Friday, November 28, 2008

Another Thanksgiving Miracle!

I went down to the sous-préfecture today to see if the récépissé for my carte de séjour was ready yet ( this is the piece of paper that says I've applied for my green card) . Remember that there's a weird new lady this year who wanted my last three pay slips, attestations from Sécu, and my tax sheet in addition to the usual birth certificate, contract, etc. I'd kind of been thinking that with all of these extra things submitted for my CDS that I might somehow slip under the radar and get a salarié card instead of an assistant/lecteur card. A salarié would be valid for about a year, give me the right to stay and work in France and the right to renew the card versus the assistant card that's over and done with when your contract is up.

The récepissé was ready, and after telling the weird new lady how happy I am that Obama was elected, I left the office, free to examine my shiny new piece of paper from the French government. And it says....

"... a demandé la delivrance d'un premier titre de séjour d'un an..."

Or in English, that I have made the request for a CDS of one year! I don't know for sure if it will be salarié or if it'll be a normal temporary card that's valid for longer than usual. In any case, I'm cautiously hopeful! This means that theoretically I will be able to stay in France without having to find a guy who will PACS me. I'll just have to find a company desperate to employ a native English speaker.

Come to think of it, finding a man is probably easier!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How to Make Thanksgiving Dinner Without an Oven

I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday. I have such great memories of spending it at my aunt's house, watching football while the yummy cooking smells rolled in from the kitchen, me and my cousin trying to break up fights between my brother and sister, getting stuck on the Pennsylvania turnpike for hours in snowstorms, turkey jigglers, my aunt's collection of turkey household objects, the whole family in an over-eating induced stupor on the couch after dinner watching Home Alone ... I really like the idea of a day where we have to think about what we're grateful for in our lives, instead of our usual routine of complaints and dissatisfaction.

And yet I find myself in France and not celebrating Thanksgiving with any Americans this year due to various scheduling problems (thanks SNCF). So I was determined to try to do something Thankgiving-y for myself, despite my very limited cooking implements: one electric burner, a microwave, and a refrigerator. I wasn't terribly hopeful of finding anything really typically Thanksgiving, until I saw cranberries at Monoprix last week! So I got my mom's recipe for cranberry sauce and headed back on Monday to pick up the cranberries....

...Except there were no cranberries, they were sold out! I panicked, cursing the horrible Frenchies who for whatever reason had decided to eat MY cranberries, and had to hope that they would be replaced the next day. No dice on Tuesday, and when there still weren't any cranberries yesterday I almost cried. But then, today, a Thanksgiving miracle! Cranberries had returned! So I grabbed them quickly before someone could take them out from under my nose (clearly they're a popular item), then headed over to the meat section to see what I could do about finding some already cooked turkey. The whole no oven thing is complicated when you have to make turkey in a country that doesn't really eat turkey. I don't know why they aren't more into the turkey, it's a delicious bird. I found this "roasted cooked turkey" (it was that or fried turkey patties, gross), and after a consultation with my friendly Monoprix butcher, I decided that it was a loaf of turkey deli meat that I could slice and warm in the microwave.

So I ended up with a huge tupperware container full of cranberry sauce, warm turkey deli meat, and a baked potato. I was too hungry to wait for a vegetable to be cooked and ready to eat! The one burner thing makes cooking a rather long process if you want to get into the main course plus side dish thing, and cranberries are a fruit anyway, so I got some fiber and vitamins. I have to say, it wasn't a half bad substitute for Thanksgiving and I am very thankful for that meal. I've been congratulating myself on it all night long, especially the cranberry sauce! I've never made it before and I'm known to really screw things up the first time I try to make them (kind of like how I always get lost the first time I go somewhere). Luckily it turned out okay, and tomorrow I can have the second best part of Thanksgiving food: leftover turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches the next day!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Six Things

Leah tagged me a few days ago, and after a busy, tiring, and half malade week, I'm finally getting around to it. So here we go, my first tag (!) and six things you probably don't know about me:

1.) I'm a huge nerd. Okay, this may not be something you don't know, because I think I've written about it on here before. But it really is true, I am a huge nerd. I always liked school and I still really like learning, especially about history (and current clinical practice in oncology, but that's another bag of worms). I plan my vacations here in Europe around seeing cool historical stuff because that's what I like to do on vacation. After years of lamenting my complete lack of coolness I've embraced my inner nerd and I am not ashamed of it. Clearly I was never very popular in school :(

2.) I really like rap and hip hop. It is a total non-sequitur with the above, but it's true. I can rap along to most Ludacris songs, and if you get me drunk enough I've been known to do it in public. You could say that I have an eclectic taste in music. When I put my iPod on shuffle I often have Jay-Z followed by opera followed by John Mayer.

