Thursday, March 31, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
There's that famous quote "Not all who wander are lost." Well good for them, because the longer I live away from my native land the more I realize just how lost I am. Up until I graduated college, I was on a path, I wasn't sure where exactly, but it was guided and easy to follow. Now, here I am, over a year later after I decided to go off this path and I am no closer to finding what I'm searching for. But now the question becomes, well, what AM I searching for? Culture? What kind of culture? Art that someone painted four hundred years ago? My Dad chastises me for not taking advantage of all the beautiful Parisian things that I could surround myself with. Yes, I could wander the Tuillerie gardens, for the hundreth time, or fight the crowds at Monmarte. But at the end of the day, what's the point? Nah, no thank you, I'll pick and choose myself what I want to see, I don't prefer doing just what other people tell me.
I read an article in some periodical, that was written by some author whose name I can't remember. None of that is important. But he did bring up an interesting point. In the 1800s it was popular for upper class boys to go on a Grand Tour of Europe, during which time they would go on ragers and see all these classical pieces of art. Occasionally, they were so overwhelmed by the beauty of the artwork that they would faint out of shear awe. The writer went on to say that modern day humans merely observe all these great works of art, and culture just to check them off a list. So they can go back to their country of origin and smugly tell their coworkers "Why yes, I was at the Eiffel Tower, we walked by it on a lovely sunny day after drinking a little café crème, but you know, it wasn't that impressive..." So perhaps da Vinci is turning over in his grave, but excuse me when I say, I don't give a shit about seeing the Mona Lisa.
Okay, that's a little bold. I do give a shit about her, I just am not in any particular hurry to see her. I have wandered by the Louvre about a thousand times, and I have yet to enter. But before you bawk, think about it, how many Parisians do you think have seen actually the artwork there? You think the Banlieue punks on the metro spend their time eating baguettes in Parc Luxembourg? Nah. They're too busy harrassing everyone on the street for drink and cigarettes. And while I'm not trying to lump myself together with these hoodlums who rock pastel sweatpants and bad haircuts, we do have something in common. We live here. And Paris is a big, busy city. Yes, it has fabulous architecture and its world famous, but it's home for us. I work during the week, a lot. As we all know, childcare is no small feat. On the weekends I want to spend time sleeping, or seeing my friends.
I'm not a tourist anymore, and that's that.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Butchers-Ah Yess you are English!
Me-Oui, mais j'ai oublié, como on dit "butcher" en français?
Scene-Chez Gui Gui
Me-Mais Gui Gui, on a profité ajourdhui!
Gui Gui-On a profité de quoi? Ta main?
Scene-Gui Gui's phone, can't repeat this in French, so rough translation--
Phone-Yes, Hello this is Mr. X calling on behalf of the recruitment office in Saint Germain en Laye. As you know we are currently at war in Libya so we are reenacting the draft. My sources tell me that you are now available to be drafted. We will be using the Navy to go forward with this, unfortunately we don't have any more boats available, so we are going to swim. Training starts at the pool in Saint Germain at noon on Friday. Thank you.
Devant Chez Gui Gui, after I went on a walk with him and his nephew, while he was babysitting.
Maman de Gui Gui- T'avais besoin d'une nounou?
Then October comes, the days get shorter, the weather gets colder. The sun, up until this point a daily attendee, starts getting lazy, showing up late, or not at all. As October seeps into November, he's gone. You don't know what you did to upset him, but you're on your own.
November becomes December, and while the holidays come around, the kids are suffering from cabin fever, and the parents are working more. The day ends at 4 PM. The sun has not returned. Your mood descends. Maybe you go home for Christmas, maybe you don't, all you know is the New Year will be difficult.
January brings more cold, more snow, but, upliftingly, a little more daylight. Then February arrives and something strange happens. You wake up one morning to something in your face. Confused, you roll around in your bed until you realize....
THE SUN HAS RETURNED! YOU MADE IT!
February passes quick, and March begins. Flowers pop up, to remind you, although you thought the weather was beyond hope, Spring will come! Reopen the season. The kids smile again, and you look forward to long walks in the parks, picnics in Paris, night runs, bottles of wine passed amongst friends, sun tans, and the holy French vacations.
This, the Au Pair realizes, is why we are here!
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
These are the kinds of friends who think completely different than me, and yet, exactly the same. These are the kinds of friends who can tactfully give advice, because we understand eachother. They are the friends that aren't jealous, because we have been together so long, we appreciate eachother and can share eachother with different people. We've watched eachother go through relationships, and all secretly know the "one" for eachother. We fear for eachother, and we watch out for eachother. We annoy eachother, and we forgive eachother.
