Sunday, November 9, 2008

So, still catching up – the week before vacation. For election reactions (and some profanity - seriously that's the only thing I could think of to title it) please scroll down to the post just below this one.

There’s this history professor who likes to tease me – he’s the one who kept saying he liked Sarah Palin, just to annoy me. Anyway, I observed one of his classes once, and he told the students that I was a new student from the US, and that they should be nice to me so I’d come back. When I didn’t show up for the next class, of course, the students all asked after me and were worried that they’d driven me away, or something, and he just laughed… He likes to mess with people’s heads. Anyway, we’ve always spoken French together, so on Friday (Oct 17), when he came up to me and said, in heavily accented but grammatically correct English, that he’d like to practice his English with me, I was quite taken aback. He said that he and his friends often go out for coffee, and that I should join them sometime to speak English, so I gave him my cell number. I don’t think he was hitting on me, but it’s hard to tell with French guys… It'll be fun to speak English, anyway, and hopefully I can get some French practice in too.

On Saturday, I was extremely productive and bought a telephone for our newly-opened telephone line, cleaning supplies to give the apartment a proper cleaning, and my Carte 12-25, which costs 49€ but gives me up to 60% reductions on train tickets, so if I go to Paris three times I will have paid for it. In the afternoon, I met up with Emilia and Nicola, a British girl, to go to the Festival du Ventre (literally Stomach Festival, but what they mean is regional food festival). The entire center of Rouen was closed to traffic, and the streets were lined with stalls selling cider, wine, beer, caramel, bread, jam, pâté, sausages, duck confit, whole rabbits… It was packed, but the three of us squeezed our way in to taste and buy and chat and it was brilliant. The man selling caramel was intrigued by our accents, so we talked with him and he threw in a few extra candies for us (seriously, being a young woman in France is awesome. I’ve gotten a few euros worth of free stuff already, and that’s without even trying to lay on the charm). I also got a butter and sugar crêpe, the first street crêpe I’ve had since getting here, and it was magnifique. We got to taste some freshly-pressed apple juice, and we bought farmer’s cider from the same place, with a warning that it wasn’t pasteurized so would continue to ferment and thus fizz when we opened it. Then, laden with our booty, we returned to the shopping streets and looked at boots for awhile. I found some that I almost bought, but they weren’t very good quality at all and they made my ankles look thick. So I was just about to give up when I saw this brilliant pair of black flat boots with laces up the back, and I’m totally a sucker for laces. So I tried them on and they made me happy and I bought them.

Thanks to the lacing, I can stuff my jeans into them, which comes in very handy. It does take me about 15 minutes to put them on, though.

Sunday was really nice, so after the market Emilia, Nikki and I went to a café, sat outside, and got demi-pêches, which are half-pints of beer with peach syrup. Very much a girly drink, but delicious and refreshing. While we were deciding what to get, Bertrand walked by and said hi, and since I totally wasn’t expecting to see him I was all discombobulated and managed to stammer out the only thing to come into my head, a very formal greeting. So he chuckled and informed me that we could tutoyer each other, which made me happy (tutoyer means “to use ‘tu’”, the informal pronoun, so when someone tells you to tutoyer them it means you can relax a bit and treat them more as equals). The trick is remembering which people have told you to tutoyer them and which you have to keep being formal with – at this point I’ve got 7 teachers I can tutoyer, so before I open my mouth I have to run down my little mental list to check. Anyway, we enjoyed our demi-pêches, and the sun, very much – it was nice to relax before our first full week of work.

Monday I only had three classes – ordinarily I’ll have four or five, but the other teachers wanted me to start after vacation. In all three, all I did was stand at the front of the room and answer questions about myself (imagine all the following in a thick French accent): “Vat is your name?” “Vair are you from in ze USA?” “Do you ‘ave a boyfriend in France?” (My response to that one was “Dear lord, I’ve only been here for three weeks! Give me time!”) “Vat are your ‘obbies?” It was fun, though, and since I didn’t have to prepare anything it was easy. In one class, they asked me if I often went out to bars in Rouen, and I said I didn’t really know any. One boy replied “Eef you want, we could go out togezzer sometime…” Whereupon the entire room burst out laughing, and I blushed beet red. Apparently that boy is a total ladies’ man. They start them early here.

Tuesday I had one class, where I did exactly the same thing. In the afternoon I went to the stationery store to buy another organizer, because I have 14 classes with 6 different teachers to keep straight, and my head is starting to explode. Also I needed another excuse to go to the stationery store. I’m starting to need a pen/paper/notebook/tape fix about every week or so – someone should probably stage an intervention soon.

