Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sometimes all I can do is shake my head in wonder...

I was walking through Chatelet on my way to the metro after a lesson.  I crossed over Boulevard de Sébastopol in a hurry, but suddenly looked up when I heard a strange noise.  It sounded like une grève.  My first thought was that another strike was going to mess up my day.  I glanced around nervously, wondering who could be on strike and why.  And then I saw where the strike was...

That's right.  KFC (otherwise known as Kentucky Fried Chicken for those of you who are not American).  A fast food restaurant was on strike.  And only that one location in Chatelet / Les Halles.   

I wish I could have taken a picture, but I was in a hurry to catch the metro for my lesson in Clichy, so I didn't have time to dig through my bag.  However, the entire restaurant was covered in posters saying "en grève" and the employees were outside yelling and honking horns.  I still don't know why they were striking, but I'm sure it wasn't the most brilliant reason in the world, since in general it seems like the Frenchies look for any reason possible to go on strike.  It is the national pastime after all.

But for now, all I can do is just wonder and shake my head.  Sometimes I think I will never really be able to understand the French...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Visite médicale

I recently received an email from my boss telling me I had been convoquée for my visite médicale.  I was a little surprised because I had no idea why I needed to pass a medical visit; I had just done one in June for my titre de séjour.  Lionel explained to me that you are required to have a medical visit when you start a new job to make sure you are in good health and able to do your job.  And then, you have to go back for these work-related medical visits every year. 

This was the first I had ever heard of these medical visits for work and I find it a little ridiculous.  It seems like that must cost a lot of money to have everyone who is employed go in for a mandatory medical visit every year.  It also seems like a waste of time.  The French love their doctors and their medicine, and it seems to me that if they have a problem, they will most likely run off to the doctor immediately so they can avoid work for a few days and stop at the pharmacy to fill their apartments with piles of medications.  Also, I have been working at my job since June.  If their was a serious problem preventing me from doing my job, I don't think I would still be doing it in January.  And then (and I know this isn't the case for everyone) I had to cancel a lesson to go to the medical visit this morning, and therefore lose money.  This didn't make me very happy as I felt no need to go see a doctor, except that I was told I had to.

So I went to the visit today.  Visiting a doctor in France is always a miserable experience for me.  I hate it and I always feel like they are being unnecessarily rude and like they are looking down on me.  And this visit didn't really change my opinion. The woman at the accueil acted like I was stupid when I asked her to repeat herself because I couldn't hear her over her colleague who was speaking to her at the same time that she was asking me questions.  She then proceeded to ask me questions using the most basic vocabulary possible because she was convinced that I couldn't understand normal French.  She even asked me if I thought I could faire pipi because they wanted to get a urine sample, and apparently the only term I could possibly know was one most commonly used with children!

The rest of the visit went pretty smoothly and the actual médecin was extremely nice (surprising for a French woman) and even chatted with me about life in general and what I hoped to do with my career and life in the future.  She was even nice enough to compliment my French (apparently she didn't think I needed phrases like faire pipi to understand the language).  I'm just glad it's done and that I was considered to be apte au poste, meaning I can continue to work the job I have been working.

My question is, what happens if they say you can't work your job?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

And Americans are bad at geography...

Monday night I watched Le Chef Contre Attaque with Chef Cyril Lignac on M6.  The show is actually pretty entertaining.  Cyril Lignac goes around France and tries to spread the pleasure of cooking and eating well.  In this particular episode he was trying to build a unity around food in a small town in Picardie.  During the show he was showing people how to cook, how to work together and how they could affect their community by sharing their love of cooking and eating to unify the town. 

At one point he decides to take his two coéquipiers to the US to visit Detroit, Michigan, which has apparently moved:

location of Detroit according to M6

I found this strange because last time I checked Detroit was still here:

  Actual location of Detroit

I just think that before you air something on television you should perhaps check to make sure you are being accurate.  Especially when it is as easy to check as the location of a major city on a map!!!  Or perhaps the French need to study American geography a bit more and stop saying that Americans are nul en géographie!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Kitchens en France

In my opinion, on of the most difficult things about finding an apartment in France is finding a decent kitchen.  I don't understand how the Frenchies do it.  They must eat out all the time and never cook at home, because I have never seen such ridiculous excuses for kitchens in my life!  In America you know what to expect from a kitchen.  It never has to be your top concern when looking for a place to live.  They come with cupboards and drawers and places to put food and dishes.  They come with exhaust hoods over the stove, and when you rent they come with a stove and an oven and a fridge.  The size of the kitchen varies, but in general you know you are going to at least get something in which you can cook.

