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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.

Merde.

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

Moments

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."

False.

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!

Kidnapped!

A month ago my friend Ali left a corkscrew at Gui Gui's house. She's been adamant about getting it back, and Gui Gui has been adamant about ignoring her. We finally found it yesterday, and as she's in California for a few weeks, we took a series of incriminating pictures, here's the best.

Voila--




Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hugo

video

This is proof that the grass will always be greener. The preceding was a clip of Gui Gui's nephew, Hugo. Hugo is three and a half and lives at the house. Gui Gui was putting him to bed and this conversation ensued. I have translated it for the non francophones.

G-What's the question you asked?
H-Something something doudou
G-No, about Robin
H- Is she's going to sleep here?
G- If she's sleeping here? You like her?
H-Yeah but, not that much, not thaat much
G-Why not that much You like her? But not much?
H-Beehhh
G-Why not? She's nice with you, you even asked when she was coming back, that means you must like her.
H-Yeah but when's she coming back. Did she say she was coming back?
G-Yeah
H-What is she doing at her house?
G-She works at her house.
Pause
G-Okay, sleep well.
H-But Robin!
G-She's not here
H-Can you call her?
G-You want me to call her? Why do you want me to call her? I'm going to see her soon. You want to see her tonight?
Grunt
G-That means you want must like her
H-I want to see her!
Fin

Having Friends Over

One of the best surprises an au pair can have are playdates. The kids entertain themselves, and you have no guilt when they spend an afternoon happily locked up in their bedrooms playing with whoever. As Madame S came downstairs and told me that we had adopted three more children for the afternoon, I did a silent cheer and went upstairs to see what the boys wanted for lunch. Mdme S's mother is in town and said to me, "Why are all these children over? Is it a special occasion?" To which I responded "No, they're just over here to hang out." "But now you have to make them all lunch!"

I looked down at the pasta boiling, and the jarred spaghetti sauce in my hands and thought, "I'm alright with it."

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bipolar Paris, or Bad Luck?

If I was an author, looking for an allegory to show how quickly one's luck can change, I would probably start with a scene in a Parisian summer. The sun is shining, and its just a few degrees from being too hot. Our heroes are three anglophones. They find themselves in a park drinking Fanta and huge bottles of water. The park is filled with families, babies, nannies, and hookers. Our heroes are enjoying the sunshine before they break off to profit from a Happy Hour. They walk to Pigalle and find an Australian place with an expensive Happy Hour, but Happy Hour nontheless. They sip their beers and continue to sweat.

It's dinnertime and the three foreigners head across the street for some cheap crepes. Ecstatically munching away they board the metro. Three stops later, they get off, and the Auburn one reaches in her purse to check the time.

No phone. The darker blonde one calls her phone fruitlessly. Alas, she has been pickpocketed. The three put their heads together and become aware how they had made themselves targets. Line 2, crepe eating, English speaking, they didn't have a chance. The auburn haired one is upset, but the situation will be sorted out. They walk the other blonde's apartment.

"Oh shit," says the dark blonde, "it's raining."
"Oh shit," say the other two, "it's raining really hard."

The three jump under an awning and "wait it out," it doesn't stop, and finally they throw caution (and dryness) to the wind and go into the rain. They take a deep breath (it's raining hard enough that they were scared of drowning) sprint off in the direction of a Franprix. The Auburn, in her deteriorating luck, breaks the strap of her sandles, which renders them useless. She pulls them off and turns the corner full speed in direction of Franprix's impressive selection of liquor.

As she can't come inside shoeless, the other two go in, soaking, and get several "Beh oui, il pleur"s, "Ho la la," and other assinine comments about their appearance.

The three make it into an apartment and strip half naked in the hallway. Two new outfits, one new pair of shoes, and several glasses of vodka later, the two Americans of the group went off to meet with a friend. They landed at a bar in Oberkampf, an incredibly sweaty and loud bar stuffed with young gentlemen eager to cop a feel. After batting them away sometimes violently, the Auburn one turns to the other and says "Robin, would you believe me if I told you my shoe broke? At this point, the redhead lost it, and wanted to leave. To make the situation even more painful, they missed the last train and had to walk an extra ten minutes, barefoot, once again, towards the friends apartment.

They end up dancing to Lady Gaga and jumping on the three or four futons in the apartment, laughing until they drift off to sleep.

The theme would be to show how quickly things can go from happy and well, to dog soakingly wet and miserable. Paris has this magical ability to break you down, and bring you right back up again, within hours. Maybe you could say the city is not a living breathing thing, that it's the people you find yourself with, and it shouldnt matter where you are. Maybe, but you can't deny that this damn city has something about it that makes it damn hard to quit.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Heist

I don't know why I think going to Paris on a Thursday night is ever a good idea, but Gui Gui and I have this adorable habit of blatantly lying to each other. We say things like "Oh yeah, we'll definitely come back before one," and "I'll only have one beer." I think deep down I know this, and in last night's case, it ended up being worth it.

His cousin has just received his five year visa (!!) for the US, so they were out celebrating. I've met Louis only one time before, so although I had no reason to celebrate, I was feeling very French and in a wave of solidarity, drank to his luck. Anyway, we ended up in Odeon at this crappy bar that I tend to frequent, mainly because it has 3 euro pints of St. Omer, which is a steal.

The whole family had come out, Gui Gui's brother Adrien, sister Mathilde, and his sister's friend Caro, this adorable French girl who lives up the street and lived in the US while she was a baby. I look over at Mathilde and see her stashing pint glasses in her bag. "What the hell are you guys doing?" "Taking glasses," they said bursting out laughing. "Why?" I said after I watched the third one slip in.

"Our dad really likes these pint glasses and his birthday is coming up soon, so we're going to give these to him."

Mathilde made it out with I dont know how many glasses, and Gui Gui made it out with another one wrapped in his jacket.

Criminals.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Coming Home Again-Refinding my Inner-American

I'm writing this stateside, on an American keyboard. Over a year ago, in one of my first posts I wrote a disclaimer apologizing for my poor spelling, as I was adjusting to the French keyboard. Guess what? I'm back at square one. If I wasnt so sedated from the heat, I would most likely be cursing with every keystroke.

It's ironic to find myself so out of sorts in my own country. All the little things I've forgotten about are coming back like suddenly remembering that I had to tip at the bar, and after overhearing a conversation last night, I remembered that sales tax exists. I got into my parents pick up truck on Friday and almost threw out my left leg looking for the clutch (it's automatic).

I'm also falling right back into old habits. I've rediscovered that primoridal Virginian part of my brain that can actually handle the summertime heat and humidity, even when exercising. I have a couple runs that I've done since I was sixteen-- a two mile, three mile, five mile, and six mile. I did the three mile run today and just ran without thinking. In France (when I run) I spend more time looking around and getting lost, but here I just went through everything going on in my life and suddenly found myself back on Waterway. It was so instinctual, I barely remember it. I came back to my house and turned on the TV to do sit ups and push ups, things that I will admit happens too far and in between in France.

