Thursday, July 21, 2011

A few things...

A few vignettes from our first few days...
(by the way, since it appears that for some reason people I do not know are reading this blog, I'm adopting the practice of not referring to my husband or child by name. Henceforth they will be known as Mr. Oil and Baby Oil.)

Too good for the 16th...

We had a meeting at the bank Tuesday morning. We had google-mapped the address provided to us by Mr. Oil's admin person, but once on the street, we could not find the bank. So we asked a Darty employee (France's Best Buy) standing outside the door to Darty on Avenue Paul Daumer in the 16th.  "Ou est le Societe Generale?" (Where's the Societe Generale bank?).  The guy looks at Mr. Oil and says, as only a snotty Parisian can, "I do not live in this neighborhood. I only work here. I do not know." And turns away.

PS.  The bank was across the street.

Be polite...
I had Baby Oil in the Ergo, and was getting on the metro.  The platform was crowded, and I was trying to squeeze my way through to the middle.  An older woman grabs my upper arm (hard!) and loudly whispers to me in French, in quite a terrifying manner, "You must say pardon!"  I then "pardon"-ed my way away from her as quickly as possible!

Be polite part deux...
We were on a walk, and saw an important-looking building surrounded by police, guards, etc.  Wondering what it was, Mr. Oil turned to a policewoman and asked, "What is this building?"  With the patronizing tone of a teacher correcting a student, she replied, "Bonjour?"  Mr.Oil and I were confused until we realized that she meant that if we want an answer, we should begin with a more polite introduction. Mr. Oil tried again. "Bonjour.  What is this building?"

"Bonjour!" she replied. "This is the presidential palace."  Thoroughly schooled, we said merci and continued on our way.

[also, just to clarify, both of the interactions above were conducted entirely in French. apparently, the whole, "they appreciate when you try to speak the language" does not necessarily apply.]

Everything tastes better in France...
Naturally, after being fortunate enough to never get sick once throughout my pregnancy and Baby Oil's first six months, I am of course under the weather the week we arrive. So I went to the pharmacie (no need to translate that, right?) and explained that I have a cough and a sore throat, and did they have something for that? (In case you are thinking I am some sort of French-speaking savant (eh-hem Ryan Marks), what I actually said was, "Je cherche...something for a cough? And a sore throat? You speak English?" )

So the nice girl in la pharmacie explains that she will sell me a cough syrup and some cough drops. Fine, par for the course. But when I got home, I discovered that the French make their cough syrup the flavor of caramel!  I am not kidding. It tastes like liquid caramel.  It is the best tasting medicine ever. Way to one-up us on health care France! Oh, and the drops? Black licorice.  And I happen to like black licorice, so that was another score for me.

Tri-lingualism required
It turns out that our washing machine is German.  Which of course means that all of the words on it are in German.  In turn this means that I spent a chunk of the afternoon using Google Translate to look up all the words on the washing machine, and then trying to figure out how to wash the clothes.  Do I go with pflegeleicht (believe it or not, this word means "easy") or with koch/bunt (my bff Google Translate says "cook/colored")?  I would like laundry to be easy.  I don't want to cook the clothes. Yet the clothes are colored. What to do!

It's possible that I shrank the only long-sleeve shirt that Mr. Oil currently has in Paris.  Where it is cold.  

Also, the dryer is French. I don't actually speak that language either.  So maybe that's where the shrinking occurred...

And finally...
On a serious note, today was the day I realized just how hard this is going to be. Yes, I still think it is exciting, and that we will be glad that we came.  But it is hard to live in a country where you don't speak the language. And you don't know anybody. And the rules for everything are different, and you don't know how to get things done.  Of course, as my friend Dani (technically my sister's best friend, but I like her enough to claim her a friend of mine as well!) pointed out to me today, when I was fortunate enough to grab tea and pastry with Dani and her husband Jacob, "Why did you think it wouldn't be hard?"

Point to Dani, I concede.  My answer was and still is that I really hadn't thought about it.  Which brings us to just now.  Trying to be all reflective and philosophical this afternoon, I was feeling particularly compassionate towards Baby Oil, who has been tired and cranky and, based on an earlier diaper, constipated.  I did all this research about constipation on the internet, tried to feed him food that would help, and after he was done eating, he seemed to just want to cuddle up with me on the couch, which was very sweet.

And then he pooped all over me.  C'est la vie!  Fortunately, poop is the same here as in the US, so I can take comfort in that.   


  1. Found you via The Expatresse... while we don't live in Paris, Luxembourg has enough similarities (and enough French) that I think some of my coping skills will work. My best coping skill - I always start every interaction with an apology. The only French I really know is "Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas Français." If I don't know the apology phrase (like when we are in the Netherlands) I start off in English with "I am sorry, I only speak English." Humility gets you a lot here (you've already gotten the politeness lecture :-) Really, it's your fault you are making them speak a foreign language. The apology goes a long way.

    Pro tip - it's highly likely the instruction manual for both washer and dryer can be found in English on the internet. My Germany washing machine (a Zanussi) was and I would imagine most major brands would have EN available.

    It is hard. But it is also wonderful, fantastic and fun. We are four years out of the US and enjoying every moment - especially now that we figured out when restaurants will deliver!

  2. Awesome post! But for future reference, I prefer Ryan Oil...

  3. Funny, I remember "einfach" as "easy" in German. But I also remember doing laundry in Luxembourg. Totally a different process, which was so weird to me.

    Craig, who lived in France for a semester, is also reading your blog. He says you write like Tina Fey. Maybe you can get a memoir published, like Julie & Julia.

    Meanwhile, good luck with it all!

  4. ... But the croissants and pain-au-chocolats just make it all better!! (Right?)
    Sorry it's so hard. Hang in there!

  5. Loving your blogging Liz! Keep it up!

    Two things that will help:

    1. Meet Becca R.! Trust me! :)

    2. Get this book:

    It's a little outdated, but lessons like the one you learned about saying "Bonjour" first for every interaction are sprinkled throughout, and will be really helpful. It's a fun read too. Becca has my copy, you can tell her I said you can borrow it. ;)

  6. Isn't it ironic that someone can be so rude and hauty while purporting to teach someone how to be "polite"?