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Margaux Rhymes with Fargo

Mirthful Musings, Ridiculous Ramblings, and Comical Codswallop

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European Shenanigans

I made it home (a while ago)

Now that I’ve gotten past the craziness of the holidays and moving and starting my new job (details to come), I will theoretically have more time to share some entertaining stories. Theoretically.

To wrap up my Euro trip, which was admittedly mostly a vacation with some studying mixed in, here are some tidbits from my final weeks:

  • I had to ask each of my profs for a mini-recommendation (basically just saying that I did indeed attend the class and that I was academically prepared for it), so my fluids prof wanted to chat a bit about my experience since he didn’t really know me anyways. I ended up telling him to his face that I wasn’t super interested in his class, because well, I wasn’t.  Still got credit for the class though.  Boom.
  • My last night at Polytechnique was spent singing karaoke at the campus bar where I starred in “Barbie Girl” and “Let It Be”.  Everyone knew all of the words to Barbie Girl without even looking at the screen.  Why am I not surprised.
  • I spent my last weekend in Copenhagen, where I saw a super entertaining (and also beautifully performed) ballet featuring troll beetles, bog children, witch vampires, headless giants, and an altogether incomprehensible storyline.  But the guy gets the girl in the end, so there’s that.

copenhagen_ballet

 

copenhagen

  • Copenhagen also had some interesting candy in a giant department store that was also half fancy groceries and café.

minty_cindy

 

dusty_santa

 

size_matters

  • And then I got on a big ol’ flight back to the US where I immediately had an apple with almond butter.  Because nut butter isn’t really a thing in Europe.  They’re missing out.
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This is why school math is useless (Adventures in Switzerland)

One of the main differences I noticed between Europe and the US is that people are much more cultured. They know more languages and have visited more places and are generally more adept at navigating in a foreign place. To be fair, they have more opportunity to do so since the countries in Europe are much smaller and it is easier to get around.

Another difference is the drinking habits. I think I drank more tea in Switzerland than I have in my entire life, and that’s only because I don’t like coffee. I woke up and was offered tea with breakfast, and then went on a walk around a lake (where I incidentally saw a pretty awesome gnome) and had tea when I got back, and then had tea with lunch, and then again after lunch with a biscuit, and then mid-afternoon on top of a mountain, then again with dinner, and to top it all off we had tea and played cards after dinner. And this is just a normal Friday. No wonder the public bathrooms are all clean and heated. They must spend a lot of time in there.

I stayed with my friend Sina’s family while I was in Switzerland, and when I arrived I met up with her in Berne and went to her last university class of the day (she is studying to be a grade school teacher).  Side note: I may or may not have accidentally sat in first class on the train until I got kicked out.  Oops.  Anyways, this class is about how to teach math, and all I could think the entire time was that kids must hate math in Switzerland.  They have to learn how to tell whether a big number is divisible by 7 (take the last digit, double it, and subtract it from the rest of the number).  They have to learn how to put digits into 3-by-3 squares such that the columns and rows add up to certain numbers.  They have to learn how to do long division with pictures.  I didn’t really get that one, but the class was completely in Swiss German so I’ll give myself a pass there. The point of the story is, I feel so sorry for those kids.

And without further ado, some fun pictures from my trip!  We drove up to the top of a mountain (well, Sina’s grandfather drove because it was a one-lane winding road and we met a giant truck head-on and had to go backwards down until we could find a little cove in the rock to hide in while the truck passed us) and were rewarded with an incredible view of the Alps in the distance as well as some sunlight, which was nonexistent below the clouds. It was also a full 10 degrees warmer above the clouds, and that’s in centigrade! So it’s a lot.

gnome
This guy was smiling at me as I came around a corner. Apparently rubbing his nose is good luck.
mountain
View from above the clouds.
mountain2
Swiss Alps in the distance
mountain3
Cute little chapel on the mountain

 

 

sina
Sina and I enjoying the sun

Sina’s mom also treated me to a traditional family-style meal where everyone gets these mini pans (on the plates in the picture) and puts a thick slice of cheese in them, then adds toppings like chopped onion or dates and puts them in the broiler in the middle to melt.  Meanwhile, sausage and bacon are cooking on the top bit of the stove, and the whole thing is served on boiled potatoes.  A little heavy perhaps, but one of my favorite meals from my entire Eurotrip for sure.

dinner table
Traditional Swiss meal of melted cheese (raclette) and meat and boiled potatoes. It was incredible.

