Sunday, April 12, 2009
So I get off at the Pyramides stop, and stroll along Rue L’Italienne, peering into shops that I pretend I can afford. Then this small gallery catches my eye, filled with large, colorful paintings, most of which were centered around a woman’s face, colorless save for her lips or eyes. She would be surrounded by bright candies, shoes, rubix cubes, and vehicles, symbolizing commercialism and excessiveness, etc etc. I rather fancied a painting or two, and, equipped with my little black travel bag (courtesy of Florence) and my zippy new shoes, give the owner my best French accent and inquire about the pieces. He answers me in French, then quickly resorts to English (how do the always know!), and gives me an offer in relation to a particular piece: a colorless woman, with purple lips, a star-shaped mirror under her left eye, with smokey purple rubix cubes floating beside her. I tell him that I adore it, and wonder if there is a smaller version available, blaming my (non-existant) apartment for being too small to hold the ten-foot version. “Yes, madame, I can contact the artist, and for 5,500 Euros, he can make you a smaller one. We can ship anywhere you like. And you live in Paris?” I almost said yes, but figured he’d find me out soon enough, so I said I live “In the South.” We went about the gallery together for a good fifteen minutes, while he explained certain pieces and pointed out particular moments in each. I don’t know if I actually fooled him, or if he was just really trying to sell, but either way, I scored a free catalogue and told him I’d be back. I decided that the 8 1/2 by 11 inch pages were perfect, and that I’d frame the catalogue at home.
I continued along on through the neighborhood, stopping in at Gucci and Yves Saint Lauren. I’m not sure what gave me the balls to even go into those shops; perhaps it was the interactions with the gallery owner; perhaps it was my shoes. Anyhow, I finally ended up at my previously-decided upon destination: The Louvre. I slowly passed by tour groups, which were spouting off details like “The Louvre is the most visited museum in the world!” and “Did you know, that if an individual spent 30 seconds at each exhibit, for eight hours a day, it would take him thirteen months to see every exhibit?” So, I wound through the check points, and get to the ticket line, where I was cut several times by loud Italian families. I’m not sure why it was okay for them to just casually step to the front like that, nudging past myself, who was getting more and more irritable in the stuffy-as-hell entrance way. I imagined telling each of them individually to piss off, then running out, stealing their stupid tour books on my way. Then I decided that it’d probably be worth standing in this horrid line once I got in. And it was, completely. I spent over three hours wandering about the west wing (that reference was for you, Bronwyn), taking several breaks to sit and enjoy a particularly intriguing piece, or to write in my journal (which was now filled with humorous complaints about the morning’s escapades). I’m sure I looked somewhat pretentious sitting there in my cardigan, stoned-faced and stand-offish, with my leather journal, which happened to match my shoes. Whatever, I loved it.
So, that evening I made my way to the hostel I was staying at, and after depositing my bag in my bunk bed (top bunk!!), I made my way to the café to order a beverage, then waited for someone to be my friend. I made note of another single girl, then quickly dismiss the possibility once I realized she was puffing a fake cigarette and had leg braces. I mean, don’t slow me down. So I order this great 6 euro dinner, which wasn’t half bad, and ask the waiter what I should do that night, and he points me to two guys who apparently asked him the same question. “Hey fellas!” He shouts over to them and points at me, saying “This young lady is looking to do something this evening!” Excellent, thanks.
I smile sheepishly then accept their offer to sit with them. They were two blokes from New Zealand, who were full of good humor and intellect. I decided to wait a good twenty minutes before asking if they enjoy Flight of the Conchords. They immediately bust out a “foux de fa fa!” reference, and twist their fake staches. Score!
Let’s just say, that the rest of the night consisted of constant absurd, likely offensive references to Frenchmen and somehow, to Ricky Gervais. We got called out once or twice, after busting out “mmrra hahahaha!” (what, that’s how the French laugh) and laughing and pointing every time we saw someone with a baguette (which, was a freakin lot of times).
