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Stop Licking the Envelopes!

27 June 2010 2 comments

Yes, I keeping the licking the back of the envelopes here in France when it is not necessary. They politely have a sticky on the back where you peel off the strip exposing the sticky and then press and seal.  So dignified.  My plebeian ways are in need to be refined.  In any case, I am true resident of France as this weekend I received a proper paycheck and already paid some of my bills.  I am truly at home.  Consequently I don’t have any big event to report but I will give an overall update.

Well I did have a slight moment of anxiety yesterday.  I was in my new apartment cleaning and getting my things in order.  It was a gorgeous day and I was admiring the people enjoying the beach from my terrace in the back of the apartment.  Unfortunately I was trapped in my place as my bed was scheduled to arrive that afternoon.  I was not about to leave and then miss the delivery guy and having to wait another week for my bed.  So I decided to check on things out front, looking over the street; curious to see if the delivery guy had by chance shown up.  Sea BreezeWell that damn sea breeze totally blew my front door shut with me still on the outside.  My keys were inside the apartment because I was just stepping out for a minute or two.  Interestingly I didn’t panic, but I did become anxious about the bed.  I was so determined to get this bed in my apartment and didn’t want to have any barriers.  So I was occupied of how to get this front door open before the delivery guy shows.  (Mind you I wasn’t at all concerned about my own well being, just this bed.)  I literally leaped onto my front window but as typical in France there are metal bars preventing forced entry.  Even skinny me could not slip through the cracks.  Then I quickly check to see if my neighbor happened to be home.  Praise God he was.  Of course we never had a chance to formally introduce ourselves until this point when I am explaining in French – “Um, my front door is shut and locked, would you mind if I walk through your place and climb over your terrace wall?”  The guy laughed and welcomed me in but his girlfriend totally looked at me with “what the hell . . .”  Naturally I didn’t stay to visit but gracefully became Spider Man for a brief two minutes.  No worries, there is a thick edge along our terraces to catch the rain so I was in no real danger.  Now I will never leave without my keys.

What is a good accent color for Chocolate?

What is a good accent color for Chocolate?

So let’s get back to the moral of this story – the bed.  It finally arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon and I was so overjoyed.  If you truly know me, you will know sleep is crucially important to me and it is directly related to my mood status the following day.  Having slept on an air mattress for the past week and a half, I was so ready for a good nights sleep.  Something that was big enough for my long body to spread out on and to have proper linens.  I did invest some money for a good mattress that I hope will last me years to come.  So this father and son team arrived and had my bed installed and set up in less than 30 minutes; luckily my elevator was big enough for all the parts and they didn’t have to walk up seven (7) flights of stairs.  They did have a challenge with the box spring but they figured out a way to send it up from my lower terrace to the upper terrace where the bedroom resides.  (Remember I am in a split-level apartment.)  Voila!  I was so excited that I had to take a shower first before laying on it so I wouldn’t get it dirty.  Immediately I was off into the heart of Nice to do some proper shopping.

My shopping included finding the needed linens to go with the new bed, silverware and a haircut.  All of these items were euphoric moments for me.  My hair was getting too long and driving me nuts every morning, as I got dressed.  I was getting tired of trying to eat dinner with a plastic knife and fork.  Then of course I have already discussed the grave air mattress situation.  So why didn’t I get this items earlier?  Because I have been patiently waiting for my French debit card.  I was tired of using my American cards and getting hit with a lot of international fees and exchange rates.  I was told from my bank (HSBC) that it would arrive this week.  Interestingly here in France, these things are not mailed directly to you but to the bank’s branch where you are formally registered.  Well I had opened this French bank account long before I even got this job with Amadeus for travel reasons.  Consequently I had to register with the main branch in Paris.  Shortly after arriving here in Nice, I had stopped by the branch near my work and formally registered with that branch so all my paperwork goes there.  Wouldn’t you know it my debit card got sent to Paris instead of here.  Grrrrr! I was so annoyed and I couldn’t hold out anymore in getting some of things bought.  Luckily in France, the stores still take checks.  So I was able to accomplish this much needed shopping using my checkbook, as I have to wait another week for my debit card.  Such a trial of patience.

