Learning 2, 2012

Never trust a stranger with your mobile phone… not even when he works for your phone provider!

You have been warned… the man posing as a friendly Virgin Mobile staff member, apparently ready and able to help you fix the problem you’ve been having with your internet connection on your phone may in fact be an evil monster who re-formats your phone without asking, losing all of your contacts, memos, calendar entries… and beloved messages.

In defense of said monster, apparently he was operating under instructions from a faceless voice on the other end of a helpline. And he did have the good grace to remove my mini-USB card, saving my photos, for which I can be nothing but thankful.

Most of the losses I can deal with relatively easily… it is more of a pain than anything. But the loss of 6 months of my beloved text messages, those little snippets of my interaction with the world that I love to keep, effectively the story of my life, causes me heartache.

I have reacted with a rather more “such is life” attitude than I would have previously thought myself capable of, keeping my disappointment in check by telling myself that they were but text messages. But I do feel it necessary to pass on the warning to others… trust not your friendly and seemingly well-intentioned phone shop assistant!


Daylight robbery

One of my highest hopes for this blog is that I never become someone who complains constantly about their host country. My usual outlook on this matter is quite simply this… if you don’t like it, don’t stay!

However, I have a gripe with the European concept of daylight that I am going to express here… it’s 8am and it’s still pitch black! I’m being robbed of my daylight!!! (Oh please excuse the pun, haha).

A lack of morning daylight is far from my ideal situation… The alarm goes off. I groggily register the light in the room. Or lack thereof. Confusion arrives. “Why on earth did I set my alarm for 2am?” I check the alarm. Worst fears confirmed. It is actually 7am. Insert matchsticks in eyes. Drag myself out of bed, desperately awaiting the moment the sun appears and I actually feel like it’s time to be awake.

That moment today is scheduled to be 8:43. I await this time with eagerness… if the grey clouds would ever go away so I could actually see the sun! Oh, that’s right… commitment in place to not complain (overly) about my host country… maybe I shouldn’t have started on the subject of European winter!!!

A moment of appreciation

One of my goals for 2012 is taking small moments to appreciate the things I achieve. Here is one of these moments I prepared earlier today…

When I first arrived in Paris, an approach from a stranger was regarded as something akin to a missile attack, provoking the old deer in the headlights reaction… eyes wide with fear, palms sweating, my mouth would have time to open slightly before freezing, lagging noticeably behind my brain (which had frozen the second the incoming enemy fire was noticed). The words to answer this innocent stranger’s question were not caught in the back of my throat, they simply did not exist!

Sometimes the stranger would mistake my open mouthed terror for simple mindedness, shrug their shoulders and walk away. Sometimes they would look curiously at me and repeat their question. If they hung around long enough, the brain would eventually kick (lethargically) back into action and they would invariably receive a stilted “Je ne comprends pas, je suis désolée”.

Full-scale terror eased, I would continue on my journey in a state of high alert, eyes darting to all sides, with the sole purpose of identifying and avoiding future incoming threats.

Fortunately these terrifying experiences are a thing of the past. Today in the meat aisle a lovely elderly gentleman asked me if I could see the price of an item he wanted to buy. After confidently scouring the labels in near vicinity, I pronounced that I couldn’t. I then added that it was a bit silly of the supermarket… that if they are offering a second item for free, it would have been a good idea to list the price of the first! To which he laughed (desired response achieved!) and suggested that he would go and ask a nearby member of staff to help him.

No incoming missile threat perceived. Rather, the conversation resembled a friendly tennis rally, the ball being comfortably received and returned, neither looking to hit a winner the other couldn’t return.

Fast-forward to the tinned vegetables and the  “friendly” member of staff perched on the ladder, unabashedly looking me up and down, before remarking “Vous avez une liste” (“You have a list”). Several possible responses sprang immediately to mind, most of them not particularly complimentary. But I put on a winning smile and went with the most polite  “Oui, sinon j’oublierais beaucoup de choses” (“Yes, if not I would forget lots of things”).

A simple exchange, but it made me stop and really appreciated how far I have come with my French … advancing from zero response ability to unexpected questions to having to sort through multiple response options to find the most polite and appropriate is not bad progress!

