June 23, 2008
This last weekend we finally visited Allen’s French family in the north. We stayed with Allen’s aunt and uncle (his mom’s sister and brother-in-law), who are also Allen’s godmother and Stephanie’s godfather. Charles and Jacqueline live in Maubeuge, which is in Pas de Calais, close to the Belgian border.
Jacqueline is a wonderful cook, and she served us spaghetti bolognaise (homemade sauce, of course!); a tagine of dates, apricots, almonds and lamb with couscous; a spicy Moroccan soup; a crab, avocado, and tomato salad; and many other delicious plates. Each time, it was a typical French meal with a starter, main dish, sometimes cheese, dessert, and then coffee. The French certainly know how to live.
We were very impressed as well with Charles and Jacqueline’s impressive garden, from which we ate lettuce, radish, and strawberries. They also had several fruit trees: pear, apple, and cherry, plus red currant bushes. We hope to grow a small garden when we get back to the States, so we’re keeping their garden in our minds as inspiration. (However, I did admit our failed gardening attempt in the Arlington Community Gardens, where Cate, Allen, and I went back several times to weed and clear our plot, with so much time in between that that’s all we managed to ever do.)
We spent most of the weekend just chatting, and I got to hear stories about Allen and Stephanie when they were young.
On Saturday night, we headed out to the movies to see Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis. Les Ch’tis are the inhabitants of the north of France, particularly Nord Pas de Calais, and they have a distinctive regional dialect that blends the French of today and the Picard dialect of years past. Charles gave us a briefing on different phrases so we wouldn’t be totally lost during the movie. (And still, it was hard to follow, but we got a lot more having had our little lesson. I’d say I was around 85-90%, which is pretty good for any French movie I watch.) The premise of the movie is that a man from the south gets sent to work in the north as punishment – and he really sees it as such, dreading the cold, the strange people, and the overall inhospitable atmosphere. But he turns out to love it…but his wife doesn’t believe him, so there’s a hilarious juxtaposition between the stereotypes of the north and the actuality, which culminates in…ah, go watch the movie! At the beginning, an old man tells him scary tales of the north, and say in a menacing voice, “Le noooooooord…” Charles got a real kick out of that. And apparently, some US film studio has bought the rights, so we’ll see a remake in the US in a few years. Allen and I were trying to guess what regions and people would star – sunny California and hilly West Virginia perhaps?
We had a great time with Charles and Jacqueline, and I was very glad we were able to get up there before the year was out. Maybe next time we visit, we’ll visit the sky-diving school near their house; this time we sat on the porch and watched parachutist after parachutist. Or maybe we’ll just watch again.
June 8, 2008
Thursday I had a rendez-vous at the prefecture for my carte de sejour, or residence card. I’ve been looking forward to this appointment since February.
I wasn’t really sure how it would go. I knew that I was supposed to show up at the prefecture at 4 pm, or possibly earlier because sometimes there is a long line outside the building. I was to bring many, many proofs that I was myself and that I should live in France and indeed that I did live in France, plus strictly regulated pictures of myself. And photocopies. I was also to bring Allen, in the flesh, as well as proof that he is himself, that he is my husband, and that our marriage is not a sham (harder to find proof of this than you might suspect). I might or might not need a doctor’s visit, I might or might not get my actual carte de sejour pasted in my passport that day, or maybe I was really applying for the first time since the woman at the February appointment hadn’t taken any paperwork from me. What’s more, I might have to pay up to 275 euros, possibly in cash. Big on paperwork and red tape, not so big on actual information sharing.
I suppose all that is to say, I had no idea what to expect. And I was scared. (I like to refer to this as “an appropriate fear of French bureaucracy” as I think the French actual foster this sense of uncertainty on purpose.)
Allen and I set a meeting time of 3:15 and promptly cemented two very different meeting spots into our mental calendars. At 3:40, Allen called me from the house, breathless from having run back there. “Where are you?” Then he ran back again, we met, gave each other a look, and got on with it. There was no line, so we breezed through the metal detectors. In the Europe-America-Middle East room (really?), we presented ourselves at the desk and got a number. (The woman at the desk said they were going to cut people off for the day because it was getting late, and there were a lot of people waiting. It was only 3:50.) Then we sat. (Sitting for a long time increases the appropriate fear of French bureaucracy, you see.)
