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Monday, September 27, 2010

First Day of School: Did you pack your bigotry?

I will attempt to stay even headed here, but I make no promises. Something interesting happened to me today.

I had my first day of classes, I am a proud member of the A2 level (thats right in the middle, I know I could be higher, but hey, ca va.) I'm the only American, and I suspect because all of us are either in the lowest level, or a higher level. The rest of my classmates are German, Ukranian, Swedish, Irish, and I think an English girl.

No biggie, I'm down with making friends that I will only speak French with. Or I was before class ended.

So our little activity is to fill out random questions about who we are. Then, we play celebrity where you pick someone and pretend to answer the questions as they would, nationalities were acceptable. Sarah and I did Santa Claus, one group did Sarkozy, and one did someone I cant remember. One wonderful ground did, you guessed it--Americans.

This vaguely passed through my mind, that I could have done Americans, seeing as I am one. But I thought, nah, that's not really clever, and I don't know any of these girls. Not to mention, despite what all non-Americans try to insist, I don't feel that I fit the stereotype.

So this bitc--I mean girl, who is German by the way, starts off saying, okay we did a nationality but its really just a stereotype and "un peu mechante". A little mean. I knew what was coming. Such highlights included "Whats my best personality trait?" "Speaking English" "What do I like to do?" "Manger le fast food, comme MacDos." "What are my favorite colors?" "Red, white, and blue." I think I blacked out the rest because I was so upset, I could feel the blood pumping in my head, and I wasn't sure how I was about to react. Then it was the awkward pause of "Who is it?" At this point, I kind of lost my temper, slammed my notebook shut, said, "C'est les americaines" and thought about walking out. Sarah told me later than the girl got all red in the face and started to apologize. The teacher quickly changed the subject, but I was, well, angry.

Slight changes that would have made this acceptable-
-We knew eachother
-She was American
-We were in the United States
-I was in the group

Let's be honest. This is the exact same thing as me picking Jews and saying "I love money" and "I have a big nose" or picking Blacks and saying "I like fried chicken." And, I know this is going to sound hypocritical, but it would have been okay if she had picked the French, or we were in the US and she had picked the US.

Why? Because one thing that I love about meeting international people, and why I choose to spend most of my time with them is because we GET eachother. We may come from completely different cultures, but we are all foreigners together, and quite frankly, weird shit happens to us. Its all part of the living abroad experience that made me want to come back and do this again. It's why I feel completely comfortable with Tatiana even though we dont speak in my native language. We complain about French men, or French stuff, because its foreign to us. And maybe you think I'm being a Negative Nancy (because I actually do love this country) but it helps you cope. It helps you feel sane when most days people hear your accent and talk to you like you're crazy.

So this girl, this fellow foreigner with whom I am supposed to have a bond, acted just like every other close-minded shitty person that I've met here.

So I didn't actively do anything or say anything to her, because I hope she feels awkward about it. Perhaps its funny for her to make fun of someone because of all these ideas that you get from the media and other people, but for me, and not to sound dramatic, its almost a daily ordeal that I have to deal with. People making assumptions and saying stuff to me, because I'm American so therefore its perfectly acceptable to comment about war, obesity, and how much better France is. It gets irritating. The constant strain of this has already destroyed one relationship. I have literally had people ask me where I'm from and give me a look of disgust when they hear the answer. And I had a boyfriend who couldn't separate Robin from the American.

So, I'm a little afraid to ask, am I being overly sensitive? Was this girl tactless, or am I just pathetic?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Children

So no Au Pair blog would be complete without anecdotes about the childre, right? Here we go.

1) One thing that never fails to bring entertainment, is L when she's frustruated. I know, it sounds cold hearted, but its kind of hilarious. The other day, I heard L starting to get mad upstairs. It started out with squeals of anger and escalated into screams of "Mais BIIIIIII! BIIII! AHHHH!!" So I went upstairs. L is going through a pousette phase, in which she is mildly obsessed with her two strollers (she just got a Hello Kitty one for her birthday). At the top of the stairs, we have a baby gate that you basically have to be over the age of 4 to work out. L had opened the gate, and was trying to get her stroller, Kitty, and herself downstairs. Unfortunately for her (and probably fortunately for me, since she probably would have fallen) she couldn't get through the gate due to a few obstacles including huge boxes of clothes. I go upstairs and find her shreiking and RED in the face trying to get her stroller through. She was so upset she just looked at me and the stroller while crying. I'm sorry, it was hilarious.

