Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's Hard to Explain

In January I began co-teaching a ballroom dance class with a friend of mine.  Every week I send out video links and reminders regarding the next class.  Shortly after I sent out my latest missive, I received this email response -

I'm sorry, but the kids and I are heading to Rome on Thursday, so we won't be able to attend on Thursday.

My initial response was - oh well, we'll miss them but see them next week.  Then I got to thinking about how friends and family back in the States might perceive this and realized it is an odd world over here.  We country hop like it is nobody's business.  Trains can get us easily and quickly to England, France, Germany and the Netherlands.  Allen has "away" meets for track in England, Germany and the Netherlands.  There are discount airlines that make Rome or Dublin  day trip or weekend destinations.  

In the time it takes us to drive from DC to Michigan we could be in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and/or Switzerland.  If we don't feel like driving so far then we simply visit the Netherlands, Luxembourg or closer parts of Germany or France.  Having lunch in France is not unreasonable.

All of the above is not to brag - I hope you don't perceive it to be.  It is to say that geographically, we can get to many interesting destinations without alot of fuss and expense.  Thus when I hear of people going to Rome, I really do think nothing of it.  Belgium may not be a fantastic travel destination but truly it is a great travel from destination.  One that we have been fortunate to enjoy.  

European travel is great.  There are many places to see and enjoy.  I understand it is a big deal.  Trans-atlantic plane fare isn't cheap.  Once you take the Atlantic Ocean out of the way though, traveling European countries becomes quite economical and something many Americans enjoy while their here.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

French Class

This week I began my fourth semester of French class here on SHAPE.  Every semester brings a new mix of classmates and this one was no exception.

In the upper level French classes there are fewer and fewer Americans and this class is no exception.  Of the 12 of us, there are only two Americans.  There are three Italians, a Lithuanian, a Romanian, a woman from Portugal, a Canadian,  a man from Spain a woman from Ecuador and one more European that is not immediately coming to mind.  Not only are these individuals quite advanced in French many of them also speak English well.

I enjoy the international flavor of our class and the opportunities we have to explore not only the French language but cultural differences as well.  In past classes we have discussed (in French) health insurance, curfews for teenagers, and shopping on Sundays.  This is great for stretching our vocabulary as well as learning about other cultures.

This week we began our lessons on the subjunctive tense.  This is the last verb tense that French students learn, probably because it is the most difficult.  Any verb that is irregular is really irregular in the subjunctive.  Any and all exceptions become even more exceptional in the subjunctive.  In addition, there are very few other languages with the subjunctive tense, thus it is difficult to understand how it translates back into one's native language.

This is my third time learning the subjunctive (college, last year and now).  I have the verb conjugations down and have a basic understanding of when it is used.  This week however, it finally clicked for me that the subjunctive tense is used when one is expressing a subjective (versus objective) thought.  I wish that, I would like that, It should happen that, etc....

Probably the most common usage is with the phrase - It is necessary to/ It must.... When I put these phrases together with the idea that what comes after is put in the subjunctive (subjective) tense, it made me smile - the verb tense that follows reminds us that what we think is required/obligatory/necessary is our opinion not fact.  A great reality check and something that might change the flavor/feel of our debates and disagreements.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Alaskan Camping Gear is Useful in Belgium

Almost four years ago I took an Outward Bound trip in Alaska.  I spent over a week sea kayaking and camping in cold, rainy, beautiful Alaska.

As part of my preparations for the trip, I was given an extensive shopping list for clothing and other items.  I bought several pairs of wool socks, long underwear, fleece pants and shirts, rain boots, jacket, rain pants and a rain jacket.  While no one item (other than the North Face jacket) was particularly expensive, all together they came to a healthy sum.

I knew I would get good use out of them while in Alaska (and I did) I didn't think I'd get much use out of those items afterwards.  And then I moved to Belgium...

If I haven't mentioned it before, it rains here.  Alot.  The rain jacket very useful.  The rain pants get pulled out fairly frequently and the rain boots certainly keep my feet dry when walking the dog.

This week the long underwear is coming in handy. We are in the midst of a cold snap and it is predicted to last another week or so.  Our house and many SHAPE buildings are not exactly the most energy efficient when it comes to holding in heat.  It helps to have those extra layers to keep me warm.

Now I don't feel so bad about buying all that specialized clothing.  I have gotten far more use out of it than just those 10 days in Alaska.   Both in Alaska and here I would have to say - huge Helly Hansen fan!