vendredi 31 mars 2006
Here is a pop quiz inspired by the sweatshirts and T-shirts I have seen on the streets of Marseille.
What does FBI stand for?
A) Fabulous Boy Inside
B) Fashion Boy Interesting
C) Fantastic Bachelor Interested
D) Federal Bureau of Investigation
E) choices A-C
F) all of the above
G) none of the above

Ok, if you are American, you will probably answer D.
But if you are Marseillais you will have seen A-C and probably other configurations on the streets. Haven't seen any CIA ones yet. Can't imagine what they could come up with for that. It is just funny because sometimes I want to tap them on the shoulder and say "Do you know that what you have written on your back makes no logical sense whatsoever?"
It is funny because in the US we like to give places French names to make them sound more chic. Restaurants- Chez Jacques, Chez Alain, Chez etc. When all it really means is X's Place. Or bakeries- Au Bon Pain, Le Boulangerie. Flower shops- Le Nom de la Rose
And here some stores are given English names, or at least English signs. Makes it sound more chic I guess.
Any suggestions for other CIA/FBI acronyms?
jeudi 30 mars 2006
As many people have seen on the news, for weeks now there have been protests and general unrest about the new CPE contract that has been proposed for those under 26 years old. Basically, it states that for the first two years you are in a trial period and can be fired at any time. It also prevents those who have it from renting or buying an apt. in their own name (people don't want to take the risk that you will lose your job at any time and not be able to pay). I don't feel particularly sympathetic to the Anti CPErs. A precarious job is still better than no job right? However, I think a one year trial period is sufficient.
There hasn't been much violent activity here in Marseille. Today was the BIG STRIKE which was pretty much a lot of people wandering aimlessly in the streets and Line 1 of the Metro not working. Side note- why is it always Line 1? Is it just because it is my line?
Here are the reasons I think that it is a lot like the VMI Ratline.
1) At VMI: the upperclassmen try to incite the rats to riot with taunts like "Well your dykes (side note: the word for the Seniors who are paired up with the Freshman to guide them through the first year of VMI) tore apart the Richmond mascot at the VMI-Richmond game. Why don't you do that? Are you scared? You need to prove yourself!"
Here: Well, in 1968 there were huge student riots. "You need an event to define your generation. Why don't you do that? Are you scared? You need to prove yourself!"
2) At VMI: Once the rats start rioting, all the upperclassmen think "Oh argh. Here they go again. This is going to mess up my study time. Why don't they just be quiet and let me do my work?"
Here: Once the students start rioting, everyone else thinks "Oh argh. Here they go again. This is going to mess up my getting to work on time. Why don't they just be quiet and let me do my work?"
3) At VMI: Once the rats have officially declared that they are no longer in the ratline, they wander around aimlessly, thinking What the heck do we do now?
Here: Once the students have officially declared that they are not by golly going to class, they wander around aimlessly, thinking What the heck do we do now?
mercredi 29 mars 2006

The French really seem to love paperwork. Especially when it comes to getting married. From the book
"A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle (they are explaining how to buy a car)

We should have been warned by the complications attached to the purchase of the house. We wanted to buy, the proprietor wanted to sell, a price was agreed, it was all straightforward. But then we became reluctant participants in the national sport of paper gathering. Birth certificates were required to prove we existed; passports to prove that we were British, marriage certificates to enable us to buy the house in our joint names; divorce certificates to prove that our marriage certificates were valid; proof that we had an address in England. (Our driver's licenses, plainly addressed, were judged to be insufficient; did we have more formal evidence of where we were living, like an old electricity bill?) Back and forth between France and England the pieces of paper went- every scrap of information except blood type and fingerprints- until the local lawyer had our lives contained in a dossier. The transaction could then proceed.
We made allowances for the system because we were foreigners buying a tiny part of France, and national security clearly had to be safeguarded. Less important business would doubtless be quicker and less demanding of paperwork. We went to buy a car.
It was the standard Citroën deux chevaux, a model that has changed very little in the past twenty-five years. Consequently, spare parts are available in every village. Mechanically it
is not much more complicated than a sewing machine, and any reasonably competent blacksmith can repair it. It is cheap, and has a comfortingly low top speed. Apart from the fact that the suspension is made of blancmange, which makes it the only car in the world likely to cause seasickness, it is a charming and practical vehicle. And the garage had one in stock.
The salesman looked at our driver's licenses, valid throughout the countries of the Common Market until well past the year 2000. With an expression of infinite regret, he shook his
head and looked up.
We produced our secret weapons: two passports.
We rummaged around in our papers. What could he want? Our marriage certificate? An old English electricity bill? We gave up, and asked him what else, apart from money, was needed to buy a car.
"You have an address in France?"
We gave it to him, and he noted it down on the sales form with great care, checking from time to time to make sure that the third carbon copy was legible.
"You have proof that this is your address? A telephone bill? An electricity bill?"
We explained that we hadn't yet received any bills because we had only just moved in. He explained that an address was necessary for the carte grise- the document of car ownership. No
address, no carte grise. No carte grise, no car.
Fortunately his salesman's instincts overcame his relish for a bureaucratic impasse, and he leaned forward with a solution. If we would provide him with the deed of sale of our house, the
whole affair could be brought to a swift and satisfactory conclusion, and we could have the car. The deed of sale was in the lawyer's office, fifteen miles away. We went to get it, and placed it triumphantly on his desk, together with a check. Now could we have the car?
"Malheureusement, non."

