Sunday, June 23, 2013

16 things I hate and 16 things I love about Paris

I have lived in France now for nearly 4 years on and off, having spent the last year and a half in Paris. One of the things that I love about living abroad is learning about and soaking up a new culture (and in this case, learning a new language, as well) - I now really appreciate certain things (even little things) about life in the US that I used to take for granted or not even think about.  But there are also a lot of things about the French culture that I appreciate and will really miss when I'm no longer here.

Whenever I tell people from the US that I live in Paris, their eyes practically pop out of their head. Whether it is a friend of my dad's, a drugstore employee or someone on the phone from Verizon Wireless, people always tell me how jealous they are and that they would change places with me in a heartbeat. I always feel guilty and as if I am disappointing people by telling them that no, I don't love living here. Paris and I have a very strong love-hate relationship.  We have had a lot of ups and downs. So for every person out there wanting to move to Paris (I know that there seem to be a lot of Americans out there), you should know that, while this city is wonderful in a lot of ways, living here is not always a picture-perfect fairytale.

I will start with...

15 things I strongly dislike about Paris: 

1) The weather. La grisaille (greyness).  This word takes on a whole new meaning when you live in Paris, a city that is almost constantly covered by clouds, drizzle and cold.  My first summer in Paris, I kept waiting for it to get hot. The warmth never really came. Winter-like weather (well, minus the snow) endlessly drags on into May and June.  Sure, there are some warm summer days. But there are not nearly enough of them. For instance, it is now the end of June and today was 60 degrees fahrenheit (or 14 degrees celsius), windy and cloudy- last night I was absolutely freezing, wearing tights and a blazer.  Not normal. In Paris, no matter what time of the year it is, you must always come prepared with a jacket and an umbrella. Thunderstorms are another thing that I have barely experienced in the year and a half I've been in Paris.  I miss exciting thunderstorms - if it's going to rain, then let's do the whole sha-bang.

typical Parisian weather
2) Parisians. I have met some great people in Paris, but this is not an easy city to meet people in.  Truth be told, I have never felt more alone than while living in Paris, and I think it has to do with this fact. Even going out to bars is not easy to meet people.  For the most part, Parisians have their friends and stick to them and don't seem to care to branch out from that.  Don't get me wrong - most people are not rude - they are just not friendly. I guess any big city has this problem, but I think that this is especially true with Paris.  I miss warmth and friendliness from strangers. Happy-looking people and random smiles. Now, if a random stranger smiles at me, I get really creeped out. 

Even at parties, I have found that many people tend to stick with people that they already know. At one party where this happened to be the case, I frustratingly asked one Parisian why Parisians were so unfriendly and he claimed that it is because French people simply do not approach strangers (except maybe to ask for directions or something of the sort) - they have been raised to believe that anyone who does this must be crazy or very strange (and in France, they do tend to be!) 

3) The food. Yes, I just said that. Culinary capital of the world? Not so much. It's actually quite hard to find good food in Paris. Most of the time that I have been out to eat, I have been very unimpressed, eating food that I could have easily made at home.  I have found far more better restaurants in New York than in Paris - for cheaper. Unless you have a lot of money to spend, good food is pretty hard to come by here.

4) The gyms. I go to Club Med, a nicer gym located in Republique, a very central part of Paris. On Saturdays, it closes at 7. Except that at 6:30, the entire gym shut down. Even the steam shower.  What is the point of saying that you close at 7 if you actually close at 6:30? Also, paying 70 euros a month and not even having individual TVs with each workout machine? What is this business?  There are about two TVs in the entire gym and the only thing playing are the same advertisements over and over again and Club Med workout clips. And yes, this is one of the nicer gyms!

5) Lack of rooftop bars/restaurants. I only know of one rooftop bar in Paris (Wanderlust).  For whatever reason, they are lacking in this city. In terms of nightlife, I'm a huge fan of rooftop bars, especially during the summer, so this is a pretty big con for me.

6) Inefficiency. In some ways, France is still stuck in the 19th century. Get this, for instance: my bank will basically not serve me unless I go to my "agence" (found in a certain location). Everyone must choose an "agence", which is generally the place where you open an account - unfortunately, my "agence" is not located close to where I work, so it's not like I can just pop over on my lunch break. Also, for the longest time, I could not access my bank account because I could not find the codes to access them online (if I want to check my bank account, I cannot simply go to the bank, give them my card and get my bank account information - I have to have these codes...or go to my "agence"). But instead of being able to call up the bank and get the codes from them, I have to request that a letter be mailed to me with the codes. Nope, they can't e-mail them to me. 

This works for pretty much everything. I had to change the locks for my apartment and the fifteen minutes that it took to open the door cost me nearly 500 euros - fortunately, I got reimbursed for this through my house insurance - but in order to get reimbursed, I had to mail in the receipt, along with a letter explaining what happened. Once again, fax or e-mail is unacceptable. EVERYTHING in France has to be sent by mail so if you live here, you better get used to it.

7) The vibe (or lack thereof). Compared to other big cities, like London and New York (and even compared to smaller cities, like Toulouse), Paris doesn't have much of a vibe or energy. I'm not sure why.  The Economist seems to agree with me and probably explains it a bit better than I do...

8) Men. I rarely meet decent, nice guys here. The majority of heterosexual men tend to be a) far too effeminate for my taste b) sleazeballs with girlfriends that they are looking to cheat on c) only interested in one thing or d) all of the above. Nice selection, huh? If you are coming to Paris to find your Prince Charming...good luck. 

9) Smoking. I despise cigarette smoking. And in Paris, it seems that everyone smokes. Fortunately, bars prohibit smoking, but there is nothing worse than coming home from a party or night out reeking of cigarettes. Disgusting.

10) Homeless families. Paris has a ton of homeless people, which is never fun to see. But it's especially heartbreaking to see homeless kids or babies - before coming to France, I had never seen that before. Because these families tend to be all Roman (and not French), immigration laws prevent the French government from simply taking the children to an orphanage. Nevertheless, it's pretty upsetting to see and sad to think that the kids will probably all end up as pickpocketers. 

11) Everything shuts down on Sunday. In the US, admittedly things often close earlier on Sundays. But most places stay open - Sundays are a prime shopping day! But in France, everything shuts down on Sundays. And when you only have two days off on the weekends to explore the city or get things done, it makes it a bit more difficult.

