Sunday, December 31, 2006

Paranoid or Making Progress?

Our waiter asked me if I was Canadian. Fred assumed he thought I was a Québécoise because of my accent when speaking French. I think it’s because when he tried to seat us in “non-smoking” after scanning the room and pointing out a table at random I said “Là? À côté de la femme avec la cigarette?” he pegged me as American. However, as my girlfriend in London will confirm, it’s somewhat politically incorrect to “accuse” someone of being American. Or similar to asking a woman when her baby is due when she isn’t pregnant. It’s safer to ask if a person is Canadian, thus, not to offend them by calling them American in the event they actually are Canadian. Plus, I know my accent is nowhere near close enough to a true Francophone, even a French-Canadophone!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Crisp & Clean

We gave notice on our apartment on Monday. We’re moving to our new place (below) in mid-January. In order to receive our full security deposit, the rental agency kindly reminded us to perform a thorough cleaning prior to our departure and, above all, we mustn’t forget to iron all the linens. This must be the reason the French have a 35-hour work week. They put in the extra 5+ ironing sheets and face cloths when they get home from work. I much prefer our previous landlord on rue de Temple, a New Yorker who told us to FedEx him the keys after we got our stuff out and he’d mail us our security deposit. Sight unseen.
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Only in France . . .

I stopped by a specialty cookware store yesterday in search of a meat tenderizer. In the midst of halfheartedly showing me the first of two carried by the shop, the lovely Frenchman working the counter came clean, suggesting that I forgo purchasing a meat tenderizer and find a better butcher instead.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Be American. Save Money.

On my way home I passed a normal looking man in his early 30s sitting on a bench across from my house in the cold, damp weather. A backpack and suitcase piled up next to him. He asked me if I spoke English. He genuinely seemed like he was in need of help, like perhaps he had lost his wallet. I said yes. He then asked if I was American, to which I also said yes. He told me to forget it. I pressed the issue but he said he didn't want to talk to me. I asked what his problem was, but he refused to tell me. Although I was fairly certain, I asked him what he was - besides an asshole - but still, he refused to talk. In any event, I delighted in watching him ask strangers for money from the comfort of my balcony. Most people ignored him. Apparently begging for money in my native tongue is perfectly acceptable, however, taking money from my infidel pocket is not. If he knew anything about America, he'd know that today is Thanksgiving, thus, I'm in a giving mood and would have been good for at least 50 centimes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

One benefit of being away from my family on Thanksgiving is that I have time to make Pilgrim-wear for Bilbo. This photo actually is from four years ago, you can tell because we had just got him and hadn't had the time to fatten him up.


However, after four years of grazing on Iams organic corn cat food, he reached a hearty 12lbs. Good enough to eat. So we did, and he was delectable!


In reality, we're celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow night with three other American-French couples! Bilbo will be safe at home working on his Christmas cards.

I think of home often, but especially today. I'm thankful for having friends and family like you!

[p.s. Paula, This is a picture of the turkey you made us on Thanksgiving 2003. And it really was delectable!]

Sunday, November 19, 2006

It’s All in a Name!

Fred and I just returned from dinner at Cave de l'Os a Moelle. The concept is simple: a traditionally cooked pre-set French meal served family style at group tables. I’d read a few reviews and people, French and American alike, seemed to enjoy the food and atmosphere. The price was 20€ for four courses, all-you-can-eat.

On paper it looked good. There were just three problems: (1) I’m a germaphobe; (2) I’m not a huge fan of traditional French cuisine (I tend not to eat animals that have appeared in Disney movies, including but not limited to: Bambi, Thumper, and The Black Stallion); and (3) despite having the appearance of being social, I generally don’t like meeting new people.

In retrospect, I have no idea why I thought I'd enjoy this restaurant.

We arrived just after 8 p.m. The owner pointed out our table and told us that we’d be dining with two Spanish couples, all of whom spoke excellent French so not to worry. We made our way to the table and said our bonsoirs - ready to play the game. However, that was the most we said to them all night because they refused to acknowledge our existence and spoke in Spanish the entire time. We longed to join the picnic table of anglophones next door.

Our dinner companions used their forks to eat from the communal platters. Stabbing at tomatoes and double dipping their saliva-riddled utensils into the beet salad and other entrees. Fred and I used the serving spoons that were provided on a shelf just an arm-length away. We carefully avoided the contaminated areas and tried not to think about the food molestation that likely had been committed prior to our arrival.

Later the owner dropped off a giant pitcher of water for the table which they deemed their own personal well. They parked it on their side of the table, never once offering to share it with us. Filling their glasses, but stopping abruptly as the pitcher made its way towards mine. I wanted Fred to remind them that it was French water they were drinking, but he bought my silence by filling my glass with wine instead.

The only meat dishes on the menu were lapin (rabbit) and some sort of pâté – a nice and chunky one packed with hooves and whiskers. Fred ate both. I won't be able to kiss him for months.

This dining fiasco could have been averted had my husband told me that Cave de l'Os a Moelle translated to the name of a horror movie (“Cellar of Marrowbone”) before we ate there.

In all fairness to the restaurant and Fred, I did choose it. Plus, the food I did eat was fresh and good. And just as we were leaving a French mother and daughter joined our table. We chatted with them a bit and they were nice. They even knew not to eat directly from the serving plates. It’s the type of place where the experience can be dramatically different depending on one’s compatibility with the menu and dining companions. For example, had I had beef with just about any other group of people, I might be singing its praises. The name of the restaurant, however, would still make me shudder with fear.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Egos. Alive and well in France.

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The spot where he kissed me itched for days. A phantom pain from where my untainted skin used to lie. He caught me off guard as I slipped from the 1 to the 12 line at Concorde station. He grabbed my hand from out of nowhere, nearly swallowing it whole as he planted his sloppy kiss. I thought for a moment that he might be a professional thief who was trying to suck the wedding ring from my finger. Instead he was a skeezy old Frenchman whose tweed sports coat, and the dandruff on it, were both older than me. His prime, if ever he had one, past 40 years ago. But that didn’t stop him from believing that he was debonair as hell.

I muttered in French as best I could as I struggled to free what was left of my hand, but the bastard spoke English. Even worse, he was taking the same metro line as me. He asked if I was English or American. He preferred Americans because the U.S. is "farther away" (probably because it’s more complicated to extradite dirty perverts 6,000 miles opposed to shooting them through the Chunnel).

After narrowing down my city to San Francisco, he asked if I was a homosexual. Not finding the humor in his comment, I told him that I wasn’t, but my husband might be. Him being French it’s sometimes hard to tell. (I figured one stupid stereotype deserved another). It was lost on the old man and he continued. He was only interested in one thing: making me his mistress.

As the metro winded down the tracks, I could barely contain my gag reflex. His breath smelled of spoiled milk and a constellation of blackheads formed the Big Dipper on the tip of his nose. He yanked on his Donald Trump eyebrows and rolled the course salt-and-pepper hairs between his stubby fingers. He hammered me with flirtations until I finally gave in. What can I say, I’ve always wanted a Kelly bag.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Rain in Spain . . .

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While chatting with my fellow immigrant classmates the young Cambodian woman next to me seized the opportunity to tell me that I was pronouncing the word “pas” incorrectly. I was forced to repeat “Je ne sais pas” (I don't know) over and over again while a Peruvian and a Macedonian student joined in to help critique my performance. I know enough to know that the “s” in “pas” is silent, thus I couldn't have been that far off. Plus, I use this phrase daily, along with “Je ne comprends pas” (I don't understand), on the streets of Paris and French people seem to understand me just fine. As does my French husband.

I asked my volunteer tutors to imitate my mistake so I could hear the difference; however, I was unable to detect the distinction. Perhaps it had something to do with their accents. Just a guess. I finally was saved when my French teacher interrupted and confirmed that I was saying it correctly, I just had an American accent. Something that I doubt I'll lose anytime soon as I don't have the financial incentive or talent of Nicole Kidman or Charlize Theron. I wanted to point out that the Cambodian woman has an accent while speaking English, which I would have done, but I thought it would seem petty considering she speaks four languages (Cambodian and Chinese - fluently, French and English - high beginner).

While I’ve learned to accept constructive criticism from other immigrants regarding vocabulary, grammar, and obvious mispronunciation of words, e.g., canard = duck vs. connard = moron, I have not reached the point where I am willing to play Eliza Doolittle to novice francophones - especially when the panel is comprised of a person who cannot pronounce at least 3 consonants in French, another who rolls her Rs into next week, and a third who relies on the Slovenian alphabet.

