france1

A Multilingual Christmas

france1

Christmas time always happens to be an adventure if you happen to be an expat. If not jetting off with the masses to whichever city you hail from, chances you are you are spending the holidays wherever you feel like, no pressure for the nomad! In my case, this year’s Christmas happened to take place in a small French mountain town Ax-les-thermes with my boyfriend’s family. I did however have one small, potential problem, I don’t speak French… unless you count oui & merci beaucoup as fluent. 

Not to fear, after countless lessons and tips from native French speakers’ and learning effectively how to say 80 (a process that actually involves mathematics – 80 is said by combining four and twenty, to be honest, numbers get crazy after 70.. ). I could just about mumble ‘comment ca va‘ and talk about food because of my handy DuoLingo language app {best app ever} which ensure that I never forget how to say ‘red apple’ in French. Luckily my guy is a tri-lingual speaker and makes it look easy (damn him) and he quite possibly could have a future as a interpreter is he ever gets sick of life as a biomedical engineer.

Speaking of not knowing the language, I have been there in the past in Italy. I’ve sat at tables and listened to everyone speak without really participating, figuring out what to say long after everyone had moved on to another topic. I even cried in the bathroom in frustration at times.

But perseverance prevailed and I did eventually learn Italian, though if I am honest, there is always room for improvement in my slang-sprinkled conversations. I did insist that the Tuscan ‘cocomero’ was the proper word for watermelon in Italian instead of anguria. 

Now back at square one at 29 years old, I am decidedly less fearful and frustrated when it comes to situations like this, plus I know that while it will be a long road to speaking fluent French, I can do it. 

The more amazing thing to me is, that the thought of actually being a tri-lingual doesn’t really seem impossible, in fact it seems like an investment considering how could you really know someone without properly learning their language? Plus did I mention that I’m a masochist?

Language pressure aside, besides my initial fear of messing up a proper French christmas. As expected, everything was much easier than I imagined. On our way to Ax-les-thermes, ironically we stopped at the fanciest McDonald’s I have ever seen. I enjoyed my tasty-bacon-something in a mountain lodge complete with antlers and bear heads on the wall. I even got a photo of a ‘friendly’ local!

Arriving at our mountain abode for the week, I felt more relaxed than I probably have all year. Being far from anything called snow, this was a real treat. Small cozy town with yes, a fair amount of alcoholics but charming stores and a lots of stinky and non-stinky cheese to choose from. A week of walks around town and long, lingering lunches with a nap before a lazy afternoon/long dinner. I even discovered my name, Georgette in a local store in the form of a fancy ‘spork’ (yes the tool we all remember in school that combines both a spoon… and a fork). This was no ordinary spork, designed by a famous French chef to bring a new culinary tool to the dining world. I am so proud

One highlight during the trips was dinner with his parents at a lovely restaurant in town called Le Chalet. A foodie’s dream world with lovely service and inventive dishes. It was a gourmet treat to say the least and the waiters seemed quite intrigued by our tri-lingual conversation. Uh are they Italians? American? French… oh I give up! 

Le Chalet 

4 Avenue Turrel
09110 Ax-les-Thermes

axtermes

The best part about the night was when we saw my pre-mentioned namesake spork, Georgette in the restaurant, I don’t think anyone understood why we found this utensil quite so funny. I might need to reach out to the makers of the spork and ask if they need a Tuscan Texan pr person. I would love to bring sporkism to the wider world! 

Georgette with…… Georgette (spork version)

A real highlight during these holidays was skiing in the Pyrenees surround Ax Les Termes at Ax 3 Domaines (a great place to ski with over 80 km of trails and really nice panoramas to gape at). This was my first time skiing {texas + snow = no} and I basically felt like a puffy clumsy astronaut as we made our way to the breathtaking views on top. Skiing itself was actually easier than I thought, I only made three spectacular falls, including taking out one kid at the cable lift. At least there was a cheese & ham sandwich and pie to look forward too.

skiing

Prices to ski vary among the norm, adults can expect to pay 34 euros for a full-day ski pass and 25 for kids. They also offer seasonal passes and weekend deals, you can see all of the details here. Expect a lot of kids to fly past you on their perfect little skis, I was super jealous of their comfortable ease and flexibility (+ a true lack of fear) flying down the slope like little pros.

Now let’s talk foodporn, Christmas as you can imagine was a downright feast. I especially loved the boudin blanc - a white sausage typically eaten during the time of ‘Noel’  served alongside cooked apples. Yes I know the thought of white sausage can be downright creepy but trust me, it’s tasty! We also indulged in French favorite foie gras, served sliced over an amazing sweet bread called Pain d’épices 

typciL

Oysters from Bretagne were also on the menu and I must have eaten about 10 myself, the salty sea flavor brought me back to our trip to Sardinia in August. Dessert was a variety of Moroccan delights and the traditional bûche de Noël – French Yule Log cake that is normally filled with creme. I loved staring at the different types in the stores display windows, some of them are quite elaborate and depict a free-standing forest. This cake is serious business. 

foisgras

One of the best meals however, was the Moroccan couscous fest lovingly made by his grandparents. Two of the sweetest, happiest people I have ever met. Living most of their lives in Morocco, lucky for us they brought these amazing recipes (and incredible desserts) that makes my mouth water even today. My stomach was one happy Texana.

Christmas 2013 was experience that I will never forget and it reminded me that slowing down, and taking some actual time off for myself to do things I love like read, take walks, and sleep eight hours — needs to be a priority. Plus I got to embarrass myself on the slopes and discover new cuisine, one of which looks like a log. What more can you ask for?

The next stop in our #winteroadtrip is Andorra, land of tax-free goodies, national language of Catalan and possibly the best spa I have ever laid eyes upon, stay tuned!  

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