Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I was kind of bummed today because I didn’t have any plans for Halloween and it is my favorite holiday. I decided to cheer myself up by grocery shopping at one of the major, cheap supermarkets in France, Carrefour. It is quite a trek and I thought it would keep my mind off of not celebrating Halloween. I wanted make an afternoon/night of it and actually look at everything in the store, thinking tonight would be a convenient time as it was Halloween and most people would be out drinking because tomorrow is a holiday.
I am into serious price checking these days because Christmas is coming up, and well, because I am not rich, so I took my time, comparing prices and looking at everything. By the time I was ready to leave it was already 8:00 p.m. I took my checkbook because I lost my a.t.m. card about a week ago (kind of taken care of, just have to wait about 5 thousand days for a new one). Writing a check is difficult for me because while I know how to pronounce all the numbers in French, I sometimes don’t know how to spell them correctly. I am always a little anxious when I know I am going to use a check in a busy store because the cashiers aren’t always the most patient people in the world.
Enter bad experience number 9,567. Wait, before I go on my tirade, let me explain a little something about supermarkets in France. The queues are unbelievable. You know how in the States if there more than 5 people are waiting to check out, a new cashier will come and open another aisle? Never happens in France. As a matter of fact, when there are 5 or 6 people queuing, at least four cashiers will go on break. No lie, no exaggeration, I have seen it happen every time I go shopping. See what I am getting at? Horrible ending experience to your shopping no matter how you slice it.
Tonight, I changed queues twice. I wasn’t sure about the first one I was in; I thought maybe I was in a 10 items or less aisle (not that anyone EVER pays attention to that), so I moved to another line. After I queued for about 10 minutes, the cashier decided it was high time for a break. I moved to the next queue and read over everything about the types of accepted payment to ensure I was in the correct queue. Credit cards, bank cards, checks over 15 euros, and cash. Ok, everything was good to go; I read the small print, I was in the correct queue and I was pretty pleased with the bargains I had found.
When it was my turn, I told the woman my French was bad, but that I wanted to write a check. Immediately she started yelling at me, telling me it was the wrong queue and that I wasn’t allowed to write a check in that particular queue. This is after I told her my French wasn’t so great. Yelling at me! I had a ton of stuff and she wanted me to pick everything up and go wait for another cashier! I just looked at her blankly, mainly because I have never been yelled at by an employee at an establishment where I was a paying customer, but also because I couldn’t follow all of her French. I wasn’t really sure whether to laugh, leave all my stuff there and exit the store, or to slap the silly cow.
Finally, she quit yelling and started ringing up my purchases, throughout which she muttered stuff about stupid foreigners and how we should all be sent home while she threw my stuff around. To my utter horror, the man next to me in line agreed with her and turned around and started telling his wife/girlfriend that “stupid American foreigners” should go on holiday to England where they speak they same language.?!
When she finished and told me the amount, I painfully wrote out the check. She saw me and jerked, JERKED, the check away from me and told me the machine printed the checks. She stuck it in the machine and after it had printed, she slapped it down in front of me and told me to sign it. I had already signed it, and told her so, but she insisted I sign it again. So I signed my check twice. I sure my bank is going to think I am a straight moron. But, amazingly nothing major happened. The aisle didn’t open up and swallow her or anything, so I fail to see why it was such a big deal that I used a check.
It’s Halloween and I guess maybe since this woman couldn’t dress up, she decided to embody her costume. I am sure you all can guess what she was trying to be. And let me tell you, in my book she really, really pulled the costume off! I am/was torn between wanting to curse her or waiting for her after work with my pepper spray……But I think I will just wish and pray really hard that she always works at Carrefour and that every hour of everyday somebody comes through her aisle and uses a check. Meanwhile, I am banning Carrefour for life. I don’t care what anyone says, Wal-Mart is waaaayyy better.
