Gender reveal party in France

Throwing a gender reveal party in France is pretty much like throwing any other type of American-style party in France. Rule one is invite people weeks and weeks before, because a last minute text message doesn’t really cut it here. Rule two is always have wine, no matter the occasion. And rule three is put in enough new things they can tell their friends about it, without making it too overwhelmingly American.

Our wedding followed rule three in particular and it worked out pretty well. There was a fingerprint tree instead of a guestbook, and a photo booth instead of games, but lots of champagne. There was a three-tiered wedding cake instead of a croquembouche, but the traditional thousand five courses first.

Part of choosing to do a gender reveal instead of a baby shower was to keep it from being too different from what is done (and what is not done) here. Cake and baby chatter is a perfectly acceptable Sunday afternoon activity. Asking my in-laws and my husband’s friends to give us lots of presents when here it is usually considered bad luck to buy too much before the baby is born seemed like a less acceptable option.

Actually, I was thinking about it, and since there is a fair amount of government support here, you don’t really need baby showers to help you out. I mean, having a baby in any country is expensive, but I am eight million times less stressed than friends in the states, knowing that a large portion of medical and “start-up” costs are taken care of. (Though actually we aren’t eligible for the big “bonus” you get at 7 months, or the monthly benefits after the birth, since our jobs in Luxembourg have higher salaries than the average in France. But there are other advantages from working in Luxembourg that still make things much easier for us than they would have been in the states.)

But of course a baby shower is not just about gifts! There’s the social/fun side too that I really wanted to share with my French friends and family. And that can happen just as easily during a gender reveal, with the extra fun of guessing up until the last minute what color the cake will be!

Another rule I try to stick to when doing things like this is to make it as pretty as possible. Table decorations are important here, there is no way around it. And it involves a lot more than just plunking a bouquet down in the middle. So when I make the effort, I find that whatever I put on that table is appreciated a lot more. Thanks to the magical time vacuum that is Pinterest, I was not short on decoration ideas. And thanks to the wonderful Lili Pixel, I have some Pinterest-worthy photos to share. (She also blogged about it, we’re trying to launch the trend here!)

Gender Reveal 1

Games: I kept things simple. Knowing your crowd is essential in Franco-american party planning, and since most of the guests were my husband’s older relatives, both male and female, games involving diapers or baby food were not really appropriate. (If it had just been our friends, and given the amount of alcohol everyone besides me consumed, some of the weirder shower games I’ve seen would have been just hilarious.)

So guessing games and fabric pens to decorate onesies and bibs kept everyone pretty occupied before and after cake. The name boards were super fun, since we don’t want to share our pick before he’s born (assuming we’ve actually managed to pick one by then!). This way, people could see what names we’ve been considering, and we could hear other people say them out loud.

 

Gender Reveal 2

Food: I got a cake pop kit for my birthday and have been waiting for an occasion to use it. And blue and pink food was an obvious must (though if I’d had more time I would have done the cake pops in blue and pink, since having both cookies and cake pops was a little too much chocolate for everyone I think). Of all the different American snacks I’ve made over the years, rice krispies treats are a favorite. And finally, there was fruit, because I always try to throw in a healthy treat to prove that Americans don’t live on hamburgers and soda.

 

Gender Reveal 3 The reveal: I honestly though my dress was green, but seeing the pictures makes it look like I already knew it’s a boy! But we didn’t know, and it was really so much fun to find out this way. The moments before cutting the cake were so exciting and tense! For over a week, only the midwife and the baker knew what we were having, which they both got a huge kick out of. And I’m glad we got the secret envelope back from the baker, because the note is just too cute (“I’m a baby boy!”).

 

I set up a live streaming on youtube, so my family and friends in the states got to watch too. Following their comments was fun, and because there was a few minutes delay on the video, we got to watch ourselves cut the cake.

So that was our gender reveal party in France! It went really well, and everyone had a good time discovering a very American way to celebrate the arrival of a baby. Not all of my Franco-american events have gone quite as smoothly in the past, but after 6 years, the rules have taken shape. I can’t wait to see what other fun, multicultural parties we’ll throw for our baby garçon in the future!

Secrets of French restaurants

The French love food, but it reaches a whole different level when someone you know works in food. My husband’s cousin went to a “lycée hôtelerie” which is a specialized high school to go into the hospitality industry. He studied cooking, and the whole family looks forward to his menus every year for Christmas eve, and we take every opportunity to ask him our food and wine questions. Recently, during a birthday party, he was telling us some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of French restaurants (and maybe restaurants around the world, but he’s only ever worked here).

For example, a lot of places get “potato pulp” delivered, which is just potatoes already peeled and mashed a bit. People were a bit scandalized, but he said it’s still a fresh product, and the chef still has to flavor it and present it correctly. It’s just this way, the restaurant doesn’t have to hire one person to sit there peeling potatoes all day.