On Thursday, I had three classes again, all of which asked me questions. I’m seriously going to start saying my name is Grunhilda if I have to do this much more. It’s really good for the students, though, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I also met Isabel, the Spanish assistant. She is super-nice, and speaks French really well, so I had a great time talking with her. She also lives really close to me, which is convenient because we’re going to try to teach each other our respective languages. She already speaks English a bit, but she wants to practice, and I’d like to remember my Spanish, so it’s perfect.

Thursday night, a bunch of Americans, North and South, went out for drinks. We went to Murphy’s and The Underground, Irish and English, respectively. I have to stop hanging out with Anglophones. I did discover that I like Krieg beer, though, which increases the number of beers I like by half. Also, I found out that my Australian friend didn’t get her carte de séjour – that indispensable piece of paper without which you are an illegal alien. So I started to worry a little bit about my own appointment to get mine the next day.

Friday morning I was exhausted, sick, and probably very slightly hung over, and I had two classes with my least favorite teacher, the one who doesn’t really know what she’s doing. She was also very tired, so the two of us were not such a great team. We managed to come up with some things to do, but it was very disorganized, and I think the students could tell, which is never good. So that was frustrating. Afterwards, I went home to get my paperwork in order for the notorious appointment at the Préfecture to get my carte de séjour. I brought copies of everything I could think of, including my plane and train tickets, because I was so worried about ending up like the Australian girl. I was called up to the window only half an hour after my scheduled appointment, so I was only stewing for 45 minutes or so. I gave all my paperwork to the woman, who inspected it all very carefully (I believe I actually prayed when she looked at my translated birth certificate), took three of my identity photos (I came to France with 12; I have two left), and gave me this beautiful, precious document in return:
This isn’t the actual carte de séjour, it’s just the temporary one – I have to go back in December to collect the real one. But it means that I’m not an illegal alien! And I can go home for Christmas! Hurray!

When I got home, I had a message on my cell phone telling me that my Internet was up and running, and that I could set everything up. Yay! I thought to myself. This day is getting better and better! So I opened up our shiny new Dartybox (the “box” is the all-in-one Internet/TV/telephone doohickey), plugged everything in, typed in all the passwords… and nothing. No Internet, no phone, no nothing. To make matters worse, I read the price list again and found out that instead of the 0.25 cents a minute that I swear the guy in the store quoted us for a call to Russia, it was actually 0.25 euros a minute. In other words, 25 cents a minute. Which is prohibitively expensive and absolutely ridiculous. So when Olesya got home, I had to break the news to her, and she was understandably pissed. We decided to cancel that service and try to find a cheaper one, but canceling involves sending a registered letter, and I had had such a bad day that I couldn’t handle it, so I put it all off till Monday. I knew this whole Internet was going to be a saga, but I never imagined it would get this bad… On the bright side, not having Internet at home makes me a lot more productive.

Saturday was much better, especially since I stayed in my pajamas all morning eating chocolate and watching The West Wing. Bradley Whitford is the cure for all that ails you. I had a meeting at 4:00 with Isabel, who is Spanish and so didn’t come until 5:00 (I never really believed that cultural difference until now). We spent a lot of time chatting and not so much talking about how to start a chorale, but we did eventually nail down some particulars. Then she made me speak Spanish for a while, which was INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT because French has chased all the Spanish I ever knew out of my head. It was fun, though, and my little linguistic-dork brain is all happy because I have to continue thinking in French even when speaking Spanish so that I can ask Isabel questions in French. Did I say my brain was happy? I meant that it EXPLODED. Then she spoke English for a while, which she speaks a lot better than she thinks she does. Her accent isn’t terribly strong, and I like it, so I keep on getting sucked into the rhythm of it and forgetting to correct her, even though she wants me to. It’s going to be a lot of fun doing this with her, especially since she’s a language dork too, so when we get together we geek out about language all the time. Oh, and my Spanish is going to become Spain-Spanish – I’m already starting that lisp thing, so all you South-American-Spanish speakers beware.

That evening, Emilia and I went to another movie (they’re only 3.90€ if you’re under 25, which is a bargain even in the US). This one was called Cliente, and it was mentioned in the New York Times, in an article called “France. Sex. Problem?” The movie is about a young man who’s married but desperately needs money, so he turns to prostitution without telling his wife. One of his clients falls for him, of course, and drama ensues. The reason for the NYT article was that apparently there was a lot of controversy surrounding the movie because of its portrayal of an older woman, la cliente, who likes sex and is willing to pay for it. The movie was good, although I didn’t understand a lot of the funny bits. I did learn lots of new words, though, most of them unrepeatable in a family blog such as this one.