12) The waiter culture. I miss friendly waiters and good customer service (which in France, is nonexistent).  I once went to a restaurant with friends and we waited for over an hour for our food, watching tables of people who came after us get served before - we continued to ask the waiter where our food was and instead of apologizing, she simply shrugged her shoulders and said "C'est comme ca." (It's just like that).  Not even a hint of sympathy on her face. Welcome to France. In the US, we would have at the very least, gotten a round of drinks for free. In the US, if a customer complains about the food, the rule of thumb is that the food is on the house. But definitely don't expect this to happen in France. I don't care if the waiters are friendly in the US only to get a tip - I'll take that over unfriendliness/indifference any day! 

I was in Nice a few weeks ago and our waiter was so incredibly friendly (he sat down next to us while serving us and said "How are you guys doing today? So this is how I'm going to talk to you, hope you get used to it...") He was extremely personable and friendly and I was practically in shock because that was the first time I had had a waiter be so friendly in France - well, guess what? He was American!

Also, in France, don't expect to have your glass of water refilled for you - you have to ask for each pitcher of water you receive (which means that if you are with a table of people, you will probably only have one glass of water...until you find the waiter again and can ask for the next pitcher).

13) Mexican food. Random, yes I know. But coming from the US, I am used to a lot of Mexican restaurants.  Since being in Paris, I haven't eaten Mexican food once, because I know of only one Mexican "restaurant" in this city- Chipotle. Umm yeah...doesn't really count...I miss filling up on delicious Mexican food over a margarita (with girlfriends of course).

14) Grocery stores. For the most part, I have no problem with grocery stores in France. They tend to provide fresher, healthier food than American grocery stores (no surprise there, huh?).  But there are a few things that bother me: firstly, you can't just leave a grocery store from the way that you came in. In many grocery stores, the entrance is immediately blocked off once you walk in, so that you have to stop by the cash register in order to leave, most likely so that, yup, you guessed it...customers will be less inclined to leave without purchasing something first. Kind of drives you nuts if you just go into to get one thing, don't see it and in order to leave, have to walk around the entire grocery store and squeeze through a dozen people waiting in line just to get to the exit. Also, for whatever reason, the grocery stores (especially the large ones like Auchan) seem to be perpetually crowded, especially on Saturday (this isn't just a result of capital-city madness either; I found the same to be true in Toulouse). Because the supermarkets don't have nearly enough registers for the throngs of people that flood their stores (or there is just no one working at half of them), waiting in line then takes about half a century. And there are not even any good magazines to entertain you while you are waiting in line (that's my favorite part of going to the grocery store back home! I will sometimes find the longer line just so that I can have more time to browse through the magazines).  

15) Innovation (or lack therof). Like I said, Paris is still stuck in the 19th century in a lot of ways - which in some ways, is good. For instance, I love that the bars and restaurants are so old-fashioned (see positive point number 13), but I also miss cool, exciting themed restaurants that are utterly nonexistent in Paris, like Gyu-Kaku (where you cook your own food) in New York or Dans le noir (where you dine in total darkness) in London.

16) Men peeing in public. If you see a puddle of wetness on the street or metro station of Paris, there is a 99.9% chance that it is pee. How do I know this? Because practically every time I walk down the street, I see out of the corner of my eye some man peeing. Wanna know the worst part? Not. even. discretely. Literally just peeing for the entire world to see, not even bothering to go somewhere private - in, I kid you not, broad daylight (I actually think I witness this more in the daytime than at night). And no, it's not just homeless and/or drunk men that do this. For whatever reason, peeing in public seems to be acceptable and not even frowned upon in Paris. 

But of course...there are also a lot of things that I love about living in Paris.

Things i love: 

1) Summers (when it's warm). When it's warm and the sun is shining, Paris is a hard city not to love. Walking along the canal or sitting by the Seine on a warm summer night are two of my favorite things to do in Paris. The fact that it stays light until practically 11pm means that even when getting off work at 7pm, the sun is still shining (if it's sunny out, because...well, it's Paris) and there is still 3 and a half hours of daylight left. Not too shabby. 

2) The way that everyone says "bon appetit." I love this. Food is obviously something that is very appreciated in France, so it is basically rude to pass someone eating (whatever it may be) and NOT say "bon appetit." Everyone says this to one another, even complete strangers.

3) Boulangeries. Bread in France is pretty amazing. Pain au noix (nut bread) = amazing. That kind of stuff just doesn't exist in the US (or anywhere else it seems!) - or if it does, it's pretty hard to come by. And bakeries on nearly every street corner is a pretty great perk of living in Paris.

4) Fromageries. On that note, the cheese is of course out of this world. Something that the US is seriously lacking is not only good bakeries, but stores dedicated to just cheese.

5) Wine. Another thing that France knows how to do is wine. Wine is so cheap everywhere - and good! They say that in France, wine is cheaper than water - before coming here, I thought that it was just an exaggeration - but it's not. If you go to a restaurant, the average price of a bottle of water is about 4-5 euros, while the average price of a glass of wine is about 3 euros.  There is even a bookstore in Paris that is part-bookstore and part wine-bar. You can order a glass of wine and then browse through their book collection. I love that.

6) Velibs, velibs, everywhere. Velibs are the Parisian bike service. There are bike stations all throughout the city (and even just outside the city), which makes it super easy to get around - because hey, if the metro or bus stops running, there are always bikes to take.  It's such a great way to explore the city, as well. I absolutely love biking in Paris on warm, sunny days. Bref: the bike service in Paris is one thing that must be adopted worldwide.

7) The markets. I went to the market close to my place today (one of the few things open on Sundays!) and I honestly don't know why I don't go there every Sunday. There is fresh, homemade food from France, Italy, name it! There is also an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables to choose from. What's even better? All of the locals go - so if you are looking for something very "French" to do, the markets (of whatever city in France you are in) are a must-do.

8) The work culture. Workaholism is fortunately a disease that the French did not catch - I love that they (unlike many Americans) know how to balance work and pleasure.  They take an average of 6 weeks vacation time per year (in August, the offices are pretty much empty), 1 hour and a half lunch breaks, and many jobs start between 10 and 10:30am.  On special occasions, wine and champagne are drunken at work - and it's totally normal to have a glass of wine or two while on lunch break.  People rarely eat at their desk - or if they do, they still seem to take some kind of lunch break. There is also not this strict line between personal and professional life like there is in the US - things blend together more.  Generally, the work culture is extremely laid back.