2) L and I were in the car the other day, and I had gotten four cents in change from somewhere, so I gave it to her to play with. She then gave me back the money, I said thank you, and didn't think anything of it. Well apparently, she thought the money was hers and she wanted to buy candy. She started demanding bon bons from me the entire ride home.

3) T received a oversized zucchinni from his Mutti. Its been in his room for about three weeks, and I just found it. The smell almost made me vomit. He may or may not have peed on it.

4) I made a big omlette for dinner the other night, and A decided he wanted more potatos. He poured like a cup of oil in a frying pan and cooked all three of the potatos. Then he poured the mixture into a bowl and ate the whole thing, oil and all. Good thing I dont change his

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Au Pairstitution

So when you first hear about the idea of Au Pairing, you may think "Dude, living for FREE in another country and only working for about 30 hours a WEEK? Sweet." Then you start listing the cons. For example, you have four kids, you have to work some weekends, you live in the middle of no where, you have four kids, you don't speak French, you don't know how to meet people, you have four kids, you work crappy hours, and like it or not, you're living in someone else's HOME. And they are varying degrees of comfortable with what you do in your free time. I am relatively lucky. As long as I'm not working, they're cool with me taking the car or doing whatever at night. This is not always the case. I've heard stories including everything from having to be home at 7 am on a saturday to dress the baby, to coming in and waking the girl up to discuss man problems, to making the girl write a list of her evening out and contacts of where she will be.

Another interesting thing that I have came in contact with, is how often people come up to me and offer me jobs with other families. On more than a few occasions, people have blatantly asked me if I'm looking for new family. Today for example, I went to a clothing store in O-town to exchange a shirt. I made the sensor go off, turns out my coat had some sort of thing that needed to be cut off. So the girl started talking to me in English, and I asked her to speak in French. When I got up to the counter she asked me if I lived in O-town, and I said yes, she then asked if I was a jeune fille au pair. Why yes, I am, I told her. She then asked me when I would be staying here and told me she was looking for someone. I wrote down the name of the agency I used and wished her luck.

I find this situation interesting, because I'm not looking for a new family (and if I was, they sure as hell wouldnt live in O-town). And I'm thinking to myself, my God, why am I even trying to go back to the United States if I could just stay here and get job offers on the street! This is what immigrants must have imagined the US to be like...

Well, young American girls, Come to France! The land of unending job offers for Au Pairship! You too can live like an indentured servant and take care of children who drive you crazy and get paid crap!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Food for my Maman

First of all, my mom confessed to me that she's been reading my blog, so Hi Mom! This entry's for you!

Ok so when I have or usually tell American people (who are not living in France) where I live and what I'm doing, one of the most common comment is "Oh my God! The food must be amazing!" And, depending who it is, I smile politely, or blurt out "I cook for CHILDREN. They hate everything good."

So my food experiences occur in two different places, in my kitchen, when I decide to try a new recipe from my American cook book, or when S teaches me how to make something French, like quiche, or zuchinni soup. She has also introduced me to her version of the gateau chocolat which is unbelievably rich and yummy, and disgustingly easy to make. I'll share.
Note-I'm not into doing things like "measuring" or "making things with the same ingredients each time." I'm a bit of a rogue, mainly because I'm too absent minded to ever remember everything at the grocery store. (Thanks Mom, I get it from you). Oh yeah, its going to be in metric, I will be do my best to remember American conversions.

200 grams or about 7 oz Dark Chocolate, or Semi Sweet as it may be called in the USA
Same amount of UNSWEETENED butter.
200 ml of sugar
4 heaping table spoons of flour
2-3 eggs
and about a teaspoon of Sodium Bicarbonate, depending on if you have a meddling mother looking over your shoulder.

Oven to to 375 F or 190 C. This recipe doesnt make enough for more than one cake pan, so I just use an eight (or is it nine?) inch one. I know, it sounds like I'm skimping, but its so rich, you just need a tiny bit. Get a saucepan to medium heat and melt together butter and chocolate. Let cool, wait a few minutes (if you DONT do this, and try to add the eggs, the might poach. I learned this the hard way.) Anyway, after it cools down add the sugar. I really want to say its about a cup, but I cant remember. Add in the eggs, three should make the cake slightly fluffier, in my experience, and I almost always use three. Add the flour. Pour batter in greased cake pan, and bake between 20 and 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Give batter to children to eat up, and hope no one gets e coli.

