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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stereotypes and Xenophobia

Conversation last night:
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


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
+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


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
Tuesday-Friday-Play with kiddies

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, 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.


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.