mercredi 25 juin 2008

Fashionable Women

There are a lot of myths surrounding French women in the Anglo-saxon world, mostly centered on the notion that French women are the epitome of elegant beauty, feminine mystique, and sexual allure. But, as with many things, the reality is not the same as the myth.

Granted, women here are not walking around in white marshmallow sneakers and peacock-colored track suits. But neither are they wearing Chanel suits with Louis Vuitton handbags. The everyday French woman is somewhere in between, and her look typically reveals her financial status or profession. Younger women, who presumably have less disposable income, mostly look like they have come straight out of H&M, Zara, or La Redoute. Lots of them wear tunics or dresses over pants or leggings, Converse sneakers or brightly colored ballerinas, topped off with either a cell phone or an iPod. Older women are more likely to live up to the stereotype of the parisienne that is peddled abroad, wearing the same suits year after year, sometimes designer, sometimes not, regardless of the season (it does not get very hot here, so it is not unusual to need a jacket or blazer even after springtime is officially over).

Professional women fall somewhere in between these two extremes. And, unlike in the US, people who are well-off, but not necessarily rich, will indulge in some designer items. For example, in the US, most female lawyers of middle-class background like me would never think of buying designer clothing or accessories on a regular basis (unless it was at Filene’s!). But, women of my same background and profession here do shop at designer stores regularly. Of courses, this might have something to do with the fact that there are no Ann Taylor or Banana Republic shops in fancy office neighborhoods here. Instead, we have Bally’s, Celine, and Louis Vuitton. It made for fun window-shopping at least!

Now that I’m no longer a working girl and can spend rainy Saturday afternoons exploring cafes in quirky neighborhoods, I’m seeing a different type of parisienne, one who seems to fit in with her environment just as much as the professional women fit into theirs. For example, when I wrote this, Diego and I were in a bar called Culture Rapide in Belleville. It’s the kind of bar that has a huge Cuban flag draped on one wall, hosts poetry readings (and even gives you a free drink if you read a poem), and where many customers have dreadlocks. The girl seated next to us as I wrote this was wearing pinstriped pants, a striped blue and white shirt left open over a red undershirt, a black bowler hat, and converse sneakers. And as I sat observing her outfit, I noticed that, on the other side of the street, two kids, about 10 and 14 years old, were trying to steal a bike. And somehow, it all made sense.

dimanche 15 juin 2008

Your Ugly Face (book)

This post has nothing to do with life in France, but oh well. I mentioned in my last post that I sometimes spend a lot of time at work waiting for my colleagues to “relancer”. Back in the days when Macrui was in the gilded cage I also used to spend long evenings at home alone. What better way to pass the time than doing random things on the internet. When not writing witty posts for this blog, or watching domestic animals dance the “dutty wine” on YouTube, I like to commune with 75 of my nearest and dearest friends on Facebook.

You can tell I am too old for Facebook by the fact I only have 75 Facebook friends. My young sisters and cousins have upwards of 800. I don’t understand how somebody can actually know 800 people…if I had to make a list of 800 people I know, I’d probably have to include the cashier from Franprix and the guy who begs for change outside the Jules Joffrin metro.

Furthermore, I will confess that my 75 Facebook friends include at least 3 people I’ve never met before in my life, and probably a good 20 that I’ve only met once or twice (but I love you anyway, if you’re reading this). I’ve turned down friend requests from people whose names I didn’t even recognize. Maki apparently accepts them. I think that Nigerian guy who wants to wire me 60 million dollars is on her Facebook.

As a result, I have spent hours keeping up with the musical career of a girl I met at my step brother’s wedding (I’m not sure I actually remember her, but she seems to remember me and is a very fine singer).
I’ve stared awestruck at stunning pictures of Afghan villages taken by a friend of my cousin’s (that I’ve met three, maybe four times) who is now in the military in Afghanistan and is quite the photographer.
I’ve browsed the iTunes list of some girl I met at a party three months ago and haven’t seen or heard from since, but is into some pretty funky trance-house music.
I’ve received numerous requests, most of them from people I temped with seven years ago, to sign up for applications with names like “hug me”, “flirt with me” or “tell me how much you think I’m worth; buy me!”.

