vendredi 29 février 2008
Leap Day.
Don't have much interesting to say today, just wanted to reflect on where I have been for previous Leap Days.
2008: Working in France, married, owning an apartment
2004: Virginia, in graduate school, debating whether I wanted to stay in PhD Program or leave to be with said Frenchman.
2000: In England, on a semester exchange program. Was dating an Englishman. Apparently it is tradition in England (and other countries) that Leap Day is a day that woman can ask men to marry him. Had no intention of asking him to marry me.
1996: Wow. Long time ago. Let's see- Junior in High School. Wanted to go to the Naval Academy and be in the Navy for the rest of my life.

2012: Most likely still in France, hopefully with said Frenchie and some little tadpoles.
jeudi 28 février 2008

Glup's is a candy shop where you go in and there are the large bins where you scoop different types of candy from into a bag. The first time I went in, I was quite excited. I was hoping for Runts and Oreo's (though I am not sure how good Oreo's would be coming from a plastic bin) and Starbust and York Peppermint Patties and do you get the idea here? American candy. Considering how there are a lot of Americans in Aix, it wasn't so far-fetched. But nope. What they mostly have is gummy-type candies and chocolate. I try not to go too often or get too much.

But let's talk about the name here. Glup's. Seriously? There is nothing that says "Come eat candy!" to me less than Glup. Well, "Big Pile of Horse Dung" would probably turn me off more, but that isn't likely to be a store name.

Go to their online catalog site and you can click on the different types of candy that are available to see examples of what I am talking about. Yep. Mostly gummy stuff.
Considering how during my lunchbreak I am surrounded by enticing stores and restaurants, I have a feeling that this job might not be good for my wallet or my waistline.
(Oh, and note the new category Label- Aix en Provence).

Oh, and anyone that wants to send me US candy can do so. :) Be kind to ex pats.
mardi 26 février 2008
The song "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" by Edith Piaf was one of the first French songs I learned. It was WAY BACK in 2004, when I was auditing the French 101 class during my PhD program. The previous semester I had audited the Latin 101 course, until I met a certain Frenchman. Our teacher, an American graduate student getting her Master's and who was engaged to a Frenchman from Paris, played French songs for us and we could read the lyrics and try to figure out what was being said. I liked the song. So much so, that I wanted to use it for our wedding song. Alain thought I was nuts and that if we played it, all the French would think that we were strange. I just liked the final lines:
"Car ma vie, car ma joie,
Ca commence avec toi!"
Because my life, because my joy,
It begins with you.

Anyway, we ended up using a different song, "Man of the World" by Marc Cohen.

We watched "La Mome" or La Vie en Rose for English speakers, with Marion Cottilard a few months ago. I found it hard to follow. We couldn't even get the french subtitles. I found the language hard to follow, and the film kept jumping around- she is old, she is young, she is dying, what?
Also, I was disturbingly reminded of my grandmother. Not that my grandmother was disturbing mind you, but the portrayal of Edith Piaf reminded me of her- facial expressions, hair, make-up, clothes, movements.

Anyway, congrats to Marion Cottilard for winning the Oscar. I was a little surprised when I realized that she was in Taxi and A Very Long Engagement, as I totally did not recognize her when I saw La Mome.
vendredi 22 février 2008
Went shopping this morning.
Bought a book for Alain that he has been wanting called "L'air intelligent". It is a study of how intelligence and intelligent people have been regarded throughout history. I bought a book for me about makeup. Browsed some perfume stores, but didn't get anything. There are some new releases coming out in the next two months that I am looking forward to- Miss Dior Cherie Eau de Printemps (Miss Dior Cherie was the perfume I bought for our wedding) and the new Cacharel Amor summer fragrance. So I held back. Though when I really get desperate I can always buy a scent for Alain.
Then I went to a place called Zara and bought two tops, then went to H&M. I don't really like H&M but after three trips to the changing room finally decided on a pair of jeans and three more tops. Didn't find any work pants. I might actually have to start wearing my skirts. I always get frustrated trying on pants. Besides the general "Why can't I fit into the size --- in this store? I have another pair of pants that are size ----! I don't want to have to try on a size ---+1!" angst, no matter what size I try on, they either fit my waist or my hips. Never both. I guess I have a small waist for the size of my hips. Or big hips for the size of my waist, but I prefer not to think of it that way. So I usually have to buy the hip-fitting pair and then just use a belt or cover the saggy waist with my shirt.
Got mad and walked out of Jeff de Bruges because of poor customer service (this is the second time at the same store, so I doubt I will go back there).
Came back home, had cheese and chocolate for lunch (hey, it's my day off) and then took a nap while watching Exorcist 2. I couldn't help it, it was so dull. Tonight we are going over to Olivier's for dinner. We were supposed to go last week but he canceled because he still hadn't finished up his doctoral thesis, which had to be mailed the next day. Guillaume and Laure-Anne will be coming with their new baby boy (2 months). We haven't seen him yet.
Plans for this weekend- continue working on the walls, take apart the old cabinet unit that was in our kitchen and take it over to the in-laws on Sunday.
Picture taken of us on Alain's motorcycle in August I think, when he was still learning how to ride. We weren't going anywhere- hence no helmets, etc.
jeudi 21 février 2008
It has finally happened. I am in desperate need of clothes. And I am not just saying this in the average woman way.
I don't really like shopping for clothes.
But now I really need to do something about this.
My pair of black ankle-boots that I wear to work: one zipper handle came off, so I currently have a paper clip looped through.
My sweaters: due to some recent unfortunate laundry incidents, I have about two usable sweaters. The rest are either: shrunken, impossibly wrinkled, covered in unremovable fuzz, or stained.
My pants: I have three pairs- one khaki one that Alain says does not look good on me. One grey one that is functional. One black velvety pair that is covered in the unremovable fuzz.
(I do have other pairs, but since I have yay! lost weight, they look like clown pants.)
My jeans: Ripped. One in the derriere and one in the leg from when I was throwing out the trash and it got caught on a nail on the trash can. Sigh.