It's nice. But I have the little voice in the back of my brain warning me not to become too comfortable. Because it's only a week til I have to refind my American in France.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

More Myth Busting

So people often tell me that the Americans drink harder than the French. I can't really figure out who has this idea that in any Western country, there aren't people in their mid twenties getting tipsy. The last few weeks have featured copious amounts of beer, wine, and the occasional hard alcohol.

Last night for example, I passed up Paris, since I was tired from the night before. Gui Gui and I decided to make paella (which was more of a risotto with seafood) and hang out at home together. Around eight, Joris showed up, straight from the office. He proclaimed he would be staying for dinner, and a bottle of wine was opened. Somewhere in the next hour people started coming in. And before we knew it the table was littered with bottles, and people were coupled around a "microphone" (read: broom) singing French songs at top voice.

I feel like I'm living in a frat house.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Vacation, and other Religions in France

One of the most important things to understand in French culture, above the food, above the wine, above the strikes, is the concept of vacation. The French pride themselves in being reasonable and not involving religion with the government. This is true, if we're speaking of Christianity, and Islam (the burqa thing was not anti-Islam, but anti-religion in public buildings, in my opinion) What we are forgetting is the real French dogma--the mandatory vacation rights that are included in every employment contract.

Let's compare shall we?
Smalltown, USA.
Scene-A couple is searching for a place to eat lunch. It's July, its hot, and as it's only 2 pm, it will be for a while. They park their car (for free) stop in any store and use the bathroom, and then find a restaurant fifteen seconds later. They have lunch, maybe sandwiches, or salads, drink their reasonably priced soft drinks, use the bathroom, with toilet paper, once more, pay their tab, leave a tip, and head off to do a little shopping. On their way out they see a sign that says the hours, "10 am-10 pm every day but Sunday, which is 11-9."

Petiteville, France
Scene-A Franco American couple is searching for a place to eat lunch. It's July, it's freezing and raining, and as it's already 2 pm, it probably wont get any warmer. They park their car, pay the meter, and quickly look for a restaurant, as the girl has to use the bathroom. They find a brasserie which serves only baguette sandwiches. They ask if there's another restaurant, and they are directed down the road. Hopeful, they see a sign outside offering the Menu which is a drink, entrée and dessert for a reasonable 11 euros. Even more encouraging, there are people eating. The couple asks if they are still serving, the response, coupled with a look of horror, is "Mais non, pas de tout." "No, not at all!" Hunger making them faint, they ask if there's anywhere open now. They are directed back up the road to the original brasserie, and as they walk out the door they are reminded that "Vous ete pas a Paris, eh?" "You aren't in Paris anymore." They walk back up and order baguette sandwiches of smoked ham, which is basically jamon iberico, (can't remember what it is in English, sorry). They order a half pint of beer, and a bottle of coca cola, which is priced more than the two sandwiches together. They finish their meal and to fit in with all the other people hanging around, buy a lottery ticket. At the last minute the girl decides to use the bathroom, again. She changes her mind when she remembers there's not actually a toilet, but a place for feet, and a hole in the ground. As the couple leaves they hear the owner say "I'm leaving on vacation next week and won't open again until September."

A year ago, this situation probably would have shocked and angered me, now it's just yet another minor difference that I have come to live with. Gui Gui, without batting an eye conceded that "Well, it's normal, it's summer time in a small village, of course everyone has abandoned their places of residence and are on vacation."

The key, is simply to be prepared. Have a flight in August? Don't rely on a bus to take you there, hitchiking is probably a safer choice, with at least a fifty percent chance of success. Plan your boulangerie trips, if you check the town hall, there should be a list of each bakery with their planned vacation, same with most restaurants, and tabacs. Grow a garden, plant a vineyard, and start learning how to create your own lightbulbs (and biofuel, while you're at it) not only will you have a thriving hobby to occupy yourself as there's nothing open in August, you can become completely self sufficient (and maybe even ask the government to subsidize you!) You should probably also seek degrees in medicine, pharmacology, and auto mechanics.

Inconvenient you say? Hell yes, but preparation is key. The thing to understand, and the pretty sweet thing about French society is the sense of equality. So what if I just drive a taxi, or own a pub, I am just as entitled as you are, banker, engineer, teacher, working professional, to have my four weeks of vacation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Color blind, Accent deaf

In 2007, about two weeks after I got back from Argentina, I went to get one of my parent's cars fixed. I walk in to see a 40 year old blonde woman getting into it with the Arab employee. He had been working there as long as I can remember, and although he was clearly not born in Dumfries, he speaks English perfectly, albeit with an accent. Before she left, to finish the argument, she yelled nastily "And learn how to speak English." Call me crazy, but I was pretty sure this woman doesn't speak Arabic (I'm generalizing), so why would she feel the need to say this? Because he speaks differently. To back herself up, the lady turns to me with a "Know what I'm sayin'" face. I just looked at her. I know I look like some white bread American girl, but I'm not a racist, thank you very much. Not to mention, I had just experienced the same mentality in South America.

So I'm going to confess, that nothing bothers me more than seeing/hearing people in the United States say "And NO one spoke English!" Wrong, they do, you just aren't taking the time to understand their accent. I don't think a lot of people understand just how international English has become. And that's lucky for us, almost anywhere I go in the world, I can be reasonably sure that I will hear a heavily accented "We are four, please" at a restaurant in Germany, or "I look for beer" in the Czech Republic. It's the reason the French, as we're speaking in French, ask me if I speak French. So guess what, people, everywhere you go, you will encounter different kinds of English (I couldn't understand fifty percent of the people in Scotland), so get the hell over it and listen to the words.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love, Redefined

I'm pretty sure I figured out how you know you're in love. You find a whopping FOUR ticks on your legs, and your significant other spends an hour going over your entire body with tweezers and rubbing alcohol to help you pry those blood suckers off of you.

Yeah, my two week summer camp that I just finished with, paid me not only in cash, but with a death cough, and a variety of new friends that have been mooching off of my blood. Yesterday, when I found the three ticks on my legs I wasn't all that surprised, we spent several hours a day wandering through the woods. Then I found the fourth one after we got back from the pub. Gui Gui graciously laid me down on the couch and pulled that bastard out. Fearing the worst, he combed through all of my hair (not finding anything, fortunately) and stripped his sheets when I admitted that one may or may not have escaped before I could off it.

