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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nannying in the US--(It sounded cooler in France)

So I've been back stateside for a solid two months, and I only wake up crying from Francesickness about once a week, so I guess things are going better.

I'm nannying again, and to pull myself back from the brink of suicide, I have decided to think of this as temporary, for the following reasons

1) I want to go back to France, and I need money, nannying allowed me to find employment quickly
2) If I don't get a job in France (I will know by April) I will start looking seriously for a real job, therefore
3) I will still be making an income, even as I job hunt

Pros of US nannying
1) I make (slightly) more money
2) I dont live there
3) No foreigner jokes from the kids
4) The public library let's all have a moment of silence for this bless-ed creation
5) I can drive around and take them places
6) I don't have to 'co' nanny with any parents around

1) Children
2) In France, being an au pair was exotic, here, living with my parents it's pathetic
3) Longer hours
4) No fun foreign language school to meet people
5) Not meeting people period
6) Gui Gui and I are still together, and he currently lives 6000 miles away from me. On second thought, that should probably be the number one con.

There are a few things that are so much easier here, and I've noticed that occasionally I have to step back and say, 'It's okay, you're in the US.'

1-Gas is cheaper, and easy to find. My credit card always works, and I can always pay in cash
2-With my sweet new library card I NEVER have to worry about not having an English book again
3-Contact solution is 80% cheaper, so I no longer have to think 'I cant throw out these contacts until tomorrow, since I wasted .05 ounces of liquid preserving them last night'
4-I do laundry, once a week, if I feel like it, for ONE person
5-I ran to the grocery store last week to buy beer, because it was almost nine pm. SILLY ME, it's open until ten. I drove by on a SUNDAY at eight am, thinking it surely wouldn't be open. SILLY ME, it opened at six am.
6-"You want to buy 35 cents worth of gum on your debit card? Go ahead!"

On the negatives, I can't get money out from any bank (not like I go out anyway) Gui Gui is on the other side of the freaking ocean.

And God help me, I miss cafés and the Bitter End.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Getting Called a "Connasse" at a Vegetable Store: Why I Shouldn't Make Jokes with Strangers

Madame S asked me to go pick up some things from various markets today for this evening. No problem, but it had to be early. So right after dropping off the boys, I went over to the town center and popped into the bakery, cheese shop, butcher, and fruit and vegetable vendor. At the produce shop, I had three things to buy, apples 'pour faire un gateau,' green beans and lettuce. I should preface that I hadn't showered and looked awful, which for whatever psychological reason makes me all the more defensive.

"Bonjour" said the young Frenchman.
"Bonjour," I responded with my thick American accent, "Je cherche des pommes pour faire un gateau" I'm looking for cake making apples. He smiled and kind of laughed, and I thought, great, he thinks my accent's cute, we're at that level where we can tease each other. (Stupid, I know.)
We continued our transaction pleasantly enough, until I asked for roquette, a type of lettuce, and he asked me how much. I should also mention that weight in vegetables is not my forté, especially in metric.
"Uhh, comme ça" Like this I made the size with my hands.
"Like zeese?" He responded in English.
"En français, s'il vous plait." In French please.
"Ah, vous ete ici pour apprendre le français?" Ah, you are here to learn French.

This is when I made the mistake of jokingly informing him that since I'm speaking to you in French, it must mean I already speak French. Apparently not funny, because he gave me a strange look and we went to the cash register. At this point he asked me if I wanted a bag.

"No," I said, and he gave me another strange look.

Merde, I didn't understand.
"Uhh," (Even though I just insulted you by telling you I already speak French) "J'ai pas compris" I didn't understand.

"Es-ce que vous voulez un sac?" Do you want a bag?
"Mais no, je l'ai, deja." No, I already have one.

He turns around, and I can't swear to this, but I'm pretty sure he said, "connasse." Which means, bitch, or worse.

In retrospect, I brought that upon myself. I really should have just told him, yes, I am here to learn French, I aspire one day to be as fluent as you, and be able to have an enriching conversation about fruits and vegetables, but alas, I started too late in life, and probably will never be able to enter a store without having anyone a) talking to me in English b)asking why I'm here and if I came to learn French. (Which to be fair, was not my initial reason to come to France.)

Anyway, I know I'm too aggressive, and I need to be more laid back about the constantly-being-questioned-as-to-where-I-come-from-thing, but it just never changes. And to be honest, after you get the same question 450,345 times, you just want a little variation. So when someone appears more flirty/friendly than usual, I start saying dumb stuff as a "joke".

(I also can't help but think of the futility of speaking to a foreigner in English. Especially since the other day I had a beer with a German garçon au pair. I ordered a beer at the bar in French, the guy spoke to me in English. Marius, the German, ordered a beer, and the guy spoke in English. Marius speaks English, but it's harder for him to change between English and French, because he's focusing on French...Why not just stick with French?)

