March 04, 2004
Jeudi, 4 Mars

Damn, I write a lot! If you're reading these, you're crazy... but it's appreciated. :-)

A little bit of work stuff, but the majority of my post is a great dinner experience. No escargot, though... sorry. ;-)

So today started out like any other day... in France. Since I was told we weren't going to start building anything until after 10, I slept until 8am (even though I went to bed at close to midnight). I went to the same pastry store across the street and got a croissant and a very yummy chocolate pastry. Another taxi ride with a cabbie who wasn't nearly as talkative as the first two, which was kind of a good thing. I like to try and speak the language, but it's hard to try and speak the local language when you barely know it.

It makes me wonder sometimes how people can travel to countries when they don't have a clue what the local language is. I know other people who have this same fear of traveling, and then I know people who wouldn't even think about it and just travel. Personally, I don't know if there is any non-English speaking country other than France that is on my to-travel-to list. England and Australia are the last two that I can think of right now, and both of those islands have their own crazy English.

Anyway, the day at the plant was a little more interesting than yesterday, but it was very long and somewhat stressful. It took them forever to get the boards moving through the production machines. Let me put it this way - They started working at 8am, but we didn't get the last board out of the machine until after 7pm. They spent literal hours trying to place one component. ONE. Worse yet, it was the part I knew they would have problems with. Everyone has problems with this part, and Angers was no exception. At least four or five hours was spent trying to place this component on the board. "Why is it so hard?" you might ask. Well, you try to get a mechanical machine to place something with an accuracy of +/- 0.2mm and then you'll know. You won't find a line that thin on a ruler!

After the last board came out of the solder oven, we went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant/wine store called Le Boucher Angevin. We included our manufacturing team leader, two test engineers, a quality engineer and myself.

After trying to fly solo in french restaurants for two nights it was very comforting to go out and enjoy the dinner experience with locals who know how to enjoy a dinner. Personally, the word 'comforting' is very apt since I mentioned yesterday how intimidated I was by the restaurants here. It's not like walking into a Boston Market or Jimmy John's. It's a very involved process that, for the solo diner, can be a little more than he or she would want.

Dinner was a blast! The front of Le Boucher Angevin is a full-blown wine boutique with wines from the local Anjou region as well as wines from the rest of France. They also had a few hard liquer selections (including Jack Daniels, believe it or not). In the back was a very cozy restaurant. The tables were converted wine barrels with wide disks mounted to the top to act as the table. They sat 5-6 people very comfortably.

The dining experience began, and it felt very traditional. We started with an aperitif, or pre-dinner cocktail. It was an incredibly sweet bottle of wine, but a very good bottle. Along with the wine was a pureed pork appetizer smeared over dried bread, which was a lot more tasty than it sounds. After we completed the sweet wine came the main course. I ordered a duck entree that was very good, but the others at the table waited to begin until all of the entrees were delivered. Once everyone had their meal I grabbed my fork but they were waiting and looking at me. I paused and looked up, and then one of them said Bon appetite while looking at me expecantly. Then the others repeated... Bon appetite. Needless to say, I responded Bon appetite ensuite. Then they grabbed their forks and dug in to dinner. For me, that was a very eye-opening experience into the tradition that is a French dinner.

Once we'd finished, dessert was the next course, of course. I ordered the creme brulee, and it was good. I think I've had better, but you haven't had creme brulee until you've had it in France. After we'd finished dessert, the traditional espresso (le cafe) was a must. The espresso in France is better than anything you can find at Starbucks, and it's probably cheaper. It was served with two cubes of sugar (I used only one) and a piece of dark chocolate.

Since it was one of the test engineer's 30th birthday, someone brought up the idea of an after dinner drink. I don't know the exact name of what was ordered, but when it came it was obviously pear-based. One sip, and you knew that this stuff wasn't paint thinner but your ass would be on the floor in no time!

The talk at the table was very informal and a lot of fun. Since my French is very elementary, they occasinoally tried to explain their discussions to me. I told them not to worry about it and have fun, but they still went out of their way to make me feel welcome. I could understand some of their French, and I think they appreciated my attempts to speak in French and English. They told me that social situations were always the hardest for them - most of their English teaching is technical, not social. When I spoke French, they would try to help me with new words and phrases. When I spoke English, I was able to return the teaching. I told them a lot about English culture, and they taught me a few things about France. Did you know that a filet mignon in France is actually pork?

Even though today was one of the worst days regarding work, it was the best day to be able to talk and bond with the engineers here in Angers. I ended up paying for the dinner for all five of us (155 Euro, which was pretty good for a multiple course dinner for five). Even though the manufacturing team leader insisted that he pay, I told him that I like to buy at least one meal for everyone who helps out in a build. In appreciation, he picked out and paid for a bottle of wine from his home provence (I forget the name right now, but it starts with a 'B').

Now I'm back in my hotel room, and tomorrow I will have to pack up and check out before heading to the factory. Tomorrow I have to test the boards we made, and once my work is done I'll head to the train station and buy a ticket to Paris. I don't know if I will be able to post my journal on-line tomorrow night, but we'll see.

On to Paris!

Posted by Austin at March 04, 2004 04:53 PM

I love your stories! Thanks for posting on the road.

The bon appetiet thing is hilarious. I bet they were looking at you like you were eating without silverware or something.

Posted by: Janine on March 4, 2004 06:31 PM
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