Monday, December 26, 2011

Czech-ing In

I’m more than halfway through my Christmas vacation in Prague and so far it has been wonderful!  We flew in this past Wednesday.  After checking into our hotel, we immediately left for the center of the city to see the Christmas markets.  There are several Christmas markets in Prague and most of them have similar gifts and food.  You can easily find sausages, a Czech version of spatzel, cinnamon and sugar covered dough circles, gingerbread, wine, and grog.  Each tree has a wooden crèche below it, and there are Christmas lights everywhere.  The markets run until January 8, so we can enjoy them for our entire trip.  Christmas in the Czech Republic is celebrated on the 24th, and families traditionally eat carp for Christmas.  Due to this tradition there were many large plastic pools around the city full of fish for people to buy. 

The Christmas Market in Old Town Square
Our trip also comes at an interesting time because it follows the death of Vaclava Havla (Havel) who was the first post-communism President here.  He is an extremely important to the Czech people and they were in mourning for the first few days of our trip.  Havel’s body was lying in state in Prague castle, so we were unable to visit until Christmas day because it would have been rude to go as a tour group while people were saying their goodbyes.  Friday the 23rd was the funeral and national day of morning.  We were able to watch some of the funeral at the Globe, an expat hang out in Prague 2, and during that time there was also a national moment of silence.  There are memorials set up all around the city to honor Havel, including homemade signs and billboards put up by the city.  Following the funeral, there was a concert at night to honor Havel, which was projected on a giant screen in Wenceslas Square.   Many people stayed in the square to enjoy the concert and it is obvious that he was very well loved here.

Prague Castle
On a lighter note, the food here is fabulous, and cheap.  We have free breakfast at our hotel, which includes bread, cheese, cold cuts, eggs, and assorted fruits and salads.  We’ve enjoyed bagels TWICE at Bohemia Bagel (the first, and probably last time I’ve been able to have a bagel and Philadelphia cream cheese in Europe), market foods that I described above, Czech fried cheese and bacon dumplings with beer, Svickova (beef tenderloin in a carrot cream sauce with cranberries and dumplings), cheeseburgers, and apple strudel.  In Prague, beer is cheaper than water and my current favorite is a Czech beer called Staropramen.  We also visited a local microbrewery where we tasted eight beers (light, dark, wheat, banana, sour cherry, nettle, vanilla, and coffee).  Finally we had Thai food at a restaurant called the Lemon Leaf and it was delicious!  We are looking forward to more food adventures before we head back to France.

The Astrological Clock in Old Town Square
Stay tuned for more updates from Prague!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Obligatory OFII Post

As of this past Tuesday, I officially have a validated work visa and can stay in France until May.  Although I applied for my visa in August, and received it in September, the process was not over.  I also had to attend an appointment at the OFII (French Office of Immigration and Integration) to validate the visa.  This appointment consists of a medical exam and x-ray, and a short meeting to give the government more paperwork.

I was assigned the same appointment as three other assistants at 9AM in Rennes (the capital of Brittany).  I arrived about an hour early and made my way to the office.  After checking in you have to work your way through an assembly line of nurses and doctors.  First they check for tuberculosis by taking a chest x-ray.  Of course France isn't like America in the sense that there is now gown to cover yourself when you have to be undressed from the waist up (it wasn't nearly as awkward or embarrassing as I thought it would be though).  Then I was told to sit and wait in a chair in the hallway, x-ray in hand, until the nurse called me in.  The nurse asked the usual questions, and preformed an eye and blood sugar test.  I had low blood sugar, so she asked if I had eaten breakfast.  When I said no she insisted I eat a "pain au chocolat" immediately after the appointment.  Next was the doctor who asked a few more questions and then looked at the x-ray (in case you were wondering, I am TB free).  She signed some papers and then sent me to the next office where I showed proof of residence, proof that my visit was paid for by the government, and gave her a photograph.  I then received another sticker in my passport and was free to go!

After the appointment I was able to spend some time in Rennes before heading back to Guingamp.  It is starting to look like Christmas in France (minus the snow), there are Christmas lights up everywhere and there are many Christmas markets around.  I also only work four more days before our vacation starts on the 17th!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Learning about the American flag..

Today I was asked to bring a document into class to work with three small groups for.  While sifting through materials looking for something to use, I found a few pages on rules regarding the American flag in a book that my grandparents sent me…it was perfect!  The book listed some flag vocabulary, and I talked with the students about what the stars and stripes stand for.  Then we started reading the rules, and I allowed them to translate them so that all the students understood. 

The rules included:
  •       the flag must be raised swiftly but lowered slowly
  •       you can’t fly the flag in bad weather (unless it’s an all-weather flag)/at night (unless illuminated)
  •       the flag can’t touch the ground
  •       rules about where the flag is flown/how high in relation to other flags
  •       rules about flying the flag at half-staff
  •       flying the flag upside down
  •       why we fold the flag in a triangle (because of the tricorn hats during the Revolution!)

I then asked the students if there were any rules regarding the French flag (they said no) and if it symbolized anything (they didn’t know).  They told me that they thought that some rules were strict, and some were strange, but that others were “good.”  Finally one girl asked why it was a big deal if the flag touches the ground.

This is not as easy to answer as I thought, because as I was explaining that, to Americans, a flag is more than a piece of material and that it represents the ideals of our nation, I began to understand why it sounds strict and strange to others.  I am not the most outwardly patriotic person, which made it increasingly difficult to explain what the flag means to Americans.  Thankfully I had to simplify the English, and had the book to help me.  The students told their teacher that they really enjoyed the lesson...and so did I, even after repeating it three times.

Now I’m left to wonder…why are these symbols of patriotism so important to Americans?  Why aren’t they as important in France?  Probably for the same reason that the teachers thought it was hilarious that President Obama, the “leader of the free world,” spent his Thanksgiving pardoning a turkey when there are so many problems in the government...cultural differences (that’s the easy answer anyway)!

(Thanks to Grammy and Papa for all the new materials to use at school!)