In conclusion, my own language insecurity led me to be a jerk to some poor produce vendor who will probably forever hate anglophones.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Appy Alloween

Last night I spent my first Halloween in Paris. (Last year I was in Prague) For Americans, Halloween in France can be rather painful. In the nicest way possible, the French don't "get" Halloween. And even more painfully, they usually think they do.

I was at Ali's apartment last night sitting around the island chatting with her and her French roomates. Halloween came up, and one of the friends smuggly explained to me that "Halloween is something creating by Marketing. Big companies just want you to buy their products." (She was also reading a book that was condemning capitalism and consumerism, and was explaining the evils of Nespresso, a machine she owns) Well, there's no argument against that. But there's a difference between doing Halloween where you buy a bunch of crappy decorations you don't need, or a slutty costume that vaugley resembles a childhood character, and when you carve pumpkins and drink seasonal beer, make bizarre homemade decorations and spend hours with your college roomates designing historically accurate ensembles.

It's definitely a cultural thing, and just because you have some misguided belief that Americans are materialistic, crude, and uncivilized, you do not have the right to immediately discount this beloved made up holiday. (I don't tell you picking mushrooms in the woods with a pig is weird, do I?) Because guess what? You don't get the spirit of Halloween.

What really bothers me here is trying to explain that Halloween is not, as they believe, about being scary, but coming up with a costume that entertains. Sure, you can dress up as a witch, but how much more entertaining/disturbing is a full grown man dressed up as a baby? Or a reference to some abstract character in a Kubrick film? Or, (insert least favorite politician)?

(By the way, Gui Gui and I dressed up as Spy vs Spy, a comic he had never heard of. I don't think he really got it anyway, but he wore all white, and we looked adorable.)

I guess I haven't grown out of dress up. Maybe by next year.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Little Fish in the Developed Country Pool

This weekend I was invited to an engagement party in Lille. Or rather, Gui Gui was invited to the engagement party, and as we apparently come as a unit, I was invited as well. Lille is in the North East of France and is well know for crappy weather, a strange dialect (ie Bienvenue Chez Chi'times), and a particularly potent kind of cheese.

After being invited, we decided to profit from being that far north by going to the actual city of Lille. (The party was just outside of the city). So instead of leaving at 5 or 6 pm, we left at 2pm. Gui Gui's brother Adrien, was in town so he rode in the car with us, and we had to pick up two other friends as well. We picked up Patrick in Saint G, and drove onward to pick up Paul in the North of Paris which was "only four kilometers out of the way." Except there was traffic. And a bridge closed. And more traffic. Two hours later, we navigated out of Paris and got to Lille around 6:30. So much for our tourism. Instead I had to get a pair of tights, so we swung over to the mall and I ran around for fifteen minutes looking for what I needed. It was a real shame that we couldn't actually see anything, because it looked like a nice city. It had tons of old cobble stone roads, the kind that ruin your suspension, and lots of interesting architecture.

We ended up making it to the party and were pleased to find an awesome spread of mini challah breads and smoked salmon (they're Jewish). Cue in a keg, buckets of spiked punch, and people being lifted up in chairs. All and all, it was a pretty class act.

The next day we they served us brunch, and the guys graciously killed off the rest of the beer. The weather was glorious, and we sat outside eating cheese and enjoying the sunshine.

There was, of course, a glitch in the weekend. Somehow, someone had broken into Gui Gui's car and stolen a whopping eight euros from his wallet, and his mom's digital camera. Considering what was in the car, we had to assume it was either kids, or crack addicts twisted off their heads. Anyway, so I was telling Gui Gui we could get his mom a new camera in the US, as it's sure to be cheaper, when it dawned on me.

That's like the twentieth time I've said that in the last month. I'm saving up my euros, because of how much they are worth in dollars. I get my mom to send me contact solution, because its an eighth of the price. And you know what? I'm not sure how happy I am to be the one coming from the poor impoverished country.

Stupid euro.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I won't say that Paris has let me down (although it has been a backdrop as I let down myself,) but I will say I had some pretty high expectations for the city (blame Hemmingway). However, it's hard not to lower these expectations when I can smell Chatelet on the RER five minutes before the train arrives, or when I see bums covered in urine, gypsies stealing on the Champs de Mars, and paying six euros for a cup of coffee that has an overhead cost of .45 centimes.

So when I had one of those awesome Parisian moments last Saturday, I thought, "I'll take this as a win."

I woke up at a friends house by Gare de Lyon, after going to a party with three of my girlfriends. It was pretty good time, and I intelligently made my move closer to three am, instead of six, like my other, more courageous, friends. Anyway, around noon, I left my friends house and wandered down the street looking for some caffeine and food. I passed about fifteen restaurants, that were way too expensive. I passed a boulangerie, but they had slim pickings after the lunch rush. I wandered for another half hour, not really minding, because it was about 75, sunny, and absolutely perfect outside. I walked on, and looked up to see a line of paninis resting in the window. "Score!" I thought and walked inside and said hello to the bandana clad worker. After a few minutes of speaking in French, I was pretty sure that he was an anglophone. The accent and correct pronunciation of "cheddar" was a dead giveaway. There was a pause in the exchange, and we looked at eachother, and he asked me "English or American?" Turns out he was American so he made my coffee and we had a little chat. Because Ali was dragging her heals for an hour, I ended up sitting there, eating my lunch, and alternating between reading my book and talking with the guy.

