My mom is going to be very excited about this post.  For months she’s been asking me why I only post about New Zealand.  I tried to assure her that other countries would come; I explained that since I had spent 3 of 10 weeks in New Zealand (the most time of any country on the 30/40 World Tour), I would have more experiences to share about that segment of the trip.  But alas, it’s time to move on to our first country without English as an official language — New Caledonia.

Both Mr. HalfFull and I studied French in school, but neither of us are fluent.  I wasn’t particularly worried about my language skills, but perhaps I should have been.  The real problem is that I haven’t practiced in years, so it took me a bit of time to retune my ear.  By that time, our week in New Caledonia was over!

Also, I’m a perfectionist.  When I spoke in French and the other person would respond in English, my pride would shatter.  I would leave thinking about the interaction — analyzing my vocabulary, sentence structure, and conjugation.  Sometimes a fancy verb tense would come to me in my sleep and I’d be armed for the next day of ordering and eating.

Speaking of eating, the food in Nouméa was delicious!  I love French pastries, breads, and cuisine in general.  In fact, bread was the reason Nouméa made it into the elite eight countries on the 30/40 World Tour.

Noumea

Ms. HalfEmpty relaxing on the Nouméa beach while watching swimmers on the dock and Duck Island in the distance

Mr. HalfFull has dreamed of eating a baguette on the beach in Nouméa since he read about it as a young adult living in Hawaii.  How indulgent is it to be sitting on the beach in Hawaii dreaming about another Pacific island?  But he’s been telling me that we had to visit “the Paris of the South Pacific” for years, so we put it on the itinerary.

man with baguette

Old man walking down the street with baguette in hand

Perhaps it was no coincidence that one of the first things we observed was a man walking down the street with a fresh baguette in hand — no wrapper or bag!  Mr. HalfFull’s dream was playing out nicely.

Sandwicherie

Ms. HalfEmpty prepares to order from the sandwicherie in French

We enjoyed our fair share of baguettes as well.  We found a little sandwich shop across the street from the beach that we frequented daily.  It was basically just a counter run by a couple — she interacted with the customers and he cooked.  There was no seating, so we would often take our sandwiches across the street to sit on a public picnic bench on the beach.  The sandwicherie was one of the few inexpensive (but still delicious) food options, which also made it appealing to students on group trips and US military guys in port for R&R.  The sandwicherie had a very specific list of sandwiches, but by the end of the week I was using my rediscovered French skills to create my own ingredient lists.

pastry

Ms. HalfEmpty excited to try a fresh tart from the bakery

We also enjoyed walking to a nearby bakery for breakfasts.  The pastries were so flaky and delicious!  We had croissants, pain au chocolat, and various tarts.

money & breakfast

Mr. HalfFull shows off the huge bills and numerous coins weighing down his wallet while enjoying coffee and a pastry

Many places like the sandwicherie and boulangerie did not accept credit cards, so we got cash quickly.  But the bills were so wide that they didn’t fit in a normal wallet.  I wonder if they sell special wallets in New Caledonia or if people generally fold their bills lengthwise.  We also learned that cash can be quite a weight lifting exercise with so many coins, rather than bills.

With only three pairs of underwear, it was necessary to do laundry in New Caledonia.  Our hotel charged about $4 per pair of socks, so that seemed a bit steep.  Thus, we set out on a quest to find a laundromat.  It was not an easy task.  I’m sure most tourists pack enough clothes and don’t need laundry services while traveling, but we were in a different situation.  We asked around and most people had no idea.  Finally we found someone who said they thought there might be one in a certain area.  We finally found it in a shopping center at the docks.  I guess people with houseboats need laundry service too!

When we arrived the proprietor was speaking with a customer at length.  It seemed like the conversation would never end, so I started to look around at the signs hoping I would find some information about hours and prices, but no dice.  We didn’t even know if the sea of washing machines were self-service or if we needed to drop off our laundry.  I don’t have an extensive laundry vocabulary in French, but once I spoke to the employee (who spoke no English), I learned that it was full service laundry priced by 5 kg loads.  It all worked out nicely in the end; I practiced French and got clean clothes!

  • Have you ever visited a place you read about?  Did it live up to your expectations?
  • Have you tried your foreign language skills abroad?  Did you get frustrated or were you successful?
  • Do you think walking around with a baguette in hand is sanitary?
  • What foods were especially delicious abroad?
  • Have you had difficulties with laundry while traveling?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!