Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My first manif'

Me at the demonstration

The demonstration crosses the Loire (I did not)

The starting-point at the Place de la Liberté - I like the building in the background, supposedly very Tour-ish

The long-awaited 4th corner of mystery is finally revealed in all its glory!

If you think building that chest of drawers wasn't tough, here's an excerpt from the instructions...

Not much blog-worthy going down, although I must say I should write more cutting book reviews, as the last one was quite the mysterious success! Summer has arrived in force (finally, I was going to work in scarves up until about the official start of summer on the 21st), with temperatures of up to 31 degrees (according to the computer) or 34 degrees (according to a pharmacy sign) today - hot whichever way you slice it. I'm not sure I can work/sleep under these conditions...

In exciting news, yesterday I finally bought a hammer and some screwdrivers and set to constructing my chest of drawers. It was a mission! Took at least 3 hours to do it... Bof! I'm pleased that it came together and I only made one major mistake that necessitated prying bits apart and starting over. I also bent the back of it by catching it under the door - yes, the back panel is thin enough that it fits under a door - but I hammered it out, sor'ed. This is very exciting because now I have lots more storage space and my underwears are no longer hanging up in a cloth hutchy thing for all to see! Crucially, it also means that the 'miscellaneous crap' that was in suitcases on my floor is now in the drawers and I can put the suitcases in the cellar
(* removal of suitcases pending). I can pretend for once to be a grown-up! (Yes, Dad, it won't last.) Touch wood, it so far shows no signs of falling over despite not being fixed to the wall - I knew Ikea put that in to deter sue-happy people whose children were fatally crushed under a runaway chest of drawers.

Also, last Thursday I went en grève (on strike) and joined my colleagues at a manifestation (demonstration). I was promised at work that this demonstration was about general living conditions and being fed up with constant cuts by the Sarkozy government and the erosion of the standard of living, and that it wasn't just about the retirement age - which is why I agreed to go, since I don't agree that the retirement age should stay at 60 or whatever it is. After actually attending the demonstration, I'm pretty sure they were fibbing and it was mainly about keeping the ridiculous retirement age that I have to pay for... Never mind though, it made me feel like a real Frenchie going on strike! We all know their legendary love for strikes and demonstrations, so I felt I should experience it at least once! The strike itself was pretty tame, we just marched down the main axis road to the sound of special strike songs, chants, and the odd vuvuzela (really). I spent most of the time chatting to the intern from work. We ditched the strike after a couple of hours when we reached the banks of the Loire (it was super slow going).

Apart from that, same old pretty much. Today I had just got to the park after work and was settling in to listen to my iPod and read my book when a guy pulled up on his bike and asked what I was reading. Whaddaya know, it was the same guy who hit on me in the street like 6 weeks ago. He didn't recognise me at first either, although to give him credit, once he heard me mangle the French language he remembered my name! I guess either he hits on every girl he meets or I'm just exactly his type...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

France through rose-tinted glasses

At work today I somehow came across this book while trawling Amazon for promising-looking publications :

"One year and one arduous home-renovation into their marriage, Ken and Bing head to the French countryside to celebrate their long-delayed honeymoon, swearing they're getting out of the home-fixing business for good. When they fall in love with the village of La Montaigne Noire, they find themselves buying a fixer-upper and starting all over again - but this time, in French! McAdams recounts their mishaps and misadventures with humor, capturing the essence of French village life, the awkwardness of being foreigners in a close-knit town, the couple's hilarious linguistic pratfalls, and how the mammoth undertaking that threatens to tear their new marriage apart ultimately brings them closer together and helps them find a place in the community they have grown to love."

1) Bing - seriously? Is that one of those American names like Chip and Randy, or is she just crazy?
2) This is the exact plot of every single one of these books
3) Yeah, I *bet* those are some hilarious pratfalls... That time Bing asked if she could baiser the neighbours' baby will have you in stitches!
4) Where the frick are these French villages, where the locals love nothing more than giving up their time and casseroles to guide stupid non-French-speaking Anglos through the process of buying up their patrimony, hiding? Okay, I've never renovated a crumbling country pile in France, but I have lived in rural France and various small- and medium-sized cities and no-one's ever beaten a path to my door to view me with narrow-eyed suspicion before taking me to their metaphorical bosom and sorting out every problem I could possibly encounter. I think the closest I've been to this mystical experience is every French person going "oh là là, that's far away" when I tell them I'm from New Zealand. Um, yeah. I mean, I've never been invited to dinner by colleagues who are well aware that I've moved here not knowing a soul, so how do these people in these books, for whom 'bumbling' is usually a kind epithet, always manage to be hobnobbing with the small-town mayor within a month?
5) Okay, okay, while I'm amazed there's still room in the market for these things, I do realise these books are meant to be fantasy for people who will probably never stir out of their home in the American Midwest (or wherever)... Just bear in mind they bear very little relationship to real life! (And this particular example sounds like quite possibly the worst book ever...)