So on my walk home, I caved in and had some French fast food; not something I am proud of but I just needed a quick bite to eat.  A true sign that I live here and not a tourist.

Later yesterday night I did go out into Old City of Nice where all the great restaurants and bars reside.  I was taken back at the bus service here on a Saturday night.  It wasn’t yet 10:30 and got to the bus stop to realize all services had stopped for the day.  What?? Luckily Old City is still walkable from my house, but it is a good 40 minutes.  So I had no choice but to head down the promenade.  The night was gorgeous in Old City, all the old buildings were light up and everyone was out in the street or sitting down at one of the several restaurants.  Being a tourist destination, you can hear all sorts of languages on the streets.  It was truly beautiful.   I can’t wait to show it off to those of you coming to visit me one day.

So today on Sunday I did focus more on socializing.  I used the famous MeetUp.com web site to find some Expatriate groups.  There was a nice coffee this morning in the main square followed by another event of playing cards at a lovely Italian couple’s home.  It is interesting to hear everyone’s stories of why they come to Nice, France as many were Brits, Canadians or Australians.  Ironically a common theme is that they come to visit and fall in love with the Côte d’Azur and decide to leave their home to take residence here.  Of course work is always a challenge as an expat but they all seem to manage in one way or another.  Of course I benefited from their expertise as I found out the good markets, a good Italian shoe store for my sandals and the 2€ store for the everyday things.  Being out in the sun this weekend really made me realize I need to quickly buy summer sandals, shorts and several pair of sunglasses.   These are the standard attire of the Niçois.

So the other milestones that I hope to reach this week is that I will get my Internet and house phone installed and activated.  France Telecom (Orange) stated that it should be operational by July 2nd.  Fingers crossed.

Ironman Triatholan

Ironman Triatholan

So my final thought is that the international event of Ironman triathlon was here in Nice this weekend.  You can see from the picture what I saw from my terrace (note the orange cones in the streets reserving the space for the runners).  The endurance of these athletes is amazing as they covered a lot of distance in the area by swimming, running and biking up the mountains.  True admiration.  It started at the break of dawn this morning and even as I write this blog at night, I still hear the clapping and cheering from the promenade to encourage everyone to make it across the finish line.

Categories: Everyday Life

Fête de la Musique

23 June 2010 Leave a comment

Classic Rock performed at one of the main squares

Classic Rock performed at one of the main squares

First an apology for my absence but I am now in my new apartment and still no Internet connection.  It is a bit frustrating as I have plenty to tell.  Hopefully next week will be a different story.

Monday was a blast! Yes, I finally experienced my first Fête de la Musique! Here is another true gem of French influence world-wide.  Back in 1982 France started this world music day on the first day of summer (June 21st).  A simple celebration of music and the longest day here in the northern hemisphere.  The rules of the party are simple – make music.  Artists of all kinds are encouraged to literally take to the streets and perform.  To be officially sanctioned by the Ministry of Culture, the artist must perform for free and that the concert be free entry.  The

One Man Show in a van

One Man Show in a van

success of this initiative has been enormous.  Not only has the idea spread all through France where every city and village has something going on, this fête has spread throughout Europe and the world.  You truly can find about every type of music being performed somewhere but usually the more timid genres (classical & choirs) are earlier in the day while bolder genres (rock groups, dj’s, etc.) dominate the night.  I was impressed by the feeling of the evening.  I walked around most of the Old City (Vielle Ville) of Nice where most of the concerts were held.  People were out in droves all over the city.

Excellent band singing classic American songs; she clearly wasn't French cause was too good

Excellent band singing classic American songs; her accent gave away American roots

Everyone was just in a good mood and enjoying the sights.  The restaurants were jammed pack along with the open bars.  Clearly this event has become a point of commerce for the stores and the eateries in France.   As you can tell from the pictures on this posting, there really was a bit of everything.  It was almost too much because I couldn’t stay at one concert for too long in order to take in everything.  There were the original artists, like the man in the van and the break dancers, as well as your more classic artists who sung well known songs in both French and English.  I have to say it sucked royally that this year the 21st fell on a Monday.  I would have loved to stay out longer but I had to make my way back home to attempt a good night’s rest on my air mattress.