The rest of my weekend was spent just happily wandering Paris, writing in my journal, and trying to track down a hostel with a bed for the night. I suppose Paris kicked me out, because I never did find a place, and seeing as how I can’t afford to stay in a schmoozy Paris hotel, I took the train back to Geneva and called it a night, vowing to soon return to gay ol' Paris.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Well, cheers: I’m that Worker now. A couple weeks ago I made a visit to the bank, hoping for a quick balance check and a transfer. Mercy, me. It started off with my attempting to explain myself in French; the teller promptly put her hand up and asked me what language I spoke. Damnit. As there was only one English-speaking teller who was apparently involved in a lengthy transaction, I would have to wait. So I had to sit in this lone red chair, placed strangely towards the middle of the lobby. Several times, the next available teller would ask who was next; onlookers would point to myself, who would then shyly ask “Parlez vous anglais?” Oh well, no, of course not; and why should they? I was grateful that anyone could, so continued waiting, and daydreaming about when I’d someday be fluent in French. About thirty minutes passed before I was taken to the window, where the teller promptly reported that my balance was “sub-zero” and that my transfer would be “impossible.” Okaythanksbye.
The other night, I was at a discoteque, waiting in line to get in. When it came time to check my purse, the girl says “good evening” in French. I reply, in French, and she stops what she’s doing and sharply says “Hello, I said hello. Do you speak English?” Taken aback by her coldness, I quietly answered yes. Apparently my shyness led her to believe that I was drunk or high, because she then asked “Are you feeling okay? Have you been drinking this evening?” Hm, I’m not sure if two panaches counts as “been drinking,” so I told her “Sort of. I guess so? I had a drink…” That mean little bitch looks me in the face and says “Are you a fuckin’ American or not? Why don’t you answer me when I speak.” What is going on.
So she stops looking in my bag and demands for my ID, takes a moment and says “Are you on some drugs or something?” Okay, I know I can mumble, and I know I can be a weirdo, and maybe even a creep, but I truly have no idea why my standing there quiet and shivering in the night made her to believe I was in some way drugged up. I scrunched up my face and said “Wait, what? Why, what? No?” She hands me back my ID and says “Are you here to dance?” Hm, pretty sure that’s what discoteques are for; maybe I should let her know. “Yes.” You stupid ugly bitch, I hate you. I’m not a drug dealer, clearly. She finally said I could go in and I quietly asked for “One discoteque ticket, please.” The girl behind me says good evening in perfect French and is let in, no questions asked, no bags checked.
Yesterday I journeyed to Lyon, a diverse and exciting city along the Rhone. Unfortunately, before I made my way into the cathedrals and markets, I had to journey to the immigration office. Before they offer me their health services, they want to make sure I’m legit; conduct all these bogus tests and such. So I walked into the office, lined with chairs and immigrants, and immediately felt judged and uncomfortable. After staring down the obese baby eating green beans at my feet for a bit, a petit woman calls for “Madame Kicherer,” and I get to leave the uncomfortably ventilated room in exchange for a tiny, dim office where I was immediately instructed to take off my blouse. Hold the phone. You know, you’re speaking in rapid, irritated French, examining my chest, asking if I have AIDS, and suggesting I see a dentist, all within the first two minutes. I’m just an au pair trying to travel on a small income, and you treat me like I’m a convict escaping my lowly past, trying to raid your system for all its worth (part of which, is true). So she continues with the questions, eye exam, BMI calculation, even a chest x-ray (a rather dated method, in my opinion, for determining TB, but at least I got a fancy souvenir). The best part was when she abruptly opened the door and said nothing, which apparently meant that I was decently healthy and free to go. Accompanied by my life-size x-ray, I smiled and exited through a long hallway, lined with chairs of my fellow immigrants. Best of luck, comrades.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
About three weeks ago, I was having a quick chat driving up to my friend’s flat, and bingo bamo! Two gentlemen coppers stopped writing their tickets or whatnot and starting waving me down. For some reason, the fact that they were on foot, and that I assumed I was doing no wrong, I stepped on it. I go, “Hey Claire, these cops just starting flailing their arms at me…” and glance to see them standing, baffled, in the middle of the street. “Suckers.” That was the day I learned that in France, the penalty for talking on the phone while driving is one thousand euros, approximately 1300 United States Dollars. Got out of that one.
