Almost homophones in French

For some reason, lately I’ve been having trouble with almost homophones in French. Not every time the words came up, but often enough that I was worried the pregnancy is affecting my language. Googling only brings up all the ways my actions during pregnancy can impact bébé’s language development (like I didn’t have enough to worry about already), so I have concluded that it’s probably just because I am very tired and I have eight thousand other things to think about besides perfect pronunciation. And maybe since the words are similar they’re stored in the same place in my brain so the right one doesn’t always get accessed immediately. Or maybe they’re Freudian slips, though why I’d have suppressed feelings about ostriches is uncertain . . .

Autriche/Autruche – one is a European country, one is a flightless bird. The country comes up in conversation more often than the bird, but you don’t want to accidentally book a vacation to an ostrich farm instead of Vienna. Also, I heard the expression “politique de l’autruche” the other day, and asked my husband what was so special about Austria’s politics.

Ouragan/Origan – the first is a violent storm, the second a mild Italian seasoning. While contextually the difference should be clear (you don’t look usually for hurricanes in your kitchen cabinets), out of context phrases that start with “I need/I want/Where is/Have you seen/Is there any” aren’t always immediately clear.

Jeun/Jaune – to be “à jeun” means to have an empty stomach, something that has definitely been happening a lot the past few months with all the different tests I’ve had to do. Though the nice lab techs didn’t even bat an eye when I mistakenly confirmed that I was “yellow” (jaune).

Somnifère/Sonisphere – my husband has been sleeping poorly lately and the doctor gave him some sleeping pills. My husband has also been talking about what other heavy metal concerts he wants to go to this summer, since the Sonisphere has been cancelled. I’m sure my mother-in-law was relieved but also slightly confused when I told her the other day “I have been sleeping poorly as well, but I’m not allowed to have any heavy metal concerts.”

Péridurale – this is not a homophone with anything, and the mistake is really just because I have been lazy about learning pregnancy vocabulary (reasoning: I am only pregnant a little while, and words related to babies/kids will be more important in the long run), but I keep saying “épidurale” instead. My mouth just refuses to say the French word. I’m sure this won’t cause too much confusion at the hospital, but who knows how many other mistakes I’ll make that day (having never given birth, I don’t know how exactly I’ll respond to the pain).

 

I’ve definitely mixed-up other words over the years, especially the first few years here, but I try not to get too discouraged. Even in English, things don’t always come out right 100% of the time! I just try to pay extra attention in important situations, and laugh off my worst gaffes with friends.

Feelings about going on maternity leave

Today was the first day of my 16 to 20 week maternity leave. I’ll write more later about the more administrative details; today I was having all sorts of feelings about going on maternity leave and legally not being able to work for the next few months.

Since I work in HR, I read A LOT about the different gender equality policies around the country and around the world. Which companies have the best male/female ratio, which country gives the most maternity leave, which countries give parental leave for the father, which countries have quotas for female board members . . .

I don’t think there’s really a “best” answer. I can say that while it’s very reassuring to know I won’t lose my job because we chose to have a baby, and we won’t go into debt because of hospital bills, it’s also frustrating that I can’t continue to work longer when I am perfectly capable of doing so. I’m not sure how imposing a long break for women is supposed to help them gain workplace equality.

Not that I am at all upset to have this break! And it’s something we knew would happen, so it was a deliberate choice (well, as much as timing these things can be deliberate) to have a baby very early in my career rather than wait until I was more established. But I still had a few big projects I’d been working on for a while that I had to pass on to other people, which was extremely hard to accept. It feels like there’ll be this big blank in my CV and I’ll always have less practical experience in the field than others my age. So I really want to use my “time off” to continue developing skills and knowledge (languages, computers, policy, etc.) that I can put to use once I go back. (Those of you who are moms are probably laughing yourselves silly at my naïveté thinking I can study German vocab while sleep-deprived and nursing a colicky newborn. Don’t break my utopian bubble just yet, pretty please!)

I’ll actually be going back as soon as possible, since my husband is going to work part-time for a year instead of me at the end of my maternity leave (this option is made possible thanks to Luxembourg’s parental leave policy). It means taking a step back in his career as well, which we discussed at length before deciding what to do. The way we see it, he’ll get a “break” and get to spend more time at home than he otherwise would with his crazy hours. The housework/baby burden will hopefully be slightly better balanced than what often happens, making us both more efficient at work. (Again, no breaking my bubble moms! Trying to go into this as positive as possible!)

In the long term, we realize it will probably mean less money and less promotions for both of us, but making our family a priority now, before we have to make bigger career choices, seemed to make sense to us. In 20 years, will he really care that it took him an extra year to get a promotion when he was able to be so involved with his son’s early life? And I’m sure in a few years I won’t give two figs about these “empty” months in my CV when it meant being able to take care of our new baby myself instead of leaving him with strangers when he’s just a few weeks old.

