Day 27: Langues des Signes Français

Wow, Day 27.  Can you believe we’ve been in France for almost a month?  I am famous in my own mind for having bizarre cravings when out of country, and France is no different.  I want some freaking Taco Bell.  Don’t get me wrong, fried okra or grits or sausage gravy and biscuits would be amazing, too, but man, I keep wanting Taco Bell at the weirdest times.  (When I was in Kenya, FYI, it was Waffle House.)

So I promised I would eventually tell you the story of my second meeting with Metz CouchSurfers and now is a good time.  One of the girls on the local list, Élise, suggested a bar called La Chaouée.  And it’s…

Well, it’s a world unto itself.  Élise called it a bar, and the management said that it was a “club” and required a membership in order to buy drinks, but quite honestly, the best description of it is a tiny modern gentlemen’s club.  (Not the strip club kind.  The kind you read about in Sherlock Holmes.)

There aren’t any private rooms available to club members, but for such a tiny property, there are lots of alcoves and tables for various sized groups.  One wall has a window in it that used to look onto the street but now looks onto the beer storage room, so someone put up a black cloth behind the glass and stuffed the alcove full of stuffed animals.  A third of the available vertical space is devoted to a lending library for club members (you may only borrow three books at a time!).  Two large bookcases hold an extensive library of board games.  Down a narrow spiral staircase, there is a small music venue set in a whitewashed wine cellar-cum-catacomb.

I’m pretty sure the only reason they don’t serve food to anyone but the benevolat (volunteers) and the musical act of the day is that no one would ever leave if they could get food there too.  (This isn’t entirely true: the other reason is that the tiny kitchen in the staff area is a converted bathroom.  Someone put a large butcher block on top of the bathtub and built a kitchen from there.)

Last week, Élise and Réne, another CouchSurfer, met us at La Chaouée.  Because Élise is a regular, all of the volunteers know her, and we ended up playing “Dobble,” (called Spot It!) in English, that works really well for groups who don’t all speak the same language.  It involves finding pictures on certain cards and calling out the name of the pictures.  This means that six other people were reinforcing the word for “tree” or “tear drop” at an excited shout, over and over again, and no one minded what language you used or if you just pointed and shouted “C’est!”

When I discovered that La Chaouée is run by volunteers, I immediately asked if I could sign up.  (Umm, duhhhhhh.  Awesome venue, friendly people who all know each other, chance to have something to do and learn French.  No brainer.)

Tonight I went back in the hopes of getting an overview of what kind of volunteering I’d be doing (working the bar) and whatever other orientation I needed.  I also went because La Chaouée was hosting a cultural event about LSF, French Sign Language.

American Sign Language, or ASL, which I know a little bit of, is similar enough to LSF that when I signed with people there, I kept getting corrected on my ASL signs, because they look like slightly wrong LSF.  Which is problematic when you’re trying to explain for someone who reads lips in the wrong language.  (I quickly learned the sign for “Anglais,” though, which smoothed things over a bit.)

Funniest moment of the night was explaining to an LSF interpreter, who also spoke English, why I was in Metz.  I finger-spelled M-E-T-Z, and the interpreter and another nearby signer recoiled and said “NON!” very loudly.  “No this!” the interpreter said, fingerspelling T the way I had.  “It means…a sex thing.”  Oops.  I explained that it was the letter T in ASL, which the two women thought was hilarious, and switched to signing T with the very awkward LSF sign for the rest of the night.

Élise and Réne showed up again (separately, with individual friends), so I spent a very pleasant three or four hours.  By about half-way through, though, I had a horrible headache—being on that beginner-intermediate edge of understanding a language more fluidly is hard enough on your brain.  Two at once is sheer masochism.  I resorted to putting on the dorky earphones that were available for the hearing people to simulate the deaf experience (or at least to keep them from cheating and trying to get auditory cues when they were getting their two hour immersion in LSF).  Blissful quiet.

The group of Deaf people that were there were all amazing about playing charades with hearing people until they learned a basic sign—making a pretend nametag and then making the sign for “name,” spelling their own names very slowly and then making the sign for name and then pointing at the hearing person to ask for his or her name.

There was even a “debate”—a question and answer session for the hearing people to ask the Deaf people things that they were curious about.  I did not understand a word of it, en français or en LSF, but that was fine.  I understood at least a couple of questions, which were things like “How do you watch movies?  Do you like movies?” and “What is music like for you?” and “Would you ever try to dance?”

The answer, oh hearing people who are reading this, is that there are as many answers to these questions as there are Deaf people.  What would you say if someone came up to you and asked, “Do hearing people like movies?”  Which isn’t to say you can’t ask a Deaf person something you’re curious about, just ask that person, and not all of Deaf culture through the oracle that is [really, really not] that person.