The Christmas market was also pretty awesome, complete with twirly-mustachiod santas and giant horns for the blowing.

santabeard2 horn

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this little gem.  What the heck is American Sauce?!

american sauce

Apparently I did a project that is not based on any theory whatsoever

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 5.15.07 PM

Rhinos freaking out, donkeys playing the accordion and other stories (Adventures in Vienna)

My weekend trip to Vienna, Austria was especially exciting because I met up with my childhood friend Kristin who studied in Copenhagen for the semester.  As we wandered around the town, a couple of things stood out:

  • A burger joint called “Said the Butcher to the Cow” boasting a menu of burgers, gin, and cheesecake had some pretty entertaining signs in the windows
"Said the Butcher to the Cow"
“Said the Butcher to the Cow”
  • It’s so cold that the horses need earmuffs too

horseswithearmuffs

  • Very, very sparkly boots are the norm

sparklyboots

  • We climbed 300 spiral stairs to the top of a cathedral tower and were rewarded by a view of cranes over the city.  The cathedral itself was pretty though.

cathedral3

  • Flamingo freaking out at the zoo

flamingo1

  • Lizard climbing wall at the zoo. I was pretty excited about it.

climbinglizard

  • Baby elephant trying so so hard to imitate the older one but it took him about 5 solid minutes to break off a branch of the tree and it was super cute

elephant3

elephant2

  • One of the orangutans was sitting cross-legged in front of the glass and just had his whole flat face smooshed up against it.  We were there watching the other orangutans in the enclosure for a solid ten minutes and he didn’t move once, even when a little kid came up and pressed his own face against the glass.  The kid lost the staredown.

orangutan

  • “Breeding is my favorite but I also like to cackle a lot” — sign at the Vienna Zoo

breedingandcackling

  • The quartet that we went to see was in a super tiny room and the musicians were in 18th century garb which was pretty entertaining.  Also we listened to music composed by Mozart in the “Mozarthaus”, so that’s pretty cool.

mozarthaus1

  • The ornaments at the various Christmas markets were unreal.

ornaments5

  • I got some pretty awesome shot glasses for my boyfriend’s brothers since the family used to live in Australia.  I’m pretty proud of this Christmas find.  It’s gonna be pretty awkward if they read this.

kangaroos

  • One of the rhinos at the zoo started totally freaking out.  There were two rhinos and the outdoor enclosure was split into three sections by walls.  Each rhino had their own section, and a herd of deer had the third section.  However, there were vertical bars between the sections (yellow in the picture) that allowed the deer to go into the rhinos’ sections but the rhinos were trapped in their respective sections.  So the deer start taunting the rhino (or at least that’s how I interpreted what was happening) and he charged all the way from one end of his section towards the deer at the other end, who immediately scattered.  He then indignantly returned to his corner, at which point the deer started coming back in and annoying him again.  So that whole thing repeated multiple times, and then the other rhino started getting agitated and started following the motion of the first rhino charging up and down the pen.  She then slipped in some mud and tipped over which was pretty entertaining but if a rhino is capable of being embarrassed she definitely was.  Then the two rhinos bumped horns through the vertical bars, and the second rhino started galloping about her section (do rhinos gallop? canter perhaps? just running would be boring, but charging in circles doesn’t seem right either…).  Kristin and I were there for a solid twenty minutes watching this whole thing unfold and by the end there was a whole audience just watching the show.

rhino1

  • Kristin and I tried curling at one of the Christmas markets.  We were totally shown up by some little Austrian kids, but that’s okay.

curling

  • And the moment you’ve all been waiting for: donkeys playing the accordion on a bench in a park.  I would love to think this is a regular occurrence.  Maybe sometimes they do it at the zoo.

donkeys playing the accordion

“Life-size foosball and crêpes during class” or “They actually get paid to do this?!”

For some background, Ecole Polytechnique is a military school and the students that are lucky enough to get accepted actually get a monthly stipend to support their studies (and pay no tuition).  In return, they do about six months of military service during their first year.