There are plenty of things that these women do that are far more unpleasant. For example, four hours a day the Cambodian woman obliviously picks the acne on her forehead and then uses her pinky nail to scrape and flick the oily crud onto our shared desk. The Peruvian routinely walks into the classroom late while talking on her cell phone. She also answers it in class when it rings, as do half the other students (my favorite is when "My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps . . ." blasts from the cell phone of the 40ish Kazakhstanian woman on the other side of me). Finally, the Macedonian woman might as well be a quadriplegic with tourettes. The woman never, never raises a hand to ask or respond to a question and constantly blurts out (wrong) answers. Lest you think I’m intolerant, I make fun of Americans too, but I'm the only one in this class and I'm too busy quietly documenting the annoying habits of my classmates to bother anyone.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Learning English

Just when I thought I was making progress in French I discovered that there’s plenty of English left to learn. My American friend who lives in London introduced me to the word “chav” – an acronym for “council housing active vermin” or “council housing adolescent vermin”. Defined by wikipedia as:

. . . a slang term in wide use throughout the United Kingdom since 2004. It refers to a subcultural stereotype of people fixated on fashions such as flashy "bling" jewelery (generally fake gold), and genuine (rarely seen on chavs) or knock-off (more likely to be seen) designer clothing with the beige Burberry pattern (most famously the baseball cap which has since been discontinued by the company), and such brands as lonsdale, Berghaus, Burberry, Von Dutch, Louis Vuitton, Adidas, Nike, Lacoste and most well known Sergio Tacchini. . . .

Whatever the definition, my friend warned me that it’s a derogatory term and cautioned me against using it. That’s like telling a schizophrenic not to hear voices. However, before I was able to incorporate it into my vocabulary it dawned on me while walking home from Cacharel with what I thought was a nice purchase that I might be a bit of a chav myself.

Was Cacharel the French Burberry?

I consulted my beautiful and stylish French girlfriend Isabelle Francois (an obvious authority) for her opinion on the matter. Having experienced a perilous period in the late 80s and early 90s, Cacharel had since rebounded and saved itself. Pierre Cardin, she continued, had not been as fortunate. After a licensing rampage, his name was slapped on mass produced purses, belts, luggage, pens, watches, etc., eventually losing any air of exclusivity. (I was relieved to receive Isabelle’s opinion because the Cacharel item I had purchased was for my friend’s baby. It would be very cruel to mark an innocent child with a plaid “C” so early in life.)

Although Cacharel was in the clear, I wasn’t so sure about me. I distinctly remember purchasing Cacharel (and Givenchy) leather goods from Mervyn’s in Fullerton during the time frame in question - this sentence alone says it all. I was definitely a chav, the word just hadn’t been created yet. I was ahead of my time in at least one respect. But what about now? I consulted an expert who diagnosed me as follows:
Wannabe chav
You are 15 % chav
You clearly know you are not, nor will you ever be anything even closely resembling a bonafide chav but that doesn't stop you from jumping on the bling bandwagon every now and then. There's nothing wrong with a bit of pretending though you'll never be able to hold your own with the true Burberry brigade.

The Wall Street Journal recently covered this issue in the context of brand association and marketing. Here's an excerpt:

"No Kick From ‘Chavpagne’"

Young, Loutish British 'Chavs' Have a Taste for Champagne
An Image Problem for Makers?

By Jenny Clevstrom and Christina Passariello, The Wall Street Journal, 1219 words
Aug 18, 2006
Given their rowdy and generally unsavory reputation, being associated with chavs has posed problems for some high-end brands. When chavs adopted fashion house Burberry's signature beige, black and red tartan as their uniform a few years ago, U.K. sales of the brand dropped, and Britain became Burberry's weakest market by January 2005. Burberry PLC, which markets to young consumers in general, acknowledged that traditional customers were put off when chavs sported the brand. "It has not been helpful," finance director Stacey Cartwright told the press in January 2005. . . .

Full article available on WSJ's website

The article went on to discuss Prada and how the designer no longer distributes a certain style of black sneakers in England because of chavs' love for the shoe. Cristal was also mentioned in this article and it's association with chavs and hip-hop artists.

Fortunately, I’m no longer the label conscious girl from the late-80s. I learned after high school that all a pair of Chemin de Fers can do is get you a date for Sadie Hawkins and a ride in a Camaro. Not so important in 2006.

P.S. While we're on the subject of learning, I recently discovered:

(a) If you simply ask a butcher for "filet mignon" in Paris, he will give you pork by default, not beef. He explained that it may vary by region. I confirmed this with my Parisienne French teacher. Are they messing with me? I know it's a cut, but I thought it was beef. I'm going to have to check with my mother-in-law.
(b) Another American friend living in London informed me that the beer Stella Artois is often referred to as a "wife beater" due to its high alcohol content. Not politically correct, but funny nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Spidey v. Frenchie

As we descended onto the runway a voice over the speaker welcomed us to “the diverse areas of Orange County.” Interesting word choice. I’d never considered the birthplace of Richard Nixon, the home of John Wayne, and the site of the Ronald Reagan Federal Building as diverse, but perhaps things had changed since my last visit.

First stop: my dad and step-mom’s house. Fred and I went out to dinner alone with my dad because my step-mom had inadvertently agreed to host a meeting at their house for her Orange County Performing Arts Center charity group on the one night we were in town from Paris.

When the three of us returned from dinner, we entered a virtual lion’s den. And it was feeding time. There's something about women over 50 that love my husband. When they see him they gush "Oh, please have him say something! I want to hear his accent." I'm always hoping that he'll respond: "Enchanté dumbass, the pleasure is all mine" or quote a line from The Exorcist. But instead he smiles boyishly and asks: "What would you like me to say?" And that's probably why they find him so charming. [Side note: I’d like to point out that if they’d just speak to him like the human being that he is, he’d respond in kind and they’d hear his cute French accent without all the hoopla and the rolling of my eyes.] I’m considering bringing a top hat and hoops with me the next time we take our act on the road. In fact, maybe his fans at the Performing Arts Center could sponsor my play: Les Misérables en Le County Orange. It's about a poverty-stricken Frenchman trying to earn money in Orange County by performing a play in English with a very thick French accent. Poverty-stricken and French in the O.C. Now that's diversity!

More recently Fred’s role as a spokesmodel spilled over into print work. During the same trip to the U.S. we spent a weekend in Napa at our friends' wedding where the photographer took a fancy to Fred. She was overwhelmed by his uncanny resemblance to Toby McGuire (which left the rest of us straining our eyes). “Click, click, click, flash, flash, flash” followed Fred around for the better part of three days.

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On the final day, shortly after the ceremony, I was approached by the groom’s father who asked if they could borrow my husband because the photographer wanted to take a picture with him. As Fred patiently posed for wedding photos, I looked on with sympathy and sipped on a Rose Kennedy.

Less than an hour later while seated at our dinner table, I was approached again. This time by the photographer herself. She asked if she could take my picture. I assumed that she had recognized my Shannen Dohertyish (circa 1991) good looks and wanted a portrait for her portfolio. Finally my time had come. She told me that the sun was setting and the lighting was perfect. I must hurry if she was to get the shot! As she beckoned me towards the light, I heard the words: “And grab your husband!”

Monday, September 11, 2006

Day One: Making Friends

I returned from break to find Dmitry, a large Russian man bearing a strong resemblance to Shrek, sitting in my seat. Apparently it was his seat and he decided to repossess it while I was getting the coffee that I desperately needed to tame a terrible case of jet lag. Today was my first day of government-sponsored French classes. Actually my first day was last Monday, but I didn’t return from my trip back to the U.S. until yesterday.

It seems that there is assigned seating in my class of twelve, or at least Dimitry believes there to be. He arrived late today. Very late. He burst through the door just minutes before our 30-minute break and looked my way before plopping himself down in a chair near the door. Our teacher called recess moments later. When I returned to the room I found Dimitry in the seat previously occupied by me. (He spent so little time in the classroom today that I can only imagine he came to visit the chair that he obviously loves dearly.)

I don’t speak ogre or Russian and I got the sense that neither of us spoke enough français to have a conversation regarding French property rights, thus I shuffled myself and things to a chair that I knew had been empty the first half of class. A moment later, a different student kindly suggested that I move again because I had unwittingly chosen a seat that belonged to a student who was absent today. I was playing musical chairs by myself - with no music and no prizes. Further, every time I moved the class watched me. For no particular reason other than the social norms in their countries of origin evidently encourage uninhibited gawking at strangers in awkward situations.

Just as I was getting settled in my third chair, Dmitry realized that he may have made a mistake by ousting me. “Are you the professor?” he asked. (He’d been there long enough to stake claim to a chair, but couldn’t recognize our French teacher from before the break).

I said “no” too quickly. Had I thought about it for one moment I would have told him: “Yes, I am the professor. And in France, it’s customary to mark your territory with a ring of urine to ensure that self-centered Americans don’t waltz into class and assume that they can sit in any old empty chair. I know. Americans are stupid. They’ll assume anything, including that a room with chairs scattered about it like an AA meeting in a church basement would not have an assigned-seating chart. Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you with the 'AA' reference. You can take your vodka back out. So anyway, go ahead and pee on your chair. Don’t mind us. Your classmates love to people-watch.”