When our number was called, only a few other couples remained in the waiting area. We presented my dossier to the desk agent, who flipped through it. She determined immediately that this would be a ten year application, meaning my residence card would be good for ten years without renewal. Happy third anniversary to us!
(Easiest immigration story ever. Ever. Okay, here’s what you do. Be American. Marry a French citizen. Be married three years. Then move to France and apply for residence. The end.)
But it wasn’t quite that simple. We didn’t have enough proof that our marriage wasn’t a sham. In fact, we had hardly any. It’s all home in the States. We don’t have a proper lease here, we don’t get utilities in our names, we don’t have any official French correspondence, we didn’t apply for health coverage, and we don’t have a bank account. We don’t exist (and neither does our marriage – nevermind that we weren’t officially married in the eyes of the French until December). So friendly French bureaucrat says we need to come back with more proof, in a few months.
Uh oh. We explained the part where we return to the States at the end of the month and don’t know when we’re coming back.
“Wait,” she says. “Are you living here or there?”
“We’ve been living here for a year, so I did what I’m legally supposed to do and applied for residence. But at the end of the month, we’re going back to the United States, and we’ll be living there.” I kept repeating something like, “I just did what I was supposed to, legally.”
“Applying for residence when you’re leaving in a month is absurd!” Our bureaucrat furrowed her brows. I agreed. (So very Parisian, the righteous indignation. So very French. Except usually it’s not on my side!)
“The Americans, they just come and go as they please!” The bureaucrat in the next booth chimed in, seeming surprised that I had bothered to follow the legal route. (Can I cite that as a legal French policy next time I move here?)
The two bureaucrats put their heads together and came up with a solution. I’d get a new recipisse, good for three more months. Along with that would be a document asking me to request an appointment with the prefecture to continue my application. I could request that appointment whenever I returned to the country – or not.
“Moins de boulot pour moi,” our bureaucrat muttered, “Less work for me.”
That worked just fine for Allen and me too. We didn’t really want to pay for the carte de sejour (275 euros, over $400, remember?) with just 25 more days to go in the country. And if we do move back to France, we can prepare a ream of documentation (plus photocopies!) to prove our marriage isn’t a sham – in advance.
We left the prefecture in high spirits and went straight for a Berthillon ice cream. Ah, to be an American in Paris.
April 24, 2008
When panic is as lethargic as mine was last Thursday, it becomes something more akin to dread. In my feverish haze, the realization that I had strep throat moved me to action. But I just couldn’t move very quickly.
France’s pharmacies (and pharmacists) are so sophisticated, I was secretly hoping that I could just walk in and get antibiotics just by showing the white spots on my throat and big puppy dog eyes. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be that easy, but the pharmacist referred me to the nearest doctor with walk in hours.
However, my American insurance only covers emergency room visits. I weighed my options. Both were nearby. Either way I’d pay in advance. I wasn’t sure where I’d have a longer wait. Could I really go to the emergency room with strep throat?
I tried to call my insurance company. I didn’t know if I needed some kind of pre-approval for the claim. I called the number on the back of my insurance card. The phone card was acting up. I slumped over in the chair, completely drained from just a few minutes’ activity. Finally I got an automated message saying I should call back during business hours.
I decided to walk to the nearby doctor’s office first. However, their walk-in hours had already ended (around the time the pharmacist was recommending him). I realized I hadn’t brought my passport anyway. I walked back home to find it.
Then I headed to Hotel Dieu, the hospital on Ile de la Cite. It’s fortunate that there’s a hospital and emergency room within walking distance of my apartment. The man at the check in desk was a mumbler, and I thought I might throw up if I couldn’t sit down soon. He took his time inputting my information in the computer. I wondered if I looked as bad as I felt. Finally, after what was probably only minutes, he waved me to the waiting room.
