Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, March 30, 2009

Petite Anglaise recently posted a link on Facebook to an article by the Guardian on the "rééducation" that many French mothers go through after childbirth. Thanks to other expat blogs, it's not the first time I've heard about this, but I still find it rather funny and so typical of the French culture.

I've had a few conversations about this with French women, and like in the article, they all sort of considered it their duty to get "that area" back in shape for their husband. And many of them didn't even consider breast-feeding because they wanted their husband to still see them as a woman, and not just a mommy or a milk factory. Even my bohemian ex-SIL (who lives in Brest, haha) didn't breastfeed for that very reason. Chalk it up to yet another cultural difference.

Disclaimer - There are of course French women out there who DO choose to breastfeed and to not get the rééducation..............I imagine a lot of them are like Katell though. (Yeah, yeah, I know that's a low blow. But still funny.)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I absolutely love taking the bus home from Montparnasse because of 1) it's just a short, direct ride back home and 2) because of the view I get the minute I set foot out of the gare:Could I have a better view to welcome me back to Paris??

Last week was sort of a turbulent week for me - the only way I can think to describe is this: Remember when you went off to college your freshman year and had all this new-found freedom and independance? And life was good and you made tons of friends and learnt a lot. But how at the end of the year, when you moved back home for the summer, it all changed. You felt sulky and cranky and like you'd reverted back to your pre-college self. I mean, you'd done and seen all this stuff! You'd GROWN! And here your parents are treating you like you're the same old person.

That's what staying in V-town was like for me. The first few days were fine, but as the week went on, I felt myself reverting back to samdebretagne. Feeling bitter and negative about being in Bretagne. Angry that I had to stay in a hotel just down the road from what had been my home for so many years. Sad about the family life I was missing out on - Fab's dad's big birthday party last Tuesday, the grandkids starting to walk & talk, the nice ex-SIL's pregnancy. Confusion about how all of that disappeared in a heartbeat. Restless because everything was still so familiar but no longer mine.

But I made it through the week and as I got on the train back to Paris, I felt better with each kilometer that passed. Being in Bretagne has always equaled the feeling of having a weight on my shoulders. And the closer I got to Paris, the lighter that weight felt. By the time I walked out of the gare, I was feeling a million times better. And as I walked home from rhumrhums last night, I was overfilled with joy. I felt like jumping and doing a little leprachaun kick.

This city is so beautiful, so powerful, and its beauty never fails to remind me that everything happens for reason.


Friday, March 27, 2009

One of the things I'd forgotten about life in Bretagne was how much people judge you by the kind of car you drive. Fab and I had a 1994 BMW that was in perfect condition and looked a lot newer than it was, and you wouldn't believe the amount of negative comments that we got about. I know I blogged about it before on my old blog, but it was along the lines of "you guys are young & poor, you have no business driving a car like that".

At first, I didn't understand that kind of mentality - I mean really, who's business was it what kind of car we drove? But that was before I understood that one of the worst things you can do in Bretagne is show you have money. Buying a fancy new car or building a swimming pool in your back yard will pretty much guarantee that one of your neighbors or so-called friends will make a call to the tax-man to report that you are under-declaring your income.

I've tried to keep that in mind ever since every time I come back here - mainly renting C3's or basic models along those lines. This time, I'd reserved a Volkswagon Polo, but unfortunately, upon arrival at the agency, I found out that the person who'd rented the previous week had decided to keep it a few days longer. So I found myself with this massive, brand-new C4 minivan. To top it off, the damn thing had a 56 license plate, ie the license plate of my old department, so it looked like it was actually mine (most rental cars have a 60 on their license plate because that department - l'Oise - has the cheapest registration fees).

On one hand, that was a good thing because it meant that I didn't ever get honked or stared at while driving Jasmin around to see the sites (the patience-o-meter for 60's or 75's is pretty much non-existant here). But on the other hand, it made it look like it was mine. Every single one of my clients has made a little dig about it this week. Things along the lines of "Oh la la, The Company must be paying you big bucks now if you can afford that". Even Fab and the nice ex-SIL were like "Whoa, what are you doing with that thing??" When I drove up to my client yesterday, he was doing the whole "big eye goggling" thing and was staring at it, so the first thing I said when I rolled down the window (after "Bonjour" of course) was "It's not mine".