[I began to think that there really was a seating chart until my French teacher teased Dmitry in the midst of her lesson when she realized that he had confiscated what he perceived to be his chair. After class she apologized to me and said that he is nice, but he seems to be a creature of habit. I told her it was no big deal. And I really meant it, until I got home and decided to write this entry instead of doing my homework.]

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"French" Teachers

I’ve heard from others who are learning to speak French that the French often correct their pronunciation and article-gender mistakes (le/la, un/une, ton/ta, etc.). This has happened to me on a few occasions, e.g., when I pronounced a word in such a way that it took on a different meaning (sale = dirty vs. salé = salty); when I told my mother-in-law that a bird had relieved itself on her head - “un oiseau faire caca sur ton tête” and she replied “ta tête, ta tête” – it was a very stressful day for her and I did indiscreetly exclaim it in front of a group of people who subsequently giggled so I don’t blame her; and when I asked the grocer for “une citron” and he handed me a lemon and kindly said “voila, un citron” – not to be rude, but to speak properly and perhaps offer me a delicate hint.

I was not offended in these situations because the corrections were done by those close to me and/or politely. What I can’t stand is when a non-native speaking French person finds it appropriate to mock and/or mimic my French. A pattern has emerged wherein every few weeks an immigrant to France offers some commentary on my French speaking abilities, or lack thereof. Here are a few examples:

New Year’s Day at La Frégate. Fred and I treated ourselves to a nice lunch at a restaurant along the Seine. I kindly asked the waiter for une bouteille de l’eau avec gaz (a bottle of sparkling water). He crouched down a bit, hands on his knees, and with his best Does-Polly-Want-a-Cracker voice repeated my exact question back to me. Fred and I looked at each other perplexed, but I decided to let it go and enjoy my meal. When it came time for dessert I ordered tarte tatin – something I’m quite certain I can say having ordered it at Plouf in abundance. He pretended like he couldn’t understand me. I repeated myself several times, pointing at the menu item. After Fred said it for me, the waiter replied “oh, tarte tatin”. I told him that I could speak in English if he'd prefer. Apparently to dense to read my annoyance, he responded “yes, I’d prefer it if you would.” He was still joking and had no idea I was offended by his sixth grade sense of humor. In the end, I told him I thought he was rude and we cancelled dessert. He offered me a seemingly genuine apology. I know he was just trying to be funny; however, I found his jokes inappropriate and stupid - the equivalent of telling someone they have a booger in their nose just to see their reaction.

Crêpe stand down the street. I ordered a sucre et banane crêpe. And the crêpe man repeated my order back to me in a high-pitched voice as if to imitate me. I gave Fred a this-can’t-be-happening-again look and cancelled my crêpe order, but not until he had started making it - out of spite. (You’d think I’d be losing a lot of weight by all these passed-up desserts. Not the case.)

Thai restaurant by rue Monteguiel. This past weekend Fred, Todd, and I ate dinner at a Thai restaurant. I ordered first:

Me: Est-ce que la soupe est petite comme une entrée?
Waitress: Yes. It’s small.
Me: D’accord. Je prends la soupe poulet pour une entrée. S'il vous plaît.
Waitress: The chicken soup.
Me: Et après, le boeuf et basilic.
Waitress: Beef with basil.
Me: Oh, et riz nature.
Waitress: And rice.

[Here’s the part where I should have said: “Excuse me, can you please just speak to me in French. I can’t understand you when you speak English. Your accent is very thick.” I would have felt better for a brief moment, even though it would have been very small of me (and a lie, her English was very good. And, to my chagrin, Fred confirmed that she spoke French extremely well too).]

Todd, an American who speaks a high-level of French, ordered after me. The waitress exclaimed “Oh, you speak French?” – as if it was the most crazy thing she had ever heard – as if I had just not ordered in French (which she understood every word I said, evidenced from her English translation) – as if based on his association with me he would not be able to speak French either - as if she were the only person in the word capable of speaking more than one language. Todd said that he would speak in English if she’d prefer – but she preferred to speak in French to him. Todd patiently explained in response to her stupid expression that he and I were Americans and I interrupted with an annoyed (and I’m sure overly defensive) “Et mon mari est français. Ca va?!?” (And my husband is French. Is that okay?!?). After she was done with her census poll, she skipped off to place our order. We all agreed that she was bizarre – and I observed her do dumb things to other patrons throughout the meal that confirmed it. Todd and Fred thought she was odd but didn’t give it a second thought. Me? I was outraged! I wanted to stab her eyes out with my fork. She ruined my meal (between courses at least, I didn’t have any problem eating) and I’m fairly positive I ruined Fred and Todd’s meals with all my complaining.

On the way to the metro, we theorized as to why immigrants act this way towards other immigrants who are in the infancy of learning French. Perhaps they feel superior because their ship docked at the Ile-de-France before mine so they’re more French than me. Perhaps they’re trying to be helpful – although I don’t see how any of these “lessons” were helpful – except for my Chinese teacher, she was helpful because I actually was using the wrong word (blanche vs. nature) and article (une vs. un); but I don’t think she was trying to be nice. Or perhaps they feel that it’s a rite of passage like a hazing ritual: Because they suffered through it, I must suffer through it. They might as well force me to drink pitchers of water through a funnel or sleep naked in the woods. Both sound more fun.

P.S. I start my bona fide French classes the second week in September. I'm really looking forward to it : )

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Immigrating is Fun

A few weeks ago I completed another step in my French immigration process with an appointment at the Agence Nationale de L’Accueil des Etrangers et des Migrations (ANAEM).

I arrived at 8:30 a.m. and was the last in line of about 40 immigrants. We filed in the main door where our appointment letters were reviewed by the receptionist before being shuttled upstairs to wait in another line where our passports were analyzed and our identities confirmed. After we were led to a large conference room and awaited the unknown.

A charismatic young Frenchman who seemed genuinely happy that we were invading his country (each year 100,000 foreigners move to France) offered a brief presentation. I seemed to be the only American, definitely one of the few English speakers. I knew because reading materials were distributed in French and English and only a handful of us requested the English version. We then watched a 15 minute film about La France and her people. (I used to wonder why Fred referred to objects in English as “her” or “him” as opposed to “it”. He was translating/transferring the “la” or “le” article from French. Another thing, which I’m sure is obvious to many of you, but I realized only a few weeks ago is Notre Dame = Our Lady. With all the Our Ladies of Guadalupe around California you’d think I’d have figured it out earlier, but I think that I’m expecting things to be different so the obvious is sometimes lost on me. Sorry for the digression).

After the film, we were rotated through a three step process. Mine went in the following order:

Step One: Administrative interview. The agent confirmed my paper work was in order (checked my temporary carte de séjour) and presented me with an integration contract (“Contract d’accueil et d’intégration”). In signing the contract, I agreed to (a) attend a full day of civic training on French culture, customs, politics, etc.; and (b) complete free French language courses. I didn’t have to sign the contract. I was told that it is looked upon favorably during the immigration process. In my case it probably wouldn’t have made a difference because I'm married to a French citizen. However, I definitely wanted the free language classes, and I figured if I signed a contract then I might actually complete them! According to E!, that’s how Oprah lost all the weight. She signed a contract with herself. (Don't laugh Melinda).

I’m working towards a permanent carte de séjour, similar to a green card. During my interview, it was explained to me that I can apply for French citizenship in one year. From what I understood, the requirements are (1) marriage to a French citizen for at least 2 years; and (2) hold a permanent carte de séjour for a minimum of 1 year. I believe the requirements can be satisfied in 2 years if the second year of marriage and the 1 year carte de séjour ownership run concurrently if any of you are relying on this information for your marriage of convenience. Caveat emptor: The information was explained to me in Franglish and I’m not licensed to practice law in France. [*Please see comments because law has changed.]

Step Two: Language Exam. I was provided with a written exam to assess my French language skills to determine how many course hours I'd be assigned. The options were 200, 400, and 600 hours. I tried to get the most hours because I’m greedy, plus I desperately need them. I speak like a Hopi Indian. Only in one verb tense. If something happened yesterday or is going on tomorrow, you won’t hear about it from me. Plus, Phillippa already went through the process and learned that if you get assigned a full-time schedule that the French government will pay you while you attend classes if you can produce recent pay stubs. [Correction: Please refer to Phillippa's comment. It's getting bad. Now I don't even understand things when they are explained to me in English!]

Armed with this inside information, I was ready to take advantage of the French system that I’d heard was so vulnerable to abuse. Apparently, it’s a talent with which the French are born. Not something that a foolish American could acquire in a few months. I was assigned 200 hours, part-time. I practically begged for more, but she said that I was a “false beginner” – at the top of the beginner tier. I guess that’s good, I’d hate to think that a semester of French at San Francisco Community College, some immersion courses at Alliance Française, 2 months of classes at Lutece Langue, 6 weeks of private lessons, and 5 years of dating/marriage to a Frenchman were all for nothing. It’s nice to know that this all paid off and I’m the top dog of beginners. It’s official: I’m slowwww! Anyway, she said that the free courses only go to intermediate so by the time I’m finished with my 200 hours, I’ll have “peaked out” in the public program and could go back to paying for lessons.

