Adventures and misadventures in France.

Playing catchup

As long as we’re based in France, it’s important to make the move of Europe’s excessive vacation time! summer and early fall were packed with trips all over France and Europe. Here are some highlights from the blog posts I’m looking forward to sharing:

July

My sister and I spent several days exploring Reykjavik and the surrounding area in Iceland.

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August

Max and I took a road trip down to the Bordeaux region of France.

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September

We visited the beaches of Normandie with my parents.

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September

A work retreat took us to Tourraine, France.

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October

I attended an annual software conference hosted in Berlin, Germany.

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And in other news – Max, Jojo, and I will be on the move again in early 2015. We’ve accepted a work transfer to Houston, TX!

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Au revoir, vélo

Max has finally completed his temporary work assignment in Angers, which means I no longer have to bike to work! Sure, it was only 3 km each way to a colleague’s house, where I spent each morning cuddling with his adorable baby and chihuahua… But trust me, it feels good to arrive at work without a layer of sweat and body odor. My coworkers are probably equally pleased with the change. 

Biking to work, by the numbers 

Months without transportation : 6

Days biked : 72

Biking to work was inconvient and time-consuming, but it was also a great way to spend more time outside and make exercise part of the daily routine. Plus, we had a very mild spring and summer without too much rain – ideal biking weather. 

Dog casualties : 1

Days to re-sell the bike : 4

Two hours after my last commute, the bike was already posted to French Craigslist. Four days later, a nice family from a couple towns away paid more than the original price. And as we enter a delightful Indian summer, I’m more than happy to trade biking for some pick-up basketball and trips to the pool during lunch breaks!

 

In today’s episode of Kim vs. France, we examine some challenges of highly-secure European banking. As I’ve mentioned before, Europe is eons ahead of American credit cards and banking systems. And while I’m sure that keeping money safe from hackers and digital robbers is important, have they gone too far?

Last night, I attempted to pay my rent by wire transfer. With online access, the process seemed fairly simple. I logged in with an assigned 12-digit numerical code and 6-digit password. To even enter the wire information, the site requested a secret code from a key card the bank sent by mail. Simple enough.

After entering the account information, I needed to enter ANOTHER code they provided by phone to make the transfer. So I waited for a call or text, with no luck. As it turns out, the account is linked to my office phone. I tried to enter my cell phone instead, but a new number can’t be validated without ANOTHER code that the bank sent by mail a couple months ago. And THAT code is no longer valid.

This morning I tried the entire process again at work, and received the call with the code. An automated voice began barking numbers. Not slowly or digit-by-digit to ensure that it could be understood, but rapidly in French counting style :

SIXTY-FIFTEENTWENTYTWOEIGHTY-ELEVEN*click*

What was that? Sixty-five twenty-two eighty? In France, numbers are always read in two-digit sets. There is no translation for seventy, eighty, or ninety. They substitute with basic arithmatic instead :

70 = sixty-ten           80 = four-twenties           90 = four-twenties-ten

Wait, what? Four-twenties-ten? Yes. It comes from Basque and was adopted by the Gauls and then the French. This has bothered me since they taught us to count in seventh grade French class.

It took several frustrating tries to realize that the code wasn’t 60-15-22-80-11, but 75-22-91.

Next time I’ll just pay in cash.

Whoops…

 

Three months without a single post? My bad. As the days grew longer here, the Loire was hit with a surprisingly mild and warm spring/early summer, offering plenty of opportunities for activities. In April, we took a few weekend excursions not far from home. In May, I hopped back to the US for my brother’s college graduation and quick stops in Washington DC and Boston. June was the beginning of French barbecue season, and this weekend Max and I are headed to the first of three summer weddings for various cousins. We’ll be arriving at the mairie (town hall) for a 10 AM civil ceremony, then it’s off to the church and an entire afternoon, evening, night, and then morning of food, dancing, and shenanigans.

This month, not only is my sister visiting France, but we’re headed to Iceland! At this time of year, the sun never fully sets, so we’ll be filling the days with hikes, Icelandic horses, exploring Reykjavik, and puffin-hunting.

Happy Independence Day!

Facing the music

This weekend, Max and I took a road trip up to Normandy to pick up my early birthday present, a piano keyboard! It may be 10 years since my last lesson (not including several ill-fated years of clarinet) but I’m determined to pick it up again. After a couple days of practicing, it’s become painfully clear that I need to practice playing with the left hand and reading music. I’ve printed out some covers of popular music, but most of it is still beyond my ability, so Max has been recruited to participate in ‘Heart and Soul’ duets for now.

Any suggestions for beginner/intermediate piano music or excercises would be appreciated!

Celebrity gossip is not my first choice of reading material, but this week’s article about the Gwyneth Paltrow/Chris Martin split from the Telegraph offers a hilarious commentary on European-American relationships.