The thing is, I don't even think it's that nice of a nice car! I mean, it's nice enough and has a lot of options for a French vehicule, but I don't find it to be a particularily good-looking vehicule. It's a frickin' minivan people!! I even went back after a few days to try to get the Polo, but it still wasn't in yet. So all this to say - I'm really looking forward to giving the darn thing back to the rental agency this afternoon.

Paris, here I come - bring on the rhumrhums!


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Je me coucherai moins bête ce soir

A few nights' ago, I saw a one-minute long segment on M6 and thought "Only in France". But in a good way.

M6 is a French TV station that normally shows 'fluff' kinds of shows - lots of reality TV and made-for-TV movies. Kind of like a combo between Fox & UPN. But they occasionally have interesting shows, including the one referred to above, entitled "Une de moins". The whole point of each one-minute segment is to cover a commonly-made error in French. Can you imagine an American TV station doing a daily segment on grammatical errors in English?

Here's the example from last night's spot. The majority of the population would write the following sentence as such:

Les marrons sont chauds, mais ils sont bien marrons.

But the correct answer is:

Les marrons sont chauds, mais ils sont bien marron. (with no S)

This is definitely a mistake I would've made as well - it's yet another exception I didn't know (but then again, there's a lot of them out there due to my non-traditional learning of French). But apparently the rule is that color adjectives that are derived from fruits, vegetables, metals or precious stones are invariable. Examples given: crème, kaki, orange, turquoise, citron, chocolat, bronze, etc. And while I don't necessarily consider French to be a hard language to learn (though I'd never say that to a Frenchie!!), I do think it's challenging, mainly because of all the exceptions such as this.

The other thing that causes a lot of fautes d'orthographe is the number of word endings that sound exactly the same. Take the sound [O]. I'm sure there are more, but just off the top of my head, you can have the following endings:

All of those are pronounced "O". So you can imagine how easy it is to make spelling mistakes in French, especially nowadays with the younger generation and their tendency to shorten everything to simply "o" due to internet usage & text messaging.

So I think it's kind of cool that they're trying in their own small way to protect the French language, especially à travers a medium used by the people most likely to make those mistakes. But then again, I'm a huge dork and I really like French spelling - the proof being that I'd always be the one student in class secretely saying "wheee!!!" every time the teacher would announce a dictée.

Shhh. Don't tell anyone.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On tonight's menu

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile


Monday, March 23, 2009

Whew, what a crazy past few days. Most of you know this already, but I went to the préfecture to renew my cds on Friday. I'd been crossing my fingers, knocking on wood and generally doing anything else thought to bring good luck, in the hopes of getting the 10 year card. But it was unfortunately not meant to be. I was told "you'll get it next year".......for the third year in a row now. So frustrating.

But then it was on to bigger and better things. Such as showing Jasmin around my little corner of Bretagne. We were blessed with absolutely beautiful weather, especially for this time of year, and we had a jam-packed weekend, visiting V-town, Quiberon, Carnac, walking along the beach, etc. I feel a bit bad for Jasmin though for having to put up with my Bretagne-related bi-polarness. I spent half the time going on about how wonderful and beautiful this area is and then the other half of the time trying to convice her how much it sucked. I'm still torn between the two. And probably will be for some time now.

Mais quand même, elle est pas belle ma Bretagne ???


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Get on the starting blocks, cuz tomorrow is the Jour du Macaron. Pierre Hermé and several other participating pastry shops will be giving away free macarons in exchange for a donation to the Fédération des Maladies Orphelines (foundation for rare diseases). You can also purchase a special red macaron for 1€. The promotion will be offered all over France, as well as in Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Holland and Japan.

You can bet I'll definitely be heading out to pick some up on my way to the train station tomorrow morning!

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009


My Belgian client ended up canceling on me at the last minute today, so I found myself with an entire day free and a rental car that didn't need to be back until 8pm. I didn't want to get too far off track since I still had the drive back to Paris to "look forward" to, so I ended up going to Gent. It was one of those towns that I had no expectations for or of - and it turned out to be fabulous. The sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky - it was the perfect day for exploring a new city.

