I figure I’ve had 19 first days of school. Many of these are documented. Except high school when I got on the bus too early for Mom to get out of bed. I’m actually surprised Mom took any first day of school photos. Dolores is on a sleep schedule 15 year olds strive for.
Maybe you have the same first day of school memories. Begin: Curse summer for ending so soon. Get out of bed. Build a fortress of cereal boxes around yourself so your siblings can’t annoy you. (They do anyway.) Forget to make lunch. Argue with Mom about wearing socks if you went to school in the late 80s when it was totally uncool to wear socks with your boat shoes or penny loafers.
Somewhere between taking gym clothes out of the dirty laundry and wondering if anyone will notice you’re not wearing Guess jeans and Ellesse sneakers, it’s picture time.
“Stand by the front door. Elissa, hold Patrick so he stops turning around. Now tickle him so he smiles.”
“PAAAATRICK! YOU CANNOT WEAR ORANGE FIREMAN PAJAMAS TO PRE-K. WHAT WILL THEY THINK OF ME AT THEODORE ROOSEVELT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL??” Patrick is 10 years younger than me.
“Stand over here so the neighbors don’t see me in my nightgown.”
“Move, move, move. I want to get the flowers in so when we put the house on the market we’ll have a nice photo.” (She still lives there.)
“Where’s Paul?” Paul is the middle child, five years younger than me. After about second grade he is rolling his eyes in every first day of school photo.
“PAAATRICK! YOU DO NOT TAKE THE BUS YET. DO. NOT. GET. ON. THAT. BUS.”
Escape: Stand at the bus stop, hope there’s a new kid so you have someone interesting to talk to. Remove socks, put in bookbag. Hope the Jewish holidays are early this year so you get another two days off as soon as possible.
I’ve been in Paris for two months waiting for someone to treat me like merde.
“PARIS WOULD BE GREAT – EXCEPT FOR THE FRENCH! HA HA HA!”
Have I stuck my head in Le Métro to avoid noticing French rudeness? Do I have my hands over my ears while singing “Mary had a little agneau”?
“YOU KNOW THOSE FROGS! IF YOU DON’T SPEAK FRENCH IT’S LIKE YOU’RE INVISIBLE!”
Maybe as a New Yorker and former inhabitant of several large metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, Chicago, London, San Francisco et cetera) my tolerance for rudeness is so high that if someone glares at me I consider it a compliment.
“THEY DIDN’T EVEN SEEM TO WANT MY MONEY!!! WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY?!”
Today is only my 72nd day living in Paris. I am not an expert on the French attitude by any means. (That is why this is just Part I of this topic.) I only had to survive one government office so far. I have had a considerable amount of help getting settled. Many of the people with whom I’ve interacted were selling me something. I speak a bit of French (though poorly).
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND! WHY DON’T THEY JUST SPEAK ENGLISH?!!!”
On our 2008 French honeymoon we encountered an English-speaking (non-American) couple struggling with the Métro ticket machine. “OH! THIS IS SO CONFUSING! OHHH!” They were SO loud. We tried explaining the ticket machine to them while they whooped and complained that no one would help them and why doesn’t anyone speak English here??
“HA HA DON’T TRY TO GET THE Gar-CON’s ATTENTION – it’s his JOB to IGNORE YOU!”
Let me be clear – stereotypes usually exist for a reason. I know some truly fantastic, respectful, culturally aware Americans who speak in a normal tone of voice who still find the French rude. And I absolutely believe them that they encountered rudeness here. I meet expats nearly everyday, some of whom have lived in France 20+ years. When I tell them I have not encountered any more rudeness here than in other cities, they look me in the eye and say “That’s nice. You will.” The rest of France complains about Parisians. For the love of Pierre, there was even an ad campaign for something-or-other in which Parisians said the worst thing about their city was that it had Parisians!
Some of this can be explained by cultural differences. For example, one has to have a thick skin to interact with a bus driver in Wales and not think his goal is to make you feel like a complete idiot. And, understandably, when you visit a new country it’s tough to know the norms and not take perceived rudeness personally.
