Monday, November 29, 2010

I legitimately don't know why I'm here.

The title says it all.  Not to say that I don't enjoy being here, I'm really starting to like Paris, at least when I don't have to stay outside in the cold for extended periods of time.  I mean it in the sense that the woman I work for should not by any reason or logic need me.  She is a stay-at-home mom, and in addition to me, she has also employed a woman who cooks lunch and sometimes dinner and cleans the apartment 4 days a week, and a woman who does homework with her daughter for an hour 6 days a week and her son 2 days.  She doesn't clean, she cooks less than half the meals we eat, and I share responsibility for her children every week night and 5 hours on weekends.  What in the world does she do with her time?

Also, my job is apparently not limited to caring for the kids.  Sometime this week I am expected to come 2 hours early to change the dates on hundreds of brochures she has printed for an event that her "association" is organizing.  She doesn't work, she doesn't cook, she doesn't clean, her only apparent job is to organize this event, and she can't even manage that without paying someone to do the work for her?  I am taking 2 days off this weekend to go to Athens, so I can't exactly complain about the extra hours, but I was not aware that my job also included secretary work (and this is not the first time I've made spreadsheets, stuffed envelopes, etc. for her "event").

I have a few theories for how she spends her time.  1) She is having an affair. (Quelle scandale!)  2) She is trafficking drugs for the mob.  3) She is an undercover nazi.  I mean, her husband did sell his "orange juice company" to Germans and now spends several days a week in Germany for "business."  It could work.

But, if nothing else, I have further evidence for why I tend to dislike the children of stay-at-home moms (Wilson family exluded).

Oh, and P.S. - if this woman says one more thing about "when you have your own children" I might just have to (tactfully) let her know that her children are severely decreasing the probability of that ever actually happening.  As if it needed to be decreased in the first place.

EDIT: my mother's comment to this post, via email (just thought it was hilarious enough to share):

"If any of your 3 suspicions  are correct, and anyone finds out you have them, you could be 1) without a job, 2) at the bottom of the Seine with concrete shoes or 3) a POW in a very uncomfortable living situation.  I hope they don't know you have a blog...Love, Mom"

Friday, November 26, 2010

There's a winter wonderland outside my window.

So it's November 26, the day after Thanksgiving (which I spend babysitting), and it's snowing.  I am no longer a snow virgin.  This plus the winter carnival thing down the Champs Elysees towards Place de la Concorde make me feel like I'm in the North Pole.  Cue Christmas music.

Sadly, it seems to be stopping, and the sky is clearing up, so I won't be able to walk around in it or anything (it will probably just be wet and slippery by the time I leave my apartment) but I have a feeling this won't be our last encounter.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Travel tip #1: don't get sick.

This week Paris has decided to rebel against me and make it clear that I am not welcome.  Apart from getting yelled at at the bank for not knowing how to deposit money in the ATM, getting yelled at at the internet store because apparently the guy couldn't understand what I wanted from him ("Combien je doit vous payer a la fin de ce mois?" did not seem that complicated to me) and wasting beaucoup de time with the family sitting around doing nothing, I recently developed a dreaded UTI and was forced to seek refuge at a local pharmacy.

Pharmacies here are easily recognizable by the neon green crosses they are required to display.  However, pharmacies in France are not like pharmacies in America, where you can (semi-) privately browse for your drug of choice, pay for it without any explanation, and grab some chips while you're at the register.  In France, everything of value is behind the counter.  You have to wait in line, and when you get to the counter you must tell the pharmacien/pharmacienne what's wrong with you and what symptoms you have (while the other people in line behind you listen in) and then they make their recommendation.  I'm assuming/hoping these people are medically trained to some degree.  Fortunately my pharamien spoke English and understood my problem easily, and happily gave me cranberry pills to drop my last 20 euros on (well worth it).  But all I could think of, as I stood in line waiting for my turn (and letting the weird guy behind me go first so he wouldn't hear what would I was sure would be a feeble and embarrassing attempt at describing my situation in a foreign language), was what if some poor traveler was in dire need of some pepto?  I could only imagine standing there and publicly explaining the problem in broken French and quite possibly a game of charades, all while fighting off the next impending wave of nausea/heartburn/indigestion/upset stomach/diarrhea.  They don't make this process easy for us foreigners.

On the bright side, though, I had my appointment with OFII Monday morning.  I am now officially a resident of France, and I have the sticker in my passport to prove it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The rude Parisian vs. the Ugly American

I feel like the question I get from 95% of the people I talk to about Paris is "Are the Parisians rude to you?" (or some variation of that).  So here I go to set things straight.  In general, Parisians are not any more rude than your average city person, but living in the number 1 tourist destination in the world has its downsides.

There is a different set of etiquette here than what we have in the US.  For instance, when you walk into a store, it is pretty much imperative for you to greet the store owner with "Bonjour Madame/Monsieur" before you just go about your business.  If you forget to do this, they will be displeased with you, and it will show.  If you follow this rule, the whole trip will be much easier.

Take, for instance, the Snooty, Rude Waiter, a Parisian stereotype.  In America, a bad waiter is one who does not come around often enough to check on you, who makes you wait too long to get the bill, etc.  Essentially, one who ignores you.  Here, however, checking on you too often, and bringing the bill too soon is considered rude; it would be like rushing you to finish and get the hell out.  You wait, not because they are incompetent, but because they want you to have time to enjoy your meal ("deguster" is the word for savoring food).  Consider on top of that that the average American probably does not greet the waiter the way it is done here, and just launches into a tirade of orders (probably in English) spoken a bit louder than the acceptable level in Paris (we do speak loudly, I admit), and the entire experience is ill-fated from there.

Of course, stereotypes come from somewhere, and in 2007 the tourism department in Paris launched a campaign called "Paris est vous," distributing leaflets encouraging citizens (and tourists) to be more polite, and giving friendliness and hygiene workshops to local taxi drivers. Maybe I am experiencing the wake of this campaign and am not getting the worst of it.  In fact, the Japanese embassy reported that in 2006, 12 Japanese tourists suffered from what they call "Paris Syndrome," when excessively-polite Japanese (mostly women in their mid-30s) come to Paris with very high expectations for what might just be their first trip abroad, and are so thrown off by the rudeness of the locals in their "dream city" that they experience a nervous breakdown, and must be deported back to Japan immediately with medical staff to take care of them on the trip. So maybe I'm wrong.

All in all, though, the basic Golden Rule we all learned in elementary school still stands, it just needs a little cultural education to help out.

PS - from the brochure for Parisians and for Tourists:

"The charter of committments for Parisians reads:
   • I will take the time to give information to visitors.
   • I will make use of my foreign-language skills to reply to them in their language.
   • I will recommend to visitors things I appreciate about Paris.
   • I am proud of my city, the No 1 tourist destination in the world.
And the commitments for the visitor are: 
   • I will experience the Parisian lifestyle.
   • I will take advantage of my stay to try French products.
   • I will respect the city and use public transport."