I should have bought clothes during the semi-annual sales, but I wanted to wait and see what everyone else at my work was wearing.
But now that I am starting to be unpresentable, I think I need to get moving.
(Oh yeah, and the black velvety covered in white fuzz pants also need to be hemmed.)
Yay for every other Friday off!
mercredi 20 février 2008
One thing I don't really understand about the French is their insistence on still displaying prices in Francs. It's over people! They aren't coming back! Move on!!

It was about six years ago now that all of Europe switched to Euros. Yet (some) people still continue to convert prices mentally into Francs. They do it for comparison purposes. A baguette used to be 3 Francs, now it is 0.70€ which works out to 4.50F! Oh my god! Those darn European politicians who promised that prices wouldn't increase after switching to the common currency should be burned at the stake!
The problem is that they have a number fixed in their mind from a long time ago, so when they do the comparisons now, they aren't taking into account natural inflation.

Most of the people who do this are older French, but not exclusively. I think stores and paychecks should just stop showing the corresponding price in Francs. It would force people to finally make the switch, instead of forever converting from Euros to Francs to Wibbles to Doohickies.

When I first moved here, I would compare with the price in dollars, but after awhile (about four months) I stopped. It doesn't matter what the price would be in dollars. I get paid in Euros. We pay the mortgage in Euros. A tank of gas is so many Euros (so so many!). A trip to the grocery store is on average 30 euros. My reference is in Euros. Make the switch France.
dimanche 17 février 2008
To celebrate Valentine's Day and Alain's Birthday (Feb. 15th) we spent this weekend in Nîmes, a city about an hour and half from Marseille, to the northeast. Nîmes is quite well known for the tri-annual ferias (bullfights) that are held in the Roman Amphitheater (Arene). We left Saturday morning and arrived at our hotel a little before noon.

Wikipedia article about Nimes

We checked in, then walked the short distance into the centre ville, smack dab into Les Arenes. It was built in the 1st century AD, is 130 m by 100 m, and is described as being the "best preserved of all Roman amphitheaters." However, this isn't really true. It is the "best rebuilt". It was used for gladiator fighting, animal fighting, and prisoner execution, and could seat up to 22,000. After the collapse of Rome, it was used as a fortress, then as slum housing. In the 19th century the outer walls were still standing but the seating area was almost completely torn up. We ate lunch then went to visit it. We paid for the combined attraction ticket, which also included the Maison Carrée and the Tour Magne, for about ten euros. This included the audio guide. I always feel so stupid walking around with the audio guide pressed to my ear. I guess you learn a lot but it always takes forever. You listen to each main section, then you get "To learn more about the blah blah press 51. To learn about the ble ble ble press 52. To learn about the bloo bloo bloo press 53." Also learned that there are about 400 Roman Amphitheaters in the world. Wow. I would have guessed about 50, 100 max. Anyway, we spent a good two hours visiting the arena, then we walked to the Maison Carrée (or Square House). Once again, the guidebook lists this as the Roman world's best-preserved temple. It was built by Augustus's son-in-law Marcus Agrippa a long long time ago. Unfortunately, the exterior was covered in scaffolding, they are redoing the facade. We went inside, saw a 22 minute 3D film about the history of Nîmes and.. that was it. Went back outside.

