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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Constitutional Rights

Random thought following a conversation (one of many, trust me) that I had about break-ins in France. They seem to happen quite often, and quite boldly here. I wonder, do you suppose that they are less frequent, and more violent in the United States because of the Second Amendment, and our obsession with the right to bear arms?

No idea what hand gun laws are like here, but in the US, I feel that the average middle class, educated person is more likely to have a gun in their home. Think that has a small deterrent on crime? If you were a criminal, would you be willing to risk entering a house while a dinner party was happening, knowing there's a good chance of a gun in the house? Because that apparently happens here. People are also just as likely to break in while you are sleeping. It's apparently quite an art, the things these criminals (Georgian mafiosos?) do.

Not a pro-gun post (if you've ever met me, you would know that), but it's something to think about, no? Wouldn't mind reading a study or an article comparing the two, if anyone could do it without being completely biased.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I generally avoid writing in this thing if I don't have anything to say. I don't particularily want to use this as a journal, in which I merely recount the things that have happened to me. I feel that is too intimate, and isn't really true to what my expectations are for this creative outlet.

Rather, I'm trying to use my experiences here, whether it be directly related to the kids, or my life outside of Au Pairing to analyze my feelings, and understand why I am the way I am. As I read back over what has happened to me in the last ten months, and I guess anyone who reads this, can get a real and true interpretation of who I am here, and why I am that way. I say who I am here because I feel that I have a different persona in France. Here, I feel more responible (having four lives in your hands, will do that to you). I feel more dependent on other people as well. I feel, most of the time, as we all know, like a sore thumb that sticks out everytime I open my mouth.

But, I also feel like I'm doing something here. I may get crap pay, work usually awful hours, do things that make me extremely uncomfortable, but I'm usually very happy. I think I probably won't stay in France forever (the reason I thought I had to stay is way too complicated, but I won't bother mention it, because it would be describing the trivial things that I am avoiding). And I believe the reason that I am so content here, is my level of comfort. I believe my friend Coco wrote something about traveling to one place gives you the travel bug, and inspires you to see other places. Of course it does. But I've discovered that the best and only way to really see a place, is to live there. Yeah, it sounds obvious, but I am sure that most people are reluctant to leave their comfort zones and be truly different. For me, living with strangers is perfect. I prefer to travel slow. For example, I have been living here for ten months, and I have yet to do a lot of the really touristy stuff. And I'm in Paris most weekends...I also like the luxury of having a different point of departure. From here yes, the United States is really damn far away, but London isn't. Neither is Amsterdam, Nice, Madrid, Prague, Geneva, or even anywhere in North Africa. There is flexibility here, and I enjoy that.

People like to ask me if I like France, if I like France better than the United States, and if they are very different. The answers are yes, not quite, and little things are different, but I see more similarities than not; respectively.

I like France. How can you not love a place with four grocery aisles of cheese? But as far as the French go, I think what I appreciate about them, is that they have a sense of humor, and a sense of self for that matter. They know they do irrational things, like striking, or have ridiculous bureacracy. But they know why, and even if they don't like it, they accept it as a part of themselves. There is a sense of solidarity, that I really appreciate.

Next point, is France better than the United States? Hell. No. But, then again, the United States is home. It's where my family is, I was raised on her culture, her beliefs, her government, her food, her capitalism and beautiful, beautiful commercialism. Her media, her literature, her music, her everything else. I love the United States. I love all of it, while accepting our negative as part of the huge puzzle that is my nation. See, unlike the many French I have talked to, I acknowledge that I will always be American, somewhere inside. I think I do a pretty good job of objectively understanding the nuances of French and American culture, but I accept that my opinion of things will be slanted and slightly different, because of my background. I can try, but I was psychologically formed in an American home.. And I'm not angry about it, I don't think this makes me dumb, but I do feel like culture is deeply embedded into who we are.

I'm not going into a nurture vs nature conversation, because I don't think it really rules your life, and is at the forefront of your identity. I just find it interesting to observe in people. I have met people and instantly could guess their background. I sometimes feel (and I notice that I do it too) that sometimes, without provocation, a gut reaction or comment to something is really indicative of where they are from. It's almost like 20 plus years of living somewhere will just automatically provoke a response. After thinking about it, they may change their mind. But for a split second, it's exactly what they were thinking, because its what they've heard their whole life.

Are the two countries very different? Kind of. I think that the families and school systems and goals of people are the same. S and J want their children to be happy, educated, and successful. They want them to have a well rounded childhood, and of course be bilingual. The kids complain about the same thing as me. They love brownies puppies and movies. So I guess in that sense, yes we are all the same. Beyond the kids eating paté, or strange cheeses, I could stick them anywhere, and they would fit in.