On the plus side, I have managed to find some long lost friends on Facebook and am now back in touch with people I knew in high school and college. I also get to see (and comment) on pictures posted by friends and share mine with them. Besides, the real lives, loves and travels of my almost-friends are frankly more interesting than most of what’s on television in this country.

mercredi 11 juin 2008

Relancer, Nickel and Yes.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed based on Maki’s last post, things have been a bit hectic chez Makietdiego lately, which explains why we’ve had other things on our minds than posting on the blog. I have my own “big news” brewing: or then again maybe not, so I’ll keep you in suspense for now. Apologies to our loyal readers and to the random people who get sent here from Google (no I don’t know how you dial a toll free number from a public telephone in France). Hopefully things will be back to calm and normal soon. Oh, and big up whoever is reading this in South Korea, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Google Analytics rules! You also realize that by reading this blog you are legally bound to let me crash on your couch when I visit your town/country/tropical island paradise. Just thought you should know. Please encourage all your friends who live in tropical island paradises to check out the blog.

But enough with the personal business: the purpose of today’s post is to teach you a few French expressions that I’ve picked up from my colleagues at work.

1) Relancer: Literally means to re-launch. The real meaning is more like pestering somebody to do something. I hear this one every day at work. See, I’m really not that busy. That’s not because I don’t have a good deal of work to do. It’s because I’m waiting for various of my colleagues to provide feedback/input/contributions to the projects, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. All my colleagues seem to be much busier than I am (never a good sign), or at least far to busy to get around to what I need them to do. Of course, I then have to pass the work on to other colleagues who are waiting for me. So whenever they ask me what the status is, and I answer “I’m waiting for Francois/Pierre/Claude to send me their documents”, they will tell me “il faut que tu relances”. In other words, you have to go pester Francois/Pierre/Claude or otherwise they’ll never get around to you. There seems to be an awful lot of relancer-ing going on in my office.

2) Nickel: A particular favorite of my immediate supervisor, this word means, in the slang sense, well done or perfect. When I do a good job, my supervisor tells me “c’est nickel” which is better than “who's a good boy?”, I suppose.

3) Yes?: You know this one. Actually I don’t hear this one so much at work, but pretty much everywhere else. Shopkeepers and waiters are especially fond of it. Notice the interrogatory mark at the end. This should make it clear that this word is not used here as an affirmative response to a question, but rather as a brief and grunted “what do you want?”. For example, you’ll walk into a shop and the person behind the counter will glance up at you, give you a look that asks “why are you interrupting my reading of this celebrity gossip tabloid?” and then say “yes?”. Why they say it in English, I have no idea. At first I thought they only said it to me because I looked foreign, but no, it’s said all the time to everyone. Maybe the French believe that monosyllabic grunts sound somehow classier in English than in French. To me, it sounds about as pretentious and ridiculous as the cashier at Publix/Safeway/Tesco* saying “oui?”

*note that this blog is multi-region friendly. If I knew the names of major supermarket chains in South Korea, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates I would include them, too, but alas I do not.

vendredi 6 juin 2008

Looking Ahead

I know that it seems like Diego writes most of the posts on this blog. That’s probably because, well, he does. The good news is that after next Friday, I’ll be joining the ranks of the chômeurs (unemployed) and will have lots of time to soak up Paris in the springtime and write. I’m not sure what I’ll do next professionally, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

On another bit of good news, I got my 10-year residency card yesterday, so I am no longer a sans papier. It feels very liberating to know we can stay here even if I am an unemployed bum. Diego, however, is concerned about the power dynamics in our relationship now that he can’t threaten to report me to la Migra. After all, isn’t the threat of deportation what every good marriage is based on? I’m sure that’s what kept gramps and grandma together for over 60 years.