The Deaf people argued with each other: I don’t usually hang out with a lot of Deaf people at once, so I had never seen that many Deaf people interrupting each other or deliberately ignoring “my turn now?” turn-taking markers.  The lovely, lovely ‘terp synthesized the arguing into an answer, or interpreted each person’s answer in turn.  The Deaf man who was the “main event” answerer of questions also said “pour moi” and the French phrase for “for example” A LOT, which helped me feel better about the debate.

As an aside:

Dear Jen,

I’m so sorry, but when my new French friends asked me about rude signs, I, um, showed them some.  They were (naturally) quite taken with the ruder sign for sex.  At least I also taught them to order drinks in LSF at the bar?  Sigh.



When the crowd finally cleared, one of the staff members showed me around and introduced me to a couple more of the benevolat team.  Élise invited me to a party at her house tomorrow night (“just red wine and chips, not a very good party” she said), which I regretfully declined because Tom and I are taking a long weekend in Luxembourg.  Réne drove me home, and now here I am.  Saying hi to all of you and sending very much love.  🙂

P.S. Jen and Wes, I miss you extra today.


Day 25: Une bière mirabelle

The "Carmen Miranda" or "Twisty Knot Bunch."  No, I don't know what day this is either.  Maybe Day 12?  And no, I didn't brush my hair today.  Or close our bedroom door.  It's nearly 3 AM; does it *look* like I care?

The “Carmen Miranda” or “Twisty Knot Bunch.” No, I don’t know what day this is either. Maybe Day 12? And no, I didn’t brush my hair today. Or close our bedroom door. It’s nearly 3 AM; does it *look* like I care?

Tonight, I finally made it to  Café des Langues in Metz City Center.

As you might remember, my first attempt was thwarted by a much-needed nap.  My second attempt was short-circuited by stubbornly ignoring black ice on a hill.  But tonight, as Tom pointed out, was already starting better than last week, since warmer weather and a metric shitton (exact measure) of rain has melted all the ice (except for a little bit in the lake).  La glace disparaît.  So, if I was going to injure myself, it was going to be from something else.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t!

To be honest, Le Café des Langues was exhausting.  My arm is still not fully recovered, and I forgot to take my oral anti-inflammatory this morning, resulting in throbbing pain all afternoon and evening, despite the miracle that is Voltaren gel.  I have taken to dousing the whole length of my arm in the stuff, to get the sore shoulder muscle loosened up as well as the elbow, which is recovering enough to turn a lovely shade of yellow-green.

The point is, I was in enough pain that the conversational point of no return was three people speaking in French.  I truly believe that focusing on people speaking in French, even when I understand one in twenty words, is helpful to the diffusion of français into my brain, but tonight I found myself setting an intense “listening” look on my face and mentally drifting away.  It probably didn’t help that by about nine pm or so, there were 15-18 people crammed around three tables in a rather echo-y upstairs room, and half the time when someone was speaking to me I had to cup my hands around my ears to hear them over the other conversations.

Despite this, I kept asking “Comment un dit ?” over and over again like a not particularly bright parrot, and repeating whatever I had been saying  in French (like an amazingly intelligent bilingual translator parrot?).  I had to ask how to say “What do you do?” approximately three times (the French I was given is “Que tu fais?”), and I still had to look it up with Google translate just now.  I also discovered that spoken slang for “Il y a” is just “y a,” although I have no memory of what prompted me to ask for something that got this response.

My go-to order at an…anywhere, actually…is now thé noir: black tea.  This prompts a variety of teas to show up, but tonight’s was Assam, and I savored every sip.  (Except the first sip, when it was too weak: I promptly popped the tea bag back in the cup.)  But after a while I was hungry enough, and envious enough of the young man with what was obviously a cherry lambic beer, to venture downstairs and order une bière fruitée and “Je mange…”  The proprietress, who evidently had been overjoyed at the change of venue from Café des Langues’ regular venue, was happy to prompt me slowly with types of sandwiches.  I asked if she could please add cheese to my ham and butter sandwich.  O.o

Both other times I have managed to spend long periods of time talking and drinking with locals (oh, right, remind me to tell you about the second time; it was awesome), they have asked if I have tried a mirabelle.  No, I haven’t, and I don’t like prunes, but hell, I was trying new things tonight.  Public service announcement, people: a mirabelle lambic is fucking delicious.  It doesn’t really taste like a plum, it just tastes warmly yellow (but not citrusy), with that perfect lambic balance of sweet fruit and fermented beer.