I'm sure there's some ancient proverb that equates love with mite removal, I'll let you know when I find it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Su casa es mi casa? Et rien faire

This morning I woke up (kind of) to Gui Gui leaving for work (He got a summer job! Woohoo!) His parents were also leaving for vacation, and two of their children were at home. Because I'm too lazy to get dressed and head back to my house, I was watching CSI and drinking coffee in Gui Gui's bed. Outside the door I hear Gui Gui's dad say "Elle est ou Robin?" and his mom reply "Dans sa chambre." "Where's Robin?" "In her room." Then a knock at the door and JC (the initials of his dad's very French name, not Jesus Christ) and he hands me 50 euros to "share" with Gui Gui, his brother and sister.

Yes I am aware that I am 24, and some might call it strange, even pathetic that I'm essentially living with my boyfriend's parents, but it's nice to feel comfortable somewhere. It's not that I'm unwelcome chez Franco-American, but things are always different when your rolls aren't really defined. Example, this week the kiddies and the mom are in England, so it's just me and the father of the family. I've been working at a summer camp, (which has been both refreshing and demoralizing,) so I leave before N wakes up and leave again for the evening before he get's home from work. However, we do occasionally see eachother. Last night, for example I was making a tarte au oignon, which I offered to him. He was going out, so we didn't end up eating together, but we did take a few moments to chat. We talked about which groceries I had bought in the fridge and I offered to continue to do his laundry, although I'm not technically getting paid. Of course I don't really mind, because they're letting me stay for free, but the problem is knowing if I should or not.

I feel that they respect my boundaries, and I hope they understand that I don't want to be antisocial, but I do like to have my personal space. On the weekends, I spend my time in my room, not because I don't like the family, but just because I like to have my alone time, to do what I want (which usually involves internet tv and Swedish suspense novels), because while when I was younger I always wanted to be surrounded by people, now I find that solitude fits me. During the school year, I essentially am working from 7 am to 10 pm. Granted, it's just school and shipping children around, but it's still me having to interact with people. So when I have a few hours before I see Gui Gui or go out with my friends, I can do nothing, and not feel like I wasted my day.

When I'm at Chez Gui Gui, we can sit in his room the whole day, watching American Dad and talking, and there's no awkwardness. It's nice.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fais-ing Dodo

I went over to Gui Gui's house yesterday. It's Wednesday, and I have at least one child all day, except between 2 and 4, so we've taken up the habit of having a coffee together, or taking a walk. Yesterday, we were both very tired from La Fete de la Musique, which is held each year on June 21st and features music in random places. We had walked around St. G for a while and had a drink at our favorite bar and consequently, I wasn't home until around one, which is now considered late for me.

We decided to take a quick nap, so we went upstairs and laid down. Gui Gui begins by taking all of the covers, all three pillows and his teddy bear (don't ask me why a 24 year old still has one) and curls up on the other side of the bed. Knowing this was just to provoke a reaction, and as I was exhausted I close my eyes and try and to sleep anyway.

I managed to drift off, which is impressive as the window was wide open, so there was noise, and the shutters were cracked, so there was sunlight. And Gui Gui knows that I complain about both. (I have sleeping problems, which is part of the reason I'm always tired.)

I feel a presence in front of my face. I open my eyes. Gui Gui's holding his hand over my face. "Quest ce-que tu fais?"
"Je te bloque le soleil!"

"What are you doing?"
"I'm blocking the sun for you!"

I rolled over and I hear him get up. He comes back and tells me to "Ferme bien les yeux" and I feel little stickers over my eyelids. He had taken post-its and were attaching them to my eyeballs.

This is what I love about Gui Gui. I can't ever really be mad at him, because he makes me laugh all the time. Here I am, grumpy and all I want to do is sleep for fifteen minutes, but I can't because my boyfriend is trying to be "helpful."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Disturbing Stories

On the way home from school this afternoon, I got to talking with one of SA's friends, E. Somehow the conversation drifted towards safety, and we started discussing how it is important to be careful after dark, and to never walk alone.

E then began telling me stories about getting harassed by men in Paris, and different bizarre things she's seen. The girl is eleven. She's a pretty child, but dresses her age, there would be no way to mistake her as being older, yet she's telling me about these perverts on the streets who have harassed her.

Now, this happens to my friends and I often, (I got into a shouting match last weekend with some drunk guy who didnt like being asked if he'd ever had a bottle smashed in his face) but although occasionally frightening, is usually amusing in the end.

I know this stuff happens in the US, I'm sure I've seen it happen before, but hearing it first hand from a child just rubbed me the wrong way. How dare these freaks target little girls like that. I don't care if it's a joke, or they don't realize how old she is, it's disgusting, and it makes me hate them even more.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Eating Habits, Illustrated!

As I snuck into my house this morning, starving, it occured to me how random my meals have become, especially when it's only me. I had an omelette because it's Saturday, and we've already discussed how I love me some American breakfasts on the weekend. But it did occur to me that the content of my weekend omelettes has changed. So I submit another meager illustration, be kind, world.


*Foie gras means "fat liver," I think it's usually duck or goose. It's delcious, but inhumane and illegal in the US. Fattening the liver requires force feeding the animals by shoving a tube down their throat.
**Made of olives, vegetarian friendly, and delicious as well.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Breaking and Entering

In France, the most complicated answer, is frequently the solution.

Example:
Scene: La Rochelle, second floor of the apartment of Couch Surfing Saudi
Players: Ali, Yours Truly
Ali calls me to the balcony
A-I did a betise...
I look down to see her bathing suit on the ground floor terrace.
Me-Oh shit.
A-Should we go downstairs and knock?
Me-Nah, the wall isn't that high, we can definitely hop it. It'll be easier to break in.

Sure enough, down we went, to find the wall up to the terrace about four feet high. I gave Ali a leg up, and she hopped over and grabbed the bathing suit triumphantly. We went back upstairs and celebrated by opening our third bottle of wine.

We found out later than Tham (the Saudi) had never actually seen anyone in that apartment, so we can assume it's vacant.

Win for the Americans.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Musings

I won't apologize for this:

They set out on bikes, eager to get away from the family, to be alone, and to see the beauty of the countryside. It was hot, and she sweated in her cotton dress, her bangs sticking to her face. The village was flat, and she was pleased to move around. She had been in the car for several hours to get there, they had taken a roundabout way, following the backroads. Now she was on the bike and her muscled flexed and moved as she pedaled at an agreeable pace.

“Putain,” there really isn’t anything out here, is there?” he said in French, “It’s really hard to believe how close we are to Paris.” And it was true, they were only 60 kilometers out from the bustling city, but here, there was no one. They stopped to look at the grains, growing in straight lines as far as the eye could see.

“I bet you’re the second American to ever be in this village, after my aunt.”

“I doubt that, I’m sure there were some when they passed through during the war.”

He laughed, conceding “Okay, but the second one in the last fifty years. Except for my phone,” he continued, “It could be 1935 here, just before the war, couldn’t it?”