You know why people are allowed to act like this in France? It is because they cannot be fired once they are hired. Well, they can, but it is awfully hard to get rid of an employee after they have a permanent contract. Basically, they can be rude, unhelpful, and just a downright horrible employee and have no fear of ever losing their job. Remarkable, isn’t it?
Sunday, October 29, 2006
I found this at a local market for 2 euros. I was really excited because all the pumpkins I had seen were 8-10 euros and as money is kind of tight right now, I just couldn't bring myself to spend that much for something I would throw out in a few days.
I know this isn't artistic or even original, but I love it. I had such a blast carving my pumpkin; it kept me entertained for about 2 hours. Then I cooked the pumpkins seeds. I love Halloween! I wish I had a party or something planned for the big day, but I don't, so this jack-o-lantern will have to do. Although it is a feast for my bionic gnats, I hope it lasts until Halloween.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
I am sure if you look up ineptitude in the dictionary you will find a description of the French bureaucracy. I cannot even begin to explain how absolutely comical these “official” offices are. Well, they would be funny if it didn’t involve me and affect my daily life in France. Nothing is logical, nobody is nice, nothing is efficient and yet everyone accepts this as being totally normal. When French people go to get their birth certificates or driver’s license, they wait all day and this is completely normal to them.
Let me explain my situation so everyone can understand why I am so irritated with French bureaucracy. In order to work in this country, I have to have a carte de sejour. This card is a magical and mysterious card which the French government rewards you only have after you have killed dragons and pulled swords out of stones. If it was only that easy perhaps I wouldn’t be complaining. In reality getting a carte de sejour (a lamenated card with your picture on it, very similar to an American driver’s license in its shape and design, the difference being you get an American driver’s license the very day you apply for it if you pass your test) is a much more time consuming process.
First, you must have a contract with a French company. With this contract and 14 copies of every official document you have ever been issued in your entire life, you go to an office in the far ends of the earth to get an authorization to work. Then you have to take this authorization to the prefecture and get a “recepissee de demande de carte de sejour”.
When you go to get this receipt which says you have officially asked for a carte de sejour, you have to have 4 passport photos which cost 4 euros a set. You have to take off of work the entire day because you will queue for at least 4 hours to get a number then you will queue another 4 hours after that in order to see a real person. Sometimes after you stand in the first line for 4 hours, the people in charge of giving out the numbers will tell you to go home and come back another day when there are less people in line. I can’t tell you the tingles of joy I got the first 3 times I heard this.
After they are satisfied they have made you wait enough time and that you are not going to go away, they will give you the receipt with a date two or three months in the future as an expiration date. The idea (I think, but I really can’t grasp the way the French administration thinks) is that you will have your actual carte de sejour before this receipt expires. The receipt allows you to work, but does not allow you to get your medical card or housing assistance or any of the other good things that you will pay for month after month if you are contracted with a French company. Between the time you get the receipt and the time you get the card, you have to go to the doctor which will also take about 8 hours.
Let me tell you what actually happens and keep in mind this is the second time I have had to endure all of this. I only need a renewal of my original carte de sejour. I got two receipts at the end of August, one in Cergy and one in Paris (8 euros for pictures and 22 hours of queuing time). These receipts expired October 24th. I had an appointment at the Paris prefecture for 1:00 on October 24th to get my new carte de sejour. Although, I had to reschedule a ton of classes and I had to get up at 5 a.m. for two days to teach the rescheduled classes, I was excited because this was the very first appointment I had ever had with an official French office.
I got to the office early and waited in line until 1:45, never mind I had an appointment, I expected nothing less. It was okay though, because a very unattractive man with the worst breath ever decided he would work his French magic on me and make me love him. This consisted of him pushing up on me, winking at me, brushing my hair away from my face and eventually taking my phone number off of my file.
