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.

Paris 2008 – Part 2

February 26, 2008

Shortly after New Years a friend of mine from New York was in Paris and gave me a call. She was in town with a good friend of hers. So we met and saw some of what Paris has to offer. I won’t go into all the details but I do have to tell about my experience at the centre George Pompidou.

We went to the centre Pompidou which is a Modern Art center in Paris. Now I’m not such an art person, but I do appreciate good art when I see it. The Arcimboldo exhibit I saw recently for example, that was impressive art. This modern art exhibit had some of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. Some of it was cool, some was impressive, some of it was just crap. There was one picture I found really interesting. It’s a head coming out of a donkey’s ass, combined with an angel and a devil looking kind of guy. I took a photo of it, normally I don’t take photos of paintings, but I just found this so peculiar I couldn’t resist (Strange picture). There were all kinds of weird things like this tarp looking thing that was made out of bottle caps. There were some other sculptures made out cans, and other things made out of … well junk… but in a creative way. Now the bad, I hate to say it but I just enjoy talking about the bad more than the good. It’s just more fun, or maybe I’m just evil. I wish I’d taken some pictures of these as they’re just so ridiculous but I’ll try to describe this to the best of my ability.

In the modern art exhibit there is this room. Now there have got to be around 10 or so paintings in this room. I will try and describe them all. It may be tough though since they are ever such complex paintings. The first one that caught my eye was the blue canvas. After all blue is my favorite color. But I’m not sure, the red canvas next to it looked pretty nice to. But who could possible forget the multicolor one, it was a half black/half gray canvas. No pattern, top half black, bottom half grey. Another one had 3 different shades of blue. Ok I’ll stop, but seriously… why is this art? I can go buy a canvas and paint it a solid color, will you pay me $10,000 for it? Are these people on crack? I’ve heard the argument that these are statements from proven artists. Now I live by the principle that a piece of crap is a piece of crap regardless of who painted. If Picasso or Da Vinci painted a blank canvas and called it a masterpiece, I would still call it a piece of crap. But that’s just me. Oh sorry one more, my personal favorite, again I wish I took a picture. White canvas, with blue paint bucket splashed on. Seriously, I looked at it, and I can actually picture the paint splattering as if someone took the bucket and just splashed the canvas. Does that make it art? The fact that I can see how it’s made… I say no because I could paint a white canvas and splash a bucket of blue paint over it. This wouldn’t make me an artist. There is no talent in this.

It doesn’t stop there, there are plenty of blank canvases considered art but here’s another one for you. There is this room… to best describe this, picture a 10m x 10m room with 4 or 5 piles of garbage, the piles of garbage are about 1m in diameter and range from about 0.5m to 2m in height. With me so far… now take a big gray tarp, like one of those waterproof tarps you take camping. The kind you attach one end to a tree to give yourself some rain shelter. Throw one of those over your piles of garbage and result is this monstrosity they call art. What a waste of real estate. I mean come on! What is this crap! I’m not impressed by this. Do I think it’s creative, no I don’t. It looks like a bunch of piles of garbage covered by a tarp. Why would anyone want to look at that. I don’t think in 500 years anyone will remember when [hack artist] (sorry I don’t know his/her real name, nor do I care…) covered garbage with a tarp.

The last room I’ll talk about is the Ikea room. Well it’s not really the Ikea but I felt like I was in an Ikea showroom as they had a bunch of furniture on display. Somehow this is an art exhibit. Random furniture placed throughout the room.

There is a lot more to Centre Pompidou that I have yet to see. I will eventually go back there, just haven’t got around to it. I still haven’t even been to the Louvre and I’ve been living here for just over 3 months now. Here’s another story I wrote a little while ago and never got around to publishing. At the time I pretty much had no friends and wasn’t exactly enjoying life in Paris so much. I was still trying really hard to make some friends.

It all started on a Thursday night. I figured I’ll try the pot québecois, not that I’d met anyone there previously (or anyone worth being friends with). So just a little background, the pot québecois is like a happy hour get together every Thursday organized by this group of québecois living in France. I had originally gone with a a québecois colleague, I ended up only talking to him that night. So it was at a place called “The Hideout”. I found it pretty easily, it was not too far from my apartment which was convenient. Now my problem with these things is they always seem to have them at the smallest and most overcrowded places. I walked in and the place was so crowded I couldn’t even make it to the bar. I basically said “screw this, I’m getting out of here” and that is exactly what I did. Haven’t been to a pot québecois since. It was pretty early on and I still wanted to grab a drink. I went to my favorite piano bar “Relais de la Huchette” only to find that it was closed for their annual holiday. I still really wanted a beer so I walked around a bit and found an Irish pub. I grabbed a beer and drank it, it was possibly the most depressing moment of my life. At this point I gave up on the night. I got some food and went home. I was thinking to myself “you tried tonight, tomorrow is another day”.

Fast forward to the following evening. I went for dinner alone again, which was really starting to get me down. As my usual bar was closed for the week I decided to try and find somewhere. I figured I’d try the music cave place as I liked the live music. So I walk in and the main floor is not too crowded but there’s no where to sit. I was more interested in seeing the music anyway so I went downstairs. The music room and the bar were overflowing with people. Standing in between the two I could see half of the saxophone player and none of the other band members. I thought I’d try and get a drink but it was impossible. The bar was so tiny and had about 25 people trying to shove in and get a drink. I’m way too impatient to even try getting a drink from that bar. I decided this was a bad idea. I didn’t really feel like going to anymore bars. Going to bar by myself sucks. I was walking by a place called the Long Hop on the way home, I figured maybe I’ll give the “bar by myself” thing one more try. It looked like a bit of a dive, although it had a bit of a crowd. I get to the door only to be greeted by a bouncer. He says, “hi, you by yourself?” … “umm… yes, unless if you count my invisible friend here” … now this place wasn’t exactly crowded. There wasn’t even a line up to get inside. If there was I wouldn’t have bothered… So this is what he says to me: “you need to be accompanied” … I was fucking shocked! For this place? It looked like such a shit hole. I was like “really?” and he says “really” in the most serious tone. I couldn’t help but laugh as he was so proud when he said it. I love these bouncers, they think they’re so important. I feel bad for them since they are such insignificant people and probably have a 2 digit IQ. I didn’t really feel like giving this jackass any more of my time so I just left. This was the second night in a row that I gave up and went home.

