Friday, April 29, 2005

Summer time, and the living is….sleazy

It’s coming up to a year since I’ve left Australia so I’ve only had one of each of the European seasons up til now. But one thing I did quickly learn is that the weather warms up, so does the blood of the would-be Parisien Casanovas. So it was with this knowledge in the forefront of my mind that I slipped on my mock wedding ring before heading out on an afternoon jaunt round the right bank and Notre Dame.
Though I know it's no-where near as bad as some places, a woman walking alone gets a lot of ‘bonjours’, smoochy sounds and general leering on a warm day in Paris.

So, wandering airily round the Seine, camera in hand, the word TOURIST was clearly visible on my forehead to the standard array of hawkers who were trying to liberate me from some of my money. I picked up a couple of ‘speak English you dummy!’ books for the boyfriend before returning back home to massage my temples after one too many smoochies, gypsys bearing postcards (I have no idea...), hordes of german school groups and multiple demands to paint my picture because I am so verreh be-yu-tee-full.

On another subject, teaching your native language to a foreigner can be an eye opener at times. I've recently been confounded by the discovery of groups of things called denominable nouns and indenominable nouns existing in singular and plural form, and those that can be both depending on the slant of your eyebrows and the lilt of your voice and irregular plurals (really? We have all that?)

Today was also Phase II Integration Procedure Day as the application for my social security number (supposedly made by my temp agency in September last year) has evidently vanished. So more tickets and queues and waiting rooms and stamps and assurances that things will shortly be arriving in the post (works hard for its living does my letterbox), but still, it got me out and about on my bike in the spring sunshine. Though it seems that crazy French motorists are not the only thing to beware of (and frankly that's already more than enough),cue one wasted beyond all forces of gravity woman who managed to veer off the sidewalk by a good 3 metres as if summoned by the magnetic forces of my precognition (which played the entire scene out before she even smacked into the pole that sent her reeling into the oncoming traffic like a pinball). So after picking her off my handlebars, I advised her it might be better to keep to the footpath. There might not be a precognitive cyclist there to stop her ending up in the path of an oncoming bus next time. I feel confident my message got through to her.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The pen is mightier than the sword

Though getting into a swordfight with only a pen in your hand doesn’t strike me as the most intelligent thing to do.

Frequently mentioned among Parisien Anglophone expat bloggers, is the Abbey bookstore – a great new and used English language (mostly) bookstore located in the heart of the Latin quarter. Since conveniently being shown its location by a fellow Aussie expat-lured-to-stay-in-France-by-a-wily-Frenchman, I have since visited a couple of times and enjoyed the thrills of trying to extricate a book that is ¾ of the way down a precarious tower of tomes without toppling over 3 other adjacent towers (that place is the jenga of the bookshop world I tell you).

I seem, without quite knowing why, to have started a habit of reading books by authors regaling their experiences of an expat living in France. As I said, I really don’t know why I do it, I think it may somehow be linked to the carcrash syndrome – there’s an accident, you shouldn’t stare, but you can’t resist a little peek nevertheless. Years ago I read the ‘Year in Provence’ series by Peter Mayle, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but have thus far been pretty disappointed by related books that I have read since. ‘Almost French’, as previously mentioned (despite having some well penned observations), was overall a bit of a flop for me, but I have persevered in the hope of finding a Mayle equivalent. More recently I bought ‘A Year in the Merde’. Now it’s a pretty apt title, only vaguely semi non-fiction, but not excessively well written and too much sex. I’m no puritan (there was that time I had a verbal disagreement with the ticket seller at the Amsterdam sex museum who decided he should be the first prick of the exhibition and refuse to take any small change for ticket sales, while the ticket PRICE was a very small change attracting 2.50. Idiot. Only disagreeable Dutch person I came across, as an aside). Where was I?..oh yes, the too much sexness…I dunno, it just didn’t really work in favour of the story. So then the Abbey owner recommended ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ by David Sidaris, though only half of it concerns living as an expat in France. It was ok, but it only took me 3 hours to read, which altered the expense:enjoyment ratio somewhat. I’ll continue with my treasure hunt, if anyone wants to post up suggestions.

Still on the topic of the English language, sometime round 9.27pm last night, monsieur suddenly blurted; ‘You have to teach me to speak English. Now, right away, it’s critical’ (he said that all in French though I should add). There’s probably something behind this bonnet-inclined bee, but I didn’t bother to probe. His reluctance to take advantage of my English speaking skills (for once a guy doesn’t want to take advantage, go figure), has been a long standing point of consternation for, well, pretty much everyone (who all seem to assume that our couple communication is conducted in English). Again, as an aside, the people who assume this are conversing in French with me at the time, so I’m not sure what leads them to this conclusion. I have tried to encourage him, and we’ve had short bursts of conversation, but it quickly lapses back into French. It doesn’t bother me that much, he knows quite a bit of English already, it’s just a question of practice. Knowing English is also advantageous in the French job market, so it's mostly for his own sake that I'd like to see him converse more anglo.