I do realize how incredibly lucky we are to even have these options available to us. But the one option that wasn’t available was for me to continue working as long as I could physically, which annoys me. It would have saved the government money, and would mean a higher salary potential over the course of my career as well, which is also good for the government, since it means more taxes. It would have saved my company money since they’d need a replacement for less time. Even the train company would make money from me keeping my commuter pass longer.

Coming back to this idea of equality, maternity policies aren’t even fair to all women, since not everyone has children. If a company doesn’t replace a woman on maternity leave, it means more work for others without increasing their pay. The same goes for men and parental leave. Everyone knows the time isn’t being spent lounging around on the beach, and that having children is just as much work as a full-time job, if not more. (Ok, probably definitely more work.) But that doesn’t mean those you leave behind at the office aren’t feeling a bit of resentment seeing you walk out the door, or that when you come back you won’t feel some as well for all the opportunities you missed. I feel like the only way to be really equal is for everyone to get an extended period off at some point during their career, so that the career advancement and workload issues apply to everyone. (This is an insanely impractical suggestion, I know, but hopefully the reasoning behind it makes at least a little bit of sense.)

Most of these confusing ramblings are the result of the guilt I feel for getting this time off when it seems like I did nothing to earn it other than do what humans have been doing forever, and when so many other women around the world don’t have my options. I am grateful, I am annoyed, I feel guilty, I feel relieved, I want this, I don’t want that, I want everything . . . Basically all the feelings I can expect once I’m a mother, right? So if maternity leave is supposed to help me prepare for motherhood, it seems like I’m off to a good start!

 

Crazy stuff said during pregnancy

I am nearing the end of week 31, which in theory means less than 9 more to go! But it could be as little as 6 or 7 weeks . . . Either way, I thought it was time to write about all the crazy stuff said during pregnancy. By me as well as my husband. I know it’s our first baby, and I know there are no “stupid” questions, but sometimes I think we could have maybe thought things over just a little longer . . .

Him: “We know a few other Franco-american couples, and their kids are all redheads. Does that mean ours will be?” (During one of our first doctor’s appointments. Because obviously hair color is dependant on nationality, not silly things like genetics.)

Me: “Wait, how can we see his brain?? Doesn’t he have a skull?!” (During a sonogram, when he showed us the two hemispheres. He answered, quite patiently actually, that we can see though the skull, just like we were seeing through my belly, thanks to modern technology.)

Him: “So he showed us the diaphragm, it must be a girl! Only girls have those!” (Said in the car after the same, apparently very confusing, sonogram appointment. Biology was not his favorite class in school . . .)

Me: “Since it’s a boy, if you test my blood, will I be both male and female?” (During my most recent blood test. I still feel like this is a legitimate question, but my husband laughed a lot about this. Whatever, I was more into chemistry anyway.)

Him: “When he’s born, he’s all covered in stuff, so what if they give him to me and he just slips out of my arms??” (The other night when discussing our birth plan. I’m sure he’s not the first future papa to worry about this, but it was the motions he did while saying it that were just priceless.)

Me: “He’s been kicking really really hard lately, he can’t like, tear through anything and suddenly burst out of my stomach, right?” (I blame this on Twilight/Alien. He kicks super hard! But again, the midwife was very patient and explained all the physical reasons why this is not possible. So maybe I am not the first to ask this!)

Him: “But if I put the baby in the stroller in the apartment, how will I get him down the stairs?” (This is actually a recurring theme with my husband, wanting to know how he’ll physically manage things like getting both groceries and the baby into the car, or where to put the baby when he’s getting ready for work in the morning. It’s sweet, to know he’s already picturing it, but also funny to hear all the various complicated situations he can imagine for himself. I feel like once bébé is here, it’ll all make more sense to him.)

 

And maybe it’s just hormones, but my doctor has been getting on my nerves lately, because he says stuff like: “Really? You were crying? Contractions don’t hurt that much.”

I realize he was just trying to determine what exactly had caused a very scary pain a few weeks ago, but I am kind of regretting my choice now to stick with my male doctor, even if I’ve been with him for years, since things like this make me want to punch him in the face. At least the midwives are almost all women (notable exception being our patient sonogram guy), and unless something goes wrong, they are the ones who actually deliver babies in France.

 

Writing them all out makes me feel a little better, since they don’t seem as bad as when we first said them and there was an instant “d’oh!” feeling. Everything about the pregnancy is still perfectly normal and boring, so maybe our questions are too, I’ve just never heard them before because I’m not a doctor!

Bank card limits in France

My nesting instinct hasn’t quite kicked in yet (the freezer remains mostly empty and the closets horribly disorganized) but my shopping definitely seems to have picked up a bit this month. So I’ve been having lots of fun, but in the back of my head, I have to keep in mind the spending limits on my bank card.

