Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Before

I feel as though I should write a post before I jet off to Italy tomorrow, because otherwise I will have little to no chance of explaining what has been happening slash what I have been thinking NOW.

Which, let's face it, isn't much.

First of all, are you aware that it is 58 degrees here in the Paris at this moment? And for some miracle, I am not working at 5pm! How is that happening!?!?! Instead I am sitting here with windows wide open hoping that some of my hand-washed undies will dry before I go on vacation. Because I'm wearing the last pair and THEY are only dry because I didn't let them soak and turned on the heat last night. Yes, folks, it's time to do laundry. But there is no time to do it before I leave, so some part of tonight will be spent assessing the least dirty of my socks. ALTHOUGH it is supposed to be 68 in Rome on Friday, so maybe I just wear sandals? Too soon?

Right, so I'm going to Rome tomorrow. My friend and I will have two full days there (Fri and Sat) and then we depart Sunday morning. I'm SO FREAKING EXCITED, and it just hit with full impact that I will be seeing Rome! I'm such an anticipatory person (is that a word?), so this is unlike me. But who cares, Italy will be my reality tomorrow! I would say give me suggestions but I really am not paying attention.

So also, this return to spring is reminding me why I have continued to make baby-sitting a part of my career for this long--afternoons at the park. What other job--besides camp counselor--can you hang out and play games outside all day? It's the best, especially after such a dreary winter.

An exchange today....
Kid: Natalieeee....
Me: Yo.
Kid: You can't say yo. Only pirates.

Okay.

Today at the playground I had to break up a lot of canoodling pigeons. I understand about springtime and babies and all that jazz, but do it somewhere else. I'm not trying to see that.

Saturday marks the halfway point of being here in France, assuming I leave on July 31st, which will be pretty close to accurate. Weird to think that. I feel like I'm much closer to the ending than the beginning. I suppose that is because all the hard stuff is clumped together at the front part of the stay--jetlag, making new friends, speaking French in public, homesickness, big holidays. And now it's nothing but smooth sailing and weekends away. I don't know how many more abroad trips my credit card can handle before I come home, but I want to get to Spain at least. Maybe Switzerland. Greece, if I can swing it (but no idea how). But also, trips in France--Toulon, Champagne, Bordeaux, Mont-St-Michel, Montpellier. I need a sponsor, or a sugar daddy, or.....something not creepy.

Well, I really should pack since tonight is karaoke night at my favorite bar and I work in the morning. Don't worry, I'm practicing. And get ready for around 500 photos of Rome.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Roma

So my friend and I booked travel to Rome for the first weekend in March! Neither of us have ever been to Italy before, and Italy is one of those places I have always wanted to see. But first I need to learn some Italian. Honestly, people all over Europe speak multiple languages, and English tends to be one of them. (One of these days you are going to get a post about how Americans need to start taking other languages seriously...literally it's so sad that almost everyone I meet in Paris can converse in English and I can name on two hand people I know who speak French.)

But in the mean time, here are the words I already know in Italian! That should help, right? Lay out what I know and fill in the holes...

Buongiorno - Good day
Buonasera - Good evening
Buonanotte - Good night
Ciao - Hi/Bye
Arrivederci - Good-bye
Presto - Soon
Prego - You're welcome
Grazie - Thank you
Si - Yes
No - No
Dove - Where
Piazza - Plaza
Spaghetti...
Linguini...
Fettucini...
Penne...
Tagliateli...
Tortellini...
Ravioli...
Farfalle...
Pizza...
Gelato...

I think I might be able to get by on that, but I should at least learn how to say, "Do you speak English?" Or at least some vocab that isn't half food....

Parli inglese? There it is!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Sans-Valentin!

^That's the funny little sounds-alike they do here in France, if you are without a Valentine. Actually I do have a Valentine. A couple--myself, my city, and champagne. Not the worst V-Day I have ever had, to be fair!