9) Picnics.  By the Eiffel Tower, in the Jardin du Luxembourg, by the Seine, in one of the numerous parks...need I say more? 

10) Montmartre, the Latin Quarter and the Marais. These are my three favorite neighborhoods of Paris and always remind me of how lucky I am to be living in such a beautiful city.  Montmartre makes you feel like you are set a bit apart from the rest of the city, while offering breathtaking views of all of Paris. The Latin Quarter is so lively and fun to walk around in, and the Marais has so many small little streets with very typically French, adorable little restaurants (this is also where I have found the best restaurants).

11) The cave-like restaurants and bars. While overall, I have not been that impressed with the food in Paris, I do love many of the cozy, cave-like stone restaurants and bars, which are just so incredibly French. Just don't get this back home!

Like this adorable little restaurant...
Frenchie restaurant - Paris
Or this typically Parisian bar...
Le petit carré - Paris

12) Cafés. The cafés are such a typical Parisian thing. They always have seating outside and for people-watching, it doesn't get any better than this.

Les Deux Magots - Paris (a typical café)

13) Old-fashioned buildings/architecture. I love how old all of the buildings are and how much history is behind all of the architecture.  Whether it be apartments/houses, restaurants or doctor's offices, French buildings seem to have the perfect mix between the old and new.

14) Nighttime. I don't mean nightlife, i mean nighttime -  Paris is called the "city of lights" for a reason. At nighttime, the whitewashed buildings are aglow and it's absolutely magnificent (especially around the Hotel du Ville area and along the Seine).

15) Cheap produce. I love how cheap produce is in France (even in Paris!) - You can buy about 10 tomatoes for under 2 euros. I remember going to the grocery store in the US after having been in France for a while and I bought a big tomato - it cost me no less than 6 dollars. That was the last time I bought a tomato for a while...I have an inkling that  obesity is such a problem in the US partially due to the fact that produce is so expensive - if fruit and vegetables were cheaper, then people might not resort to fast food as much. In France, fortunately, this isn't a problem- especially since, with a small coke costing 2.50 euro, McDonalds in France is actually incredibly expensive! And we wonder why the French are so slim..

16) The Seine and the canal. The Seine just makes Paris that much more beautiful. I love how it divides the city and runs right through the center. I love sitting by it on sunny days or warm evenings and crossing the many bridges to the other side...

And let's not forget about the Canal, the boho version of the Seine. The canal may not be nearly as popular as the Seine (especially in the eyes of tourists), but it's still pretty cool. I like it because not only is it right near my apartment, but it's more isolated and discreet than the strikingly obvious Seine.  I love all of the restaurants and bars along the canal and, like the Seine, I also like sitting there on warm or sunny days. 

Canal Saint Martin 

All in all, Paris is indeed an amazing city. But it's not the city for me - in all of France, my heart still lies in Toulouse...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

un peu du tout

So after about a nine-month hiatus, I've decided to start blogging again...but this time, I will be chronicling my adventures in Paris! 

Onto new adventures 

Many people say that college is the best four years of their life. Well, I can safely say that Toulouse was the best two years of mine. I had such an amazing time in Toulouse that
when I decided to come back to France, I think part of me expected to recreate my previous experience in Paris. 

I was so excited to come back to France and explore a new city, and I really expected to fall totally in love with Paris.  The truth is, I can't say that I love it here. At least not yet. I miss Toulouse a lot sometimes. I miss my life there, my friends, the people, the parties...everything! That being said, there are things that I like more about Paris, as well. But...

I miss friendliness! 

Even though I have been living in France now on and off for three years, I have yet to understand the French. Why are people so closed off? Why is it so difficult to make French girlfriends? Why do many of them always seem so serious and to take themselves so seriously? Obviously these are generalizations, but unfortunately, I have also found them to be valid much of the time. 

It is also one of the reasons why I don't think that I could live in France forever. I miss friendliness. Open people. Random smiles from strangers.

Here, the idea is that people already have friends, so they don't need to make new ones. It's therefore very hard, and I would say, nearly impossible, to break into a circle of friends in France. But back home, people are always making new friends. 

I was speaking with some French girls about it once and they said that they agreed French people were quite closed-off, but that they were closed-off to people until they got to know them. That they actually found Americans to be fake - when they stayed with host families for a year in the US, they said that their families were so nice and friendly- but then they never heard from them after that. They were saying how in France, the bonds may take a long time to form, but they last a lifetime. They thought that in the US, perhaps the bonds were more superficial and fleeting. I disagree.

Yes, in the US, strangers may converse with one another on the metro, and it is not unusual to smile at a stranger when walking down the street, or to strike up a conversation with someone in the grocery store, but I don't think that makes us "fake." Whatever the reason for the unfriendliness in France (and Paris in particular), I don't think there's any legitimate excuse. That is one cultural difference I could definitely do without.

Parisian Taxi Drivers

Another thing that I have yet to understand about Paris: Parisian taxi drivers. They have got to be a species of their own. I have had several bad experiences already - and I don't even take taxis often!

My first week in Paris, I went out with some friends and at the end of the night, shared a taxi back home with a friend. I did not know the city at this time, but she later told me that he was close to where I was staying, yet drove in the complete opposite direction to drop her home first, so that he could be in the car alone with me. I was sitting in the backseat, yet he proceeded to grope my thigh several times. It was disgusting. I told him to stop and slapped his hand away each time, but he continued to persist.

Fortunately, he did not drive me to a secluded spot and do God only knows what-I was lucky and he actually drove me home. I only paid half the cab fare, but I should have paid nothing. I cannot imagine EVER getting physically harassed in a New York cab. I'm sure it has happened to people before, but I have taken a lot of taxis in New York in my life and I have never felt uncomfortable before. They would lose their job on the spot if that were to happen. 