Brilliant break dancers that integrated a cute skit into the performance

Brilliant break dancers that integrated a cute skit into the performance

Of course the day after, everyone at work compared stories.  You had to have gone somewhere for the evening.  If you didn’t you were left out of the morning coffee break on the terrace. 😉 Of course the main topic was how bad the performers were . . . you have to give the French singers for trying.  A lot of the performances were amateurs (which is the point) but also they may not speak English well and as we all know the States dominate the entertainment industry.  So they attempt to sing in a language they can’t speak.  Then there is the fact they are totally off-key.  Another dominate topic was the change of the fête over the years.

This DJ knew how to spin; one of my favorites of the evening

This DJ knew how to spin; one of my favorites of the evening

Now there are a lot more DJ’s on scene then authentic concerts of live performers.  I do see their point but I would also defend the fact that a good DJ has a talent and not everyone can bring together various songs into one continuous beat.  Yet I know not everyone is a electronica fan like me and thinks it all sounds the same.  Nonetheless, everyone who was out had a good time and probably the only complaint you could find is that the weather was a bit cool.   You needed a light jacket.

Concerts on the lawn at Amadeus

Concerts on the lawn at Amadeus

Even Amadeus brought the fête to its employees.  In support of any employee that was a musician, they actually put a stage outside by the cafeteria and allowed employees to perform.  There was so many entries that they had to extend the event to be over the lunch hours of both Monday and Tuesday.  The picture shown here is the Amadeus choir performing.  These performances at Amadeus were bittersweet though.  Don’t forget we recently had a strike about the disparities of pay outs from recently going public.  So there was a little rumbling that upper management is trying to avoid the issue by the huge promotion of the Fête de la Musique on campus and showing the World Cup in the auditorium.

Those in the know can appreciate this one; yes they did perform the YMCA

Those in the know can appreciate this one; yes they did perform the YMCA

My final thought would be to take consideration of this date if you ever wanted to visit France.  June is a great time in the Côte d’Azur.  The weather is great before getting too hot.  The tourists are just starting to arrive.  Plus you have the Fête de la Musique to witness.

Categories: Everyday Life

Did You Know That Noah Was French?

17 June 2010 Leave a comment

Okay, today I cannot avoid the topic today – the floods.

Var river emptying into the Mediterranean

Var river emptying into the Mediterranean

First of all, I am fine and the floods making the news are not directly impacting me in any way.  The devastation is in the area but it is in a département just west of where I am located called Var.  The cities of Nice (where I live) and Antibes  (where I work) are only getting normal thunderstorms.  It has been raining off and on but it has all has been gentle for the most part.  It is not coming down viciously like it is in Var.  This tragedy is real, if you have seen the images on the téléSeveral communities in Var have neither electricity nor running water.  Roads are torn up as if an earthquake occurred and bridges are literally torn from their structures.  The French government is having emergency meetings on how to execute a clean-up plan and how to pay for it.  Even though I am not in midst of it, I can see it’s effects here in the French Riviera.  Yesterday I discovered CAP 3000, a local mall in Nice where I could find a Galleries Lafayette (a French version of Macy’s) so that I can buy some linens.  Of course here in the Côte d’Azur the mall is right on the shores of the Mediterranean and when you walk out the door you see the view pictured to the above (you can click it to make it bigger).  What is important to take note of this picture is how brown the water is – very abnormal.  If you look closely there is a blue line along the horizon; that is how the water should look.  But the Var river empties into the Mediterranean near CAP 3000 and bringing all the debris from the floods with it explaining the color change.

north side

north side

The rain, in of itself, is just odd this time of year for Côte d’Azur.  They had some rain in early May (typical) but to have it now in mid-June is a classic curve ball to the meteorologist.  Yet we are getting front row seating at this rare performance from work.  These pictures are from our terrace at work where we take our coffee breaks (yes, I did just say that).  We could look to the north towards the mountains and see dreadful, lurching clouds clearly coating the villages of Valbonne and Grasse.  Then turn 180 degrees to the south towards the sea and see beautiful clear skies – how it should be this time of year.  Clearly something is going on in the skies.

south side

south side

Please note this pictures are not of the same storms that are in the news; the real stuff is further west than what you are looking at.