I've post about 50 times on this blog, and I do believe the narrative has fallen apart somewhat. It is a lot easier to blog about your life when you aren't really out there living it. Thus, the conundrum. I want to be a really great blogger--giving you detailed posts, full of photos and anecdotes. But then I also want to make last-minute plans, and I forget my camera, and sometimes I just want to watch reruns while I eat too much cheese. Not exactly note-worthy, but still a big part of my life here in France.

So I'm just not going to apologize. And I'm not going to try to hard. Either you will like this completely unembellished version of my life here in Paris, or you will not like it, because I'm not telling you enough, or I sound pretentious, or it's just not very interesting (maybe all!??). And because I'm celebrating my love with my new boyfriend Fake Champagne (the real stuff is still expensive here), I'm just going to write you a little listy. Hey, I think in lists.

Recent Thoughts on La Vie Parisienne
1. Just realized my window was open. I have really crappy windows, and sometimes the pressure in my room gets weird and opening the door opens the window a bit. Luckily, it's no longer below freezing all the live long day. (Also, I have intense metal shutters to keep out the bad guys.)
2. One of my least favorite things about my living arrangement is that everyone around me likes to cook. And either I go out of my room at 11pm to pee and get super hungry from a buttery-garlic smell....or I'm hungover and it smells like gross fish. There's no in between.
3. Twice in my life I have come home to find firefighters doing stuff in my apartment building. Once was last year, because snow had blocked part of the exhaust and so they had to go in all the apartments to check for gas leaks. And the other was last night, where they were chipping ice from the exterior of the building to alleviate a very similar situation. Makes the heart race either way.
4. It's really obnoxious when your bank is further away than your grocery store and you don't have any cash but you need food, and most food places won't take cards for less than 10 euros, so you go to the supermarket, but then you have to also spend 10 euros, so you do, but then you forget eggs. A very specific situation, I realize.
5. This kid is picking up on my speech patterns. It's weird. Also, today he told me my last name...which I'm pretty sure I have never a reason to tell him. Bizarre. Kids these days. Also, babies and explosive diapers....what is my life.
6. I don't have a headboard in my shoebox. My little twin bed is against one side wall and I have a table at the head of it, but there's nothing to lean against. It doesn't make sense to put it in a corner, since the window overhangs the wall a bit, and the only other corners are by the door. Basically, if I am on my computer in bed, I'm lying on my left side, and my right side is feeling the neglect.
7. Buying mascara in Paris means spending more than 10% of my paycheck. That's ridiculous. Never thought I'd miss NYC prices.
8. At my local grocery store, 6 eggs will cost you 1.75 euros. In my grocery store in Brooklyn, 6 organic eggs (albeit medium-sized ones) cost me 1.75 dollars. Just saying.
9. I'm currently debating the merits of solo travel to Italy...uh anyone free the first weekend of March? Looking to book....now.

Alright, I'm done typing. Here are some photos of recent snowfall. I was in the country for one night at a friend's house, and it snowed something like 4 inches! Pretty.







Thursday, February 9, 2012

My Date with OFII

Today, ladies and gentleman, I finally took the first step towards getting my social security. Yes, I have been here for more than four months, and yes, I'm done in less than six. But probably during that time I will be hit by a bicycle or get drunk and fall down. So, it's a good idea to get this healthcare (which was one of the things that made this whole au pair sitch so dang appealing).

Well, I sent in my paper on November 7th, the required paper that I almost lost in a giant heap of recycling on Dalton hill before I left. Ironically enough, that paper got lost again once it got to France! Yes, my OFII legalese disappeared into the French postal system, and no one assigned me an appointment to get my carte de long séjour. This paperwork is rather vital, because it says that once I've been here a certain amount of months, if I leave without this carte in my passport, I cannot reenter the country legally until my visa runs out in September '12.

So anyway, two weeks ago I went in to the OFII office to kick some general ass, and instead, I walked out 20 minutes later practically giddy with the efficiency, and clutching my attestation to get that carte on February 9th, aka TODAY!

Now, obviously today wasn't going to go as smoothly as that day, because I had obviously used up all my karma. And it didn't start well either--I was 7 minutes late, and though no one said anything, you were taken in the order you arrived.