After that frightening episode, I had another experience.  This time, it was 3am and after wandering around by myself for the past hour to get a taxi, I was pretty fed up and ready to go home. I finally found one and told the taxi driver my metro stop as I got in the car, so that I could direct him to my apartment from there. It was only about a two minute drive away (I was unaware of this at the time) and when we got to the metro stop, the total was about five euros. I told the driver that I wanted to go a bit further, to my apartment, but he refused to drive any further. This did not sit well with me. I have never had a taxi driver simply refuse to take me where I want to go. Because the customer is always right, right? Wrong. Not in France at least.  

Now I am not one to pick arguments, especially with random strangers, but in the instance that someone is downright rude, I cannot just sit back. In this situation, I didn't care about the extra 2.5 euro, nor did I care that much about walking the extra few blocks home at that point. It was more about the principle than anything else - this man was extremely rude and at that point in the night, I had had enough. 

So I told him that I would only pay him half of the cab fare unless he drove me the extra 100 yards, or whatever it was, to my building.  He then got out of the car (uh oh) and started to yell in my face  "DONNE MOI L’ARGENT" (Give me the money!!), continuing to raise his volume as he chanted this over and over again. 

There were people standing there, waiting to get in the taxi, and just watching. They did absolutely nothing but stare. I hated that I looked like some crazy person that would refuse to pay the cab fare. But this was about the principle and I would not back down. So I continued to refuse.  Until finally, I realized that this man might actually do something violent to me if I didn’t give him the money, so I sucked up my pride and gave him the full five euros.

At this point, some man standing by called me a "salope" (slut), which nearly brought me to tears. It really upset me that these people standing by thought that I was in the wrong, and did nothing to help. I'm pretty sure that if this were to happen in New York or somewhere back home, most witnesses of that situation would not have just stood there, watching - they would have jumped in to try and talk some sense into this crazy taxi driver.

As I walked away from the scene, my heart racing and close to tears, I blurted out the few bad French words that I could manage in my distress and shocked state. I had never had gotten into such a verbal argument with anyone, let alone a random stranger.  This happened during one of my first few months in Paris and I was so upset that I  immediately called my younger brother, who instead of telling me that I should have just paid the cab fare, told me that he completely understood and would have reacted the same way under the circumstances. My family is the best :) 

Believe it or not, I have another Parisian cab story…This time, I was in the taxi on the way to a bar (with friends this time, thank goodness!) and we were talking to each other in the backseat, as most people tend to do in taxis. Except that this time, our taxi driver started talking on his cell phone at the same time (okay fine, I can deal with that, as long as you don’t crash the car...), but then told us very rudely to lower our volume. That crossed the line for me. I did not appreciate him speaking to me and my friends that way, especially since we were paying customers and he shouldn't even have been talking on the phone in the first place while driving! As the previous taxi situation showed, when someone is rude, I need to say something. So I told him (quite calmly) that we were paying for the taxi and we could talk however we wanted. He yelled at us (or me) "NON, VOUS POUVEZ PAS-VOUS ETES CHEZ MOI ICI" ("No, you cannot,  you are my home here!!") 

Unbelievable. There are some battles worth fighting and this was not one of them, so I shut my mouth and let him continue to drive us whilst chatting away. It’s pretty funny though- in New York, taxi drivers don’t speak to you much but they will respect your wishes. They will lower the stereo volume if you ask them too and you could be screaming with friends for all they care. They would never tell you to speak softer. It probably helps that in New York taxis, they have a picture and brief biography of the person driving on display in the backseat, so that if he or she is rude, you can immediately report them to the New York taxi company. Knowing French customer service, I’m pretty sure if I were to report a rude taxi driver in Paris, it would do absolutely nothing.

When I was home in May, my friend Brittany and I made good friends with one of our taxi drivers, who we called up to take us out several nights. He was quite a character. He told us how he was also on call for some drug dealers – that he didn’t mind driving them, as long as he got tipped! hahaha. He would also shower us with compliments and tell us each night how beautiful he thought we looked. Cannot really imagine meeting a Parisian taxi driver so nice and friendly – but miracles do happen I suppose, so maybe he or she is out there somewhere!

French Customer Service...I think that's an oxymoron

As the taxi incidents shows, customer service in France is truly in a league of its own. If you go out to eat, the waiters are doing YOU a favor by serving you. If you walk into a store, it is the customer's responsibility to say hello to the salesperson. If you want to return something, you better be damn well sure you have a good explanation and be sugar sweet to whoever is sitting behind that desk. No joke.

Classic example: Recently, I was out with some friends, and I guess there was a happy hour going on downstairs, while upstairs, drinks were normal price. So when we tried to order at the bar, the bartender told us to go downstairs. A bit strange, but okay…so we go downstairs and get our 2.5 euro pints in plastic cups (all other drinks were served in glasses...go figure). 

We then go outside to sit on the terrace, but the bouncer comes up to us and tells us that we cannot sit there, because we did not pay for a NON happy-hour drink. He points us to the other side of the bar where there is a crowd of people standing with plastic cups in hand, and tells us that if we want to be outside, we must stand over there. I felt like a second class citizen on the Titanic. It was truly unreal. A customer is a customer. It’s not even like this is an expensive, high-end bar. It’s a dive in the middle of Chatelet, a run-down, student area. The nerve…that scenario pretty much sums up the relationship between a customer and bouncer/bartender/waiter/taxi driver/you name it. 

On the other hand, sometimes people here will surprise you. I went for a doctors appointment and the nurse turned out to be super sweet. (and actually about my age).  She asked me if I had a carte vitale (a French social security card)-I said no. She then asked me if I had a social security number – I said no. She said that the appointment would cost me over 100 euros without that. She then rubbed her head, trying to think of some sort of solution. She told me that for people under the age of 25, it is free, and since I was only 25, she could change my birthdate to a year later, so that I would benefit from the same privileges as the under-25 age-group. She said just to tell people that I was born in 1987 if they asked. I was appalled by her sweetness. She obviously did not have to do that for me and could have tried to make money off of me. But instead, she went out of her way to help me out. I will never forget that.

French men? romantic? yeah, about that..

After living here, I have to admit that I find it funny that Paris has a worldwide reputation as being one of the most romantic cities. I really don't see it that way at all. It is beautiful and all and I'll admit, not a bad place to spend a first date...but overall, I have been pretty astonished by the lack of romance that I witness in this city. And the whole thing about French guys being romantic? Well, if my experience is any indication, this could not be further from the truth.