Saturday was yet another day. I decided to forget about the last two night and make the best of the day. It was a nice one. I had a nice breakfast at the American Diner. I love the food in France, but I’ll take bacon and eggs for breakfast over the usual French bread and jam breakfast. It’s also kind of nice eating at this place as it really feels like I’ve stepped into America. The menu is actually in English with French writing underneath and all the staff are English speaking. It kind of reminds me of when I would go to a foreign restaurant back home (Thai, Chinese, whatever…) and the menu is in their foreign language and would have tiny English writing underneath. Except now I’m the foreigner.

My plan for the day was to go to “La Défense” and then “Arc de Triumphe”. I only got to see “La Défense” due to time constraints. I could have still done the arc but it would have been dark already and I wanted do it while the sun was out. You’re probably wondering what “La Défense” actually is. Sounds like a military base. Apparently that’s what some foreign diplomat thought and there’s been talk about changing the name. It’s an area North West of Paris with modern sky scrapers. The big thing to see there is the “Grande Arch”. Which is this hollow cube shaped building (check out the pictures). It was only 9€ so I went up. It had a nice view of Paris. Also had some interesting exhibitions there. They had a whole showcase of computer history and some really old school computers and components on display. For most people this is probably not so interesting but seeing as it’s my field and I actually remembered some of those old ass computers growing up, I really enjoyed walking through this part.

After the arch I walked around La Défense. There are no cars there. There seems to be a tunnel or some kind of road system underneath it. But La Défense itself is a huge pedestrian area surrounded by these huge buildings. I say huge but I’ve seen much bigger in New York and Toronto, but they are big for Paris. You can see the Arc De Triumph from there and it’s got all kinds of water fountains and other nice displays. I’d really like to see it in the summer. I’m sure it would look even nicer. So La Défense also has probably the biggest mall in Paris. I actually needed some stuff. There was a huge fnac (kind of like FutureShop or BestBuy). I went there and got what I needed, no big deal. Then I went to the main mall (as fnac was sort of separate). Here’s where things go bad.

I don’t handle big crowds well. This place was insanely crowded. It was like Yorkdale (Toronto) on boxing day. Yeah, I hate Yorkdale, at least on weekends, which is normally the only time I would go. Too many people… families, people pushing strollers, old people with walkers, canes, and they all move so slow! You probably think I’m an asshole now, but I’m just really impatient. I need to work on my patience… I went to a pharmacy because I saw one and needed some stuff. That was easy. Next came the hard part.

I’ve needed a screwdriver for the longest time. I bought a TV pretty soon after moving into my apartment. It was fully furnished less a TV. I like TV. I don’t watch so much but I like to know it’s there. I also had a PS3 collecting dust so I could finally start using that again. It’s a nice 32” LCD screen. If you’ve ever put together an LCD TV you’ll know it typically has two parts, the screen and the pedestal. I put the screen on the pedestal but it has these 4 screws to secure it. I didn’t have a screwdriver and it seemed safe enough to leave it without the screws. Now it’s not like the thing was going to fall over, but I felt it was not as solid as could be. It wasn’t urgent but I had been keeping my eye out for a Canadian Tire like store. I never found it. So here I am in this mall and I’m thinking there must be a store here that sells tools. So I’m walking, fighting my way through the mass of people. Eventually I find this place called Auchan. It wasn’t like Canadian Tire, but more like Walmart. But I could see what sort of looked like an isle with tools. I was reluctant to enter this place because it was super crowded. But I really wanted to get that screwdriver. So I went in.

This place needed a traffic controller, one of those guys with an orange vest and a whistle directing pedestrian traffic. You’d walk down one isle and get to then and have to merge into the perpendicular isle as there were so many people. Or you’d get the lady in front of you walking down the isle and just stops dead center in the isle. Perfectly centered so that you can’t pass on the left or the right… MOVE TO ONE SIDE!!! I hate Walmart. It’s a horrible place. I’d say Auchan was about 5 times worse than Walmart. Miraculously I found the screwdriver I so desired and it was only 4€. I would have gladly paid 10€ at a less crowded store if I could have found one.

All that was left was to pay for my screwdriver… How bad could that be? Now while I hate lines I know they’re unavoidable and I’m usually pretty patient with the lines (despite my general lack of patience). So this place was like Walmart or IKEA where there are always 50 people ahead of you. They had a few express lines and many normal lines. Here’s how the express lines works. It’s 10 items maximum, pay by card only, and you do it yourself. There are 4 auto pay things. In the middle are 2 actual employees who’s sole purpose is to help the average moron use the auto pay machine. If you ask me my 5 year old nephew could probably figure out how to this without any assistance. Then there were the normal lines with 20 people in line carrying 50+ items each. The choice seemed so obvious. What was not obvious was which of the 4 express lines should I stand in. I always pick the worst one. There’s no scientific reason I can think of, it’s just bad luck.

Multiple lines to choose from, I’ll pick the slowest one. I don’t know why. It’s pure chance. Take Tim Horton’s for example. I do miss Tim Horton’s. France has good coffee but I’d still prefer a Tim Horton’s coffee in the morning. What I don’t miss about Tim Horton’s is the lines. I’ll always pick the line with the slowest cashier, then when it gets to one person in front of me, that person orders 8 coffees, a box of donuts, and who knows what else. That person picked the shortest straw at the office and had to go on a Timmy run for everyone. Meanwhile all I wanted was a medium black coffee.

