Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Very Punny

After my trip to Italy (which I have finally finished writing about on my Italian blog!) I was back in Paris for all of around 36 hours before Understanding Frenchman and I set off for the south-west of France, home of glorious scenery, glorious food and, to our delight, glorious puns.

Our first hilarious destination was the small town of

in the Limousin region. We went looking for a petrol station and came back with a still-empty tank and a belly full of laughs.

When we arrived in the Pyrenees, some members of our group stopped off to enjoy Seix in the sunshine, while the rest of us wondered if we had missed an exciting opportunity.

We also visited the Cascade d'Ars - not a poetic name for diarrhoea, but in fact this beautiful waterfall.

And finally, having visited the prefecture of the Ariege department, we were able to answer the question "What three French towns make 21?".

Can you?

Another Happy Experience with French Bureaucracy

(or "Things that Really Shouldn't be Worth Writing About but have Nevertheless Filled Me with Great Joy")

This morning, I paid a visit to my Caisse Primaire d'Assurance Maladie, the office that deals with the paperwork surrounding the French national health service. I needed an Attestation de Carte Vitale, a document testifying to my right to access the healthcare system, one of the many documents which one receives in the post one day in France and must conserve for the rest of one's life and which I had promptly lost among all the other such documents I have which, after 4 years in France now fill two large files and take up far too much space on my bookshelf.

I had been informed (wrongly as it turned out) that this document needed one of the dreaded tampons (not a feminine hygiene product but an official stamp) and as my last visit to this office lasted almost 4 hours, I went prepared. I got up early to beat the queue and made sure I ate a good breakfast. In my bag I packed not only as many official documents as I could think of but also a book to read and, fearing that the 20 pages I had left would not be enough, a second book, as well as my new Smartphone (yes, I'm very excited about that too!) to keep me entertained.

When I arrived at the office, I discovered that the machine to print the document I needed was no longer out of order and my mood lifted several degrees. I inserted my card and was presented with a range of choices, including the option to print out the Attestation. I touched the screen. The document appeared. A surge of happy adrenaline coursed through my veins. I printed a second copy. Nowhere did it say I needed the fearsome tampon. I returned to the initial screen. So many choices! High on the ease of the operation, I requested a European Health Card and a Declaration de Medecin Traitant (another two pieces of paperwork that I've been putting off dealing with for about 18 months now too.) Before removing my card, I clicked another couple of options just to see what was available to me and was ever so slightly disappointed that none of the documents on the list were things that I needed.

I collected my papers and turned around. The office was empty except for the lady at reception, who smiled at me and asked if I needed anything. Feeling that my experiences had been in the fairytale-on-cloud-nine realm of too-good-to-be-true, I double-checked about the tampon. Nope, none needed.

"Votre systeme avec la machine est vraiment efficace," I said.

"Tant mieux," she replied, with a beatific smile.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

5 Days in the Boot

I've been in Italy for the past 5 days so I've been posting details of my adventures over on my Italian blog.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Staying Put

This month is the second anniversary of my 3rd move to France and, for the first time in my adult life, I'll be spending it not expecting to move anywhere any time soon. Spending more than two years in one place is normal for most people but to me it feels a bit strange. I will be starting a new job in a couple of months but no international move is involved, just a bit of commuting in the opposite direction from I'm used to.

Staying (nearly) in Paris was a conscious decision and I'm content with my choice. I have a great life here: a career that makes me happy, a lovely flat, great friends from all over the world, Understanding Frenchman ... the list of things I wouldn't want to leave goes on and on. I also (despite my occasional rantings) find France an easy country to live in. While there are endless fascinating cultural differences, in relation to the rest of the world, it's not that different from the UK, and in terms of standard of living, any bad points (for me, at the moment) are easily cancelled out by the good.

But although the glass is definitely well over half-full, I'm a bit of a life-perfectionist and in my more neurotic moments, I wonder if I'm becoming too settled too soon. What about all the other places I haven't seen yet? What about all those other languages I haven't learned?

But in my old-age, I fear that I'm becoming too wise. Changing countries would almost inevitably involve giving up at least some out of the fabulous food, the fabulous scenery, the fabulous health service, the strict employment laws, the (relative) freedom from corruption, the possibility of speaking the language fluently and the opportunity to pay national insurance contributions that will actually pay towards my pension.

How do you weigh up the value of these things compared to the possibility of a wonderful but unknown adventure?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Life is Good

As I may have confessed here before, I have an awkward relationship in my life. It should be all beautiful and romantic, full of lights and flowers, seduction and sophistication. And yet, too often, it's not like that. Too often, the busy-ness and the rudeness, the rushing and the endless, pressing presence of other people bring it down and I don't feel the loving emotions that seem to be expected of me.

Yes, my relationship with Paris is a difficult one.

But sometimes it has its high points. Like last weekend.

Saturday started off with some happy shopping buying presents and spending gift vouchers in the delightfully disorganised bookshop of perfect suburbia. Then I celebrated a friend's 30th birthday with champagne and a picnic in the park.

After that, I headed into the big metropolis, where an American friend was having a 4th July (or Lose a Colony Day) celebration. (It was only the 2nd and closer to Canada Day, so I figured I could justify it.)

In the evening, it was on to the last picnic of the day, with my lovely, laid-back Italian friends in the 15th. We sat on the grass admiring Les Invalides as it was lit up in the growing darkness, then slipped quickly back home on metro line 6 (my personal favourite) when it got too cold.

Sunday was another gorgeous day and I walked along the Promenade Plantee, which was gloriously green and cool, to meet friends at Chatelet. After a couple of hours of putting the world to rights over ice-cream, we walked along the banks of the Seine admiring the way the blue sky reflected turquoise in the normally brown water of the river and the way the light and shadows played in a dance on the sunlit quays.

My relationship with Paris may be fickle, but sometimes it's just perfect.