How I feed myself outside of my own kitchen-
So, if you're like me, and you leave your house Friday and dont come back until Sunday, you will, at some point have to eat. If you're also poor like me, there's no way in hell you are going to spend between 15 to unspeakable amount of euros on food. Thats like six meals. In fact, if you're REALLY broke you'll do what we do.

Hit up the Monoprix, the Franprix, or anywhere else they sell food. Baguette is usually going to run you about 90 centimes, a wedge of brie is about 1.50 and if you're feeling really ritzy, ham is about 2 euros. Less that four euros for a meal that can feed two people. Throw in a bottle of water, or wine, a sweet spot in Parc Luxembourg and you're looking at a lovely cheap picnic, full of glorious memories (or not so much, depending how much wine you drink).

Some variations of this meal (which I eat, like at least twice a weekend) include saucisson or chorizo, sometimes turkey if we can find it, and occasionally emmental or camembert in place of brie. If I'm with Tatiana, we are probably buying minizzas, which are like pizzas in cracker form.

If you're feeling ritzy there are a few other really cheap food options. Number one, you guessed it-Sanwich Grecs! Theyre everywhere, and will usually run you about 5 euros for a sanwich and frittes. The cleanliness runs from clean to the-only-reason-I-would-ever-eat-here-is-because-its-4am. But mostly they're decent.

Paninis-Sold everywhere. In Saint Michel I think they run about 3.50, but I think I've seen them as cheap as 2.50. These things are worth mentioning because I usually opt to splurge on a Panini when its cold, versus ham sandwiches, for obvious reasons. Plus the three fromage ones are so on point and bad for you its not even funny.

And the last cheap food worth mentioning is of course the infamous CREPE. Don't be a fool and pay 7 euros for one from a take a way stand. They should be no more than 5 for a salee, aka salty one. (We recently saw this on Grand Boulevard, I almost threw up, 8 euros for a crepe! Come on!) I guess people might think of Crepes as a sweet kind of thing, and they exist (Nutella and banana is a crowd pleaser, but strawberry confiture is UNBELIEVABLE). They also have such yummy salty versions such as, fromage and jambon, or cheese and egg, and some with Tuna, and a hundred other kinds I cant remember.

Anyway, that's what I usually end up eating France.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Parking Ticket

Shockingly, I got a parking ticket today. I know, you'd think someone with my fabulous luck would never get a parking ticket in her life. Wrong-o.

But, it was only eleven euros, so I thought to myself "Robin, you better do this now, or its never going to get done." Right, so I went and talked to the police man which annoyed me. The conversation went something like this (it was in French, but I will translate).
Robin-Are you police?
R-Can you tell me why I got this? Because I park here all the time.
C-Oh sure, I will explain it to you. Blah blah blah, 11 to 1130 blah blah, more stuff in French I didnt understand, and for that reason, you have a ticket.
R-Right, okay how and where do I pay for it?
C-You go buy a stamp from the Tabac, or you can pay in a check.
R-But wheres the police station
C-By the Mairie
R-Wheres that?
C-There (Points) Up the street straight then on the right.
R-Okay, and how many days do I have to pay this?
R-(Thinking in French numbers) Foorrtty..
C-(In English) Forty five.

This. entire. conversation. was. in. French. And you think I can't say NUMBERS. Come on man. Give me a break.

Anyway, after going to the Tabac, buying the ticket, not having my card work, going to the ATM, not having my card work again, using my American card, I was successfully able to pay of my ticket. And, turns out the same guy who was helping me before was the one who signed for it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Indiana Jones

Although this did not happen to me directly, I was mostly present for the episode, and I feel that it's a tale worth telling.

Friday night, Coco and I decided to meet at Saint Lazare to have a drink before we went out separate ways later. She took the 2020 train, I took the 2041 train, we were to arrive in Paris roughly the same time.

The 2041 train gets me to the station about 2105. I get a phone call at 2055, and pick up thinking its Coco telling me that she has arrived and wanting to know when I will be there.

Its Coco alright, but shes begins telling me how her train stopped at Conflans, they said something in French, and a few people got off the train. Then, the lights went out and the train started going, to quote, "800 miles an hour". So the train finally stops somewhere, she tries the doors, but shes locked in! The train starts moving again. Finally, the train stops in the middle of a tunnel, in the middle of no where. Realizing she has no other option, she pries open the doors and jumps onto the tracks (Indiana Jones style).

