So the Paris story continues…

The last Facebook note I wrote dated December 19, 2007… I was writing a lot that month – the rest will all be new content:

To recap, things haven’t been going exceedingly smoothly for me. Becoming ill upon arrival, difficulty with the apartment, and the agent who was supposed to help, starting a new job having to work for a guy I don’t like. Paints a pretty grim picture. Now I’m a month in, my apartment is more or less complete, I’m settled in with my job, so how are things going for me… not so good. One month, still no friends… I suppose this has become the greatest difficulty. My job… well… I’ll tell you about that in a bit, but so far… I’m a bit disappointed.

I had finally decided to go out this weekend. My first weekend in the new place, no visitors, no more cold, I was ready to go out and do something… but what? Have you ever tried going out by yourself on a Friday night? It just doesn’t feel right. I went to get some dinner at this Greek place, been there a few times already. Huge chicken pita with fries for 4.50e, I usually barely even touch the fries as the pita is massive. Afterwards I decided I’d try and find a bar/pub that looks inviting and maybe start a conversation with total strangers. For what better did I have to do that evening… One thing about where I’m living, there’s no shortage of bars. So I’m walking around and most of what I see are “club” looking places or just completely dead places. I don’t do clubs. Going to a dead place is of no use to me. I can drink alone in my apartment but that would put me a different category altogether. I came across a crowd of people circling a group of street performers. As I got closer I could see they were break dancing. I figured this could be entertaining. That lasted all of 3 or 4 minutes and I kept on walking. It was a bit cold out. I wanted to be indoors somewhere. As I was walking I saw an Irish pub. I don’t know why but something about an Irish pub just sounds inviting. I figured it would be a good atmosphere. It was… but it was really crowded and smokey.

On a side note, what is it with people in France, Europe as a whole and smoking? It’s like people just don’t care here. They’re aware of the negative health benefits associated with smoking. A lot of people here are into health, I see people jogging all the time, playing tennis (even when it’s 1 or 2c outside), yet everybody smokes here. Restaurants are 100% smoking section which really bothers me. Not just for health reasons but I find the smell interferes with the flavor of the food.

Even now I’m in my office writing this (you may wonder why I’m not working? I’ll get to that a bit later). But most of the staff here seem to smoke, amazingly, myself and the 5 other programmers/consultants here all don’t smoke, hmmm… are we just smarter than everyone else? Although I really think it’s just a coincidence. So because it’s cold outside, they just go smoke in the stairwell and I can sure as hell smell it from my desk. Unfortunately there are no laws against this in France. I’ve seen people smoking on the metro even. I don’t think it’s allowed but it’s clearly not enforced.

Now France is not as bad as say… Turkey? I was on several “non-smoking” overnight buses in Turkey, but the driver can smoke as he pleases, and they all did. But what really got me was the server. See buses in Europe have a server, like a stuart/stuartess on a plane. They bring you snacks and drinks. So this guy needed a smoke so badly, when the bus was in a bit of a traffic jam and moving slowly, he opens the rear door lights one up, doing his best to keep it on the outside. What the hell… The bus stops every hour or so, can you really not wait?

In general though, throughout my travels, I met a ton of Europeans and pretty much all of them smoked. From what I’ve seen, a European who doesn’t smoke is rare and I really don’t understand why this is.

I was willing to accept the smokey atmosphere as all the bars are like that here. However there was such a crowd around the bar I figured it was going to be at least a 10 minute wait to get a drink. The search continues. I continued wandering around somewhat aimlessly and I spotted something familiar. It was that piano bar I had walked into the first weekend I was here, “Relais de la Huchette”. I had only gone in there for a single beer the last time but the staff was pretty friendly and I like the live music. So I decided to check it out again. The same bar tender was working there and actually remembered me from the last time. We spoke for a bit, I had a few drinks, enjoyed the music, met some American tourists. I hadn’t drank in a while and didn’t realize how low my tolerance had gotten. I was actually kind of drunk after only 3 pints. So I didn’t really make any new friends, but it was a start. I at least got to talk to some people.