PS Do we say patrimony in English? We do, right? It's not just that I see the word 'patrimoine' at work on a daily basis?
PPS Stop me if I show any further signs of being one of those irritating people who are all "oh, I just can't speak English anymore, I'm *so* immersed in French!" Yep, it happens that the French word for something will pop into your head more readily than the English sometimes, but I forget words for stuff all the time at home in NZ too, let's not bang on about it on a daily basis.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Happy happy joy joy

So the last post, written in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep due to having been sick in bed with a bad cold since Wednesday night (thank god for new books, the World Cup and the F1), was a bit grim, so here's something happy. Before that though, thanks very much for the supportive messages and kind words from various people here and by email, I really appreciate it.

Kind of dreading going to work tomorrow, I still feel rather exhausted, although I was feeling a lot better this morning so here's hoping I'll be okay tomorrow if I manage a good night's sleep.

And here is my happy thing:

Vase - 2 euros from Ikea
Flowers - 3.80 from the market
Not re-using a played-out cliché from an advertising campaign to express how nice it is to have flowers in my room - not bad at all

And yep, they really were 3.80!


So, I just realised that one of my ex-flatmates from Nice unfriended me on facebook. This is fine because I really, really disliked her, and it just confirmed for me that her gushing farewell to me was as fake as everything else about her.

So, formerly, I was careful never to say anything related to my flatting experience in Nice, because, after all, I had to live with the girl and although I didn't think she read my blog, it was a possibility since it was linked off my facebook and off the assistants forums. But now I feel I can finally unburden myself.

This might come across as spiteful - although I'm fairly certain she'll never see it - but I'm not writing it for that reason. I haven't decided yet whether I'll even publish this post. I'm writing this because I really, sincerely regret that I ever flatted with her. It would be going too far to say it completely ruined my time in Nice, but I really didn't have the experience I would have liked and expected, and it really was due in large part to not getting along with her. Note: I'm not saying "it was her fault", I'm saying we didn't get on, and yes it takes two to tango.

Before I got to Nice, I swore to myself that I would live with French people - not because of any particular dislike of the non-French amongst us, but in order to avoid living in an English-speaking ghetto. However, it didn't work out that way. I realised through the assistants forum that I was booked at the same hostel as another assistant, E, and I agreed to go looking for flats with her and another girl, just to see what was out there. It didn't take too long to decide that having company on the flat-search was much more reassuring and less stressful than going it alone. We found a flat that looked good, but there was just one problem - the third girl thought it was too far out from town. E and I got along really well, we liked the look of the flat, and most of all we just wanted to get settled. So we decided that if we could find a third flatmate, we'd take the place.

On the evening before orientation, I had to go into town to do something, and when I came back to the hostel where everyone was now staying before orientation, E presented me with something of a fait accompli - K, who was literally fresh off the plane and only too happy to step into a flat where the leg-work had already been done. From the start, I wasn't crazy about her - she was really loud and talked incessantly, mostly about herself. But it wasn't all bad, she told some amusing anecdotes, and I tried to keep an open mind.

In the beginning, the three of us all hung out quite a bit - it was all so overwhelming, moving to France and having the stress of finding the flat, moving in, setting up all the admin things like our bank accounts and social security, starting a new job with no experience etc. So at first we would all be home by about 5 pm, watch TV together and talk, and be in bed by about 9, exhausted.

Already at this stage there were things that grated on me. Such as her thinking she was the hottest thing on two legs. Sure, she was pretty, but hearing every day "oh my god, I was jogging around the park and these old men could NOT stop looking at me, it was so gross!" or sitting next to her and getting eyed up by guys in a passing car: "ew, gross, did you see how those guys were staring at me?" - yep, "me", not "us" - or "my students all keep hitting on me, it's disgusting". I'm not denying these things happened, but when you bring it up every single day, it's hard to believe you actually find it that intolerable.

Worse than that was the way she talked about other women. We would often watch game shows in the early evening, things like Wheel of Fortune for example, and she would say things about the contestants like, "oh my god what are you wearing!?!". Well, that's normal, right? We all make fun of people on TV a little bit, it's fun. It wasn't that that bothered me, it was what inevitably came next - "whore!" Or "brush your hair, bitch", or - about a contestant on a celebrity look-alike show "well you have one thing in common with Britney Spears, you're both fat".