3.) Ben and I are no longer together. He broke up with me about a month ago. He says that he's just not capable of being in a new relationship yet (after a very complicated history and nasty break up with his ex) and that it doesn't have anything to do with me, he has no idea why he feels this way, etc blah blah blah. Basically when I got back we had one good week and then things got weird, and finally I had to force him to break up with me. When things started getting weird I told him that we could just try dating and see how that went but he was insistent that he wanted to be together with me, and then clearly that didn't work out .... I don't know, it's all very confusing. It's been hard, not only because we built a really strong connection during those months when I was in the US when we were talking on the phone or emailing every day, but also because I was expecting to come back and have him there, and he's not. And then of course there's all the usual break up garbage. I mean, I know that we had a rather unconventional "relationship" and we weren't really "together" because we spent so little time physically in each other's company (especially compared to how much time we spent apart), but being forced to speak to each other (and we could talk for hours on the phone) really forced us to get to know each other, to know a lot about the other person and to see if we were compatible together. So in summary, as you can all see I'm totally incapable of starting or maintaining a normal relationship. Blah. I sandwiched this in the middle on purpose so that it doesn't make the end of the post all depressing. Let's forget about it and move on to number four...

4.) I really like those silly coffee dispensers they have in France. I'm not a big coffee drinker (only with milk and sugar, and of course in France you aren't allowed to put milk in your coffee so I don't drink coffee here, and it really bugs me that you can never get it to go except at Starbucks), but I like the thé nature and cappuccino. For only 40 centimes you get the same amount of liquid that you get at a café for €3. And the stuff tastes pretty good too! In fact I am sipping a thé nature while I'm writing this. And speaking of tea, why don't the French put honey in their tea? They always offer you sugar, and we all know that the superior tea sweetener is honey.

5.) In general I'm a pretty calm person and not too many things make me very upset, but beware if you get me going about politics. I was a poli sci major in college, and politics is something that can bring on very passionate reactions from me, including telling people they've been brainwashed into believing Republican nonesense (even if the brainwashing bit is true, you really shouldn't say things like that, it's rude). I just feel very strongly about public policy, specifically health care and social welfare policies, and I let my emotions get away from me. I mean, these are policies that determine the well-being of millions of people, you have to make sure it's done right. So it's probably best not to get into political discussions with me. Let me be crazy in my own head and we'll all pretend that I'm not two steps from being one of those psychotic people who rant on cardboard boxes on the corner.

6.) I am bordelique, as the French say, or in English, I'm messy. This doesn't mean that I'm dirty, because I am a germaphobe. Bordelique means that I accumulate stuff, mostly teaching stuff, and have nowhere to put it but generally around my room. I try to set up an organizational system with pochettes and hanging file folders and boxes so that everything is in a logical order, but it just doesn't work, because the next day when I come home with my teaching stuff I'm just going to throw it on top of the pile instead of in the hanging file folder or pochette where it belongs. And then things get really unorganized because I take multiple classes' photocopies to school in the same pochette, even though every class has a different pochette, and then don't reorganize it when I get home, so when I'm looking for it I can't find it because it's not where it's supposed to be. I'm hopeless.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This year personnels non-titulaires in the education system have a council (CCP) that will meet with the rectorat about all firings and individual job-related problems. On Thursday I got a big envelope with flyers from all of the different unions that want me to vote for them to carry my grievances to the rectorat. I am planning to vote, even though I don't think they'll actually do anything for me, so I'm trying to figure out which syndicat to vote for.

I immediately dismissed CGT and CFDT. I want nothing to do with unions who continually make my life miserable with train strikes. I want to make sure I vote for an organization that engages in real discussions and doesn't just faire la grève all the time.

So that leaves several other syndicats to consider. Most of them make totally ridiculous claims - one of them says they are going to guarantee me well-behaved students. Good luck buddy. Do they have a plan to personally harass each smart-mouthed lycéen and call the parents of all my wiggly little CE1s? Another promises to preserve laicité in the schools. I'm not sure what aspect of secularism they think is being attacked, are they going to require Muslim girls to not wear a head scarf outside of the building now? However if they will support me in my decision to not talk about Christmas at all I'm all for that. Tangent on Christmas in the French schools - I know that in France Christmas is more like Thanksgiving, that it's been totally stripped of any religious meaning, but in America it is still a religious holiday, and as such I belive it has no place in the public schools and I refuse to teach it. To me that is a major laicité violation. So if they can get all the marchés de noel outlawed, I'll vote for that. (We'll see if I end up actually refusing to teach Christmas or if I cave in under pressure.) The other problem is that most of these unions are for teachers of secondaire, and I'm more concerned about what happens in primaire.

