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.