There followed, last night, one of the longest English conversations we’ve had thus far. And despite the general delight I take in showing off how very informed and knowledgeable I am, I make for a very crappy English teacher. The thing is (monsieur'sjaw dropped when I explained this), I don’t know very much about the rules of English grammar – more specifically, why things are said or written in a particular fashion. I know what words mean, and I know how to write correctly, but I have a feeling that this is more intuitive than the result of instruction. Aside from Past, Present and Future, for example, I do not know the names of any other verb tenses in English. I can only give French names to verb groupings in English because at some point, it ‘went out of fashion’ to teach this aspect of grammar at high school. We were taught about nouns and adjectives, but never about hyperbole and irony. There were quite a few points that I could not explain – this kind of bothered me. So I need some teaching aides it would seem.

'We'll practice speaking English every night, for a month, in a month, I'll be fine'

*I raise a sceptical eyebrow*

To be continued!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

nothing but blue skies

do I see

Quite a nice day today, especially appreciated after my sojourn under the Breton Sun (ie a raincloud).

So, I did a trigenerational matriachal thing over these last 5 days and went off to Brittany (must see a therapist regarding these masochistic tendencies I have) as my mother - who's also a bit of a masochist as far as I can tell (well, she married my father for one), is visiting HER mother on this part of the planet - for a limited time only. Like a special edition hamburger. If anyone wants clarification on the term TRIgeneration matriarchy, despite not having children, I am the only genetic representaive of my parents' DNA, that qualifies me enough in my opinion.

After 2 days I started to seriously examine the wisdom of my decision to stay a full 5 (my grandmother blew a few granny circuits with all the visitors coming and going and got a bit difficult), but I made it out alive (thanks to my good friend the alcoholic beverage, and some shopping).

Good news on the administrative front. I appear to have survived the first integration phase relatively unscathed. I turned up at the tribunal this morning and settled myself in to a nice long hours wait (note to self, bring more rations next time - think campout) to present my dossier of paperwork that proves that I am actually hopefully French enough to get the bit of paper that says so. I'm thinking to myself, paranoically, throughout the waiting period, that they're going to find fault with SOMETHING in this packet of paper. Most notably my proof of address, which I could only supply on my lease agreement (which could've easily been a knocked up a replica using Word) - in addition this lease agreement has the wrong building number on it (because the owners are suffering from chronic stupidity). I decided to bring along a copy of a phone bill for verification, but my boyfriend has rather thoughtfully left my name off every bit of official documentation that he possibly could think of. A great specimen of lateral and forward thinking, that one. Anyway, to my surprise, they accepted it simply on my assurance that we lived together (*insert eye boggling and jaw dropping*). Maybe she wanted to go to lunch.

The problem with the local tribunal (where you get your attestation of French nationality which you need to supply to get a French ID card) is not only that they are only open from 9-12, monday to thursday. The main problem is that you can't call them for any queries. If you're not sure about something, you have to turn up in person, before 11.15 (when they stop taking people), collect your ticket number, and wait.a.very.long.time. So I'm glad I bluffed my way through it with minimal waste of living time.

No luck on the job front yet (and let's not discuss the home internet connection issue either). Though according to my spectacularly negative relatives over there in Asterix land, I should expect to be unemployed forever now that I'm part of the nonworking plague masses. Through I do have some very nice relations also, most of them think they haven't done a good days work until they have lowered your morale by a good few degrees.

Otherwise I just had a grand time wandering round in the damp forest next to my grandmothers, gleefully identifying and learning the French name for all the spring flowering 'wildflowers' (most commonly known as weeds).

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

pigs in spaaaace, the continuing stoooory

Apparently my written French is a bit ‘lourd’ (heavy) – so sayeth the bloke. I am a verbal elephant stomping through a field of delicate daisies that is the French language, trumpeting ‘IF I SHOULD SO CHOOSE TO GATHER A FINITE QUANTITY OF PRESENT SMALL WHITE ASTERACEA SPECIES FOR AN OFFERING WOULDST THOU BE AMENABLE TO ACCEPTING SAID GESTURE?’
(Here is a copy of my cv for your consideration).

