Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘Georgia Tech Lorraine’

Commuting and Every Day life at the half way point

In European Union, France on September 30, 2009 at 9:22 am

Apparently we’re almost at the half way point. Wow, hard to believe it’s half way over.

So, I’m trying to reflect on things. Not unsurprisingly, I’ve lost some of the newness that made me aware of the mundane.

The flyers continue to show up at the house, and it no longer seems odd to me that they advertise uncooked meat. The continued desire to furnish your home with products that have the Union Jack on them does seem bizarre to me. Actually it caused me to notice that France like Italy flies a considerable number of flags. (Also like the United States). What’s nice to see in France and Italy is the national and the European Union flags together. It goes a long way to making me feel like I’m at home to see the EU flag. When we visited Veuve Cliqout, they flew their flag, and the flag of France and the EU. I feel very grateful to France that they’ve invited me to join in their Champagne heritage. The flags you fly say a lot about what you identify with, so perhaps it’s now more noticable to me how little a) Britain seems to fly the flag by comparison, and b) how you never see the EU flag when a flag is flown. While I actually like the relatively limited flag flying, I wish that the UK would embrace the EU. But I’ve spent my entire life wishing that, and I suspect that I will continue to spend the rest of my life wishing that.

Back to mail. We share our house with three other families. But our apartment is not numbered. Surnames and mail boxes outside with surnames on them, do the sort. Apartment numbers are irrelevant.

Surnames are capitalised here. I am not Beki Grinter, but Beki GRINTER. Mail is addressed to the sender on the front and the from address is on the back of the envelope rather than at the top left corner. I still do it the U.S. way, and no one’s told me off. By contrast I always wrote my seven’s the continental way, complete with the line through them, and so here I’m finally in the right script society. (The stroke through the seven is to distinguish it from the one, which if you see the continental way of writing it makes more sense).

I am also Madame here. The use of a prefix is far more prevelant here. It’s impossible to purchase tickets with my name, I need a form of address too. And it’s used. In those greeting cycles, it’s always with an address as well as my name, when the latter is known. Hello or Hi is not enough, it’s accompanied by my form of address.

I’ve always been used to au revoir for goodbye. I have heard far more use of bon voyage since being here. Particularly when I am potentially leaving and the other person is not. Cora is a good example, it’s always bon voyage. Which used to stump me, it’s silly to say bon voyage to someone who is sat behind a check out counter, but now I feel comfortable saying au revoir and merci.

I’m used to the routine of seeing signage and for K&I to start deciphering what it means. At first, it was a combination of survival and novelty. Now it’s almost a form of French practice. What are they trying to tell you? Yesterday, again at Cora, we learnt that “Now at prices you’ve never seen before”.

Now that I live in Europe I have an actual car commute, and for the first time I can really complain about traffic. (ha ha ha, sorry, just think it’s funny I had to come to Europe to experience wretched commutes, at least some of the time). Metz is under construction, so commuting can be exceedingly tedious. Some days I commute in while K works from home, and when I drive alone I enjoy turning on the radio and singing along. Well I think I’m just turning on the radio, but it turns out that in fact also usually sing. It just happens. Here though it’s caused some amusement. Just today for example, I was listening to Virgin radio which plays a good mix of French and English language music. Lilly Allen’s Fuck You (yes, really) is huge here — and it’s frankly very weird to hear it being played in some places, like in the local sommalier’s shop while selecting wine . Anyway, this was an 80s tune, I can’t remember who and I was singing along (I am no great singer, but it turns out that singing along to an English language song, in English, with the windows open, really gets the attention of the person in the car next to you at the intersection. I got a compliment. I don’t sing along to the French songs.

I also don’t sing when I am being followed by a van full of Gendarmarie. I’ve noticed that the French police seem to hunt in bigger packs. I’ve seen van fulls of gendarmarie several times now. Then there’s the local Metz police (I actually don’t understand the categories of French police, but there are categories, like in the U.S. where every entity appears to have its own force, I still don’t understand that). So the local plod tends to hunt in packs of three. They drive peugeots and renaults with two in the front and one on the back seat. In the US this would not be possible because the backseat is where the felons travel. It makes you wonder where the French put their felons. In the boot (trunk)?