We must wait until the check had been cleared, a delay of four or five days, even though it was
drawn on a local bank. Could we go together to the bank and clear it immediately? No, we couldn't. It was lunchtime. The two area of endeavor in which France leads the world- bureacracy and gastronomy- had combined to put us in our place.
It made us mildly paranoid, and for weeks we never left home without photocopies of the family archives, waving passports and birth certificates at everyone from the checkout girl at the supermarket to the old man who loaded the wine into the car at the cooperative. The documents were always regarded with interest, because documents are holy things here and deserve respect, but we were often asked why we carried them around. Was this the way one was obliged to live in England? What a strange and tiresome country it must be. The only short answer to that was a shrug. We practiced shrugging.

So you say, "Nice way to copy and paste from a book Megan, but what does this have to do with getting married?" Everything of course.
I think even the French don't like getting married in France.
Here is what we have done so far
1) Similar to organizing a space launch, we had to carefully coordinate the City Hall, the Curé, and the Reception place for time and date.
2) Beginning of January we went to the City Hall to get the file.
3) Beginning of February I made an appointment with the Consulate to get the two pieces of paper required- saying I am not married and am free to get married in France (ie a marriage in France will be recognized in the US)
4) End of February, as close as possible to February 26th but not a half a day before, (cannot be issued more than 3 months before the date of the wedding. Because this would obviously require that you use the regular, cheaper shipping, not the arm and a leg express processing) get several copies of my birth certificate issued in VA and expressed over here. This was accomplished quickly, but it took me another week to coordinate my schedule of being home with that of the FedEx delivery person. He finally just left it at school for me.
5) Next I dropped it off at an official translator's to get translated into French. Not bad work- 50 euros for about a half an hour of work.
6) Find a doctor (see Healthy Thoughts entry), get the initial medical exam, get blood drawn and tested, (unlike for buying a house, this did require our blood type) get results, bring them back to the doctor as close as possible to March 26th- can't be done earlier than 2 months ahead of time, or else it isn't valid.
7) Fill out the paperwork, including the witness sheet. Each of us must have at least one witness, no more than two. If both of my witnesses do not show up the day of the wedding, we cannot get married. At least one must show up for each side. Must attach photocopies of their national ID. For Europeans, this is easy. For Americans, they will not accept driver's licenses. Nope, it has to be the passport. Argh. Fill out sheet including their names, occupations, and addresses, attach photocopies.
8) Attach proof of where you are living. This can be phone bills, electricity bills, rent payments, etc.
9) Have a mini heart attack when you realize that the Birth Certificate issued by Vital Records on the official paper with the official stamp is not official enough and that it needs an Authentication by the Office of the Secretary Commonwealth Authentication Division of Virginia saying that officially, this official document is officially official.
10) Panic and think that you may not be able to get married when and where you want, consider running off to Vegas.
11) Search for Vegas-like places in Europe.
12) Realize that there aren't any, and that you are in big trouble.
13) Make quick calls to the Consulate (who says that they can sign an official statement that you swore that your official birth certificate is officially yours), French Department of Foreign Affairs, and other City Halls, to see if they all require this- they don't, so you consider changing the location of the civil service.
14) Breath a big sigh of relief when you find out that the French Bureacracy is so crazy that even the city hall workers think it is crazy and waive the requirement.
mardi 28 mars 2006