I do want to share with you that in the month we’ve lived in our new place I have met four neighbors in my building. Three of them said to me a variation of, “Oh, you’re the new person. Don’t hesitate to knock on my door if you need anything.” The other one? I was a bit alarmed when I saw the note from La Poste stating an anonymous neighbor received my new printer for me. There are no numbers on apartments here and I didn’t know anyone’s name, never mind which apartment was theirs. I passed a door on my way upstairs with a piece of paper taped to it saying “M. Something-French-Sounding”. I knocked and there appeared an 80-something year old guy holding my (heavy) box. I didn’t understand what he said, I just introduced myself and said merci about twenty times.
When I meet someone whose rudeness rivals that of a DMV employee or that pain in the ass doorman at The Viper Room, I’ll write about it in Waiting for the Rude Shoe to Drop: Part II. Stay tuned!
Somehow snow is more magical here. It makes the sub-freezing temperatures more bearable. My friend down the block, Heui Young, said she got out of bed and was all SNOW!!! GET UP, IT’S SNOWING! Like Christmas – SANTA CAME!!! Get out of bed, I think I got a record player!
These photos were taken on our very own block by Joe and Sara (our first visitor!), 3 Feb evening.
It snowed more this morning. I was sleepy but not anymore because IT’S SNOWING! These are from our bedroom window.
P.S. Today I had a pastry date with a bunch of friends. I thought maybe some wouldn’t show, like when it rains in L.A. Nope! Love it.
Upon winning tickets to Festival International de la Bande Dessinée I look on a map to see which Métro stop is nearest Angoulême, where the famous French comic book festival is held. Turns out Angoulême is not a Paris neighborhood but a medium size city halfway to Spain. Oops.
“Bande dessinée” (BD) translates to “drawing strip”. The 2012 Festival BD is juried and presided over by whomever wins the Grand Prix the previous year. In 2011 the honor went to Art Spiegeleman: author of Maus, creator of 10 years of complicated and controversial New Yorker covers, and more recently a post-9/11 graphic novel, ”In the Shadow of No Towers”. This is only the second time an American held the post (Robert Crumb took the honor in 1999).
Though you’ve probably never heard of it, Le Festival BD is attended by more people than San Diego’s famously crowded Comic-Con – 200,000 are expected in Angoulême while Comic-Con had 130,000 attendees in 2010.
Upon arriving in Angoulême, our eyes are peeled for signs of a comic book festival: Luigi masks. Fellas with a pocket full of sharpies and box of comic books encased in acid-free plastic sleeves. Princess Leia bikinis. We see a few subtle but promising signs: Gals in combat boots with funky laces. A guy Joe said “ran like a nerd”.
Turns out Angoulême doesn’t just host Festival BD but really is Festival BD. It is home of the Musée de la Bande Dessinée, comic book art covers exterior walls of zillion year old buildings, shops display Toki-Doki bags, and windows are littered with posters of anime girls whose knickers peek out from their school girl mini-skirts, heads tilted wistfully towards the sky, hair slightly blowing, all innocent and full of high-pitched sighs. We wander past Tin Tin panels decorating alleys filled with non-Parisians wearing neon admission bracelets.
After eating lunch specials named after French comic book artists, we decide to shed our backpacks at the one hotel we could find at the last minute. It’s 15km away in the “town” of Roullet-Saint-Estèphe and may or may not be serviced by a bus, no one seems to know. Eventually the municipal bus drops us off two-thirds of the way there.
We begin the 5k walk from the bus stop among hibernating farms and an occasional yield sign. Wait a minute – didn’t we pick up those hitchhikers when we drove through the Vaucluse while we were here on our honeymoon? Despite my super-cute cold weather gear that exposes a whole five square centimeters of skin, no one picks us up.
Our tickets are only good for Sunday so on Saturday we rent bikes to check out Cognac country. The closest thing on our nearly-blank map of the region is Le Château de Claix. A château! Everyone loves a château! What is a château, anyway? Is it just a house where nobles lived before they hit the guillotine? Surely it now signifies a place where one can taste cognac.
We bike for an hour, off-roading through a wet forest on what may be someone’s private property. We come upon a laiterie or dairy processing plant:
“Baby… I took you to your favorite place, a milk factory!” This is surely not Le Château de Claix. It is not pretty, there is no cognac. The laiterie is not even a good consolation prize as there are no wells of fresh milk and cream. We ride another half hour in a semi-circle and come upon:
Joe’s says that’s French for “If you get any closer we will shoot you.”