But realistically, what are any of these groups going to do for me? Are they going to insist on the rectorat sponsoring a visa for me next year? Doubtful. Are they going to do anything to ameliorate the working conditions of assistants? Also doubtful. But I like feeling that I can have an impact on what happens here, so I'll vote anyway. If you have any information on the education syndicats feel free to share!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Next step in my quest to make new friends: become attached to the hip to the 27 year old directrice at V School. She must have cool, motivated, intelligent friends, right?

To the three other people who live on the couloir des profs in my chateau (ie the professors' hallway at the lycee where I live): I know I use the kitchen and the trash. I also know that you use the kitchen and the trash. I also know that I am the only one who cleans the kitchen, shower, and toilet (both of which I also know that you use). There is no magical trash removal fairy. You can get off your lazy ass and take out the damn trash. Yes, you.

Is it time to move? Furnished studios are being rented out in the centre ville, in a location about as ideal as where I live right now. The problem is that it would be a lot more money, €300 - 500, versus the €70 that I pay right now, and I'm not sure that it would be charges compris (if the price would include electric, etc) or if they have an elevator, because I am a wimp and I really like being able to use the elevator for heavy suitcases, groceries, etc. I'm also not sure that I want to make myself more settled here, to make any moves towards permanency and establishment. I've never even had my own apartment in the US, I've lived either in my parents' house or in university dorms. But at the same time, I am here until at least the end of June, which is seven long months, and I would be more comfortable in my own place. They are open tomorrow until 5 PM, I guess there's no harm in checking it out...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yesterday I went out and joined my groups! Apparently I'm going to be taking a "modelage" class, not a sculpting class. In France sculpting is exclusively with stone. As much as I love the image of myself as Michaelangelo, slowly chipping away at giant blocks of stone to make beautiful masterpieces, I definitely don't have that kind of patience or muscle control. So modelage it is! I'll sit in on the class next Monday to try it out. The teacher was really nice and seemed very positive about having me in the class despite my failed attempts at pinch pots back in 4th grade. She wants me in the 4:30 class, so I'm not sure how likely it is that there will be anyone my age taking a class at that time of day during normal working hours, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. She also decided to warn me that there are mentally handicapped people in the class. For anyone keeping tabs on the French prejudice against anyone with different mental abilities, you can add that episode to the list. Clearly the teacher isn't prejudiced, but she thought there was a possibility that I might be, or at least that I needed to be alerted to that fact.

Yesterday I also went to choir rehearsal! Mondays are going to be a busy day for me. Everyone in the choir is super nice and they were very welcoming. It seems that the soprano/alto personality divide is the same in France as it is in the US, so the sopranos are mostly the popular girls and the altos are more laid group. I've already been taken in by the soprano "groupe de copines" - the popular girls want me in their group! Let's say that in the US I was the exception to the soprano rule, so this is very exciting. As I was expecting the chorus is almost exclusively retirees, so the average age difference is about 40 years, but they may have chlidren or grandchildren my age who they'll want me to be friends with, or at the very least they may invite me over for dinner sometimes. I was very encouraged by how friendly they were, hopefully it will continue! At least I have the double novelty factor of being a) young and b) American.

The guy who runs the Cultural Center, where I'll be taking my modelage class, is an interesting guy. He started by asking me on what American authors he could read to get more of a feel of the American people and our history, because in France "we don't get the real story." At least he realizes that! And then he wanted to have a long discussion on the situation of American Indians (I use the term American Indian because the last I heard we were moving back towards that rather than saying Native Americans. In any case, I am trying to be sensitive and politically correct). Luckily I happen to know a little bit about this so I could sound semi-intelligent and informed, but if it were otherwise? This is a long winded way of saying that I think it's funny that the French automatically assume that as an American I know everything about America and can discuss any topic under the sun that might have something to do with my country. Do the French themselves feel competant to expound on any topic relating to France? I think the answer to that is yes, I have yet to meet a French person who doesn't have something to say about everything!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Does anyone know if there is anything interesting happening for Armistice Day in Paris other than the wreath-laying and military parade at 9 AM? And are those things even worth going to?