So I'm there. And I wait for about 45 minutes, just watching people. And then I realize I'm missing paperwork--you have to bring a justification de domicile, which in my case is a letter from my host parents saying I live with them. I had that. But I didn't have a copy of my host dad's ID, to prove he exists. Merde! And of course, he was in a meeting, so he couldn't be reached to fax it over quickly. When they called my name, I was totally scared, no lies. We all know the French stereotype of rudeness, and, although I debunked that rumor in my last post, we also know that government employees tend to be overworked, and this lady was definitely one of those.

I used the tactic, I know best--apologize profusely, ask what I can do, offer some alternatives, smile sadly, maybe call yourself stupid or something. I had brought along a letter from my bank that was addressed to me c/o my host family. And I offered to get the fax, somehow. And what did she say??...

"C'est pas grave."

!!!!

Which means, no big deal, loosely.

WOOHOO.

So then I go into another room and wait, and they call my name, and it's do you wear contacts, are you preggers, height, weight, eyesight. And back out in the waiting room for a bit. And they call my name again for the 2nd (of 3) parts of the exam.

And this is where it gets a little interesting. I'd been warned about this part beforehand. Basically, they do a chest x-ray to make sure you aren't hiding and crazy maladies from the French government in order to exploit their healthcare system. So you go into a tiny room, and take off everything from the waist up, and you have to tie back your hair. And then the other door opens and a woman pushes your chest up against a giant machine to take the x-ray. By pushes, I mean, literally pushes and holds you there.

So that was fun. And then I got dressed and waited some more, and then I got to answer questions about myself in French--are you really sick? how about your vaccination history? how long have you been here? smoker? etc. Good thing it wasn't my first week, because she spoke quickly and didn't look in my eyes.

But finally--finished! Oh wait, just kidding, take your x-ray (that I got to keep, it's so weird and cool) and go back out to the first room. And wait some more.

Finally, around noon, after three hours, they pasted a sticker in my passport (I now have zero fully empty pages) and I can legally leave and re-enter the country again! Although, I went to Belgium and no one even checked my passport, so it's probably not as dire as I would like to believe.

Anyway, satisfying day of OFII stuff. So glad that's finished. And now I get to start the fight to get my social security. My host mom said it took the last au pair four visits to the agency, and finally the host dad had to go too, and she got her card 3 days before she left. Worth it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

French Stereotypes

I'm going to take a moment here to attempt to mythbust some stereotypes about the French people. For the record, my lovely, non-judgmental friends, this list has been compiled to represent the most common stereotypes that Americans associate with the French. And my decision to award something a big old T or F (that's true or false), is based solely on my personal experiences. Got it? This ain't science, and it's not a sociological study. I know this because that was my major and I have never used my major for anything. Including this. So. Enjoy!

Major French Stereotypes, Say Americans
1. "Ooh la la!"
This is way true. French people say this all the time. It can be "ooh" or "oh" or "ah," and the "la"-count may go up or down depending on who is speaking and how emphatic they are trying to be. But seriously, I hear this all the time, from everyone. And it's more glorious every time.

2. They smell/don't bathe/armpit hair, etc.
I give this myth a big fat FALSE. While it is winter, and maybe people get a little smellier in the warmer months (who doesn't?), I have not run into an epidemic of un-showered people. In fact, one of my favorite things about France is the two-kiss greeting, because it gives you an opportunity to get really close to men you are just meeting. And so you get to smell them, and they often smell great...so you hope you have the opportunity to get close to them again...win-win!

3. Smoking
Now, I am not going to say that EVERY PERSON IN FRANCE smokes. That's really obviously not true. My host parents don't smoke, for example. But, literally (and I mean that LITERALLY, not the fake-version of the word literally), actually, every young French person I know smokes. A lot. All the time. You can't do it in bars, but I've been to a few house parties where I am the only person--literally--who is not smoking. So...mostly true!

4. Womanizers
This one is more of a wash. I can't decide. Because some men I have met here in France are totally normal, or boring. But then I have met a few doozies that have been so incredibly forward in their intentions that I cannot deny this stereotype. Probably the most forward men I have ever met (including New York construction workers) have all been in France.