I sat down and closed my eyes. My name was called almost immediately. The nurse took my vitals, including my temperature. She said my fever was gone. I shrugged. I still felt it, the chills and the flushes. This was just another step towards getting the antibiotics. She sent me back to the waiting area. A man sat next to me. I grappled with the thought of moving away from him, so I wouldn’t give him strep. I satisfied myself instead by breathing through my nose and turning my head away.
I didn’t sit there even five minutes before my name was called again. A nurse led me back to an examination room. The doctor entered, and I listed my symptoms again. I mentioned that the nurse had said I was no longer feverish. “You’re on the border,” she said, “37.9.” I nodded, not knowing what the conversion was. (I later checked the internet and found this to be a fever of 100.2.) She felt my lymph nodes, which were swollen. Then she looked in my throat.
“Oh yeah, those are some nice white spots there.” She asked me if my voice normally sounded as it did then (raspy and halted). Within just a few more minutes, I had prescriptions in hand, along with a note excusing me from work for three days. (I’d be contagious until Sunday.) I’d already cancelled all my babysitting and tutoring for the rest of the week.
The whole visit might have taken 30 minutes. Now it was time to pay. The caisse was closed, but I stood in front of the window anyway. I contemplated walking out of the hospital. The people sitting in the payment area didn’t seem like they’d care (particularly since they were acting closed). A man in front of me in line finally threw a small fit, and they told him to go to a different counter. But they took my paperwork and charged me 22 euros for my visit. (That is, the fee for my emergency room visit, with no insurance coverage, was 22 euros, or about $35.) I would have been more astounded if I didn’t feel so crappy.
I started to walk again, and inertia took me back to Ile Saint Louis and to the pharmacy. The pharmacist smiled at me as if I wasn’t spreading contagion in her little shop. A six-day course of antibiotics and some fever reducers cost just under 8 euros, or about $13. She gave me a paper to submit for reimbursement from insurance.
I went back to bed and effectively stayed there until Monday. In fact, on Friday, my body created cold sores in both nostrils and across my entire upper lip, giving me the Angelina Jolie effect (except not very jolie, quand meme), thus guaranteeing that I would not leave the house during my contagion and for a few days afterwards. Sometimes, our bodies just know what’s best. (I never thought I’d be saying herpes was what was best for me, ever.)
I hope I never have to go to the emergency room in a foreign country again, but if I do, I’ll rest assured that I’ll be seen quickly and treated inexpensively. Still, I’d be happy if strep throat didn’t come around for another couple of years.
April 17, 2008
This weekend, April 4-6, we visited Chateau Courtomer again with Mimi and Jack. They rented a bigger car so we didn’t have to mess with the train, and we all piled in on Friday after work. About 15 people came up from Paris for the weekend, mostly the same ones that were there for New Year’s, and we (or at least I) figured it was a chance to redeem the social awkwardness of that weekend. And I did speak more French this weekend (I think), though I was once again fairly useless in the kitchen.
But speaking of the kitchen, what meals we had! This group thinks nothing of spending several hours in the kitchen to concoct fabulous lunches and dinners. On Friday night we had two lasagnas, one meat and one vegetarian, along with salad and cheese. Saturday lunch was a hearty boeuf bourgignon ladled over potatoes. There was cheese again, and so much wine, and banana bread to finish, which the French liked though they weren’t sure if it was snack or dessert.
Saturday dinner, knowing it had some excellent contenders for best meal of the weekend, went all out with piles of couscous, a vegetable stew to heap on top, and merguez and chicken. There was a cold quinoa salad with sliced radishes that I really enjoyed. For dessert, there was a perfectly white panna cotta with a rich red coulis of assorted berries.
Finally, for lunch on Sunday there was pasta with salmon (described as “un simple pate au saumon” but which was really quite good and nicer than we’d have made for ourselves for a Sunday lunch). There were also two quiches, more quinoa salad, and plenty of crusty bread. And always several bottles of wine.
