mardi 2 décembre 2008

A Happy Union

In the 19th arrondisement of Paris you will find none other than the 'vélo et chocolat' shop. For those non-French speakers, you can probably guess from the picture that this translates as 'bike and chocolate' shop. I don't know about you, but the first thing I think of when I want to rent a bicycle is 'I wish I had some chocolate to go with this bike'...And who said that the French were close-minded and unoriginal? Whilst I'm unsure of the financial success of this particular venture, I consider bikes and chocolate to be a happy union...

A not so happy union involving bikes in Paris has come to my attention since the introduction of vélibs (city bikes). Back in July 2007, the mayor of Paris thought it would be a good idea to introduce a system of city bikes in Paris as an easy, cheap, healthy, and ecological means of getting around. I agree with him that this was a good idea, what was perhaps not so well thought out was where all of these bikes and bike riders would go? Paris streets are not the most spacious of places, and Parisian drivers are not exactly known for their consideration of others on the roads...Given a lack of bike lanes, someone had the ingenious idea of providing a safe place for cyclists to ride - the bus lane!!! That's right, in Paris the bike lane is in fact the bus lane and taxi lane - What safer place could there be to ride than alongside buses and taxi drivers? And people wonder why I haven't tried out a vélib yet...

vendredi 21 novembre 2008

Be careful of the Bitch Switch

The Bitch Switch is a mechanism that females living in France must possess. It is something which appears to be inbuilt amongst French women, inherited at birth from their French mothers. For us foreigners it is something that must be developed as early as possible to make everyday living in France more bearable.

When I arrived in Paris I spent the first month of my life here being harassed by sleazy men. Walking in the streets, wandering around museums, sitting in parks, even sitting peacefully in Notre Dame, I was hit on time and time again by dodgy men. I hated Paris in the beginning. No matter where I went it appeared the concepts of personal space and minding one's own business were alien to these people. When I had really had enough of the unwanted attention and was considering returning home, my sister rightfully pointed out that there must be a method for dealing with this harassment and that I should watch how the French women behaved and tolerated these psychos.

So I became an avid observer of French women and that is when I soon discovered an inbuilt Bitch Switch. When a French woman walks down the street she is confident and strong. She exudes an attitude which warns men and random psychos that they should not mess with her. If however, this confident attitude does not have the desired effects, and she is approached by a sleaze, psycho or stalker, she very quickly flicks the Bitch Switch. This switch is slightly different for every woman, but appears to have 4 main functions. The ignore function, death stare function, cunning comeback function and threat function. Depending on the level of psycho that presents himself before her, the woman can choose which function of the switch she needs to activate. Does this sleaze need to be ignored? Looked at with utter disdain? Put in his place with a feisty line? Or actually threatened?

Identifying that this switch existed and learning how to use its functions was an incredibly important process and it has totally changed my everyday life in Paris. First of all I'm approached much less frequently by pscyhos to begin with - this however was not a result of the Bitch Switch, but rather started when I lost my 'tourist eyes'. Tourist eyes are those easily identifiable eyes which flutter about gazing at everything in awe and becoming slightly unfocused due to overloads of beauty. The eyes of someone new to a city, soaking in everything and becoming familiar with their surroundings. The weirdos in Paris can spot tourist eyes a mile away - they see their target and they begin their assault, so you'd be wise to either feign apathy or invest in a pair of sunglasses. When this is not enough and you are approached by an unwanted sleaze, it's now time to turn to the Bitch Switch. I have found it to be incredibly effective - my personal option is to begin with the ignore function and then use the successive functions in order if need be. Generally I find that the ignore function works quite well, although I have definitely had to use a death stare and cunning comeback in my time. So far I'm proud to report that I haven't resorted to threats.

I strongly advise anyone traveling in or moving to Paris to become familiar with their own Bitch Switch and decide which of the functions work best for them. However, I need to be clear that there are certain malfunctions to this switch and that it should be used with caution. I came across a particular malfunction not long after I had moved into my new apartment. Living in a new area had caused me to be on high Bitch Switch alert - after all a new area means a terrible combination - new psychos that you are not familiar with, accompanied by those dreaded tourist eyes. When your Switch is on high alert, you sense sleazes approaching from a long way off and you prepare yourself for activation. This is why one normal Thursday night, while I was buying some groceries in what would become my local supermarket, I almost misused the switch. I could sense a man was walking behind me and following me in the shop, I activated the ignore function but he continued to follow me. Then he made his move, coming closer I heard a man almost whisper 'hello' in my ear. I continued to use the ignore function, however it was of no use, the man wouldn't leave. Becoming more frustrated that I had looked so much like a tourist that he had said hello and identified me as an English speaker before I'd even spoken, I whipped around to activate the death stare function, only to be confronted by my lovely new landlord looking back at me. I quickly tried to turn my death stare into a pleasant smile, not an easy task under pressure and I must admit he looked confused.

