lundi 31 mars 2008

La borrachera

In Vino Veritas.
Si esto es cierto, entonces en sus momentos de borrachera podemos ver la verdadera naturaleza de las personas, y por ende de las culturas.

Yo fui estudiante en Estados Unidos, y como cualquier estudiante universitario en Estados Unidos les confirmará, les puedo contar que los estadounidenses, cuando se emborrachan, se acuestan con quien sea. Cuando una mujer es muy, pero muy fea, los hombres dicen que es una "two kegger", o sea que tendrían que tomarse dos barriles de cerveza para acostarse con ella. Cuanto más cerveza toman, más bajan sus criterios de belleza. Este debe ser el lado oscuro del puritanismo religioso que está de moda en ese país.

Luego viví unos cuantos años en Inglaterra, y los ingleses, por su parte, son una raza muy, pero muy bebedora. ¿Y que les gusta hacer a los ingleses cuando están borrachos? Agarrarse a las piñas. Los únicos momentos en que sentí miedo viviendo en Londres fueron en el tube los viernes y sábados de noche tarde cuando volvían todos los borrachos a sus casas y buscaban peleas. No debe sorprendernos que los ingleses sean una raza brava; al fin y al cabo en su momento fueron dueños de la cuarta parte del mundo y eso no se logra diciendo "I'm sorry" y "Excuse me". Se logra mamándose hasta las patas y curtiendo a los nativos a patadas.

Ahora que estoy viviendo en Francia, puedo confirmar que los franceses, aunque se hagan los muy civilizados y se burlen de los gringos borrachos, también toman...mucho. Se emborrachan con frecuencia. ¿Y que hacen los franceses cuando se emborrachan? Cantan. Mal. Horrible. Los escuchamos desde nuestro apartamento en Montmartre todos los viernes y sábados de madrugada, cantando sabrá dios que canción mal entonada y mal cantada. Los hemos visto en el quartier latin y en les halles de madrugada, subiéndose a los noctilien (colectivos nocturnos) a las cuatro de la mañana, haciéndose los Edith Piaf y los Charles Aznavour.

Por mi lado yo, que me emborracho con frecuencia también, no suelo querer ligar con chicas feas ni pelearme con extraños en el metro. Cuando estoy pasado de copas me gusta cantar mal. Horrible. O sea que por lo menos eso tengo en común con la gente acá.

lundi 24 mars 2008

I love this town

If you’ve read any of our earlier postings, you might get the impression that we do not like France: we go around stepping on enormous dog turds, we get mischarged for basic services, and we’re dehydrated because drinks are expensive (not the wine, thank goodness). This weekend, however, we played tourist guides to Diego’s sister, Carolina and her friend, Caroline. In showing them around our new hometown, I was reminded of all the things I love about this city: our neighborhood (Montmartre), testing the baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolat at different neighborhood bakeries, and the amazing public transport system.

I had a ball taking the girls out on our Saturday morning errands in the neighborhood market. They were amazed at how delicious all the fruits and vegetables looked, and had fun looking at all the meats at the butcher shop. We also spent the better part of the day popping in and out of boulangeries, and probably driving the baker crazy because we could not decide what to buy. In only two days, the girls have, in addition to bread and pastries, tried lemon pies, pizzas, merengues, and eclairs. Our next mission is to get some maracons.

In addition to sampling all the culinary delights, we’ve also visited the traditional tourist attractions. On Saturday, we went to the Eiffel Tower and from there walked over to the Champs, the Arc de Triomphe, and Concorde (stopping at a cafe en route, bien sur). We spent Sunday morning at mass at Notre Dame (If all churches were this beautiful, I’m sure people would become more religious), and then went to flea market and the Louvre today.

While it’s been fun to see the sights all over again, dealing with the hordes of tourists is annoying. I can’t even begin to imagine what August will be like. To make matters worse, many of the tourists make very little effort to speak French. At the Louvre, for example, I had about five Americans speak to me in English without first inquiring as to whether I speak English. At one point, as I was standing in an area that was blessedly free of people, two young American women behind me said, “Excuse me,” because they wanted me to move (I don’t know why they could not simply walk around me). They made no attempt to speak in French and expected me to respond to their English-language request. Feeling a bit mischievous, I pretended not to speak English and did not respond. Instead of rephrasing their request in French, they walked around me, saying, “Some people can be so rude.” Some people can be so clueless.

mercredi 19 mars 2008

The natives are restless, bwana

At my new job, I am fortunate enough to have an office with a window (that even opens!) instead of the usual cubicle. It's meant to be a shared office, but there's nobody else in there for now. I'm on the first floor, facing the front of the building, so I can easily hear what's going on on the street below.