One example of that...not too long ago, I met this French guy through some friends.  I was not at all interested in him romantically, but gave him my phone number because I did not really know how not to in that situation. Well, he was apparently interested in me but never even asked me out on a proper date ahead of time and instead opted for immediately texting and calling me at around 10 in the evening to ask me what I was doing.  He had just broken up with his girlfriend so he was obviously on the rebound, but that is no excuse.  It's downright disrespectful in my book. This guy was a dentist too, not just a college student. And I’m pretty sure you can only get away with that behavior when you’re in college.  Needless to say, I never did meet up with him.

Whatever happened to calling a girl (not texting) in advance - perhaps even (gasp!) a few days in advance? Due to the advent of the smart phone (or even the cell phone), our generation has gotten so tech-savvy and text-reliant that many guys (including the French!) are just straight-up lazy when it comes to dating, or even just asking someone out.  I remember in Steve Carrell's speech at my brother's graduation, he said, "when i was in college, i would not text a girl to ask her out on a date. I would ask her in person, one human to another..." That's how it should be done! My older brother told me that he will always call a girl to ask her out if he is really interested in her - if he is not really interested, then he will just text her. I'm sure it's different for everyone, but I think there is definitely some truth to that.

Words of fluff 

Latin men- they certainly know how to woo a girl with words...but in the end, they are just words and oftentimes, I have found that they do not mean anything.  

Case in point: during one of my first few months in Paris, I met this Columbian guy who actually proposed (yes, proposed, as in marriage) to me the second time we hung out. He told me that "In South America, we say how we feel and what is on our mind...I think that you have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen...." Oh, puhleeeze. I mean, I appreciate a nice compliment and all, but paired with what was about to come, it was just a bit much. He then asked me to marry him and when I started laughing, he actually said "Why are you laughing?? It's not a joke. I'm serious." He was actually serious. He then said "You are perfect. At least be my girlfriend." I had never even kissed this guy and we had never even been on a proper date before. And he was asking me to be his girlfriend? Telling me that I'm "perfect"? He didn't even know me! It was pretty absurd to say the least.

If there is anything I've learned since being here, it's that actions really do speak louder than words. A while back, this one Parisian I know would text me things like "tu me manques…" ( I miss you) and then call me things like "mon bebe," "ma chérie" and "mon amour," despite the fact that we were not even dating! He would say things like that and then never even propose a date! Yeah...I'm sure you miss me...

He was obviously saying this stuff because he thought it was what I wanted to hear - but news flash: girls only want to hear stuff like that if it's sincere. And it's pretty obvious when it's not. Anyway, I found his texts a bit odd considering our relationship (or lack thereof), and didn't buy it for a second- if he says things like that to me and we had not even been out on a proper date, I can only imagine what he says to other girls.  To me, those words sounded so incredibly fake that I didn't see an ounce of romance in them-they just seemed extremely cheesy.  

I saw this same guy out one night and at the end of the night, he sweetly bought me a rose from one of those flower people who walk around trying to sell flowers, and then promised that we would see each other the next day. Did I hear anything from him the next day, or even the next week? Absolutely not. I could go on, but I think my point is proven. (if you need another example to be convinced, see my post from 2010: "here we go again")

Parisian food is NOT French food 

Something else that i have discovered since living here. French food: good. Parisian food: horrible. Or let’s put it this way- you cannot find good food for a decent price in Paris. True story. 

I’m on a student budget so I can’t go out dining to expensive restaurants every weekend. And when I have dined out, they have mostly been inexpensive places, where frankly, the food is bland and generic. You can get a lot more for your money in the states. In Paris, most of the cheaper restaurants have the "menu" option, where you can get an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert for like 15 or 20 euros. Not a bad deal right? When the food comes, you will change your mind. The appetizer will be lettuce with two tomatoes and a few cucumbers plopped on top. The entrée will be potatoes and chicken, or maybe a steak and potatoes. And the dessert maybe a cold chocolate mousse . Trust me, nothing memorable. I have not had one meal in Paris where I have walked out even slightly impressed.  If you want to eat well in Paris, you have to spend a lot. There is no in-between.

But even spending a lot does not guarantee good food here. Earlier this year, I splurged at one expensive restaurant (do not even want to say what the bill was…), and it ended up being something that I could have easily made at home. String beans on a plate for about 18 euros. Shocking. I have had much different experiences in Toulouse and other parts of France, where I ate out for less than thirty euros but had a very good meal. 

On that note, I do love how much the French appreciate food. This French guy that I dated last year was a classic example of that. After we went out to a restaurant, he would sometimes call up his dad to talk about what we ate for dinner and how delicious it was. When we visited his family in Provence, he would recount every morcel of food that we ingested (in words that I don't even know how to say in English!), as his parents' mouths watered. He would describe what was in the dish, how it was prepared, and how it tasted. I have never seen someone talk so much about food. When I go out to eat, I people normally don't even ask me what I ate! Meals at his parents' place always consisted of several courses and thought-out preparation. Everything was delicious, of course. And to my utter delight, cheese always finished off the meal. I like that food is not just food in France - it is a delicacy, something to be savored and enjoyed with every bite.

As I'm sure most of you know, lavender is everywhere in Provence in the summer. One of the times I went (in June), my ex-boyfriend's grandmother came over to the house with a small packet of lavender bread bisquits that she had made for me. It was very sweet. And definitely a new experience-I never even knew that you could eat lavender until then! Leave it to the French to do that :)

But for some reason, they just don’t know how to cook in Paris! It's just not even worth it to spend your money on Parisian dining unless you are spending upwards of 75 euros. 

Les Bises and other Frenchisms

I know that I've talked about "les bises" before, as a ritual of the French culture. Women do it to men, women that they meet for the first time, or to friends and aquantances. Men do it only to women, family and close friends. I have known all of this for a while. But I did not fully realize the extent of this ritual until I visited my ex's family in Provence last year.

In Provence, they do three kisses on the cheek, starting with the left cheek of course. I like that the number of "les bises" varies throughout France. I know in some places they even do it four times! But I didn't realize that family members did it to each other frequently as well. Each morning when my ex woke up, he would "faire les bises" (do the kisses) with his parents and siblings (or whoever was in the house) - three times. And of course I did the same. While I found this a bit formal ( at least compared to what I'm used to), I also found it really sweet. But it can get a bit exhausting too...when we went out to dinner for his friend's birthday, we had to go around and kiss each person (or at least the people on the outside) three times. And I'm not talking two or three people. It's quite a workout!