In fifteen years of friendship, I have never said anything catty about these two girls. One, it is a hundred percent not my style to say something about someone I wouldn't discuss with them face to face. (I wont say that I have never done it, but mostly, I try to avoid it.)
I hate dishonesty more than anything.
Which brings in why I probably like the French so much. Scratch that, most Europeans. One thing that really bothers me about my people, is dishonesty. I get nervous around Americans sometimes, because there's this implication of not being a hundred percent truthful. I get a lot of criticism, and oftentimes come off as a jerk, I think, because I have a hard time being bubbly and obnoxiously friendly. (Holy shit, I have been in France WAY too long.) Being friendly and kind is not a negative trait. It's lovely to be friendly the first time you meet someone. What bothers me, is after I spend a dozen times with the person, and they appear on guard, they agree with you, etc. Don't know what I mean? For example, Tati, my Spanish friend. If I tell her about an adventure that I had, she tells me exactly what she thinks of it, and why. She's not being a jerk, she's just being herself. And why would I get mad at her for having her opinions?
My former host mother, S, was always upfront and honest. At first, I was taken aback, then I grew to love it. I was never wondering "but what did she REALLY mean by that?" Gui gui, after I did a betise on Saturday, absolutely did not take my side. He told me what he thought, and why. He wasn't trying to placate me, I don't think it would have ever occured to him that I could have gotten mad at him. N, the new host father, is French and tells me things as is. It's not him being rude, but sometimes, sentences, are a business transaction. This needs to get done, you are my employee, point.
Maybe I'm just getting older (or brainwashed) but I am finally ok with myself. I still get restless, but not as much as I did before. I see my friends as humans, falliable beings who are free to do as they please. I think when I was younger, I really felt "OMG BFF 4EVA," but now, I choose to spend with people I enjoy talking to, when I have the time. And unfortunately, I do not have a lot of time.
Maybe it's getting older, maybe it's the French, or maybe it's earning a salary that breaks down to 3 euros an hour, but I think somewhere in the last fourteen months, I have found some little part of myself that I was missing.
Friday, March 18, 2011
I had yet one more crash course in bureaucracy in late November; and thus my tale begins on a snowy November morning.
For reasons unknown to me, and despite it being 2011 (or 2010 at the time) the form that is needed to start the carte de sejour proccess can only be obtained with a trip to the Prefecture in Versailles. This requires getting up at 5 am, catching the bus at 5:30 and waiting outside in sub zero temperatures until 9 when the place opens. Then you get to wait inside. Then you wait in the right line, they look at your pictures, then you get a number and wait in another line. At this point, they give you the paperwork you need for your carte de sejour. Which, they assure you, can be done by post.
Then you get home, and actually read the document they gave you and realize, it ain't the right one. You curse, a lot, and throw your phone around and finally resign that you have to do this process YET AGAIN.
After a lot of tears, you go back again and get the right paper work for an "Aide Familiale." It consists of a questionnare demanding to know if you are in a polygamous marriage and if your parents too are illegal aliens. There's also a huge list of documents that you are required to bring including but not limited to, birth certificates, proof of residence, proof of employment, blood type, severed left leg, and first born child (if a legal citizen).
Anyway, you are now legally permitted to stay in France until the date of yet one more rendezvous in which you are to go back yet again and turn in the paperwork. Then, you wait another month and you will be notified by post to come back and pick up the actual carte du sejour.
So thousands of massacred trees later, here we are, one step away from being legally recognized.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Scene-I'm picking up SA from school, we drive up the road to take a left. There is a pathetic excuse for a rondpoint, and I graciously let some mec drive through, although it's technically my turn. He drives through. Another Jerkoff on the right, naturally decides to profit off my goodnaturedness (word?) and plows through the intersection. This isn't a big deal really, I think to myself, because he is going straight, because after all his indicator is NOT on. Wrongo. He's actually turning left into my lane. It's a beautiful day, so the windows are opened. Jerkoff is screaming at me because I'm kind of blocking the way of MY lane, and I couldn't quite understand him, but he must have been saying, "What ze hell is wvong vit you seely foreign girl!? How dare zat you var not able to veed my mind!? Don't you know that in ze France we zar all capable of zees talent!?"
So naturally, I was also yelling in English, and the other random van, who was also embroiled in a traffic jam (no injuries) actually had the nerve to mock me as I was speaking in English.
I wasn't aware that thirteen year old boys were allowed to drive.
Friday, March 11, 2011
I find that Au Pairs are pretty much in three different categories. We have, "family Au Pair," "business Au Pair," and "Slave."