The next morning, I found a sweet spot under Claire’s apartment, and snatched it. “Samedi 7:00-12:00” with a big red circle, clearly meant no parking Sunday mornings from 7-12, so I thought I was fine. Luckily, “Samedi” means “Saturday,” and I was fucked. I came back three hours later to find not only a hefty little ticket stuck to my rain-dampened window, but that my car was surrounded by vendor booths. Surprise! Saturday morning farmer’s market! Those Frenchies gave a real piss when I tried to maneuver my CRV backwards through booths and pedestrians, who appeared both annoyed and somewhat impressed.
At this point, I was late for my baby sitting gig a few towns over, and decided to led-foot it all the way there. Ten minutes into my drive, bing! The Swiss and Radar are like two peas in a pod; my photo was snapped in a series of bright flashes, and I immediately dreaded the ticket I’d receive in the mail. Assuming I couldn’t get more than two tickets in a day, I continued to their house, as I was twenty minutes late at this point.
Well, several hours after baby sitting (a darling girl, I must say), I zoomed into Claire’s “parking spot” between her flat and the neighbors. I knew when I saw my park job that I’d probably block anyone else from getting out, but then screwed it and decided I’d be back out in five minutes. Well, five or twenty minutes later, we come out to find an angry-as-hell little woman, sitting in her car behind mine, phone in hand. She started shouting what I assumed were obscenities, told me that she was late for work, and that this was my problem, not hers, because she had called the police. Superb. I offered her cash money (in several different currencies, for her convenience), which she refused, so I did what I thought was right: jumped in my car and zipped off, hopefully before she could jot down my license plate number. As I haven’t heard from her or the Gex police lately, I’m assuming I got out of that one as well.
Several days after my exciting run-ins with the law, I was stopped on my way to pick up the children from school by a policeman on foot. Though I was already stopped, since he was standing (for unknown reasons) in the middle of the road, he put out his hand in a firm “Halt” position and approached my window. Some words were exchanged, though I’m not quite sure what they were. He asked me a question: I replied “Pardon?” and he re-posed the question, perhaps in a different form. This went back and forth once more, and he finally just gave me the “one moment finger.” Just as I was thinking I’d need to reach for my papers, he stepped to the front of my vehicle, to straighten my license plate. Apparently it was crooked. After it looked to be in a satisfactory position, he curtly smiled and waved me along. Amused, but alarmed, I straightened my collar and went on my way.
My latest run in was last week, when Claire and I were passing through the Swiss-French border. Prince was blaring from my speakers, as he is wont to do, and we decided that Swissmen probably dig Prince, and turned it up. Not that I have any room to make mistakes over here, but I went ahead and gave them a peace sign as I went through the customs patrol. I decided that after all I’d been through with the police lately, I’d better show ‘em what’s up.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
So Florence strolls in half hour later than she said she’d be, and Patrick twenty minutes past that. My fancy dancy meal, sauce included, had been ready for some time now, and I suddenly felt embarrassed at my lavishly decorated table, complete with properly filled wine glasses, sliced baguette, and napkins folded in the most adorable fashion.
I believe the first thing Florence said when she entered was “Oh, did you open that wine? Better be careful with Patrick’s wine; he buys expensive bottles and you might get in trouble….” Great. So Patrick strolls in just then, makes a note of the bottle, then looks in my direction after a little grumble, and says “You’re fired.” Good one. I just gave them a cheeky look and took a sip, attempting to ignore my glowing cheeks. But I will tell you this right now: I may have opened a hundred dollar bottle of wine without a second thought, but goddamnit if I didn’t make up for it with that meal. Seared lamb chops and butter-sauteed apples, gently drizzled with a balsamic sauce, accompanied by a delightful green bean side and roasted potatoes. Does it sound like I’m bragging? I am.