The architecture there was so different from anything I'd ever seen before, and I was kicking myself for not charging my camera the night before (thank God for the blackberry). Every corner I turned brought a new and wonderful view:
Has anyone else ever been? I don't know anything about the city and I didn't have a map, so I just spent the day wandering around and shopping, stopping every once in a while to sit in the sun. I had a drink at a bar across the street from this castle. I just kept blinking and looking at it, it was like something straight out of Disneyland. Or maybe a giant Lego castle.But it was a great day, which mostly made up for the hell that was driving back through Paris this evening!


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Holland, will you marry me? part 2

It's amazing how well everyone here speaks English. From the old to the young, from the supermarket cashier to the big businessman, everyone speaks English. I mean, on one hand, I really like how the French have put up a fight against the Anglo-fication of the world, but on the other hand, it's damn nice to be able to easily communicate with people here without having to resort to hand gestures. Though I have to admit that I probably wouldn't have learned nearly as much French nearly as fast had more people in Bretagne spoken English this well.

Which brings me to another thing that surprised me - the number of TV shows in English. I have about 20 TV channels here at the hotel and at least half of them are in English with Dutch subtitles. And it's not just your standard BBC, CNN, etc channels - it's the whole gamme. They've got Oprah, Doctor Phil, Late night with David Letterman, Antique Roadshow, The Family Guy, plus all the typical shows like Desperate Housewives, etc. Granted, these are not exactly the crème de la crème of American TV, but it's still nice to be able to have some background noise on while working. There are also stations like Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, National Geographic & Comedy Central.

Another thing that's struck me is how tall everyone is. I was walking in downtown Utrecht and something felt different. All of the sudden it hit me - I was no longer a giant! There were women all around me that were taller than I was. And the men were gigantic, especially after years of looking at Frenchie midgets. Though that does make it all the more ridiculous when you see them eating chocolate sprinkles on their bread during the mid-morning break.

And last but not least, what's a trip to a foreign country without a trip to a grocery store? I was pleasantly surprised with a selection of hard-to-find items in France (or at least not at reasonable prices): Philly cream cheese, cheddar cheese, baby carrots, bubbalicious gum, cake mixes, cereal bars, coffeemate, light & dark brown sugar and chai tea, to name a few. I am glad this is such a short trip because it means I've got room in my suitcase to bring some goodies back. Including a few packages of the always-delicious stroopwafels. Yum.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Holland, will you marry me?

This country is great! So polite, organized and orderly - it appeals to my Scandinavian side to no end.

Driving here has been a pure pleasure - it's almost like driving back in MN. There's no honking, no tail-gating, no being-cut-off every two minutes. People drive the speed limit and use their turn signals. Just take a look at the following picture. This would never work in France - no one would ever obey the red "don't drive in this lane" X, unless access to it was literally blocked off. But yet in Holland, I drove for miles and miles without ever seeing anybody in it.
Compare that to the near-heart attack I had while driving in Paris Sunday night, and I am in love. First of all, I lugged my suitcase all the way over the Gare de Lyon, only to discover that the car I had rented had been vandalized the night before and no longer had any doors or wheels. Which posed just a *slight* problem considering I had over 350km to do. But the gentleman at the counter informed me that there was a similar car available at the Gare de Lyon, ie. the station that was all the way across town (but yet just a ten minute bus ride from where I live). My query of "You couldn't have called earlier today to have let me know that?" was met with a Gallic shrug. Same thing for "Isn't there anyone who could bring it over here?" Bah, madame, vous savez, on est dimanche. (Look lady, it's a Sunday). So I sighed and lugged my suitcase back up the non-working escalator and made my way towards the metro. To another non-working escalator (the second out of six that I would encounter on my way to the Gare de Lyon).

I changed at Chatelet (more non-working escalators) and finally made it to the Gare de Lyon. Only to discover that there were about a million different exits, and not a single one of them had a sign pointing towards rental cars. I wandered around for a bit aimlessly, hoping to find either an SNCF employee or some signage. I found neither, so I busted out the blackberry and googled their address.