I would say "god knows what she thought of me if she thought that girl/Britney Spears was really fat", except I do pretty much know, thanks to her little passive-aggressive remarks. Like "oh my gooood, Gwan, I just don't know how you eat pasta so much!" Pretty much the last straw as regards my tolerance for her was when I invited her out for drinks with a friend of mine, in an effort to be nice. After spending pretty much the whole night going on about how all the ugly French guys wanted her (and, according to her, every guy in France was ugly), we decided to call it a night, but had missed the last bus home. We all had a collective whinge about not wanting to walk home, an uphill walk which normally took me about 45 minutes (and yes, I did the walk regularly), when suddenly K changed her tune and started having a go at me for not being too keen on the walk. I should point out at this stage that I was wearing high heels and she was not. Allow me to quote from an email I sent the day after:

"so I made some sort of comment about how it was a long way in heels (I was the only one in heels although she claimed her boots 'had a slope to them' - not the same thing) and so this unleashes all her comments "I know I exercise a lot more than most people, but this is nothing for me". I pointed out that the walk per se wasn't the problem, but that I was in heels, and that I actually walk up the hill about 2-3 times a week "oh, you need to be doing cardio 4-5 times a week girlfriend" and then periodically she kept saying things all the way home like "I walked about 8 miles today, this is like a cool down for me" "If you're struggling with this walk, you have problems y'all", "It should get easier for you around this corner" (why, is a magical fairy going to come and give me better shoes?). I'll point out that me and S walked so much faster than her that we had to stop at one point for her to catch up, and she finally comes up going "little legs! little legs!"

I honest to god wanted to punch her. It was quite amusing that the next time I met up with my friend S, weeks later, she enquired how K was - "still getting a lot of exercise?"

It got so bad that I just couldn't stand to be around her at all. Just the sound of her voice became like nails on a chalkboard to me. Every little thing - every time she would pointedly wash her 5 dirty plates but leave the one knife I had left in the sink, for example - would be a source of intense irritation to me. I was always civil to her when our paths crossed, and would say hello (sometimes, without getting a hello back), and sometimes engage in chitchat, but I would try to limit my contact with her to the extent that I would just stay in my room if I could hear her walking around the kitchen or whatever. Sadly, while when we first moved in E used to complain about the same things as I did about K, they somehow became the best of friends and so refusing to hang out with K meant isolating myself from E as well. And it also meant not joining in/being invited to the nights out they had with other assistants. Frankly, I had met the other assistants they hung out with and didn't think it was a big loss in any case, but, while I made friends of my own in Nice, it was still sad. One night, K and E invited a bunch of other assistants over to dinner, in our flat - and didn't invite me. K even told me about it to my face i.e. "I hope you don't mind, but we're having some people over", and didn't invite me. Sitting in my room listening to them talking and laughing was a real low, and I think a really nasty thing for them to do. I had envisioned having this instant, awesome network of friends in my fellow assistants, like I had with my CELTA classmates in Prague, and like I've read about on the blogs of other assistants, who had the time of their lives and made great friends for ever. I ended up only hanging out with one assistant regularly, the other assistant at my school, and became good friends with one other assistant who unfortunately lived in a different town, so I didn't see a lot of.

Is this K's fault? No, of course not. It's my problem that I found her so draining to be around, that I couldn't stand her fake gushing when I knew she actually couldn't care less about me, her endless stories that I would end up hearing at least three times - told to me and to various people on Skype, her negative bitchy comments directed to me and to others, the fact that she spoke at the exact same (LOUD) volume whether you were right next to her or in another room, or whether it was 1 pm or 1 am... It's my problem that I let all that get to me to the extent that I didn't feel at home in my own flat and I hardly socialised with other assistants (fyi, even in the early stages when I was still making an effort/hanging out with K, there was really a lack of things going on amongst the Nice assistants, which really surprised me). But it just seems such a shame that, while I still had an okay time in Nice, it fell so far short of what I had hoped from my assistant experience.

Anyone reading this will probably think I'm crazy to have been affected so much by her. I don't think these little vignettes can explain how much she rubbed me up the wrong way, and of course I'm quite willing to admit that minor things became major irritations for the mere fact that I disliked her so much. But still, I think the decision to live with her - and it wasn't really even a decision I made - was one of the most unfortunate of my life to date, and I can't help but wistfully imagine the experience I may have had if I hadn't ended up in that situation. I was just so, so happy the day I left the flat in Nice - to that gushing goodbye from K, where it was literally like she flipped a switch inside her and turned on that fake charm one last time, despite the fact that clearly she intended that to be the last time we'd ever talk to each other just as much as I did.