Having narrowly escaped an embarrassing situation - ignoring and sending out a death stare to a perfectly lovely man whose nice apartment I was renting, I vowed that I would issue a warning to fellow women living in France. Be careful of the Bitch Switch - embrace its functions but apply them with caution.

samedi 2 août 2008

Parisian Parks

One of my favourite things to do in Paris is to admire the parks. Whilst a glance through any guide book will give you a rather substantial list of parks to explore - the Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, Parc Monceau, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, Jardin des Plantes to name just a few, there is one thing that these guide books forget to mention - the really interesting parks - those that people perform with their cars.

That's right - parking in Paris is somewhat of an art form (or perhaps chaotic mess would be more accurate) and it never ceases to amaze me to see the creativity engaged in by Parisians in order to fit their vehicle into a space that is significantly smaller than that of their car.

I remember vividly whilst holidaying in Paris in 2005 the shock I experienced as a passenger in a car being parked by a Parisian. As we slowed down next to a tiny space on the curb I was totally unaware that the driver was about to attempt a reverse park in this 'space'. As we reverse parked I remember being so worried that we were going to hit the cars behind and in front of us. As I heard a loud bang and then another, I realised that this was exactly what was happening. In my state of shock I let out a gasp to which the driver reassured me that in fact hitting other peoples' cars in Paris was completely normal, that it wasn't a problem, and that Parisians actually factor this in to their parking and leave their handbrake released so that their car moves slightly backwards or forwards when bumped and therefore doesn't incur as much damage from the offending vehicle. Lesson number one for a foreigner - leave handbrake released when parked in Paris...

For those of you not lucky enough to have witnessed these Parisian parks, I have included some photographic evidence for you to peruse. I would also like to point out that all of these photos were taken randomly on one particular night in my street in the 12th arrondisement - so this is just one night and one street!

Park #1 - The butt rub - ok butt sounds terribly American, but bum rub and backside rub just don't sound right...

Park #2 - The nose rub

Park #3 - Kiss on the lips!

Park #4 - Loving the curb

Park #5 - Anything goes

As you can see even the cars in the city of romance get in on the action, a nose rub here, kiss on the lips there....whoever said it was impossible to get a park in Paris just wasn't being creative enough.

samedi 26 juillet 2008

Parisian Logic

Sometimes I get the distinct feeling that everything in Paris is done backwards. Whilst many would argue that I'm not the most logical person, I pride myself on the fact that at least I'm not as illogical as Parisians.

To describe the hunt for an apartment in Paris as hell would be a massive understatement. Undoubtedly searching for an apartment in any city is a difficult process, but in Paris it seems like an additional layer of unnecessary administrative crap is thrown in to test your strength. Being a foreigner on top of this really is the icing on the cake. I guess Parisians feel their city is so good that if you really want to live in it you have to be able to prove to the French that you're strong enough to withstand the apartment searching torture.

The first problem us non-millionaires come across is how to convince real estate agents or landlords that we earn enough money to pay the rent. This sounds like a relatively simple process, surely some recent payslips as proof of income would suffice? Unfortunately this is not even close to good enough for the French. They need a guarantor to be satisfied that when you can't pay the rent anymore, someone else will. Fair enough. This person however has to be someone who is French or has lived in France for a substantial period of time and earns a net salary that is 3 times the amount of your rent. If I were the daughter of Bill Gates this wouldn't be enough to secure an apartment in Paris. France doesn't want anything to do with some American computer nerd. My family in Australia certainly aren't up to the French standards and despite their more than adequate income, are of no use to me at all in this case. There is only one solution it would appear - find a French guarantor. Easier said than done. A mental search of all the French people I know brings up a list of people around my age who earn roughly the same, if not less, than I do and are therefore useless as guarantors. Those few friends of mine from work who do earn enough to cover my ass have been living in France for less than 2 years which means they do not have a copy of their French tax return - therefore useless again! Determined that there must be a way around this guarantor problem I decided to go to the HR department at work and ask them for help. They came up with some good advice - for young people or foreigners like myself the government has recently introduced a system called 'Locapass' which works on the principal that if I don't pay my rent, the state will, and then money will be deducted out of my pay at a significant rate of interest until I have paid back the government. I'm happy to use this system as a guarantor for me is a mere technicality since I will always be able to pay my rent. So, I fill out all the forms and sign my life away only to find out that real estate agents and landlords don't accept 'Locapass' because apparently it takes too long for the payments of rent to be made by the government. So the so-called help for foreigners is in fact not helpful at all because it is refused by everyone! Fortunately for me, after a long search I'm able to convince a friend of a friend of mine (who barely knows me) to agree that she will pay up to 6 years of my rent (totaling over 50 000 euros) should I not be able to.