Onto my story: The Kès is the student government at Polytechnique that organizes activities and such. It consists of 15 students that run as a group under a theme, and the campaign lasts a full week. This year there were three hopefuls: the Walt DisKès, the Lucky LuKès, and ToutanKèsmon (my favorites from last year were the Kès-Fu Pandas).  At the beginning of the week they each paint a mural on the wall of a school building, as  seen below.

The ToutanKèsmon
The ToutanKèsmon
The Walt DisKès
The Walt DisKès
The Lucky LuKès
The Lucky LuKès

The new Kès is elected at the end of November every year, so the week before exams we were treated to many delights in the main hall of the school where each group set up camp.

Giant castle built by the Walt DisKès
Giant castle built by the Walt DisKès

They each have about 16,000€ to spend for the week.  SIXTEEN THOUSAND.  I must say that is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on interrupting classes to give out crêpes.  Activities during the week included:

  • Life-size foosball in a giant blow-up bouncy house
foosball
Students held onto sliders connected to the metal bars running across horizontally, which restricted motion like a real foosball game. It was awesome.

 

  • Different groups of students interrupting lectures and recitation sections to give out everything from crepes to cookies to coffee. We even threw tennis balls at a pyramid of cans during one particularly boring lecture.
  • DDR (dance dance revolution) set up on a giant projector screen. I’m secretly pretty good since my brother and I played a lot growing up, so I impressed all my friends.
  • Darts with prizes like glow-in-the-dark condoms, mini vibrators, and t-shirts
  • A giant box of cornstarch and water that we could play with/run across
cornstarch
Note the ripple where she just ran across the surface

 

  • Free professional massages
  • Unlimited crêpes, including both savory ham-cheese-and-egg crêpes and sweet nutella-and-banana crêpes, also delivered to your room at any time of day or night
  • Giant bowling with a giant hollow blow-up ball that we could climb inside of in order to launch the ball down the lane
  • A giant blow-up version of a Wipe-out challenge
The smaller green balls were for throwing at people trying to traverse the giant red balls.  They got a lot of use.
The smaller green balls were for throwing at people trying to traverse the giant red balls. They got a lot of use.

Lastly, a full dinner for the whole school was prepared by each group.  While the dinners themselves were pretty standard (i.e. chicken and veggies, or couscous and sausage), there was also entertainment after dinner.  For the Toutankèsmon this included barely-dressed girls dancing provocatively to music (think fishnets and a skintight leotard with lacy bras showing through).  Apparently these girls came from a nearby school and they are part of a dance team that does this for fun, although I can’t for the life of me think of why I would want to learn a choreographed sexy dance and then perform it in front of a bunch of nerdy guys.  It was super weird.  I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture because it was just too weird, but many of the guys were loving it.  Considering the school is more than 80% male, I guess this group knows how to win over the main demographic.  For the record, they didn’t win, but that might have more to do with the Lucky LuKès’s amazing crêpes (they were definitely better than the others, in my totally biased opinion).

What not to do during an oral presentation in a foreign language

The whole French language thing has actually been going pretty well for me. I understand professors during lecture, and I’ve gotten much better at following and chiming in to conversations among other students. However, my latest struggle came when I had to give two oral presentations in French (let alone the project reports I had to write, also in French). The problem with an oral presentation is that I am trying really hard to think about the grammar ahead of time and not make any mistakes, but then I forget what I am talking about or I forget one of the more technical words.

So I forgot a word during the question portion of my first presentation and did the French “uuhhhh … uuhhhh” before I came up with “truc”, which literally means “that thing”. I tried to kind of say it under my breath so the professor wouldn’t know what I said, but he totally caught it. He then gently chided me after the presentation was over, saying that this type of slang is fine with other students but not with professors, especially during a presentation. Oops.

So for my next presentation I again forgot a word and “uuhhhh”-ed for a little bit before helplessly looking at my partner who gave me the word. French partners for the win. On the bright side, I definitely only talked about a third of the time and my partner did the rest, which was great for me because I didn’t totally know what was going on. But I’m pretty sure the professor thought that I understood the project and wasn’t talking just because of the language thing. Boom. Being foreign does have its perks.

French banks don’t actually have any money

I’m incredibly excited to be home! I am definitely ready to be done with the whole ridiculous story with the bank/phone company/housing office/Caltech study abroad office. On the bright side, I have some good stories to tell.