On Friday several weeks ago I went as normal to the laundromat (la laverie) about two blocks from here. There is another one about 100 meters away, but every laundry-related nightmare I have involves that place. It is small, dirty, expensive, and only about half of the machines work. So when this new one opened further away, I was happy to change my loyalties, even if it does mean shlepping two big bags of laundry much further.
This new one has a central unit that controls all the machines- you put the coins in, push the button corresponding to the machine you want to use, and Presto! it starts. In theory at least. If the coins get stuck in the machine, then every single person in the laundromat is out of luck.
Well, it just so happened that when I put the coins in (4.80 euros for the big machine) it got stuck. Great. And it wouldn't return the change. Fabulous. There was a sign, in case of problems, please call..... Except I don't have a cell phone. Well, we do but are cell phonealy challenged. Luckily the only other person in the laverie let me use his cell phone. But as he doesn't speak french, he told me to speak to the man in charge. Moi non plus! So I tried to explain that I was at the laverie in Chartreux and "le truc ne marche pas!" Quoi? "Le truc! Le chose! Le machin!" I thought he understood me and was on his way, so I hang up.
After about 30 minutes the cleaning lady comes. I ask her if she can fix it, and she says no. So we call again and again I try to explain. She finally takes the phone from me and explains to the man. She asks me- did you put money in? Did you push the button? Yes okay, I'm not completely stupid. Finally about 30 minutes after that the guy finally comes on his scooter and fixes it.
Meanwhile, the other man is getting anxious because he has to get back to work. And he comments to me that Don't I have class? (like, high school). No. I am not in High School. But aren't you about 15? Uh, no about 26. No way. Way. No way. Way. (I am quite used to this. I deal with it, but I don't enjoy it. Now at least. Perhaps in ten years I will). Are you married? No, go away. This is followed by questions about where I live (answer- in this general area).
His laundry finished before mine, and as he was leaving he asked if I would like to go for a coffee with him. Yeah, you barely know French, I barely know French, what are we going to talk about? In general, I am not against making new friends, especially foreign ones. I find it easier to practice french with someone who doesn't know it any better than I do. However, I generally like them to be non-creepy and within a general range of +/- five years of me.
He tells me I am Bella Bella. Hmm, let's take an inventory.
Clothes? Big gray VMI sweats
Hair? In a messy braid
Makeup? Not a trace.
I am sure I was bella bella.
The thing with being hit on in another language is that you don't know how to say No, ranging from the polite "No, I have a boyfriend" to the more forceful "No, I have a boyfriend and he has a black belt in karate, and so do his four friends. Would you like me to give him a call?"
He finally left. Thank goodness. I don't know what is creepier, that he thought I was fifteen and was hitting on me, or that he was approximately twice my real age and was hitting on me.
vendredi 24 mars 2006
There are five major differences between US Rap and French Rap.
1. I actually like French Rap.
2. You can understand the lyrics.
3. The lyrics are not all bleeped out.
(ex. US- (from pretty much any song) You BLEEP when you BLEEP with a BLEEP in the BLEEP and a BLEEP.
France- (from the song "La Belle et Le BadBoy" by MC Solaar) Ils s'etaient rencontres sur les bancs d'l'ecole[They met back in school]Entre une heure de colle de maths ou d'un cours d'espagnol[Between a math class and a spanish class]C'etait un fille fun fana de football[She was a soccer fan]Lui ne craignait pas les balles, c'etait le goal[But he didn't fear balls, it was the goal]C'qu'il lui promettait c'etait des ballades en Corvette[Only thing he promised was rides in a Corvette]Pour l'instant en survet, il volait des mobylettes[But for now, he was stealing scooters]) (note: not my translation)
4. The subjects seem, for the most part, to be socially conscious. Not only are they are complaining about something, they are trying to suggest solutions.
5. They sound melodious.