5. Clothes (stripes, berets, moustaches, fancy all the time, super stylish)
Most of the stereotypes I have found relating to fashion have been very true. The French love stripes, the vast majority of people (including college students) don't go out in sweats, almost everyone dresses very classically. No, people don't wear berets, and facial hair is pretty much the same as it is in the States. But yeah, you should try to look good if you come to France. Not trendy, but classic and put-together. Oh, and most French women (meaning, people a little older than me and up) don't wear tons of makeup. That's true too. But they look amazing anyway. Sigh.

6. Surrender
I have no experience with this one, as I am not currently in a war with anyone in France, but I will say that French people enjoy talking about American politics, and they are not afraid to argue. So I would say, false!

7. Eat really "badly" (cheese, butter, wine, chocolate, etc) and "weirdly" (frogs, snails, etc)
The food stereotypes are all true. You can't get substitutions on menus, everyone eats their cheese and the fatty part of the meat, drinks wine like it's water, etc. Escargot is everywhere, along with steak tartare, frogs' legs, tongue, liver, etc. But it's just not....weird here. And the portions are much more in tune with what a person should be eating. You're never going to get a giant portion of fatty foie gras--but you will get enough, and it will be heavenly.

8. Rude
French people are not rude. (Also, New Yorkers are not rude.) In my experience, if you are nice first, if you try to do the right thing--come prepared, attempt French, smile, use the "vous" (polite version of "you")--people will be people. But if you assume everyone will speak English to you because you're American, or if you don't do your research before you go somewhere, or if you're a bitch...well, I don't blame them! False, my friends.

9. Effeminate men
Overall, I don't think men in French are more effeminate than anyone else. They tend to be skinnier than men in American (not hard). They dress better, which is fun for subway watching. Some carry bags, which is just practical. But they are just different, culturally. And trust me, there are some hotttttt French men.

10. Racist
Honestly, I have no context for this one. I am pretty white, despite my attempts at rapping, and so I don't have any experience in the kind of racism that is said to permeate France. I have heard of certain areas outside of Paris where I could go to see racism, but that's not very high on my list of things to do. So I can't really say.

Finally, I would also like to say that the French like to replace some words with sounds. This is something I do occasionally. Sometimes words don't cut it, you know? But they do it all the time, especially blowing air out of their mouths quickly. I will demonstrate it for you sometime, and upload a video. But it's late here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Killing Time

I'm sitting here at music school, and I'm tired. I received a text this morning as my alarm went off at 8am, moving up my starting time to 8:30 (from 9:15). Good thing I was planning on waking up then.

With a lack of other distractions lately, and the fact that it has finally started to act like winter, I've been hanging out chez moi a lot. I read the 2nd and 3rd Hunger Games books in 24 hours. Yesterday I finally swept the floor. Tomorrow I'm doing laundry (I went the entire month of January without doing any laundry except a small batch of hand washing). Life in Paris in the dead of winter is just not so exciting.

There has been a lot of unrest in the au pair community of late. The weather, the sick kids, the painful reality that we are glorified baby-sitters--these things are all taking their toll. I, for one, miss the autonomy of my previous lives. I am somewhat sick of responding to everyone's whims except my own. I want to be making the decisions, I want a real salary to spend how I see fit instead of watching it dwindle because I had to buy contact solution this week. Any purchase in Paris is a big purchase because it is such a giant percentage of what I make!

And what's more, I miss home. I love Paris, I really do. But I miss my mom and dad, I miss my dogs. I miss knowing where everything is in my grocery store, and I miss cheap group dinners. The unrest I feel is slippery and changing all the time. Some days I feel I could be happy with a permanently international life, but other days I cannot fathom always spending an arm and a leg just to go visit the people I love.

Dunno. Maybe it's just winter. But yesterday was the mark of 6 months left as an au pair. And while I'm not exactly counting down the days (seriously, I do love this city), I will say with certainty that I will not be staying as an au pair past my contract date, and I will not be sad when I'm finished. I'll always love the kids, as I have always loved the kids that came before, but I think this experience is better suited for shorter amounts of time.