Step Three: Nudity. You know the French, they just can’t help themselves. Just kidding. This is a serious matter. I had my lungs checked. I had to go in a closet, strip from the waist up (just like old times at the Lusty Lady), go into the x-ray room, have my womanhood smashed against an ice cold x-ray machine, in the presence of two ice cold technicians. Thereafter, I met with a nice doctor who reviewed my x-ray, asked if I smoked, I told her not intentionally, only passively while eating in restaurants or walking down the street.

I also had my eyes checked. I stood on the mark and read the first line as instructed. The problem is I tried to do it in French. The second letter on the first line was a “U” (“ew”), which I mistakenly pronounced as an “E” (“eh”). The doctor appeared concerned and stopped me. He thought I was nearly blind (especially since I had on my far-sighted glasses to aid my performance). I explained the confusion and defaulted to English. I wanted him to write me a prescription to bring back to the language room: “Dear Language Exam Administrator: The half-wit standing before you cannot say the alphabet in French. Not even one letter. Please assign her the maximum 600 hours. Paid.”

I was finished by lunch time. Just as everything is in France. In all seriousness though, I think the process is fairly straight forward and for all that is said about French bureaucracy, it seems to be much easier to become permanent here than it is in the U.S. Just ask my maid back in Orange County.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Vive La France!

The night started with a serenade to Les Blues at Hôtel de Ville before we headed off in search of a bar to watch the final World Cup match between France and Italy.


*click photos to enlarge

We settled down at a brasserie on rue des Écoles, just down the street from the Sorbonne. I didn't realize until after we got home and looked at the pictures that establishing the fan zone in front of the "Trattoria Italiana" probably wasn't the best location.

There were highs. Like when Zinédine Zidane ("Zizou") scored the final goal of his career 7 minutes into the game, giving France the lead!

There were lows. Like when Zizou acted like a Zizi and inexplicably head-butted an Italian player, for which he received a red card and was expelled from the game. The final game of his career.

And in the end . . .

They lost. And broke the hearts of French children everywhere. Bastards.

Just kidding. C'est la vie! Our American friend consoled Fred with the saying often used in American sports: "There's always, next year". In this case, it's four years. But Fred got the idea.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Happy 6th of July (Sorry I'm Late)!

Allez Les Bleus! Allez Les Bleus! Let’s Go Blues! I realized that if I’m exposed to the same sentence over and over again everywhere I go for hours on end, I actually can learn French.

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As many of you know, France has made it to the final round of the World Cup championship. And this Sunday Les Bleus face the Italians in the final match. Fred and I watched France v. Portugal in the semi-final game last night at a bar on Boulevard Saint-Germain. We were joined by a couple who were visiting from San Francisco (friends of friends, who we now consider friends after some serious bonding went down as we walked to the Champs Élysées chugging a bottle of wine that they had purchased the day before on a Burgundy wine tour). I had always wondered what it would be like to travel to Europe as a care-free college student. Last night was probably the closest I’ll ever come to knowing.

At around 2:00 a.m. Fred and I found ourselves on Place de la Concorde, the metro had stopped running and we didn't realize buses were an option until we were nearly home. We would have had better luck hailing a cab on New Year’s Eve in the rain. Thus we started the long walk home and 2 hours later, after a few failed hitch-hiking attempts, we reached our apartment. We did manage to secure a ride for our friends. A 20-something couple kindly offered us a ride, we let the tourists take it as there was only room for two (plus the driver looked a little sketchy and I couldn’t stomach the thought of Bilbo being orphaned).

I really was having a great time. Soaking it all in. Before me a sea of people engulfing the Arc de Triomphe, next to me cars bursting with jubilant teens waving the French flag, the makings of a stage for the Bastille Day ceremonies partially erected on the Concorde, my euphoric French husband holding my hand. But, there was a part of me that was sad.

Sad because the 4th of July holiday had passed without a barbeque, without my friends or family, without my country (I made some deviled eggs and popcorn for lunch that day – the combination of which made me nauseous). Sad because I realized that if Fred and I decide to have children, they won’t have the same traditions and memories as me. It’s highly unlikely that our kids will smell lighter fluid and think of an old black Weber charcoal grill, play Paul Revere in a school play, or know the Pledge of Allegiance. Sad because in all the festivities of France’s victory, I realized that our kids likely will prefer le football over baseball (that's Fred up there on the far right, by the way). I love warm days, big beers, hot dogs, and the crack of the bat. It’s much more than watching a baseball game, it’s the feeling that comes with it. That little bit of Americana.

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I’ve also thought about the possibility that our kid could have an accent while speaking English (Fred believes this is inevitable). I don’t like the idea of that. I want my kid to speak like me (except for all the "likes" and "you knows" and "ums"), especially if I’m the one doing the heavy-lifting to get the kid here. I guess I could home school the child. We’d start every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance and he or she would be awarded the lead role in all theater productions. Our social studies class would take an annual trip to Washington D.C. I’d even offer French as a language elective (but only to appease Fred, and he'd have to teach it). I feel much better now. It’s late and I'm going to bed. Thanks for listening!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Joke's on me, again!

We watched the France v. Brazil match with a group of Fred's college buddies. Our friends' three year-old has the funniest habit. He loves to clean. His mom swears that she has no idea how or why it started, but it was hilarious and prompted me to offer free babysitting anytime. He was walking around the apartment with his napkin (which ironically was slightly dirty as he'd been wiping his mouth with it while he gnawed on some saucisson) and rubbing the sofa, the carpet, and the chairs, all the while repeating "C'est sale" - It's dirty. I had to laugh, especially since I could tell that the hostess spent a good deal of time cleaning the place before her guests arrived. Just as I had spent a good deal of time shaving my legs just hours before so I could wear a skirt. While the little guy rested from his cleaning spree, he brushed against my leg and exclaimed: "Ça pique" - That's prickly. I told his mom that I had just shaved, something I was proud of as it had been awhile. She tried to convince her son that my legs were "doux" - soft. But he was adamant and repeated it a few more times to make sure the entire party heard. I revoked my babysitting offer.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Joke's on me

As we finished dinner I asked Fred if he would like more water, to which he responded "Si tu plait". As I filled his glass, I told him that I'd prefer he use the vous form with me (the formal "you" used out of respect, with strangers, or to intentionally maintain distance between you and the person with whom you're speaking).

He laughed as he assumed I was joking, and I was. But I wanted to see how far I could take it. I explained that in most situations I speak with strangers, therefore, it would be more beneficial for me to hear vous and he could help my learning progress by respecting my request. (I had two glasses of wine with dinner and thought I was hilarious.) He lovingly responded in vous and I felt like a jerk so my joke was short-lived.

To make it up to him, I plopped down on the sofa to watch some of the France v. Spain World Cup match. Fred commented that the veteran French star Zinedine Zidane was playing better this game. In an attempt to relate I said, "So ol'Zizi has still got it, eh?" Fred laughed and corrected me: "Zizou! His nickname is Zizou."

"Zizi" is kid-slang for penis. You'd think I'd remember as I made the same mistake last week when I noticed Zidane's prematurely balding head wasn't shaved quite as nicely as usual and told my friend who does marketing for Schick blades that he should give zizi a razor.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sacked!

At the bakery I helped myself to a salade niçoises. I was in the midst of preparing my selection when the woman came from behind the counter and said “it’s for me” (as in she was going to package it for me). She immediately spoke in English. Evidently the simple “bonjour” I uttered upon my arrival exposed me.

After having worked years in the Financial District without a lot of time for lunch, if I see food lined-up for the taking, I’m going to take it. And in this case I believe my assumption was logical. Rows of pre-packaged salads and dressing containers à la Briazz lined the store-front window. Easily accessible and on the opposite side of the counter from the vendor, the only thing left to do was throw a lid on it and go. The climax of which apparently required an expert’s touch.

The same thing happened at the grocery store. I completely understand why one should wait their turn while the fromagère (female cheese merchant) grabs a giant wheel of brie to slice, weigh, wrap, and price. But I don’t understand the logic behind making an impatient couple wait in the same line for the tiny jar of black cherry and thyme jam perched above the fresh cheeses that they so desperately want to serve with the comté that they're going to pick-up in the pre-packaged cheese section. When Fred reached for the jar at my goading, a totally legitimate reach – he was schooled. Better him than me as he has the verbal capacity to (1) understand what he’s done wrong; and (2) respond. Thus we waited for Madame Cheese to select the jar, wrap it in paper, and slap the price on it. (We’ve since started purchasing the freshly made jam; since we have to wait, we might as well go for the good stuff!)

Fred’s coworker recently returned from a trip to San Diego. He commented that it was nice how in the U.S. we “create” lower-paying jobs for people such as grocery baggers in order to provide more opportunities for people to work. I laughed because I hardly think France needs people to wrap up and label jars when an overnight stocker - if they even exist here - and a label gun would do the trick (or a bar code for that matter).