In France, kitchens are an entirely different story.  They are never the same and they are almost always horrible.  Kitchens often come with nothing but a sink and the renter is expected to provide storage (shelving, cupboards, drawers), counters and appliances.  To me this is insane because for each place you live you have to buy what can fit in the kitchen and then if you move, you may need entirely different furnishings to fit the next kitchen.  Such a waste of money!  There is very rarely an exhaust hood for the stove, which in my opinion is just disgusting and in the case of my current apartment leads to serious problems of humidity and mold.

Now don't get me wrong, on occasion you can find a fully equipped kitchen, American style and everything, but it is rare.  Some places have something between just a sink and a "real" kitchen: perhaps a sink and a bar with shelving or a sink and a few cupboards.  But you never really know and so I find that for my current apartment search, one of the things I'm really watching for is the kitchen.

But apartment ads are very deceiving here.  They have a number of different ways to describe kitchens, and I can't seem to figure out what they all mean because just when I think I understand I see a kitchen that doesn't fit my definition of the term used.  For example you can have une cuisine équipée, une cuisine aménagée, une cuisine ouverte, une cuisine séparée, une cuisine américaine, une cuisinette, un coin cuisine, etc.  The list goes on and on.  But from what I can understand here is what these terms mean:

Une cuisine équipée: a kitchen with things in it (maybe storage, etc), but what these things are can never be known without seeing it.

Une cuisine aménagée: about the same as above, it has things in it

Une cuisine ouverte: a kitchen that is open onto the living room, rather than being in a separate room.

Une cuisine séparée: a kitchen in a separate, closed room.

Une cuisine américaine: by far my least favorite term for describing a kitchen.  When I first saw American kitchen I imagined a kitchen like in America with appliances, cupboards, drawers, etc.  I was excited and thought that that was what I needed to be looking for in the ads.  But no, it simply means that the kitchen is open onto the living room (une cuisine ouverte).  What a poor choice of words!  This type of kitchen can be completely empty, but as long as it is open, it is American.  Too bad we are better than that in America and this is not at all what our kitchens are like! 

Une cuisinette: a very small kitchen, usually with a minifridge, a sink and two stove top burners, and nothing else.  Perhaps good for a student, but not for adults or a family.

Un coin cuisine: a small kitchen space, seems to generally be in a corner of the living room.

So with all these options, how is anyone ever supposed to get a decent kitchen!  Where is the term that refers to an actual kitchen that can be used for cooking!?!?!  Cuisine à cuisiner could perhaps be a good term to indicate to those of us who actually like to cook and want to cook, that the kitchen will in fact provide us with the means necessary to do so.  Too bad this doesn't seem to exist in France unless you are really lucky!

This kitchen problem is especially relevant considering the apartment I just visited on Thursday.  A beautiful apartment in a new, modern building complex complete with beautiful gardens.  Only 3 years old!  Gorgeous parquet floors, clean, white walls, lots of light, 42 m2, a big balcony overlooking a pretty garden, an amazing bathroom complete with bathtub and space for a washing machine, an actual closet in the bedroom (where we could hang clothes and store stuff!!!), a big water heater and a big living room.  Seemed perfect.  But then there was the kitchen: une cuisinette.  That's right, a tiny little miserable kitchen (like I had when living as a student in France at the Technohole) in the middle of the living room.  What is that!?!?!  These are nice apartments for adults and families, and you can't even cook!  Two burners!?!?!  One cabinet under the sink where I wouldn't even want to keep my food!!!  Where do you put an oven?  A microwave?  The necessary coffee maker?  Where do you store food, dishes, pots, pans?????  How does one actually cook with this!?!?!  The people who live there now built an extra plan de travail for their kitchen space which was basically a little counter that jutted out from the wall into the middle of the living room, right next to the computer desk with a drawer, an extra cabinet and space for an oven.  But even that's not enough for me!  Where would I put everything!?!?!  And its in the middle of the living room!?!?!  And they had their fridge set up next to that, in the middle of the room, right next to the door to the bedroom.

