Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Pity The Poor Immigrant

I remember working as a bank teller, every time The Workers would come in to cash their checks, tellers would tense up a bit for the moment when they would have to attempt to explain something to these folks who spoke very little English. I’d usually break out my miserable Spanish, though any time they were attempting to ask for further details, I was unable to assist them, and frustrated. Myself and the other tellers would become impatient, glance at the growing line, then once again try to explain why their check was on hold, or what our policy on third-party checks is, and so on.

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

Le Whale Blanche

I consider myself a good driver and a law-abiding citizen. My record thus far in France seems to suggest otherwise. Take, for example, the mail box incident (the bill, for which, I just received. There goes half a month’s salary). For a while, I was really on top of things; even wore glasses when I drove (I don’t even usually wear glasses, but for caution’s sake…). Well, friends, February was a doozy of a month.

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.