On the day before I left, I called my bank counselor and told her that I wanted to close my account. I realize this is cutting it a bit close, but I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to close it at all because of a whole ‘nother story with the housing office.

Me: Hello, would it be possible to close my bank account today? I am leaving the country tomorrow.

Counselor: Okay, but you have to send a written letter to the bank.

Me: See, the thing is I would like to do it in person today.

Counselor: I’m not working today.

(I should have guessed. I’m pretty sure they work once or twice a week, or when they feel like it.)

Me: Are none of your colleagues at the bank capable of handling this?

Counselor: You’ll just have to go ask at the front desk.

Lovely. I now have a plan of action at least. Fast forward to when I show up at the bank:

Me: Hello, I would like to close my account today please.

Bank Teller: Why?

Me: I’m leaving the country. Permanently.

Bank Teller: And you won’t live here again?

Me: Not if I can help it.

Bank Teller: You have to send a letter to the bank.

Me: Can I write it in front of you?

Bank Teller: I suppose that would work.

Me: Great. So before I do that can I withdraw the 226.49€ left in my account?

Bank Teller: We don’t have any cash here.

Me: (stunned) The bank doesn’t have any money?!

Bank Teller: You can just go get it out of the ATM over there.

Me: I can’t take exact change out of the ATM. Also I already passed my withdrawal limit for the week because I had to pay rent in cash because the bank didn’t get me a checkbook in time.

Bank Teller: We can wire the money to you if you give us your American bank account number.

Me: I’d rather not. (There is no way anyone in France is getting my American bank account number.) So, theoretically speaking, if I needed 1000€ in cash but I can’t get it out of the ATM because it exceeds my limit, what would I do?

Bank Teller: Hm. Wait two weeks? I guess it might also be possible to unblock your ATM card to be able to withdraw 220€ from the machine.

Me: Great, let’s do that.

The teller talks on the phone for about a minute and then I go over to the ATM and successfully withdraw my cash. I also write a quick letter on paper that the teller had given me saying, “Hi Société Générale, I would like to close my bank account. Sincerely, Margaux Lopez”. I then walk over and give the teller the letter.

Me: Great, so that’s it?

Bank Teller: Actually, we can’t close your account because it’s not at 0€.

Me: You can have my six euros. I do not care even a little bit at this point.

Bank Teller: We’re not actually allowed to do that. But we can wire you the remaining balance.

Me: You have got to be kidding me. Hold on, I’ll be back.

I walked across the street to the supermarket and proceeded to use math in real life as I tried to make a purchase for exactly 6.49€. This is the only application of those stupid math word problems you have to solve when you’re in grade school: “How many more sticks of gum can Susie buy?”. On the bright side, I got some pretty delicious organic apple juice because the price ended in a 9. Plus some almonds for the plane and some random biscuits that added up to the right total. At this point I am feeling very good about myself. Then I go back to the bank and proceed to wait in line for 15 minutes.

Me: My account is now at 0. Please can I close it now?

Bank Teller: Oh, okay. Yes. Can I have your bank card?

She proceeds to cut my card in half.

Bank Teller: Can I have a phone number to reach you just in case we need it?

Me: Is it okay if it’s American?

Bank Teller: You don’t have a French number?

Me: I’m leaving the country, remember?

Bank Teller: Right. An American number is fine.

Me: So how will I know if my account got successfully closed?

Bank Teller: You can stop by next week.

Me: Did we not go over the fact that I’m leaving the country?!

Bank Teller: If you have access to your account online, you will be able to see it there.

Me: Thank you. That was the information I was looking for. Have a good day.

It took 4 days for my bank account to actually show 0 and the account hasn’t closed yet but I’m surprisingly hopeful.  Although that might turn into yet another story considering France’s bureaucratic track record.  I don’t know how this country dresses itself in the morning.

Quotable Quotes 9

Since it is my last day in Paris, it’s only fitting that I end this series of funny French quotes with one of my own.

When I got on the airplane to leave, I sent a text message to my aunt who had dropped me off at the airport to let her know that I was on the plane. Except in French, “sur l’avion” literally means on top of the plane.

My aunt texted back to ask why there weren’t any seats left inside the plane. I guess I can’t claim fluency yet. Obviously that means I have to come back!

P.S. I’ll be sharing more of my European adventures over the next couple of weeks.

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