Since we were eating cake, he told us that a lot of pâtisseries order the genoise and other parts of the cake and put it together themselves. So this was probably why my MIL had trouble getting the cake she wanted before noon. If it’s a cake they make entirely by themselves (a lot of the things with cream), it takes longer. This revelation caused even more scandal, because things like genoise and ladyfingers are so easy to make yourself, why don’t they? But again, it’s a question of time and manpower. If you want to be able to offer people twenty different kinds of cake on a daily basis, either you don’t sleep, or you do some culinary cut and paste.

However, it’s not like they buy their potato pulp or genoise from the local grocery store. There are specialized companies that make things that you can’t buy unless you’re a restaurant. So the quality is still there, even if the process has been mechanized.

My MIL gave me gift certificates for cooking classes at the cafe run by one of this cousin’s old teachers. This weekend I did a macaron class. And there were even more secrets revealed!

I already knew that Ladurée is all machine made, but I didn’t know that most macarons you get almost anywhere have probably been frozen. In part due to the same time/manpower issue, but also because unless you like really crunchy macarons, freezing and letting them come back up to room temperature makes them softer.

I found it interesting to hear that egg whites are sold to professionals in a more ready-to-use form. This has the advantage of making them more sanitary, and keeping the quality regular, since you can get exactly 100g of egg whites each time. Though I’ve never noticed a big difference in baking with large versus extra large eggs, on a professional scale, being able to control things like that makes sure everything comes out the same way for everyone.

For me, knowing all of this does not making anything less delicious. But some people were quite upset to learn that things aren’t made 100% from scratch. Does any of this surprise you? Will you be asking if your next gâteau is “fait maison”? (I’m not even sure they legally have to tell you, and if they put it together themselves, technically they still “made” it.)

Funny French music

One thing that’s fun in a “bicultural” relationship is sharing your culture’s music, movies, books, etc. I know this probably happens in other relationships too, since everyone has their personal taste, but I love that when I show something to my husband, I can be almost sure he’s never heard/seen it before. And having a more personalized knowledge of French/American culture makes it seem like we’re creating our own little subculture between the two of us, blending what we both bring into it.

Discovering French music has been particularly fun for me, since my husband has . . . eclectic taste. He’s made sure I know all the words to the Noir Desir, Les Inconnus, and Michel Sardou songs that make an appearance at every soirée. Indochine or Téléphone are just as likely to come up on his playlist as Marilyn Manson or Slipknot.

In another life, I think my husband would have been BFFs with Weird Al Yankovic, since he just loves making up funny words to songs. Though he tends to worry less about things like rhythm or tune and more about making the words as ridiculous as possible. And it was interesting for me to see that as his English progressed, so did his enthusiasm for including English words and songs in his repertoire. He sings while he’s getting ready in the morning, when we’re in the car, or when we eating dinner. He plays a few instruments and has been in different bands over the years, some more serious, some with the sole purpose of making funny music.

So when he started singing about a “beau lavabo” (beautiful sink) the other day, I thought it was just another one of his silly songs. But it turns out, it’s an actual song. One he was so excited to have remembered after all these years (it came out in 1989, when he was pretty young), he made a special request that I share it on my blog, so that even more people could be exposed to this weird craziness.

Your tidbit of French culture for the day, Lagaf’s “Bo le lavabo”:

Busy weekend

Sometimes we spend weekends doing nothing. And some weekends it seems like we do everything all at once to make up for the lazy ones. This was definitely a very busy weekend for us. So busy, I am only now getting around to writing about it! Also, last week was crazy at work, so that just added to the sense of packing a lot into a few days.

To start, we bought a new car! A new new car, not just a “new to us” car. It’s a Chevrolet, the same one we rented in the states in October that my husband just fell in love with it. So he went about setting up a test drive a few months ago and getting the information together to order one this summer. But then they called him to say that since Chevrolet is stopping their business in France, they were getting rid of a lot of their display models with big discounts, and if instead he ordered the exact one he wanted it wouldn’t be ready until September. So we decided to get it now, even if it doesn’t have 100% of the fancy features like a touch screen control panel, since it was about 6000€ cheaper.

We went to pick it up Saturday, and it actually took a while for the salesman to explain all the different features. He was kind of the perfect car salesman: loud check jacket, shiny shoes, overpowering cologne. I don’t know if that’s the stereotype here, but I loved that he matched the idea I had in my head when my husband talked about him.