So I’ve been part of the nonworking masses for a whole week now, and so if you, one of my 20 squillion dear readers, are anxiously biting your nails wondering why I’ve dropped off the face of the blogosphere, well that’s entirely down to a lack of access to internet, except at either one of the two lousy neighbourhood cafes in the area (that and blogger’s off picking it’s nose in a swamp somewhere every time I go to post something).

Café 1 is cheap, but only has 2 computers, and a connection with terrible performance anxiety. Café 2 is next door, has a better connection, and is run by what I suppose is a father and son team who have a genetically inherited condition of being complete morons. Lined by a series of telephone booths that generally has someone shrieking loudly at someone very far away (so you need to talk loud so they can hear you all the way over there in Tunisia), the owners add to this cacophony by having a decibel charged argument with every second customer. Their regular chitchats with passing visitors also tend to be held at jumbo takeoff volume. I’d like to say the home connection is coming soon, but that is a saga that’s outdoing Homer at present (with our freebox out swanning about somewhere on the isle of Lesbos).

But between the jobsearch phonecalls and the shrieking Magrebs, I have managed to get some things sort of accomplished. The first on the list was my French identity card (the French love to have as many forms of documentation as possible to identify you, and once you are suitably identified, you have to consistently prove that you are alive, as my mother, now getting a little pension money, is discovering). Well I naively thought it would be a simple affair of presenting my passport at the mayoral office and asking for an ID card to go with it (foolish, foolish, the French will not pass by an opportunity to make you go to as many different offices with many different waiting rooms for as many different pieces of paper as they can possibly justify). So for an ID card, I first need a certificate of French nationality from the tribunal office (my passport isn’t sufficient) – cycle through mad traffic, another waiting room... For my certificate of French nationality I need a recent copy of my birth certificate from their foreign office in Nantes (it would be funny to say I had to go to Nantes, but lying is naughty). Anyway, that’s just the basic paperwork thread, there’s a lot of accessory papers to go with it, bien sur.

Shall I tell you the story about our constantly failing gas heating system? Oh, maybe later. Just imagine getting ripped off for astronomical sums of money and having a heating system that, despite huge cash payouts, is still not functioning. Oh well, might worry about it after summer – we have hot water at least (sort of…Mr Give me all your Money fix-it Man has managed not only to not temporarily fix the original problem, but has also reduced our hot water time to about 5 min. Which is ecologically correct, but a pain in the posterior nonetheless).

Apart from all that, we’ve had a couple of visits – one of Bens friends (over from London), and my mother (over from Australia), who conveniently arrived at 7am (as mothers are wont to do), and gave us a much sought after taste of Paris highway traffic during rush hour. Heuuuuuu :-/
And then more socialising over the weekend at another friends place in a sleepy town called Meung-sur-Loire, close to Orleans, oh the drunken hilarity, oh the cigarette smoke, oh the drinking games with such complex rules that they had to be repeated at every round for 3 hours (which essentially prevented anyone from getting overly smashed). I, of course, as a very mature and respectable almost 30 year old do not participate in such degenerate activities and tranquilly sipped my glass of red ;) teehee (Actually what happened was that about 2 years ago one of those ‘never again’ post debauched half dead alcohol poisoning regret sessions actually came true).

The only downside to the social weekend was that we had to transport Mr Smug and Self Satisfied from up the road. Mostly I just wanted to strangle him, but kept my homicidal tendencies in check. And he in turn was kept in check by my Monsieur who kept ruthlessly beating him at chess, which was enormously satisfying for my part. *sinister chuckle*

Right, back to your regularly scheduled program.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Follow the white rabbit

Black and White Bike
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
I thought things might have improved a little by now, I've certainly made the effort. But no matter how hard I try I am still suffering from a severe dose of acute underestimation disorder.

'This activity will take x amount of time' I say
I'll give myself 10 minutes extra allowance to be safe though (try 30, moron)

Oh, the old habits, sigh.
I don't know why I still automatically assume that if I get a bit lost-ish, I should be able to generally correct my trajectory within a few moments.
I don't know why I think that simply because the route between two identifiable points is a straight line, that I will be able to locate and follow that line.
I don't know why I still think everything should take about 20 minutes.