Other than eat – which I must admit takes up the majority of the time, and which is also probably the most pleasant time as everyone sits around the table together talking for hours – we did very little. Allen took a long nap on Saturday afternoon, and though I intended to do some work, instead I spent most of that time playing with Michael and Katharine. Saturday after dinner Allen and I did some of the dishes and then came back into the dining room to watch a game of tarot cards, which we found to be similar to Spades (though a little more complicated). Sunday we rose late (not unlike Saturday) and were surprised (very) that the forecast of snow turned out true! It continued to snow through lunch and at least an hour of our ride home. Watching the French countryside through the thick flurries of snow was a beautiful sight.
Altogether, we had a very satisfying weekend; we practiced our French a bit, ate like kings (felicitations et merci aux chef cuisiniers!), really rested and relaxed, and experienced an idyllic snowfall.
February 29, 2008
Since moving to Paris, I’ve noticed that French people will go out of their way to walk around grates in the ground. There are large blocks of grates, and some of the spaces under them are quite deep. Now, I understand not walking on a grate if you’re wearing high heels, but do the French have some other reason to avoid grates?
I usually walk right over grates, except when I’m wearing heels, which is approximately never. Walking home today near the Port de Plaisance in the 12th, I was shivering in the cold as I approached a grate that was emitting a warm wind. I brightened at the thought of walking over a warm grate, so I was looking at the grate as I approached. And BAM! That grate stopped me in my tracks because there was lighting down below, and I could see just how deep it was. I had to remind myself to start moving again, but the experience definitely made my heart beat faster.
Do you walk on grates? If not, why not? Fear of heights? Superstition? Love of stillettos?
February 28, 2008
Today Chez Schmanz has a guest post from someone who’s having a very different experience in France than I am: my husband. He sent me this story by email this morning, and I thanked my lucky stars that I don’t have to actually commute. So, without further adieu, here’s Allen’s story.
“I got to the train station around 7:45 am and heard an anouncement that a TGV broke down at Maisons-Alfort and none of the trains outbound would stop there or any of the next four stops. The announcement continued, saying that if you needed to get to any of those stations, you should take the train to the next station (six stops outside Paris) and switch to an inbound train. So, I followed the advice of the RATP and got on the next train. I got off at the next station, Villeneuve St George, and then crawled through the herds of people waiting for an inbound train. I managed to squeeze on the HIVA going into Paris only to watch helplessly as Le Vert de Maison flurried by the window. It is then that I discovered that the inbound trains were also not stopping at any of those stations and ended up right back in Gare de Lyon. I would say “ended up at Gare de Lyon without any hair” but I had not ripped it all out…yet.
“After some reflection about whether I was maybe still asleep and having a bad dream, or maybe had died in my sleep and gone to the Parisian train station version of hell, I went back to the platform where I had started 45 minutes earlier and waited for the next train.
By that point, the TGV had been moved out of the way and the trains were stopping at all the stations again. After some not-so-nice words to describe what RATP could do with their “conseil” that had me in Villeneuve, I got on the train and managed to get into the office around 9:30–two hours after I left the apt. To make matters worse, Daniele [Allen's boss] arrived at Gare de Lyon around 8:30, about 20 minutes after I had mounted the train to Villeneuve and got into the office without the slightest problem. In fact, she thought I had just slept in. Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands and give in to the insanity…or go to Malta and not think about work and France for a week.”
You’ve got to love French transportation. Anybody else have bad commute stories?
February 26, 2008
My hard-earned visa said that I needed to apply for a carte de sejour – a permit to legally reside in France for up to a year - within 2 months of my arrival in France. Last week, on February 18, it occurred to me that I came into France on December 23 and not sometime in January. I needed to apply for my carte de sejour before the end of the week.
Anyone with sense – that is, most other people in the world – would read the phrase “in the first two months after arriving in France” and realize that I could have applied for my carte de sejour the day after I came. But not I. I had to wait until I had four business days in which I could possibly apply and then FREAK OUT.
Technically, no one would have known if I applied late, as the border agent had not stamped my passport. However, I have learned to follow the rules the French set when it comes to paperwork because they work according to the “or else” system. They will find out you broke the rules, and you will be punished.