Festival BD is just comics and only comics – no Sony Pictures “omg big box office smash coming soon that has nothing to do with comic books but Comic-Con is a great marketing opportunity!” Not a Princess Leia bikini in sight. And we only counted three clever t-shirts all day. Joe’s “I Eat Planets” shirt is not recognized by Marvel fans and there is no sourpuss meatball from whatever that show is called with the sourpuss meatball. There are artists. Making art. Auteurs. The comics are about politics, culture, history, or, regular monsters, muscles, sex, guns, and men with their packages displayed in pouches built into blue spandex costumes.
I ask Joe what feels different between Comic-Con and BD (besides the Princess Leia bikins). “Lines. There are no lines here.”
Perhaps we* kids are maturing and prefer this more established, less maniacal comic festival free of Silver Surfers.
*And by we I mean Joe and his sister Laura, comic book devotees who stopped attending Comic-Con when it lost its identity – I’ve never been, I’ve only ever seen the swag bags and “Comic Book: The Movie”.
Our move to Paris was contingent on my being able to get a work visa. Upon explaining this, many friends replied “Are you crazy?! Go to museums and eat pastries all day! Be a woman of leisure! Why would you want to work in Parrrris?” I don’t fault them for these reactions – I might have said the same thing to a friend whose husband landed a job in an exciting city. It was odd though, no one said this to me any other time in life. We don’t have euros coming out of our ears or anything. Joe and I are careful, we always lived in one bedroom apartments with used, I mean vintage, furniture. And it’s known rent here is way more expensive than even pricey L.A.
People say the same thing to Joe. He tells them he’s happy to be married to a gal who works – not because she needs to contribute to the dishwasher fund but because that’s the kind of gal he likes.
Maybe it’s that Paris invokes a sense of vacation and leisure so one thinks of life here as a vacation and not work. Or maybe because one wants their lucky friend to spend her days sucking in every corner of this great city instead of working a crappy-paying public health job where one practically has to give sexual favors to get a damn binder clip.
It will be two months tomorrow and I haven’t worked yet. I can’t get much of a job without being fluent or sleeping with an embassy official. One especially needs fluency to work in health care, accidentally killing someone would surely lead to visa revocation.
But I’ve spent days negotiating with apartment owners, figuring out how to shop for difficult-to-describe items with limited French skills, and found furniture costing less than 98427587246€. Those are indeed major contributions.
I begin full time French classes next week, 4-5 hours a day in what I hear is the best program around. But I still wish I was bringing home the charcuterie.
Yes, there are things that are larger in France than the U.S.
When I was 16 I got to live with a French family for two weeks in the small town of Vimy in the north near Avion. My French brother, Fabrice, never spoke English to me except: “Amereecan, beeg car!”
Bigger in the U.S.
Bigger in France
|Sodas||Restaurant portions (Yes, I am serious! I can’t finish most meals here. Not including the dessert part. My dessert stomach always has room.)|
|Cars||Soccer player salaries|
Remember last week’s post about Les Soldes, France’s month of retailers being allowed to take a loss (blahdy blahdy economics) on selling (something something) stuff that has been (yadda yadda) for 30 days (or whatever)?
Everyone is bananas about Les Soldes.
Speaking of bananas, you know when Americans travel abroad and get KFC in Cannes or Starbucks in Florence? Yeah, I kinda did that. Paris’s first Banana Republic store opened a month ago with much ado. I visited yesterday purely to surround myself with sizes I actually comprehend. (Metric, I love you but I am not there yet!) I asked a salesperson about the coat I was wearing from BR Santa Monica, did he know a good way to prevent it getting all pill-y the way it was?
I wish I could replicate for you the gasp the Monsieur Banana inhaled. He did not speak. He walked over to the rack, got the same coat in the same size and exhaled with relief when I put on the brand new, non-pilly one. How could I – a woman on the Champs-Elysées wearing Parisian red lipstick! – possibly wear a pilly coat in public?!?!??! In PARIS! MON DIEU! CALL LES POLICIERS! ZEES IS NOT POSSEEBLE!
Now, if I wanted to return the towel rack I bought, that’s a different story. Stand in line, hand over your dossier, wait for a signature, plead your case. But a garment – a garment in Parrris – is another story.
(And I will have this janky towel rack for life.)