Sunday, September 21, 2008

A funny thing I saw yesterday...

So the Paris Techno Parade was fairly interesting this year:

More about it over on Mu Foo.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Home Sick Aloof

One of my favorite bloggers has up and moved from Brighton to San Francisco and is just now beginning to unravel. She'll roll herself back up soon, of course, but in the meantime it makes for excellent reading.

Today's post finds her wailing about Squash, a particularly foul-sounding beverage that she can't find in the US. But it digressed into something I think expats anywhere can relate to:

I wept for not knowing how things worked, and not understanding a different culture and its different priorities - not worse, just different. I wept at the overwhelmingness of new sounds and smells and not knowing what brand of coffee bean I liked anymore, but having 500 to choose from. I wept because there is a deluge of wonderful new experiences and I am scared that I am too cautious and shy to enjoy or appreciate them. I wept because I didn’t know when the bin goes out and I don’t know where the bus stops or where it goes. >more
It's the last bit that really struck me this morning. After four years in Paris, I still don't know when the bins go out. There are a whole lot of things, in fact, that I have simply tuned out because the weight of not knowing so much was overwhelming.

Moving abroad does explode the head a little bit. I used to take pleasure in the mastery of small tasks, from checking boxes on a To-Do list. Routines were comforting and made me feel like I was the captain of my own little boat. The first years in France, while fun in so many ways, also completely kicked my ass. Faced with the sheer illogic and unfamiliarity of the place, I surrendered the sailor's cap and resigned myself to floating.

Homesickness, for me, was never acute in relation to products (although I did profess to miss, of all things, Kraft Mac & Cheese). The sickness came instead from feeling nearly-always confused, and from longing for a place where I was more in control.

Life in a foreign country brings hundreds of daily situations in which the answer is not at hand. I'm not sure how other people deal with this, but I seem to have adapted by becoming completely aloof.
Self: Can I recycle this?
Self: I dunno... yes... why not.

Self: What's my equivalent bra size?
Self: I dunno... just take that one.

Self: Is my green card still valid?
Self: I dunno... don't think about it.

Self: Glass of wine?
Self: I dunno... why you are even asking.
I know some expats who rise to the challenge and manage to organize themselves and even the natives around them. As for me, I've chosen to protect my sanity by not letting any new questions in. Sure, I may be evading the law and wearing an erroneous 42 DD bra, but at least my mind is clear.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Knowing When To Take Your Clothes Off

The blogging ranks are regularly pressed by readers for advice. Those posting on the Paris Blog get emails asking for travel tips. Catherine Sanderson gets ten-page recaps ending with "so, do you think I should leave him?"

This is what I get:

In France do women having gyn exams have to take off all of their clothes at the start of the exam with no gown or drapes provided by the doctor?
(name withheld to protect the vagina)
What an email! It's direct and to the point without any verbal foreplay. A lot, in fact, like a French gynecologist.

Here's what to expect when you go for ze Exam:
Doc - Mme Blagueur? [offers ungloved warm hand] Please follow me.

You - Bonjour! [sits in chair at office desk] I am here for my annual poke.
Doc - Congratulations. Now take your clothes off [indicates table and returns to typing].
You - What here? Yes? Erm... [stands, removes everything south of waist, drapes clothes hastily over office chair while hiding bits behind computer monitor].

Doc - The top, too.

You - Even the bra?!!

Doc - Your bra cannot save you, American.

You - I see...

Doc - Let's begin. Do you mind if I smoke?

So that's mostly how it happens. After parting your red sea, the doc will ask you to replace your pants behind the monitor while she types something into her records/blog. There will be a quick exchange of insurance cards or, if you're paying in cash, 28€.

As unnatural as that might sound to Americans, let's consider the reverse situation. I have a French friend who was living abroad and went in for her annual inspection at a Chicago teaching hospital. She was led by a nurse to the exam room, handed something that looked like a napkin, and told "the doctor will be with you shortly."

Now, an American knows that this napkin is actually a paper dress that opens at the front. It ties at the neck and protects her dignity.

Caroline, of course, knew nothing of this. And so the young American doctor, when he returned after a suitable interval, found a very hot French woman sitting buck naked on the table, a paper gown in her hand.

The take home message: it is important, when traveling abroad, to know when to take your clothes off. Local bloggers are an excellent source of advice in these matters. Be advised, however, that we may use you as material.

To the terrified reader who sent in this question: an apéro before the exam always helps. Bon courage!

Friday, September 05, 2008

What's up, chicken butt?

Not long ago, this conversation took place in my apartment:

French boy: I've ordered something online for us.
American girl: What's that?
FB: A cul de poule!
AG: ...Come again?
FB: Chicken butt!
AG: ... Is that, um, something you'd like to try?
FB: Absolutely! And it's silicone - so not hard to clean!
This went on for some time, with me becoming increasingly horrified until I realized we were talking about cooking. A cul de poule (big sigh of relief) is just a big bowl for whipping and melting.
AG: But why do they call it a cul?
FB: Because that's what it looks like!
Riiiight. Now, despite my Kansas origins, I've spent precious little time around poultry. Is there anyone out there who can 'splain to me how a bowl, whether silver or silicone, resembles a rooster's back door?
AG: Do you not find that even the slightest bit vulgar?
FB: I have no idea what you mean.
I am completely alone in this country, it seems, in finding cul de poule totally giggleworthy. How else to explain the straight-faced existence of restaurant named Chicken Butt? Caroline Mignot, in her review published online today, had nice things to say about the newly-opened (sorry) Cul de Poule. She even admitted that "le nom me plaît bien." And here I thought she looked so very innocent...
Cul de Poule, 53 rue des Martyrs, 75009
+33 (0)1 53 16 13 07

Update! I have finally tasted the butt for myself. You can read about it over at Mu Foo.