Back to Auchan… all the lines looked roughly the same size. Which one will be quickest? I picked the one where I saw 2 women with a bunch of kids. That one looked super crowded but there were about 5 kids with the 2 women and I figured they’re all together so the line will go quick. I was right about them and they were one of the few who didn’t need the employees help using the machine… Bravo, not everyone who shops at Auchan is an idiot.

Initially when I got into the line I saw 2 black women up at the machine trying to scan their items. Now I wasn’t counting, but it must have been a good 5 minutes later and they were still trying to figure it out. Normally after this long I would have switched lines but I was checking out the other lines and no one was moving. I heard some other people in line talking saying the system was down or something. Bullshit, the system works fine! These people are just retarded. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe the system was down. I really wasn’t sure at the time. Eventually the line started moving and I realized I was right. The system worked fine. The people using the system were lacking brain cells. Just to let you know that I’m not crazy, the guy behind me actually gave up and went to one of the normal lines. He decided to take his chances with one of the 50+ item lines. At the time I was thinking “best of luck to you buddy”. I never did see if he made it out before or after me. So the 2 black ladies were still there putting stuff in bags, I was a bit shocked they were still in the process of paying as at least 10 minutes had passed. I was also relieved that I was one step closer to paying for my darn screwdriver. Something was still wrong though. The staff person had to come back again to sort out their problem. I was going crazy at this point but I kept it cool. I thought to myself:
“Maybe I should just forget the screwdriver.
It’s not like the TV is about to fall over or anything.
I’m sure the next one will be faster.”

At this point I saw the other lines were actually starting to move, but there were so many new people behind me at this point that I didn’t think it would be worthwhile to switch. I see a couple go through, nice and quick, about 1 minute. Then that group I mentioned earlier, no problems there. Now there were about 3 more ahead of me, each one needed assistance from the store person. It’s not so complicated! By the time there was only one person ahead of me, I was thinking “Yes! I’m so close to the finish line!” But these 2 women really had no clue. They started scanning their things, and then when it came time to pay they couldn’t seem to figure it out. She kept putting in her bank card and typing a code but it wouldn’t work. So as usual the store person came over. Apparently the woman wasn’t pushing the code buttons hard enough. The store person says to the woman, “every time you press a button, make sure you see the star on the screen”… “ohhh, it works now”. At this point there was a woman in line behind me who actually gave up. She looked about as frustrated as I was and left! See it’s not just me. I finally get to this machine. I must have waited at least 20 minutes just to pay for one item. At first I had a slight fear. I thought to myself : “What if I can’t figure out how to use this machine and have to get help from one of the store people. I’ll feel really bad if that happens because I thought everyone else was an idiot.” Well that thought lasted in my head for about half a second. Let me run you through my experience with the auto pay machine.

“Touch screen to begin” → I touched the screen
“Start scanning items” → I scan my item → Ooh look at that it appears on the screen.
Next I push the button that says “Pay”
“Place item on tray thing” with an arrow pointing to this tray thing → Done
“Select payment method” → I pick CB (French for bank card) take a guess… Carte Bancaire? Good guess, but it’s actually Carte Bleu. A useless fact for you ☺
Now I just stick my card in, enter my pin, papers start flying out of the machine (i.e. the receipt) and I’m gone. You know how long this took me? About 30 seconds and I’ve never even seen this machine before. If I had to evaluate this machine I would have rated it “idiot proof”. Then again some people said the same things about Microsoft Windows… I’m not even going to go there.

While I was waiting in line I took a picture of this sign that unfortunately didn’t come out properly. But from what I can make out of the picture it says:

“Caisse Minute – Gagner ??? facile”, I think it was “gagner de temps – c’est facile”. The wording is not important. The first part says “Minute Cash” then the rest goes “Save time easily”. I want to meet the marketing jackass who came up with that slogan and ask him if he’s familiar with the term “irony”.

I’d never been so happy to get out of that store. It was actually dark by the time I got out. I was annoyed because I should have had another 20 minutes of sunlight. Oh wait, I wasted 20 minutes of my life watching a bunch of ignoramuses try to figure out how to do what 15 year kids do for minimum wage. Auchan… a horrible place that should be avoided at all cost. I don’t see any circumstance where I would ever shop there. Like I said, I would have gladly paid 10€ (250% more) to have not had to suffer the misery that is shopping there.

Despite my “tomorrow is another day motto” I decided that Saturday night to take it easy. I didn’t even attempt going to a bar by myself. Not that I had given up on trying to meet people. I eventually did meet some people. That will be in “Paris 2008 – Part 3”

Paris 2008 – Part 1

February 26, 2008

So it’s really been a while since my last little story. I’ve moved away from Facebook notes and started and actual blog. So many stories to tell but that would a be a full time job on its own. Here are a few highlights of life in Paris. There have been some ups and downs, a few rants. I think you’ll enjoy them.

Christmas/New Years :

My holidays were truly spent well. Christmas… yes I’m a bad Jew. For once in my life I actually did Christmas on Christmas instead of going for Chinese food like we’re supposed to… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtUYaSfC20Y. My father’s cousin’s son (hereby referred to as just my cousin) went away with his girlfriend to Thailand. Before they left she said I should call her parents and go there for Christmas eve dinner (she’s not Jewish). I figured why not? I had no other plans. I probably would have gone for Chinese food myself. So I ended up speaking with her mother (Marie) and she said they’d be happy to have me come over for Christmas but they would be spending it at their country house in Le Mans. I had no problem with this. I hadn’t left Paris since I arrived and I like getting out of the city. So I packed an overnight bag Monday morning when I went to work. My cousin’s girlfriends brother and father were already in Le Mans but Marie was in Paris. So after work I went straight to her apartment which is walking distance form the train station and we were off to Le Mans.

