dimanche 30 août 2009
Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by numbers, especially their relations with each other.
For example, riding up the ski lift I would watch the chairs going by, and noticing the number of each one, try to find the highest number, or find the chair with the number of my birthdate, or count how many there were, or whatever.

Riding in the car during interminable car trips, I would watch the mile markers on the highway go by. I would often remember exactly how many miles we had to go in Kansas, or count how many minutes before passing each mile marker.

Driving home from work, I have divided up the last 5 km of my route (the slowest part) into nine different sections, and then I count how many minutes it takes me to get through each section, and then sing to myself
2-1-2-3-1-1-1-1-4 (or however minutes each section took).

Trying to take a nap the other day, my mind was whirring away, with different numbers in my head.
45. Now if I flip that, that is 54. Nine numbers apart.
Let's see. If I take 24, then it is 18 apart from 42. Huh. a multiple of nine.
Let's see, then if I take the second number 4, and then subtract the first number 2, then multiply that by nine and then add that to the first number (24) I get 42. Interesting. So the difference between the two numbers is the multiple by which 9 must be multiplied, then the sum added to the first number to get its reverse.
Now wait a minute, what if it is a number with the second number less than the first, like 51? Let's see, 1-5=-4. -4 times 9 = -36, which when added to 51 equals 15. Cool!
Okay, time to go to sleep.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to figure this out, but it is just to give you an idea of the strange things that wander through my mind. I was anxious to get home and verify my theory, so I wrote up an Excel spreadsheet. It works. Try it. Amaze your friends with your amazing math skills.
Just be sure you can add for example 36 and 27 in your head.
It even tecnically works for numbers such as the following:
9: 09 + (9-0)*9 = 9 + 81 = 90
44: 44 + (4-4)*9= 44 + 0 = 44

Now, this being said, the French number system really gets on my nerves. I mean honestly, who came up with the names for their numbers (70-99)?!
99 = four twenties, a ten, and a nine
what a mouthful.
Here is my new French numbering system:
40= quarante
50= cinquante
60= soixante
70= septante
80= huitante
90= neuffante
99= neuffante-neuf.
So much better!
jeudi 20 août 2009
Last week, as part of my self-torture plan, I went to the Bureau de Proximité of the Mairie here in Marseille to get the file to start the long arduous process of obtaining my French nationality. I figured that as I had just spent weeks photocopying every single electricity bill, bank statement, and tax receipt received since moving here in order to get my 10-year card, that while I had all this organized and scanned that I might as well take the next step.

Little did I know that France has some new and exciting hoops to jump through. Ready for this?
Hoop #1) Are your parents married (to each other, still)? Yes?
Okay. We need a translated official copy (with Apostille) of their marriage certificate.
- Um, my parents got married in Thailand. Super, I can already tell this is going to be a barrel of fun.

Hoop #2) We need a translated apostille official copy of your police record. - Um, I've lived in four different countries and in three different states. Do you really need a note from the German government that I wasn't wreaking too much havoc at the age of 3?

Hoop #3) We need a translated (obviously because Name is way too hard to figure out) apostille official copy of your birth certificate.
- This one I rather figured but I have to get a minor spelling error corrected first. It is already incorrect on our Livret de Famille/Acte de Mariage

Hoop #4) Copies of your diplomas.
- As any American knows, a US diploma is not a regular A4 sheet of paper. Oh no. These babies are frickin' huge, the better to be framed and hung in your office. I am hoping they will accept official transcripts.

Hoop #5) A statement from the Treasury that you have paid all your taxes.
- Ah yes. I see what is important to La Republique Française.

Hoop #6) A copy of your entire acte de vente, buying your property. All 50 pages of it.
- I'm sure they will just look at the first page to check the names and address and the last page to check the signature and that is it.

Once I have all this stuff, plus the all important Electricity Bill (good grief you would think that the EDF bills were issued by God for all the importance the French attribute to them) and tax receipts of course, I have to call the Mairie to have an appointment to hand in my file. Then they will supposedly have it reviewed within 6 months, and call me in to the Prefecture for an interview and then make their decision. I think 6 months is a bit (extremely) optimistic.

