8 months gone by…

August 4, 2008

Can you believe it’s been that long? It’s gone by really fast for me. I must apologize for not keeping up the writing. I’ve been taking notes along the way so one day I’ll fill in the gaps. But I thought I’d give a little status update.

About 5 months ago I took a short trip back to Montreal courtesy of my employer. It was in order to sort out some paperwork regarding my visa and had to be done in Canada. Maybe 2 or 3 weeks prior to this trip I was thinking of just staying in Montreal. I hadn’t made any friends yet, my job sucked and I just couldn’t figure out what everybody thought was so great about Paris.

It’s been just over 8 months now since I moved here and it is more than likely that I will stay longer than the one year I had planned. Quite a turn of events. But I’m loving this city now. Probably not for the same reasons as that the millions of tourists who pass through. It’s the French lifestyle and attitudes that I’ve become accustom to. Not to mention that I actually have made some friends.

I can sum up the success of my quest for friends by this. I stopped trying to befriend the French! Yes it’s true. I gave up on trying to become friends with French people (well not entirely…). I focused my efforts more on other foreigners like myself. Thanks to websites like http://www.meetup.com I was able to find all kinds of expat groups filled with people like me who meet regularly. This is where it all began. For about a month I was hitting about 3 of these a week. It started off with “Expats Paris”, “Internationals in Paris” and even “Canadian Expats in Paris”. I noticed there were a number of “non-Canadians” at the Canadian meetup which gave me an idea. I started hitting up the American group, the British group, I even gave the Australian group a try. Later telling this story to someone she I sounded like Tyler Durden (Fight Club) and the support groups. Maybe a bit dramatic but kind of true. It kept me out of my shoebox apartment and far from my psychotic neighbor… Yes she’s still here and crazy… I feel bad for that dog. I met all kinds of people that month ranging in age from 20 to 60. Some were great, some were just plain nuts.

The job has been moving along quite nicely. I’ve been working for a pharmaceutical company since January. It’s my second pharmaceutical company now in one year and I still know nothing about the industry. I do computer stuff… The project has been interesting though. I actually have work to do. I don’t just sit around and write these stories (although sometimes that was more fun…).

My French language skills have vastly improved. I used to say French people talk too fast, at least when there were 2 or 3 other people talking at the same time. I would try to follow a conversation, but when one person stopped talking and another one started, I was still translating the first persons’ dialogue in my head. By the time I got that worked out the second person was mid sentence and I was lost. This happened usually during coffee breaks and at lunch. For business purposes there was usually only one person talking at any given time and I could follow that no problem. But nowadays it’s not like that anymore. There is no more conscious translation. I’m kind of on auto pilot now with the French. The words enter my ears and are immediately understood by my brain. My French may not be perfect, but I can have conversations with the fastest of French speakers and not be confused.

I’d definitely say I’ve had a change of personality. Something about living amongst the french. I find them to very pushy and aggressive, while somehow still sounding polite. I’ve taken on some of these skills myself, like queue jumping. See French people don’t like to wait in line. Now this doesn’t apply in all cases. This would never work at the grocery store for instance. But French people tend to be experts at cutting in line. I’d say line-cutting could almost be considered a national sport in this country. I see it all the time at restaurants and various shops.

So recently I took a trip to Italy and I flew easyJet. Now if you’ve never flown easyjet, here’s how it works. There are no assigned seats on the plane. There are boarding groups, and it’s first come first serve for each boarding group. You’ve got the speedy boarding which costs about 10 euors extra, then you’ve got the A and the B. I don’t know what time you need to get to the airport to make the A, but I’m always in the B. Now every time I’ve flown easyJet it’s the same story. The easyJet staff make a boarding call for the speedy boarding group. Everybody rushes the counter and one after another passengers get turned away with a “sorry you’re in group B, speedy boarding only at this time”. Then the poor 1 in 10 who actually paid for their speedy boarding and still have to push through the crowd. So here’s how I handled the situation. I had managed to get a seat right near the gate and I was reading a book. I sat patiently reading my book while B holders were trying to convince the flight attendants (unsuccessfully) to just let them board. Eventually the A group is called, same story though. Still a ton of B holders trying to get on, I’m sitting comfortably reading my book. Finally the B group is called. I put my book away. Walk right up to the front of the line and shoved my arm in with boarding pass in hand and was waved by the lovely flight attendant to board the plane. It was a beautiful moment. I didn’t even look back, but I felt like some people in line might have noticed this and said “what an asshole”, but I then I was thinking there must have been some french people in line thinking to themselves “nicely played”.

