lundi 25 février 2008

The Cow that Laughs Last

It's no secret that the French are thinner, on the whole, than Americans. Indeed, a number of popular books have capitalized on the idea and have promised scores of Americans that they, too, can be like the French women who don't get fat.

Although I am by no means a nutritionist or doctor (nor do I play one on this blog), I think that generally portions are smaller here. Granted, some items here do come in large portions, especially sandwiches at a boulangerie, the ubiquitous kebabs, or the pizzas at our local Italian restaurant (which, incidentally, is worthy of its very own blog post at some point later on, as a result of its colorful clientele). Most regular food that you buy at a supermarket, though, does come in smaller portions. For example, drinks come in liter bottles, rather than gallon jugs, and yogurt is sold in half-size, rather than full-size cups. And you'll be hard-pressed to find a ginormous bag of tortilla chips on the supermarket shelves.

Even some French products that are sold in the US come in different packaging. Laughing cow cheese (la vache qui rit), for example, is sold in the US in a round package with eight wedges. Here, the same round package contains twelve smaller wedges. I can just imagine the company meeting after it decided to start its international expansion:

-Marketing Dep't: "Zince vee have had difficulties breaking into the American market because our fromage is considered too stinky and mouldy, vee av deezided to market a cheese product to zee Americans."

-Naysayer: "But, we cannot sell zees petit triangles in America, it will never fit on zee wonder bread."

-Marketing Dep't: "Ah, zen, vee must increaze zee size of the wedges....ouahahah."

So, folks, you heard it on this blog first: the French are thinner because their cheese product comes in smaller portions. I wonder if I can write a book about that.

lundi 18 février 2008

Mange du Kebab

Hace un tiempo atrás les comenté de las sandwicherías turcas que hay en Paris. Aparentemente, nuestro barrio (Montmartre) es uno de los que más de estas tiene. Es como que algo típico de acá.

Últimamente se me ha dado por ir a almorzar a uno de estos lugares de "kebab" en el barrio, donde por solo 5 Euros me puedo comer un tremendo sandwich de carne de cordero con ensalada y papas fritas. Siempre me dejan elejir que salsa quiero con el sandwich, y generalmente elijo mayonesa con "harissa" (salsa picante) aunque ultimamente se me ha dado con la "sauce blanche" que es de yogúr con pepinos.

Hace un tiempo mi primo Martin me mandò este video filmado en una sandwicheria turca:

Lo primero que pensé al ver el video fue: seguro que eso queda cerca de casa. Efectivamente, me fijé en internet y resulta que ese restorán existe y queda a pocas cuadras de acá. El otro día fui a comer un kebab allí. Me alegró ver que la fama no les ha llevado a subir los precios, ya que cobran los mismos 5 Euros que toda la competencia. Sin embargo, me desilusionó el hecho que los mozos no cantaban. Ni siquiera tenían música prendida (en el lugar donde voy yo, siempre tienen un televisór sintonizado a una especie de MTV Turco) a pesar de que en la canción del video dicen "il y a de l'ambience et de la musique".

lundi 11 février 2008

Cry me a river

Spotted off the boulevard Magenta near Place de la Republique.

No, I don't know what it means, either, but surely it must meen something existential and tres profond. Either that or it's the name of a gay club.

Ne pas fumer

January 1, 2008 marked a major historical milestone in France. On that day, the new smoking law came into effect. France has effectively followed the rest of the civilized and not-so-civilized world on the puritanical bandwagon of banning smoking in all public places. Who knew the French had it in them? Between that and all the latest giggling adolescent titillation over their president's love life, I'm beginning to wonder if the French aren't stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Now if they could only get good customer service...

But I digress. Knowing in advance that this new law would come into effect at the beginning of the year, I was seriously worried that the entire country would be nicotine-jonesing and thus in a very grumpy mood indeed. I seriously worried about my personal safety and briefly considered taking a trip somewhere just to be away from it all. I know from personal experience that nicotine withdrawal can make one awfully testy (and since I decided to join the French in kicking the habit this year, Maki can corroborate). Surprisingly, though, people have remained remarkably nonchalant about the whole thing. I have thus far only witnessed one incident of aggression between a law-abiding bar owner and a nicotine-starved patron. (no, it wasn't me, I swear)

What has been funny, though, has been observing gaggles of smokers crowding outside bar and restaurant doors having their quickie smokes. I've also noticed that the "sidewalk cafe" phenomenon has suddenly exploded (despite the cold weather) to ridiculous extremes. I mean,there are certain establishments that have nice and wide streetfronts and are thus meant to (in nice weather) have tables outside. But now, just about any little hole in the wall has pitched up a couple of plastic tables and chairs on whatever little bit of narrow pavement they can claim so their customers can sit outside and freeze to death.