The building across from mine is apparently the local education administration building. For the last week, there have been loud "manifestations" (protests) going on in front of that building every single day. As a matter of fact, there were protests going on there the day I went in for my first interview at the company.

France has a long and proud history of public protest (which occasionally involves head-chopping, apparently), and it shows. While It seems to me that the protesters are getting louder each and every day (today they were banging on drums and blowing trumpets) and I find it distracts me terribly from my work, most of my work colleagues seem to be completely unfazed. I've asked some of my colleagues what all the fuss is about and most of them just shrugged, with my boss pointing out that "en France, c'est normal". At lunch the other day, when I again complained about the noise, one of my colleagues scratched his head and said "oh, yeah, I think I read something like they were going to reduce the number of teachers at one of the local schools." What's funny about this is that it's very obvious that the protesters are trying to make noise and be a nuisance to the education administration staff in order to get what they want. In doing so, they are being just as much of a nuisance to the people who work in all the adjacent buildings, who can hear all the racket just as clearly. Yet in my office, I seem to be the only one that's even remotely bothered by the noise. Nobody else seems to the point that nobody has even bothered to find out what it is these protesters want, how likely they are to obtain it, and therefore how likely they are to stay for days weeks or months making noise outside our windows. En France, c'est normal. So obviously it really isn't that much of a nuisance, the education administration staff probably gives about as much of a damn as my colleagues do and therefore their efforts are ultimately futile.

What I have noticed, though, is that the protesters take nice long lunch breaks. They're usually pretty quiet by about 11:30 and they don't get started again until 2 o'clock or so. En France, c'est normal.

dimanche 16 mars 2008

oh sweet, sweet Euros

All right, so for all my friends who aren't in on the good news: I (Diego) have officially found and begun my first Parisian job. Now given all the horror stories out there about people who get canned because they blog about their jobs, I'm not going to make any wry observations or snarky comments about my job here (even though I would have so much delicious material to work with!). So I'll just leave it at the following:

1) I have 7 weeks of paid annual leave and you don't, beeotch! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Don't hate me when I send you a postcard from some tropical beach to your grim and poorly lit cubicle. Hey, what can I say? It's good to work in France. I really don't feel I've gloated enough. I want to gloat some more, only it's very hard to gloat on the internet, but I'll try. Here goes: gloat, gloat, gloat, gloat. 35 working days. For real. I shit ye not. I'm being seriously serious. and that doesn't even include bank holidays.

2) I'm earning Euros. It doesn't even matter how many, I can finally stop making the conversion in my head every time I walk into a shop. With the ever diminishing value of the dollar, this turns every trip to the grocery store or the cafe into an excruciating experience. Now I can finally order a $10 beer at the local watering hole and think "that's not such a bad price". Pity Maki, she is still earning the Bushlandian pesos, which makes her an even poorer creature in this town than a Canadian, and that's pretty damn low ;-P The other side of this is that next time we visit the States, I'll probably be able to afford to buy a few indentured servants to bring back with me. We'll be raiding the Dolphin Mall like Venezuelans with a PDVSA contract. Before moving out here, Maki and I joked around that I would end up finding a job flipping burgers at McDonalds and that soon enough I'd be earning more Euros than her with her glamorous legal job. I'm beginning to wonder if it will actually come to that. In the meantime, maybe if I flash around my Euros, I'll get all da honeyz and the bling-bling just like Jay-Z.(follow link to see article)

lundi 10 mars 2008

French Accounting, Part Deux

In January we compared French accounting skills to the Mayan math we experienced on our trip to Belize. We will not be doing so in this post because we figure there is really no need to drag the proud and noble Mayan people into this sordid tale.