It was a short train ride. Only about 1.25 hours from Paris. She was a very nice lady. Her husband was waiting for us at the train station and we were off to the house. So this was real farm land. There was nothing out there but fresh country air. It was night time already so there wasn’t too much to see on the quick ride from the train station to their house. We got there and it was a small gathering. Just 4 of us.

This was a cool house to walk into. It looked almost antique, but well kept. There was a nice garden with all kinds of vegetables growing. They also had a small area with chickens running around. Walking into the house the first thing I noticed was the fireplace. At first I thought this was really old school. Wood fire heating, but they had some small electrical heaters throughout the house. I certainly enjoyed sitting by the fireplace.

So Christmas was a big dinner. They had a decorated Christmas tree as well. Nothing extravagant like the ones I’ve seen in movies and on TV, but nice. They like to eat. It was a 4 course meal with an appetizer, main course, cheese, and dessert. That’s right, cheese is a course here. I’ve taken a liking to the cheese despite the fact that I’m lactose intolerant. The cheese here is just so good. There were also several glasses of wine throughout this meal. By the time we were done I was exhausted. All the food and wine had made me drowsy. It was around 11:30PM but not time for bed. It was present exchanging time. This was new to me. I’ve actually been to a Christmas dinner before but I was never around for the present thing. This almost was like the movies. Everyone exchanged their gifts, and they even got me a box of chocolates. Afterwards I was ready for bed.

Had a nice long sleep until 11AM or so the next day. Christmas day was a pretty lazy one. Once I woke up there was already food available on the table. Marie had made french toast, except they don’t call it french toast. It’s “pain perdu” which literally means “lost bread”. The story behind this is that stale bread is lost but can be saved by dipping it in eggs and frying it up.

We all went for a walk around the village. It was really small, and at one point we were walking on a path through this field and there was nothing but more fields. It almost reminded me of the Australian Outback tour I did, except that was really isolated. We were out for almost 2 hours. Working off dinner from the previous evening. Once we got back it was lunch time. Again a nice 4 course meal which just about put me to sleep. The rest of the day we pretty much sat around. I read some chapters of a book I brought with me. At one point the TV was turned on. It was a lazy day. Eventually it was time to head back to the city. I got home and went to sleep, ready to go back to work the next day.

The weekend was interesting. Friday night I went to the piano bar again as I had nothing better to do. I’m sitting at the bar having a beer as usual. I can hear the people sitting next to me are all clearly Americans. So I decided to jump into their conversation. They actually didn’t even know each other. There was a woman who moved to Paris to be a singer. Turns out she sings at the piano bar Monday nights. She did a song that night too and had an excellent voice. Then one of the guys was a FedEx pilot who had a stopover in Paris. I was talking to him for a while. Turns out he was Jewish, I don’t even remember how it came up in the conversation but it became a conversation on its own. There were two, I’ll say middle aged American women who also somehow ended up joining our conversation. They were nice, one of them was a pilates instructor and was telling me all about positive energies and oras. I was very interested … So now it’s me, a bunch of tourists and this singer who doesn’t speak much French. They wanted to go somewhere else and invited me along.

The singing girl knew of a place with some live music so we all agreed that would be cool. Turns out it’s a place I’ve walked by about a million times and never realized they had live music downstairs. We went in, the music was good but it was super crowded and I couldn’t really see the stage. At some point we managed to get closer to the stage but it was close to the end of their last set. We stayed to the end, around 1:30AM and then got out of there. We then went next door to yet another bar and had some more drinks. At this point the night was starting to slow down a bit. I said goodbye and left. It was a fun time but I didn’t need to stay out.

Saturday night was much the same. I went to the piano bar. I saw my friend the philosopher again. Not sure I told the story about this guy. A while ago I met this guy at the same bar and we had a few shots of vodka. He’s doing a Masters or PhD in philosophy. So I chatted with him for a few minutes and we were talking to these 2 other women from Sweden. It was a good start but it was one of those situations where I kind of lost in the conversation because we were talking in French and they were talking too fast. One person I can handle fine, two people in general is ok for me too. More than that talking at the same time starts to confuse me. Add a loud environment (a bar) to the equation and I’m lost. Who do I see though? The two American women from the previous night. They said hi so I started chatting with them. You could say… they were cougars. Both 40 something, divorced and attractive. But no the story doesn’t go where you’re thinking. This isn’t American Pie, although it would have made for a great story. But anyway they were chatty. The details are hazy now but I somehow ended up going back to that same super crowded music place from the night before. One of the woman had gotten into a conversation with some French guy and they seemed to be hitting it off. So we somehow managed to find seats at the super crowded place. Music was good. Again we stayed to the end. Now that one woman was off in a conversation with the French guy, the other one is ready to go and asks me to walk her back to her hotel. This was sounding good, especially after all that talk about positive energy and supposedly I have a positive ora. But no she just didn’t want to walk back to the hotel alone. Sorry guys, I guess I need to read the game again.

The following the day I was off to the alps to spend New Years Eve. Thanks again to Rachel (if you’re reading this) who invited me to join her. Her friend’s boyfriend has a house down in Modane and they were very hospitable. Her family and some other friends were there as well for New Years.

Getting there was pretty easy. This was my first TGV experience (Train à grand vitesse = high speed train). I had to transfer to another train at one point but it still only took about 4 hours to get there. I thought that was pretty good. I got to really test out the battery life of my Macbook Pro. Conclusion, it’s good. I was able to watch 5 episodes of Lost and I still had about 5% remaining.