I used "vous" with my ex's parents and "tu" with his siblings, none of whom spoke any English (although one time I slipped up and used "tu" with his father...oops!). Because I wasn't sure at first how to refer to them and when I asked him, my ex recommended that I use "vous" with his parents. He told me that his parents continued to use "vous" with their respective in-laws, even 25+ years! That was pretty crazy to me. So you can be close family and still use vous! I guess it just comes down to showing respect. But then it's interesting that kids use "tu" with their parents...hmmm.

August in Paris 

I have never spent a full summer in France so I don't think that I fully understood what people meant when they said that "everything shuts down in August" in Paris. Well, I have witnessed this and it definitely happens! Restaurants, stores, hair salons, you name it - shut down for weeks on end. Some even take the whole month off. It's pretty crazy how people just put their lives on hold for the month, despite the economic crisis that we are in. For the month of August, work can wait. In a way, I kinda like it. One of the things that I love about France is the balance people have between work and playtime. The two-weeks of vacation time a year that we have in America is pretty ridiculous. Especially when you look at the rest of the world and see that most people have between five and six weeks of vacation a year. That's how it should be. 

Little Bouts of Happiness

I find that it's the little things that make me happy here. 

It’s walking down the street with my pizza and having the delivery man yell out to me "bon appetit!" as he drives by in his scooter....

It's talking to the friendly people who run the independent market in the building next door...every time I pass by, they say "Bonjour Mademoiselle!" And if I don't have enough money, they always tell me to just pay the next time....

It's seeing the sweet homeless man each day and making his day by giving him part of my peeled orange. Unlike most of the other homeless people in Paris, he does not sit on the street and beg. He is out there talking to people and socializing - he has got to be the most sociable homeless man I've ever seen. He just got a new haircut and it definitely looks salon-done-I can only imagine that he is friends with the people who work at the salon down the street, who gave him a free haircut.  Love it! 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A typical gynecologist visit in France

I've been back home in the States for 5 months and 1 week now. I miss France and am eagerly anticipating my return (in January-yay!). I suddenly felt the desire to blog after reading a chapter from this book called Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding her Inner French Girl. The book discusses an incident which I too experienced firsthand (and yet forgot to blog about!).

Going to the gynecologist in France for the first time can be a bit intimidating. Mine didn't speak a word of English so I always had to learn a bit of medical terminology before my appointment.

When I got there, we talked for a little bit and then she would tell me to undress completely. She didn't leave me alone for a few minutes to undress or give me a flimsy paper-robe to cover myself with- instead, she simply waited there while I got undressed. I then wondered why I was feeling shy about this to begin with and why in America, we are so embarrassed getting undressed in front of the doctor, when in a few minutes, she or he is going to see us naked anyway. What's the big fuss about?

At the time, however, my Anglo-Saxan mind was wondering why she couldn't just leave for a few minutes to let me change in privacy. In the States, something like this would just never happen. The doctor always, without fail, leaves the room for a few minutes before the examination to let the patient undress and give him or her some privacy. Meanwhile, in France, this type of temporary seclusion is completely unnecessary; this just goes to show how the French are so blasé about nudity and much more at ease with it than we Americans are!

Another funny thing that happened during that visit: After quite timidly undressing in front of her, I lay down, ready to be examined. She then proceeded to pick up her cell phone and chat and laugh away - as she was examining me. And these were not even professional phone calls! I was pretty much in shock that this was actually happening.

Some, perhaps many, may call this me, it is just French. This doctor had excellent reviews and was always fully booked - so clearly her behavior didn't bother anyone else, and was probably considered normal by the French population. She got the job done and was efficient - she just did it in a way that is completely foreign to me, as an American. Taking a personal cell phone call while examining a patient would just not happen in the States.

Needless to say, my first visit to the gynecologist was quite interesting..but also taught me a lot about the French culture and that there are some differences I will just have to adapt to!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fall break (round 2) and Frenchisms

Yes, I know it's been FOREVER since I've blogged. I'm going to try something new-blogging only short bits more often. Goal for the last remaining months!

I just got back from vacation in Spain and Morocco. I traveled with my sorority sister (and big big sister) from Toulouse (she came to visit me here first) to Barcelona and then to Marrakech. Funny how things happen! She graduated 2 years above me, moved to Richmond and got a job there. I finished school and moved to France. The following year, she decided to follow in my footsteps! Who would have thought a few years ago that we would be traveling Europe/North AFRICA together? Life's always pretty unpredictable, ain't it?!

Anyways, we had an awesome time and experienced only VERBAL harassment in Morocco -despite everyone's warnings, it was not nearly as "dangerous" as most Americans seem to expect (that means you dad!). It was so nice to be able to whip out the t-shirts and actually NEED sunscreen again. I'm always a happier traveler when the sun is shining and spring is in the air. Although I've already been to Barca and Madrid, it was great to revisit and see some places and things I've never seen before (or haven't seen in a while). And it was Aparna's first time in Spain so I was glad to be able to share that with her. One of the highlights of the Spain trip for me was going back to the Prado museum-I vageuly remember going when I was 16 with my family but at that age, I barely appreciated art and had definitely never studied it before. So being able to go back now and see all paintings that I studied in college and MORE-well, definitely an art history lover's dream. Of course I had to buy the Prado guide (I'm such a dork when it comes to art history books) and even though it added about an extra 5 pounds to my carry-on, it was worth it! As for the museum...5 hours is NOT enough time!!

Admittedly, I was most excited about going to Morocco because I'd never been to Africa and I was quite excited about going somewhere so different (and where the weather would be nice! that definitely helps). It was definitely an experience! Sick and tired of hostel life, we splurged and stayed in a gorgeous 6-room hotel right in the center of Marrakech and 20 minutes from the main square. And I have to say-it was worth it! And definitely unlike any hotel I'd ever stayed in before. If I could, I would LIVE there, it's that cool. Not only was it beautiful and with a nice rooftop, but the staff was so friendly and nice. Breakfast was included in the price but instead of the American-style buffet or "breakfast" of croissants and coffee that I'm used to, this was made fresh and hand delivered on silver platters. Literally. A very plentiful breakfast too which changed each day. It was pretty amazing.