Opera anyone?

I had to wait a little (patiently, of course!) for my Christmas cadeau from the Froggy… but it was worth it! We’re off to see Monsigny’s Le Roi et le Fermier (The King and the Farmer) at the Opera Royal, Chateau de Versailles in February. Awesome present, merci la grenouille!

Warning, warning… war approaching?

France is under attack! Or at least that’s what it sounds like at midday on the first Wednesday of every month when the  Réseau national d’alerte (National alert network) undergoes regular testing. Developed before World War II, this network of about 4,500 sirens sounds (unsurprisingly) exactly like the old films of air raid warnings during the war, and every time it goes off I expect to look out my window to see people scurrying to their bunkers.

Coming from Australia, I really didn’t have any sense of proximity to the World Wars before moving to Europe. But hearing this sound every month, along with having visited sites such as the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Mauthausen, the beaches of Normandie and Gallipoli, and the battlefields of the Somme, I am reminded that the tragedy of these wars are a very vivid part of history here, and even form part of living memory albeit for an ever-decreasing number of people.

Let’s hope that it’s a reminder that the people and governments of Europe also heed, and that the sirens of Europe’s population warning systems need only ever be sounded again for peaceful testing purposes.

Learning 1, 2012

The written word is not always more accurate than the memory…

The Froggy advised he had scheduled a dentist’s appointment on Wednesday morning which I (unbegrudgingly) duly noted as requiring an early wake-up call . A piece of paper then appeared on the dining table last night, in the Froggy’s own handwriting, stating that the appointment was in fact on Tuesday morning.

And so we fell for the old “if it’s written it must be true” trap. We readied earlier than usual this morning and went out of our respective ways to get him to the dental surgery on time… only to find that his memory was the more correct of the two accounts of the same event! We now “look forward” to repeating the exercise tomorrow…

A new year, a new beginning

I love the feeling of a fresh start that comes with a new year. It always seems like such a wonderful opportunity to put the bad habits of last year behind, turn the page and start anew.

When I think about it logically, there is absolutely no reason why 1st January should be a better day than any other to implement healthier living practices or better organisation or whatever my goal of the minute happens to be. I mean, what is wrong with 17th July??? Why does he get left out of all the fun? If I had started one of my current projects last 17th July, for example, I would have had close to 6 months head start compared to saving it up until now!

But it is what it is. And I can’t help but love a new year! This year, the list of New Year’s Resolutions is extensive… but I think I am approaching them very realistically – as a list of goals to be ultimately fulfilled by the end of 2012, not a list of changes I am planning to make overnight.

The main categories for my goals are health, finance, relationships/communication, organisation and business. Travel is sadly not amongst the contenders this year, but I am sure I will manage to slip some in nonetheless.

So far progress is impressive. By Day 2 of 2012 I have already rewarded myself with a full day of relaxation, a healthy quantity of communication with loved ones, some time organising old emails, a moderate quantity of exercise and… the piece de resistance… started my blog. Here’s to a 2012 full of positive forward momentum.

Le nouvel an, French style

My previous New Year’s experience in Paris back in 2005 involved wandering aimlessly along the Champs Elysees with one of my best mates and a previously unknown bunch of Canadians, receiving a rather unpleasant insult from a group of banlieusards, and culminated in extreme disappointment that the French authorities somehow forgot to set off any fireworks. It was a fun night… but very much a tourist’s experience of bringing in le nouvel an.

After living in Paris for a year now, this New Year’s eve promised to be a more genuine French experience… and it didn’t disappoint. My first New Year’s Eve spent speaking the beautiful French language and appreciating the finer points of  French culture is a memory that will not fade quickly.

A little weary after arriving only the night before from Sydney (a rather tiring flight), I put on a brave face & ventured forth with the Froggy to the local Carrefour, a very large & busy supermarket that only the courageous dare to confront on any given Saturday, let alone New Year’s Eve. As expected, it was absolutely packed with Frenchies getting themselves stocked up for the réveillon. As was not expected, some barely-dressed Brazilian dancers were swanning around the shopping centre providing entertainment… perhaps a clever attempt by the supermarket to keep women’s frustration levels to a minimum by keeping their men-folk entertained outside???