The Pitfalls of Marrying an American Woman

The evidence hits far too close to home :

To marry an American is to accept the word “woo!” into your life. The word is not in any dictionary, but is written deep inside an American’s heart and soul. To an American, if anything vaguely good is happening, one must emit a “woo”. Perhaps a baseball team has hit a baseball. Or a tray of cupcakes successfully made it from the kitchen to a living room table. Anything dimly positive can be greeted with a overly-loud, obnoxiously out-of-context: “WOOO! YEAH! Cupcakes! Awesome!”. It is insufferable.

Excuse me while I look up more recipes for cupcakes. Woo!

While my fellow Bostonians were celebrating their Irish heritage with kelly-green accessories, celtic music, and alcohol, I spent St. Patrick’s Day in Nantes for a day of French civic training. As I mentioned before, this was the last step in a series of required appointments to qualify for extended residency in France. In addition, I would need to find time to get to the préfecture of Nantes to obtain the actual carte de séjour.

6:45 – Bus

The training session was scheduled to last all day beginning at 9 am. I requested the day off from work, and planned to race across town during the lunch break to pick up the carte to avoid an additional day wasted on public transportation. I caught an early bus into the city but managed to choose the longest bus route (two hours instead of one), which meant a stressful speed-walk to the training center.

9:15 – France 101

I followed another latecomer into class and sat down to begin taking notes. It soon became apparent that a room full of middle-aged white French women was not the OFII class at all, but a nursing course, so I apologized and slipped back out the door with their laughter echoing into the hallway.

Finally I arrived in the correct class, which presented a fascinating level of cultural diversity. The instructor who appeared to be French had immigrated from Kosovo almost twenty years ago. Half of the class was from Africa, but each from a different country. I was seated next to a woman from Mongolia and two nuns from New Zealand. The morning session was filled with lessons about the rights, responsibilities, and advantages of seeking naturalization in France. Next came an overview of French history. The instructor offered hilights of the French revolution (incoherent anecdotes about Mary Antoinette and the guillotine), the European Union, and WWI and WWII. Some how he also managed to fit in a lesson about the most recent French presidents, gay rights, and the legalization of abortion.

12:00 – Lunch

Pausing for lunch, we were offered a complimentary three-course meal in the training center cafeteria. Scooting through the line, I could hear a server arguing with one of my classmates, a man from Cuba. “Monsieur! That salad has ham in it! It has ham!” The classmate responded quickly with “Yes I know, I can see that,” and turned to me with an exhasperated expression, “Everyone here thinks I’m Muslim. It happens constantly.” We ate, chatted about the class, and discussed my plan to run across town for the carte de séjour. He wished me luck, but offered a warning about notoriously long wait times. Confident, I promised to signal the outcome when I got back.

Soon I headed uptown. The immigration office closed for lunch until 1:30, but I needed to buy timbres fiscaux (stamps used as tax payments). They can be purchased in most convenience stores, but I had to ask in three different stores before somebody had them in stock.

1:00 – Préfecture

A crowd had already gathered at the préfecture, and people in the hallway started to get agressive. When the doors opened, everyone rushed to take a numbered ticket. Remembering previous visits, I didn’t bother, and patiently waited in an area reserved for people with appointments. Ten minutes later, a woman at the counter explained that I was in the wrong line and needed a ticket. Apparently, only one window is reserved for people picking up their cartes. Merde. I grabbed a ticket marked with the 30th place in line, which would mean hours of waiting. It was over. I handed off the ticket to someone else and shuffled out the door as a failure.

2:20 – Afternoon session

Late to the afternoon training session, I apologized to the instructor and gave a sullen “thumbs down” to the Cuban. The instructor launched into a lecture about democracy and the organization of local/regional/national government offices. He showed us some symbols of France, including the flag, national anthem, and Marianne. Soon the class was drawn into a discussion about French laïcité (secularism) and its impact on the rights of men and women, which led to the following dialogue :

“So if I understand correctly, here in France it is recommended to take only one wife?”

“Not recommended! Illegal! You may only legally have one wife.”

“Women here have too much power. But I have another question. If my wife and I are separated but not divorced, and I’m living in a different house with another woman, is it legal?”

“Well your wife won’t be happy, but yes, it’s legal.”

3:30 – Coffee break

The instructor came over and complimented my doodles and notetaking, so I took the opportunity to ask what time the class would end. Five pm. Earlier than expected, but too late for the préfecture. I launched into a tale of woe about living so far away, missing days of work, and just hoping for the opportunity to go pick up my new visa. He paused for a moment, shrugged, and offered to let me go early for “special circumstances.” Shocked, I thanked him profusely, whipped out a pen to sign my attendance certificate, avoided eye contact with jealous classmates, and ran out the door.

3:45 – Préfecture part deux

Twenty minutes later, I was facing a sign taped to the préfecture ticket machine.

“No more tickets. Office closed.”

Of course I hadn’t bothered to keep my ticket from earlier. A few people were still waiting to be called, so I hunted on the floor and under seats to see if anyone had dropped a ticket. No luck. Finally, the line cleared and I cautiously approached the window. A cheerful man benhind the counter took my paperwork and timbres, asked me to sign some documents, then handed over the carte de séjour! I shook his hand, high-fived some fellow étrangers, and skipped out of the office…

… directly to a pub for a celebratory Guinness.

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