November 23, 2010

oregano

How have I been? Busy. I need to quit saying things like "I literally could not be busier than I am right now" because I've said that several times in the past few months and if anything, I get busier.

It seems like everyone has telltale signs that correspond with how busy
they are. Here are mine:
- my gmail inbox surpasses the average 5-7 emails that are usua
lly hanging around. instead of reading and responding, i read and forget and the pile grows to like 50 (ok, 15. not that many people email me)
- i repeat things
- i ask my students how their weekends were...on Friday
- my bedroom is on the receiving end of what looks like a closet explosion - reject outfits don't make their way back to where they came from
- i repeat things
- the only things in my refrigerator are necessities: diet coke, bread, yogurt

More recently, I've developed some sort of memory issue that seems to be a result of my increasingly busy schedule. I noticed this a few weeks ago when ma
king my mom's spaghetti (side note, YUM) and discovered an unusual abundance of oregano in my cupboard. I never really cook with oregano so the fact that I'm now set for the next few years concerns me. Over the span of a week or two, I kept passing the spice rack at the grocery store, stopped in my tracks and thought to myself "Ohmygod! I need oregano for spaghetti...good thing I remembered while I was here!" Well that thought must have crossed my mind about four times because that's how many brand new jars I have. The worst part? I specifically remember now, looking back, walking by the spice rack each time and being so happy that I remembered to get oregano because it wasn't on my list. So I'm set on the oregano front and have some to spare if anyone out there is running low...

In order to control the crazy, I made the difficult decision over the weekend to quit my job teaching English. I have two weeks left and then I'm moving on to something that's a little less of a time committment on my end. I'm not exactly sure what my next adventure will be, but I'm looking forward to a change. In the meantime - I've got loads of schoolwork to finish before I return to Minnesota for winter break. 17 days! Trust me - when you start a countdown from 70 something days and finally get into the teens, it's cause for celebration! I'm so excited to see everyone and to get my Chipotle fix.

And lastly, Happy Birthday to the girl who loved Paris just as much as I do! My best friend, Rachael, passed away two years ago would have been 25 today. I'm happy to be in Paris enjoying the city but wish she could be here to see it all again. Here are some of my favorite pictures from when she came to visit in 2006

October 11, 2010

i am invincible invisible

So I caved this summer and finally started reading the Harry Potter series. I'm half way through book number five (of seven) and although I'm not a die hard fan (what are Harry Potter fans called, potheads? I don't know, but this is what I will call them), they are extremely well written and entertaining and I have a general appreciation for them now. I don't power through a 500 page book in a night, or even a week, like many potheads I have met (there are a lot of them out there, by the way). For those of you who haven't read the series, Harry has this invisibility cloak that he received as a gift in the first book and he uses it throughout the series for various things. When he puts the cloak on, nobody can see him, but he still has to be careful because wearing the cloak only makes him invisible - people cannot pass through him because he is still physically there. Welcome to my life in Paris. Most days, I feel like I'm invisible as soon as my feet hit the cobblestone. Parisians are always in a rush, on foot and by car. I have battle wounds from people running into me - I'm constantly getting side checked and stepped on - and there have been many times where people run into me head on only to realize that there's something there stopping them dead in their tracks....ME! I'm used to lanes of pedestrian traffic, where if you are given space you stick to the right side and people just kind of flow like cars on the road. I thought this mentality of spatial unawareness was European, but the more I travel the more I realize it's a Parisian-specific condition...they just don't care. I'm quite certain that if it wasn't for traffic signals and crosswalks, I would be in a full body cast because Parisians don't care if you're in the crosswalk if they have a green light. To them, green means "go" - it doesn't mean "go with caution and look for pedestrians". Even the homeless people don't notice me...A week ago, a decrepit bum dropped his pants in the metro station and came dangerously close to pissing on my feet. So next time you are faced with one of those questions that's something like "would you rather have the ability to fly or be invisible?", think twice about your answer. Although I haven't experienced flying, I've had enough experience with being invisible and it's not as fun as it sounds.