Sunday Emilia and I went to the market, as usual. Walking back, Emilia said “Tiens, regarde!” (Hey, look at that!) To which I replied “Regarde quo—salut têtes de sangliers, vous allez bien?” (Look at wha—oh hi, wild boar heads, how are you today?) Yes, there were wild boar heads, two of them, carefully arranged on a table on the sidewalk, to what point and purpose I do not know. I love France. Soon after that, I stopped at a bakery to buy a baguette for a cider and cheese party, and I lucked out and got a baguette that was still warm. There is nothing in this life that beats walking down a French street with a bag full of fresh produce and cheese bought at an open-air market while tearing warm, crusty-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside pieces off an 80-centime baguette.

That evening, Emilia, Alex and I went to the fair on the banks of the Seine. It’s a real American-style fair, with all sorts of rides and carnival games and delicious, delicious fair food. The food tends to be modeled on American carnival delicacies, but with a uniquely French twist: I got a hamburger, but it was on quality bread, and there was a fried egg on it. Also, the French fries were put in the bun with everything else, and eaten with a little plastic fork. Emilia got a hot dog, which was normal except that it was put on a baguette. After our heart attacks, we wandered around, checking out the rides. There were some really good ones, including haunted houses, bumper cars, lots of Tilt-a-whirl imitations, and roller coasters. Emilia and I decided to go into a funhouse, which was a lot better than the ones I’ve been in in the US because no one’s scared of getting sued here. There was a slide at the end, which pretty much made my day. After that, we went on a roller coaster, where I discovered that everyone screams in the same language. Then we got some barbe à Papa (literally Papa’s beard, actually cotton candy) and wandered around some more. We were going to go on some more rides, but at that point it started to rain quite hard (welcome to Normandy!) so we took refuge in a heated tent with some hot chocolate to see if it would stop. It didn’t, so we all went back to my apartment to have cider and cheese and baguette. The cider definitely fizzed – if Emilia hadn’t warned me to open it in a saucepan we would have lost half of it down the drain. Alex doesn’t like alcohol, so Emilia and I drank the whole bottle ourselves. My French definitely improved by the second glass. Eventually, Emilia had to leave to catch her bus (I miss the night buses in Paris – there’s one here that goes pretty close to both my house and Emilia’s, but it only comes once an hour or so) so finally I went to bed.

Monday was the first real day of vacation! Inspired by my chats with Isabel, I bought a Spanish grammar book and set to relearning verbs. Verbs are hard. Also, the book is in French, which leads to the same sort of head-exploding that happens when I talk to Isabel. I’m sure it’s good for me, in some sick way, but dear lord it’s difficult to read about a grammatical principle in French and then apply it to Spanish. I also went to the stationery store again, this time to buy a new little notebook and inquire about my favorite kind of fountain pen, the Plumix by Pilot. I have one, and I love it very much, but when I was in Paris I saw them in tons of different colors and I’ve been wanting a red one for a while now. I showed the nice man my pen, and he delivered the heart-wrenching news that Pilot doesn’t make that style anymore! He showed me the equivalent, but they’ve gone and splashed stupid cutesy graphics all over it, and made the grippy part opaque and rubbery. I explained to the man that what I liked about my pen was the simplicity of it, and he tried to console me by saying that maybe Pilot would start making them again, but I was very sad. So hold onto yours, Amelia – who knows whether we’ll ever see them again?

On Tuesday, I finally felt able to deal with Darty, so I went to the store to ask how to cancel my service and get reimbursed for the first month’s bill, since I never got any Internet so I didn’t want to pay for anything. They informed me politely that I would have to send a registered letter saying all of that, so I got the address and went home to write a business letter in French. Since I don’t have a printer, I hand-wrote it, which is a lot more acceptable in France than in the US, or at least I hope it is. That done, I set out with a clear conscience to window-shop a bit. I found a great second-hand store with a ton of skirts, so I tried all of them on, but only one fit. It’s a short black knit pleated skirt, perfect to wear with brightly-colored tights and black boots, which I already have! Ah, retail therapy. Then I did laundry, in preparation for my trip to London, but did not succeed in flirting with the cute dorky boy reading his newspaper. Still, clean clothes are enough of an accomplishment.

Post about London as soon as I've written it, and then I'll be caught up! Hooray!


  1. "Bradley Whitford is the cure for all that ails you."

    Mwahaha! Victory is mine!

    I feel now is the chance for me to re-tell one of my favorite bitter ex stories:

    Andrew: So who's your favorite character?
    K: Will Bailey. He's just adorable.
    Andrew: Oh, man, I'm all about Josh.
    K: Josh? I hate Josh!
    Andrew: How can you hate Josh?
    K: Because he's arrogant, and sexist, and elitist. He's a condescending, emotionally immature, belittling, obnoxious wiseass who can't get over himself. Why the hell do you like him?
    Andrew: ...He reminds me of me.


  2. I am also crushed to hear of the Pilot pen disaster. Cutesy graphics? How un-French!