They stopped the bikes and dismounted, taking pictures of each other posing and laughing together. After a moment she kissed him, leaning against him and she could smell his sweat.

“Shhh, listen to the silence.” She breathed.

They stood there holding each other and listened to the barely sway back and forth, making a shushing noise as the stalks moved in the wind. There were birds in the distance, and every so often, the noise of a car travelled across the field. The sky was clear blue, of French blue as it’s called, and the clouds looked as they were painted in the sky. Across the fields she could see small bosquettes, dark green contrasting with the golden color of the wheat.

Her mind drifted. What would it have been like, just before the war? She could rest assured that the village had been there, but she wondered if fighting had happened close to where they were. Her grandfather had been here, when he was her same age. But he sure as hell hadn’t been having dinner with the French, and watching their children like she was.

Europe, she thought, must have been like the Middle East is to her. When her grandfather was 24 could he have possibly imagined the EU, and all the diplomacy between the nations? Did he think his granddaughter would be walking along the same beaches on which he had seen so much death? Or passing freely, country to country, completely alone?

She felt a flash of optimism for the world, and turning back to her Frenchman, she kissed him again.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Waiting for the 14

Woosh woosh went the metro doors, and I stood there waiting, he wasn't there yet. I went back to my bench, turned open my book, and looked up at the screen impatiently. One minute 45 seconds until the next one. I turned the pages steadily. Woosh Woosh, once again, and the noise of people evacuating somberly, excitedly, engrossed in their iphones, talking with friends, or stumbling with obvious swagger of 1664.

Still not there, and three more minutes until the next train. Woosh Woosh, again, and I looked up to see the people shuffling off the train while the others pressed back slightly, anxious to get on. A young Arab girl came hurtling down the steps, throwing herself onto the train, just as the alarms went, and the doors closed.

Four minutes to the next one, I noticed and sighed, looking at my watch. This was of course the pain that I would pay for always being early, I was always the one left waiting. My book opened again and I fell back into the story.

I could smell his cologne before I saw him. I looked up and saw him standing, facing away from me, looking around searching. Woosh woosh went the metro doors, and suddenly afraid, I stepped on the train and left, before he caught sight of me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The End?

I haven't been writing much lately, instead I've been reflecting and pondering. I think that I'm at the end of the line here, living in someone else's home, infiltrating someone's family. I'm thinking more and more about the United States, not because I want to leave France, but because I need to get away from my job. I don't hate it really, I just don't love it, and the indifference and lack of enthusiasm I feel about, well everything, is starting to take it's toll.

If you've never done anything like this, you don't know just how demeaning it can get. I am fully aware that kids can be mean and abusive, and that's fine, until you sit back and say, "Am I seriously taking abuse as a daily part of my choice of employment?" It's even more upsetting, because as I start to look at other jobs, it seems impossible. I say I'm joking about finding a European Passport, but it's getting a little more serious.

So what am I doing? Sending my resume out to everyone I come across. I guess if I don't find anything in the next few months, it's back to the Etas Unis, and the beginning the 40 year adventure that is "the real world."

Hm, seems even more daunting/depressing when I put it that way.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Want to Be a Super Model

I think I've mentioned this before, but Gui Gui is really good looking, and he also is really photogenic, unlike me, who always comes out with fifteen chins and blinking in pictures. So he got his haircut yesterday, and besides looking more and more like his twin brother, he also looks adorable. I introduced him to my web cam (he loves taking pictures of himself) and we did a little photoshoot. I sure hope he doesn't mind me posting this.






Monday, May 23, 2011

Father Daughter Bonding.

Excerpt from emails between my father and I:
Me-
Thought you might be interested to know that I am now fluent enough to mock and frustruate unsuspecting French clerks. I'm thinking my June goal will be to make one cry.

Hope you're feeling better,
Love you,
Robin

Dad-
Feeling much better. That fact that you are able to be obnoxious in a foreign country helps that a great deal.
thanks for your caring thoughs,
love
dad

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Calling My Bluff

So in French, I often don't understand every single word, but in context, I can almost always figure out the meaning. Which is why it's awkward when Gui Gui plays his "comme tu dis en anglais" game. Which is basically when he calls my bluffs. I'll laugh lightly at something he says, and pretend like I undestand, and then I'm forced to offer up concrete proof that I'm not full of shit. (The worst is when there's no context and he just says "C'est, insert random French adjective.")

Fortunately, at this point, as I'm panicking and stuttering, Gui Gui usually whips out his iphone and attempts to find a direct translation. But the problem is, this is really hard to do. I explain to him, that if he just describes the word, I will understand, and find a better translation. Because if he doesn't include context, it's very easy to mistranslate.

But I find in languages, it's pretty easy to determine when its important to understand, and when it's not. A normal evening out with his friends, I don't always listen to everything, because it hurts my head, and its not always interesting. Also, with eavesdropping, you can't exactly stop the other parties to ask what a word means.

Yesterday, on the other hand, I met Madame Gui Gui for the first time (This is a big deal, especially since I had Gui Gui tatoos all over my arms), and I hung on every word. I wanted to give off the impression that I was a well rounded, polite, french-speaking fille. And of course I didn't catch everything.

I can't complain too much, because after all, this is how I learn. And it's definitely better than it was before, and definitely better than January of 2010.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cafe culture?

I had an epihpany as I was lugging groceries into my house today. As far as I can tell, there's no real reason for a cafe au lait to be almost five euros. Or is there? As the French have a cafe culture (ie spending hours in cafes discussing politics,) I am not actually paying for the drink, but the time I spend sitting at my table, expanding my mind, and becoming enriched.

And just when I started to believe that all the good things in life were free.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Scooting.

Yesterday, Gui Gui came by my house for our customary Sunday afternoon promenade around a random suburban park. He called me, saying he was devant chez moi, and I walked down my mile long pipestem and found him leaning back on his scooter (or "scoot") with helmet and aviators on. "Where are we going?" I asked him. "There's a park that I want to take you to up the road. Here take a helmet." And he reached into the "trunk," aka lock box, and pulled out a helmet for me. I seated myself behind him and we zipped off, at the pulse racing speed of 25 miles an hour. Gui's can handle the two of us, but things were a bit touch and go as we headed up to St G (see previous post about death hill on cliff).

What is a scooter? Before I came here, I had this romanticized view of it. I'm going to go ahead and blame all tampax commercials and general misguided stereotypes about Europe, because the word "scooter" in English, is actually moped. Just take off the redneck, and replace with a skinny Frenchman in Ray Bans, and we're talking the same thing.