In other news, my good friend Christina recently came to visit and got to be invisible with me for a week. It was so much fun to have her here - we wandered around Paris and also escaped to Barcelona for a few days!

waiting for the eiffel tower's light show

a trip to the basilica


christina turned 25 while she was in paris...a good excuse for delicious desserts!

barcelona - christina took me for a nice boat ride in one of these...she did all the work and I took pictures


the mediterranean...some people were swimming but this is as far as we went in


a beautiful day in barcelona

September 16, 2010

au revoir, free time

School started last Monday and with the beginning of the semester came the abrupt end to my summer. It's good to be busy but it's hard to go from being kind of bored during the summer to crazy busy almost overnight. It's like someone turned the switch on one day and my free time disappeared...Oh well, it was fun while it lasted!

The two weeks leading up to school were filled with lots of fun, so it was a good way to end the summer. Here is what the last part of my summer consisted of:

Walking around Paris (Mom and Tom in the Luxembourg Gardens)

Marveling at Parisian sights

Some serious shopping with Jenny and Christie (friends from Minnesota)

Sipping wine at outdoor cafés and people watching
and lastly...Indulging in some decadent desserts

Although it's kind of sad to see summer end, we're coming up on my favorite time of the year! I live for September 1 through January 1. I'm excited for the semester ahead, for fall weather, for holidays, visitors, weekend getaways and a trip home in Decemeber to eat lots of Chipotle to see friends and family!

August 19, 2010

the calm before the storm

August in Paris is very strange. Everything shuts down and Parisians call it quits for the month. It's been so calm and quiet all around the city...and empty! The usually crowded sidewalks are a sea of open space and I'm loving it. I can walk through the metro without getting smacked by peoples' bags and I'm not getting side checked by people rushing by me nearly as often. I can only imagine what September will bring when everyone comes back so I'm soaking up the silence while I can.

I still have been working, teaching English to busi
ness professionals, but even that has slowed down. I have two different types of students: one group tells me how great it is to be employed in France and they try to convince me to stay here where vacation time is abundant (doesn't take much convincing); the other group complains to me about not having enough vacation time. I have no sympathy for this group and my story about working and time off in America is starting to take on the form of "when I was your age, I walked 2 miles to school every day, up hill both ways...". So the ones that complain about getting only FIVE weeks of vacation get a little lecture from me. The truth is, the French are very lucky: 35 hour work weeks and a minimum of 5 weeks of vacation. Are you kidding me? And most people get additional weeks which accumulate from the times that - God forbid - they put in more than 35 hours/week. I would say, on average, people get about 7 weeks of vacation here. The extremely lucky ones get 8 or 9 weeks. My response to these people: "So basically you work a collective 3 months out of the year..." And so the August vacation is born. It's not just France, most Europeans take off a solid three weeks in August to go relax and drink wine in a different city. Must be nice!

While the Parisians are off gallivanting around the country and continent, I've been here at home. It's been nice, though. I've been roaming around Paris a little bit and mentally doing nothing because I know school is just a few short weeks away and that requires more brain power than I usually have. I made it to Paris Plages (translation: Paris Beaches) which is a strange urban attempt to bring the beach to Paris. It lasts about a month and they line the Seine river with sand and chairs and ice cream shops...it's fun until it gets really hot and you realize one essential thing that is missing: water. Nobody is about to (or is allowed to) jump into the Seine and that's the only body of water in the city. Here's a glimpse of the faux beach:




One of my favorite days was a couple of weeks ago when I had lunch with my 75 year old gal pal, Marie. We were talking during lunch and she was trying to explain to me this sculpture in a park nearby where she used to take her kids when they were little. So after lunch (and after wine and champagne) Marie strapped on her 2.5 inch wedge sandals and we walked to the park. And all around the park. It was a hike and I was tired when we finished! Here are a few of my favorite pictures I snapped with my phone:

The sculpture Marie was searching for. It's actually pretty huge - you used to be able
to go inside of it and climb stairs to the top.


A statue made of wood and a very thorough explanation from Marie on what she thought it represented


Marie's hiking shoes of choice


A garden we stumbled upon


Playing in the park


Paula: Oh no, a fence! We'll have to go back around.
Marie: We don't need to go back, we'll climb over and through. Follow me!



July 25, 2010

view from the top

The new apartment is pretty great! It's small by American standards (but I have a real bedroom now), it's quirky, charming and entertaining because I live on a busy intersection (and have a great view of Parisian driving, which is scary to watch at times). I moved from the red dot below to the red star. It's a little further away from school, but I'm loving the new location and the proximity to other things (like great shopping).