I finally found the Europcar agency, but only after lugging my suitcase up two more non-working escalators and across the street. By this time, I was tired, hungry and running almost an hour late. Luckily the car was really there AND in one piece, so I grabbed the keys and headed out the door. Only to realize that I was now leaving from the SE of Paris instead of the North as planned. So much for my quick hop straight out of Paris and onto the freeway plan.

As I started panicking about the extra Paris driving I was about to do, I told myself "Calm down, Kathryn said it was easy to get out of Paris from the Gare de Lyon, remember?".

Side note - Kathryn, I'm definitely not saying you're a liar but I think it may look 'easy' as long as you're not the one driving!!! LOL

I finally made it out and on to the périphérique, when all of the sudden my GPS told me to 'bear left'. I thought to myself - "Which left biyatch, there are three of them??" I decided to go for the second and my heart dropped as I heard good ol' Roberta say "Recalculating route". Sh*t. Nice try but no cigar. And as a result, I found myself once again in a Parisian neighborhood and once again panicking. I'm telling you, these people are ruthless! I come from a town of 100 - it took me ages before I would even drive in Minneapolis. But I finally made my way back on to the périphérique, calming myself down all the way by thinking about the high-blood pressure medication bill I was going to send to The Company. That, and about how it would all make just one more story for my book some day.

But seriously. The car stupid troubles and the extra mileage added an extra 1 1/2 hours to my already 3 3 1/2hr drive. I ended up arriving at my hotel in Antwerp at 11:30pm. Yuck. All's I could think as I fell into bed was "Good Lord, I am never going to do this again".

Until I realized that in just a few days, I would have to return the damn car to the Gare de Lyon.



Sunday, March 15, 2009

Whew, this weekend has absolutely flown by! I meant to post yesterday but I ended up leaving for my Finnish class at noon and not coming home again until 2am. That of course means I got nothing done, but I had a great day. My new Finnish teacher is amazing and everybody is pretty much at the same level, so it's turning into a really interesting class. And then I was off to the Salon Mer & Vigne. "Salons" are kind of like the equivalent to an "expo" or "show" in English - you can have a salon of everything - food, hunting, sports, weddings, etc. This one was specifically for seafood and wine though. We tasted all kinds of things - alcochol mostly- and had a grand old time. I'm not going to talk about it too much - you'll have to listen to K&K this week to see what they say - but it involved lots of fun things like dancing with a Breton and trying a "liqueur érotique de bois bandé". The man's selling point was something like "ça fait bander les hommes, et les femmes reviennent avec la culotte à la main". Très classy. But it was a fun day overall and I came home with a really taste apple liqueur from Normandy, the most expensive comté I've ever eaten in my life and some caramel au beurré salé from Lorient (a little hommage to le 56).

I was glad to have the distraction yesterday though, because I've been stressing about my last-minute work trip to Holland these past few days. As of 7pm tonight, I will be picking up a car at the Gare du Nord and driving to Antwerp. And then tomorrow morning, I will get up early and drive the rest of the way to Utrecht.

When they first told me about the trip earlier this week, I was told it was going to be an easy-peasy install, so my main concern was actually not work, but driving out of Paris - I've never driven here before and it scares the crap out of me. But then things changed, and a few days later I was told I was going to have to do a major upgrade during the install. Which I've never done before, nor even seen done before. So I freaked out about that for a little bit. Until they came back and said "Sorry, but you're also going to have to reformat their computer". And then I really freaked out - I know nothing about Linux nor reformatting.

I'm pretty much over the freaking-out stage now - everything usually works out in the end, and all's I can do is give it my best shot. And The Company realizes this is a huge challenge for me - and if I can do it, maybe some of the men there (the CEO included) will finally stop thinking I'm just some dumb girl. The good thing is that if I don't get everything accomplished, it won't be a huge deal either - I'm saving them thousands of dollars by being able to drive there from Paris instead of sending someone from the US at the last minute.

And on that note, I'm off to make crêpes with salted butter caramel. I'm not sure if I'll have internet access (or even time to post) this week, so wish me luck and hope that no news is good news!