See what I mean?

A few weeks ago, when it was freezing outside, it was kind of funny to watch people sitting in these chairs, drinking their coffees and smoking their Gauloises.

Now that the weather has turned warmer, Paris suddenly feels springlike with masses of people sitting outside in the most unlikely places.

Maki seems to think that the new smoking law is unloved and unpopular and thus will not last long. I suppose she imagines there will be some sort of mass civil disobedience. But from what I've seen, people have pretty much adapted to the new reality. The only real long-term implications will be more butts (cigarette and human) on the ever-narrower sidewalks and more cases of pneumonia in winter.

mercredi 6 février 2008

Anglophone beggars

I've noticed one phenomenon here in Paris for several months now.
It seems that just about every time I find myself at some touristy spot, like the Champs-Elysees, I'll be approached by a gypsy-looking woman and asked "do you speak English?".
The first few times I answered "yes", imagining that this was some poor tourist lost in the urban jungle, only to have a little note (written in English) shoved under my nose with some generic sob story about being a refugee from Bosnia (I feel like telling them to update their conflicts: Bosnia is SO last decade) so gimme, gimme, gimme.

Naturally, whenever they ask me the question now I answer "non" with all the Gallic disdain I can muster...and the funny thing is: they walk away. They only beg from you if you speak English. Francophones (as well, I suppose, as speakers of Ukranian and Lingala) are not expected to contribute to the allegedly-Bosnian-purported-refugee-of-a-war-that-ended-years-ago fund. This mystifies me. First of all, if you're going to beg in France, shouldn't you learn how to do it in French? Second, It really isn't that hard to outstretch your palm and look pathetic. Most people will get what you're on about. I've been begged in many different languages before and I knew exactly what was going on even if I couldn't make out the specifics that were being said. I even learned how to beg in Hindi after a trip to India. (Goreh, panj rupieh, no mama, no papa or something along those lines).

Yet it seems these ladies specifically target speakers of English and deliberately leave all others alone. This simply doesn't make sense to me. Why ignore all the potentially rich non-anglophone pickings? There must be more to this story than meets the eye. Nature abhors a vacuum, so it must be filled with an official Diego® conspiracy theory. Et voila, here is the first Diego® conspiracy theory to be posted on this blog (and don't go spreading it without paying me royalties, now):

The gypsy ladies have an arrangement with the cops. The cops leave them alone so long as they don't harass any of the local taxpayers. Stick to the tourists and we won't take you out back and beat you. Today for the first time I saw "les flics" (the cops) rounding up a bunch of them on the Champs-Elysees and clearing them from the area. I can only conclude that they must have been begging "En français". Consider: the local taxpayers are more likely to complain if they are being hassled on the streets. The police will be expected to do something about it. Tourists are unlikely to complain about it, so as long as the townies are left alone, "everybody is happy" in a Tony Soprano sort of way. Maybe the cops even get a share of the take, who knows? Badda bing, it's a beautiful ting.

mardi 5 février 2008

La Migra and lawyers

I never thought I'd have to worry about “la migra” over here in France, but now I do. Theoretically, processing my carte de séjour (residency card) is easy. I don't know how, but things have suddenly become rather complicated, and I may soon become a sans papier or “without papers.”

The extremely frustrating part of all this is that the lawyers handling the process initially represented that my situation was very easy. I think that, after five years of practicing law, I finally understand why others dislike lawyers so much. They rarely return phone calls, manage to complicate even the simplest matters, and it's the client that pays the consequences.

As a result of the stress caused by this situation, now, whenever I see signs at schools or other buildings expressing solidarity with the sans papiers, I feel a small sense of support, as though it is confirmation that I am meant to be here. I am fortunate in that my situation is not at all like that of a poor immigrant trying to make a home in a new country under adverse conditions, and I am fortunate in that, although things might be a bureaucratic mess, I (probably) won't get kicked out of the country on a one-way ticket. And aware of how fortunate I am, I can empathize with and have sympathy for the demonstrators that march in our neighborhood streets every few weeks, chanting “Qui sommes nous? les sans papiers! qu’est ce qu’on veut? des papiers!