Saturday was a good day. It was nice out, no rain… did I mention it rains a lot in Paris? But I went out a bit and walked around. I hadn’t really had a chance to get to know my own area. So I just walked for a while. There really is a lot going on. I even found a Starbucks. I never thought I would be so happy to see a Starbucks. I honestly haven’t had a coffee in weeks now. I figured I may try giving up the coffee. It’s not that the coffee tastes bad or anything. But it’s just too damn small. Starbucks has their usual sizes. So I was walking by and thought to myself, how can I pass this up, a chance for full sized coffee. I ran over there, only to find there was a line up out the door. This tells me something, French people like big coffees too, yet all you can ever get are these mini coffees. This reminded me of a bit I saw recently on YouTube by John Pinette. I think he’s a great comedian, but anyway, I didn’t feel like waiting in line as Starbucks is slow and I handle lines about as well as John… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUlf1F05gTA.

So eventually I ended up back at Jardin Luxemburg, where I had been with my cousin the first weekend I was here. This time I had my camera with me. It is a really nice park. It almost reminds me of Central Park (NYC) but not quite the same thing. I spent a good 20 – 30 minutes just walking around and taking pictures. After all the walking I decided to stop at a café for lunch. I have no issue with the food in France as it is superb.

Afterwards I met with my cousin, he actually helped me pick up the TV I had ordered. We went in his car to go pick it up and he helped me set it up. So now I have nice LCD screen in my apartment, and it turns out there was already an HD box that his girlfriend never used. But it was included in the Internet plan. So we got that thing set up, now I have 200+ channels of mostly French content. I’ve started to watch some French TV actually, thought it may help my vocabulary. So I was excited to have this new TV but I also didn’t, and still don’t want to just sit around in front of the TV all day.

So I decided to venture out again Saturday night. I went for dinner, alone as usual… I decided why not check out the piano bar again as the night before was enjoyable there. Unfortunately it was a bit crowded and I couldn’t even get in. Seems like a lot more people go out on Saturday night as I was seeing line ups everywhere. I don’t like lines… So this area is closer to the Seine and more touristy. Although in the other direction there are some university bars as there are 2 universities nearby. So I walked in that direction. There’s one bar just a few doors from my apartment. There was a group of Norwegians there. They were all wearing these red shirts with the flag of Norway, speaking a language I couldn’t understand (presumably Norwegian), these guys were drunk. One of them stepped outside and I could see he was zig zagging all over the place. Shortly after a friend followed and dragged him back. I think he would gotten lost and fallen asleep in an alley otherwise. So yeah I made my decision and kept walking. Sure enough I got to the corner of the street to find another one of these Norwegians urinating on the corner of a building. They’re not so discreet…

My continual wandering led me to a nearby bar that looked decent and not overly crowded. I walked in. They were playing music I liked. Looked like a university type crowd. But being there myself just felt awkward as everyone in this place was with friends. I had a drink at the bar and left. Going to bars by myself didn’t really work out that night. I decided to just screw it and go enjoy my new TV. I think it was already close to 12… I must be getting old as this seems late for me now.

Sunday was a relaxing day. I decided to stay in and relax for a change. I cleaned up the apartment, it desperately needed some cleaning. I was a bit bored so and heard my insane neighbor yelling at her dog. I couldn’t resist, I wanted to share this with people. I recorded this from my digital camera and just kept the audio part of it. It’s unedited. This is what I here more often than I’d like in my apartment… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0sfREw8b_g … enjoy.

So the weekend had some ups and some downs for me. I’m feeling more adjusted to the life in Paris. It just comes back to that friends thing. I’ve been getting a bit more friendly with people from work, but still nothing really outside of work. There is the weekly Quebecois get together. I may try that again but this week is no good as I have a work dinner thing Thursday night. I’ve been looking into online communities but all I seem to find are dating sites… I definitely need to get out more.