The problem of guarantor aside, here are the other issues one comes across when setting up a life for oneself in France. To be able to rent an apartment, you need to have a copy of a gas bill in your name, and yet to be able to have a gas bill in your name, you obviously have to have an apartment which said gas is connected to. To be able to rent an apartment in France you need to have a French tax return. To have a French tax return you need to have lived and worked in France for at least a year and a half. Where oh where you may have been living (given the fact an apartment is out of the question) for that first year and a half, is apparently not the French's problem - that's for you to figure out. To be able to purchase electrical appliances in France you need to have a gas bill (yes a gas bill to the French is like pure gold!). To have a gas bill you need to have lived in your apartment for 2 months. So apparently you are supposed to live in your apartment with no appliances (such as a fridge - hello a person needs to eat!) for the first 2 months. To be able to open a bank account in France, you need to have a gas bill (I'm not kidding!) and a permanent job. To have a permanent job and a gas bill in France, you need to have a bank account. Sound logical to you?

As a fellow aussie Bryce Corbett puts it in his book 'A Town Like Paris', he believes that this whole process is actually;
'a canny immigration control mechanism - a hidden test of a person's intelligence, enterprise and cunning. If you aren't clever or conniving enough to work out how to wheedle you way
around the system to get a gas bill - if you can't work out the riddle - you have no business
being in France.'

NB. The reason I have not blogged for almost 3 months now is due to another French riddle - apparently it takes the French no less than 2 and a half months to connect a phone line and the internet in one's apartment. After all, if you're lucky enough to have managed to get an apartment, it's a little too much to ask that you should also have contact with the outside world. Apparently instead of communicating with others you should be spending your time sitting in your apartment all day and contemplating just how lucky you are to be in Paris in the first place.

mardi 29 avril 2008

Drugs anyone?

Yesterday I was reminded yet again of why one should avoid going to the doctor in France if at all possible. After having gotten over my unpleasant experience of the 'visite medicale' which I have to go through every 6 months to prove that I am fit for work, I thought I would make an appointment with my local GP to see if she could do anything for my back ache or sleeping problems. I have been putting this off for a long time now, as I have had a bad back for months and have not been bothered to go to the doctor to get a referral to the physio so that I can get my back massaged and put back into its correct position. Now it is all too clear to me why I was putting this off in the first place.

After waiting for almost an hour in the waiting room because the doctor was running late, I was then told I would be having an appointment with her assistant, who was apparently qualified for 'normal' consultations. Having only been to this doctor once before I had no real attachment to her, and so was quite happy to go with the assistant into another room and get it over and done with.
I told her that I had come for 2 reasons - the first being a problem that I was having with my back. I explained that I had pain in my back and muscle ache as well as tension and pain in my neck. I further explained that I had experienced back pain before and that I used to go to the physio in Australia for this very problem and that the physio had told me that I have scoliosis and as well as this, my pelvis tilts when I walk and therefore I need realignment of my pelvis every once in a while because when it is unaligned it causes pain in my lower back. After this animated conversation involving many actions and gestures given my lack of medical vocabulary in French, she decided that she would examine my back to see if she could see any signs of what I had described. She poked and prodded me, asking where it hurt, which she soon realised was pretty much along the entire length of my spine. She then examined my hips and told me that even she could feel that my right hip was lower than my left and that it was not aligned. Afterwards she got me to bend over and straighten up again, to which she discovered that I did have scoliosis and that I wasn't just a French hypochondriac. After completely agreeing with the diagnosis that I had just given her, she then decided that she wasn't qualified to make that diagnosis and that I would have to see a Radiologist to have a series of x-rays to see if I have scoliosis - even though every doctor and physio that I have ever seen, including her, has told me that this is the case.

