Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Quoi de neuf?

Looking back over my blog from the past few months, it struck me that while I have posted many a (hopefully) witty comment on the more incomprehensible aspects of French living, it’s been a while since I wrote about my actual French life.

One of the great things about my life is that I have a job that I really love. The trouble with having a job that you love is that sometimes you care a little bit too much about doing it well and it eats into the rest of your life and takes up a lot of your thinking time. When you also love many other things in life, that can lead to a lot of stress. I realised things had gone a bit too far when I had a long break in Scotland over Easter and, by the time I had finally started to relax, it was time to go back to work again. Since then, work has still been manic, but I have been making an effort to be calmer, more relaxed and a little less obsessed with filling every waking minute (and some when I should be sleeping) with exciting things to do.

So here is what I have been doing while trying not to do anything. Sunny weather always helps!

Visit the Base de Loisirs in Cergy. Cergy has a reputation for being a bit grim but this is a beautiful park with several lakes and lots of forest. We just had a barbecue, but you can also go sailing, take a cruise or even go swimming!

Picnic in the Parc du Château in St-Germain-en-Laye. Officially this isn’t allowed, but a park official looked at our spread of apéro snacks, couscous, fruit, salad and large quantities of wine and said, “As long as it’s a light picnic, it’s fine.”

Discover the Parc de Montsouris. This is probably the Parisian park that looks most like a British park. Not too much dust, and you are allowed to play on the grass!

Take a trip to Burgundy. Only 2 hours’ drive from Paris and also accessible by train, this area is proper countryside, with enough tree pollen to make me sneeze non-stop for two days. Luckily, the French healthcare system has since provided me with three types of medication and since then I’ve been fine. This was my first outdoor swim of the year, in a reservoir, and there is also lots of amazing food to taste! We adopted a friendly dog that insisted that we take it for a walk.

">Drink on a terrasse, preferably surrounded by all your friends and beautiful flowers.

Plan your next trip. Holiday weekends are coming up, so it’s time to go further afield again!

Sunday, 22 May 2011

We Will Shock You

As any expat knows, the rest of the world loves English-language music. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean that they understand the lyrics, with the result that far too many songs about copulation with ones female progenitor are blasted out in the aisles of French supermarkets as old ladies fuss about finding the ripest tomatoes and any anglophones in the vicinity cover their ears and blush in shame.

Listening to Autoroute Radio in the car today, I heard another delightful yet macabre example: a government advert reminding people that kids are legally required to use special car seats and wear seatbelts and that the biggest cause of death among under-tens in France is road accidents was followed by the broadcasting of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust."

Friday, 13 May 2011

I Don't Think, Therefore I Strike

The latest dispatch from a country that prides itself on its Cartesian thinking:

Today the RATP was on strike, running one train in 3 (or 4, depending on who you believe) on the RER lines A and B. The reason for cutting the service? Because on a normal schedule, the trains are too full.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

In Praise of French Customer Service

Just because I never thought I would have the occasion to use that title ...

I went to the bank today. Now admittedly, I went to the bank to complain about the ridiculously high charges that they were levying for running my account, but when I got there (and after I had hung around for ages avoiding the stares of the grim-faced lady with the anklebiter-sized dog who clearly thought I was going to queue jump her before anybody said "Bonjour" or asked me why I was there), what a welcome!

One of the major differences between my French bank and my UK banks is that in France I have a personal advisor. I know his name and I have his phone number and email address, which means that I can actually ring the bank instead of a call centre in Bangalore and make appointments with a real person.

M. Real Person dealt with the objectionable charges on my account, explained the difference between Visa and Electron cards and how to avoid paying fees on international transfers within and outwith the Eurozone, calculated my social security and tax payments for the year, recommended options for savings accounts, apologised for calling me English and taught me several useful expressions in bureaucratic and financial French, and all without once implying that I might be dumb, too foreign or wasting his time. Given that visits to the bank generally cause me sleepless nights as I try to predict all the things they might do to pull the wool over my eyes or avoid helping me at all, it was a very, very pleasant surprise!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Eddie Izzard: Swimming in the European Melting Pot

I saw Eddie Izzard perform last night at the Théâtre de Dix Heures. He was about 5 metres away from me. In an auditorium that can't have held more than about 100 people. Where the backstage curtains could be pulled back to reveal a small courtyard with a few dustbins and a waiter called Thierry in it. Eddie was speaking French.

For those of you who don't know, Eddie Izzard is an incredibly famous comedian who normally performs in venues like Wembley Stadium, in English.

Like most Brits, Eddie studied French at school until he was 16. He makes mistakes with genders, verb tenses, forming past participles, vocabulary and just about everything else that can go wrong when you speak a foreign language. He sounds like an English man. And yet, he can stand up in front of a room full of people and talk non-stop for an hour. Not only that, it's extremely funny.

You can hear Eddie in French on YouTube here. I reckon this should be shown to all British kids learning French at school because wow, what an inspiration!