There was no competition, there was no dumbass comments or smirking, there was just two strangers talking about the city they lived in, and the country they came from.

When I finally found Ali, I turned to Lee and said "Nice to meet you," and walked outside into the sunshine.

Du Pain?

I am occasionally awkard. I am occasionally even more awkward in French. I hate making small talk, because I feel vulnerable, and I suspect that I'm commiting a series of cultural faux pas(uh, 's). I don't know the French way to BS with someone when you don't know them, and well, I'm awkward. So although I like going with Gui Gui's friends, I occasionally have the "oh God, not French again," moment.

That being said, I can usually role with an evening out, because now I know most of his friends pretty well, and they serve me wine, which makes me less self-conscious. So, I was a little put out last weekend when we ended up going to Paris to have a birthday dinner with a friend I've never met before, and his friends, who Gui Gui has never met before. Things were kind of awkward when we got to the guy's house and we all sat around staring at eachother. I had to discreetly ask Gui Gui to explain things to me, as new people mean new accents, and are occasionally hard to understand (they were also talking about playing pool, which sounds really similar to the word beer, so that brought a whole new level of confusion). Anyway, we went to dinner, the apero and the wine came out, and that galvinized the conversation.

But, as I was eating my poulet au sauce moutarde, I looked down the table at the bowl of French bread. What a perfect example of why I'm so damn awkward at dinner parties.

One thing I've learned about how to not make an ass of yourself, is always watch what everyone else is doing, and never make assumptions. (One time, Gui Gui's mom put a bowl of water in front of me and said something about seeds in the grapes I was eating. I thought the bowl was for seeds, it was infact, I realized after watching his Dad wash his grapes in the seed filled water, for cleaning, oops). So the whole bread thing really gets to me. If you pay attention to your French dinner companions, you will see that the bread does not go on the plate, it goes on the table to the side. It is then used to aid in the sopping up of sauces left over. If, by chance, you are eating it with the starter, you must rip off tiny pieces and eat discreetly.

Before that, Gui Gui and I had been talking, and he asked me again, "So do you feel like things are that different here?" "I don't even know anymore, but as I've said before, it's always the differences in the little things that throw you off balance." Because that Saturday night, I was drinking the same wine, eating the same food, and speaking the same language, with my bread on my plate, because I'll be dammed if I forget 24 years of my parents telling me to keep my food on my plate.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Les Anglophones

So you know how I get all pissy and uppity when the French talk to me in English? This goes both ways for the English speakers who speak to me in French. I know what you're thinking, you're in France, speak French, dammit! But, it's a little more complex.

The one thing I really dislike about speaking French, is not being able vary my vocabulary. In English I can be much more specific and dramatic when I describe things. One of my greatest pleasures, is recounting stories with hyperbole. I can't really do this with Gui Gui, because the exaggeration doesn't always cross the language barrier.

The other reason I refuse to speak French, is that it invariably turns into a pissing contest.
Person A"So, do you speak French?"
Person B "We jay parlay parfetment frahnsay." Or worse-"Yeah I took two years in high school, so I'm pretty much fluent."


Or maybe they do actually speak it, but it can occasionally turn into this conversation.
Person A-"Ouais, hier j'ai fait une cuite."
Person B (internally)-What the hell is a cuite? If I admit I don't know, they'll think I don't speak French. (outloud) "Uhh, j'aime bien les cuites..."
Person A-(internally) This jackass doesn't speak French! Cool! Moi aussi!

Anyway, it gets worse because while I still make many mistakes in French/sound like a FOB, I have a good grasp on what's right, and what's wrong, which brings us to the next problem, is correcting other non native French speaker's French. I don't ever really do it, unless it's a big mistake. The other day, I was with this awkward little German boy, who speaks little to no French. We were speaking in English, but he was testing out his French, and said "Je ne parle français pas." This is a pretty big no-no, the pas always follows the verb, to make it negative, so I gently told him the grammar rule. His reaction? "No, you're wrong, that's definitely how you say it."
...Right, anyway, I got my other friend to explain to him that indeed, the pas always follows the verb. My point is, while it's good to practice the fluidity with which you speak, you wont ever polish up your French if you keep making the same mistakes with Anglophones. You might as well cut your losses and enjoy speaking your native language with fellow foreigners.

I'm not alone on this mentality and last night I went out for a drink with some new Au Pairs and a couple of ones that were here last year. The veterans were sitting down when the newbies walked up to us and said something in (incorrect) French. The three of us looked at eachother and said "Why the hell did she just speak to us in French?"

This is an anglo table, speak English!