Friday, March 13, 2009

I was watching the news last night, and they were talking about the various ways the "crise économique" was having an effect on the Frenchies. Times are obviously tough for a lot of people, and it means that petty crimes are rising by the day (they're up 90% en Bretagne!). People are walking out of stores with items, leaving restaurants without paying, driving away from gas stations after filling up, etc. They interviewed the owner of a very busy café not too far from where I live, and he said the number of people who run off without paying has gone up incredibly. He joked that he was going to start making his waiters wear tennis shoes so they could run after them, instead of the fancy dress shoes they currently wear.

Which made me start to think about how easy it would be to leave without paying in so many places in this country. I've been to that café several times, and it's always packed. It takes ages to get served, but it also takes ages for the server come back around and pick up the check. Considering how busy it is, it'd be so easy to just get up and walk away - they wouldn't notice for at least several minutes. And even in Paris, there are still a lot of places with no video surveillance.

They also interviewed a hotel receptionist who gave the example of a couple who had stayed there for a week, and then left without paying. It's true that with a lot of French hotels, you pay upon check-out, not check-in like in the US. A lot of the smaller ones don't even ask for your credit card number upon arrival. That happened to me last week in Bordeaux - I walked out with my suitcase in the morning and gave my key to the receptionist, and she looked up, said "Bon voyage" and then looked back down at her paperwork. I could've so easily just said "Thanks" and walked right on out, leaving her with no way to contact me.

And then today's news covered the rise in armed robberies in France, mostly taking place at small mom & pop stores, ie the ones least likely to have security cameras or guards. The robbers weren't ever getting away with large amounts of money - mostly 100€ give or take - but it hasn't stopped the number of them from rising within the past few months.

I don't know what the point of this post is - I guess I just found it sad that so many people feel that they have no other choice but to steal. This new "times are tough" crime is most often commited by parents trying to provide for their families. Either way, it makes me all the more grateful that I have a steady income and a stable job.

Even if it does cause me minor freak-outs from time to time (more on that tomorrow).


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Hey everyone - I've got another Flat Stanley (though this time, called "Flat Trinity") staying with me, and it's time to send him/her off on a new adventure.

Anyone outside of France/the US willing to take him in for a few days and show him around your town? He's the perfect guest - he doesn't take up any space and he doesn't even need to be fed!


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The power of one

Seriously people, get out there and see Milk! Steve and I went to see it last night, and it was excellent. What a fabulous movie about a so-often untold story - check it out:

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I walked over to Montparnasse this afternoon to see "Marley and Me", and on the way, I listened to "This American Life". The topic "Plan B", once again struck a chord with me. At the beginning of the episode, he asks people to think about what they thought their adult life would be like and how it compared to where they were actually at today.

I pressed pause for a bit and thought about that for a few minutes. If someone had told me ten years ago I'd be living in Paris (or even in France), I would've laughed my head off at them. I didn't speak French, had never been to the country and had no desire to live there. Finland maybe, but France? NO WAY. Yet here I am. Living in the heart of Paris.

So what was my Plan A? Up until I decided to move to France with Fab, I was a career girl. Working three different jobs, probably 60-70 hours a week. Before any Frenchies out there gasp in horror, let me clarify - I was working each of those jobs by choice. I wasn't doing it because I had to, but because I loved all three of them. I was doing whole-grains research for General Mills, which appealed to my orderly, scientific side. I was developing recipes for Land O'Lakes, which appealed to my creative side. And I was still working as a manager at my college job, at the University student center, which appealed to my social side. I was very lucky - I loved getting up and going to work every day, and a lot of people can't always say that.

But then I decided to give France a try for a year - I figured "Hey, I'm young, even if it doesn't work out with Fab, I'll have at least traveled some and (hopefully) learned a new language". But somehow, I never left and it became my Plan B. I tried my best to make a life for myself in Bretagne, to find a way to deal with the eventuality of spending the rest of my life in the countryside. And that's where I thought I'd spend the rest of my (semi-miserable) days.

As we all now know, it just wasn't meant to be. Thank God for that.

So here I am, on Plan C. Living in Paris. Alone for the first time in my life. With a very strange yet cool job that I also love, and no plans to go back to the US in the immediate future (at least not if I can help it). But is this the final plan? Somehow I doubt it. I'm young still - and most of the people interviewed on the show were on Plan D, E, F or G. And I guess I'm okay with that. Right now, for probably the first time in my life, I'm not trying to plan. Just taking things as they come. And why not? Things on the whole are good right now. I like my life, so besides trying to save to eventually buy an apartment, I'm not actively working to change it.