From there we walked to the Jardin de la Fontaine. An underground spring was "harnessed" here in the 18th century (how do you "harness" a spring anyway?) and has been built into a very nice park with statues and fountains. We walked up the path to the Tour Magne, which is from 15 BC and is the earliest surviving Roman building in France. Unfortunately, we got there about 15 minutes too late, and it was closed. Supposedly it has great views out over the countryside. For anyone who visits Nîmes, I would suggest taking a nice picnic and visiting the park.

We walked back towards Les Arenes, and went into a cute little tea and coffee shop, called Tendance Saveurs, with one worker who was quite overwhelmed. We had some tea, some small navettes, then bought a specialty chocolate bar (nice, but perhaps not worth the 3.60€) and a cute bottle of mulled wine that I will save for next Christmas.

We asked the lady at the tea shop where would be a good place to eat, and she gave us instructions on how to get to a certain restaurant. Totally were not able to find it. Chez Paul, sorry, sure you would have been great. We went back to the hotel and rested a bit, then went out and followed our concierge's instructions to a place called Restaurant Nicolas. The food was okay, not too expensive. We got back to the hotel and went to sleep around 10:30. The next morning (Sunday) we woke up at 9, had breakfast in the hotel (which was surprisingly worth the 5€ each), and set out to explore again, this time the museums. The weather was overcast and cold. We first went to the Musée de Vieux Nîmes, which was free. Interesting fact that we learned- where does denim come from? It is material from Nîmes- de Nîmes. Get it? We learned about denim cloth, and saw more old maps of the city, pictures and drawings of the monuments, etc. Then we stumbled upon an exposition of mosaic reconstruction in an old Jesuit building- they had found a huge very well-preserved mosaic and had it on display. Then we went to the Musée Archéologique and Musée d'Histoire Naturelle (again free). Saw a bunch more old Roman carvings (hey, after awhile they get tiring) and some poor moth-bitten animals that had been taxidermied. We left around 1:30 and went to eat at Fast China Express before heading back to Marseille around 2:40.
It was a good weekend, and I am glad we went. I think two days was enough to see everything. I think my favorite is still Arles, then perhaps Nimes, then Avignon.
For more pictures from our trip to Nimes, please go to this album.
jeudi 14 février 2008

I have had some questions about my new job.

I started last week training to eventually become a European Patent Attorney. It is quite a long and arduous process. I have to have two years of training in a company, then spend one year taking courses at the Centre d'Etudes Internationales de la Propriete Industrielle in Strasbourg. Actually, it isn't a full-year, about eight weeks spaced over 9 months, followed by some exams. Then I have to pass four exams, which are several hours long each. These exams are given once a year, and many people don't pass them all the first time. I also will have to be a European citizen. (hopefully the Prefecture can get it together in 4 years, but I am keeping my fingers crossed).

How did I get this job? I sent out resumes and cover letters to all companies that do Patents/Trademarks within driving distance- Marseille, Aix, Toulon even (ten total). All but one said nope. One of the ones in Aix accepted to take me on. Wow. Best return on investment I have ever had. (Spent about 10€ on envelopes, stamps, etc).

This job adjustment is proving to be easier than for my first job. But I think that is mostly because then I hadn't worked in over a year and a half, had never worked in France, still didn't understand French super-well, plus the apartment was still torn up. (Well, we are still working on it, but at least can fully use the bathroom by now).

The office is in an 18th century historical building. The ceilings are about 6 meters high, and are covered with plaster and frescos. But, the heating system isn't too great due to the size that needs to be heated. It looks out over onto a square and is near the Cathedral of Aix.

After coming from an industrial area, it is a big change for me to be right in the heart of a city. There are tons of little gourmet shops and expensive stores, students wandering the streets, street players (which doesn't help my concentration). There are four other women working there, one of which is an Englishwoman, and two men (including my boss), plus two other men that only come in occasionally.

The first week I was feeling completely lost. Oh my god, CHEMISTRY? I haven't looked at Chemistry in ten years and now you want me to write a patent on this stuff? Ahh! But it is going better now.

The only bad thing is the commute, about 40 minutes in the morning and an hour+ in the evenings. I start at 8 (the rest of the office comes in at 9) and leave at 5 (one hour for lunch, and everyone else leaves at 6). This way, I can avoid a decent amount of sitting in traffic jams. I guess I could shift my hours from 10-7, but I don't want to get home that late, and after about 7 pm you can forget about finding a parking spot. I also have every other Friday off, and the other Fridays only 6 hours.