I also don’t sing on roundabouts. Roundabouts have a very unique place in my driving history. I learnt to drive in the UK. I probably drove about 200 miles in total in the UK. Then I moved to the United States. I’ve driven across the country once (3500 miles), around the West multiple times (10000) and so forth. The net result is that I have order of magnitudes of practice of driving on the right. Except for roundabouts. The US doesn’t have them (well there are a few, but you have to work to find them). So, now in France, the one thing that really has taken some practice is the French roundabout. I’m used to getting on from the left and proceeding in a clockwise direction, and instead I enter from the right and go counterclockwise. And then there’s the use of the two lanes, inner and outer, along side with understanding the entry and exit protocols. Some of the lane usage and the protocols are once learnt never forgotten, but flipping them around to cope with the different directionality is novel. And critically it comes for me at a time when I don’t think of driving on the right, or switching from a EU to a US system as being novel. So it’s like this blip, I notice that the degree of attention I have to pay at roundabouts is much higher than anywhere else.

Well this is already quite long so I’ll save how I confused the archeological dig outside the Maison d’arrete (the stopping house, aka prison) for large moles or possibly graves. And perhaps eventually I will do the appropriate length post on cheese. De Gaulle is famous for saying “how is it possible to run a nation that has 264 different types of cheese” to make the point about the challenge of being a nation when the local/regional is so well established in the cultural psyche, and he was right about everything but one thing, there are far more types of cheese than that. Over 300 I believe, perhaps as many as 350. France a nation of cheese.


Georgia Tech Lorraine

In European Union, France on August 24, 2009 at 11:06 am

It’s the start of week 2, and we’ve been here exactly a fortnight (week 1 and the previous week getting settled in). For much of this blog that’s been focused on cultural adventures away from the office. This one is focused on the office itself.

Georgia Tech Lorraine is located on the edge of the city of Metz. It’s in something called the Technopole, which appears to be a concentration of Universities and high tech businesses. What I also suspect is that it’s an investment by the French government. I know that some of the support for GT-L comes from the French government, but I don’t understand the full history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this investment is in the entire area. In fact, I think there was a celebration including information about this particular investment at the local Hypermarket, that would be Cora. Interesting that the hypermarket is also celebrating the government’s investment in the development of the Technopole. I struggle to imagine WalMart having a similar display about the State of Georgia’s investment in a particular development near to the store, for example.

Students at Georgia Tech Lorraine frequently have affiliations with other Universities around here, most notably the Engineering Schools of Superlec and ENSAM. On top of this, these two schools start at a different time (not surprising really since GT-L starts in the middle of the French holiday of August, perhaps that’s one way you can tell that its really an American organization?). So, scheduling classes involves finding times that work with the other schools around here so that the students can actually go to all of their classes. Not surprisingly, there are two times that seem to work really well.  Lunch time and evening. And I take from this two things. First, that the schools and the people in them observe the 2 hour lunch time, so GT-L can take advantage of that and schedule the students for that time. Note that neither GT-L or GT-A observe lunch. I’ve taught over lunch in the past, this is no different, but I wonder whether it is for the students who are from the Metz locations.

Evening is also an interesting one. Dinner begins at 7pm here, and GT-L also seems to have slots between 5:30 and 7. I see people working in retail at that time, so clearly it’s possible to consider this as the end of the work day, rather than beyond the end of the working day. But the Schools don’t have classes, or more accurately, they don’t seem to have enough that our ability to schedule is affected, since we’ve gone ahead and added classes then. So I am curious about the “normal” parameters of the French University student’s day. Are they shorter than the average working day of the French person, are they moved in some way (perhaps students begin earlier in the morning than the shops of Metz).

Time is cultural, and I am trying to deduce some things about the structure of the day here.

Another thing that is cultural is not planning for air conditioning. In the North of France I guess you could argue that it doesn’t really get hot for a super long period of time, so why bother. Although of course, given that France produces much of its electricity from nuclear power (and for some reason I’m under the impression that it’s quite cheap here). So, airconditioning which is quite expensive, would be potentially cheaper here. I don’t think it’s terribly common in the South of France where I think it’s use would be far more popular given that it gets a lot hotter there and stays hotter for longer continuous periods. I’m very curious about airconditioning. I know that it would be expensive to retrofit houses for central AC, but there’s a noticable absence of the room based ones too, which do not have the same impact on the infrastructure.

A final question I have is where are the women? I’m teaching two classes in which I am the only woman. I’m sad about that. I don’t know why it’s the case here, and I’m not going to speculate. It’s a loaded question and it’s not my intention to provide answers to these sorts of questions speculatively and incorrectly. But it is a fact, and I’ll just say I miss the ladies.