Here's my prime real estate:




























With a real
bedroom! (complete with chandelier...this was there before)














The front door...that opens up into my bedroom. Kind of strange but it's growing on me. There's a door to the main room and also another room with the toilet and also washing machine (a lot of French apartments have separate toilets from the bathroom...another thing that just grows on you after awhile)









The main room - great windows and a great view!







The "kitchen"...basically part of the main room. Not much working space but it's not so bad! Surprisingly, I have everything I need. Even an oven!





Bathroom, part II. Shower, sink, other bathroomy things.





















An incredible view of the place I got robbed - Sacré-Cœur Basilica






And free entertainment...right outside my window! This is why you should never drive in Paris - what a cluster:

video
So there you have it...the grand tour - visitors welcome!

tour de lance...i mean france

Well, another Tour de France has come and gone and I was lucky enough to be in Paris for the final stage of the rigorous bike competition. It was fun to join the huge crowd waiting to see the cyclists make their final few laps around the Champs-Élysées (a fancy shmancy shopping street...think Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, etc.). And when I say huge crowds...I mean huge:

There was a sea of people that surrounded the streets, literally it went on for miles. My friends and I were pretty close to the action though with only one row of people between us and the street so we were able to see a lot. We got there pretty early because we weren't sure how busy it would be or how soon the cyclists would be in the heart of Paris - and we ended up waiting for a good four hours. We could see on a huge screen that they were on their way, but it just seemed like it was taking forever. But, who am I to complain after these guys have spent the last three weeks biking up, down and all around the country?! By the time they reached Paris, they had been on their bikes for three weeks (with only two days of rest) covering 2,200 miles - I could definitely hang around for four hours to see them finish. Here is this year's path:


This was Lance Armstrong's final Tour de France and he let some Spanish guy named Alberto Contador take the win this year. It would have been fun to see him win one last time...maybe he'll come out of retirement (again) and give it another whirl. I will definitely go try and see it again next year! Here is a picture - basically a blur of jerseys and bikes...


And here's a little video:

video

July 14, 2010

Some Like it Hot

Summer is in full swing here...and I seem to have missed the memo that you buy fans before it gets hot out. I got back from Germany on Sunday and moved into my apartment as soon as I got back to Paris. Buildings in Europe are so old and electricity is expensive that, consequently, air conditioning basically doesn't exist. There are some restaurants with AC - if they have it, they advertise it in writing on the windows - and there are some stores with AC...other than that, you're out of luck. The next best thing to AC, then, is a fan to avoid that point of heat stoke when it hits 93 degrees at 4pm with 99% humidity and no breeze. Ahhh, summer. Before I left for Germany it was getting pretty hot, but since I knew I would be moving apartments solo upon my return, I decided to wait on buying a fan until I arrived at my new place. Bad idea. In two days, I've gone into no less than twenty different stores of various kinds all over the city looking for a fan only to come back home empty handed! I've been asking if I could buy the floor models but quit after a string of dirty looks from the salespeople like I had just asked some horribly offensive question. Jaime tried looking online to see if I could order a fan on Amazon and have it shipped but what normally would take a week could now take up to 5 weeks - I'm sensing some kind of European fan shortage/crisis and I'm in the thick of it. The students I teach English to find my inability to cope without AC very entertaining. I asked one student if anybody here has window AC's like I had in my Minneapolis apartment and he told me "we would never do that, not unless you're using it to put in the window of a Chinese restaurant". Ok then, I'll wait it out. I'm lucky at the moment to have a little relief from the heat in the wake of some torrential downpours that lasted most of today, but I'll still be on the prowl tomorrow in search of the rare and elusive fan. Luckily, I'm pretty preoccupied with the new apartment. Pictures coming soon!

June 10, 2010

To Catch A Thief

The past month has been super busy, but I'm happy to report that as of Wednesday I finished my first semester of grad school! It feels good to be done...for now. You always think that not having much to do sounds like a good deal until you realize that it's more boring than it is fun. I still have work to keep me semi-busy though, so I'm not too worried. My group of friends, as expected, is dwindling. Everyone is wrapping up and heading back to the states. These three gems (from left: Libby, Peter, Kate) left in May and the rest of my non-school friends will be gone by July! Time to branch out...