I think eventually the office will move to another location, one that is easier to get to and less expensive. This is my second week now, and I am starting to get the hang of it. Besides, my boss told me that I will be absolutely lost for the first six months, so I am not worrying about it.
mercredi 13 février 2008
Thanks to Meredith's (Poppy Fields) post about the English Bookstores in Aix, I went today during my lunch break to Book In Bar. I walk in and oh my god! tons of books in English! Up until now I have been subsisting on the meager selection in Virgin Megastore, FNAC, and the city library (which I am now too lazy to go to on my days off and too cheap to pay the 25€ per year fee) as well as re-reading all the books I have several times. Thought about joining the Book Fountain, a book service like Netflix for 96€ per year. But considering how I would only read at maximum two books per month, it probably wouldn't be worth it.
But anyway, back to the point of this post.
Up until this point in My Life in France, I have been pretty used to NOT having contact with other Americans. There aren't too many in Marseille (or if there are, they must be in hiding). Occasionally there will be some tourists in summertime or when we go to visit other cities we come across some Americans. Up in Paris there is quite a large ex-pat community, including the Association of American Wives of Europeans. They get together for handicraft nights, book clubs, lecture series, to celebrate American holidays (4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc), and commiserate together about living in France. I am a member, but besides the bi-monthly newsletter, I don't really get out of it. I think if I was living in Paris I would be more involved.

There was a point, early on, where I would approach other Americans and talk to them- find out where they are from, what they are doing here, etc.
But now I don't feel that need.

So like I said, it is strange for me to now be in a town that has a lot of American students and to pass them in the streets. I don't feel like their experience has anything in common with mine. I feel, well, better than them in a way. They are just passing through. They don't have to deal with all of the things that I have had to deal with- medical insurance and carte de sejours (which I am still waiting on by the way, they are even slower than last year!) all the rigmarole of getting married here, buying an apartment, getting my driver's license. They aren't INVESTED in France. They don't care about the elections or what the education system will be like in ten years or retirement funds or anything.
So it is a strange feeling. Sometimes if I am with Alain I will switch over into speaking French to him when there are other native English speakers around. It isn't so that they don't understand me, nor to deny that I am American. Perhaps I don't want to be approached?
When I walked into the bookstore, I could hear that there were other Americans there. I don't know if they were students or not. I suppose it is judgemental of me- they could well have been working in Aix too, I don't know. Perhaps they are students who will end up finding a Frenchman and staying. I felt strangely shy. Perhaps it is because I am older than them, I don't know.
Do other ex-pats feel this way?
samedi 2 février 2008
(Groundhog Day)

Groundhog Day is one of those holidays that I don't even try to explain to the French. I can just imagine the conversation.

"Happy Jour de la Marmotte!"
"Well, it is a holiday in the US.."
You silly Americans. Why is it a holiday?
"Well, I don't know. It supposed to predict whether there will be more winter or not."
How is a marmotte supposed to predict the weather?
"Uh, well, whether or not it sees it's shadow.... I don't know... Don't ask me...."

Marmotte is also a term for someone who sleeps a lot, which is certainly something I did today. Guess I was tired from being sick all week, because I slept until 9, then took a three hour nap on the couch.

Yes, I am a marmotte and proud of it.
vendredi 1 février 2008
For a day.

So yesterday was my last day of work for the place that I started in March 2007. I start next Monday at my new position in Aix en Provence.
I am extremely grateful that they (my first job) took a chance on me, who had never worked before in France and only spoke French so-so. (and did miserably on my interview by the way). I had interviewed with at least 15 places and had sent out about a hundred resumes, looked for months.

The first few months back in the workforce were a huge adjustment- I hadn't worked for a private company before, and I find the French workplace different- less personal for one. Plus, I had spent over a year NOT working, so getting reused to the 8-6 workday took some time. To make it even better, I kept coming in late due to the SNCF strike(s) and had to take half a day off every other month or so to go to the Prefecture, or the Embassy, or whatever.
And now, I am moving on.

How did I spend my day of unemployment? Slept in until 6:30 (wow!) then went for doctor's appointments in the morning, did some errands and grocery shopping, watched Matrix: Reloaded and remembered those desperate months of sitting at home, surfing internet, wondering When am I ever going to find a job?!

So many expats say it is very difficult for them to find work in France. I quite agree. Take the high unemployment rate in the general French population, throw in a less than 100% perfect French speaker, some paperwork difficulties, special dispensations required for companies to higher non-French (they have to prove you are better than all the other French) and it equals: really hard to find a job as a foreigner. Many people told me that I am very lucky- that it ONLY took me 6 months to find a job. That I found a CDI (permanent position). Just have to not get discouraged and believe that the right thing will come along eventually.

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