  a cuisinette in the apartment complex we visited Thursday

What I would like to know is, who designed these buildings!?!?!  Brand new apartment buildings and they design that for the kitchen space!?!?!  This person's an absolute moron!  We would have had to basically construct our own kitchen and lose a large amount of the living room space to do so.  So, we had to say no to this beautiful apartment and keep looking, hoping to find something that is nice, well-built, and has a real kitchen, which we may never find in this country of crazy kitchens!

How are the French so well known for gastronomy when they can't even cook at home?  You would think the kitchen would be something they would value!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Marijuana dans le metro

I was heading home from work this evening on the line 7.  The metro was very crowded, as usual, and I was thrilled when a seat opened up.  I squeezed through a few people and dashed for it, slidding myself between a somewhat chubby man and a thin Parisian woman.  I reached into my huge, overstuffed Longchamp, dug around a bit, and happily pulled out the new Dan Brown book, excited to be comfortably seated and able to find out what was going to happen next to Robert Langdon and Katherine Soloman in The Lost Symbol.  As I opened my page to my bookmark, carefully hiding the Eiffel Tower as I do every day, I looked up at the people sitting across from me - three punk French teenagers rolling a joint in the middle of a crowded metro - and suddenly I was a little less excited to be sitting where I was.  Only in Paris...

Monday, January 11, 2010

A la recherche d'un nouvel appartement

Well, I've been meaning to blog about this but just haven't found the time yet.  As I believe I mentioned in December, we are going to be moving.  I finally had enough real pay stubs for us to send our notification to our landlord to say that we planned to move.  And we finally received a letter back informing us that he had in fact received our letter and that we have to be out February 28!  This is great news because we have been living for two and a half years in a horrible, tiny apartment.  I was beginning to think we would never leave, but the end is finally in sight and I couldn't be happier.  It's one of the few things I have to look forward to right now.

So what is so bad about our current apartment?
  • 20 m2 studio for two people
  • freezing cold and cannot be heated 
  • broken windows - glass broken in the kitchen window, window that won't open in winter in the main room, wooden windows that are falling apart
  • untreated wooden windows that absorb water and change sizes depending on the weather
  • heater in the bathroom doesn't work
  • practically no ventillation
  • the ventillation that exists is just holes to the outside (makes it very cold in the winter)
  • extremely humid - water even collects on the wall that faces outside
  • mold grows everywhere, including the bathroom ceiling that we can't even reach to clean
  • tiniest shower in the world
  • wall outlets that don't work
  • no hood over the stovetop so the humidity and grease from cooking just goes everywhere
  • have to climb over the toilet to get into the shower
  • bathroom sink with pipes that leak
  • very small water heater and therefore not enough hot water for two full showers
  • window drain that freezes closed and so the kitchen floor gets covered in water that overflows from the windows
I think those are the main problems with our apartment, though every day I feel like new problems arise.  But we have started looking for a new place.  We are hoping to either stay here in the KB or move to the city next to us.  That way we still live on the metro but we are paying a little less because we live outside of Paris.  We are hoping to get a 40-50 m2 with one bedroom somewhere in our price range.  And I'm hoping for a decent kitchen, a bigger bathroom with a decent sized shower or even a bathtub, an apartment in decent condition, and maybe even a balcony!  We are also hoping for something a little closer to a metro stop and something that can be heated in winter and that doesn't grow mold.  I don't think we are asking too much, but I am worried that in France this basic apartment won't exist!!!

We visited one apartment this weekend.  It was a little smaller (36 m2) than we wanted and so we aren't going to turn in our dossier.  But it felt good to get out and actually visit something.  It made it seem more real, more like we will eventually move!  We were supposed to visit a second place this weekend, but weren't able to because someone had turned in a dossier at the end of the week and so they are waiting for a response.  If they aren't taken then we might be able to see it next weekend.  We also have some more calls to make to set up some visits for the end of this weekend and for this weekend.  Hopefully we will find something soon because I want to get a lease signed so we don't have to worry about settling for something we don't want because we need a place to live.