This week in the Moselle

In European Union, France on August 23, 2009 at 11:51 am

This week in the Moselle I am pleased to report that I taught. After all that’s what I am here to do.

So, what’s new this week, well teaching that’s what. But a few other important things too.

My computer knows I’m in France, in several ways. For example, when I update things on Facebook I always get French adverts. And apparently Weight Watchers is paying Facebook heavily for adverts. At least that’s what I hope it is, if they’re scraping my status lines I’ll be ticked 🙂

What was also new this week was the French summer. Three days all over 30C, and the last one at 35C (that’s between the high 80s and mid 90s for you F degree people). Yeah, Atlanta’s like that all the time. Atlanta also has air conditioning. Metz does not. Not our home. Not the building we work in. Not nowhere (yes I know, its for added drama). Actually the frozen foods section of Cora was pleasant to spend an hour in.

So, other things I wanted to tell you. Toilets. I have a book about toilets of the world. Toilets are, not surprisingly, cultural. In France they have two sorts. The sort you’d recognise if you came from the United States, and then the ones on the motorway… (OK, I should have said this is ladies toilets of course, men’s are a mystery to me, thankfully). The ones on the motorway have a hole and two foot places… it’s pretty obvious… what I like about these is that there’s no mystery seat … but what I don’t like is the flush… at least my experience is that it can be quite vigorous, to the point… well shoes…  anyway the other type are mostly as you would expect… so all I’m going to say about those ones is that the ones they have in Cora come complete with ashtrays. I think it was just a couple of years ago, at most, that smoking was banned in public places in France (like bars), and I’ve not seen anyone smoking in the ladies at Cora, but I like the fact that if you were, and if you needed to put it down, ashtray is provided.

OK, what is different about French “like US toilets” toilets is that they are actually completely contained in a room. I do not know what, or why, American’s prefer to put minimal doors and walls around their toilets, preferably leaving large gaps in all sorts of places that I want to know nothing about.

OK, moving on from toilets.

We have a drier that I like too. Our dryer in the U.S. has a hose attachment, and somehow the air that comes out of the drier (along with some of the fluff) is mysteriously blown through the infrastructure of our house… the hose connects into an outlet that is directed to a wall outside. What I don’t like about this hose system is that first, the hose pipe does not always stay on. And it’s really difficult to put back on. I also assume at some point we’ll have to pay someone to come out and clean this particular piece of the house infrastructure as lint slowly makes its way into it.

By contrast our French dryer is completely self-contained. It dries the clothes and interestingly collects the water that it gets out of the clothes into a separate container… at the end of the drying cycle you pour the water out. I dont know whether it pushes any hot air out into the apartment, it certainly gets a little warmer, but it’s not terribly significant (a good thing since we don’t have air conditioning). This appliance impresses me, clearly French engineering has got it right on the dryer side.

But, then there’s the washer. Washers in the U.S. have been reduced to the simplest working interface (which I feel certain must be an HCI guideline of some sort, but K’s teaching that class). You can specify water temperature, hot, warm and cold. You can specify speed, fast, normal and slow (this is my front loading washing machine I am talking about because thankfully and finally the U.S. is on the front loader program, yay). Here in France the situation is different. Fortunately my Mum came and helped me debug the interface. So we have temperatures specified in C units (and we have four modes of those, and two lots of those four modes… dunno really why you need two ways to tell the machine you want it at 40C, but that’s for another day). Then there’s the speed of rotation of the final speed, and there are six choices there in rpms, actually I have no idea what unit they are in, but we can go as high as 1000 and as low as 500. Handy tip, my Mum recommends 900, so that’s what I’m going with (apparently her machine moves around at 1000 so I figured that I didn’t want some mad washing machine chasing me around the apartment).

Then there are some other buttons. Who knows what they do. I’m avoiding pressing those.

And speaking of buttons, let me conclude with the phone. I was the source of much amusement this week to my faculty colleagues. Why because someone asked me to press the mute button on my phone during a conference call. Yeah, that’s easy… easy when youve got a phone with a mute button. I have a phone which has many buttons (in addition to the numbers of course), but none are marked mute. Secret. Bis, and several M# buttons, but no mute button. Oh well. Time to use the computer to dial in.