As we’re polishing off the bottle and licking our chops, so to speak, someone gently brushed my leg under the table. Ah, of course, the cat. That we don’t own. “What is this?” I say in exaggerated French. “Ah, yes it was a smart-looking cat that was waiting at the door, so I let him in,” Patrick admired his new little friend and offered him a potato, which he snootily refused. Stupid French cat. “Il deteste les potates!” I swear my accent is amazing if I’m trying to put one on. I supposed he seemed smart enough, and we let him be, then went on impersonating Sarkozy and Bridget Bardot (an unlikely pair!).
After the meal, we sat around spreading obscene amounts of camembert over baguette slices, and starting quoting a Flight of the Conchords episode (which involves delightful French mockery). Apparently we were all too involved in our chit chat to notice le petit chat taking a piss in the house plant. “Merde! Non! Psstttt!” Patrick jumped up and started some sort of hissing noise in the cat’s face, then pushed the little fella outside. And this is the part that made me love him: he picked up a small, square bottle of perfume (that was for some reason stored in the kitchen) and started spritzing the plant with it! He couldn’t be more French! Holding this little pink-tinted bottle, complete with a little pink bulb to squeeze, spritzing a house planted. That’ll do the trick.
Well, the rest of the night was a bit too silly to recall, and involved far too much chocolate, so I will stop here. But I learned two important things: one, that I can cook; and two, that I can open any wine I want, so long as I cook. Oh, and three: when your stolen cat wizzes on the houseplant, a simple spritz of the old Channel Number 5 will take the wiz away.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Excuse me and my cheese-induced cleverness, I’m just incredibly full from the three hour meal I participated in this evening. Tonight, Patrick asked “When shall we start speaking in French in this house, eh?” My witty reply was “Maintenant.” French, for “Now.” An hour later I realized, after the completion of half a round of Camembert, two frightfully delicious glasses of wine, and a semi-lucid conversation, how much French I’ve learned in the past weeks.
And that, my friends, is what brings me to the subject of this particular entry: things I have thus far learned.
For one, the French are a clever folk. They do nothing that does not make sense. For example: the roundabout. Why stop at a stop sign when they aren’t any approaching vehicles? Just fly around a circle until you reach your destination street, and voila! No waiting involved. Sure, it can be substantially dangerous from time to time, say, if a driver doesn’t see that you’re coming and careens into your side, or toots angrily when you don’t give him ample room to swerve around the curve. Otherwise, it most certainly shaves time off your commute. Take, also, the stop light: it turns yellow, then green, to alert you that green is about to come, thus allowing enough warning to get your car in gear so you can zip off the second the green bulbs ignite. Brilliant.
The grocer has got it down, as well. Why wait for the cashier to weigh and price produce at check out, when the customers can do it for themselves. Simply place your produce on a scale, press the corresponding button (for example, “anana” or “pomme”), and out shoots a price tag. Voila!
As I live moments from the French-Swiss border, and am going through customs several times a day, I have learned a thing or two about the proceedings. If, say, my friends’ passports are at home, or I am transporting illegal immigrants, and I can’t afford to be stopped, I simply fly through the stop sign at the customs booth with an air of utmost arrogance. This gives the illusion that I am a pissy Frenchman with no time to spare; no questioning involved. The moment you slow down and hesitate at that stop sign, however, a little man in a cap comes out, and suspiciously peers into your car: questioning ensues! Or, a sexy Swissman will come out and nod you through with a smile; it varies. Sometimes, when well-prepared, I come all the way to a hault…
Fondue! Cliché? Who knows, but the French certainly do enjoy a good fondue party. There are strict rules to follow when partaking in a Fondue dinner. One: never let your bread slip into the cheese without fork firmly attached. My first morsel slipped deep into the pot, and I was immediately given the finger wag. Swiss cheese becomes hard rapidly and, like quicksand, sucks the bread right in; a simple twirl of the wrist should do the trick to avoid such situations. Two: only drink white wine when consuming fondue. I foolishly requested water instead, and once again received a scolding finger wave. “Non! Meeshell, you will become ill. Just have wine. Is good.” They’re paranoid that water will harden all that fondue in your stomach and will transform it back into a block of hole-filled Swiss cheese. Well, next thing I knew, the fondue pot contained a newly-formed brick of cheese, and the room contained several drunk Frenchmen and myself, hallucinating from the wine, and remembering that I was lactose intolerant.