So on February 18, I realized my mistake and spent the day in a tizzy. On February 19, Allen made copies of my important documents, and I went to a Photomaton to take a very serious passport-sized photo of myself. The French take official photos very seriously, despite the fact that you can get them for 4 euros in any photo booth in the metro. Should you doubt me on this, please refer to this document which details exactly how your photo must be. It’s good for a laugh. But don’t laugh too much – because as the pamphlet in the Photomaton said, “Il ne faut pas rigoler avec vos photos de passporte.”
With my new photographs (in which I looked like I may have immigrated from Slovakia…), photocopies of passports, and a letter from my landlord saying I was “heberge” or sheltered in his “domicile” (plus a copy of his passport and the electricity bill – let’s not be hasty), I was ready for the visit to the prefecture on Wednesday, February 20. Fortunately I found out that I did not need an appointment, so I showed up at noon after my morning babysitting.
I sat in a dingy waiting room with a couple of Africans and a Russian couple. I was the second person in line, despite having arrived in the middle of the day. I guess no one is coming to the country in winter. The woman who called me to her window could have had a bit role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I should not describe her here (“or else”). She inspected all my documents, typed me into the official French computer, and voila! gave me a recipisse proving I’d applied.
The recipisse is a document that basically says I’m applying for legal residence in France. It’s a hold-over document until I get my actual carte de sejour, which won’t happen until I have my appointment with at the Prefecture de Police on Ile de la Cite. I was so nervous that my appointment would be during my trip to Malta, but I needn’t have worried – it’s in June.
That deserves its own paragraph and some repetition. My appointment for my carte de sejour, to allow me to live legally in France, is in June. June is the month I am leaving France. I will get my carte de sejour (at the price of 275 euros, or $412, thank you very much) in June. And then I will leave. My appointment is on June 5, but I’m not sure I actually get the carte de sejour that day. All I know is I have to show up with all of my documents, plus photocopies, my French-by-birth husband, and the contents of my wallet. June 30 is the date I fly back to the U.S.
Now you are going to ask me this: If it costs so much, and it’s right before you leave, why not just skip it? Well, I will tell you why. THE FRENCH WILL FIND OUT, AND THEY WILL PUNISH ME. If you learn nothing else from this blog post, I hope you gain a healthy respect and appropriate fear of the French bureaucracy. I don’t know what would happen, but I would hate to find out later in life – say when my as-yet-unborn children’s French citizenship applications are denied. Hell, or my own citizenship application. Or when I try to permanently relocate to the South of France, and they say, “Hmmm, but you didn’t follow the rules last time you moved here. Je crois que ca va pas etre possible.” I don’t have to know what the “or else” is. It’s out there.
You’re backing away with your hands held out to have this crazy paranoid lady keep her distance, and that’s okay. In fact, I will be keeping my distance because, after my entry visa runs out on March 20, I’m not allowed to leave the country until I get my carte de sejour. Well, I’m allowed to leave…if I apply for a visa with the French government. I’m just thankful my entry visa runs as long as it does, so I can still go to Malta with my parents in a week and a half! But after that, I’m under French house arrest.
I could have worse problems.
February 22, 2008
In slow times, I lament not having more news to share. But in busy times like now, I don’t have any time to share the news! I’m stealing a few moments while Allen and Elizabeth sleep in the other room, before I too go to bed.
Last Thursday, after my presque perfect day, I woke in the late morning to let my landlord in to fix something. Once he’d finished I realized it was lunch time, and I called Mimi to see if she wanted to get sushi as we’d talked about a few nights before. My timing was right, and I met her at her place at one. We headed to her favorite sushi restaurant, which turned out to be deserving of such distinction. I had miso soup, cucumber roll, tuna roll, and salmon avocado roll. It was on the verge of being too much food, but wasn’t that expensive with the lunch menu prices. I normally dislike miso soup – because apparently I’ve never had it prepared well. It was delicious!
No big events Friday, but I babysat in the evening for Mimi and Jack. As usual, Allen and I watched a movie.
Saturday, on the other hand, was a big night. Allen and I went out “for Valentine’s Day.” Through an entirely unplanned (and decided unsappy) turn of events, Valentine’s Day happens to be the day we got back together five years ago. I guess that worked out. We took a walk to Bercy Village and ate at a cute restaurant there.