Upon arrival I saw a lot of snow on the ground. First snow I’d seen in France. Not like I’ve never seen snow before, but it’s been a good 2 years since I’ve seen the white stuff. Not to mention the fact that I lugged my snowboard with me, so I didn’t mind some snow on the ground. I was greeted at the station by Rachel, our host Phillippe and one of his friends. He drove us to his house which was only 10 minutes away. This was a much more modern looking house than the one I spent Christmas in. It was probably the most modern looking house I’ve seen in this country. It looked like one of those townhouse developments you see all over the place in North America. I was then introduced to everybody, and offered some food. I was starving at the time so this was a good thing. I don’t remember exactly what I had but there was cheese served afterwards. The French love the cheese… and I’ve been converted.

I got to catch up a bit with Rachel but at some point all the women were in the kitchen preparing dinner. I tried to see if I could help in some way, but they clearly had things under control. I got to talking with Phillippe and his friend. They were giving some good advice about Paris and we also discussed skiing/snowboarding and the mountains nearby. We were planning on going the next day. There was the big one “Val Thorens”, and a smaller one called “Les Karelis”. Now my first instinct was to hit up Val Thorens. However I hadn’t been snowboarding in 2 years, Rachel was still a beginner, Phillippes friend also hadn’t gone in quite a while. Val Thorens doesn’t have many beginner trails. Also Val Thorens is huge. Phillippe told me that it can take 4 or 5 days to ski the whole thing. We only had one day. In the end we agreed on Karellis, and in the end it was only myself, Phillippe and Stephane who went. Rachel had been already and had her fix for it.

Dinner was served, at this point I don’t remember all the details but it was a feast. The usual 4 course meal. I enjoyed it very much. The conversation was good. It seemed like we were switching back and forth from English and French a lot.

As usual dinner finished quite late and we were to have an early start the next morning. I had a good sleep, woke up ready to hit the slopes. We ate a quick breakfast and hit the road. It was a relatively quick drive to the base. We were mostly driving uphill, up windy roads. I won’t go into the details of every run but it was a lot of fun. I’d this mountain was slightly bigger than Jay Peak or Tremblant, but the snow was much better. Thick powder everywhere.

After a great day of skiing we returned to the house. Everyone else had gone snow shoeing and they arrived around the same time as us. We all got cleaned up and then the women started working on dinner again. I wanted to feel useful so I at least got to help setting the table. Now this wasn’t going to be the typical New Years celebration. No crazy partying. It was more of a family/friends dinner party and I must say it was really nice. One of the girls had made these name cards for everyone which I thought was pretty cool. I wanted to keep mine as I thought it was nice but I forgot it there and only realized later. I was even more surprised to see a bunch of gifts had magically appeared on the table. I’m not sure if it’s a French thing or just their family, but they do a gift exchange thing for New Years. I felt bad since I hadn’t bought any gifts. But I ended up getting a bottle of wine, box of chocolates, and a book on cheese. I was thinking at this point, “these have to be the nicest people I’ve ever met”. I was essentially a stranger, but they treated me like family. It was probably the most relaxed New Years I’ve ever had. We had our apperatifs, had the New Years feast and I think we were in between cheese and dessert when midnight came. There was no TV with the ball dropping. It was nice, something different. Next day I had to head back to Paris already, although I had an easy morning. Didn’t have to catch the train until about 2PM or so.

So the Paris story continues…

February 25, 2008

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.

Paris Arrival

February 25, 2008

Another Facebook note I wrote dated December 12, 2007:

November 21 I was on a plane to Paris. onePoint paid for the flight and had a driver waiting for me at the terminal. I also had a hotel room paid for 15 days. In fact I’m still in the hotel at the moment. I have many other benefits which are nice. So first day, I arrived at 6:30AM or so local time, pretty tired since I left at 6:00PM Montreal time and I didn’t really sleep on the plane. It took almost 2 hours to get to the hotel. Paris traffic is horrible and there was a transit strike at the time which made things ever worse. Unfortunately for me the hotel room wasn’t available until 3:00PM that day so I couldn’t even change or anything, but the driver took me to the onePoint office after I dropped off my bags. So I got a nice driving tour in all this. The office is simple, 4th floor in a small building. I met a bunch of people. There’s one girl from Ottawa who’s English speaking. Everyone else is French. There is one other guy from Quebec over there though. So they went over a bunch of stuff which I only sort of absorbed since (A) it was all in French, (B) I hadn’t slept for a while. They gave me a cell phone and said, ok, go rest at the hotel. You want a taxi or you want to try the transit. I figured I’ll try the transit (despite the strike that was going on). I wanted to walk around a bit and it would have been too early with the taxi.

So I started walking around Boulogne (the area where the office is). It was a nice walk, sunny and 10 that day. I took the tram which was fun. The metro was limited that day with the strike and all, but my hotel is on the tram line which was running. So once I got back to the hotel area it was only 2:00PM but lucky for me the room was ready. But first I saw a bakery across the street (bakeries are everywhere!). They like their croissants here, and eclaires and other goodies.

So I got up to my room and kind of fell asleep, I hadn’t planned on it, was going to stay up as late as possible, but I had a good 3 hour power nap. Don’t recall if I did much that night, just went to get some food from some Lebanese place near the hotel. I had a good sleep after that anyway.

Next day was Friday and I had an appointment with a real estate agent (also provided by the company). So I met her at 10, I had to get to the first place on my own. So I figured out where the nearest metro was and got over there, once in the metro system it’s pretty easy to get anywhere. However when exiting the metro system I’m always confused, there’s always five or six different ways to go, and I thought Montreal was complicated, we learned from the experts of complicated roads. So I was walking to the street looking for “Saintonge”, I eventually found it but not before walking into a hotel and asking a woman who I thought was a man. I later noticed a rainbow, I think maybe it was a gay neighborhood. But I walked in and saw her/him in the distance and said “bonjour monsieur”, but then as she came closer it was clearly a woman with a mens haircut. She didn’t seem offended though and gave me directions, turns out I was headed the right way, so I would have found it myself, but better to be sure.