Have a good weekend everyone!

dimanche 1 juin 2008

Just another day in the Village

To begin with, I lost my golden opportunity for a Sunday morning lie-in thanks to our next-door neighbor’s loud music at 10 a.m. The walls are so thin he may as well be playing it in our bedroom. In an earlier post, Maki mentioned how our neighbor was fond of playing “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” repeatedly. Well, his taste in music has moved on, but alas, not his penchant for repetition. His fave is now song called “Merci, Merci” and we must have heard it five times this morning. I don’t know if those of you who don’t live in Europe realise how long the days are here now (and how short they are in winter). Right now, it’s light out around 6:30 a.m. and at 11 p.m it’s still dusk, but not dark. My biological clock rhythms have shifted completely as a result. Whereas a few months ago I struggled to get out of bed in time for work, I now find I’m wide awake long before the alarm sounds and I fear I’m not getting enough sleep, so I really appreciate any opportunity to still be in bed by 10 a.m. and am particularly vexed by the repeated renditions of “Merci, Merci”. I guess the sleep habits of our building are only as strong as the weakest link.

But anyway, this Sunday’s planned activity was our weekly shopping. Maki and I had decided to check out the open-air market at Barbés, the colourful multi-ethnic neighborhood I have mentioned before where the “juju men” hand out their fliers

According to a guidebook I have, the market is on Sundays. Maki checked on the Internet and also got the impression it was Sunday. Alas, we got there and no market. Turns out it’s only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. You can’t trust everything you read. So we decided to walk up to the usually open market area in “La Goutte d’Or”, certainly the most exotic part of the neighborhood: a chaotic street scene full of sketchy street hawkers, men in djellabas and women in multicolored African garb with babies slung across their backs -- a scene more reminiscent of Marrakech or Kinshasa than Paris. At one point, I rather forcefully (accidentally, of course) ran into one of the aforementioned African-garbed women. After offering profuse apologies, she begins to excitedly yell something to me about my “chemise” but I couldn’t quite understand through the accent. After I wandered off, I soon realised that there was a big, red, perfectly imprinted lip mark on my shoulder. This leads me to conclude that:
1) Girlfriend gotta lay of the lipstick. I mean, that’s just TOO much
2) Thank God Maki was there to witness the incident, otherwise I don’t know how I would have explained that perfectly shaped kiss on my shoulders.

It only took about 30 seconds for the next bit of weirdness to happen (do I attract this stuff or what?). I have already mentioned the sketchy street hawkers around this neighborhood. There were a bunch of them on this street (and by a bunch, I mean shoulder-to-shoulder) selling counterfeit Dolce & Gabbana belts and Prada sunglasses. Why they all sell the same thing instead of diversifying and finding niche markets is beyond me. Anyway, it was obviously too close for comfort because an altercation promptly broke out, voices were raised, fists started flying and soon there were small fragments of fake Prada all over the pavement. We probably witnessed our neighborhood’s version of a mob turf war. We walked into the “Ed” (“hard-discount” supermarket chain) for shelter from the affray. As we were waiting in line to pay for our Euro 1.35 bottles of wine, the elderly woman in front of us, who is having her items scanned, shows the cashier a little box of sugar cubes and asks her if they are (of all things) a special sweetener for diabetics. The cashier tells the old dear that no, it’s sugar and therefore definitely not a good idea: “go back to aisle 3 and look for your sweetener, don’t worry, we’ll wait for you and you won’t have to wait in line again”. The old dear was apprehensive because she didn’t want to slow down the line, at which point we heard a chorus of clucks and tisks behind us, with several people chiming in” “that’s OK, go get your sweetener, we don’t mind waiting.” “Go on, don’t be silly”. Then, even people who were in different lines chimed in: “the woman has diabetes, we’ll all wait. She should go get the sweetener.” Despite the entire supermarket’s sense of bonhomie, camaraderie and persuasion, there was no moving the old dear and she did not go back for the sweetener, instead looking very frazzled as she packed her groceries into her bag.

It’s moments like these, however, that allow us to feel the real fabric of our community and to make us appreciate living in a “village in the city”.