The differences, I have found, lie in the things that you would hope would be universal, the little things that you have never even thought about. For example--the post. The mail doesn't get picked up directly from your house, you have to go to the post office. Healthcare, universal. Speeding tickets, apparently you don't get pulled over. Traffic circles, another little surprise. Believe me, you need to have someone teach you how to use them. Drinking beer out of bottles by women, is apparently not socially acceptable. The school systems are notoriously rigid, and not helpful for kids who have learning problems. Traffic lights are in a different place. I can't remember what's American, and what's French, but it's different. Cell phones and house phones. In my house, I can't call cell phones, because it's too expensive.

But if I'm honest, while very annoying, it's always very interesting to be doing something, and learn, oh wait, we don't do it that way?

I suppose it all adds to the experience.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Parent Test

Thinking about having children? Try this test first.
Step One-Find a good friend. The closer to 'best friend,' (ie someone you really like) the better.

(Note, you must stay sober, and rational)

Step Two-Wait until they are extremely stressed out (break up, school, work, home, whatever)

Step Three-Take them out to a bar/your house

Step Four-Feed them four shots of vodka

Step Five-Wait to see how the handle it

Step Six-Feed more vodka as necessary, taking care to space it out so you don't commit homicide.

Step Seven-By now, they should be so drunk they can't stand and/or function. Let them get a glimpse of a member of the opposite sex that they are interested in, or dangle tacos/cheeseburgers/any good drunk food in front of them. Let them talk to them, or eat it.

Step Eight-Demand that they leave with you.

Step Nine-Argue them into submission. (Note, this may get ugly. You must be rational and calm, even if they are throwing a complete fit, after all, no one wants to get kicked out or arrested).

Step Ten-Take them home and put them to bed. At this point, they will most likely be sobbing hysterically, and babbling incoherently. Console them while simultaneously undressing them, and redressing them as they go through the following emotions-Sad, Mad, Happy, Confused, Mad, Sad, Confused. Sing to them as necessary. Put a diaper on them, incase they wet themselves.

Step Eleven-Come back two hours later to check diaper, make sure they are breathing/haven't vomited.

Step Twelve-Go to bed, pat yourself on the back, and remember, you only have eighteen more years to go.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Je deteste the Terrible Two's

L turned two a few months ago, and before that things had been going well. She has her moments, but she has been a pretty good baby-come-toddler.

Then she learned how to talk. To let everyone know, the house I live in, is not actually owned by S and G; It is L's. All food belongs to her, all toys belong to her, all clothes belong to her, all markers, water bottles, everything in my room, everything in all bathrooms, all three cars, everything that's in T's room. All of this and more, is property of L.

Yesterday, she was mad at me because I took off her cardigan for her to get into the bath, which she loves. Her reaction? Try and rip off my cardigan and shirt. This morning she hit me in the face, hard. It sucks, because there's no way you can really discipline her, besides say 'No L! That's not nice!' When all I want to do is smack her back.

Of course it's obvious where she learns it, the kids spend a great deal of time smacking each other around in fits of anger. I let them go at it, but, ironically, I end up paying the price.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

To my employers

After many weeks of painful deliberation, I have decided to go with this new job. As you know, this has not been an easy decision, however, at 23, I hate constantly having to worry about money. I am taking this new opportunity, not because I am miserable, but because I would like a change. I know that you in a small way consider this a betrayal, and that upsets me. Unfortunately, I will be betraying myself if I give in to something based on the needs of others. Like I said, I am young, and I feel that I have dealt with the disadvantages of this job well. To be honest, there were many advantages that made up for it, and I will stay the whole twelve months.

I feel that we have created a relationship, all seven of us, and that makes this so much harder. However, with that relationship, I hope that you will want what is best for me. And what is best for me, is to make a change, like I said, based on what I feel is right for me at this point in my life.

You said that it will be a complete change for you all, and that is true. It will be a change for me too, because I will be taking yet another job that I do not know all of the disadvantages, and that is a risk that I want to take. But, to be honest, taking this job after talking to you all twice, coming to a country about which I knew nothing was way more difficult. It turned out to be a very pleasant experience, occasional bad days aside.

I will help you, in any way possible, to find a new girl. But I feel that I've spent so much of this year giving up things for me. I'm not upset, I would say I'm used to it, but that doesn't necessarily sound positive. I have learned way more about myself, and life for that matter since I've been here. I feel that I've calmed down as a person, and have become way more patient. And I do have the kids to thank for that. It has been truly a pleasure getting to know the kids, but I really feel like it is necessary for me to try something different.