This Friday I'll be traveling to Norway to see what Scandinavia is all about. Jaime is currently there for about a month taking a class so I deci
ded this was a good excuse for me to take a little trip. Tickets were only $30...the joys of traveling with RyanAir! I think J will probably get sick of me though...a week after I come back from Norway I'll be setting up camp in her apartment for two weeks while I'm between homes.

A couple of weekends ago the girls and I were trying to have one last hurrah before Libby and Kate went back to the states. So one Friday, we went to a place in Paris where there's a great view of the city on the steps of a famous basilica called Sacré-Cœur. We camped out on the steps with food + wine along with many other people, mostly American tourists. The view is amazing during the day and the night so it's no wonder why this spot becomes sort of a tourist trap at all hours.

Here we are in the thick of it...


So this is the whole group, let's call this the before picture (from left: me, Hannah, Libby, Sara, Kate, Sarah).
Since this area attracts so many tourists, there are a lot of people trying to make money by entertaining the visitors. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for these things and usually find them pretty amusing. The entertainment on this particular night was among the best I've seen in Paris and we totally lucked out and ended up having really good seats on the steps to watch two crazy guys light sticks on fire and throw them around. So after the first "show" these guys did (see video of the maniacs below) it started to get dark and the crowd grew. I stood up and and very quickly noticed a guy sitting really close to where my feet were. One step up, I had my iphone (the love of my life) and my camera wrapped up in my scarf sitting by my purse. I went to go move my things because I didn't like how close this kid was to my stuff when I realized my phone was gone. I knew that these two things had both been by me and not in the bag I had with me so, like a crazy person, I immediately I grabbed on to the guy's shirt collar from the back in case he tried to move (I was a little worried that when I grabbed him he didn't move at all, actually - so now I was thinking "Great, I have a firm grip on some random kid's shirt and I'll look like a jackass when I find my phone in my bag"...but I didn't let go.). My friends were wondering what I was doing so I said "this kid has my phone!" and freaked out a little (a lot). So Kate told me to look through my purse quick to make sure it wasn't in there and so I let her take over the shirt grabbing responsibilities (the kid is still not moving) and Sarah was smart and called my phone really quickly (this whole situation really all happened in a matter of about 20 seconds) and sure enough his pants lit up and started vibrating...my phone! Thanks kid, for stealing my phone and shoving it down your pants. So he gives it to me and in the heat of the moment I might have kicked him in the back and smacked him on the side of face. Ok, I definitely did. I don't know what got into me. Surprisingly, this didn't phase him much so I made him get up and leave. Sarah got a picture of me making the guy leave and we'll call this the after picture...
Well that's only the first part of the story. Not very long after this, Sarah noticed him sitting above our group now and she saw that he had a wallet in his hands. It turns out that he had been digging around Sara's (not to be confused with Sarah with an h) backpack and he had her wallet! So we got her wallet back and he left. Again. Shortly after this, some guy came down to talk to us and it turns out he was an undercover cop and he wanted to make sure we had everything. Well we thought we did until Sara realized she didn't have her phone. So a few of the girls ran to find the police and in the meantime Kate had called Sara's phone and the police answered. And at this point, it's off to jail for Kate and Sara...the police needed someone to file a police report so that they had enough dirt on this guy to arrest him finally. So the rest of us headed home and the other girls got to hang out with the cops for a little while and were driven home in their squad car eventually. Unfortunately, Sara did end up losing some money but in the end everything worked out. This was my first time being robbed in Paris so I was surprised when it happened. I feel like Paris is pretty safe, but like anywhere, you have to keep a close eye on your things (especially in tourist areas).

Here's a video of the awesome pyro guys who were inadvertently keeping onlookers nice and distracted:

video

May 4, 2010

some serious cravings

Well, I hit the 100 day mark a few days ago...it sounds like a really long time when I think about it but it's been going by pretty fast. I'm one month away from finishing off my first semester and remembering what it's like to manage my time between research papers and final exams again . It's a different sentiment now that I'm knee deep in various projects from when I was sitting back at my desk at Target thinking about how fun it would be to go back to school. I have about 12 hours of actual class time every week...what have I been doing with the other 156 hours? I don't know. Any way you count it up, I've been enjoying school and my time here so I guess that's what really matters!