I finally got my number (so I could wait yet some more) and sat next to some really flashy cross dressers. I figured I was safe next to them. However, I was directly behind a couple who thought the prefecture was the perfect place to practice their kissing skills. And just as an aside, I have finally figured out why people who make out in public bother me so much. It is because they remind me of “trailer trash.” For those who aren’t familiar with this term, it is used to describe people who may or may not live in trailers, but who are just trashy and manner less in general. So this was a lot of fun for me for the two hours I waited for my number to be called. Let me take this time to remind everyone, I had a FREAKING appointment.
My number was finally called and I went to the appointed window and was greeted by a gum-chewing, grouchy, fast talking, bitter French woman. She went through all my paper work and told me I couldn’t have my carte de sejour, and that I needed a new recepissee which would expire in the middle of December. Then I could come and wait some more and get my carte de sejour. Running total of wasted money: 12 euros. Number of wasted hours: 25.
Let me clarify why this delay irritates me so much. I do not now have nor have ever had a carte vitale. This is a major important card because it allows me to go to the doctor and get reimbursed for the visit. This is not a free thing. I pay 101.09 euros a month (and have always paid this much) for my health insurance and it is totally wasted. I won’t get my carte vitale until after I have my carte de sejour. I won’t have my carte de sejour until December because the French government can’t laminate a card in less than 4 months which means I can’t even apply for my carte vitale until after December. Not to mention the fact that I cannot apply for housing assistance until after I have my carte de sejour.
Are you starting to understand why I have a problem with this country’s bureaucracy?
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Pictures of my apartment are coming, I just have to clean first.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
One of the most common questions is, loosely quoted, “If you don’t like France, why did you move here?” My answer to this is probably surprising, but I am not psychic. I had no way of knowing before I moved that I wouldn’t love France once I moved here. I didn’t wake up one day and say to myself, “France, what a horrible country, I think I will move there.” In reality, I don’t think anyone has ever been as excited as I was about the prospect of living in France. I am pretty sure I drove all my friends (and a few strangers) crazy with my constant ecstatic mantra of “I am moving to France,” for four months preceding the move. Even after arriving and realizing my situation was completely depressing, (living in a filthy dormitory in one of the worst neighborhoods in France at the age of 26 with my students, having a roommate after living alone for 8 years, arriving a month too early for a horrible job, not having any of the correct government paperwork because my employer did not find it necessary to inform me what to bring, teaching classrooms full of students who are only in school because they can’t find a job, having no materials to teach with nor any access to books, being ridiculed daily for trying to speak the language, having complete strangers as well as colleagues tell me how horrible and monstrous my country is) I still tried to be positive…for a while. Only a really simple or a really religious person could continue to fool themselves into being positive indefinitely under those kinds of circumstances. Honestly, I have always been a little moody, but looking back, I do not know how I would have lived through the level of depression I was experiencing without my friends here and at home. Unlike most people who move here, I didn’t come because of a spouse or because of an American company or to retire. I was thrust right into a very initially unfriendly French society with only a tiny support group. The only reason I stayed was because I wanted to see as much of Europe as I could and because going back to the States meant having to work 3 or 4 jobs to support myself. And I kept telling myself it surely couldn’t get any worse. Now things are looking up and I expect most future posts to be more positive.
The second most common question is, “If you hate it so much, why do you stay?” I have several different, yet equally good answers for this question. First of all, I have dreamed of traveling and living in different countries for longer than I have dreamed of doing anything else. If I was independently wealthy, I would travel for the rest of my life. Second, going back to working all the time and being stressed about money wasn’t (and still isn’t) so appealing to me; I wanted a vacation from American work and a reprieve from having to decide what I was going to do with my life. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I didn’t want France to beat me. I didn’t want to run home because I couldn’t hack it here. I want to be able to survive anywhere and if I can’t survive in France, what does that say about my personality? And just as an aside, I did not escape a horrible country. I didn’t leave the U.S. because I had a problem with it. I love my country. I was in the military for 8 years because I felt it was the only real way I could repay the good fortune of living in a country so incredible. My country is pretty amazing and I know I am going back to it eventually. I want to experience other cultures, even if I don’t like them, in order to enrich my futures experience in my country. I love being an American and all the naysayers who think I am being cheesy, go live in Mexico or in an African country where you are lucky to live to the age of 35. Also, a large part of me wants to be able to go home and honestly say, “Yes, the French are odd and they have strange ways and strange cultural habits, but after you get used to them, you can really begin to appreciate their culture.” I don’t want to go back to the U.S. with the idea that France is the bottom of the barrel, so to speak.