In my opinion a bagger makes way more sense. You’re expected to bag your own groceries in France. No biggie, it’s like being at Trader Joe's. But at TJ's you have the sense that you’re helping. And if you run into trouble a pro is standing-by to advise you whether the eggs or pita bread go on top. Here the checkers bark the total then sit with their hands up their noses while I frantically bag my stuff before they’ll even start ringing-up the next customer (most stores have very limited space in which to corral groceries, others have larger areas and use a wooden stick to divide groceries like water through a canal – I go to the latter on days when I’m feeling a little less agile).

So what's my point? Jobs that save time are useless to the French. As much as I complain and seem impatient, there is something nice about the traditions of selecting artisan cheeses with the assistance of a professional, purchasing freshly-baked bread daily, visiting the boucherie (butcher’s shop), etc. And as my friend pointed out to me, it is in these situations where you can actually witness a French person respect a line – and that for me is worth the wait!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A little history . . .

[The truncated version]

Stars were falling from the sky the night we met. It was November 17, 2001, the evening of the Leonid Meteor shower. We were at the housewarming party of mutual friends, Meriem and Dimitri. Toward the middle of the night, the party moved to the roof-top to watch the sky. Fred offered me his jacket and I accepted, even though I wasn't cold. We talked the night away. Although Fred was planning on moving back to France the following year, we fell in love and he stayed with me in San Francisco.

On July 1, 2004, at Lac de Gaube in the Pyrenees Mountains, between France and Spain, Fred got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said "oui," "si," and "yes" just to make sure there was no misunderstanding!

Like many couples of different nationalities, Fred and I had two ceremonies. The first was two years ago today in San Francisco. And the second was in Bordeaux the following September. The traditional French wedding is two steps: civil and religious. Family and friends gather at the Hôtel de Ville (or the Mairie) of the arrondissement or ville of the couple. The mayor performs the civil ceremony in a small room overflowing with guests. The couple, flanked by their respective witnesses (best man/maid of honor), in the center. Thereafter, the guests usually walk as a group to the church to observe the religious ceremony, which is similar to a typical U.S. ceremony except the wedding party is usually limited to the witnesses and the mother-of-the-groom accompanies him down the aisle, opposed to observing the procession from the front pew. Then it’s on to the reception, which is pretty much the same in both countries: family, friends, champagne, food, cake, and dancing!

Our civil ceremony was held at San Francisco City Hall.  Here are a few photos:

Overjoyed

The Kiss

It's Official

If you'd like to continue on our lovefest (or you're bored at work), click here.

Today also is a special day for my cousin John and his wife Mandy. It is their one year anniversary. Happy Anniversary!

And it is our friend Meriem's birthday. Bonne anniversaire et gros bisous, Meriem! Merci pour avoir mis en scène l’événement qui a changé nos vies.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Dirty Laundry

My cashier greeted me with "Bonjour Madame" just as her eyes welled with tears. Her coworker came to console her by massaging her shoulders as she swiped my laundry detergent across the scanner. It seemed odd that he wouldn't just relieve her so she could have her break down in the break room. They were speaking in loud whispers. I assumed someone had died; otherwise it didn't make sense to me why this young French woman would be so free with her emotions in public. It's not that I'm insensitive. Pre-Fred I had my fair share of public crying. But, I've heard that the French generally are very private people (and once they warm to you, you'll have a friend for life). It wasn't until I heard her utter the words "méchant" and "égoïste" (mean and selfish) - words I've heard before, but we don't need to go there - that I realized anger, not sadness, was the reason for her red eyes. I'm usually a gawker in situations like this. I've asked Fred to walk-by feuding couples again so he could translate their arguments. A request that is always refused. But this time, I was more sad and less curious that she was so upset, and sadder yet that I couldn't offer some words of encouragement. Like, buy RID, it totally works; or it only burns the first three days. Instead, I could only look at her with what I hoped were sympathetic eyes and an understanding smile as she handed me my change. I think it worked because as I walked away she said "Merci Mademoiselle" - or maybe she just wasn't paying attention. I'm going with the former as it happens so infrequently.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tails from the Metro

There was a giant dog on the metro the other day. Giant. Like Clifford. He was on his way to work. His "master" was dressed in a black jacket bearing the word "Sécurité" in white block letters. The giant dog seemed ill at ease in the tiny metro car. It was extremely hot and he was having a hard time getting comfortable, as was I. As I was staring at the giant dog feeling his pain, his master turned and looked at me as if to apologize for his restless companion. He apparently had the impression that the giant dog was bothering me by encroaching on my space. Space invaders are something to which I've grown accustomed having taken public transportation for many years. Plus, I'd rather have a dog in my space than most people. I felt badly because I didn't want the man to think that the giant dog was bothering me. I love animals! It's just that each time the giant dog stood up, his giant tail made it's way between my legs, and he nearly came to my waist, so you can imagine where his giant tail came to rest. I was wearing tight work-out pants, so it was fairly obvious and definitely obscene. I couldn't just stand there with a giant tail between my thighs as if I were enjoying it. But, how do you explain that to a stranger in French? Or in English for that matter.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bonne Anniversaire!


Today is Fred's birthday. He's very upset that he didn't receive a present from my mother. It's all he can think about. He thinks she doesn't love him. Poor Fred. Just kidding, Mom! I told him a gazillion times that I was in charge of getting him a gift on your behalf, but kept the money instead. So stop stressing about it.

Seriously though, Poor Fred. France is like the First Grade. Apparently, or at least where Fred works, the birthday boy or girl is obligated to bring snacks for his or her colleagues. I reminded Fred that it was his birthday; hence, he should be the one treated to cotton candy, jelly beans, and sprinkled with magic dust. However, customs are customs and I'm in no mood to stage a coup. Generally, the birthday person brings croissants, pain au chocolat (“chocolatine” if you're from the South like Fred), and pain au raisin. Those on a popularity campaign bring crepes with all the accoutrements and then stand over a griddle like they’re working an Omelette Bar at El Torito. No thanks. Fred will be brining croissants. Frozen croissants that can defrost in the metro on his way to work.

I recall parents dropping of sheet cakes, cupcakes, and cookies to celebrate my classmates’ birthdays in elementary school. (My parents intentionally had me during the summer to deprive me the joy of being the most popular child in my class for one day out of the year.) While this is similar to what Fred is being pressured to do, I see some difference: (1) Fred is an adult; (2) Fred can’t blame his parents if his snack tastes poorly or is unimaginative; (3) Fred, not his mother or father, is required to (a) buy or create a snack for 50+ people, (b) take it on public transportation for 50 minutes, and (c) set-up a breakfast buffet for and possibly serve his colleagues. Happy Birthday, Fred! Sounds like it's going to be a fun day.

P.S. I’m only slightly joking about Fred bringing frozen croissants. Despite me reminding him many times to do so and even offering to do it for him, Fred did not order in advance his pastries from the boulangerie. This is tantamount to incest in France. I once stopped by the boulangerie-pâtisserie on my way to a dinner party to pick-up a dessert for 8 guests. The boulangerère, gasped, repeated “pour c’est soir”, raised an eyebrow, and scanned the display case before boxing-up 8 pieces of millefeuille (a layered vanilla cream pastry). It was as if I had upset the balance of natural forces in the universe. She's either psychic and knew exactly how many millefeuille she was going to sell that night (they were closing within the hour) or she would have preferred to have thrown them away than sell them to a crass American who had the nerve to presume she could saunter into a pâtisserie and purchase pastries. For the record, there were still 6 sitting there getting stale when I left. Also, last week, the man in front of me placed his special order two days in advance. Maybe they’ll take pity on Fred because it’s his birthday.

[Update: On our way to dinner, the boulangerie was still open. I reminded Fred for the fourth time that he should go in and order his croissants, which he did. And all is well in the world! When we got home, Fred installed some updates on my computer and reconfigured my workspace. I rely on him a lot to do tech related stuff. It's one of his "jobs" in the relationship. Whereas, one of my "jobs" is to remember birthdays, send thank you cards, remind him to pre-order croissants. However, when he maintains our computers it straight forward. He does it, it's done, and I appreciate it. My job is really being a nag. Remember this. Remember that. Do this. Do that. This bugs me. My girlfriend, who has had the same experience brought up a good point, which I've repeated: "I'd rather not be a nag, believe me. I'd prefer you just do it the first time so I don't have to continue reminding you." In the end, however, I guess my job is really just for me. Because Fred wouldn't have been embarrassed if he ended up having to bring frozen croissants, whereas I would have been mortified. I need to adopt his "c'est pas grave" attitude (it's not serious or no big deal).]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hot Hot Hot . . .

I played hookie the other day and took a long walk around Paris. My internet was down and it was a beautiful day. (My last day isn’t until July 1, thus the excuse. I want to make sure I get my vacation pay just in case my boss stumbles across my blog while searching the internet for Americans who moved from San Francisco to France with their French husbands in November 2005. He does that sometimes.)