Since I moved to France right after college, I’m not sure how different things are here, but I know my dad was upset recently that his free checking accounting was no longer free. I’ve been paying a few euros a month since the very first month for my account here, so I couldn’t really sympathize with him. I do know that what I pay is because I have a debit card; the joint account with my husband only has a checkbook so we don’t pay anything for it.

In addition to the monthly fee, there are limits on how much I can withdraw each week, and how much I can spend in a month using the card (there are no limits to withdrawing at the bank, other than the amount actually in the account!). When I first arrived in France, these limits were pretty low, which wasn’t a big deal, since I didn’t make that much. And it’s nice to know that if my card gets stolen and someone tries to buy or withdraw a lot, they won’t be able to. Recently I asked my banker to increase the limits, since my work situation is stable, but I still need to keep that number in my mind when buying big ticket items over the next few weeks.

Both my husband and I are at Société Générale now, but before he was at Crédit Mutuel, and I’m not sure if he had the same limits. I remember the first time we tried to buy plane tickets with his new card, and we couldn’t, because he was close to the monthly limit, and he swore he’d never had one at his old bank. It could just be that he had never reached his limit before, so never knew what it was.

One nice thing is that there re no fees when withdrawing from an ATM at another bank, with, of course, a weekly limit. This is something I loved when I first got here, since there was nothing more annoying to me in the states than paying an extra 2 dollars when I didn’t use my bank’s ATM. 2 dollars is a lot to a college student on minimum wage! That’s like, enough for an essential studying snack or bus fare to the mall.

I’ve been looking into purely online banking for a while, but I’ve been at the same bank since I first got here, and with the same banker for over 4 years. He knows us, knows our goals, and gives good advice. We also manage to get enough “new” services every year that we help him meet his sales quota without him having to call and badger us every few months. So if we called him and asked to up the limit so we can buy a crib, he’d do it, no problem. I don’t feel like I can’t spend my own money how I want to, it just takes a bit more planning. Which, when dealing with budgets, is probably not such a bad thing.

I’ve gotten used to my bank card limits in France just like I’ve gotten used to everything being closed on Sundays and after 7pm. Sure, a part of me feels like this is somehow denying me my freedom of choice, but at the same time, it’s made me more organized and conscious of how I spend my money (and time).

Holiday birthdays

My husband’s birthday was this week, and I felt bad that I wasn’t in the best shape to fête it like we usually do. He was still on vacation most of this week, but went back to work on his birthday, which confused me, since if you have the choice, who wants to work on their birthday? But I don’t really know how people feel about “normal” birthdays, since I have a holiday birthday.

I was born on Christmas, which was a great present for my parents but has not always been easy for me. There are good things, like never having to work, and the food is always yummy, and people are in a festive mood. There are the bad things, like less presents, but as an adult you’re not really allowed to say that because by now you’re supposed to understand that Christmas is about more than just presents, right?

Growing up, my parents always said they would make me whatever I wanted if I didn’t want to eat the turkey with everyone else (though I rarely took them up on it; turkey and mashed potatoes is fine by me any night!) And I was very particular about my cakes (purple strawberry, cupcake cocktails). In France, since we don’t host the dinner ourselves, I have no say in terms of menu and dessert and even cake choices, which has been hard. But again, as an adult, you’re not supposed to make a big deal about things like this. It shouldn’t matter what you eat, Christmas is about being with family and celebrating other things besides whiny little you.

Despite not really knowing exactly when the bébé will come, he could theoretically be born on either July 4th or 14th. At first it seems like this would be pretty cool. But then I really think about it, and there would definitely be drawbacks. Yes he would have fireworks and we wouldn’t have to work, but unless we hosted a party, friends and family would probably already have other stuff planned that day. Or they’d all be on vacation (though this is a problem with all summer birthdays). And any party would pretty much have to be a barbecue. And if we didn’t throw a party, it would be hard to find a restaurant open that day if we wanted to go out. And eventually he would realize that all the celebrations and parades have nothing to do with him.

It seems like little, stupid things to care about, but if your birthday is supposed to be a special day just for you, holiday birthdays are hard because you’re automatically sharing it with everyone else. And it does seem like people try to avoid them as much as possible (though that might have more to do with hospital staffing than the mother’s choice):

(The chart and interactive table are just for the states; I would love if someone did something like this for France!)

In the end, birthdays are something you have very little control over, other than how you choose to celebrate. And holiday birthdays come with lots of built-in celebrations and traditions that you may or may not like.

But for my husband and his “normal” birthday, celebrations this year involved inviting his family over today and cooking for them, followed by a leisurely walk in the sun along the river. And really, when I think about it, that’s the same thing we do for mine: eating, talking, and spending time with loved ones. So no matter what birthday bébé ends up with, we’ll always try and do the same! (And if it is a holiday, and he doesn’t want barbecue, I’ll make him whatever else he wants to eat).