So I made it to the first place with 5 minutes to spare… good timing. The agent was there, nice lady. We went into this first one and I immediately noticed a crappy odor. In my mind this was already not the place. It was 3rd floor no elevator. The apartment was a decent size, full size bathroom, but the furniture was really not so nice.

Next we got in her car a drove to the next place. Took her 10 minutes to find a parking spot. We were early so we ended up going to a bistro. I hadn’t eaten anything yet, so I got a little french breakfast, which was a half baguette with jam. Not exactly what I was hoping for but it will do. So the next place we get to, the woman finally shows up and lets us in, we get into elevator and she says “it’s on -1”. So right away I was thinking to myself, no way… I’ve done basements before, this is not happening. I looked at the place. Again decent size but not the nicest, and the whole underground thing didn’t really fly with me.

So far not looking so good. Next place was a gem. This is what I was looking for. Really nice looking building, antique looking almost, but modern on the inside. The lobby had some really nice looking carpeting. It had one of those old school elevators with the gate. Up top on the 6th floor, modern interior, nice furniture, nice kitchen, full size fridge, full size bathroom. Comes with a flat screen TV. I was sold. But we still had two more on the list to see so I figured why not, let’s go check the out. The next one I saw was alright, but the area seemed not so lively and the furniture was mediocre. The fifth one cancelled on us. So I said, number 3, I want it let’s make this happen. So she said for sure, no problem, but I had to go to the bank first and get a RIB number and insurance, standard thing in France. So she called the woman from the 3rd place and said I want it, she said it’s all good. So I thought it was settled. In the end I didn’t get that place. To be continued…

I got dropped off back at the hotel and reception said I had a message from Ari Rossner. He’s my father’s cousin’s son, so I don’t even know what the relation is but I had met him in Montreal a few months ago and had been meaning to contact him, but looks like he found me first. So I ended up having dinner at his place that night. He lives with his girlfriend and collectively they have 3 kids. They were both previously married and divorced, but they seem pretty happy together and they were quite hospitable. So turns out his girlfriend still has an apartment that she doesn’t really use anymore, and it’s a lot cheaper than the one from earlier, I said I’d take a look at it but I kind of really liked the one I saw.

So after dinner I went back to the hotel, dinner is late in France, we only ate at 9:45 or so, and that’s normal. So I got back to the hotel after midnight and I was a bit tired. I had an amazing sleep that night. Woke up at some ridiculous time the next day, like 2:45PM. My father’s cousin called me actually, he had asked the previous night if I’d be interested in seeing a museum. I said sure, why not… So I went to go meet him and the kids, as well as his brother. We went to the Luxemburg museum, and I also took a quick walk through the Luxemburg garden. Really nice to see but I forgot my camera that day. The museum had an art exhibition of an artist named Arciboldo, who I believe was Italian. I’m not really into art, but I was actually impressed by this guy’s work. Some very cool paintings. If anyone read my travel blog, you may recall my rant about the Sydney Opera House… well this was the exact opposite, I was pleasantly surprised.

Afterwards I went off exploring a bit on my own. The museum is near the Latin quarter which has all kinds of bars and restaurants. I walked around a while, had some food, stopped by a bar. So this area I noticed a lot of English being spoken so it’s definitely a bit touristy. I was talking to the bar tender who I was sure was from North America, he was… sort of, born in France, but lived in Montreal and Miami, English was perfect… no accent, most people here it’s painful to hear them speak English, but I shouldn’t talk, my French is far from perfect. I was talking to another bar tender a bit later, she was from Turkey, studying in Paris. So there are all kinds of foreigners in this area. Interesting to know. I didn’t stay out too late as I was still tired (even after my ridiculously long sleep). I figured I’ve got plenty of time to explore the scene, maybe after I’ve made some friends. I had another really long sleep. Didn’t do much the Sunday, I think that’s when the cold struck me. Here’s where things go downhill for me.

I had an appointment Monday morning at the bank, so I got up and managed to find the place on time. It was for 11:00AM so I didn’t have to get up super early. But I didn’t exactly know my way around or anything. I have a full on cold at this point, I’m on dayquill and probably advil, don’t remember now. Here’s the problem when working for a company in France and doing all these things in France. Everything is in French, turns out I suck at French. I thought I was good at it, sure I can speak, I’ve even fooled some people into thinking I’m a francophone, but when it comes to paperwork, forget it. Trying to understand legal documents and banking documents here is just killing me. Anyway, in the end I got out with my bank account and a 3000e credit line (this was all set up by the company). I also sent the necessary information to the real estate agent so she could get cracking on the paperwork for that.

At this point I went to get some food. I found my self in the area called “Neuilly Sur Seine”… Have fun pronouncing that one ☺ … it’s a nice area though. I found a general restaurant there and had some lunch. Afterwards I figured I’ll head back to the hotel, but looking at the map I saw the Eiffel Tower was on the way so I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t actually go up it but it was still pretty cool to see up close. I’ll go back there soon enough and actually go up. So at this point the pills were totally wearing off and my head was going to explode. Back to the hotel…
I didn’t do much else that day, felt pretty sick. Next day I was up at a reasonable time, something like 9 or 10. I figured I’ll call this real estate agent and see what’s happening with the apartment. I wanted to get out of this hotel and move into my own place. I call her, she says she’s waiting to hear back from the property agent. So there’s my agent, the property agent, and the property manager. We’ll come back to this in a bit.