I do know where some of those hours are wasted...food cravings. For the past couple of weeks, I've been getting involved in various conversations with Americans where we just sit and talk about what foods we are craving the most. I'm craving things I didn't even eat that much of back home, but just knowing that it is unattainable until I go home in December makes it worse. As of today, I would give my right arm for:

a Chipotle burrito bowl
some nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips
chocolate chip cookies
hint of lime tortilla chips
mac 'n cheese*
Leeann Chin
a cupcake
dill pickles
bruegger's bagels
grilled anything
crunchy peanut butter

*the saddest mac n' cheese story: I currently have mac 'n cheese being held hostage by the French post office. I hope to get it tomorrow. Jaime visited in February and brought me three ziploc bags of m-n-c that I had actually brought to her when I visited Germany in November. She was kind enough to bring me three of the aforementioned packs that I have been rationing since February, only using them for the most severest of cravings. Skyping with her one night (for those of you who don't know skype - it's video chatting), she said she was going to make some for dinner and it sounded so good that I decided that I was also going to crack open the last m-n-c I had and eat it. I've never been so excited for this delicious .50
¢ meal. Unfortunately, Jaime has a habit of using half of the noodles and all of the cheese packet for a more robust m-n-c. Unfortunately, my last packet was a victim of this habit, with half of the noodles and no cheese packet in sight. Word on the street is Jaime felt bad and convinced my mom to send me some replenishment, but like I said, it is currently sitting in the French post office. I thought I was picking it up last week when I went to get a package, and although the contents of said package were lovely, I couldn't eat it. So with any luck, I will be noshing on m-n-c tomorrow.

And no, I'm not pregant. Girl just needs some American food.

Anyways, April turned out to be a pretty busy month for me between school, work and traveling...or as it turned out towards the end of the month, not traveling - the volcano situation in Europe quickly put an end to a trip to Istanbul, Turkey that I was planning to take with a couple of friends. I was pretty bummed when our flight got canceled, but with two years in Europe I think I'll make it there eventually.

I did make it out of Paris, however, to do some sightseeing around the Loire Valley in France. Pictures are up if you want to check out some crazy big castles! We took the train to a city called Blois (about an hour and a half away from Paris) and stayed there for two nights. Saturday we got up and set off for the castles...at the end of the day we had biked about 40 miles! It was pretty exhausting to say the least mostly due to the terrain...it was hilly and we were riding our bikes around on gravel paths through the woods. Sunday was short and sweet...we picnicked outside, walked around the city and caught the train back to Paris.

As for the apartment I looked at, I signed the lease and will move in on July 11th! I got blacklisted from one rental agency in the process but in the end everything worked out. Agency fees here are beyond ridiculous, but it's hard to find apartments in Paris so you almost have to work with an agency find anything. Two different agencies had been working with me, but I was able to talk one into giving me 40% off of the fees whereas the other one wouldn't budge...so I figured saving 900 euros was worth having the other agency hate me. They had some choice words for me in an e-mail written in poor English...something to the effect of "Please never contact us again. We prefer to work with someone who is serious and polite." But alas, I do have an apartment lined up. I will, however, be homeless for a week between when I move out of my current place and when I can move into the next place, so I'll be escaping Paris between apartments and visiting Jaime in Germany. I have a feeling we'll be eating mac 'n cheese.

April 11, 2010

home sweet home

Sometimes it takes leaving for days at a time to make a place feel like home. Although I've been living here since January, coming back from my trip to Italy was the first time I felt like Paris is home. The familiarity of the city, my neighborhood, the comfort of my own bed and my own apartment were drawing me back home. Vacations are fun but it's always nice to come home.

Italy was a great time and I'll post pictures soon! I need a little time to organize and sort through all of them - you know how vacation pictures are...you look back at them and wonder why you took a picture of that tree or why you took a picture of that lizard. Cagliari felt a lot different from Paris - the streets are so tiny you can barely fit a car between buildings, which are all vibrant colors, the language is fast and the only word I knew was grazie (thank you). I went with two girls from school and in five days we ate and walked our way through the city. Lots of pasta and lots of gelato...and now lots of exercising! We met a lot of interesting people from around the world; it's always fun to see why people travel and find out what brings them to the same place as you.