But, while not as romantic as I had intially thought, there is something thrilling, or at least pleasing about riding around on a scooter. There we were, perched on a moped, weaving through traffic, with my arms wrapped around Gui Gui and our helmets gently bashing each other at each stop sign, and I was happy. We couldn't really talk, because the language/cultural barrier really becomes obvious when there are loud noises involved, but it was really comforting to be molded to the back of his body, and for once, not listen to a single French obscenity while he drove.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Study in Opposites

An Autoecole car (Student Driver)
-Drives the speed limit, stops for red lights, yields to other drivers, doesn't lay on the horn constantly, doesn't cut you off, is not a moped that drives the wrong way down one way streets

vs.

Everyone else

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stereotypes and Xenophobia

Conversation last night:
Players:
Me
Diana
Sara
Scene: Apartment in Stalingrad, first encounter with other Au Pairs.
Me-Salut! Je suis Robin! Ça va?
D, S-Hi! Nice to meet you!
M-En fait, je préfère parler en français avec vous, ça vous dérangez?
D-Non, bien sur, tu est de ou?
M-Ah je suis américaine, et vous?
(Mexican and German)
S-Mais, quoi? Tu parles pas comme un américaine! T'as pas d'un accent!
M-Merci, c'est gentille.
S-En fait tu parles vraiment meilleure de les autres américaine...

Me-Hi, I'm Robin, How are you all?
D, S-""
M-Actually, I prefer that we speak in French, is that ok?
D-No, of course, where are you from?
M-Oh, I'm American, and you all?
""
S-What? You don't speak like an American! You don't have an accent!
M-Thank you that's nice.
S-Actually, you speak a lot better than the other Americans I've met.

(What she really meant to say is, none of them make the slightest bit of effort, zing.)

This situation, of course is not an isolated case, but it did, however get me thinking. I was upstairs making myself an American breakfast, egg, bread and cheese, as I pondered immigration. American breakfast, is not something I do everyday. I usually eat toast, or just have coffee. The occasional Saturday, though, I like to put in some effort to make fried egg sandwiches, because as it's almost one in the afternoon, it's lunchtime anyway. (And if some French person comes and questions me, I can always call it a croque madame, and no one gets judged.)

Back to the subject at hand--stereotypes and cultural differences. Let's take a look at my grandfather. Paul was born in the United States in 1922 to Hungarian parents. Paul was raised speaking Hungarian with his mother, but he went to an American school, and as far as I know never learned the language, written. Paul never felt the need to teach the language to his four children, thus a mere two generations later, I speak not one word.

My maternal grandmother, Felixa. Born in 1918 to Czech parents, raised speaking Czech as a first language. However, she had the bad luck to go to school during a particularily xenophobic period of American history. With the surname Brtek, and pierced ears she was very conscious of her foreign status, and consequently named her children anglo names. Same result as Paul.

Then I was reading another book, called uhhhh SomethingalongthelinesofMr.Rosenblum'sGuidetoBeingEnglish. By, some British female author. It's about a German Jew who emmigrates to England right around the beginning of World War II, and it discusses his attempts to assimilate into English culture. Which, as he's a German Jew, and it's the English, is not easy. And despite the fact that he is never quite accepted, even after becoming wealthy, he continues to strive to become the perfect Englishman.

Now, present day. My bicultural children, go to a French school, but have subjects taught exclusively in English. They speak English at home, amongst themselves, despite the fact that we live in France. And, their father is French. They watch English TV, they want to go to English universities, and SA tells me on a regular basis how much better England is than France. (Okay, although I would love to tell you this is a direct result of being in British schools, they did live in Leeds for a while, but I'm partially convinced the schools are brainwashing them.)

And I think it's wonderful (not the brainwashing) that these children are holding on to their culture, or another culture at least. I hear that there's apparently a Portuguese section as well, and the Lycee Internationale has several different culture sections, but it does seem that anglophones are the most obsessed with hanging on to their culture and language. I suppose because English is so damn practical.

But can you imagine a Spanish speaking section, not as ESOL, but something that is really geared towards native speakers, as a part of public education in the States? Are you kidding? People get pissed off when you have the Spanish option on an ATM, let alone an entire language/culture class that the STATE would pay for. (Or maybe this exists? Perhaps this is one of those times I should have done research).

Meanwhile, if I marry a Frenchman, or even another American, and live in France, my children can enjoy (ahem, poor word choice, if you know anything about French schools) a French education, and also still learn the American way. (Naturally, I plan to brainwash them). And this coming from the French, who are more obsessed with their language and culture than any people I've ever met.

On the Statue of Liberty, there is a sign that says, "Give me your tired, your hungry, your poor." To which I hope to add, "We prefer them in this state, so we can completely humiliate them on a count of their background, and beat them into cultural assimilation."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Myth Busting!

I am currently reading Deadly Gift by Heather Graham. It's not great literature, but it's relatively entertaining, and while I don't want to admit it, she does have enough talent for suspense, to get me to turn the page. Anyway, the story is about some rich guy who goes missing, then his rich partner falls ill and everyone thinks it's the trophy wife. PLOT COMPLICATION, they happen to be in Ireland, and for some reason that must have made sense to the author, they decide to export a beautiful Irish nurse back to the US with them, and that's as far as I've gotten.

But, what struck me while reading was the idyllic manner in which she writes about Ireland. Everything is green, beautiful, and charming over there. I have a friend here who is Irish, and after talking to her, I realize it's bullshit. Even more troublesome is the way she has the Irish talking, which is, as far as I can figure, simply adding "ye" and "aye" randomly into conversations. Sarah talks differently from me, but nothing like the characters in the book. (If anything, it's more Scottish, but I suppose you can't pick up on the discreet cultural nuances of language if the only research you do involves a quick glance at Wikipedia and/or The Lonely Planet.)

Why did this stick with me? I live in Paris (okay, Ile de France). France in general, is romanticised to the point of flat-out lies. While I will not deny that Paris is an amazing city, it's also, well, just a city, with it's share of faults. Let's make a brief lists of stereotypes/misleading cultural factoids, shall we?

1) The French eat well. Gui Gui's favorite restaurant to bring me to is McDonalds.

2) The Eiffel Tower. The French originally hated it, and this American in particular hates it. I have been once or twice to picnic on the Champs Mars, but have since vowed never to go back. The place is infested by gypsies and criminals looking to swindle tourists.

3) The metro. Don't let the whimsical signs in the city center fool you, because while I love the Paris metro deeply, it's disgusting. It reeks of urine, and other bodily functions, and is bitterly cold in the winter, and sweltering in the summer. It does win points for being relatively cheap, and fast.

4) The French are romantic, and always speak eloquently.
b) Verlang
c) My boyfriend

5) Frenchmen dress well. Ok, this is partially true. I love coat season in Paris, and sunglass season (Gui Gui has a pair of aviators that he looks sooo good in). However, Gui Gui also, for example wears converses, almost everyday (We went out last week, and it was the first time I had seen him in other shoes/not the same sweatshirt.)

6) French women are stylish. You caught me, this is true. They dress WAY better than me.