I should have known through the doctor's lack of confidence in her own judgment that it was not worth discussing my second problem with her, but I stupidly decided to ask for advice regarding my sleeping pattern. I described that I work at night and that I have a bizarre schedule where I continually change the number of days I work in a row and the number of days that I have off. I told her that I hadn't found a good rhythm, that I was very often tired and that I slept at different times every day. I also explained that I didn't like the idea of keeping my strange sleeping hours on my days off because I didn't like being awake all night if I was not working and that sleeping during the day on one's day off can be depressing because you never see the light of day. This is where she came up with what I like to call her 'stroke of genius'. She told me that what she thought would be good for me is a medication that is used for people suffering from jet lag - given that it seemed my job was a bit like being jet lagged all the time. She wrote down the name of the drug on a piece of paper and gave it to me - I thought that a post-it note was a slightly unconventional way of writing a prescription, but took the paper nevertheless. She then told me that the drug was not sold in France - therefore something incredibly useful and convenient for me (rolls eyes). She asked where I was from and when I said Australia, she said she had no idea if it was sold there but thought that maybe someone could try and buy it (melatonine) for me and send it on over. However, given that prescribing a medicine which is unavailable in France was not very efficient of her, she then decided she would prescribe me some other drugs in the meantime.

She tapped away at her computer, clicking on every kind of sleeping pill she could find and adding it to the list for my prescription - given that my problem is not actually the fact that I can't get to sleep, I was wondering what the hell she was doing. It was like watching a little kid play with a new toy - every 30 secs she would read the description of a drug in her computer system, get excited, make a noise to express the excitement and then add it to the list. Then she would find the next drug in the list, realise that it was even better than the one before, remove the one she had just added and replace it with the latest.

After a good 10 minutes of this little game she had finally made her selection and was very proud and satisfied with it. She explained to me that she was giving me a prescription for Doliprane (which is like prescribing someone mild panadol) for the pain in my back (even I know that's not going to do anything), a drug which relaxes the muscles and sends you to sleep (thereby apparently curing both my tight back and my sleeping problem) and then a drug which boosts your energy and wakes you up which I'm to take whenever I get up....

Noticing my concerned look and probably picking up on my disapproval of her, she then said to me confidently that the best thing to do would be to fly to the United States where the jet lag drug is readily available and buy it there! I'm not even kidding!! I did not want to point out the fact that maybe there is actually a good reason why it is not sold in France 'the land of the drug' and that perhaps it is not very good for the body. Or the more obvious fact that perhaps it's not safe to take a drug that is designed for people experiencing jet lag on a regular or every day basis. I guess the good news is that were I to spend hundreds of euros to fly to the U.S to pick up this drug, then at least when i get back and am incredibly jet lagged from the whirl wind trip, bingo I have the medication required.

So after this supposed normal consultation I was sent away with a referral to a radiologist, some paracetamol, a drug to send me to sleep and a drug to wake me up - sound healthy to you? All I had gone there for in the first place was a referral to a physio and some advice on when the best time to sleep is when one has a working schedule like I do.

And for those of you thinking that this is a one off strange occurrence, it's not! Going to the doctor in France always results in a list a mile long of prescriptions. I confirmed this when talking to a friend about it last night and she told me that the last time she went to the doctor for a cold, she was sent home with a prescription for aspirin, two pain killers to alternate between, an inhaler, cough syrup and eye drops!!! it was a cold people - what happened to bed rest and a honey and lemon drink.....

lundi 4 février 2008

Moto Man

Place du Tertre, Paris 18ème

Last Friday night I agreed to accompany my friend Sarah to a soirée at her friend's apartment in the 18th arrondisement.

The 18th arrondisement in Paris is known for a number of things; the Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, the Place du Tertre, the Moulin Rouge, cute little streets and somewhat shifty characters hanging about. However when these last two elements combine, as Sarah and I experienced, it can be an unpleasant mixture - that is of course until you are saved by Moto Man!

