing we say when we meet someone. In France, it would start with a bonjour or salut. In my family, the younger generation has to call out to the elder generation by their "title". For example when I go to my sister's house, my nieces and nephews have to call me "bei yi" (last aunt in Hokkien). And I have to call out to my sister and my brother in laws because they are older than me. Well, how about hubby? He gets to have special treatment as everyone calls him by his first name, else he would be called "bei yi tiung" (last aunt's husband in Hokkien).

When I was a kid, whenever we went to visit someone, my mother would make sure that I addressed everyone in the house (aunt or uncle if not blood/marriage related) before I was allowed to go. Naturally, I try to train Aelig to do the same. But I forgot that in France they don't practice the same things! When Aelig went to visit my office for the first time, I introduced one of my coworkers to her by saying : this is tonton M (uncle M). This coworker immediately laughed hearing me addressing him as tonton (uncle in French). Later he told me that only his siblings kids would call him tonton in France. You just don't go out and call everyone older than you tonton or tata (aunt in French). I was very embarrassed.

Back to my MIL's comment. I was surprised on how she feels about it. I actually love the way I call my sisters very much. Example, let's say my sister's name is Marie, and I tell people that I went shopping with Marie, this could be any Marie, nothing so special. But if I say I go out with my big sister, that's special, because in the whole wide world, I have only one big sister. Besides, elder sisters would usually take good care of their younger sisters.

From my observation, France has its unique practice as well in addressing family members. It goes back to the confusing vous (polite form of you) vs tu (informal form of you). When I asked my French professor how should I address my MIL, she said she would never use "tu" as it is impolite. When I arrived in France, my MIL was disappointed when I use "tu" with her as she thought that I wanted to keep distance between us. So now I use "tu" with everyone in the family, including the grandmothers, to show that I want to be close to them. And then I notice a weird phenomena : everyone in the family would use "tu" with each other except the son in laws. The son in laws use "vous" when calling their MIL. Are they trying to keep distance? How about the neighbors? I feel so close to them so I use "tu" with them but everyone in my French family use "vous" with them. That's something hubby couldn't really explain, just like I couldn't explain to him why Chinese bothered themselves with so many kinship terms to address different family members.

For those who are interested, you can watch a Youtube video about Chinese Family Tree here:

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Going to school with a snail

The school is teaching about Autumn so they asked the students to bring something related to this theme. It also mentioned that if during a walk you find a snail, bring it to school!

So, this poor snail was spotted and taken home by the father and daughter. I gave them an empty cheese box to create a warm home for it. Even though it has holes on the cover, I still left a tiny space between the cover and the bottom part just in case. Guess what? The snail went missing the second morning. However, it didn't escape its fate as it was spotted again and placed in the box. And now it is sitting inside a small aquarium, being shown to the kids with a bunch of its mates.

Personally I would have preferred to bring leaves or a book about Autumn to school then a living animal. I believe every animal has the right to live in harmony with everyone else and not being disturbed. I always tell Aelig to leave those flowers alone so that they could be with their "family members" instead of going to some stranger's home and die.

In case someone is curious, we do not eat snail at home.

Poor thing, I hope the school teaches the kids to not "abuse" the snails in their class.