7) All French women know how to cook. Fact, they don't have to. Picard is a company that specializes in frozen food, perfect for the working Mom who doesn't employ an Au Pair. Picard is worth a blog in itself. I'll do that one day.

8) The French only drink moderately. See, Gui Gui's friends. Some of which occasionally black out on benches around Paris/get into street fights.

9) Paris is a beautiful city. SDF.

In the end of the day, there is a clip from Paris Je T'aime that sums up nicely what I want to say. The movie is composed of several short stories, this one in particular is done by the Coen Brothers. I've put it on my facebook before, but it's good enough to watch again.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Research

The following is the result of an in depth research project I've been working on since 2007. During this time, I have been following closely the effects of alcohol on your ability to speak different languages.

Here is a chart:
*Horizontal axis, number of alcoholic drinks consumed, Vertical Axis, ability to speak

Findings-Alcohol aides in the ability to speak, as you lose your inhibitions. However, binge drinking, ie more than two will significantly lower your ability to speak any languages (including your mother tongue.) While these findings will vary based on your initial ability to speak a language, your weight, and alcoholic tolerance, it's safe to say that a limited amount of alcohol is beneficial.

Conclusions-Booze doesn't actually make you fluent, but you definitely feel like you are.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Alright, 24th year, let's do this.

As today marks my twenty fourth year of existence (although technically, I am currently in France, and I was born in California, which is nine hours behind, and I was born at 11amish, so I still have a few more hours to bask in being 23...) I've decided to make a list of accomplishments/possessions.

+College Graduate
+Not knocked up
+Learning a third language
(-Forgetting the second one)
+I have a job
+I have really good health insurance
+I have a vague idea of what I want to do when I grow up (which is apparently coming up quick)
+I've finally realized how wonderful and supportive my family is, and how lucky I am to have them
+Cell phone
+Netbook
+Thumb drive
+I can make Green Chile Chicken
+I'm happy ?

Meager and unremarkable as the list may appear, I think I'm comfortable with growing up. Last night, instead of going into Paris to party with friends, Gui Gui and I had dinner with his friend Stan and his girlfriend. We all split up the dinner, and took over different parts. Stan and Maeva made the apero, Gui Gui made the entree (escargot!!) I made a chicken, and Gui Gui made a chocolate mousse for dessert. And, it was nice. We went over to Stan's later and played cards and watched Slumdog Millionaire. What was I doing this time last year? Riding around metros with Tati and going into crappy clubs, and breaking into Peter's apartment at three in the morning. It was fun, but that chapter is over, and quite frankly, I'm relieved.

I still woke up with a hangover (three euro wine will do that to you) but, at least I didn't feel completely lost. Rather, I knew exactly where I was, and I was glad to be there, laying in the direct center of Gui Gui's bed, with all of his pillows, and all of his blankets.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Driving Rants, Illustrated!



This is a diagram of one of my favorite intersections in France. Gold star if you can a) figure it out and b) explain it to me:


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Driving Rants, Once Again

Something amusing happened to me on the way to Gui Gui's yesterday. When leaving the village I live in, you have to take a road that is a huge hill up to Saint Ger, where Gui Gui lives. It's basically a massive S-curve at a 45 degree angle. It's also one lane, so when you're stuck behind a moped with two people that is going well under the 45 km/hr speed limit you have to be patient. Fortunately for you, you are in no particular hurry, so you follow the moped with care, as you don't want to risk your life, or theirs.

Then you look in your rearview mirror and see some pute behind you, about three inches from your back bumper. As I said before, the road is one lane, so you can't really figure out why he is trying to overtake you on a one lane s-curve that's essentially on a cliff. So you brake-check him, because he's now one inch from your bumper, and he get's angry and starts cursing at you and making obscene gestures, so you with your window open return the favor (minus gestures).

When he has the opportunity, he speeds around you, giving you the finger. You laugh it off and come up to a red light, to see the moped. The moron on the moped looks at you, and starts revving his engine, as a challenge, you wonder? Does he think you were yelling at him? Anyway you ignore him and let him exercise his pathetic attempt at manhood, and drive off when the light turns green.

Mon Dieu.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Barcelona, Addiction.

I just got back from Spain, (Catalonia, more specifically), and I fell head over heals in love. I spent a day in Reus, and another three in Barcelona. Usually, when I leave France, I miss it, and I am eager to come back. Spain, however, makes my heart ache. I can't pinpoint the exact reason for my obsession, but I suspect it has a great deal to do with the glorious sunshine.
Besides the annoying fact that people speak Catalan (sorry Catalunians, if anyones out there reading this, but I find the language...bizarre) the city's got everything. Good food, cheap booze, mind blowing architecture (this fabulous juxtaposition of Gaudi-esque modernism with more traditional Parisian buildings), the beach, the Spanish, legit metros, sweet parks, and crazy colors, everywhere.

Another pleasant aspect of the trip, were my travel companions. I've known Lauren since I was eight or so, and she is also Au Pairing. After this year, she will finish with her family, hopefully start grad school and live with her boyfriend in Barcelona. Before I left, I turned to her and said "Just to let you know, I think what you're doing is awesome." Some people may see moving to another country in part to stay with a man to be stupid, but not me. I'm ridiculously jealous that this isn't even in the realm of possibility for my boyfriend..

But I did want to mention the support system that we Au Pairs seem to rely on.

One of the things that goes with being an au pair is the inevitable "what the hell am i doing with my life" questions, that will more or less plague you for your entire living-the-life,-just-in-poverty stint. How do we manage to effectively ignore these questions? Simple, we cling to our friends and help convince eachother that we are doing something worthwhile. In addiction jargon, these would be called co-dependents, or enablers.

Now, not all Au Pairs, and certainly not all expats, or Erasmus students become enablers. These are the type of people who have no real interest in their country of occupation and will leave as soon as their time is up. While us addicts may have non-addict friends, we know that deep down inside, we dont have anything in common. Because, afterall, it is we the addicts, who spend sleep less nights pondering, why is it that i love this country that hates me so? or Why do I get such a thrill from being a foreigner? Is it worth it to be illegal? and Should I put an order on craigslist to become a mail order bride for the EU passport? (This idea just came to me, and the more I think about it, the better I like it.)

I have a friend here in Paris, Kayleigh, and everytime we are alone together one of us brings up the "Oh my God, what am I going to do after I leave France?" conversation.This consists of us listing our lack of skills. We're both the same age, both have been out of school for several years and both are spinning our heals in France waiting for some great idea to come along... But almost a year and a half later, it still hasn't.

I don't think I'm wasting my time here, but at some point, I'm going to have to gather together what I've learned and turn it into some redeemable job worthy quality.