Settling in

In European Union, France on August 12, 2009 at 5:50 am

Last night I slept the classic sleep of someone who is adjusting to a European timezone after living in the U.S. which is to sleep very hard for the first few hours, exhaustion after the really long travel day, and then to wake up and be unable to sleep for a while because you’re trying to sleep at 6pm US time. Then finally to sleep again, only to need to wake up because well it is gone 9am and if you don’t you won’t break that habit.

This has now finally abated but the fact that our house has shutters means that the room is very dark, so this morning I accidentially slept until 11am. I love the shutters. Not only do they keep the light out, they also really fend off the heat of the hot day, keeping our place cool even while it is warm outside. I wonder why we do not have shutters in Atlanta. The shutters are fairly modern, they are automatic, little switches (Arret and Marche and up and down arrows) control them. Seems to me that shutters would help me in Atlanta keeping my AC bills down, and if I could get them I probably would. But, …

The apartment is in an old house, well not that old by French standards, but old enough. We have the entire ground floor, which may not sound like much, but three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and several sitting rooms seems pretty good to me. I think that’s probably larger than some of the other faculty apartments in Metz. It’s also quiet which is nice. This could partially be because we suspect our neighbours and most of Metz has gone on holiday. It’s August, it’s France, and not surprisingly only the Americans (and those affiliated with them) are working. As we walked home yesterday evening from the city several notices on shop doors let us know that people were on holiday and their shop would reopen the last week of August. And some of the brasseries were shut. And I realised two things. First, that I’ve never spent any time in a French town that doesn’t have a substantial tourist industry (like, for example, Paris, Bayeux, Avignon), which might keep things open more systematically during a month like August. Second, because the French still have many family owned businesses (which in its own way is a treat) how do they take holiday if they don’t just shut, so the nice thing is that everyone shuts at the same time. There are still supermarkets to rely on, but everyone knows that this is the time when local businesses shut. So I think it’s quite nice even though I’m rather disappointed that the speciality butcher is shut, but perhaps that’s good for my waistline.

So, for those of you who know me, I’d like to think that you know that I’m pretty punctual. When it says 10 o’clock, I tend to show up roughly at 10 o’clock. I know where this comes from, and yet again, I do not. It comes from my parents, but fortunately I don’t have their version of punctuality. It began with their arrival, which they thought would be 11am. Of course not, it was closer to 10am. And this morning they told me that they would leave at 9am, of course they were out of the house by 8:06am. And I have the sneaking suspicion that if they didn’t need the gate opening key they might have not even woken me up to say goodbye. But they’ve told me that they’ll be back (I wish I’d written down the date), but like the French they are away on their two-three week holiday, so I’ll expect them back when the speciality butcher opens, and roughly an hour before they told us that they’d arrive.

Day 1, Journey to France

In European Union, France on August 10, 2009 at 12:21 pm

So many things to say… so here’s a summary.

First, there’s a good restaurant in the E concourse, MIRACLE. Its called Sky 1 Aloft. I think, that was 20 hours ago.

Air France. Free champaign. Free drinks all night long if you want. Choice of cognac. Free. So that’s the good side. Bad side, absolutely no privileges seem to carry from Delta to Air France. So, we were in economy. And then there was the seats, well mine would have been better if I’d discovered that it reclined further before we started our initial descent into Charles De Gaulle.

Then there was poor William G (surname removed for anonymity). William boarded the plane with two boarding passes. Neither were correct. And then some massive plane wide seat changes began. Within 20 minutes it felt like Keith and I were the only two people on the plane who had retained their actual seats (which of course was because Air France had actually switched our seats once prior to flight, and then again once early in the check in process, long before the rest of the passengers were there, ready to participate in the grand swap off).

A seemingly smooth flight Air France managed to turn into seating chaos. Enter my tag line for Air France. Discoverie le chaos.

And then there’s Charles De Gaulle. The airport where you land and then tour the fields of Roissy, only to get off the plane and on to the bus (a good thing for the bus-workers and their union) to end up finally in the actual terminal, where we clear immigration and get baggage. Then its off to find the TGV. Nothing memorable there except for the three hour wait. And it’s one of those warm French days where air conditioning would be a plus, but of course we don’t have air conditioning.

Now what is memorable is getting on the TGV. K and I happen to get on board with about 8 bazillion Germans, who don’t want to wait… for the people trying to get off to get off. Oddly, since I was waiting, and also in front, it appeared to be an occasion to take their luggage and ram it into my legs. I have bruises. However, this is an unwise move when the lady in question, me, has 3.5 months worth of luggage … yeah… that’s a bag that is its own force for good. A bag that is 43 pounds, with some hard sides and lumpy objects. And in a rush of I’m still awake, how, energy, the bag was it’s own star, wielded in perfection.