I had a job interview, one time, before I came to France. It went horribly, but the one question that sticks out in my mind was this "What was the hardest decision you ever had to make?" Back then, I was stupefied, I had no real idea. Yes I had hard things happen, but decisions were always usually obvious. And I realized, this is it. There are two prongs. I am giving up a job that I know how to do well. I am giving up a place I am accustomed to. I am making two people have to look for a completely new person to come live with their family. But, if I stay here, I am letting down myself, accepting less money, accepting more babysittings, and accepting living out in a place that is relatively remote. All of these were things that I have embraced, and complaining aside, I have adapted. How many times this year did I think, if only I lived in a place closer to an RER? If only I had a little more money? If only I had a Friday off? If only I had a Saturday off? If only I could come home from a train on a Sunday evening, and not worry about walking 45 minutes?

But, now I have the option to give myself, perhaps not a better experience, but a new one. And if I decide to stay for everyone else, that isn't fair for me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fact-Because I have an accent, I am incompetent

I went to the Intermarchee today, to buy some toiletries. This is not the first time I've been to this store, nor will it be the last. I probably average several times a month, depending if I'm cooking more, or if I get really bored. So, I would say I've been to the intermarchee about 50 times. On top of that, I am well rehearsed in paying at both the normal desk with a cashier, as well as the self serve scanner.

Not to mention, even if I was not, I am a reasonably intelligent person, and capable of figuring out my way through the check out.

One problem--I speak French with an accent. The lines were ridiculously long, and because I had only 5 items, I went through to the self check out part. An employee (with a bad dye job, but that's neither here nor there..) approached me and said something.

"Pardon?" I said back. She said basically, "How are you paying?" in French, I said "Oh, avec carte," with card. She said, in French, the carte blue isn't working, you can only pay with cash. Two seconds later in English she said, "Only cash." I responded in French, but I was annoyed. IF I WANT YOU TO SPEAK ENGLISH TO ME I WILL ASK YOU TO. I CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD WHAT SHE SAID AND RESPONDED.

To add infuriating insult to injury, as I scanned my items and threw them in anger (okay, so I have a temper) she was basically reading over my shoulder and PUSHED THE BUTTONS ON THE SCREEN FOR ME LIKE I COULDN'T DO IT MYSELF.

Not only have I been here, as I said many times, I also must speak a little bit of French to have conversed with you. AND. THE. SCREEN. HAS. PICTURES.

I was so insulted I was speechless. As she finished up the checkout for me (I will remind everyone that this was SELF checkout, but the little foreign girl apparently can't handle it). I said loudly and clearly. "Oui, je parle français." I don't think she understood how irritated I was but lets think here.

1) We are in O-town. If I didn't speak French, where would I come from? There are no train stations, I clearly have access to a car, so I clearly live locally. I'm not a tourist who got on a wrong train, ended up in Villenes, walked to the market and decided to buy hair conditioner.

2) I'm talking to you in French. It is really insulting to me to talk to me in English, because many cases, as was this one, I must have looked too stupid to speak more than one language. The French tell me it is to be polite, and perhaps this is cultural. But I find it extremely rude.

3) I am an adult. One who has grown up during the technological age. I can use a touch screen check out, I have been for years. Save your help for the French-speaking older people who might get confused.

Of course, this isn't so much an isolated event. We get someone to come do the ironing, apparently on Fridays. So some guy shows up on Friday, and I answer and he says something about coming to pick up the ligne, or laundry. Right, S didn't mention it, but I figured I could figure it out. He comes in, with his (and this is important) 14 year old daughter. He asks me something, and I think he is from a different part of France, because I don't understand. I say, I'm sorry, I didn't understand. Theeeen the English comes. It sounded something like this "Uhh today, laundry, uhh tomorrow bring when?"

Okay. I am the last person on the planet to insult someone who speaks a language poorly. I get misunderstood on the regular, but again, we are living in France. I don't expect people to talk to me in English, as we know, I prefer that they do not. The exception, of course, is if we already have a history of English speaking, or if they speak English fluently.

This guy, clearly didn't have a background in the language, but, it got worse. As I stood there staring at them, wishing he would just talk to me in French, his KID started chiming in "uhh, when give?". Jesus Christ. I finally put a stop to this, and ask him to repeat what he said in French, because he spoke to fast for me to understand. I also pointed out that I had about five thousand things going on in the house, and I was a little overwhelmed. He kept asking my when I wanted to laundry back, and I kept explaining that I didn't know and that I would ask S to call him. He continued to try and speak to me in English. At least his daughter butt out.

I'm thinking about making a t-shirt that says
"Je ne peux pas apprendre le français si vous me parlez en anglais,"

Of course, it would be grammatically correct.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Potty Training-Who suffers more psychological abuse?

In a blog that I wrote a few months ago, I included a list of things that I did not think I would be doing a year previous to that post. Got another one--potty training.