So here’s where I get a bit annoyed. I’m violently ill at this point, I get a call on this phone that was provided to me. I answer it, it’s xxx from one point, I said hi and started talking to this person. It was someone I met on Thursday who seemed to be surprised I wasn’t sure exactly who he was, I only met like 15 people and hadn’t slept for 40 hours or so. But anyway this guy asks me why I wasn’t there the day before. Something about I said I’d be ready to start on Monday… He kind of caught me off guard here, I’m thinking to myself “who the hell is this guy… I never said anything about being ready to start on Monday”. I was mainly dealing with a woman and I had spoken to her on the Friday and said I found a place, I’m going to the bank Monday to deal with that stuff, there was no mention of me coming in on Monday. So anyway… I explain to this jackass on the phone that I’m trying to secure a place to live here, otherwise onePoint will have to keep paying for a hotel room. He insists I come into onePoint. I felt like shit that day, but I figure why not, I’ll go over there and see what they want. When I accepted the job I was told I have the first week to take care of things so I probably should have been more firm about this. I get there around lunch time, had a hell of time finding the place. I walked a distance that looked short on the map but was actually quite long. I finally arrive. Everyone was in the middle of having lunch so I joined them. Afterwords they say they have a high priority project they need my help on. I’m thinking to myself, ok as long as I’m getting paid for this. Which I am, so that’s not a problem, but I pretty much started working at this point. So they got me a workstation and all that. Got all kinds of things set up for me… they do a much better job at this than my former employer (PSL). So eventually I’m done and go home. I still have this really bad cold so I didn’t want to do anything, back to the hotel. I had asked my co-workers what time they normally start work, one of them says 7AM, I said I quit, but he was joking… so was I ☺ … in reality more like 9 – 10. Seems reasonable. So next morning, I really didn’t feel well since I woke up early and had the cold. It was one of those colds where your head is congested as well as your nose, your ears are blocked, sore throat… a really bad one. But how can I tell my employer I’m sick on the first week. So I forced myself to get up and go. Now I’m no expert on the transportation system here, but I thought I found a faster way to get there. Took a bit longer. The other thing is when you get out of a metro station for the first time, you have like 6 possible directions to go, it’s a bit confusing. I got a bit sidetracked, I won’t say lost since I found my way, but it was not the quickest route. So yeah I was a bit late, around 10:20 or so. Guess who’s the first person I see, that jackass I spoke to on the phone the day before. Guy starts telling me, oh you’re late, it’s max 9:30 here, giving shit and all… I felt like smacking this guy, lucky for him we work together otherwise I would have knocked him out, seriously. I’ve been in this city for what, 5 days, it’s my second time coming to this place. Not to mention I have soooo much work to do, I ended up surfing the Internet all day because the guy who was supposed to give me stuff to do was too busy with his own work. So yeah, I don’t like this guy… he’s sort of my manager, but not really, I don’t really have a manager since I’m a consultant, I’m supposed to be working for a client… it’s a long story but one point themselves are working directly on this project, which normally doesn’t happen. I’ve heard the expression first impressions make a difference, damn straight, I now have no respect for this guy at all. He’s actually been fine since then, truth is he’s probably an alright guy, but he just pissed me off and for the rest of time I have no desire to work with him. I’m pretty friendly with everyone at work except for him. I’m only talking to him for strictly business related things, otherwise, he can go jump off a cliff for all I care.

It’s now been about a week since I wrote up to this point, this always happens, I start off with great detail but then get lazy because it’s just too much to write, I also doubt anyone’s actually made it this far. So I’m going to fast forward a bit. That first week was shitty. I didn’t want to be working, I wanted to be sleeping because I was really sick.

So all week I’m calling this real estate agent for an update and all I get is, oh yeah I’m waiting for the other agent, which then became waiting on the building management, which eventually became, sorry you can’t have the place. I basically wasted a whole week where I could have been looking for other places. Actually I was anyway, but on my own since she kept saying no let’s wait on this one. Later Friday she calls and asks me if I want to see something Monday morning, I said not really since I’m already looking at other things. She says it’s great, 25 square meters, well what the fuck is that? Even smaller? She says it’s really nice and modern. I figured why not, I’ll go check it out, gives me an excuse to come late to work. So anyway, over the weekend I didn’t do much as I was sick. But I ended up talking to my father’s cousin and turns out that apartment was still available. I went to go look at it and it was a done deal. I left a message for the agent saying screw the Monday appointment and basically “I don’t need your service anymore”. Monday morning I get an angry call from the agent, this was almost laughable to me. She’s complaining “why did I cancel the appointment”, then started rambling on about what she’s supposed to tell the person over there, why I didn’t show up, then some other stuff, honestly I don’t know, I just kind of put the phone down for a minute and let her get it out. Truth is I really didn’t care as I was not so impressed with her services anyway. I kind of wanted to give her shit about why she wasted a week on that other one and didn’t even think maybe we should look for a contingency, but to come up with an effective sentence in French, well my French skills aren’t quite there yet. So anyway, she’s out of the picture. But I moved into the new place that night. So here I am.

I’ll have to continue this later, but basically first week I’ve just been getting things set up here. Not too much effort since it’s already furnished. Had my parents come visit already, I wasn’t expecting that but was nice to see them, even though I was only gone for 2 weeks. I put up some pictures. I promise future stories will be more interesting and less “rant” like. Although I kind of like the rants.

The story between world travel and France

February 25, 2008

This was originally a note I wrote on Facebook dated December 6, 2007:

Hello everyone,

This is the long overdue story of my life. I was going to just write about France but so many people ask my why I came here so here’s a bit of a background. I was going to talk about France too, but it turned out to be really long, so don’t worry, France stories are coming, but that will be a different note.

Some of the following is a bit of rant towards my former employer which doesn’t necessarily have a whole lot to do with the story, but I felt like talking about it, you may find it comical, or you may just think I’m nuts.

So after returning to Montreal for a few months figuring out what I want to do, I’ve somehow ended up working in France. How did it happen? Here’s the story…

After traveling around the world for 6 months the thought of sitting in front of a computer made me sick. I wanted to continue traveling, but of course this was not possible. I had to move on with life, so I figured why not work abroad, then I can at least see some other countries.