The rest of the day was spent getting ready for Sunday, which was our gender reveal party! I’ll try to do a longer recap post about it, since there were a few projects I’m particularly pleased with. The short version is, the French don’t really do baby showers (here’s a hilarious examination of why not) but my hormones I decided, gosh darn it, I wanted to eat cake and drink punch and talk about my baby. So, as I usually try to do when introducing my crazy American traditions to my in-laws, I tried to find a good compromise. I would have felt super awkward about throwing a shower for myself and explaining that people should bring presents, but I never feel awkward about asking people over to eat cake. And once everyone understood what was so special about this cake, they seemed pretty into it.

We decided to find out at the same time as everyone else, so until yesterday, only the midwife who did the sonogram and the cake lady knew what we’re having!

Gender Reveal

 

And the cake revealed . . . it’s a boy!

(This news will also get it’s own post probably, since I have all sorts of feelings about it!)

The cake was also insanely delicious, minus the sugary fondant, but does anyone actually like that part of the cake? I mean, it was well done, I just don’t like it that much. This is now the third American-style baker we’ve tried, the first for the wedding and the second for my birthday in December, and everyone agreed this is the best so far. Super light cake, creamy  filling, all sorts of yumminess. So if you’re in Northeastern France and need a cake, Les Délices de Lisa is the way to go!

Writing it all out, it actually doesn’t seem like we really did that much this weekend besides buy something and eat cake. But both required a lot of preparation and we took the time to enjoy both as much as we could, so the past two days just flew by! And next weekend is shaping up to be just as busy, but sadly, no cake. Unless I can think of a reason in the next few days for another one . . .

Wanting to impress my mother-in-law

I think in any culture, relationships with the in-laws can be tricky. I’ve never had an American mother-in-law, so I can’t really compare my experience here to anything, besides what friends tell me and what I see on TV.  However, I do think I managed to get pretty lucky. I’m not saying she’s perfect or that we agree on everything, but my mother-in-law has treated me like a perfectly capable adult from the very beginning (my husband, of course, will remain her little boy for the rest of his life). She’s friendly without being overbearing, interested in art and travelling, always sends us home with food, and she even seems to have gotten used to some of my more unusual language and cultural quirks. And besides the one, big, obligatory blow-out during wedding planning (which, after the wedding, she totally admitted I was right about), she’s never tried to force her opinions or advice on me. Sometimes she even asks mine on things like museums to visit during her travels. Overall, we accept and like each other a good deal, while acknowledging that we are very different people who will never be BFFs, but that’s totally okay for both of us.

That being said, I do still feel the need to impress my mother-in-law as often as I can. Maybe to show her that she got lucky too (I bake, I sew, I build Ikea furniture, I’m every mother’s dream for her son!). Or maybe because of my middle child syndrome, I need all the motherly attention I can get. Probably a little of both.

This weekend we celebrated the birthdays of both my brother- and sister-in-law. My MIL had ordered something for her daughter that hadn’t arrived yet and called me Saturday morning to see if I would have time to go into town so there’d be at least a little something to open the next day. She told me to get a t-shirt “kind of flashy, maybe for our trip to la Reunion this summer, and not like 100€ or anything.”

This was a whole new level in our MIL/DIL relationship. She doesn’t tend to involve me in “family drama” (not that this was at all dramatic), which I have always interpreted as her treating me like an adult with my own life, not as her not considering me part of the family. The biggest favor she’s asked me in the past was to make cheesecakes for a dinner she hosted for out-of-town guests. Liking my cheesecake is one thing, but trusting my taste in fashion is pretty serious. And it’s really not even my taste, it’s my interpretation of her taste for her daughter, with fairly vague instructions. So to say I spent quite some time looking in a few different stores trying to find the right thing is a bit of an understatement.

I’m not sure why this was so much more stressful than the cheesecakes. Maybe because you can always blame cooking failures on the equipment or the ingredients or the weather. But if she didn’t like the t-shirt, I couldn’t exactly blame the store for having ugly stuff. In the end, it was my choice and mine alone.

Presents were opened before we ate, so I didn’t have to sit through the entire 3-hour French Sunday lunch worrying about it. And . . . both the MIL and SIL were very happy with what I picked! Hurray!

So while my baking skills have been established for awhile, it seems I have now impressed her with my eye for fashion as well. It’s natural that our relationship changes as the years go by, and I’m happy that it’s still developing in a positive way. It puts me at ease for the big change coming this summer, and the new little family member that will change our relationship in all sorts of ways!

New Phone

I have to start this by saying I am insanely picky about cell phones. With the plan I have, I can buy a new phone relatively cheaply every two years, which is not really a problem for me, since it takes me approximately two years to choose one. I read all the reviews, look at videos, compare things like battery life and camera quality. I go to the store a few times, hold the phones, see what feels best. It’s quite a long process.