TGV. Woah. Awesome. Speedy. Like Eurostar and then a whole lot faster. Very nice. Beautiful sunny day in France too. Summer is here.

Metz. Metz was a whirlwind. Apartment, big, quiet, just outside downtown. First supermarket encounter, no bags to carry food in, at least we knew it was coming. Asked whether I had the store card, a little more confusing. Driving the Renault, well that was K, but he was fearless, we were exhausted and I was not sure how to describe where we wanted to go other than knowing that we had to somehow navigate the Metz one way system.

So, we’re here, we’re eating ham and cheese with baguette. We’re watching Sky News, mainly that’s what there is. But we’re on the Internet, we’ve seen Georgia Tech Lorraine, and well here we are… in a beautiful summer weather.

Laissez les bon temps roules

In European Union, France on July 20, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Not quite sure whether that’s how it’s spelt, and I suppose there’s some plural singular issues going on, but y’all get the drift.

My blog is taking a new turn.  Metz has just started to “get real.”

Metz is the short-hand for I’m going to be leaving the United States for over 3 months to teach classes at Georgia Tech’s Lorraine campus, located on the outskirts of Metz (although Metz is small enough that you could probably describe it as a campus located in a field outside of town).  Metz is in eastern France, in the Lorraine area, close to Alsace and the borders of Germany and Luxembourg. It is also close to two TGV lines.

And I am now preparing to leave. This means that I’m having some cultural encounters.

The first is with myself.  I’ve spent most of my adult life dealing with visas in order to be able to work in a country.  So, now I’m told that as a European Union national I can just go to France and work. I find it hard to believe that that’s even true. This is compounded by the fact that I have little experience with the European Union.  I left for the United States and for the life I would ultimately build there, before the EU really shifted into high gear.  I struggle with the idea that the England I left is now a part of an EU in which I can just show up and start working, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, …

Part of this struggle is also experienced watching my husband go through the immigration process. Immigration tells you a lot about a place. Immigration systems are an expression of values I always think.  My own experience is with the immigration system of the United States. I believe that the United States has more categories of visa than most other countries (possibly combined).  I have had a reasonably good selection, a B, an F, a J, an H, done most of the paperwork for an O, and then had some temporary ones to get me through the time when the H expired and before the greencard showed up. The U.S. values diversity, I was never eligible for the greencard lottery because too many British people emigrate here in other categories (and this is one of the reasons I think I had some of the visas that I did). The idea that they do country based balancing is interesting though. I think it’s also fair to say that the U.S. values paperwork, I keep my visa paperwork and I have several feet of it (you think I’m kidding, I’m not…) I am convinced that the U.S. is a very bureaucratic nation. I think that’s potentially at odds with the appearance it gives…

So what do I learn about France. They care about their language and their culture. The test of language. The desire to extract a commitment to learn the language. They care about their culture. The 10 hours of cultural films are a hint here. I hope they’ll let me go, even though I don’t need to see them (I don’t need the certificate that says I sat through them, but I want one–consider it taking one for the spirit of improved Anglo-French relations).

But it’s not all about immigration even though it is about a temporary emigration. I also notice that the pacing and rhythms are different. There’s a part of me that thinks wow–35 hour work week, about 8 weeks of vacation minimum, what a civilized society. And there’s a truth in that. But, I’m also used to a place where the shops are open 24/7, where the sales are not an annual event but a weekly affair, where Sunday is not different from Friday or Saturday. And I am sure that I am used to that. And I am sure that I am going to spend some period of time adjusting to the new planning. I can’t go out and get something just because I need it. I have to plan. And 35 hour work weeks are going to mean that people are not around as much as I expect them to be (not because I demand it, but because I’m just not used to a 35 hour work week).

People ask me if I’m prepared. Truthfully you can’t prepare. That’s the upside and downside of emigration. You can’t prepare because you simply don’t know enough. It’s a leap of faith. That leads to incredible highs and lows. The smallest successes lead to feels of incredible accomplishment. The frustrations are beyond the worst at home because they don’t make sense.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about immigration it is that you have to ask for help. You have to be unafraid of asking people for all sorts of support that perhaps at home would put you into reciprocal relationships with high return obligations. But there’s no other way. So I’d like to close by thanking Val, Rob, and Ian who have already helped me more than I can ever return.