Anybody want to guess how much all of this (ordering of certified copies, get the Apostilles, paying for translations, etc) will cost me? I am guessing 1000€.
A few things I have learned from living in France:
a) always get official records corrected as soon as possible after you notice the error, because it is a pain to get it corrected later
b) always order about 50 copies of every thing while you are at it- most of the fee comes from them looking up the file and sending it to you, the copy itself is usually only a few dollars
c) same with translating- the main cost is the time the translator spends, so get about 10 official copies of your birth certificate translated into whatever language you need
d) scan everything and save it on several different hard disks

I am sure this process is as complicated for other countries as well, I am not complaining too much.
At least here there doesn't seem to be as much, or any, visiting of our home to see if we are living together, separate interviews, etc. like there is in the US.

Sigh. So maybe a year from now I will be an official Frenchie. How strange.
If I can even get my file turned in before December I think it will be going well. I guess I can't actually get the nationality until we have been married four years, but hopefully by next May they will be close to deciding. Oh, and another thing I found funny- I was told that once I get my décret de naturalisation they will issue me a new birth certificate, so I will literally be born again as a Frenchwoman. :)
dimanche 16 août 2009
I think I've about had it with this city.
It was good, especially the first year I was here, to live in a big city where I could get around easily, go to my French courses, meet other foreigners, go to the US Consulate, Prefecture, (on a bi-weekly basis) doctor's appointments, etc. easily.
But now? Over it.

The problem? Alain really likes Marseille.
He thinks it is great to be able to go to museums, movies, the beach, and all the rest. Me too. The only thing wrong with that is- we never do any of that stuff! I guess partly because our life the past three years has been:
Apartment Work Apartment Work Apartment, that we haven't gotten out much, but basically right now pretty much all this city is for me is:
1) hard to find parking
2) traffic jams coming home from work, and
3) dirty.
For the past few years, City Hall has invested a lot of money trying to improve Marseille and Marseille's image- hiring more street cleaners, putting up signs with things like "I am proud of my city- I keep it clean." Yeah right. After all this campaigning and probably hundreds of thousands of euros spent, the most I can say is slightly less dog poop and a smidge less trash. Woohoo.

People toss candy wrappers out their car windows, drop their soda cans as they are walking down the street, and don't even get me started on cigarette butts. Even INSIDE our building we have people who drop their cigarettes in the entranceway and on the stairs. Who cares? It's not chez eux. The cleaning lady (who comes once a week or less) will clean it up.
No wonder tourists avoid it like the plague and prefer to go visit cities like Aix, Avignon, Arles. Even the cruise ships that stop here, the visitors seem to either make a beeline for a day in Paris or else go visit the countryside.

When you ask someone who loves Marseille exactly why they love Marseille, you will most likely get an answer along these lines: "The sea!" "The Calanques!" "The islands!" In short, the things that the Marseillais themselves have nothing to do with.
Marseille has been elected the European Capital of Culture for the year 2013. This should be interesting folks.
The thing is, that the city could be really nice if it would just be a whole lot cleaner- there are nice neighborhoods, nice restaurants and stores, lively markets, museums, an opera, and all the rest. It is also true that there are some very nice areas- places we couldn't afford after a century of saving. But in general, it pretty much averages out to cesspool.
Perhaps I will feel a bit differently once we are able to start enjoying life a bit more.
samedi 15 août 2009

Kitchen Sink.

Alain has spent the first two weeks of August working on his Honey Do list:
Number 1) Finish the kitchen!
Number 2) See number one!
Number 3) What, you still haven't finished the kitchen yet?
Number 4) What are you doing looking at number 4 on the list if number 1 isn't done yet?!
And so forth.

(removed old sink and moved washer ->)

This is something that he has been waiting to have a significant block of time before attacking.

We had long ago replaced the water heater, changed the gas pipes, removed the ugly glass and metal monstrosity above the stove, removed the incredibly ugly wallpaper, repainted, and installed the cabinets. *ALL* that remained was to add some more plugs (our apartment was built in a time when they could not figure out why anyone would need more than one plug in each bedroom, and a maximum of two in the kitchen), move the piping around, and install the new sink and a dishwasher.