My husband gets a bit impatient with me, since he usually just pays full price for the newest cool phone he takes a fancy to every year or so. But it’s an important decision I think, given how central cell phones have become in daily life. If I’m going to be using something on a regular basis, I want to be sure it fits my needs as best as possible. I’m pretty sure we picked an apartment quicker than I picked my new phone, but there was a time crunch involved. When I have time to choose, I take all the time I possibly can.

Last week was the big day and going against all my original feelings on the subject, I got a new, gigantic, fully tactile HTC smarty smart phone. I don’t like tactile keyboards, and I wanted something small. Blackberry was the only one available right now that had real buttons to push and wasn’t too big, but I wasn’t sure I’d actually be able to use it the way I want to, since there don’t seem to be all the applications I’m used to.

I took a quick photo to compare this new monstrosity with my perfect little old Sony Ericsson with sliding keyboard (the pen is to show the size).

New phone

 

I definitely miss the keyboard, since despite predictive text in both French and English on my new phone, I still manage to send texts like “I’m running a big late” which makes me crazy, even if I know that people know what I mean. And I’m not used to the size, nor are my purses, which all have tiny little side pockets for tiny little phones.

However, the bigger screen is definitely all sorts of awesome, for videos and photos, which is a big reason I chose it. I’m sure I’ll be taking plenty of both come summer, so I wanted something that would make it as easy as possible to share all things bébé with loved ones near and far. (For now, I mostly have pictures of our cat, roughly a 50:1 cat to husband ratio, which was the case with my old phone too.)

One cool thing I am definitely using a lot is the remote control function. I didn’t know about it when I bought it, but you can program the phone to act as a remote for TV and cable. This only makes me lazier really, since it means I can just pick up my phone, which is usually within arm’s reach, rather than hunt around for the remotes. People who have been controlling stuff with their ipads or phones for years are probably rolling their eyes at me (actually, most of you probably are at this point anyway, since I have dedicated an entire blog post to my ambiguous feelings for my new phone, for heaven’s sake). But this is about as interconnected as I have ever been and I am just fascinated and love it. If I ever get a car that has one of those unlock/lock apps, I can tell I will be totally into it.

I originally wanted something to help optimize my commute time by answering emails and things like that. I have ended up with a very small camera that can also turn on my TV.

Does anyone else spend this much time/effort when buying a new phone? Or is it just me?

Grown-up talk

Remember when you were little, and listening to what the grown-ups were talking about after dinner was soooo boring?

Or remember in college when you would be around older siblings/cousins/TAs/whatever, and you were like “I’m so glad I’m still young and can have fun and don’t need to worry about things like IRAs and mortgages and babies?”

Last night we went out for a friend’s birthday, and while there was talk of upcoming concerts, and TV, and football (both American and soccer), there was definitely a lot of grown-up talk as well. People buying houses, changing jobs, looking for a good crèche.

And actually, I didn’t mind so much or find it boring. I must be a grown-up! When did that happen??

I gave lessons to a woman my first few years in France, and she was about 6-8 years older than me I think. I never asked her exact age, but she made reference to her 30th birthday when I was 23. I don’t remember if we were reading an article or discussing an expression like “mutton dressed as lamb” (still looking for a good French translation for that one) but she said she never felt the need to act or dress younger. She was totally fine with her age and was happy being an adult, being taken seriously at work, being able to do and have the things she wanted.

I, in my early twenties, smiled on the outside, and rolled my eyes on the inside thinking “yeah right, you’re just telling yourself that because it actually sucks getting older and you’re trying to reassure yourself.” (Well, I was thinking something similar to that, but less mean that it seems to have come out here.)

But now that I have reached my late twenties, I kind of understand what she meant. I wouldn’t say my “youth” is entirely over yet, but I don’t feel any much fear or regret about getting older. I enjoyed a certain kind of fun a few years ago, now I enjoy a different kind. One that involves sleeping a lot more, but also staying in actual hotels when we travel and ordering drinks without worrying if we’ll have enough for dinner as well. Our conversation topics have changed a bit, but our friends have changed right along with us, so it’s not like we’re alone in this. And I think that’s what scares you when you’re younger, is that you see older people individually, and you think of your individual life compared to theirs. But by the time you’re that age, everyone you know is the same age too, and it’s not so scary. Everyone’s life is kind of the same. Yes, there is a moment of panic when that first friend buys a house/gets married/has a baby (which is an even bigger moment if you are the first!) but it all evens out after a few years.

It’s not comparing our lives to our friends’ lives really, more like, finding ourselves in similar situations. Just like in middle school, everyone had pimples and braces at some point. If you were the first, everyone noticed more, but then it was over sooner for you, and you could pass on your sage advice to your friends.

So as “boring” as a younger me would have found it, last night was a perfectly nice evening out with friends, talking about the things that interest us and what’s going on in our lives, just like we’ve always done.