Our restaurant experience started out a little shakily when the host hospitably greeted me in English. I know that speaking to me in English is an expression of dashing the stereotype of the inpitoyable, merciless Frenchman mocking the hapless English speaker – yes, he was trying to be nice. But I want to practice my French! So I practiced my French look of displeasure instead, and he got the hint and switched to French with over-the-top comments about how of course we speak French so well we must live in Paris, and there’s something about us that’s very French, but par contre we would have to order wine to be really French. Two years of teaching and six months in Paris, and I can achieve that kind of response with a look. My parents might argue that I’ve been practicing that look my whole life. Beware The Look.
Dinner itself was very good, and if I can locate the card we took from the restaurant, I’ll post the name here. Allen and I spent the whole meal having very serious discussions, which indicates to me that perhaps we should talk more. (Sometimes I like to check and see if Allen is reading this. He’s not, by the way.)
Sunday was another day of adventure – how many days in a row can we actually do something before I drop over dead from the novelty of it all? After so many days of sleeping too late and coming home for a quiet night in, it’s a shock to the system. But we bravely went out on Sunday to meet Antoine and Typhaine at the Canal St. Martin. I’d wanted to visit it since the last time I was in Paris, with my mom and Sara. (It’s just that we didn’t realize we wanted to visit it until the day we were leaving!) We had lunch along the canal, with decent food and awful service – the two of them were commenting on it, “This isn’t McDo! They could at least bring us some water!” We spoke in English this time, and I think we wore Antoine out! After lunch we walked back down the canal and to the Musee des Arts et Metiers, which is free and very interesting if you have not just eaten a big meal. Actually it is interesting even with a full stomach, but we should have had coffee after lunch. Antoine was trying out all of the comfortable leather couches, and halfway through, we all had to call it quits. The museum is attached to a church which is now home to a display of automobiles and planes. I posted a picture of a plane in the church on Gallery Schmanz. The museum is also home to the third cast of the Statue of Liberty (one in New York, one on the Seine, and one in the museum; obviously the latter two are much smaller) and a small exhibit on its creation. Currently, there’s an exposition (paying, I think) on Benjamin Franklin’s time in Paris, but we didn’t see it.
Surely that was all the excitement for the week. But no! Monday started a new week with a bang, with dinner at our landlord’s apartment right after we got home from work. Roger and his wife Sandy were very hospitable, and we ended up chatting (and laughing) with them until after midnight! They had some amazing stories, including one about adopting their two Native American sons from Canada and having to flee the country before legislation was passed the next day that would detain them all at the border and derail the process.
Tuesday the non-stop action continued when Elizabeth arrived to stay five days. Hoorah! She made us dinner, so we’re going to give her a medal and an honorary membership to our family of two. Then we all watched the Darjeeling Limited.
And that has been our week! It’s been so whirlwind we might be fooled into thinking we were back to our DC ways. (But there was no cat-sitting, no furniture assembly…must be Paris.) Stay tuned for the exciting adventure of applying for my carte de sejour so I can stay in this beautiful city!
February 6, 2008
On Sunday (February 3), Allen and I had a social outing! Wow! Okay, that may not be as exciting to you, but it can get lonely over here. We were invited to lunch with Antoine and Typhaine! We have made a goal to try to see them more, since we know few people here, and fortunately they want to see us more too (so far).
Their apartment was small but charming, with exposed beams and hardwood floors. We munched on a sort of chicken salad on slices of fresh bread and a bowl of fresh radishes, while sipping white wine. Somehow we always end up with Allen and Antoine talking diagonally and Typhaine and I talking across them, but it was great practice for our French. (At least for me, tuning out one conversation in French and having another at the same time is not easy!) Lunch was asperagus “from the garden” (from Picard) and a typically-French gratin that Typhaine made with potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes, and a couple of other veggies topped with grated cheese. Over lunch, we chatted about eating (what else?), our recent travels (they’d just been to Thailand), and French vacation policies. Then we shared an apple tart that Allen and I had picked up, and Antoine pulled out some very interesting digestifs. My favorite was a Spanish dessert wine, but we also tried the very strong mirabelle made with the fruit of the same name. This particular mirabelle was actually made from fruits from Typhaine’s father’s garden in Nancy. They asked if we did the same sort of alcohol-making in the US – not really. The mirabelle was, as I mentioned, very strong, and Antoine and Typhaine told us that it’s referred to as un trou (a hole) because it burns up everything you’re trying to digest so you can eat some more!
