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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Living in Paris ain't all that - it's more!

I have been reflecting a bit. Thinking about my time so far in Paris and how much I love it here. Paris has been invigorating, scary, exciting, challenging, and wonderful. I look younger - hell maybe I AM younger, and my happiness quotient is sky high.

What is so great about it you might ask? Well actually if you have been to visit me already, you don't need to ask. You might have had your happiness quotient raised while you were here. But just in case you are still wondering, here goes:

    • Paris is globally beautiful, the people, the clothes, the scarves, the boots, the parks, the buildings, the windows, the doors, the curbs - well you get the picture. 
    • There are 5 bakeries, 3 butchers, 4 cheese shops, 4 wine stores, 3 markets (4 on Sundays!), all within 2 blocks in every direction from my apartment. Oh and more cafes, bistros and restaurants than I can count. And several creperies. So on days I need a boost to my happiness quotient, I get one by walking through my neighborhood.
    Buying butter at the market

    Buying eggs

      • On Sundays a group of singers, musicians and dancers gathers a block away on rue Mouffetard to entertain us. And entertain themselves.

      • When I walk up the street everyone smiles and speaks to me - some call me by name! Just like home!
      • There is a feeling of living without a safety net. Mostly because I don't know who to call if there is trouble. Like when I locked myself out of my apartment and the locksmith I called tried to open my door with a radiograph. He told me that special tools are only used in Hollywood movies. He may be right, but that damn radiograph did nothing.
      • Wine is cheaper than Coke. I can go without coke for a long time if there is wine.
      • Food tastes like food. And I think there is still some nutrition in it. My mother once told me that there is more nutrition in the Styrofoam container than in the McDonald's hamburger!
      • Words spoken in French sound good. You will want to make love or drink wine - or drink wine and make love while listening.
      • Europe is an hour away in almost any direction. Well the rest of Europe I mean.
      • It is impossible to be bored. I bet you can't be bored here. Go on - try it!

         I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Yes of course I miss my friends and family, and yes sometimes I wish I had a jacuzzi or even a bathtub. But I have already created those memories.  Here in Paris I am working on tomorrow's memories.

        Sunday, March 18, 2012

        On being a stranger

        In France I am an etrangère, or a stranger. We would say foreigner in English.

        It is mostly a good thing. I feel very welcomed. People allow me to fumble through my conversations in almost-French and tell me I am doing very well. One very kind lady in the local bakery encourages me to repeat myself because she adores my accent. 

        And then I face the various governmental departments and it all seems less friendly, less logical and yes, less clear.

        Things are complicated here. Everyone agrees. Now imagine if you were not born here, instinctively knowing how things work. If you want to up the ante: add less than ideal language skills. This means that some hard-to-understand logic is now incomprehensible. Go ahead I dare you to take all of that and face the system. Bon courage as they say.

        Here is what I learned all in one day. It is possible to exchange my US driver's permit for a French version at The Prefecture. There are many prefectures in Paris, but my colleague advises me to go to the main one. The internet site seems to favor the one in the 15th. It is neither, nor is it the one in the 1st. It may be the one in the 18th. I will let you know if/when I find out.

        Oh and L'Assurance Maladie? You know the thing that gives you almost free health care? Well if you apply in September, and then send an additional document upon request in January, be prepared for a surprise. Your job, although never explained, was to resubmit all documents including those from the first submission and the newly requested one. You will discover this only 60 days after the last submission, and then should expect to wait another 60 days for a response. The response of course may be that you need to resubmit for a new reason. Stay tuned on that.

        Now this is not so different from the US, who took 18 months to provide me with FBI clearance for the right to apply for my French visa. Who refused me during my first US visa application, mostly because the officer was pissed off at Canada over Iraq, softwood lumber and Mad Cow Disease. Even though I explained to him that I was in no way influencing any of those initiatives, he still sent me packing. And for all I know Canada might be similar for those who are not Canadians.

         But today my challenge is France, and it aint easy folks.

        Wednesday, March 14, 2012

        Bullies not welcome here

        So here's the thing. I am tired of being bullied at the airport.
        You see I have a medical device implanted in my body. This means every time I go through airport security, which is at least twice a week, I have to show my special card and have a manual pat down. No I do not get to choose a cute guy do do this; I am assigned a female officer. 
        Frequently the officer directs me to turn my back on my articles (laptop, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, shoes, coat, belt, you know) which are spread all over the belt.
        Frequently I explain that I would prefer to see my articles so they do not go missing.
        And yes frequently I am told harshly that no one is going to steal my things, that I should not accuse these nice people of being thieves, that I will do as I am told, that if I refuse I can not proceed, blah blah blah.
        And you know, I usually need to get on the flight and I usually comply.
        But a couple of times things have gone missing. A newly purchased blue tooth headset. A newly purchased Kindle. And gone is gone.
        Which brings me to this morning. My 4AM wake up call allowed me to miss the traffic and arrive at the airport with some time to spare. So when the officer told me to turn my back on my articles I said, 
        "If you don't mind I would prefer to keep an eye on my things. Could I face that direction instead?"
        You would have thought I had threatened someones life. Seriously this woman went ballistic. She made such a huge fuss I thought I should do something. So I caught the eye of someone who appeared to be higher ranking, and asked him to please intervene. He was kind, but said I would have to comply.
        I then asked to speak to the appropriate supervisor.
        Soon I was surrounded by 6 security personnel. The security line shut down. They were all suddenly focused on me and the problem I was apparently causing. 
        Was I intimidated? No. I was too pissed off to be scared.
        I stood my ground. I explained the situation. My unfriendly female pat down artist tried to lie, saying I had never suggested an alternative, such as me facing my things and her moving instead. I looked her right in the eye and repeated the real sequence of events.
        And you know what: it felt good.
        You know what else: I made my plane with time to spare. And an apology from the guy in charge. And a big old smile from one of the other security guys who seemed kind of proud of me.
        All this to say: you have rights. Do not allow your need to get somewhere negate those rights. Ever.
        Think of it this way; if you allow them to bully you, you are also allowing them to bully someone much less capable of standing up for themselves.