But I'm curious - where would you all be today if you'd stuck with Plan A? Or even plan B?


Saturday, March 7, 2009

I really love my job. I love that it's challenging, always changing and that allows me to live in Paris. But most of all, I love the flexibility it gives me. As long as I get my work done, I can do it whenever, wherever and in whatever order I want. Which works out well when I get the urge to go skiing - I just schedule a work trip down to the south of France and off I go!

And that's what I did last weekend - I visited my clients all week, and then Friday I drove over to Toulouse to see L & B. We got up early Saturday morning and took the train up to Ax-les-Thermes. They have a pretty handy rail+ski pass that includes roundtrip train tickets, a ticket for the telecabine up to the station and the lift ticket. The only 'hic' in the trip was that we were also supposed to get a free locker to store our stuff, but unfortunately we weren't able to find them. Which meant that poor L & B - who were smart and brough backpacks - were forced to try to stuff the contents of my purse in their bags. Sorry guys. If I'd known it was going to be such a hassle, I would've left it at home!!

But we finally got our skis and made our way up top, and it was absolutely breathtaking. And the perfect day for skiing.The only bad thing about the day was that it forced me to admit what I've been refusing to admit for a while now. I am officially out of shape. This is the first time in my life I've ever gotten tired while skiing. Granted, most of the skiing I've done has been on 5 minute runs, not 15-20 minute ones, but still - it's time to get my act together. I've been really active my whole life - always training year-round for either ice skating or soccer, but things have been going downhill ever since I moved to France. (Yes, I am the one weirdo who manages to gain weight in France & lose it in the US.)

I'd been planning on joining the gym down the street this summer (it's too expensive to pay for a membership now, when I'm only here two weeks a month), but I think I'm going to have to get my butt in gear before that. I walk a lot everyday, but that's clearly not enough. I've got rollerblades here, so I'm going to try to make a committed effort to go rollerblading for an hour, several times a week. I'm still scared of rollerblading in the streets, what with all the crazy Parisian drivers, so I think I'll go down on the quais by the Seine. Wish me luck (and no broken bones)!


Friday, March 6, 2009

Seen on my way to work, part 3

Proof that Frenchmen really do wear berets: ;)I'm pretty sure I've blogged about this chair before, a few years back:
One of my favorite things about driving down here is driving through villages that look like old postcards:
Or like the façade of a movie set:
And then we have good ol' town of Condom, right near Valence sur Baise (this one's for you, Walt). How many people can say they've eaten lunch at a truck stop there??


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Seen on the way to work, part 2

I was 15 minutes late for my visit yesterday because I stopped to take pictures of the fog, here:
and here:Readers of my old blog will remember these crazy birds from about two years back (in a video that should have been entitled "The one in which I cackle"). But I couldn't help myself, they were crazy and I was cracking up. Until they tried to bite my head off, that is.Driving down here is always sort of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it takes forever to get anywhere because the roads are often so narrow that I can rarely drive over 70kph (or 50mph), but on the other hand, it gives me the time to snap pictures in ghost-town villages such as this:


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

One month later...

I finally have a few minutes to post some of the pictures last week of the aftermath of the big wind storm. When you see whole forests like this just plowed down, you understand why so many people were without power & phones for weeks on end:Everywhere I went, there were rows of massive trees lying everywhere, some with roots as big as my rental car, as if they were as light as dominos:

And in other places, you had piles and piles of logs laying around, from the trees that had already been cut down. I wonder what they're going to do with them all?This was just around the bend from one of my client's - I got chills driving past it. It was so creepy to see all of those splintered trunks just standing there. I can't even describe how sad it was - it was so silent and still, like being in a tree graveyard.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Organs, it's what's for dinner

I saw this on my way to a client's the other day, and it cracked me up - it's so representative of this rural area.

It's an ad for a supermarket chain, advertising a crazy-days sale on various organs & innards. For the piddly sum of 1.50€ per kilo, you can get your fill of kidneys, hearts or pig tongue. Bon appetit !