The third question I hear a lot (and this one puzzles me quite a bit) is, “Why did you move to a country if you can’t speak the language?” I find this question especially annoying because people move to countries everyday without knowing the language. Half of my family emigrated to the U.S. without knowing English; my friend is teaching in Japan and he didn’t know the language when he moved there. For those of you who ask this question, I have some questions for you. Where is your sense of adventure? Do you have any? Do unknown situations terrify you? Yes, it scary and sometimes dangerous not being fluent in French, but that is part of the adventure. I get to learn something new and exciting everyday. When was the last time that has happened to you? Can you remember the last time you knew every time you walked out of your house, you would learn something new, useful and fascinating? It is like being a kid all over again. It is an amazing and humbling experience and if I get the chance to move somewhere else and do it all over again, I will consider myself lucky. My only regret is that I don’t have the time, energy or money to take proper lessons. Most of my knowledge of French is from books, my friends or just random conversations with people.
And finally, since I am on a sort of make-shift soap box, I would like to remind folks the name of this blog is “Angela in Europe.” I created it; it’s mine. If I want to rant and rave and curse, it is my prerogative. It is the only place I can be completely self-centered without feeling guilty. There is no clause on blogspot that says posts have to be positive. I write about my experiences as I experience them. It is a semi-personal diary of my life in Europe, for me and the people I care about, people who I can’t contact often. They don’t even have to read it if they don’t want to, that is everyone else’s prerogative. I never said this blog was going to nice or fair; I just wanted a self-entertaining way to write about my experiences, post a few photos and keep in touch with folks. I am not a journalist, nor have I ever wanted to be one. I don’t even have to write about the facts; I could make up a bunch of nonsense if I want to (although I don’t) and nobody can stop me. I love writing and I miss it terribly. I am not talented enough to write fiction, but I am pretty good at academic writing and this blog fills the hole I have now I am no longer in school or actively trying to publish things. And I would like to point out, I have a readership of about 10 people I know and 10 people who I have “met” on the internet. As much as I appreciate these people and their comments, 20 people hardly make for a large audience.
The fact of the matter is, some people are “touched” by madness and I just happen to believe I am “touched” by a bit of the bizarre. Strange things always happen to me and around me and I find them amusing. Most of the stuff I put on here makes or will make me laugh in the future, even if it does sound horrible in print. I do enjoy poking fun at French people and French culture as I experience it and I will continue doing so. People say funny things and lousy things about Americans everyday and I just laugh or deal with it. So for those Frogs I offend by pointing out the bizarre, foolish or maddening aspects of your culture, get over it, or (and this might be a revolutionary idea) stop reading this blog.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
But I digress. I wanted to post this advert I have seen all over the metro. I think it is the best advert ever and it is French! I am pretty sure the byline translates to something like “London for lovers.”
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
I also met Benjamin Kunkel, author of Indecision, and talked to him for a while. AND, I met Guillermo Arriaga, the author/screenwriter of 3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada and 21 Grams; he approached me because I was reading Faulkner (while I was waiting for one of his sessions to begin) and told me Faulkner was the reason he became a writer. Magaret Atwood was also there and, as it turns out, I speak better french than she does.
All in all, I had a great time. I can't imagine a better way to spend a Saturday. For me, writers are the equivalent of rock stars or movie stars, except I don't have the urge to throw my panties at them.