Not that we had to worry about spending money on meals anyway..Morocco is SO cheap! I was amazed. We found a restaurant in the main square where main dishes cost 30 dirhams (or less than 3 euro). We found a kebab joint where we could get a chicken/kebab sandwich and fries for 17 durham (less than 1.7 euro). In Toulouse, that would be 4.5 euro! I guess it's a good thing I don't live in Morocco, I eat enough kebabs here in Toulouse! On the last day, I ordered a delicious mango smooothie for 17 dirham. That would be about 5 euro in Toulouse. After prices like that, I never wanted to leave!

Here is me on the rooftop of a restaurant in the main square-the views were so gorgeous, we could not stop taking pictures. So voilà, proof that I was there!

Compared to Barcelona and Madrid, there were not that many touristy things to do or see in Marrakech. Which actually made for a nice break from our previous week of travel. Sometimes it's nice to just relax and not be stressed about squeezing in a million different sights in one day. We did a bus tour of the city (yes, we were those people on the decks, taking pictures) which was really nice and I definitely recommend. You can see the entire city while listening to a tour guide, soaking up some rays and not moving a finger if you so desire (except to take a picture or two of course)! The architecture was so different from anything I'd ever seen before-so just driving or walking around and seeing that was interesting. Here is me in front of the Koutoubia Mosque-the main mosque in Marrakech and a sight to see, especially at sunset (in case you haven't seen already, Marrakech has pretty amazing sunsets).

As amazing as it was to see a slice of Africa, it was definitely a bit of a relief coming back to Europe. Truth be told, it was a bit sad seeing all of the poverty in Morocco and some of the places that people called home. Also didn't help that I was about the only blonde and Aparna the only (American) Indian. And even though I'm one of few blondes in Toulouse, I definitely fit in a bit more here!
Tu versus Vous
Even so, there are some things that, as a foreigner, I just don't understand. For instance, the difference between tu and vous. For all of you who have studied French, however briefly, you know that there is a formal (with the use of vous) and informal (with the use of tu) way of talking to people. In French class, you learn to use vous with strangers, adults, teachers and the like (to show respect and politeness) and tu with friends or family (to show a closeness/intimacy). However, the rules are often blurred and the use of tu/vous becomes very confusing.

For instance, I was at the ski slopes renting skis, and the people who worked at the ski shop were using "tu" with me. Quite strange considering that they didn't even know me and in any other situation, I would have expected them to use "vous." Perhaps they were trying to establish an immediate bond between us, but I was still confused. When I went to the gym to inquire about joining, the women immediately starting using "tu" with me; once again, I can only suppose that it was to establish a closeness and suggest a sense of community within the gym that might somehow convince me to join.

At the same time, the opposite is true. While most families use "tu" amongst themselves, it is standard (and expected) to use "vous" with ones' in-laws. That is to say, even a husband who has been married to his wife for 20 years, will use "vous" with his father and mother in-law. Oftentimes at least. I saw The King's Speech the other day and noticed that the royal family used "vous" amongst each other. I inquired about this and apparently, the king will use "vous" with his wife and even children! To me, this was another quite shocking revelation. Once again- there are some things that French class just doesn't teach!

It's interesting how you can immediately distinguish relationships between strangers on the street judging on whether or not they use tu or vous...if they are using "vous," chances are, they don't know each other that well and are still using polite conversation....but if they are using "tu" with each other, you know that they either have a closer relationship with each other, or they are both on the same level as each other. For instance, young people often use "tu" right off the bat with each other (except if there is a more formal relationship established; like if you are a customer and the other person is a salesperson for instance).

However, sometimes even French people don't know what to use! The secretary at my school, while talking to me, constantly switched back and forth between tu and vous; so then I became confused and did not not how to respond-would it be rude to respond using "tu"? I did not want to offend her, but at the same time, I thought it a bit too formal to use "vous" with her. While I think it is nice that politeness is inherent in the French language, in many ways I do prefer the informality of the English language...not having to stress about the use of tu/vous and not feeling weird because someone uses "vous" with me and thereby immediately suggesting some sort of distance.

As much as I love France and all of it's weird language rules, there are definitely little things that make me miss home at times...for instance:

Organization in the US...versus bureaucracy.
It's amazing how disorganized everything is here-it's things like that that definitely make me miss home sometimes. Getting numerous letters in the mail from MGEN (social security), CAF (government assistance), the préfécture (who issues me my carte de séjour, basically stating I can live here) all becomes a bit frustrating sometimes. Even after you give all the paperwork requested, they continue to ask for's an endless process and unbelievably disorganized. I had to pay 110 euros for my carte de séjour this year which I will not receive until right before or maybe even after I leave. But i still had to do it just so that my residency here was established. Meanwhile, my friend, also a second year teaching assistant, did not have to pay anything to apply for hers'! I explained this to them yet they said it didn't matter, I still had to pay. On top of that, even after I went in person to give all my paperwork and paid the 110 euros to process my permit, I receive a letter a few weeks later stating that I need to send in a medical certificate from last year. My reaction to all of this? GAHHHHHADFDSF. so frustrating.

SO Note to all: If you want to live in France, you absolutely MUST learn to be patient. My social security card (what I use when I go to the doctor etc) from the MGEN never even came last year..I reapplied this year per the request of Madame Bru from the rectorat here in Toulouse, and they told me it would be AT LEAST 3 months before I receive the damn thing. That's France for ya!

grocery stores. enough said.
Whenever I go to the grocery store in France, somehow, the line takes forever and there are always a million people rushing and running into each other. Whereas in the states, going to the grocery store is almost relaxing; one leisurely strolls through the aisles with his or her cart and I never feel overcrowded or pushed around. The lines don't take too long; sometimes, I even want them to last longer since I'm always browsing through the latest edition of Cosmo or US weekly (unfortunately this is not an option in French check-out lines).