Lastly, I learned that you should never walk down the hall in your underpants, because that will be the exact moment when Patrick comes home from watching the soccer game, and you will be forced to run down the hall in your slipper socks.
Monday, January 19, 2009
I have worked with children for years; children with disabilities more saddening and debilitating than you would care to think about. And yet, none of them can quite compare to what it feels like to work for wealthy young children, whose language you do not speak. I say “wealthy”, because a child who has grown up with a nanny instead of a mommy treats people quite differently; they are not used to hearing the word “no” (or in my case, “non”), and react in quite the frightful manner when they do. And I say “for,” because I am their slave.
Up until a few days ago, “non” was about all I could say. Things have been interesting. Don’t get me wrong, the children are completely adorable and sweet, as long as they’re getting their cookies and watching tv. The moment the word “bath” or “homework” comes around, they turn on me like savages. Never in my life have I heard the word “no” thrown back at me with such hatred. Never in my life has a child begged so relentlessly for five more minutes with the telly, or whined so pitifully when asked to put some gloves on. Let me tell you right now: I do NOT put up with it, and do not care that their parents do.
Now, in normal circumstances, I would reason with them, allowing a chance or two to listen to me before the punishment comes. Yet, when all I know how to say is the equivalent of “Ok…child. Take…bath?” or “Go!” instead of “Ok, time to take a bath. Hey now, don’t give me that look, I’ve asked you three times. Go on!”…it gets interesting. I feel like such a fool when all I can retaliate their apparently rude remarks with is a simple “…non,” accompanying an angry look, or some sort of miming action. I’m sure they think I’m an idiot. The other day, Angele apparently called me a bitch, and I thought she’d said something sweet. It was a tad embarrassing when I innocently announced the incident at dinner later that night. Oh.
The best is when we’re in public, and they simply run away, and the only attempt I can make at calling them back is to helplessly shout their names in my obviously American accent, then shrug when onlookers offer me advice (or insults). The other day I was paying for my gas and glanced out the window to find them running around the gas station, throwing candy and screaming with glee. The look the clerk gave me suggested that I go die and to take the kids with me.
This morning, when I served cereal instead of white bread and Nutella (they greedily wolf down several pieces of the stuff on most mornings), crying and angry pouting broke out. Wow, Jesus. Sorry. I didn’t have the energy to argue with them this morning, as we were running out of time. I had woken up about a half hour late with a decent fever, and decided it was not my morning to win a battle. Fine, Nutella-drenched bread it is.
I swear Florence’s face lit up when I told her that I had a fever; I think she was excited at the opportunity to play nurse. She quickly broke out a little box containing several intriguing medicines of various forms: pills, powders, syringes (ah!), liquids, sprays. Now, I have had experience with the French health system before; they give you all sorts of stuff for the tiniest cold; who knows what any of it does. I watched as she poured out a little mound of off-white powder into a small, rounded dish. Is she going to make me sniff this stuff? She then mixed it with water so it formed a pasty sludge and instructed me to slurp it down. With hesitation (and a distant recollection of the clam incident), I swallowed the aspartame-tainted stuff.
“This will make you feel better.” When I asked her what it was (which I should have done before ingesting it), she simply said “It’s French.” Ha! Ok, well hopefully the French know what they’re doing. Well so far, I’m not high, so I suppose it checks out. Although the way these kids are wearing on me today……
Sunday, January 11, 2009
We settled into the little Nissan I had borrowed for the day, roared up the engine, and started out. Started out right into the fucking mailbox, that is. You see, in my “How to Drive in the Snow” lesson with Patrick, he had instructed that I give a little more gas in the snow, so that you don’t just make the wheels spin. Well, apparently this doesn’t apply to icy, curving driveways, because “giving it a little more gas” in this case sent me flying backwards into a big green mailbox.