A couple of hours and a couple of Euros later, our packed trolley was wheeled away. What followed was a lovely time of preparation, the Froggy and I working wonderfully together and independently in the kitchen to create our feast. I was responsible for the entree and dessert, he for the apero and main. Our timing was nothing short of perfect, and our guests arrived just as we were putting the finishing touches to our preparations.

It was an evening of fun & merriment. Everything went off without a hitch… our guests were well watered & very well fed. I love how the French come together around food and wine, they are the centre-piece of the social life here. Forget moving on to the pub after dinner, a good meal amongst friends consumes an entire evening. Wine is not for getting drunk, it is for being discussed and enjoyed. The odd bout of tipsyness is but a mere side-effect. Food is not created to sustain life, rather it is life itself. Conversation at a French dinner party resembles the trajectory of long boomerang throwing session, regularly coming back to which bottle of wine to open with the next course, the favours of the food, the method of cooking… the list could go on forever.

In proper French fashion, eating started at 8pm and finished around 1am. The meal unfolded something like this…

An apero of herbed cream cheese filled smoked salmon & foie gras…

Followed by an entree of aubergine, pepper, rocket & feta tart…

Then the piece de resistance – a delicious main prepared entirely by the Froggy – roast veal with comte & bacon, oven baked fish with tomato & herbs, roast potatoes & steamed asparagus…

Unfortunately the evening was punctuated by an event that made me feel sick in the stomach. Towards the end of the main, we heard an explosion and felt a slight tremor in the building. Initially we thought someone had let off a random firework in too close to the building. Subsequent rubber-necking over the balcony revealed that we were partly right. It was a firework that had been let off… in conjunction with a molotov cocktail… in a beautiful Mercedes in the parking lot downstairs from my apartment. Fortunately our guests brand new car was parked 2 cars away and escaped any damage.

The boys had a lot of fun playing heros, racing downstairs to move the car to safety.  For them the evening had it all… good food, good wine… and a dose of entertainment! As for me, I was left scratching my head. What kind of person could cause this sort of senseless destruction? Nobody benefits from an act like this. But apparently it is common in the suburbs of France every New Year’s Eve. The media is now banned from reporting the figures of cars set alight in the different cities as the police found out there was actually an inter-city competition running. Sickening & frightening.

The evening was soon back on track and although we missed the official kick off of the New Year due to a case of poor timing, we put on a replay of the Sydney fireworks and counted in the New Year Aussie style. I must admit to a feeling of pride showing off Sydneytown at it’s best to a room full of Frenchies!

And then what better way to usher in le nouvel an style than with a good helping of cheese? Roquefort, marouilles, brie & comté, a good political debate… and the evening was declared a complete success. But with that quantity of cheese in front of me, it goes without saying that my first New Year’s Resolution was declared dead by half past midnight! Ah, the joys (perils) of living in France!

Happy New Year!

Couldn’t have said it better myself… oh wait… I did say it myself! Quoting my Facebook status…

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year! May 2012 be filled with fun, laughter & happiness for all, and a decent helping of random shenanigans for those of you who care for them. Xxx

Lesson of the week

This week’s lesson is that even when working from home one should shower & dress as a normal human being would. This lesson has been learnt in two parts…

  1. When a prospective suitor turns up unannounced on your birthday with a massive bouquet of flowers and a lovely pair of leather gloves it is rather embarrassing to greet him with hair that looks as though it was freshly dipped in a vat of oil whilst sporting a mismatching tracksuit and smelling somewhat like a rough sleeper.
  2. When quickly ducking out to grab lunch in running clothes that pronounce even the slightest bump in the figure with hair untamed as nature intended it and a face like a blank canvas, completely devoid of cosmetic improvement, it is Murphy’s Law that one will run into the supremely HOT French neighbour for the first time.

And so, in order to avoid such situations in future, I officially pronounce that here endeth the sloth! It is time to banish the Coastal bogan & take lessons from the perfectly manicured, coiffured & maquillaged women of this town!

By the way, the flowers aren’t too shabby. If French men spoil women they’re not even dating like this for their birthday, I think I could get used to living in this country!