Let's set our sights for January 2012.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Surprises and "Draguer"

To my great surprise and pleasure, I received a message this week from an old friend, Kita, who was in Paris with her sister. It'd been about six years since we'd seen eachother, and probably longer than that that we had actually spent time together. She's someone I've known since I was ten years old, and we have a history, and this is something I miss with my friends here in France.

After making every rookie train mistake possible, I landed in Bercy. We got back on the train and headed towards Chatelet, where Kita's sister, Ashley, bought a new coat. Following the beaten tourist track and we wandered towards Notre Dame and Saint Michel. We ducked in for a drink, and after an hour or so, we decided to head up to the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, bottles of wine in tow.

Although touristy, I love the Sacre Coeur. It's big, blindingly white, and sits at the edge of Paris, overlooking it's city. At night, it looks rather lovely with the lights of the city twinkling to the South. We continued our chat about past relationships, past jobs, and past problems between the two us.

After not too long, however, two mecs approached us. I made the mistake of speaking in French, and they decided to stick around. Kita doesn't speak French, Ashley took four years, in highschool. Trying to be polite as possible, I explained to them that while it was very kind to talk to us, we wanted to talk amongst ourselves. They didn't get it, the first time, or the tenth. We finally moved, and they refound us.

It was absurd. I don't understand how someone can just stick around, even though we were completely ignoring them, and I specifically said "I don't want to talk to you." I told them we all had boyfriends, I told them that my friends didn't speak French, so how could we communicate? It was like they were playing this stupid game, and only they got to make the rules. It's not flattering, it's obnoxious, and made them look pathetic. In French, the word for hit on, is draguer, which also means literally, to drag. I can only assume that these morons must have interpretted this literally, and intended to drag us kicking and screaming out of Montmarte and out on a date.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Giverny


Yesterday, Gui Gui and I got our act together and headed west to the town of Giverny. Giverny is a small down on the edge of Normandie that is mostly famous for housing the house and gardens of Claude Monet, one of the better known impressionist painters.

We left just after noon, and drove the hour or so it took to get there. I love driving this route towards Normandy in the Spring time, because everything is becoming green and the Colza flowers are in bloom. Colza is a type of oil, and the flowers are a retina-burning shade of yellow. Against a blue sky it is truly spectacular.

Anyway, we arrived in Giverny, wandered around, and had crepes for lunch, and cokes which cost 4.50 a piece. I had a hard time not complaining about this, and as I saw Gui Gui's eyes glaze over with disinterest, I switched to English so he wouldn't have to pretend like he was trying to listen. Anyway, we finally got into the gardens which were awesome. It was jam-packed with flowers, mostly tulips.

Attached to the flower garden, is the Jardin D'Eau, which features the Pont Japonais, which you may or may not recognize. (That's me in the orange dress, and five or ten of my closest friends)The weather was beautiful, and although it got a little cloudy, there was no rain. We went into Monet's house, which was, interesting, but as we were too cheap to buy the guide book, we just wandered around looking at the Japanese paintings. (This confused me at first, because I didn't realize there was an exhibition, and I just assumed that Monet REALLY liked Japanese art...)

As I've said before, France really does Spring well. I don't want to admit how impressed I am, but, the green trees and flower blooms even make the Seine look beautiful (dead bodies and pollution aside). I also realized, to my pleasure, that the lilacs are out in full force. They are so perfumed, I can smell the bushes before I see them. I am very rarely inspired to take pictures of anything, but I have found myself reaching for my camera more and more in the last few weeks.

I hope it never stops.







Sunday, April 10, 2011

Friendship, Privacy, and the 21st century.

I am currently sitting outside, squinting to see my computer screen, and discussing friendship with Gui Gui. He's tired, after last night's festivities, and playing, as per usual, something on his Iphone. Sharing a boyfriend with a piece of technology is difficult, so here I sit.

The French have a reputation for being closed off and cold. I have read, and heard, that a major issue between the French and Americans originates because of how open and bubbly Americans are, supposedly the French find this insincere and off-putting. I don't agree with this, necessarily. The French I have met, as of recently, have been friendly and inviting. Even Gui Gui's female friends (after two or three times of hanging out) do the bisou and talk pleasantly with me.

But, one thing I have noticed, comes from a good friends of mine--Facebook. Gui Gui and I, obviously are friends on Facebook. And although I have spent much time with his friends, the only "friend" we have in common, is one of mine. I actually don't care that much, but I do think it's an interesting manifestation of the French friendship. For example, when I have met friends of Tati's, who are mostly Spanish, or hispanophone, they have friended me, or accepted a friend request immediately. Now, I'm not naive enough to believe that your friend status on Facebook actually matters, at all. But I do find it interesting, that one of my friends here, who has apparently stopped speaking to me, is friends with me on facebook, while one of Gui Gui's best friend, whom I've met and spent time with and would call a friend, has yet to accept me.

In turn, because I had Facebook when I was 18, before it got as huge as it is now, and during those precious first months of college, when you want to befriend the world, I have something like 800 friends. Gui Gui, everytime he see this number he tellls me "Mais putain! Porquoi t'as autant d'amis? Tu les vraiment connais?" And then I try to explain how back in the day, things were different.

It's funny though, when one of my friends friended him, he turned to me, bewildered, and asked why she had done that. As an American, I would never think that this was bizarre. You meet someone, that is friends with one of your friends, maybe you don't have their phone number, but you could get in contact through facebook. Or, if you're like me, and you do your study abroad in South America, you keep in contact with everyone that you met, because you never know what country you may end up in.

I guess that's where privacy comes in play. The French view of privacy, is something that I have a bit of a hard time understanding. In the US, there are a few issues that seem to be always in the news, and something that everyone has an opinion on. Some examples-gun control, abortion, the first ammendment. In France, an issue that comes up frequently, is privacy. I was at Gui Gui's house yesterday, watching TV with him and his brother. The feature story, was about spam phone calls and text messages. Apparently, companies get a hold of a phone number and sell them. Then, for reasons incomprehensible to me, someone out there created a business model that involves texting these numbers saying something along the lines of "Hey, it's a sexy woman, give me a call, and we can meet for a drink sometime." You call this 089 number, and basically pay out the ass. And, as it's still going on, it's apparently lucrative...Whatever.

Anyway, so as this has become quite a nuisance, the program continued to show a man who's job it was to combat this spam plague. He basically spent all day calling numbers and then cutting the line if they were for spamming.

Now, it's important to keep the following in mind a)I have done no actual research, which is the glory of having a blog and b) it's been a while since I've watched a feature new story like this in the US so therefore c) I could be wildly off base here BUT, I can't see this happening in the US. Spam exists, and I would have never even thought about trying to cut off the source, because they're just doing business right? (yeeeah capitalism) Yes, you get spammed, but, can't you just delete the text message? In France, you know that all cell phones start with a 06, or more recently 07, so if you see that the number isn't one of those, and you don't know the person, isn't it obvious? But here, the issue all stems back from the numbers being sold by companies. Their privacy has been violated, and here comes the French to intervene.