Family Au Pair-Lucky you! You have found a family that understands the nature of Au Pairing, and will simultaneously teach you about the culture while keeping to the limits that were originally specified in your contract. You will do few babysittings, and any house work or extras will at least be acknowledged by a "Thank you." You will discipline the children as needed, and the parents will work with you with the children. The family will ask, rather than tell you when you work extra and will be completely open to helping you with any issues. The children may or may not be well behaved, but they will probably respect you on some level. Extra bonus--you will be invited on vacations! Expected to work, but will not be asked for gas money or payment for accomodations. Downside, they may be bewildered as to why you want to see other people on your free time. They also tend to be a little newer, and make mistakes such as, not paying you on time, or assume that you love their children as much as they do, etc...
Business Au Pair-Luck you! You have entered a relationship with a family that has several years of Au Pairing experience. They've had many different girls, and are pretty adaptable. You probably get paid more, and they see you a bit more of a Personal Assistant. You run errands, cook dinner, and basically have free range to manage the household as you want. The parents probably will be traveling more, but it won't be that big of a deal, as your children are most likely older and can entertain themselves. Another bonus, they will understand your need to flee on your time off. You will a hundred percent definitely be working more than the usual Au Pair.
Slave-Lucky you! You get the opportunity to live en La France! You are considered a person with feelings and needs HALF of the time you are working!
Ah, the rich. They will spend several thousand euros on a new car they dont need, and several more to send their kids to expensive school, and yet several more to impromptu trips to South Africa, or Asia, and you see how they can afford it. They nickel and dime the SHIT out of their nanny. They search out Au Pairs, who are cheaper than Nanny's, but expect the same amount of hours/dedication. Most families have at least one aspect of the job that sure makes you feel like a slave. For me, it was Fridays last year. Some examples--being required to work seven days a week, working on Sundays with no notice, phone calls at seven am to come home on a Saturday to dress an infant, leaving class to come home to pick up a sick child, and the list goes on. I think that least sometimes, the parents are just really out of touch, and actually believe that you have nothing in the world better to do than come and raise their children. They have a hard time believing that you are in France to SEE France, not to see the inside of a playroom.
The real problem comes when you are in the awkward position of a family who has kids they don't really have an interest in. Perhaps Dad is older, and never really wanted kids, but was beat down by Mom. Or maybe both just find that kids give you status. Or maybe they just don't know how to deal with kids. Either way, sucks for you, Au Pair. Because you're going to be left with kids who have no idea how to deal with life or show love, and take out all their anger on you on a regular basis.
There's no perfect situation, just like there is no perfect family. What you learn to do is weigh the positives and negatives. Usually your weekends, friends, experiences, etc will make up for the shitty things. Sometimes they don't, and you take off in the middle of the night, leaving your key in the mailbox.
I truly believe though, despite the ups and downs of taking a year to do this, it is worth it. I also believe that the best way to deal with things, is to separate your freetime and your job. If dinner gets burned, or we're five minutes late for basketball, who cares? It's not life or death, and it's best to not get caught up in the small things. If you're in a family who will bitch at you for it, then screw them.
Case in point--I was with VH last week going to golf. We were supposed to go pick up his friend from his house and drive together. VH was having a bad day, and it took forever for him to get his things together and we left at 1:20. Golf starts at 1:30, it takes twenty minutes to get there. It was impossible. I was getting really frustruated with VH, so he decided to move twenty times slower to show that he was in control. I was really annoyed and talked to him sternly about how important it is to listen to me and it was overall a bad afternoon. Then I just sort of realized, "This doesn't matter, at all." It's not my fault, and this has no bearing on my self worth. So after a few minutes of fuming, I decided, ok let it go, and now we know for next week. And sure enough, later when I told VH we needed to leave, he got right up and went. Bam, problem solved. He understood it was his fault for being late, so he knows I know what I'm talking about.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Speaking in French, we discussed my life, his life, his sister's life, and finally I asked a series of probing questions about accents and how they sound in French. Thus far I am able to differentiate between the following accents, French (Parisian), French (not Parisian) Canadian, African, English, and Foreigner. They can pretty much be divided into two groups, if I understand, and if I don't. If I don't understand they're most likely French (not Parisian), Canadian, and occasionally African. If I understand they are French (Parisian), English, and usually Foreigner.
Accents are something that have only come with time. I'm quite stupid with accents, even in English, and usually am only able to pick them up if I hear key words. In Spanish, I can feel that an accent is different, but I can't really guess the exact origin.
Anyway, Gui Gui and I were discussing this until we got to Canadians. He started laughing (and I did too, sorry les Quebeckers, but I find your accents amusing), and he started explaining how the Canadians translate all the words, whereas the French usually take the English words and use them. His example "Happy Meal," in France, they use "Happy Meal," in Quebec, they use the direct translation, which I don't recall. Another example occured to me as we sat there. A few months ago I read part of a book by two Canadians called Sixty-Eight Million Frenchmen Can't be Wrong. Basically two Canadians go about disecting French culture. The woman in it, describes her use of the word "thé glacé" instead of "iced tea," that the French say with a French accent.