Life got really busy today as I officially started a job! This has been in the works for a few weeks and I think it will be fun which isn't something I normally say about work. Tom (my step dad) sent me information about a job opportunity that he heard about through someone he knew from when he was getting his certificate to teach English as a second language. The hiring manager is in Minnesota which has made things a little difficult (like my interview via the telephone at midnight my time) but I think it will be a good fit. My job is to teach English over the telephone to French people that mostly need to learn English for work. Teaching over the phone is interesting but as I saw today first hand, it seems to work. Beyond speaking with them I can also assign my students lessons online for extra help - but I'm mostly there to correct their speaking skills and help with grammar. I had a wide range of people today - one girl kept referring to her son as she and could only speak in present tense (which was hard when I asked what she did last weekend), but then on the other end of the spectrum I spoke with a man who's English was nearly perfect but he is required by his company to take courses so we chatted for an hour on the phone about weird things like his recent eye surgery which had me cracking up - in his words "One of my eyes was looking out and one of my eyes was looking in. After my surgery, I don't have to choose which eye will watch tv anymore!" I'm excited to have something to do over the summer and even more excited that it can all be done from home!

This weekend I'll be in the Loire Valley with some friends - we are renting bikes and riding them around to visit famous castles in France. The pictures I've seen of the castles are amazing so I'm excited to see them in person. The friends that I spend most of my time with are in Paris to teach and their contracts are up at the end of this week (they have been here since September). Everyone will be leaving me to head back to the states in about a month so I'll be pretty bummed! There will be nine of us going and it will kind of be the last hurrah before everyone parts ways.

Well, next on my list is finding an apartment so i'm not homeless come July 1st. I'm looking at one on Wednesday so I hope it will work out...apartment searching in Paris is hard!

March 18, 2010

spring in paris...c'est si bon

Spring has arrived in Paris and there's no place I'd rather be right now (sorry, Minnesota)...people are out and about at all hours, the birds are singing, the flowers are coming back to life and I can break out the spring shoe collection!

When I first arrived in Paris it was gloomy most days, but within the last couple of weeks we've turned a corner and the weather has been really nice. I've been going to the Luxembourg Garden a lot lately to sit out in the sun and study (and take the occasional break to people watch). It's about a 15 minute walk from my apartment and it's right by my school so it's convenient for me to get to. Here's a couple of pictures from today...it's always this crowded now that it's nice out...sometimes I wonder why people aren't at work or in school at 2 pm...Today's studying in the garden was cut short...an older man sat down in a chair next to me and at first I was thinking "Good, he's just a solitary old man. He's not five teenage girls singing Elton John that have the potential to disturb me" (which happened yesterday). Well, the man sits there for probably twenty minutes and then decides he needs to clip his fingernails. I don't know why, but this is one of the most irritating sounds and it makes me cringe. When I was working, I would hear people clipping their nails from five rows over and it would drive me nuts. But, we were in the middle of a garden so I wasn't expecting anyone to have a fingernail clipper readily available for a manicure session. After about ten minutes he was still at it, probably down to the bone, but I was scared to look and so I had to leave. Clipping your fingernails is an at home activity - preferably in the bathroom over a garbage can...not in a Parisian garden. The whole way home I was wondering why people do that in public and how many stray nails I step on every day. I don't know what bothers me more...the actual sound or wondering if I'm stepping on them.

On a completely different note, school is going re
ally well so far - midterms are already next week! Classes are interesting and everyone at school is great. Two girls from school invited me to go to Sardinia, Italy with them over spring break which was too cheap and too tempting to turn down so I'll be spending five days of break on the southern tip of the island in a city called Cagliari:


In other news, I did finally get internet late last week! Basically what's happening is that the two companies that need to work together to make my internet work don't like each other so my landlord told me that he would try to find a different internet provider. Well, that meant there would be at least another month of set up and arranging things so I said I would figure it out...and figure it out I did. I threw on a cute outfit and knocked on my neighbor's door at 9:30pm - internet problem solved. I think he's my age and his parents pay for his internet anyways so it worked out! Skyping people, emailing people back right away and catching up on tv has been amazing!

I'll leave you with one last picture that Jaim
e took when she came to visit me during the last weekend in February. We climbed 300+ steps to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral - our legs hurt for days but the view was worth it!



March 1, 2010

Annoyed.