She calls me again, and I start freaking out because shes on tracks, in the dark, where trains are running full speed. I tell her she's got to get off the tracks immediately, and she tells me she sees a huge fence, and I tell her she has to jump it.

Basically, I'm freaking out, and she's scared shitless, but she finally finds a stair case up to the train station, and I ask the Accueil at St. Laz for a train schedule. The train is about 15 minutes late, but she finally makes it safely in town around 2200.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


When I first arrived, L was about 16 months, barely mobile, mute and overweight. Now, she has grown several inches and actually RUNS. She started walking well shortly after I arrived and has made much progress. She is no longer the shape of a basket ball, but she is still quite large for her age (home girl rocks three year old clothes).

More interestingly I have observed, is her speech development. She started out with the easy words like Maman and Papa, but she now has a wider range of L phrases such as "Maman est partiee", "maman est pas la", "papa est partie", "papa est pas la." "Eye!" "Nez!" "Mais Beeee"(thats me) "Bebe fait dodo" "Tiiitiiiiii" "Du l'eau" "Du lait" "Datau!!" (for cake and or cookies) "Nonore est la" (she cant say her name yet). It's both charming and annoying. Now, she can almost successfully communicate when shes hungry (which is always).

When I came back from vacation, after three weeks, she made a ton a progress in her speech. So much progress, that when I heard her on the phone, I couldnt figure out what kid it was. It was the first time I heard her little voice.

It's a pretty amazing to watch her develop. She literally grows every single day. Now, when I say "Arms up!" to get her dressed, she understands and sometimes complies. I sing to her, and I can see her little brain processing the information as she starts mimicking the words along with me. (ABC and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes are her favorites).

Yesterday, G was trimming the hedges with some kind of scary sounding power tool. I went outside to check on the kids, and she saw me, ran over with arms open and clutched her hands around me rocking everytime the trimmer started. You could say I should have brought her inside, but she was also mermerized by the noisy machine, and with me there, it was okay.

Sometimes this job doesnt suck so much.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Refinding my muse

Yes, I will admit that I have been rather lazy about writing in this. Its not that life hasn't been very exciting, and therefore worthy of writing about, its that I've been busy, and by the end of the day, I just dont feel up to thinking and doing anything.

The kids started school on Thursday. Hooray! For this reason, I am currently sitting in my pajamas at 2 in the afternoon. (I got home VERY late last night). I'm in that happy time of year where the kids are in school, and I'm not yet. Fortunately for me, I know a few people that I can socialize with so I can really enjoy having nothing to do between 930 and 4 pm.

Anyway, lets discuss school. So up until the end of June, I was attending a school called Academie de Langue. Or something like that, remember, I still cant spell in French. Anyway, to my dismay, the school closed down at the end of the academic year (they also lied to my face, but thats neither here nor there) and I realized I would have to find another (more expensive) school to attend. So I bit the bullet and took the online test for a school called la Clef, also located in Saint Germain. S, who seems to care a great deal more than I do about whether or not I'm in school, got some information from some friends and we found a school in Versailles. Last Thursday, I discovered theres a direct, and relatively regular bus (!) that goes to Versailles. So on it I hopped and took a little day trip to take a French qualifying exam.

Universite Inter-Ages is actually a University. It was about the same price as la Clef, but there were four classes a week. I took my exam, and placed into A2, not quite the lowest level. But because I cant write if my life depended on it, I need to start at the beginning. Which is okay with me. Anyway, two major problems were that a) they were at 9 am which is difficult for me since I work until 930, and b) they were on Friday. Fridays, for some reason unknown to me, L comes home all day instead of hanging out at the day care. I dont understand why I have to work 12 hours on Fridays, and its my own damn fault for agreeing to it.

Anyway. So I'm back where I started, with la Clef, and I guess I'll see what happens with that. There's supposed to be some sort of follow up testing situation, but I cant remember exactly when that is.

I'm not thrilled about going to school again (in case that wasnt obvious) because I feel like I have no time during the day. I am REALLY good at filling up the space between 10 am and 4. Running, napping, cleaning, whatever. I can do it. But I really should at least try and spend some time learning French.

So, socially speaking, I made a new friend or two, which is great. We also have hung out with this hockey team we met a few times. Up until yesterday, I thought that was exciting. Now, I realize that I have a curse with that sport. Its not even worth mentioning. But I was a good supportive friend for Coco, and consequently got home at 2 am.