Here’s little story about work and some impressions on my new job after 3 weeks. I don’t know if I’m just unlucky but so far I’m really bored. This has turned out to be no better than my last job in terms of work interest. It is a million times better in other areas. I don’t hate this place like I did my old job, what was that place called, oh yeah PSL Group, that’s the one I hate. Here is a little history from my time at PSL. I won’t get into anything too specific. The first (and only) project I worked on at PSL was a major overhaul of one of their websites. As a developer in a large scale project you’ll often have to wait for certain tasks to be completed before you can proceed. I needed some design mock ups so I could incorporate them into the site. Without them, I don’t know what I’m supposed to make it look like. I can guess night and day or come up with my own design but it’s not my job. I thought this was urgent but I ended up waiting for 2 or 3 days for these mockups. So I was required urgently but had nothing to work on for 3 days… this just didn’t add up. Let me say though having nothing to do at work is boring. Eventually I was able to get started working on this. I don’t remember how long it actually took but I think it was around 2 or 3 weeks of actual work. Great, it’s done. Now it needs some QC feedback. Here’s a dialog between myself and my project manager (PM).

Me: “What should I work on now?”
PM: “We don’t want to put you on anything new because QC might come back with a lot of bugs and we want you to be ready to fix them without being occupied with something else”.

At the time this sounded reasonable… one week later.

Me: “So when is the QC going down?”.
PM: “Sorry there’s been some other priority issues.”
Me: “ok can I get started on something else?”
PM: basically the same response

This went on for a good month or so. That’s right, a month. You want to know what I did during this month, I got paid to sit in my cubicle and surf the Internet for a month. I did absolutely nothing. It’s not like I didn’t try, I told my manager/project manager repeatedly that I have no work to do and they should be giving me stuff to do. It started off subtly, but I think after 2 weeks I just came into his office one day and said “I have nothing to do. Give me some work to do”. I can’t tell you how boring it is to just sit there, especially when everyone around you is actually working.

I know what you’re thinking now. I’ve heard it a million times. “What are you complaining about? You’re getting paid to do nothing.” What you don’t realize is that doing nothing is really boring. It’s just a complete waste of time. I actually enjoy programming and working on interesting projects. That’s what I got hired to do. Not sit there and do nothing. When you have nothing to do time moves incredibly slowly. Being busy at least the day goes by at a decent pace. I’ll tell you the worst thing for me was feeling useless at the end of the day. I take great pride in my work and try to produce the best quality results no matter what the job is. I take no pride in watching YouTube videos and screwing around on Facebook all day. YouTube videos are for the most part retarded and Facebook… well I like Facebook but in small doses. So go ahead and call me crazy for not enjoying getting paid to do nothing. The money really doesn’t matter to me at that point. I spent most of my life up to this point in school. As a student you take what you can get, now that I hold a degree and some significant experience I want to develop my career. Sitting in a cubicle all day doing nothing does not help. Still not convinced? Try this one. If you had the choice to work some retail job at $10/hour or someone offered you $11/hour to watch paint dry which would you choose. Watching paint dry is easier, brain dead really, but which do you think will be more interesting and go by faster? Try watching paint dry for a week and you’ll probably want to shoot yourself. I’d go for the retail gig hands down. I might as well have gotten paid to watch paint dry. I used to joke with my friends that when I went for lunch I would always see homeless people and think to myself, they might as well give this guy my job. All he has to do is sit the cubicle and he can use the money more than me. Why am I bringing this up now? Read on as there is a point to this story.

Let’s fast forward back to the present and my new job at onePoint.. I was asked to come in to work after only being in France for a few days when I was initially told I’d have a week to settle in and all. They said they needed me urgently need on this project. This was sounding familiar, except I had hopes that I actually was urgently needed on things. So first day they got me set up with a development system and I was ready to work on it. Second day I did absolutely nothing. I was very unhappy about this as I was quite ill at the time. The third day I finally got to do some actual work. So it’s turned into much the same. I do a bit of work, get it done, then sit around and wait. I tell them I’m waiting, but they’re not exactly piling work on me here. I’ve had work to do here and there until this week. The guy who’s heading up the project I’m working on is on vacation now. I asked him before he left if there were more areas of this project I could work on. He said he’ll still be checking emails and will send me the information I need to get started on these other tasks. I’m still waiting. It’s only been 2 days, but I really hate just sitting here with nothing to do. I’m worried that I’ll have nothing to do for the next 2 weeks!