Recent Events in the 02

- I was finally given permission by my conseillère pédagogique to address her with the informal tu instead of the formal vous! It only took a little over a year. It's an interesting issue. I've eaten at her house several times, she knows a ton about me, and yet at the same time she is still my boss, so I didn't consider it abnormal to use vous with her for so long, although I guess I am a little surprised that it took as long as it did for her to decide that I could be informal with her now. I think that the complexity of vous and tu, like the genders of all the different nouns, is something that I will never fully understand even if I live in France for the rest of my life.

- Monoprix sells the type of Le Petit Marseillais body wash that I like to use in packets of two-for-one, except for the scent that I use. Why not mine? Let me preface this by saying that I have very sensitive skin, and what I'm sensitive to is added perfumes in lotion and soap products. This = disaster in France because everything, EVERYTHING, is heavily scented with perfume. Last year I tried lots and lots of different products, and even the products for sensitive skin have so much perfume in them that you stink like a hooker and break out in hives (I'm looking at you, Nivea). Back in June I finally I found a Petit Marseillais product with no artificial perfumes added, and I decided to try it out, still slightly sceptical. Luckily it was a successful experiment! Thank you Le Petit Marseillais! So I returned to Monoprix to restock, only to find that all the other scents of this particular type of body wash (which all have artificial perfumes added) are available in a two-for-one package but not this one. What's with the sensitive skin discrimination, France? We are deserving of cheaper body wash too! And on that same note, why the obsession with perfume-y body products? One can assume that if you're using these products in the first place you are interested in personal hygiene and don't stink, therefore not needing all the extra perfume to cover up unpleasant odors. Maybe the French have caught on to the fact that other countries think they all smell bad and so they've gone overboard trying not to be smelly? Have American stereotypes turned the French into paranoid perfume junkies? ;)

- this week I am going to join a local choir and a sculpting class. I'm writing it on here because I'm kind of nervous about joining, and if I keep this idea in my head I'll put it off and put it off and in the end just not do it. So now you are all morally obligated to check in with me and see if I've joined yet. I've been singing in choirs since 8th grade, reaching my peak choral involvement at university when I was in three singing groups and in rehearsals at least 12 hours a week. So joining a choir is nothing new for me, except that I know I'll be sick all winter again and not be able to sing. Sculpting, on the other hand, will be something new and challenging. I haven't been in an art class since 6th grade. I was never terribly gifted and my parents had to put up with a lot of lopsided, badly painted pinch-pots when I was in elementary school. The point of taking the class is mostly to meet some new people, so hopefully the other students won't be the judgemental type if my people look more like mushrooms!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Best Day EVER!!!

What can I say but YES!!!!

I would post a picture of our new President Elect (!!!!) but Blogger won't let me. Either that or I am completely computer illiterate.

I am really excited about the future with President Obama. America has proven that she is still the land of opportunity, where anything can happen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vacation has been fun, with the high point hopefully coming at about 4 AM this morning when Obama is named the winner of the US presidential election! Today happens to be a very, very special day for me so I'm hoping to get a nice present from the American people when they elect him our next president. I'm still debating about going into Paris to stay up all night watching election returns, but I'm actually really tired from all the running around I've done so I may chicken out and decide to stay home and sleep.

I had a wonderful week-long visit from my friend Erica. It was her first time in France, so we spent a couple of days visiting places around here (including a champagne tour and tasting of some extremely expensive varieties!) and then headed off to Paris for a few days to end her stay. Amazingly enough there are still things I haven't done in Paris! Highlights included wandering around Montmartre and stumbling upon Thanksgiving in the Marais, where I can buy canned pumpkin! Now if only I could find an oven to make my mom's pumpkin bread....

Unfortunately I now have to pass my last couple days of vacation without hot water or internet at the lycee. They always threaten to turn off the hot water but had never actually done it until now! I did have a little hot water a couple hours ago when I washed my hands, so maybe they've turned it back on? The professor's room is locked, so no internet, but thankfully there is free wireless at McDonald's, so I'm setting up camp here. No internet at the lycee means no election results until I haul my lazy butt out of bed tomorrow and go buy a newspaper (or go to McDo, whatever). This makes me more disposed to going out all night to watch election results. I did major in political science at university, and I am such a huge political junkie, and I would love to be out and experiencing this historical, momentous election! But I don't like the idea of being out allllll night long all by myself without the possibility of going home if I get completely exhausted. Already being tired from walking all over France with Erica provides me with an excuse to be a boring stick in the mud.