I discovered a few outlet shops along rue d'Alésia, Cacharel and Sonia Rykiel . I browsed through Cacharel and found some really nice things, but even at outlet prices it was still expensive (115€ for a sundress). But I do need summer clothes and if I hadn't just quit my job, I probably would have bought some!

When Fred and I arrived in Paris our suitcases were filled with sweaters and scarves. Now it’s incredibly hot (30۫ C/87۫ F) and the best I can come up with is blue jeans and black t-shirts. If Fred was as cruel as me (and grew-up watching Happy Days) he’d be calling me “The Fonz”.

I thought there would be a transition period between winter and summer, something called spring, during which I would have time to cut-back on cheese and pizza and go shopping for summer clothes. Not this year.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Home Sweet Home Alabama

Fred left yesterday morning to spend a week in Alabama for a scientific conference. Poor guy, when we were in San Francisco he spent nearly six weeks out of each year in Detroit. When we moved to France he figured his days of visiting these fun-filled locations were over. The next time he went to the U.S. he thought it would be to enjoy a real California roll and to drink Napa wine at our friends Sean and Kim’s wedding.

As many of you know, I’m an optimist. Never complain about anything. (You can stop laughing now.) Thus, I tried to come up with things to help Fred pass the time. Although the conference was only 2.5 days, he would be spending nearly one week there (36 hours of travel and a Saturday night stay made the ticket price more attractive to his company). He's not really in to prostitutes anymore, so the best I could find was a visit to the Civil Rights Museum. While this clearly is an important time in American history, getting a U.S. history lesson probably isn’t the most exciting way for a Frenchman to pass time – especially for several days. Realizing my efforts had fallen short, I handed him a grocery list. I figured he could keep busy looking for a Safeway and buying Phillippa her “brick of Trident” and me Hot Tamales and microwave popcorn.

But about 8 hours after leaving, he was home again. His plane had technical troubles and because he would have missed his connection and arrived to the conference a day late, his boss told him to cancel the trip. Yeah!

Fred told me about the people he met at the airport. He made many American friends in the waiting area who wanted to be next to a French-English speaker as not to miss out on any flight information (in my experience, sometimes the airlines forget to repeat the info in English or it’s heavily accented and difficult to understand over the speakers). He met a nice couple from Louisiana who wanted to discuss Katrina, politics, etc. He also met a woman from Texas who told him that the signs are too small in France, the rental car return process was a pain, that she wanted to get home ASAP, and of other general annoyances. For some reason the size of France versus Texas came up and Fred told her that Texas is bigger than France. She challenged him and he said he was certain, to which she responded: “Oh, you’re right. Now that I think about it, my neighbor gave me a bumper sticker that said something about that.” Nice. I can only imagine. Thanks to Google I don’t have to:



Now, before y’all go crazy leaving comments, remember my sister and her family live in Dallas. And they might have shotguns, so it’s for your own good.

P.S. By the way, I understand that I'm a hypocrite making fun of Alabama and then commenting on the Texan complaining about France. My only defense is that Fred was being nice and helpful and she was being a complaining bitch in response. And there's only one bitch that can complain to Fred, and that's me : )

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Word of the Day . . .

Ménagerie

Okay, so he’s not wild. But, whenever he does this it makes me think of one of my favorite poems, "The Panther" by Rainer Maria Rilke, composed in Paris in 1902. (It also makes me think that he wouldn't look so bad stuffed and displayed on a shelf when he dies.)




The Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars, and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tense, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Freedom!

I quit my job yesterday. I’d been mulling it over (and driving many of you crazy about it) for months. Stressing about the best time to do it. Wondering if I’d ever find another job in France (one where I don’t need to speak fluent French, I’d get paid a U.S. salary with no commute and the flexibility to sleep in depending on what I did the night before). But in the end, it happened quite easily.

Literally five minutes after emailing Fred and telling him that I was going to wait a few more weeks before doing the deed my boss called to discuss a project and at the end of the conversation I blurted it out. He was very nice about it and understood my predicament. Despite the “freedom” of working from home, it is a major hindrance when one is trying to learn a new language and culture without the everyday life of a commute, coworkers, office politics, etc. I'm going to commit myself to learning French, at least basic French, for the next 3 to 6 months and then look for a job teaching English, working at the Embassy, or kidnapping tourists and selling their organs on ebay.fr.

As weird as it sounds, I’m a little excited about trying to live on a budget. I went shopping at my neighborhood open air market, which is just down the street three times weekly. I discovered an amazing thing: fresh produce. For 3,03€, my friend and I purchased a head of lettuce, two large tomatoes, a cucumber, and a bag full of carrots. We made two giant salads topped with a 1,50€ can of albacore tuna and dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil. There was enough left over to make Fred and I a tomato and cucumber appetizer for dinner. And there is still half a bag of carrots left! This is the life I envisioned when Fred and I decided to move to France: learning French, shopping at open air markets, and making simple dishes with fresh ingredients.

While the markets are generally packed, I’ve noticed that it’s mostly older French people doing the shopping. I have to walk by a McDonald’s to get to the market, which is almost always packed with teens and young adults. During lunch and dinner time, there are cars double-parked out front, lines to the back wall, and a line of people crowding the sidewalk at the “walk-up” window. Yes, walk-up window – something that doesn’t exist in San Francisco (although, maybe in NY as my friend Todd told me that McDonald’s delivers in NY).

The “lure” of a McDonald’s burger is lost on me, especially when it costs 5,50€ (it’s not that I’m above fast food hamburgers, in fact this picture made me squeal). But I am confused considering that next door to this McDonald’s and to the many others throughout Paris is a potpourri of beautiful fresh produce, artisan cheeses, and fish and meat stands (that I'll now have time to explore!).

Could it be that the next generation of Parisians prefer MacDo? It certainly isn't cheaper. Could it be that they don't have the time to cook fresh meals due to their hectic 35 hour work weeks and/or protests? I'm just having fun, but it is nice to turn the tables occasionally. Have a great day! And please look for my upcoming review of the fictional book: French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating For Pleasure.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

This is the S&*+

My friend’s French husband told her that he thought the ellipses at the end of my blog’s name “C’est la me . . .” were intended to replace the letters “rde” and that the real name is “C’est la merde” = “This is the shit” (pardon my French). Ahhhh Parisians, so pessimistic. I convinced her that the name was very innocent, just like me. I had no idea they were so vulgar. I might have to stop hanging around with them.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I'm Alive!

I hung out at my girlfriend Laura’s place the other night. Her parents, who were visiting from Texas, kindly dropped off a care package. I went to enjoy some girl talk and retrieve my booty: Pepperidge Farm Cheddar Goldfish, a special request, and Cadbury Cream Eggs, a pleasant surprise. (I was also curious to see if the blood came out of her carpet!)

The metro had stopped running by the time I was leaving so I decided to walk home. Laura hesitated, not wanting to scare me, but then asked if I knew that there was a serial killer in our arrondissement. She said not to be worried because thus far the killer had only targeted homeless people (Newsflash: Homeless People and Serial Killers Exist in France). She insisted we call a taxi, but just then a group of people walked by. I figured I’d be safe if I shadowed them and convinced Laura of the same.

I followed the pack for a few blocks but eventually had to break right. All of a sudden I found myself in a Halloween movie – alone and in the dark. I could hear something following me. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was my own pant-leg dragging on the asphalt.

As I made my way towards the main street my fear briefly subsided thanks to the sound of some French drunks singing "Love is Battlefield" from a nearby apartment. I called Fred so he could hear his countrymen imitate Pat Benatar and to talk to me as I made my way home. Just as he picked up, a good looking man approached me out of nowhere. The French Ted Bundy. He said something to me, but I couldn’t make sense of it. I slightly smiled and picked-up my pace.

I told Fred that a serial killer was loose in our arrondissement. I tried to calm him by repeating what Laura had told me. The killer seemed to only target homeless people. He wasn’t pacified. He jumped out of bed, swiftly changed, and headed out in my direction. But not before asking what I was wearing: “Are you dressed like a homeless person?” “Kind of, my left pant-leg is a little tattered and I probably smell like alcohol."

Before I had the chance to be scared again, I could see my husband running towards me. He has been coming to my rescue a lot lately. Sometimes in small ways, like finishing my sentences when I get flustered ordering from the menu or helping me find the subtitles on a DVD, and other times it is running down rue de Vaugirard to save me from a serial killer. Depending on my day, the magnitude of his rescue missions are equally important.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Un, deux, trois . . .

















When people asked me the level of my French speaking abilities, I would use a three year-old child as a comparison. Yesterday, I ran into my three year-old neighbor, Axelle, in the hall and she struck up a conversation. She said "chaussures de cours" and generously hinted by grabbing her little foot. I gave her nanny a perplexed look. "Running shoes". I knew the meaning of these words independently, but out of context and all in a row, I was lost.