I don’t understand what it is with these companies. I’ve done a lot of freelance web design. There was never any waiting there since I did everything. I did development for IBM, but these were all internal applications and secondary responsibilities for me. This is not how I pictured full time software development. I’m now at 2 jobs in a row where the employer just fails to give me an adequate amount of work to do. Am I just too good a developer and get things done too fast? I can’t imagine so. I’ve heard so many horror stories of developers being overwhelmed with work. Having to work overtime to meet deadlines. They seem like really busy and stressed people, I’m so unstressed with my job, it’s the exact opposite for me. So here I am bored out of my mind at work browsing the web and writing these stories.

This whole experience has really got me questioning what I’m doing in this industry. Are all programming jobs like this? I don’t understand how I keep finding myself in these positions. For the moment I’m not overly excited about my job. I can only hope my upcoming project in January will not be like this. If it is, I’m quitting. I’ll either go back to freelancing or just try a different industry altogether. I was thinking about my traveling last year and it occurred to me that I should just go back to New Zealand and work in the tourism industry over there. It’s a complete 180 but that trip as a whole made me realize that enjoying what you do is more important than how much money it will make you. I haven’t given up on software development yet, time will tell.

About getting out more… Last night (which was a Tuesday) I decided to get out. Monday night I had actually cooked my own dinner (first time since I got to Paris, I feel so proud). It was just a simple spaghetti + Bolognese sauce, I’m not an extraordinary French chef yet… talk to me in a few months. I decided to go back to the Greek place for the “Extra Pita” as it’s called on the menu. It’s funny here how many things have English names. In Quebec pretty much everything is translated to French, but it’s not the case in France. For example, in Quebec we call parking “stationnement”, in France it’s parking (with a French accent). In Quebec the weekend is “fin de semaine”, a literal translation… end of week. In France it’s weekend (again with that French accent). There are many more. So after the pita, instead of just going back home I decided to check out the piano bar again? It’s right across the street. So I went in. It was a bit quiet that night, my bar tender friend (Ivan) was there as usual. I was going to just grab a beer but ended up staying for 2. The place was pretty quiet so I didn’t get to talk to many other people. But I like the place. I may have to stop by more regularly. Ivan suggested a good beer spot as I had mentioned I’m more of a beer than a wine connoisseur. I be checking that place out soon enough. Tonight I decided to check out a café. I was reading some American guy’s blog about French cafés and how the café is like a Parisian’s living room. He went on to say that the apartments here are so small that people rarely have guests but rather meet in the café. The one closest to me was pretty quiet though. I ended up having dinner there with a glass of wine. I had brought a book with me. It was an enjoyable dinner, but not as lively as I expected.

A bit about the French… I think the French are sadly misunderstood by the rest of the world. I actually don’t find them to be rude at all. I think this has to do with the fact that I speak French. But I’ve done some reading on the subject and it’s pretty unanimous that French people are just get upset when foreigners make no effort to learn the basics of the language and culture. For example, whenever you walk into a shop here, the clerk will always say “bonjour/bonsoir”. The customer does the same. I made the mistake myself in the first few days of entering s store and not saying hello and found the clerk a bit rude to me as compared to other customers. Although the truth is, I was the rude one for not saying hi in the first place. Even in elevators everyone says hi. I’ve found people to be generally friendly. At the workplace for example it’s customary to say hi to everyone in the morning. Some people come in and go around the whole office and shake hands with all the men, bisous (that’s the kiss kiss thing) for the ladies. These are some of the things I like at work. Despite my rant about being bored and all, I do like the workplace. Everybody mixes with everybody unlike my previous job in Montreal where every department was segregated and did its own thing. Despite some of the negativity here, I am enjoying the life in France. I’m to venture out of Paris soon. If not, there’s still plenty to see here.

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