So by April I had a small group of friends and a social life. I also had a visit from two good friends. We did some touristy things and then I spent a week in Monaco. Once summer rolled around I really started living like the French. That is work as little as possible and go on vacation whenever I can. Since May I’ve done a 4 day trip to Normandy, 5 day trip to Amsterdam, weekend in Brussels, weekend in le Mans (24 heures du Mans), 1 week in Italy, 4 day trip to Barcelona… I think that’s about it. I’ll be spending a few days in Sweden as well at the end of the month. That’s not to say I haven’t been enjoying Paris in the summer. It’s great here, the sun stays up late. June 21st it didn’t get dark until some time after 10:30PM which was great, The French are big on picnics. A bunch of people get together, go to one of the many parks, or the pont-des-arts, or somewhere along the Seine. Bring food, wine, beer, whatever and just hang out. I even went to the Jazz festival one day (it runs weekends only in the summer) and we had a picnic there while watching live music.

July 1st in Paris was pretty cool. Being the patriotic Canadian that I am I wanted to celebrate Canada day. Sure enough I wasn’t the only one. So the Canadian embassy opens its doors from 5:00PM to 8:00PM and provided some basic snacks, cheap alcohol and music. It turned out to be a lot of fun and I met a lot of other Canadians. I had only showed up around 6:30PM. By 8 those who were still there, at least 100 people or so were kind of drunk. It was quite a site, a bunch of drunken Canadians in Paris at our own embassy singing O Canada. A group of us headed off to the Moose (Canadian bar in Paris) and the party continued.

All in all I’m enjoying myself here. Starting to take on the French culture a bit. I find the French really know how to enjoy life. They’re a lot less stressed than people in North America. Sometimes I wonder how things actually get done since we’re always on vacation here… But it works.

I have so many stories to tell but here’s one of my personal favorites. 3 days after Canada day, July 4th. My friends from the “Expats Paris” group were doing a 4th of July celebration (one of the organizers is an American). I was actually invited by an American friend of mine anyway. So this one was a picnic on the Seine. Sort of pot luck style thing, and of course there was a lot wine involved (this is France). We weren’t sure exactly where it was supposed to be. Luckily she had called me before I left my apartment and I was able to find the spot described in the email by Google maps satellite images. Thank you Google maps. I had noticed an older man (probably late 40s) walking with a woman (probably early 30s). The woman was wearing a blue knitted sweater with a big USA flag on it. She also had a dog and she had dressed the with a little USA hat. At this point I thought we must be heading in the right direction. Now I’m not going to lie, this dog was a bit strange. It was a pug. I find them generally an ugly breed of dogs. Not that I have anything against them. This one was particularly strange since its tongue was about 5 times bigger than its mouth. I’ll try and post a picture of that if I can find one.

I had arrived with my friend and we sat down, she had made us some sandwiches and we had pulled out a bottle of wine. At the point the older man had asked if he could borrow our wine opener. Sure we said, no problem. He introduced himself and we started talking. He introduced us to the woman as well and the four of us were chatting away, sharing food and wine. Turns out the girl is from Beverly Hills. The conversation went something like this:

Beverly Hills: “I met this French guy and I moved here with him… now we broke up so I’m on my own here”

Us: “So what are doing here now?”

Beverly Hills: “Oh nothing really, I’m just looking for work. I was an actress back in LA”

Us: “Oh really, what kind of acting? are you looking for acting work here?”

Beverly Hills: “Oh I was in this show you’ve probably heard of but I don’t want to talk it, I’m leaving that behind me”

At this point she was talking like she was some super star and she needed a break from the stress of the “biz”. I thought she was full of shit.

Us: “hmmm… ok well if you’re not acting what are you going to do?”

Beverly Hills: “Oh I’ll do anything, I wait tables, work at a bar…”

I’m thinking to myself at this point … clueless??? No way I see you working those types of jobs… but who am I to judge.

By the time we got going (around 11:30PM) we were about 10 people or so (including Beverly Hills). For the most part it was people I already knew with the exception of Beverly Hills, a French woman we met and a German Swede who knew one of our friends (although they’re not actually friends) and invited himself to tag along.