Imagine our shock last month when we received an electric bill for 615 euros (that's over $900). It turns out, luckily, that the bill was based on a mistaken meter reading. Every couple of months, a technician from the electric company (EDF) comes to our apartment to read our meter. Our meter at that time read something along the lines of 71,000 units, but our bill stated that we were in the 74,000 range. So, somewhere along the bill processing line, someone must have confused the 1 in our meter reading for a 4. At this point, we were not at all alarmed by this seemingly innocuous case of numerical dyslexia. After all, who hasn't at some point transposed a number or two when jotting it down?

Actually, Diego and I were rather happy because we were able to solve the problem with a simple call to EDF's customer service. In that call, EDF assured us that they would send a fax to the bank and we would not have the 615 euros deducted from our account. But, alas, that was not to be and shortly thereafter our bank account showed we had a 615 euro debit. As soon as we saw our bank statement, trooper Diego called EDF once more to clear up the mistake (at least their customer service number is not a special rate number). It turns out that EDF had, as promised, sent a fax to the bank asking for a reversal of the automatic debit. Unfortunately for us, EDF sent the fax to the wrong fax number, which was off by one digit!

To add insult to injury, this Saturday, March 8, we received a letter from EDF stating we owe them 18 euros in transaction fees because our bank charged EDF to reverse the charges! And, as a final straw, the letter states we need to pay them this transaction fee and the new correct amount (which is still a steep 330 euros) by Saturday, March 8 or else we will owe them 45 euros in late fees and risk having our power cut off. In other words, EDF's letter basically states, "Pay us your bill today or we'll cut off your power." All this because someone at EDF confused a 1 and a 4 on a meter reading.

Diego had a second encounter with this odd numerical dyslexia on his recent trip to London. On February 27, Diego took the Eurostar to London and had to go through both French and English immigration at the train station. Mysteriously, the French immigration stamp on his passport states that he left France on February 26. I think the English authorities must be used to this because no one seemed at all concerned that Diego's three-hour train ride looked like it had taken 24 hours. Or perhaps the English public sector is suffering from the same numerical dyslexia.

Luckily, things seem to be looking up. For the first time in the seven months that we've been here, our bank finally charged us the correct monthly fee. There's no telling what the future holds for us.

mercredi 5 mars 2008

French porkyness

Our friend Heather runs the world's greatest bacon blog, where you can feast your senses on all things porcine. Apparently, she has appointed Maki as the blog's official Paris correspondent, and we've even had some of her readers send in questions about French bacon culture, as it were. Unfortunately, at the time, we were French bacon heathens and thus failed miserably in our roles as local correspondents. Anyway, now that we've been here a little longer, we felt it was time to delve into the strictly non-Kosher/Halal and report back.

I decided I was in the mood for a cooked breakfast so I went out to try and procure some bacon. For starters I should say that the dictionary translates bacon into French as "lard". Indeed, the most popular form of bacon in France is "Lardons" which are tiny little cubes of meaty bacon which are sold in all supermarkets and convenience stores. Their use is primarily in salads (French salads are not necessarily healthy diet rabbit food; I've ordered salads at cafes here that came with fried potatoes and bacon) and are similar to what you sometimes find in the US labelled as "pancetta" (I've also seen lardons there, probably only at chi-chi places like Whole Foods).

So I went to the local butcher shop and asked for "lard" and was given a mocking glare in return. Ok, obviously that's not what people buy here. I looked through the counter and found something that looked quite like bacon and it was called "poitrine" (which means breast in French) and there were two kinds: regular and smoked. I ordered a few slices of the smoked kind. While trying to figure out how thick he should cut the slices, the butcher asked me what I wanted to eat it with. I was too embarrassed to tell him I intended to eat it for breakfast: one mocking glare was quite enough for me, thank you. I did see that they also had something called "bacon" at the butcher but it was round, way too lean and looked like what's called "Canadian bacon" in the US.

I took some home and cooked it up. First observation: there was a little tiny piece of bone in it! Not a bad thing, mind you, but I had just never had bacon with bone in it before. Taste: great. Tastes like bacon only meatier than the kind you get in the US but not quite as meaty as British style bacon, more like something in between.

I'm actually a big fan of British style bacon and you can get it here in Paris at the Epicerie Anglaise near Place de la Republique. I've stocked some up in the freezer for next time I have a serious hangover. That with some eggs and some Heinz baked beans is the second best hangover cure. The first, of course, is to drink more.