Back when we bought the kitchen elements (from IKEA, where else?) in Nov. 2007, we also bought the sink, coutertop, and a door for the dishwasher. We were planning on having one of those integratable ones, where you put a door on the front that looks like the rest of your cabinets.

Anyway, all of that has been sitting in our apartment, shifted from one room to the other from time to time.

As Alain has all of August off, he decided to tackle it this month. He installed three new plugs on one side of the kitchen and three on the other.

Electricity + Water = Yay!

We removed the disgusting old sink (which is now sitting in the small bedroom) and have been without a kitchen sink for almost two weeks now. I thought not having a shower was difficult but in a way this is almost more difficult. And am getting tired of washing the dishes in a bucket. Anyway.

We paid (400€ ouch) a plumber to come and move the piping around because it wasn't in the right place for what we wanted to do. As our apartment was built before there were standard sizes (and certainly nothing is straight) we had to do quite a balancing act to be able to get a dishwasher+sink+washer+stove in the area we have.

After much measuring, we finally decided that we would not be able to put a dishwasher of 60 cm wide in the space next to the sink (so now we have an extra door that will go in his parent's magical attic). We decided that we would have to go with a dishwasher of 45 cm wide.

Last Saturday we went to some hardware stores, bought some boards to rest the countertop on, and some bricks for him to build a small wall between the washer and the stove to support the other side of the countertop. This past week he mounted the boards/walls and got annoyed with me when each time I came home from work I went straight to the kitchen to see how much he had progressed. Not that I didn't think he was working fast enough, it was just interesting to see how it changes from day to day.

He cut the board, going through about 3 saw blades and filling the apartment with smoke- luckily nobody called the fire department, though it is a bit unsettling to think that our apartment could really be on fire and none of the neighbors would notice/react.

Last night we went to Ikea, bought a faucet, and then went to the discount appliance place and decided on a dishwasher, 45 cm wide. They will deliver it in about two weeks. We could have brought it to our apartment ourselves, but decided not to trouble with it for now- besides, with everything in the middle at the moment, there would be no place to put it. Better to wait for Alain to install the countertop, sink, and cabinet doors and then just put the dishwasher in place once it arrives. He has one more week to finish.