I've been really annoyed this week and last week with the French as I'm remembering and experiencing how slow, inefficient and inconsistent they can be. Every day, things take so much longer than they should and it becomes draining when you're used to living in a place where life moves fast and businesses/stores are open when you need them to be.

In France, I can expect to wait at least ten minutes in line at the grocery store at any given point during the day. The store doesn't even have to be that busy, but the cashiers and the whole check out process is painfully slow so there's always a line. Last weekend, I waited in line for 20 minutes to buy bananas and cereal. I could have left and come back, but I knew that the line would be just as bad when I returned. A different day, I waited at the US consulate to get something notarized...for three hours. I was directed to five different windows before I got the notarized stamp I needed. Why one person couldn't look at my passport, hand me a sheet to fill out, notarize that sheet and then accept the payment – I have no idea. It's a five person job apparently. Last Sunday, I went to Marie's to have lunch at noon and it ended at 5pm. Things taking forever is normal here, but hard to get used to.

Coupled with extreme slowness, there is the other problem that businesses aren't open when I feel like they should be. For example, my bank is closed Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. When they are open, their hours are 10:30 am – 6:00 pm, but they are closed from 12:30pm – 1:45 pm for lunch. Another fun thing about the bank is that although there are branches everywhere, they basically operate as separate entities. If I want to do anything other than get money from the ATM, I need to go back to the bank that first opened my account which, now that I've moved, is a good ½ hour away by metro. The banks here are really intimidating, too, because they are so secure. The French may be inefficient, but they are smart. You have to ring a doorbell before entering the bank and then the person at the front desk buzzes you in – if your face is covered you won't be let in – and everything is recorded on camera. I have had several meetings with my banker, that's right – I have my own personal banker that I work with (because they made me) – and her office is so secure we need a code to get in and a code to get out of the door. So basically, I have to be super efficient during the week with getting everything taken care of because come the weekend, most things are closed. Sundays are the worst because basically all stores are closed – grocery stores, clothing stores, restaurants, bakeries, etc.

My frustrations escalated last weekend when I was walking up the stairs coming out of the metro stop by my apartment and I was caught behind a few people going extremely slow (it's always something stupid that's the breaking point). But really, a child learning how to crawl could have climbed the stairs faster than these people. So I was doing the people equivalent of tailgating when I surfaced and had a reality check...an illuminated Eiffel Tower was staring me in the face and sparkling (it has a “light show” on the weekends at night for the first few minutes of every hour). At this point, I realized I have nothing to complain about – on the contrary, I'm a pretty lucky girl right now because I'm doing what I've always wanted to do. I came here for school and for a cultural experience...if I wanted easy access to everything all the time I should have stayed in Minneapolis. Slowing down isn't so bad. This picture doesn't do it justice, but this is the Eiffel Tower's light show at night:


And in case you're wondering...still no internet at the apartment. It's France!

February 8, 2010

From Girard to Vaugirard

So I've been MIA lately...neglecting emails, friends, family, blogging, etc. I think I have a good excuse though – I found an apartment! I want to say that I finally found an apartment, but really it took me less than two weeks which is pretty quick. It just felt like a long time. After much searching I found a cute little studio very close to school – it's small, quaint and has everything that I need. Well, everything except for internet but hopefully that will be set up this week. I went from living on Girard avenue in Minneapolis to Rue de Vaugirard here; the street names are similar, but the scenery is not!

I moved in Wednesday afternoon – I'm on the fourth floor, no elevator – which is common in Parisian apartments. The stairs don't bother me as long as I'm not trying to take my heavy luggage up the tiny spiral staircase...not fun. But I've settled in - unpacked, stocked the fridge, had my friends over on Saturday night – I love having my own place! The apartment is furnished which is the case for most studios in the city. A huge perk of this apartment is that it has a washing machine which is not something found in all apartments here, especially studios. The cycles and settings are pretty cryptic, but I've successfully washed clothes so I won't change the buttons and dials around for now...


Unfortunately, this is a short term rental and my lease is up June 30th, but I will have more than enough time to find something else...looking at apartments is fun and less stressful when you have one already. The hardest part is getting all of the documents together in order to be able to rent – I thought getting a phone was hard! The French are scared of foreigners – there are so many different things they need to see before they trust you. Last week was rough – my mom and Tom spent four days trying to help get money from my US bank account over to my French account so I could actually rent the apartment. An American bank account means nothing here and it's really frustrating. Alas thanks to Tom, the money was transferred. To make an extremely long story short, the day ended with me walking around the street with thousands of euros in cash on me – of course the place wouldn't just cut a check. So I ran to my bank while they were in the middle of shutting down and begged them to reboot the system so I could deposit my cash - they weren't happy but they did it for me anyways. I've irritated a lot of French people since I've been here. To be fair, they irritated me first.