I discovered that two of the Café regulars were PhD students at GTL, which definitely makes the total of GTL students (that are not in Tom’s class) I know higher than Tom’s total.  (Yeah, sad.)  It was nice to be able to complain about the grad student dorms and internet with someone who would commiserate and not take offense.  It’s not that we’re not grateful for the cheap housing near campus.  But, OH GOD, anyone who has ever been to college and then graduated, would you want to move back into a dorm with undergrads?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Case in point: one of the grad students, Manas, also lives in my building, so he gave me a ride home after the Café.  As we were walking to our building, some boys from SUPELEC (local university for which our housing is one of the main dorms) started setting off fireworks from close enough that burned out rocket stems hit Manas in the head.  Twice.

At any rate, from today came: our deposit paid to the dorm, finally; good design work on a Sekrit Project; and two Facebook friends + two GTL grad student acquaintances (that Venn diagram overlaps by one).  Good enough for me.

Scarf Challenge Day 11

Today being a lazy, play-Flash-games, read-fanfiction, do-a-little-catching-up recovery day, I decided I’d finally try the “blogger” look.  It’s a simple scarf move–wrap it around your neck until you run out of scarf.  Tuck the ends in.  Voila!  A little slouchy, a little chic, a little I-wore-too-many-turtle-necks-as-a-child…

Anyway.  What do you think?  (The thing you can’t see in my fantastic Photo Booth pictures is that my shirt is very dark teal with horizontal black stripes.  Or is that black with very dark teal horizontal stripes?)  Earrings from my favorite jewelry-maker, Sihaya Designs.Photo on 2013-01-24 at 18.25 Photo on 2013-01-24 at 18.25 #2 Photo on 2013-01-24 at 18.24 #3

Day 21: Slow Recovery

My lightbox arrived yesterday, and huddling in front of it does appear to help with my Really-Not-a-Morning-Person brain and my mood. I plugged it in and basked in it for a half-hour or so, and decided that maybe I did have enough energy to go find the nearest English-speaking doctor’s office.

The doctor confirmed what we suspected: not broken. He said there’s a lot of blood and fluid built up in my elbow from the bruise, but that it should gradually abate over the next week and the swelling and pain should go down. He also sent me to the pharmacy to pick up paracetamol (I feel British!), an anti-inflammatory, and the French version of Voltaren gel, which is a topical anti-inflammatory gel that is PURE MAGIC. Smelly magic, but still.

I also burned through my bandwidth Skyping with my internet friend Liz, which cheered me up immensely. Not the burning through the bandwidth part, though–for whatever “bizarre” reason, I just can’t manage to keep my daily upload under 1.2GB and my daily download under 2GB. And *gasp* in all the reaching my bandwidth cap pretty much every day since we got here, not once have I attempted to illegally download anything! (I spend a lot of time internally wishing ill on whoever though this system would be a good way to limit piracy among French college students. Also on whoever decided to put bumpy wallpaper that practically brushes off the wall on walls in a DORM.)

So today I’m recuperating and pretending to work on grad school applications.

Also, this comic is pretty much my life.

Service Interruption

Welp, trying to head to a “language café” tonight, I slipped on black ice (I fail at snow) and have sprained my right elbow(possibly broken? I hope not–no swelling, but I can only straighten my elbow to a certain point, although I’d say that point is 170 degrees out of 180). At least it’s my non-dominant hand. And we have ice packs from the last time I failed snow.

I’m lonely and discouraged at the moment. Good thoughts, prayers, and distractions appreciated; platitudes not. I’m spiky and irritable enough that I told my husband all his cooking sucks just because I needed to lash out.


A Backlog of Scarves: Days 3 and 4

Shall we?

Day Three

I cheated.  I wanted to try out the “blogger look”you know the one, but I discovered that the scarf I wanted to wear wasn’t suitable for wrapping around my neck–because it was already an infinity scarf!  So I just looped it around twice, comfy- and slouchy-looking.

DSC_4392 DSC_4393

My outfit that day was pretty awesome too:

Scarf and Shorts: Plato’s Closet  –  Shirt: hand-me-down (I think)  –  Tights: Target ($3!)  –  Boots (which you can’t see): DSW
Exercise Ball That is Stealing The Scene: Target


Day Four

I cheated some more.  This is your standard overhand knot, but I used a Through The Wire Headband (in yellow, obviously) from Modcloth.  The zig-zag wire inside the headband/scarf keeps it in place and makes the ends stand out.  So a very polished look for .00001 units of effort.


Shirt: Target  –  Cardigan: closet (I’ve had it since high school)  –  Scarf: Modcloth  –  Jeans: Kohl’s
Earrings: Sihaya Designs  –  Boots: DSW