So, with this mentality floating around, no wonder Gui Gui is immediately suspicious of people out there seeing his facebook. I don't care, I don't have anything on there that I would feel necessary to hide, more than that....

I want people to read this blog, so go ahead Mark Zuckerberg, SELL ME.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Itinerary for Vacation

Saturday-Dinner chez moi, Paris frolicking
Sunday-Giverny
Monday-Nothing
Tuesday-Nothing
Wednesday-Nothing
Thursday-Monday-Barcelona
Tuesday-Friday-Play with kiddies
Saturday-Monday-Nothing

Sound like a good week?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trickery and the Inner Child

I'm not really that into "games," "planning," or "activities." I really, really prefer to live, when possible, spontaneously. Which is why yesterday, I was rather pleased with myself for planning, executing, and realizing my desired results.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and I knew that if I asked VH to pick romping around in the park over his videogame, he would choose the computer. He was also in desperate need of a hair cut, which he had violently protested last week. So I resorted to an old family secret--blatant deception.

JR had told me he would be finished with handball around 4:30, I turned to VH, at 3, and told him we had to leave to get JR, it's a ten minute drive. I drove to the haircutter first, and told VH we were meeting JR inside. VH isn't stupid, but I have realized half the battle with him is getting him out the door. Once inside we scheduled an appointment for 4:30.

VH said to me, "Now we have to go home, and then just come right back!"
I replied, "No, we're going to the park by your school."
VH-"If I had known I would have brought a ball!"
Me-"Look in the trunk."

VH went complacently towards the park, and played football happily for quite a while before getting tired and wanting to leave. I think he liked that I tricked him, or rather I think he saw it as a game. He knew what was going on, but he played along for fun. I felt accomplished, and I was pleased to see him laughing and playing outside, and not glued to his Ipad or the TV.

The thing that you learn about au pairing, is that playing is way more fun than sitting around and doing nothing. My new kids are older, and are allowed to play with technology, which is kind of boring. I try and force them outside now that the weather's nice, and its half for them, half to make them interact with me. Yesterday, after VH found a little friend to play foot with, and because I'm pathetic at soccer, I wandered over to JR playing basketball and asked him to pass me the ball.

It was fun. I hadn't played basketball in probably a decade, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. We just passed and shot the ball, and did a little dribbling, so it was nothing serious, but it was a nice way to pass some time with JR. He's fourteen, so it's a little difficult to break into his psyche. He's not in to talking so much as cutting me down and making snarky comments.

We headed back a few hours later (after cutting VH's hair) and the two boys disappeared to various corners of the house, with laptops in hand.

At least they got a few hours outside.

Memorable Enfant Quotes

VH-Yeah today when we went to meet the Mayor...

Me-You met the mayor? Why?

VH-I meet loads of mayors.


VH-It takes the average person about 365 days to complete a year

Me-Oh yeah? How long does it take you?

VH-About 185.

L (Friend of VH)-No don't worry Robin, after the end of the world, you'll be in Heaven.

Me-Oh thanks, L, that's nice ot hear.

L-Well everyone goes to Heaven...er, except Bin Ladin.


Why Can't I Quit You?

Living in France is like being in an abusive relationship. He beats you up, makes you cry, and destroys your self esteem.

Then he brings flowers, chocolates, and sunshine, and makes you fall in love all over again.

Philosophy

On a walk to pick up the BMW today, VH began to share his beliefs on reincarnation and his predictions for the future. Reincarnation. While our souls go up to Heaven, it is our bodies that reincarnate, only with a different soul inside. That's to say, this body I'm using has reincarnated several times, but my soul itself is new. When I die, my soul will go up to Heaven, but my body will return in the next lifetime. The future. In one thousand years, society will change severely. There will be no cash, stores will still exist, but you can do as you please. Gravity will become optional, and we will have jet packs that allow us to activate or deactivate gravity. Eating will still be necessary, but we will be able to go several weeks without eating. We will also have full control over the weather. If I am out to dinner, with a friend, and I want sun, I will see sun, meanwhile, if they want clouds, they will see clouds. I will be able to have sun as often as possible, no matter the time of day.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bicultural Relationships

Last night, against my better judgement, I went into Paris with Gui Gui. We went to the seventeenth, to see a friend of his, drink a few beers, and as per usual, have several impromptu French lessons.

I was running late, and the A14 was closed, so we didn't make it into the city until after eleven. We miraculously found parking right outside the building and used the fifteen thousand codes that Paris apartment require and finally found ourselves, naturally, outside the wrong door. Gui Gui finally starting yelling Niehls' name, and we looked down the hall, to see a large, dark figure shadow the door of the apartment to the right. After a few laughs, we entered the relatively spacious Parisian apartment (boasting enough room for AT LEAST five people.) It was one of those places that would have been nice, if I lived there, but as it was occupied by a 21 year old engineering student, it wasn't. I didn't care that much, but Gui Gui had a hard time hiding his disgust. The floor was littered with school papers, I counted at least ten empty cigarette boxes, and plenty of fast food wrappers.

Niehls is a nice guy. Gregarious, not self possessed, and funny. But, as Gui Gui and Niehls sat there discussing Niehls' tattoo, and I attempted to catch every word, I had one more realization.

Cross cultural dating is hard. I wouldn't be seeing Gui Gui, if I wasn't comfortable with him, I wouldn't be meeting his friends either, if I was concerned that it would be boring, because it's not. But the language thing, is such a pain the ass. There is nothing more frustruating, than listening to a conversation, wanting to understand it, and not. It feels absurd. When Gui Gui are together, just the two of us, I understand about 92 percent of what he says, when he talks to his friends, or yesterday when he was talking to his sister, I miss more than I should admit.

I was a little buzzed when we left last night (at 230 am) and I was feeling nostalgic, and telling him how much I would like to show him my country. It's a little unsettling, to be living in a place so foreign, and be with someone who can show where they drank their first beer, or where they used to set bon fires, or where they went to middle school. Meanwhile, the only memories I can share are "Oh man, I love this song!" I am vaguely nostalgic for the days when I could say, "I know this place that I used to go when I was younger, I'll take you next weekend."

He asked me then, "Do you think I would get along with your friends?" Of course!

.........If you spoke the same language. Because as hard as it was for me to go out with Gui Gui's friends, I at least get the gist of the conversation, that is, I don't understand every word, but I know what they're talking about. And while Gui Gui's English isn't nonexistant, he has a hard time following me and my anglofriends. We went out for Saint Patrick's Day, but we pretty much had to float between my friends, and his friends. Mine will be speaking in English (and we wont change for anyone), and his will be speaking in French.

Goes with the territory, I guess.