Thankfully this time I have a flatmate who is actually nice (French, by the way) and although it is, as ever, hard and a bit lonely being in yet another city where I don't know anyone - and this time I don't even have the theoretical benefits of an instant network like with the assistantship, I am starting to make some friends & hoping for a better overall experience here than I had in Nice... *Long* post, I expect the only people to read it will know all this already, but it was good to get that whole disappointment off my chest anyway.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Be less passive!

Home sick today, for the second day - just a cold, but I was pretty exhausted yesterday. Bit better today, but have moved from exhausted phase to 'bit tired and very snotty' phase. Anyway, went to the supermarket and am now fuming at self. I had stepped back from the queue a bit (but was still RIGHT THERE) cos the dad in front of me had asked his son to go put the basket away. (Even with my general hatred of kids, I gotta admit French kids are cuter than most. I showed the kid where to put the basket and got a piping little 'merci' out of him, aww.) Anyway, this dude came marching up just as I was about to put my basket on the thing, clearly heading straight in front of me. I kind of looked at him for a second cos my first thought was that he must be with the dad and kid, or he wouldn't just cut in like that, decided he wasn't with them, and proceeded to stick my basket up. Then he goes 'it's just these things' - 3 items. So I said, 'vas-y', which is the less polite way to say 'go ahead'. But I'm mad at myself because what I should have said was something like 'are you incapable of asking whether you can go in front of me' or 'I would have let you in front of me if you asked' or something instead of my typical passive 'okay then'. Okay, minor incident, but just generally annoyed that I'm incapable of standing up for myself. I was reading someone else's blog (forget who, sorry if you're reading this) saying that she'd finally started to imitate the French in just being blunt and calling people out on their actions - I wish I could do that too! Unfortunately it goes against my general nature and my reluctance to 'out myself' in casual encounters as a non-Frenchie...

Anyway, in better news, World Cup starts today, and I'm home so I can watch it (and stave off going crazy with boredom, it's a win-win). I'm going to try to make onion dip in honour of the occasion - I have a packet of Maggie onion soup, which, unsurprisingly, looks like what's sold as 'French onion' at home. Couldn't find either reduced cream or the substitute sour cream, so I bought creme fraiche and am very doubtful as to the results. But if it fails, it was like a 1.50 investment, so oh well.

Also, a book came in the post from Amazon, yay! Other than that, no news, weather has been crap, sunny today though, hopefully tomorrow as well.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Confessions of a shopaholic

It's hard to believe that I've been in Tours for over a month now - time has flown by! Certainly a lot less time for mucking around when you're working the big 35 hours... But proof that I've been here a month - I gots paid! First thing I did was join the gym, go me! Then I bought two books and some nail polish. And visited the farmers' market held near my house every Sunday morning - when there's nowt else to do in France in any case... Oh and I had a cocktail on Friday night (and spent all day in bed on Sunday - one cocktail, one vodka lemonade, someone's getting soft - although to be fair I wasn't so much hungover as I was tired). And today I went shopping! Behold the results in my cheesy home modelling session (plus some more photos from around Tours):

Polkadot dress! *Need* some red shoes to go with :D

Stripey Frenchie styles

This is me being a Parisien miss. Note the boots I got in England too. I actually did buy that umbrella in Paris, after my old one bit the dust. (The top is new FYI)

Slouchy grey top from Monoprix

Hmmm, this is very summery, but looking at the photo I'm not sure if it's uber-flattering. Blue panel kinda chops me up awkwardly. Return?

Sunday morning farmers markets! This time I got (clockwise from the baguette): merguez sausages mmmm, basil tapenade (in the plastic container), rillettes de Tours (basically like pork pate), Sainte-Maure goat's cheese (this stuff is awwwwwesome, and a local AOC product - AOC like champagne meaning it has to come from the region of origin and no-one else can make it under that name), lettuce, fresh apple juice - only 2 euros a litre, wow, garlic and courgette. I was going to get fruit but I already had some raspberries and nectarines and cherries in the fridge. Next week...

Maya the naughty cat that pisses on everything, looking very retarded

Ventured to the other bank of the Loire for the first time - you can see the cathedral on the skyline

The Jardin des Prebendes d'Oe - try saying that, I have no clue