So we were on our way to our soirée in Rue Lepic - an incredibly cute street which winds around what seems to be the entire 18th arrondisement. We had already looked at the map and were ready to make our way there from the metro when suddenly we were spotted by two dodgy men. These disgusting men, who hang around tourist areas trying to find poor unsuspecting females to harrass, heard Sarah and I speaking English and decided they had found their next target. Being thrown off by the sleazes, we took a wrong turn, however we were determined to continue on confidently, without checking the map again, as we knew that Rue Lepic was definitely not far away. We were being followed the whole time by our 2 admirers, who quickly turned into hecklers when they realised we were ignoring them. There's something about walking along the street with a girlfriend, minding your own business, being followed by dodgy men who yell obscenities at you and refuse to let you out of their sight, that screams FRANCE to me. It is the horrible, yet somewhat true, stereotype of Paris which thankfully, I don't come across as often as I did when I first arrived here. So as we walked along and tried to pretend as though we couldn't hear the abuse that was being yelled at us, quick-thinking Sarah saw a man in the distance who she decided she would ask for directions. Lucky for us it was Moto Man!

Moto Man, as the name suggests was the owner of a motorbike, and therefore had a helmet on as we approached him. To our pleasant surprise, when he took the helmet off, Moto Man was also incredibly hot. So Sarah went about asking for directions, to which he was ever so helpful, giving us a detailed description of exactly how to get to Rue Lepic. Realising that we weren't French, he asked us if we were trying to get to the Amelie cafe (as the cafe in which Amelie works in the renowned film is also in Rue Lepic) to which we replied that in fact we were just trying to find our friend's apartment. Meanwhile our stalkers had crossed to the other side of the road, but were patiently waiting for us to finish our conversation with Moto Man, so that they could continue following us. So Sarah decided to tell Moto Man that in fact, while we had taken a slightly unwanted detour, we weren't really lost, but were just trying to escape our night stalkers. Moto Man then kindly offered to accompany us so that the crazy men would leave us alone. Touched by this sweet gesture, we walked with Moto Man until we came to his apartment, he told us to come inside the foyer area to make it look like we were going to his place, so that the stalkers would give up hope. He then apologised for not having an apero for us, as he would have invited us up otherwise. We thanked him for his lovely help and left his place, back on track for Rue Lepic but this time without our visitors (Moto Man's cunning plan had worked).

And so, as another friend Ann pointed out, the moral to this story is, if you want to find a sexy man in Paris who will invite you into his apartment, you firstly need to find a dodgy looking stalker (much easier to come by in Paris) and pretend that you're lost - and voilà - easier than we thought!

So thank you to Moto Man for adding a lovely element to our Friday night and for restoring our faith in French men!

samedi 2 février 2008

Self denunciation

Denounce : to condemn or censure openly or publicly

I write today to denounce myself. I refer to the dictionary definition of denounce for good reason, as the following post will show that the very nature of my denunciation relates to my terrible use of the English language, particularly in regards to spelling and grammar.

I'm sure that those of you who read my blog would have noticed that I often make spelling and grammar mistakes that I myself, consider unforgivable. As someone who used to pride herself on her correct use of the English language, it's painful to see how many mistakes I now make. I often read over previous posts just to check the spelling and grammar, and very often I find glaringly obvious mistakes that I missed the first time. Or there are those times when readers actually pull me up on my terrible errors and feeling embarrassed I check my blog and realise that they are indeed correct and I have been writing crap once again. Of course I log in straight away and correct the errors, but it still pains me to know that I'm making them in the first place.
It seems that my biggest problem is in fact with homophones - something which I have never had a problem with before. Having been an English teacher for a year, I'm well aware of what a homophone is, and as English is my native language it has not been something that I've ever had to grapple with or think about in the past. I can understand why people learning English may struggle with homophones, given that there are over 400 examples, however for someone with English as their mother tongue it is somewhat disturbing. I have already been pulled up on using here, instead of hear, new instead of knew, where instead of we're and the tragic but typical example of your instead of you're. This last example is a shocker, and I'm ashamed to admit that I've fallen into the category of people who sometimes make this mistake. I, more than anyone, wanted to join the facebook group which condemns the misuse of these very words, however I felt as though it would be hypocritical and hence I refrained.

I would like to think that these mistakes are due to the fact that I now live in France and speak French a lot of the time. This in a way is partly true, however one would think that my French should be improving significantly if my English is quickly deteriorating, surely that would be only fair - and yet it appears that for a very long time now I have been at the same level in French. I have hit a big plateau and have stopped moving up, and yet the English has suddenly taken a downhill slide....

So there you have it everyone - I apologise for my poor writing standard and encourage everyone to continue pointing out my errors in hope that one day I'll be able to speak and write like the good old days.

Self denunciation complete.