Why the French have chosen to adopt English words (while simultaneously bitching about it, as we have seen before) I don't know. What I do have a new appreciation for is the Canadians translating everything word for word, and breaking away from "France French," to more direct English translations. Why do I have a new understanding of this phenomenon? Simple, my very own English, which I have been perfecting for the last twenty-three years has fallen victim to French.
Several examples include, telling my dad I need to go to the prefecture, with an English accent, only to be told he didn't know what that meant. "Wait, we don't say prefecture in English?" I asked, bewildered. "Uhh, no, you're going to have to explain that one." I no longer use the word train station with friends, but "gare." I wrote an article trying to use the verb "regarder," in English. Frequently in French, you say, "J'arrive pas faire quelque chose," this means roughly, "I'm not able to do something" or more commonly, "I can't do something." Arriver, means just as it appears, to arrive. I caught myself saying the other day, "I don't arrive to do that."
The worst part? My contact with English speakers, is with friends, who are doing the exact same thing.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Firstly, the roads are small, some one way roads are barely big enough for a car to get through, and the two ways WOULD be big enough for two cars, except one of those lanes is apparently designated for parking. The result? Chicanes. I asked a British woman one time how you say this in English (because I'm too lazy to look it up) and she told me, "Well I don't know, I suppose it would be same word." Oh right, of course I wouldn't know how to say this, because one thing we have an abundance of in the States (besides guns, violence, sex, and immigration) is SPACE. I spent three or four months in Montana/Wyoming and then another two weeks driving back across the southern part of the country. I'm not even sure if we saw other cars when we traversed Wyoming. Anyway, the point is, that roads arent ONE lane, even in older places, like the city of Alexandria in Virginia, a garbage truck on its daily rounds wouldn't stop traffic for two hours.
This "chicanes" phenomenon appears to happen in two different situations, when appointed by the city, in clearly marked parking spots. Or, like most other occurences in France, wherever the hell the French feel like it. So C-townians usually pick a side of the road to park, and, follow me here: If I am driving, and there are cars parked on my side of the road, I stop, if the cars are in the way of the driver coming towards me, THEY stop. Logical right? Add traffic, impatience, my lack of understanding of road laws and it equals A LOT of dirty looks, inappropriate gestures, swearing and near accidents.
Secondly, there exists this mysterious law called "priority to the right," which means, if someone is merging into traffic, and they dont have a stop sign you must yield to them.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Anyway, this is unfortunate for the readers, because honestly, these kids haven't done as many things to make me say "REALLY? Are you TRYING to kill yourself?" And thus far, we are in the honeymoon stage.
VH-Aged eight. Sweet and adorable but stubborn. He does pretty much everything I ask him to, just on his own time, which gets frustruating, especially today, when we were about a half hour late to golf because I tried to rush him, and he diabollically decidede to move ten times slower...He at least has a conscience, so I hope that this was an isolated occasion.*
SA-Aged eleven. She is in sixth grade and so far enjoys talking to me. She's starting to become interested in girly stuff, so thats pretty fun to talk to her about. This age can also be miserable for any adults involved, so I'm hoping that wont start until after I leave.
JR-Aged fourteen. Knows what's going on, he is actually able to direct me places relatively easily, and does a good job for showing disdain over my inability to find places. He has a sense of humor and makes jokes.
The father is French, and the mother is American. She travels a lot, so I've had more face time with him. (I should mention here that we are speaking in French, or at least he's speaking in French and I'm responding in broken French, and asking questions in English). He appears to be the more "particular" one, with specific ways that things are supposed to be, more like S in my previous household. This could be irritating, but knowing myself, I'll just get used to all these little idiosyncracies and then adopt them myself. (Side note, I caught myself making a proper lunch, setting the table, and making the boys eat with me, something I NEVER would have done, and struck me as oddwhen I first got here)
I will most likely be working way more hours than my other job, but that's okay for now. The way I'm feeling about continuing on as a fille au pair is making me wonder how much longer I will be able to handle this.
I'm still not in a big hurry to head back to the US, because, I have a new love. The French language. I'm finally hanging out with people who don't speak English, and it feels wonderful. I love the way it sounds, and I love making sentences. I can't really explain why, I never had a real desire to learn the language, but now I'm a little obsessed. Not obsessed enough to try very hard and study all the time, but obsessed enough to mull the words in my head, and occasionally run to the grammar book to see how exactly it is I'm supposed to conjugate that verb.