Once we move I am looking forward to buying a washing machine so I never have to go to the stupid laundromat again.  I am also looking forward to getting my dream couch from IKEA so that my friends and family can visit us in France and have somewhere comfortable to sleep when they stay at our apartment.  After those two items are purchased, I hope to do some other serious shopping for random little furniture and kitchen supplies so I can finally feel like I'm living a decent life for a 26 year old with a Masters degree.  Up until now I feel like I have been living in a condition that is worse than when I was in college!  And I thought that once you graduated and got a real job, your mode de vie was supposed to improve, not get worse!!!

Here's hoping we find our dream apartment and fast!!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

De retour en France...

Well, I'm back in France and have been since Sunday.  Normally I would be thrilled to be back, but this time I am not.  I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it, and I've been busy trying to figure it out.  I absolutely did not want to get on that plane on Saturday and I would have done almost anything to stay.  Unfortunately I had to get back to reality, to work, and to my miserable apartment.

For the first time ever I was truly devastated to be leaving the US and after all this time abroad, I think I am finally experiencing homesickness.  It's a weird feeling for me.  I've always prided myself on my ability to adapt to change with little to no difficulty, but this time it is hard.  And it isn't even true change because I've been living in France for a while now.  I think it just finally hit me.  I had been home in over a year and I finally went back and saw my family and friends after such a long absence and I just really started to realize what I am leaving behind.  Plus, before I always knew that I would be going home in the summer, and now I don't know when my next visit will be.  I'm hoping for August, but I can't be sure that it will work out.

Before I left for the States everyone kept telling me that it would be good for me and it was exactly what I needed for the holidays.  But now I'm starting to wonder if that was true.  I don't think it was good for me; it just left me more hurt and depressed than anything else.  And I don't know if it was what I needed; it has only created more questions without answers.  This whole trip has left me feeling sad and uncertain.

I am starting to wonder if Lionel and I should stay in France or if we would be better off in the United States with higher salaries and more luxury.  But perhaps I am just looking at this through rose-tinted glasses.  I am fresh off a great visit to the US where I was on vacation and not working.  Perhaps I have forgotten those realities of life in the United States that originally made me happy to leave.  Maybe I need a reminder so I can feel more comfortable with my life here and more certain that staying is what is best.  But for now, the question is in my head: do I want us to go to the US and give life there a try?  For the first time ever Lionel actually said (in complete seriousness) that if I want to go back, we can go.  Is that what I want?  I think I have a lot of thinking to do.  Or perhaps I just need to return to my routine in France and things will be better.

The strangest thing is, I don't know if I should be feeling this way either.  I felt very awkward in the US.  I felt comfortable with my family and friends, but with everything else it was strange.  I easily fell back into the habit of driving everywhere (let's face it, I don't really love the metro), but there were other things that just felt so strange and made me feel like an outsider even in my home.  I thought it was the most amazing thing in the world to hear people around me in stores and restaurants speaking English.  Every time I heard it I was confused and shocked.  It just seemed strange.  And I could not get used to tipping and showing ID.  It just didn't feel natural and I had completely forgotten it was necessary.  It also felt foreign to be surrounded by so many chubby, poorly-dressed people.  Not that I am the skinniest person in the world and not that I dress well, but even I felt small when I was back in the States.  And I felt like I was dressed in designer clothing compared to the people around me.  It was strange.  I also noticed that my English has been suffering from living in France.  I noticed myself saying things and as soon as they came out of my mouth I knew it wasn't right (either it didn't sound right or I could tell from the looks on people's faces).  It was difficult and it concerns me.  I think it is a mix of all the French around me and of having to teach British English most of the time, rather than American English.

So what do you do when you no longer feel completely at home when you are home?  When you don't feel at home anywhere that you live or have lived?  How do you decide which place is best for you and where you will be happiest?  Or do you just put all the thoughts aside and live life as it is and not worry about the future?

This trip has confused me more than ever.  When once I thought I was certain I knew what I wanted, I am now unsure of what to do.  But I guess for now I have no choice but to stay in France and continue the path I am on now.  I can only try to make the best of it by looking for a new job, finding that bigger and better apartment and by seeing what 2010 has to offer.