At first I had a potential position in Hong Kong which would have been cool, but it fell through in the end. So it turns out if you have some “IT” skills it’s really easy to get a job these days. I went on http://www.monster.ca and created a profile. My phone was ringing like crazy. Problem was none of the recruiters bother to read your profile. I specified all kinds of countries around Europe, also Australia + New Zealand, even west Canada like Calgary or Vancouver. But probably 90% of the calls were Montreal based companies. France wasn’t even an idea, it was just one of many European countries but I got a call from this company (not the one I’m working for). They interviewed me and liked me but it didn’t work out. They hire consultants but then I would still have to sell myself to one of their clients. This process was slow and I didn’t feel like waiting.

Then came PSL Consulting, a Montreal company. Another case of the recruiter not actually reading the details of my profile. So the recruiter says this company, in Montreal, needs Java developers ASAP and they’re looking for a 3 month contract. Here’s a rough transcript of that conversation:

Recruiter: “can you go for an interview tomorrow”

I’m thinking to myself I don’t really want this job but it is only 3 months and I had been sitting on my ass for around 6 weeks at this point.

Me: “Umm… I guess…”

Recruiter: “It’s a really great company, they’ve been in business for over 30 years and are very successful”

Me: “Oh really, well I’d prefer to work for a successful company but I’m really looking for some kind of overseas work, but since it’s only 3 months I’ll check it out.”

Recruiter: “Ok, please see xxx xxx tomorrow at 2:30PM”

Me: “I’ll be there.”

Fast forward until 2:30PM the next day at the interview. So I don’t know how this happened, I was probably the most relaxed job candidate the guy has ever seen. I didn’t even want the job so there was really no pressure. I wasn’t sure why I was even at the interview yet somehow I ended up working there.

Manager: “Hi, nice to meet you ” … blah blah blah … “so we’re in a bit of crunch here and we’re looking for some Java developers”

Me: “Great, I have lots of experience with Java”

Manager: “Can you tell me about some of your previous work experience”

Me: <technical crap here>

Manager: “Wow, I think we can really use someone like you, can you start on Monday?”

So I’m thinking to myself, wow, that was easy, now this is a very abridged version, but I took the job.

Me: “Well I’d kind of like to think this over a bit, you think I can get back to you tomorrow”

Manager: “Sure but we could really use you, please get back to me as soon as possible”

So this guy was almost begging me to take the job. I should have seen this as a sign of a problem, but at the same time I was thinking my bank account was running low and the job did pay pretty well.

I won’t go into the incredible details of why I hated this job so much, but “hate” is the only word that describes it. By the end of it I felt very lied to about what my job was supposed to be. The way they run their “IT” department is just ridiculous. I don’t even blame that manager who hired me, he actually tried to improve on a lot of what I considered to be problems, but unfortunately the management above him have their heads up their asses.

So just a few bad signs which I kind of overlooked.

– Eagerness of the company to hire me
– Within the first week I find out that quite a few developers have left recently. In fact I even met one of them who happened to join the team for lunch one day and said “… I just had enough of PSL … ” and I could really sense that fed up feeling in the way it was said. But I thought, it can’t be that bad.
– Another discovery that week, most of the development team was new, no one had been there more than a year except for one guy who’d been there forever.

Had I known things like this beforehand I probably wouldn’t have taken the job.

So all I’m saying is do your research before accepting a job. Ask a lot of questions during the interview. Anyone watch Curb Your Enthusiasm? One of my favorite lines this seasons was when Leon is going for a job interview and Larry tells him to flip it, meaning to answer a few questions but then flip it and start asking the questions yourself, then Leon goes “yeah, yeah, topsy turvey that mother fucker”. If you haven’t seen the show it’s probably not funny to you, but I was on the floor when he said it. But it’s good advice. I should have asked things like:

– How long has this team been around? (not long)
– Do you follow any industry standards? (they don’t)
– How is this team regarded by the rest of the company? (shit, bottom of the barrel, useless, expendable… I think you get the point)
– What kind of system will I be working on? (a shitty one)

and that’s just scratching the surface. As much as I enjoy talking shit about this company, it’s not really the purpose of this note.

So one day at PSL I got a call on my cell from a company call s-one Canada. It was a voice message actually, it was in French but in English it would have sounded like “Hi Matt, I’m calling from s-one Canada, I found your CV on monster and wanted to know if you’d be interested in working in Paris, France, please call me back at 514….”. I was ecstatic, finally someone actually read my profile and saw, oh look, he wants to work anywhere but Montreal, and we have jobs in France, which is not Montreal. WAKE UP RECRUITERS!

I think at this point I was doing nothing at PSL… nothing important anyway. So I went outside to call her back. We had a nice chat and set up an interview, it was funny because when I asked where her office was she said 1250 Rene Levesque, I paused for a second, oh that makes it really easy, I work in 1250 Rene Levesque. At the time PSL was in that building although they moved about a month before I left. So after that interview and a technical phone interview they made me an offer. Their offer was similar to the other company, meaning I would go work for their clients but they were willing to fly me out to Paris before actually finding me a client.

I forget exactly when but the president of company was in Montreal at some point after I accepted the offer but was still working at PSL. He had organized a 5 @ 7 (happy hour for those non quebecers reading this). So I met him as well as many others from the company and a lot of them, including the president already knew who I was… wow, I like this company, you think the president of PSL even knew my name … ok enough talking shit about PSL, I’m bitter, end of story. So yeah, turns out the guy is jewish and so are his close associates there, this is a good thing 🙂

So now I’ve accepted the position in France. At this point I had about a month and a half to prepare myself for this trip. I really didn’t prepare much. Time just kind of passed, I spent day after day being miserable at PSL. I had finished that 3 month contract 2 weeks before it was actually time to go. So at this point things start to feel more real. Not much involved in packing. Mostly just clothes, and I didn’t pack until 2 days before (as usual). November 21 I was on the plane. The Paris adventure begins… part 2 coming soon.