I haven't had time to get into the school mindset yet, but I had orientation and registration on Thursday which helped remind me that school is starting. Classes start today and I've got a lot on my plate this semester. I have class Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday which is nice but I'm sure homework, papers and reading will fill up the vacant days. The faculty and students seem nice and helpful – I didn't get the chance to really talk to people because I've still been sick (it turns out my cold won't end because it's not a cold – it's a sinus infection). I mingled as much as I could at orientation but headed home early. I stopped at the pharmacy on my way home from school to get medicine and there was almost an incident once I got home. I bought medicine but when I was checking out the girl helping me said something about spray. I was half listening and when I heard spray I was like YES please anything...throw in the spray. I get home and take the first medicine and then go to dig into what I thought was like a nasal spray but it looked more like a tiny thing of hairspray. The spray nozzle was not conducive to shoving up one's nose for relief...so I looked again and it turns out I was suckered into buying some type of air purifying spray. She even wrote on the box to do two puffs, three times a day so I was so surprised and also let down to see what I had actually purchased. So now, I take my medicine every day and then purify the air around me...three times a day.

Hopefully I'll have internet this week so I can quit stealing internet from my best friend, McDonald's. Here are some pictures from the new place...

January 28, 2010

...one week later

I landed in Paris a week ago already but I've been so busy trying to become a real person here that for me it feels like I've been here a month already! Things are slowly coming together – I try to do one “big thing” every day to chip away at my to-do list. Yesterday I was able to do a few major things like pick up my debit card from the bank (perfect timing – it had just been delivered 2 minutes before I walked in the door), set up time to see a potential apartment, and finallllly I got my phone so I can stop going crazy over not having internet or the ability to text people (and by people I mean my one friend Libby). My list is becoming much more manageable every day...instead of “open bank account” things like “buy kleenex” are starting to show up – although I've been sick for a few days now so the kleenex is semi-urgent. Things are getting easier, my French is sucking less every day...life is good.

I'm usually out doing things during the day, but I do eat breakfast and dinner with Marie usually. Meals are weird and entertaining just as they were a few years ago when I was living here. Breakfast is usually at least an hour so I have to take that into account when planning my day out. It isn't a huge production like dinner, but Marie is easily distracted so it takes a while. She always has the tv on and then provides commentary on whatever we're watching – no specific show, usually whatever channel is on from the night before. I don't know why, but Days of Our Lives dubbed over in French (called Nos Jours et Nos Vies = Our Days and Our Lives...I could have come up with a better translation than that) is on every morning after the news and we always catch the first half. I don't so much enjoy the show, but Marie's comments make it fun. She watches everything (including commercials) like it's the most interesting thing she's ever seen and interjects her own commentary...“what a catastrophe...that girl is way too big for her pants, doesn't that guy talking there seem a little feminine?, Did she not run a comb through her hair this morning?”, etc....). She's very critical for a 75 year old French woman, but entertaining.

Dinner is a lot like breakfast but a lot longer (last night was 2.5 hours) and a lot more food. I won't get into all of the weird things I've been eating – good of course – but sometimes I wonder. She made a whole chicken the other night and gave me something from the inside and I didn't know what it was. I sucked it up and ate it and decided to ask what it was after I finished eating it...well when I did she was said “Oh you like it? Here, here take the rest”. So I don't ask questions anymore about what I'm eating – as for the mystery from inside of the chicken, I never learned what it was, but I ate a lot of it. We always have an appetizer with an aperitif, the main course with wine, followed by bread and a lot of cheese, and then dessert with coffee. Here's a couple of pictures from dinners this past week – a very fresh appetizer (with it's eyes in tact) and a delicious dessert. Finding an apartment where I can make my own meals will be good news for my caloric intake.


Also, a few people have asked about the drawing on my blog...my good friend Brian made this for me before I left – he's an amazing artist - you can check out his blog here and his stuff for sale here!