So once you get past the fact that, Dude, they are RAPPING in French (for which I am sure all the kings and leaders of the Revolution are rolling over in the graves ) it isn't so bad.
mardi 14 mars 2006
This is one thing that I have noticed living in France and it really irritates me-
When people stop me in the streets to ask a question, "What time is it?" "Can you tell me where the nearest Metro station is?" etc. and I try to answer, or ask them to repeat the question, often I get "Oh. You are not French. Never mind." Like I couldn't possibly say "It is 4:30" in French or at least point and grunt.
I was in the mall a few months ago. A woman was standing outside a store, handing out things. She called me over, out of curiousity I went. She handed me a card for the store, a bookstore. She was asking me things like how many books I read per month, etc. Well, I obviously took too long to reflect on that question, so she said "Oh. you are not French are you?" and took the card back. Ok, that was nice. I explained this to Alain, thinking that perhaps for some reason only French nationals could get that discount. He said that he thought it was more that she figured I wouldn't read French books. Yes, because foreigners who are in France trying to learn French would never try to actually READ a French book!
Now granted if a opinion pollster stops me in the street and wants my feelings on the current state of French foreign affairs, I am probably going to say "I don't know" and runaway. But I do know basic numbers, directions, yes, no, etc.
Today I was walking back from taking out the trash, and a woman approached me. She wasn't really looking at me while posing her quesion. One of those "I am too busy and important to actually look at you, but I need you to help me" kind of people. She posed a question in a mumbling, distracted manner. I gathered that she was looking for a market or store. I said Pardon? She said "Oh you are not French." and wandered off without saying excuse me, or sorry for bothering you, or goodbye, or anything at all. Argh!
Though I admit that sometimes it is helpful at times, even when I know perfectly the question. "Hi! We would like to tell you about our new long-distance service! Do you have 30 minutes to listen to me blab on and on?"
- What? I am sorry. I don't understand. I am not French. Goodbye.
dimanche 12 mars 2006

Yesterday, we went and visited Alain's paternal grandparents, who live about 30 minutes away. They are François and Françoise, but more commonly called Pepe and Meme. (French nicknames for grandparents, also Papi and Mami are used.)
They are both of Italian origin, and know some Italian. The family also has a small little house in San Remo, right on the coast. We have not been there to visit yet, but I hope to go sometime this summer.
Meme really likes to cook, and if you give her advanced warning, a large meal will be prepared, even if you just ate. Most of my culinary adventures have happened here- wild boar, horse, etc. All very good.
So usually Alain and I go visit for a couple of hours, drink tea, eat cake, talk for a long time, and like all grandparents, hear the same stories over and over again. Good times.
samedi 4 mars 2006
Yesterday, Alain and I went to see a nearby doctor for the medical exam for getting married. This involved first, me looking up "medecin" and our zip code in the yellow pages to try to find a nearby doctor. I found one a couple of buildings away, and called him. His protestation: "But I am a psychologist!" Okay, try to find a générale... I found one a few blocks away and called him.
Tried to explain what I wanted: "The medical exam for the marriage!" You mean the pre-nuptial exam? "Yes, yes, that is it! What do I have to do?" Bla bla bla. "What, I don't understand?!" Bla bla bla bla. "You mean Blah Blah Blah?" (slightly exasperated tone by now) Non! Bla bla bla! "Okay, my fiancé will call you!" After various phone calls by me to the poor man demanding his hours (after which he would rattle off some various numbers) we finally went yesterday afternoon.
Basically he gave us both the regular check-up (heart, lungs, blood pressure, height, weight, medical history) then gave us a prescription for the blood tests, and told us to come back when we had the results and he would sign the papers. We also had to choose a doctor to be our primary doctor, so we chose him.
(Warning: next section might not be totally accurate, it is just what I have been able to piece together with my various bits of understanding French and the French bureaucracy)
I haven't been feeling well lately, round-the-clock stomachache that doesn't seem to be affected either way by eating or not eating. He gave me a prescription (the French LOVE pills). As there is a pharmacy on every corner, it is really quite simple. You go in and hand them the prescription, they give you the pills. The French health care system (securité sociale) is quite comprehensive. Every French person seems to have a carte vitale that has his or her medical history on it. The doctors have a reader and just pop in the card with it's smart chip. The billing then goes right to the state. I guess the state covers a certain percentage and then if you want, you can get a mutual insurance that pays for the rest of the bill. I have a student insurance and don't have a card yet, and so the exam cost me 40 euros. Then I have to send in the paper to my mutual insurance to get reimbursed. The pills were free.
For the blood test, we have to go to a Laboratoire Analyses Médicales, again, one on every corner it seems like.
And another thing- you can actually get (can you believe this?!)
jeudi 2 mars 2006

My sister Leah had her first baby on Monday, February 27th. They have named him Tobias Gene. He was born in Thailand, so he is our little Thai. :) He is now the second grandchild in the family, and the second boy.

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