I gasped and hopped out of the car to survey the wreckage. Kristen burst out laughing, as she counted how many letters were strewn across the snow. At that point, I almost laughed as well, until I realized that my bumper was hanging off the car, the left side sitting miserably in the snow. I believe several American profanities bounced off the French Alps, causing some shutters nearby to open, faces peering out. I hope the family didn’t see….no dice. I looked up to see two little faces in the window, along with several onlookers outside the neighboring houses.
“…Bonjour, Madame!” I figured I should at least send out the proper salutation to the elderly lady across the way. She shouted something back in French that neither of us understood, causing Kristen to reply “americainne!” which usually does the trick. Kristen’s family father rushed out, not so much to see that we were okay, but to check on his electrical box, which I had barely missed.
“Oh!” He rushed over to pick up his demolished mailbox and carefully picked up the damp letters. He then looked back at my car, and concluded that this was no big deal.
“FUCK.” Times like this, I really don’t mind being crass. “Goddamnit, I swear I’m not a bad driver. This is actually my first accident…” Okay, so I suppose it really wasn’t all so bad, but the fact that I’d been in this country for two weeks, and had already managed to rip off their little car’s bumper kind of gave an improperly bad impression of me. Not to mention that I had just met this family, and within minutes had destroyed some (apparently beloved) piece of property.
“Well, I can just send you the bill for the mailbox.” Mr. French Father said. Oh, the bill. Right. I felt a bit numb, thinking about how much the French would charge to repair a bumper. Thus, Kristen, myself, and Mr. French tried somewhat pathetically to push the bumper back on, wistfully thinking that it would hold without the bolts, that were at that point speckling the snow like little chocolate chips. Mr. French even suggested that we just rip the bumper off the rest of the way and get it over with. Considering how it was still half on, we thought ripping off the rest of the bolts wasn’t exactly the best solution.
So I’m standing there in the snow, black mascara, now mixed with grease, spread across my cheeks, trying to figure out what the hell to tell Patrick. I like how my first thought was Maybe I should just tell him later….Yet, responsible ol Kristen suggested that while I call, she could fetch some rope or somesuch, to make an attempt at holding the bumper on until I got home. Although at that point, I contemplated making a short drive to the airport, bumper flying in the wind, with a note left on the car: “Patrick Deconfin. Sorry” with a little sad face, and perhaps a picture of an airplane taking flight, so he’d get the idea.
The phone call actually went smoother than I had thought (tears tend to soften a man’s heart). I started out, for some reason, not with “Hello, bonjour,” but with “Um…I crushed, like I crashed your car a little and, I think it is ok.” Yea, that’ll do.
“What. So my car, is it okay?” All it took was that tiny fleck of irritation to bring back my pathetic, snotty tears.
“Yea, I’m really sorry. Its ok, we put it back on for now and it is like, it is just hanging off a little.” This was actually before we’d found a glorious role of duct tape in the family’s garage, of which we used about a dozen long pieces, to keep the bumper in rather firmly in place.
To make a somewhat long and tedious story shorter, we ended up in the (only) bar in the centre ville of Ferney-Voltaire, throwin back a couple of brewskies. Our odds of getting hit on were pretty high, as we were the only two females in a bar full of men betting on the horse races. In fact, one scruf gentlemen asked for the number to our hotel room in exchange for free pizza. As tempting as his offer was, we decided to take his friend’s offer instead: Pringles, no strings attached.
We spent the rest of the day roaming around a somewhat deserted Geneva, where we paid 12 Suisse Franc for crap sandwiches and espressos. At the end of the evening, as I backed out of a parking spot, Kristen shouts “Holy crap! Aahahahaha!” while she pointed to the most ridiculous moment of the day: The car was equipped with a high-tech video device, so that when put into reverse, a screen on the dash lights up with a monitor of everything behind you. Great for avoiding pedestrians, cars…mailboxes. The French think of everything.