L is two and change. She is hardly potty trained at all, part of this is due to laziness, and part is due to the fact that she spends several days a week at the creche, where I doubt they have the time for the relatively traumatizing event that is toilet training. I'll be honest, I have no idea how to do this. Besides sit her on the potty and say 'Go pee pee!!' over and over, I really don't know how this is done. It feels intuitive for me to hold it in, and let it all out at one time, where as L prefers the waterfall approach, so she doesn't ever have too much in her bladder at one time. How the hell do I change that concept?

Anyone who has ever talked to me know that currently, there are two kids in my house that have issues using the toilet: T and L. T makes it to the bathroom to pee about 50 percent of the time (with help from me of course), and makes it most of the time to the bathroom to poop. We had an incident a few weeks ago that resulted in a broken washing machine, I will let your imaginations run with this one.

Anyway, as you can imagine, this leads to a lot of laundry, and with L pooping herself once a day, a lot of dirty diapers that I have to change. So today is the day. L is giving up diapers cold turkey. Thus far, at 1040 am, she hasn't really done that well, but I'm not sure if I should keep changing her, or get her used to the discomfort of walking around in wet undies (although, if genetics are a good predictor, it wont bother her, see: T).

So another item to add to the list of things I never thought I would be doing--Google searching 'How to potty train toddlers".

Although one amusing thing that occured as a result of this endeavor--L started saying my name and the French word for butt. Upon closer inspection, I realized she had gotten her first wedgie.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hypocrisy-I become part of the sheeple

My sister came in town last week. Because she's been basically everywhere, we decided to get out of France and go to Prague, in the Czech Republic. Prague has a great (misleading) reputation for being fun, beautiful, and cheap.

The little capital is trying very hard to take advantage of the waves of tourists by upping prices. My sister, who was there in 2006 was horrified, myself, who frequently goes out in one of the most expensive cities in the world, was pleasantly surprised. Eight euros for a meal with MEAT? Less than two euros for a WHOLE PINT?! Is this heaven?!

Anyway, needless to say, Molly and I lived it up, eating whole meat plates (okay, that was just me), and drinking copius amounts of spiced wine, beer, regular wine, absinthe, coffees, and basically anything on the menu.

I realized how much I a) miss ordering any kind of meat at a restaurant, if anyone has seen my post about food in France, you understand and b) cant avoid being a tourist.

I don't think I've ever blogged about how damn annoying tourists are in France, and I know that sounds insensitive, seeing as I am a foreigner, and barely make it with the language thing. (Although, constantly being spoken to in English, or hassled on the trains because of my accent and being thought of as a tourist probably has a direct result on my disdain for them.) Anyway, lets be honest, they are annoying. Anyone who lives anywhere where newbies show up and ask a ton of annoying questions, and do a bunch of annoying things to try and be original but really aren't, are annoying.

Oh yeah, except until I become one. Enter-Prague. I was a tourist. An American tourist at that, speaking English, laughing, and butchering the Czech language, that is, when I even bothered to try and speak the language at all. I guess I am constantly surprised when I realize that English has become the international language. I always assume that its because I look Anglo, that people speak to me in English, but to be honest, when I am talking with a friend on the street in Spanish, no one knows if I'm Anglo, Latina, Greek, French or anything. The French response to us always seems to be the same, speak English with us. It doesn't make much sense to me in France, seeing as French is a pretty widely studied language.

The Czech Republic on the other hand, wow. So one of my pet peeves, in English speakers, is when they waltz (this goes with my bohemian theme) into a place and automatically speak English, and worse, when they continue to do so, as it becomes clear the other person does not. (Had an experience in Argentina with an English guy, of course, who walked in to a travel place my friend and I were at and started speaking in English, the woman translated that her partner, the English speaker was not around and would be in later. The Brit, stereotypical as he was, refused to accept her not speaking English continued to talk at her, forcing myself and Melissa to translate. The women thought we were German.)

Anywho, so my way of avoiding this was pantamiming (spelling). In which I used hand gestures and pointing to get what I wanted. This usually came off as being smug, or ignorant, but I couldnt figure out the Czech vowels ( or lack of them) to at least put up the pretense of asking if they spoke English. It was embarassing and uncomfortable, because I realized that I had become the people that I hate. For the most part, as soon as I started being awkward, the people began speaking to me in English.

If there's one thing the French enjoy, its bitching about French, and it being overrun and changed by foreigners. (They have an entire academy dedicated to the preservation of the language). I must wonder how the Czech feel. Are we like little aliens that are coming in there, demanding we are treated just like the Czechs, but refusing to even try and grasp a few words? I met a French guy at a bar (what a surprise) and talked to him briefly in French. He lives in Prague, has for three years now, and works with the refineries or something like that. I asked him if he spoke the language, and he said no, he just speaks in English or French. Later, we were discussing my own language conquest, and I was saying how difficult things still are for me. Do you know what he said to me? "Si tu habites en France, il faut apprendre le francais." If you live in France, it is necessary to learn French.

Yeah right, mon copain, practice what you preach.