When Fred came home, he shared a story about his coworker’s three year-old daughter. Apparently, the toddler is making all kinds of cute verb conjugation errors that her mother finds hilarious. He recounted one such mistake for me as I sat waiting for the funny part, which in my mind never came. I was too impressed that the little girl could form a sentence in the past tense. I’m hardly at the point, or in a position, where I can detect grammar flaws and double entendres.

Looks like I’m back to hanging out with two year-olds. Mom, could you please send me my Barney costume?

P.S. The photo is of Fred, by the way. You can tell by the blue romper. Plus, my parents didn't buy me shoes until I was twelve.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Finally, Sun!

Many people have told me that I have a lot in common with Rocky Dennis, but it wasn’t until I read some of his poetry that I truly understood why.

These things are good: ice cream and cake, a ride on a harley, seeing monkeys in the trees, the rain on my tongue, and the sun shining on my face. These things are a drag: dust in my hair, holes in my shoes, no money in my pocket, and the sun, shining on my face.
Rocky Dennis, Mask (1985)

Signs of spring are finally beginning to show in Paris. The other day, while sitting at my computer, a ray of sunlight pierced through my window to reveal its warmth on my face. My spirits were instantly lifted, however, the glare on my computer screen made it impossible for me to work and I was forced to lower the shades. The sun on my face, a blessing and a curse.

It’s interesting. As a child, I was oddly fascinated by the sun-deprived twins in Flowers in the Attic. I wrote several letters to Mattel begging them to come out with itty-bitty, pasty-white, sunken-eyed, brittle-haired twin dolls (this was before the Olsen twins). My wish was never fulfilled by Mattel, or Santa. But arriving in Paris in winter and having had the opportunity to become a sun-deprived, sunken-eyed, pasty-white, holed-up person, I can tell you, it’s just not as fun as I had always imagined.



My friend Todd reminded me the other day about Paris Plage, the period between July and August when Paris turns the strip along the Seine into a beach. They even have a volleyball court set-up in front of the Hotel de Ville (the 6th picture down is the Hotel de Ville during winter). It's especially exciting because my new friend Phillippa is a bit of a volleyball star and I'm going to go cheer her on in my Team USA jersey as she makes some Frenchmen eat sand. We were a little tipsy when we made these plans, but I hope she was serious. My Igloo full of Coors Light, Oakely shades, and neon Mossimo shorts have been waiting for this day since 1988!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Check (her) out!

There was a crazy lady in the check-out line at Monoprix today and, for once, it wasn’t me. A French woman ahead of me was going off on the cashier and holding up the line. It took two managers to calm her. The customers in front of me were appalled, as was the one behind me. I was amused and terribly curious.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Say what?!?

Today a Chinese immigrant continuously corrected me as I placed my lunch order. I ordered “riz blanche”, she said “riz nature”. I ordered “une Coca Light”, she said “un Coca Light". I didn’t know free French lessons came with lunch. I’d much prefer a fortune cookie. One that says: "You'll Soon Learn French and This Restaurant Will Suffer a Terrible Grease Fire". I was tempted to say “êtes-vous française?” (are you French?); but I hadn’t tried the food yet and didn’t want to get black-listed so soon after moving to the neighborhood. The food wasn’t that great. I'm going to bring Fred (and a pocket full of cockroaches) there on Saturday so he can mock her accent as a little pay back.

After lunch I headed over to Monoprix (think Target) to purchase some flash cards (ironically, to help me learn French). As I stood in line someone tried to cut in front of me. There were two registers and a single line (a guy, and then me) waiting for the first cashier to open up. Then, this little portly woman in her mid-20s formed her own line at the register on the left. I started feeling anxious, hoping that that register would open up first so the guy in front of me would handle it. I’ve experienced similar situations in the past and the timing has either worked to my advantage or the cutter hasn’t challenged me when I step up to go next. This time both registers opened up simultaneously and ol’wimpy went to the right to avoid confrontation, which opened the door for portly to belly-up to the register on the left.

Having showered and put on make-up this morning, I was feeling unusually confident and thwarted her attempt. She mumbled something between her gritty teeth. I turned around and said “pardon?” She repeated her stupid self, and I said “pardon?” again. I really had no clue what she was saying, but I acted as if I couldn’t understand her because she couldn’t speak proper French. For all I know she was explaining that she was legally blind and didn’t see me. Though the smug look on her face told the truth! As I turned around to leave, she was right behind me. (I towered over her, which I know is hard to imagine, but she was border-line midget and I was wearing boots, aren’t I tough?). I said very loudly right in her face (with my certain nasty Chinese food breath) “SNEAKY BITCH”. Then I walked away (quickly).

My new expat friends taught me that it’s okay to talk to people in English when I’m upset because it scares them (and having an American accent probably helps too). So much for being the Goodwill Ambassador; seriously though, she soooo deserved it. I’m learning that just because I’m a foreigner, I don’t have to defer to those with red passports when they're being idiots. Like Fred says, stupidity has no nationality. However, I have to remember that this also applies to me.

By the way, does anyone know how to say "DUMB BITCH" in Mandarin? Because I'm pretty sure that the waitress yelled it at me as she handed me my lunch tray.

P.S. Despite my afternoon, I'm feeling great and we love the new place. More on that later . . .

Friday, March 31, 2006

Goodbye Rambuteau Rue . . .

Today is our last day in our apartment in the 4th arrondissement. Tomorrow we move to our new place in the 15th. Here are a few photos that I took of the shops on Rue Rambuteau shortly after we arrived as a little adieu . . .

*Click to enlarge





And this, my friends, is the home of my dear poissonnière. I snapped this photo as she was next door getting a croissant. She walked out just as I was running away.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Update, Instructions and Unsolicited Advice

The sunglasses are working. Svetlana got a “ciao, bella” from a truck driver today.

Mango, the first thing my yoga instructor ate after her 7-day fast.

Yesterday I was eating left over egg noodles that I had served with boeuf bourgogne. This prompted an instant craving for tuna casserole. I can’t remember the last time I ate it, but now it’s all I can think about. Mom, I know you won't be coming here until Christmas, but I think you need to start practicing now. I want you to go buy a bunch of balloons and cans of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. See how many you can swallow and report back to me. Or, you could just pack them in your suitcase, which ever you’re most comfortable with. Melinda has Cheez-Its and Cheetos covered. Okay? Thanks!

Always purchase Ny-Quil in the bottle. Fred made a rookie mistake the last time he bought it for me and brought home gel caps. They followed me to France (in a balloon) and I was grateful to have them when I was on my deathbed (in addition to being poisoned, I had a month long cold); however, gel caps make it very difficult to give yourself a little extra dose.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

My Name is Talking Tina and I’m going to . . .

Why is it that when I meet complete strangers who speak French and English and they find out that I’m learning French, they feel compelled to say something to me in French and wait for my response as if they had just pulled a string on my back? I know they’re just trying to be friendly, but for me it’s very embarrassing not to be able to communicate in full sentences at my age, especially when I've never met them before. I have a script for all my dialogues in French and when someone veers off script, all I can do is look for Fred and yell: “Line?!?” To me their behavior is the equivalent of squatting next to a toddler and asking “how many are you?” and then clapping gleefully when the child holds up two fingers. Next time someone forces me to perform without my script I’m going to hold up a finger.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Intervention


I did it. I bought a pair of aviatorish/slightly mirrored (only slightly, I promise)/eurotrash sunglasses. I couldn’t help myself. In defense of the French, I think it was mostly the Italian influence. There are so many Italian tourists here, I hear Italian spoken as much as I hear English (I have to assume it’s Italian, it’s a form of gibberish, not French, and not Spanish). I think there’s something about moving to another country that allows one the freedom to wear things they might not otherwise try in their own country because their friends would call them out on it.



It was confirmed the other day when I saw a jackass walking down the street in a massive, even bigger than the one pictured here and her head was smaller, fur-trimmed hunting hat. I thought, wow, when you’re French you can really get away with a lot more. As she walked by, I heard her big American accent and had to laugh because I knew she wouldn’t be sporting that hat in the U.S. Let’s face it; there are only a few people that can pull this look off. Most of them are models in Smirnoff Ice ads or funky college students. She was neither.

I’m kind of becoming her with what Fred refers to as my “space bug” glasses. That being said, he helped pick them out and prefers them over my old glasses. Although he was wearing fitted black Levi’s when we met, I have to take his word for it since I don’t have anyone else to ask. I suppose I could have emailed a picture to you, but I was afraid some of you would tell me no and, to be honest, I kind of like them. Call me Svetlana from now on.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

ATTENTION: Travel Advisory

Some of you may have thought I was joking when I imitated Sally Fields in Not Without My Daughter and to some extent I was. However, somewhere deep inside of me, I knew Fred was too good to be true. And now I have proof. I became suspicious when I became violently ill on New Year's Day after enjoying a four course meal, champagne, and wine with my loving husband. Or perhaps it was the undercooked chicken kebob that I purchased from the street vendor at 2:00 a.m. as we stumbled home on New Year's Eve. Whichever, I'll admit that Fred did attend to me for several days, responding to my beckon call, cleaning up after me, and finding the remote control when I had misplaced it just a few inches to the right of my left-hand. But, there was something sinister in his caring smile.