I went to buy a bike today during my lunch hour. It's a couple of kilometres to La Defense from where I work, and its dead straight up the road.
Now by the time they'd got my bike all sorted, I was already running a little late, but still, only a short dash back to work, no problem.
La Defense, however, is enormous. And there are a multitude of exits. Chances of picking the wrong one if you don't know what you're doing are pretty good.
Never mind, I should be able to find a sign somewhere around here that will point me in the right direction (and suddenly back on the road again and a little unsure about what I'm doing).
So about half an hour later, it's pretty clear that while the neighbouring district of Puteaux has an interesting proportion of very big hills (and a name that I like to phoenetically translate to 'whore waters' haha), I'm not going remotely in the right direction. After finally finding a couple of arrows both pointing to the bridge I was looking for - but pointing in opposite directions - and after realising that to follow the arrows advice would mean certain death along a road strictly designed for nothing but cars, I rattled along a very cyclist unfriendly footpath (sort of) to get myself to the base of my long sought after bridge. At the base mind you. My work is on the other side of the bridge, and short of swimming across the Seine or climbing a ridulous number of steep steps with a bike, I can't see any way of getting up to the bridge. So I cycle all the way down to the next bridge (by now I'm practically halfway home, and tempted to continue)just to cross the river.
* Time elapsed: 1h30min
* Late for work by: 1hr
* Points for effort: 10/15
* Bonus points awarded for style - responded to a rude motorbike man with my middle finger (French women probably don't do that as a rule right?)
* Points subtracted for falling off bike
* Points for achievement 1/15

What's my total? ;)

I did get a slight telling off, and my colleague noted I had some issues with punctuality. He's right though, and his comment was deserved. But whats stings, is that up till moving to Paris, I have been, as a rule, Little Miss Punctuality. In a town where ideas of time and punctuality were lax, I was on the dot. In a city where punctuality is a must, I'm off chasing the white rabbit.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

These are a few of my favourite things

Here Be Squirrels
Originally uploaded by Nyx.
The running theme of the week appears to be -

I finally found those penultimate French style markets that have been drattedly elusive - mostly because I haven't been looking very hard - right at the end of our street. Our magical street that seems to have every possible shop you could want selling every possible thing you could imagine. It's like a Paris microcosm...though not actually IN Paris per se.
Anyway, they're open 3 times a week, including Saturday morning, so I can reinsert my long standing tradition of 'doing the markets' on a Saturday morning (though Darwin market cater only in fruit and vegetables and food stalls - rather than French markets which have all food groups covered, in stunning abundance)
anyway, the gourmet baker guy gave me a loaf of something or other (tastes like an anglo christmas cake to me) as a bonus - and I only bought one thing! Nice! I think I need to market my 'foreign-ness' more. People might give me more free stuff to try :D

Sunday was a leisurely walk through a nearby forest - Meudon, where the ground is currently blanketed with small white flowers of an annoyingly familiar plant that I can't remember the name of. Saw frolicking baby squirrels (ahh) and did my good deed civic eco-duty by removing all the rubbish I could find - though I did leave the shopping trolley for someone else to remove...
Speaking of ecology though, there's only 3 more days left at my current job, so my brain is going into hyperdrive for people to bug. I've noticed enough park and nature websites with large gaps in what they consider to be their 'english language' version of their site to be tempted to go into freelance translating as a side career!

And speaking of work, finally my temping cash cow came in, with the contract drawing to a close, today was the day they chose to host the rare event of 'this assortment of lingerie has a slight defect that makes us unable to sell it at its regular horrific price, so take your pick' (for those who aren't in the know, I temp at a French lingerie company, very expensive French lingerie).

Someone told me after that there is really actually technically a limit to how many items you can nick off with - but I shall pretend I'm ignorant of that, just like everyone else did.

Right, next temping assignment, a shoe factory! ;)

Friday, April 01, 2005

Please leave your message after the beep

'Hello, Brain? Hi, it's your feet. Yeah, you haven't heard from us for a while I know, but here's the thing. You see those shoes there? Well, get them for us would you? NO, not the sensible shoes, put DOWN the sensible shoes, a little to your left, no, your other left. Yes! Those ones. The ones that are more air than shoe. We're dying down here...'

Now while I have the arguably enviable chance to be living in one of the world's fashion capitals, it's a formidable strain on my materialist muscle to wander past all the luverly shops full of luverly things and not make better acquaintance with any of them. I'm a bit puzzled how I could have worked 35 hour weeks for 7 months and still have no mu-lah. There must be a scientific equation out there waiting to solve that problem.
This is a big part of the reason that I'm leaving my current job in a week (that, and that I hate it). I'm actually not sure how it is legal to allow an employee to work on one placement for so long without receiving the benefits of any holidays or sick days, one or two months I understand, but not 7. And they would've extended it to a year if they could've! But the temp market is designed to weave around labour laws as far as I know. My horrible boyfriend on the other hand, who as far as I can tell has been perpertually on holidays since I met him last year, has another 8 DAYS of holiday up his sleeve that he needs to use up before May. And he owns more shoes than me. Oooooo how I hates him! (no, not really! ;) )

There's a squillion people in the world who don't have access to running water, let alone shoes. I realise that. I'm just a horribly incurable western materialist with hot feet :D