This is turning out to be an unexpectedly expensive month for us: new dishwasher, paying for plumber, paying to get the car fixed, plus taxes. Yikes. At least the taxes were less than we predicted because we got some reductions for the new windows and water heater that we installed.
vendredi 7 août 2009
She has been in France now for two years. Her part-time 5-month contract did not turn into a full-time offer, so she continued to search, month after fruitless month, for a job. She was, quite frankly, astounded that she was not snapped up right away, especially as there are many small, medium, and large businesses in the area with her specialty. When her Frenchman told her that it might be very difficult for her to find a job in France, she nodded and said "Yes, I understand"; while secretly thinking to herself "I've never had a problem finding a job before, why wouldn't they snatch up an English speaking person with a Master's?"
Only to find that while the French might lament to each other their deplorable English skills in private, in the business world they are quite offended that their speaking and writing skills are not up to snuff and that a native English speaking person might actually be able to speak and write English better. In short, they feel threatened and firmly close the door.
At the end of October, they bought their first property, and moved in the first half of November, only to be quickly confronted with major renovations.
A few weeks before Christmas, they pulled out the bathtub, and she (very naively) thought that it would only take a week or so to re-do, it should be done before they leave for the US for Christmas.
In the US, they spend an interesting two weeks snow-bound with family, but at the end, she isn't too eager to return to France- spending all day at home, in a messy apartment with no shower, trying to find a job, depressed, and having serious thoughts about killing the neighbor's dog.
She has joined a "Club de Jeunes Diplômés" whose aim is to use networking and informational interviews to try and make contacts. The idea is to contact companies that you are interested, and not say that you are looking for a job, but just that you would like to find out more about what they do, and ask to have a 30 minute discussion with someone from their company who does what you are interested in. Then, if they say okay, you go (with several copies of your resume) talk to the person, find out more about what they do, and try to find out (at the end) whether they are hiring and, if not, whether they know anyone else who is.
She scores a few interviews this way, but once she goes to them she suspects they accepted because they (youngish Frenchman) thought it would be amusing to meet une américaine.
At the end of February, she finally gets a job offer- Project Manager for an industrial company, something she has no clue about, but will take anything at this point, as it isn't teaching English to rugrats.
The first few (days, weeks, months) are very hard. She hasn't "worked" in the proper sense of the term for almost two years, and never in an industrial environment and never all in a foreign language. Plus a few train strikes added in that double the commute time and stress, and the months pass very very slowly.
The bathroom is finally finished, so she can take actual showers now, instead of taking them at the gym near her work.
Her Frenchman is going to spend August working on the apartment, as usual, and since the factory is closing for a week, she is going to stay home and help him.
She keeps sending out resumes, hoping for something else, even though, as her Frenchman reminds her, it pays well and many people would be very happy to have it, given the unemployment rate. She remembers how long it took her to find a job and how depressed she was, and agrees.
mardi 4 août 2009
For several months now, I have been stumped as far as what to write to the Prefecture for my "lettre de un-motivation" so as to obtain my 10-year carte de sejour. Since many of you have likely already done this, please help me out. (funny or serious suggestions accepted).
Since the French are absolutely enamoured with modèles de lettre, here we go:
Monsieur le Préfet,
I am requesting, by the present, a 10-year residency card because _____(1)________. I want to continue living in this great nation because _____(2)________. In fact, nothing would _____(3)________ than to spend the rest of my days _____(4)________. My three favorite things about France are ______(5)_______, ______(6)_______, and ______(7)_______. I have contributed ______(8)_______ to the overall well-being and advancement of this country, and forever renounce _____(9)________. If you don't give me my 10-year card I will _____(10)________.
Je vous prie d'agréer, Monsieur le Préfet, l'expression de mes salutations respectueuses.
An American in Provence
dimanche 2 août 2009
Saturday morning, while Alain was preparing the small bedroom for painting, I decided to make a quick trip to IKEA to pick up some more baskets to arrange things in. Now that we are (finally! knock on wood!) getting towards the end of our Odyssey, we will need to start actually arranging things. While it was fun stepping over piles of stuff on the floor for a year, now we are going to start putting the junk away. Too bad we don't actually have a storage space in the basement...

But that's another story, and one I don't particularly want to think about right now. Or ever.

So we decided to buy 4 more of a medium-sized basket that we had previously bought to put next to our couch to hold my sewing items, magazines, blanket, etc.

I left for IKEA at little after 9, planning on getting there early in order to get in and out as quickly as possible before the hordes descend. I got there, went through the mandatory route through the top of the store (living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, etc), went downstairs and went through the self-service section (cooking supplies, linens, bathroom items, lights, paintings, kid's toys) all the way to the end where they store the decorative items (plants, candles, baskets). Got to the basket section, and all that was left was one large basket. I asked a worker what had happened to the others, and he said that they had been put on sale and that there were no more left. What a bummer! I left and returned to Marseille. I decided to call the other store right near Marseille (there are two in this area, we live about in the middle between them but usually prefer to go to the first one as it is easier to get on/off the autoroute and it doesn't have the Parking Garage from Hell). Except that I forgot that many national chains are no longer posting the individual telephone numbers of their stores- you have to call a central (toll) number for information. While I was at the store, I should have asked the guy to call the other store and find out for me.

I called and waited for about 15 minutes before finally getting through to someone. I just wanted to ask if the other store, La Valentine, had any more of these baskets in stock. After much hemming and hawing and several euros added to my phone bill, I got a firm "Je ne sais pas". So I got back in the car and headed off. By this time it was getting towards noon, so I knew it would be much more difficult to get in and out of the store. However, this time I was able to slip in to the bottom part, without having to go through the entire store. There were tons of baskets left! I picked out four medium ones, paid (39€ each), stuffed them into the backseat (just barely) and headed back towards Marseille, getting completely lost and finally taking an entirely new route back home.

We painted them white, using the spray gun, after Alain finished painting the bedroom white. Now they are drying and don't look too bad. Going to fill them up and put them on top of the armoire in our medium bedroom.

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