A few weeks later, when my little toe nail inexplicably fell off, my suspicion elevated to Yellow Alert. I should have started testing the water at that point. But love is blind.

In February, I fell ill again. This time cheese was the "culprit". Fred and our neighbor Jean (aka "the coconspirator downstairs") said that it probably was the croute [crust, rind, skin] of the cheese. They opined that my tender American digestive system was not yet accustomed to the French microorganisms and predicted that it could take months for me to develop a resistance to the "molds" that were wreaking havoc on my innards. I was told to slowly introduce the culinary culprits into my diet. Because I ate cheese by the boatloads in San Francisco, as well as in Bordeaux during many vacations, I'm a little suspicious of this theory.

However, last week, having been lulled into a false sense of security, I indulged in a piece of Brie (and Comté and Roquefort). What a lucky girl I thought. My husband went shopping to select my favorite cheeses and even prepared my plate for me. Lucky girl? Silly girl! The next day, I was sick to my stomach. Poisoned. Again. Orange Alert!

I guess I shouldn't take it personally. It seems they do it to all North Americans, including Canadians (only the English speaking part). On Saturday, Fred and I were walking through Les Galeries Lafayette. We noticed a large crowd gawking at something on the floor. As we passed by (and gawked), we saw a woman huddled in the fetal position against the wall. There was a pool of bile next to her, which sadly I can recognize from a distance (a skill I've acquired from my bouts of illness here, and drunken binges in the early-mid 90s -- and once last month).

As we got closer, I sensed something didn't seem right. There were two security guards squatting next to her, but nothing appeared to be happening. Fred and I moved closer. I suspected that the woman didn't speak French given the terrified look on her face and the fact that she had thrown up (i.e., was poisoned). Fred asked if she spoke English, to which she said "yes". She was a nice Canadian woman who was traveling for business. She attributed her vomiting to an allergic reaction to a mushroom sauce that she had eaten the night before. She was leaving the next day so I didn't see the point in upsetting her by telling her the truth. Red Alert.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Addendum (and misinformation I’ve imparted that needs correcting)

France does indeed sell sliced turkey meat. It’s prepackaged at the grocery store. Not exactly freshly sliced Molinari’s deli meat, but it does exist. Wouldn’t you know it? I discovered it after the bird flu hit France so I won’t eat it now anyway.

I decided not to choke Annie Wilks because a new student, an anesthesiologist from Maine, joined our class last week. I was concerned that the doctor might try to revive Annie or, at the very least, administer an anesthetic to ease the pain of my beating. It no longer seemed worth the hassle.

I think I’ve become the annoying older student in my class. There’s a new batch of people born in the 1980s (I know because our teacher made us do a humiliating exercise where we had to write our birthdays on the board) and I’ve caught myself making stupid jokes (on more than one occasion). I can hear them coming out of my mouth, but I can’t stop myself. I decided to extricate myself from the situation. I start private lessons next week.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Freddie the Pimp

Fred and I have plans on Friday to go out to dinner with one of my classmates. She seems very sweet and likes to drink so I thought it would be fun. She is in her late 40s and is spending the year here while her young daughter attends French school. Her husband is a 70 year old physician in Boston. She approached me after class today and told me she has two favors to ask of Fred. First, she wants Fred to call a Frenchman who currently is in Nice and ask him why he has not returned her calls. She had a good time with this man in Paris a few weeks ago and apparently wants more. Second, she wants Fred to tell her where she can watch men and women copulate on stage. She wants to take her husband there during his next trip to Paris. She thought France was liberal, but she had heard there might be a regulation on such entertainment. I said “Sure. He might not know the answer to your second question, but I’ll ask him tonight and he can ask his coworkers tomorrow and tell you on Friday. Bye.” I scurried away. If she only knew Fred. Hilarious. I don’t think I’ll tell him and see what happens when she brings it up.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Paris. On All Fours!

No, not another Paris Hilton video. These subjects are smart, beautiful, and wear more clothing!

After breakfast, Fred and I set out with the best intentions of getting some culture. We planned to visit a museum or an exhibit, do something that would help me appear interesting and to relieve the humiliation when asked how we were spending our weekends in this amazing city full of history and art. Eating Pringles and looking at the pictures in French Cosmopolitan while doing laundry at the laundromat doesn't seem to impress people (Cosmo is the only French magazine that has celebrities I recognize so I tend to gravitate towards it. Not something I'm proud of). Because we were only mildly interested in standing in a long line to look at paintings under glass, we were easily distracted by our new furry friends along the way.

Introducing "Cookie". Cookie is very bon chic bon genre (BCBG) and resides with her owner, a beautiful Parisienne, in the 5th arrondissement near the Panthéon.

*Please click on photos to enlarge

Waggie, est-ce que vous voulez un biscuit?
Waggie, do you want a Cookie?

Meet "Max". Max is all personality. We're not quite certain where Max lives, but be sure, what he lacks in l'argent [money], he makes up in l'esprit [spirit]. Despite his regular snack of sugar cubes, he has a beautiful smile. His sweater is red because Max is looking for love, and there is plenty of room in there for two! TicTac and Riley, first come, first served! Please, no fighting ladies.


Max candid.


Max portrait.

We even found a restaurant where the proprietors appreciate man's bestfriend just as much as some of you! It's called "La Maison". We haven't had an opportunity to try the food yet, but we will and report back soon!



Whoa! Now how did this looker sneak his way on to this canine tribute?!?

(Sorry, he made me do it. You have no idea how jealous he gets!)

Friday, March 03, 2006

If you like Pina Coladas . . .

Fred and I just passed our three month mark in Paris. We’re beginning to settle in and our lives are starting to feel normal. Now that the dust is settling, I’m realizing just how much I miss all of you.

I miss getting those 4 o’clock calls asking me to meet you at the Four Seasons, the Ferry Building Wine Bar, or Catch (3 o’clock on Fridays). I miss hosting and going to dinner parties. I miss attending your birthday parties. I miss being there when you need me. And I miss being there when I need you.

I’ve been a little stubborn in trying to make friends (evidenced by the hostility in the previous blog entry). I admit part of me doesn’t want to expend the effort because forming new relationships takes time. Moreover, a lot of the people I meet will be moving back to their original countries in three to six months and the last thing I need is to make new friends only to have them move away. I have plenty of awesome friends that live in another country! The pool of people is small too. Most of the people I meet are the younger student type or retirees. I could meet French people, but that is intimidating because I don’t speak the language well enough to be entertaining or interesting. I just smile and talk about my cat, which in itself is risky because, like in English, this word can mean something different.

I decided to start taking Yoga classes for stress relief. However, just taking the class fosters guilt because I feel that I should be devoting that time to learning French. I’ve decided I need to let those feelings go and live my life as I normally would and the language will come.

Fred is taking Yoga with me. We found our instructor on craigslist. She moved to Paris from San Francisco eight months ago with her French husband, who she met in San Francisco. She lived on Divisadero and Golden Gate and worked in a law firm as an office manager. Our commonalities end there. She’s super fit, super Zen, and just returned from India where she was on a seven-day fast! All I could think of during the entire class was: I wonder what the first thing she ate was when she was done fasting? And then my thoughts turned to food as I struggled to hold my half-lotus. Fred thought that maybe our Yoga instructor could be my new friend. She's very nice, but seriously, she doesn’t strike me as the type of person that would want to spend hours in a cheese and wine bar.

I had convinced myself that I didn’t need new friends. That Fred, Bilbo, my work, French classes, Yoga, my blog, emailing exchanges, and telephone calls would keep me busy enough. But the other day, when Bilbo started scratching the furniture and I scolded him by singing: “Wait ‘til your father gets, until your father gets, wait ‘til your father gets home” – it hit me, I need to make some friends and get out of this house. Bilbo agrees.

I asked myself, what would my life be like had I not met all my amazing friends in law school or all of my great friends at work, and all of their great friends, who are now my friends? Inspired by this, I decided to peruse some websites to see if there was anyone else like me out there. I checked the “Strictly Platonic” section of craigslist and realized that these people do not understand the meaning of “strictly” or “platonic”, which is annoying because there’s a specific section for man-on-dog action and they should post there and not clutter up the platonic section.

I also looked on FUSAC (French USA Contacts) under “Strictly Conversation” and found this:

117772 14/01/2006 French man, 44, handsome, intelligent, looks for women, any age or origin, who loves to humiliate a man, to spank him, to use him as a carpet… elnuemma@yahoo.fr
Any takers? Another person who does not understand the word “strictly” (or “conversation”); although I don’t dispute the fact that he needs a spanking. This post is particularly disturbing because, unlike craigslist, one actually has to pay to place an ad here.

Anyhow, I can tell my quest for friends is going to be much more difficult than I thought. Come visit! The champagne is chilling . . .