We had started heading towards the Latin Quarter since we were fairly close by. For whatever reason I had managed to be walking with Beverly Hills and the French woman. At this point Beverly Hills was carrying the dog, Paris Hilton style. Apparently by this point my friend had already determined this girl was a bit of a looney. It seemed to me like they were getting along alright so I figured I’ll talk to her a bit. Yet the rest of the group seemed to have been walking much faster. Beverly Hills started complaining about her back and that she couldn’t walk. Complaining is not even the way to describe, she was whining. “I can’t walk very far … myyy baaack huuurts”. I have to admit I didn’t see that one coming and I was unprepared for it. We were walking across the Sully bridge at the time and she agreed to at least cross the bridge. Now things got a bit weird. I don’t know how much she drank, or if she even drank at all. This might have been a complete act for all I know. The French woman points out the back side of Notre-Dame. Everybody always photographs it from the front but it looks completely different from the back. Beverly Hills starts telling me about her back side… I believe her exact words were:
“Oh Matt you should really see my back… it’s quite spectacular”

French woman goes “No I was talking about the church”

BH ignores it and says: “You really need to see my back side, it’s my best side”

Physically she was attractive but she was also started sound like an idiot at this point which doesn’t really work for me. For the rest of the walk across the bridge she continued to tell me about her back side and I was kind of like … “uh yeah … that’s nice … I don’t really care”.

Once we’re on the other side I had totally lost my friends. I made a quick call and it seems they liked the Moose so much as they’d decided to return there. Apparently the German/Swedish guy wasn’t too happy about that decision, but I don’t really remember who invited him anyway.

I say to BH we can walk to the Moose it’s about 20 minutes by foot. Here came the whining “my back hurts … I can’t walk very far … let’s take a taxi”. The French woman says “Why don’t we just take the tube” and I said “good idea” … if it will shut her up. Also I didn’t really mind taking the metro, despite the fact that it was only 3 stops away (metro stops are quite close to each other in Paris). BH says “how far is the metro?”. Not far. “I really can’t walk at all anymore, let’s just take a taxi”. Bullshit. The problem is you can’t just flag down a taxi in Paris. You need to either call a cab and give them a specific address or go to a taxi stand. A vacant cab may stop for you but typically they won’t because there are always people waiting at the taxi stands. The nearest taxi stand I knew of was near my apartment which was about a 10 minute walk away. So she just starts trying to flag down every cab that passes. What she didn’t seem to realize was that not a single one of them had they’re light on which means… you guessed it … IT’S OCCUPIED! It was quite amusing really. A cab would drive by and she’d stand there waving and I’d say “it’s taken…” and after 3 or 4 she says “how do you know they’re taken” … ugh … I tried explaining to her using the simplest words in my vocabulary why the cabs weren’t stopping for her but 30 seconds later she tried to flag down another occupied cab. This was hopeless. After a few minutes he gave up taxis and started flagging down random cars at the light and asking any motorist that would actually listen if they could drive us to Odeon (where the Moose is). This was starting to get embarrassing and I was really getting tired of the whole situation. The amount of time we’d wasted standing here debating about the metro and taxis I could have already walked to the Moose.

So here I am Friday night in Paris. I’ve lost my friends and I’m stuck with some random French woman I had met less than an hour ago and a Paris Hilton wannabe trying to hitchhike in central Paris. I thought of just leaving… She was really starting to annoy and I figured if her back is really screwed she won’t be able to follow me… but I’m too damn nice. I had eventually convinced her to just take the bloody metro. The metro stop was only a block away and about half way there she flags down a police car and starts asking the cops if they’ll drive us to Odeon. The cops laughed and said “taxi stend eez zat vay” (taxi stand is that way) and drove off. Of course the one they were referring to was the one near my apartment. We were so close to the metro when I actually managed to flag down a vacant taxi. So we get in the cab and we’re finally on our way to Odeon. At this point whatever buzz I had from the alcohol had completely worn off. But it doesn’t end here. Now she starts insulting the cab driver. She starts saying things like “I don’t think this cab driver knows where he’s going, he’s going the wrong way”. Actually he was going the right way and all cab drivers in Paris know where they’re going, not to mention most of them have a GPS in the cab. Then she starts putting on lipstick and asking the cab driver if he uses lipstick. I actually told her to shut up at this point. Luckily it was a short ride and I don’t think he understood too much English. Finally we arrived. Then she starts pouting at me, where’s Molly’s hat, I thought she was about to cry. The little doggy hat fell off in the cab and Beverly Hills was devastated. I told her I’d buy her another one just to shut her up … Once we walked into the bar I parted with her. Got myself a beer and started explained to my friends where I’d been the last hour. She was still in the bar but I didn’t talk to her the rest of the night until I left and as I’m leaving she says “Hey can you find me a cab home” … I said “sure” and I left the bar and went home.

So that’s some of the fun I’ve been having in Paris. I’d love to go on but I need to get to sleep. These stories always end up much longer than they seem in my head. More to come… lots of Europe adventures to talk about this summer. I’ll try to get one up sooner than 6 months this time.