The gyms!
Anyone who has been to a standard French gym will notice an immediate difference the minute they walk in. I have bounced around from gym to gym here in Toulouse, "trying" out different ones. They are so different in France and in my opinion, just not worth the money. To start with, all of the machines look like they were created in the 19th century. Towels are necessary but not provided-you must pay 1 euro if you want to borrow a towel. Slightly ridiculous. At the NYSC (that would be the New York Sports Club for all those clueless people out there), towels are handed out like peanuts and almost encouraged. Another difference is the workout classes, which normally take place in a huge common room that blasts the music throughout the entire gym. In America, we have separate rooms for each workout class. I also noticed that many French guys do the workout classes- interesting because in the states, a guy wouldn't be caught dead in a workout class unless it was spinning or something "manly" like that. Another weird thing about French gyms is that there are barely any treadmills- I even went to a gym where there was not a SINGLE treadmill. It was the strangest thing, considering that is a staple in any US gym. There are much fewer cardio machines as well and there are not even any TVs attached to them. All that for 40 euros a month...

The customer is always right theory
Because in France, the customer is always wrong. Yes, wrong. Whether it be at a restaurant, in a store, at the bank, wherever - the person who works there somehow has the right to be rude to the customer and this is considered perfectly normal behavior. Waiters are allowed to be completely rude to the customers without the possibility of being fired - I had some friends that went to a popular Spanish tapas restaurant last weekend and I was supposed to meet them there- I didn't end up going because they left soon after arriving. Apparently the waiter was extremely rude, saying they would have to pay 25 euros a person in order to eat there. When they asked to speak to the manager, the manager would not bend the "rules," had no apologies whatsoever and responded in an equally rude fashion. This type of thing would never happen in the states. If the waiter is rude to the customer, there are consequences-furthermore, if the manager is rude to the customer, that restaurant probably won't be alive for much longer. This same "customer is always wrong" theory is very much alive everywhere in France and can be extremely frustrating, especially when, as an American, you are used to the opposite.

So while there are many things that I adore about France, there are also a million little things that definitely take some getting used to and will NOT be missed when I leave. Patience is not a virtue in France; it's a necessity!

Despite some of the little French quirks that definitely take some getting used to, I do love my life here. Ali and I have the perfect apartment for hosting parties so we have people over all the time. Ever since our housewarming party (where there were like 60 people over), our parties seem to have become the talk of the town.  There are always about 10 girls and 50 guys, haha. My friend Ingo says that he is always disappointed because there are pretty much all guys and not any girls.  I don't know why that is. Maybe French girls just don't know how to party like us American and Spanish girls do? I never know like half of the people there (more on that in a minute), and one guy I met was our neighbor down the street! He said that he heard the music so decided to come up and see what the fuss was about. haha. We saw him at another party after that too.

But, the massive amounts of people definitely has posed some problems. At our housewarming party, Ali and I had our ipods stolen (they were in our room, which was even blocked off from the party), and some people had cash stolen, as well. That was obviously really upsetting. The fact that we would let these people into our home and they would steal from us...pretty disappointing. We tried our best to uncover the culprits, but no dice...then the next party that we had, somebody stole my phone and texted Florian some horrible things, which I will not even repeat. After those two incidences, we became much more cautious about who we let into the apartment! Despite all of that, I will say that our parties are always a ton of fun. They are often themed as well (upon Ali's request). And we have also taught the French how to play beer pong!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

more on life

I just got back to France after a nice 2 week vacation at home. I loved seeing friends and family and just sleeping in my own bed again. Much to my pleasant surprise, being home made me wonder if I even really wanted to go back. I think a large part of me can definitely see myself in New York again next year -every time I leave, I always miss the city -I love the excitement, the energy, the cosmopolitan feel...I just love New York.

And there are some things that I miss about the US-driving everywhere (when it's cold! plus, I love driving, it's my me-time), the shopping, friends and family of course...on the other hand, I just don't know if I will ever feel ready to part ways with France. There are so many things that I would miss too much-the fresh baguettes and cheese (yum!), the language (!!!!), the culture... un tas d'autre choses! I also do kind of like being an outsider and feeling that comfort when you meet another American/British/Irish/Australian/Canadian/whatever person in a foreign land who is also a native English speaker. Doesn't happen all that often in Toulouse, believe it or not! Normally, walking down the street, all you hear is French. So I love that soft jilt of excitement when you hear someone speaking English. 

On the other hand, I'm definitely glad that I don't hear it ALL the time! I love the challenge of having to force myself to speak French every day, whether it be with my English teachers who speak perfect English or with my landlord who speaks not a word of English. I love teaching a classroom of French kids (well, teenagers) and hearing their adorable, thick (often barely comprehensible) French accents. That I will definitely miss.

Speaking of teaching French kids...While it's definitely better this year, teaching French high schoolers can be quite difficult/frustrating. Although at least I have learned how to be more professional and stricter (and thereby perhaps respected more) -if the kids act up, I call them out on it and I don't let things slide like I used to last year. Also I learned that all you have to do is mention the vie scolaire (their nightmare) and they shut up. 

Today I had a class where we played a murder mystery game. Should be fun, right? Wrong. These kids just sat there and barely said a word as I asked them question after question. That's almost worse than loud, obnoxious kids. So there are the students like that, who couldn't give a damn about learning English. But then you have students that actually care and it makes all the difference in the world. Like another student who I met with today -probably about 16 years old, he told me he's been to New York 3 times, loves it there (said he prefers it to London) and wants to/needs to learn English for his future career-to be a diplomat working in Paris. For real! This kid is not a day over 16 and he already knows what he wants to do with his life and is pursuing it in every way possible. I was pretty impressed. Considering I'm 24 and still don't know exactly what I want to do with mine (except speak French on a daily basis!). He was asking me questions about NY and CT-he actually knew where CT was! The first French person I've met who knows where CT is (for real). Again, I was impressed. Then when he thought he made a mistake while speaking, he asked if what he said was correct (it was) - a little thing, yes, but most students just don't care. Which to me, is mind-boggling. 

Perhaps I was (well, am) just a nerd, but when I was in high school, college, whatever-I was so interested in learning that if I ever made a mistake, I wanted to know. And I took notes and wrote down new vocabulary/grammer rules that the teacher would teach us - most of my students couldn't care less. My love for learning languages still hasn't ceased (obviously). I spent 40 euros on this amazing French-English dictionary (I'm still really excited about it) and have about 5 books on French slang...amongst many others. So to meet another student who actually cares about learning English, like I do about French, makes the job all worthwhile. Plus, I get to listen to that French accent... ;)

I'll end with a trailer for a French movie that I'm going to see tomorrow:

Can you see why it's so hard for me to leave?