After lunch, they suggested that we go to the Centre Pompidou because it was the first Sunday of the month (and thus the museum would be free). It was only a couple of blocks from their house, but there was a predictably long line. We bypassed the line and continued down towards the quais instead. We wandered onto Ile de la Cite, but got cold sitting in front of Notre Dame, so they suggested they accompany us home, knowing it was close. So we led them over to Ile Saint-Louis, and none of us could resist a visit to Berthillon. Antoine and Typhaine got 1/2 liter boxes of orange sanguine and a chocolate flavor. We chose a 1/2 liter of apricot to take home.
When we arrived back at our apartment, we brought them up to show them the place. We’d already said how sorry we were that we couldn’t host a lunch or dinner here, so it might have been good that they were able to see exactly why! But we set a date for our next meeting in a couple of weeks and decided we’d speak English then. This got Antoine on the topic of their trip to Thailand again and told us how the Thai spoke English with such an awful accent that Typhaine (having more experience with English) couldn’t understand it. Antoine, with his lack of English experience, figured out what the words for and translated for Typhaine, who then answered the Thai person. Apparently the Thai were completely baffled by their weird arrangement.
Eventually, they remembered their melting ice cream and went on their way. We cracked our ice cream open that evening to find this beautiful molded creation.
January 25, 2008
While I’m on the topic of babies, I’ve got a bit more to say. Actually, what I have to say applies more generally to my language experience in France this year.
When we first decided to move to France, I was motivated by two goals. 1) I would become more active and thus become more fit (as I did when I lived in Montpellier). 2) I would speak French constantly and improve my language skills to the point of fluency – finally (as I did not do when I lived in Montpellier).
I looked back to my time in Montpellier as a measure for what my time in Paris might be. During my (wonderful) ten months in Montpellier, two major things happened for me. I lost thirty pounds just by integrating walking into my daily routine and left there in the best shape of my life. And I made some of the best friendships of my life with other Americans. It was a high point in those two arenas.
And yes, my French did improve. It improved a lot while I was there. I have always been a reluctant speaker, excelling instead in the other domains of language. But my French improved so much in Montpellier, that when I had to take an oral exam in Medieval History, I not only passed but the professor thought I was European.
Still, I left Montpellier with no French friends except the family whose children I’d tutored. My social French use was not what it could have been, to say the least. So when I knew I’d be coming to Paris, I just knew I’d make French friends and fearlessly plunge into the world of spoken French.
This is where the babies come back in. My job is to play with babies. (My other job is to speak English to French girls.) Because English-speaking babysitters get paid significantly more (almost $5 an hour more), my job is to play with English-speaking babies. So not only am I speaking English, I’m speaking it with beings that can’t talk back! (Or maybe: So not only am I speaking to babies, but I’m speaking to them in English! I’m not sure which is more appalling for the state of my French.) I circulate in an English-speaking bubble.
We have a few French-speaking friends but don’t see them more than once a month. My exchange partner (see – I am trying) and I meet once a week, but she’s busy with exams right now, and we switch off between English and French.
It has always been very hard for me to put myself out there. Though I may come off as confident and social in my adulthood, inside I still feel like the awkward 13-year-old starting middle school in a new district. (For the record, I made one friend that year. One friend. The whole year. And it’s because she talked to me.) So the question becomes: how do you make new friends when you have no social circle to draw from? (No school, not even work?) I plan on getting another exchange partner or two and keeping my eyes open for classes or groups. My French-speaking year isn’t over yet!
For those of you who have recently (or not so recently) moved to another city and had to make a whole new group of friends, how did it work out for you?