In other news today . . . I did stay at my new apartment for the first time last night on my brand new air mattress.  One of my objectives this Saturday is to buy a bed and get it delivered.  Then today I got some kitchen supplies . . . from another employee at Amadeus.  One benefit of working at such a global firm where there is good mix of employees and contractors is that as people arrive, people leave.  There is intranet web site accessible to us that allows employees to post things for sale.  I saw a posting for various kitchen stuff as this employee is leaving the area.  A big relief for me so I don’t have to buy everything brand new. Boy, I can’t wait for my French credit card – these international transaction fees are killing me.

More cloud displays outside of work

More cloud displays outside of work

As far as the location of the apartment, I have to say I am going to get spoiled quickly having the beach just a block away for night-time strolls. 😉

Final note, I am picking up my Twingo tomorrow after work! 🙂

Categories: Everyday Life

Wash Your Hands . . . You Latin!

14 June 2010 3 comments

Yea, I found out some not so pleasant news today.

I just found out this region of France is notorious for gastro viruses – my favorite!  I will take a head cold, sinus pressure, sore throat, anything over a nasty stomach virus.  I swear they are worst.  Now I am at one of the epicenters of this virus.  My colleagues couldn’t explain why, but does have a high frequency in the Côte d’Azur.  Some of my colleagues were complaining of just getting over it.  Well at least that explains why there are huge posters in every bathroom at Amadeus on how to wash your hands properly.  It is the single best way of prevention.

Stomach Virus

Stomach Virus

I did a little research online and to find several articles on the this problem in France.  I know it is french, but by reading the headline of this article you can still get the point.  They even had a map of France with the color red showing which areas were hit the hardest and Côte d’Azur was bright red.

Interestingly the doctors here in France are really in control of your sickness/health.  When you go see your doctor you must ask for an arrête de travail, which is a document verifying that you are sick and how many days you need to stay at home.  French law requires that you as a citizen and your employer comply with your arrête de travail.  If you come back to work early (as one of my co-workers did) because you better than expected, then you will actually get into trouble.  When the doctor say “stay home“, he truly has the power to enforce it.

Well this is a reality check and it sure can’t be heaven here. 😉  I will just have to make sure to wash my hands and wash my vegetables with vinegar.

Other sobering news, I came up with my French personal budget today now that I know what are my impôts (taxes) and my fractures (bills) are going to be.  I am not that crazy about it but at least I am not poor!  I’ve allocated appropriate funds for my wine reserves. 😉

Categories: Everyday Life

I Got All Three . . . Twingo!

13 June 2010 4 comments

No Twingo is not a board game, it is a car and a French one at that.

Renault Twingo

Renault Twingo

So I had posted earlier that once I get the three (3) essentials here in France I will finally feel settled.  I got the cell phone and Friday I signed on an apartment and officially have the keys.  The third task, buying a car, finally got completed yesterday (Saturday).  I found a nice Renault Twingo Helios with a diseal engine.  I did do a little shopping around starting off at a Toyota dealership as they advertised a good 1 year warrantee on their used cars.   I was a bit shocked at the status of used cars here in France.  Knicks and scratchs are all too common here, even on the used cars.  The dealer didn’t seemed to do anything to try to cover them up.  Any American would be equally shocked at their condition that they attempt to sell used cars.  Of course I did realize this phenomeneon rather quickly upon arriving in France and that is why I wanted a used car to begin with – it is only a matter of time before I get my first dent, scratch or scrape.  Another factor is I just wanted a cheaper insurance option in comparison to a new car.  In any case, I went further exploring and hit a Renault dealership closer to work.  There I found my prize (cute video). I am happy with my purchase and was able to get a little credit to cover the price of the car – something I got a little nervous since I have only been in this country for 2 weeks.  Of course the fact I work at Amadeus helps a lot; every time I bring out a copy of my work contract they seem to breath a sigh of relief.  They know I am secure.  Renault also offered a one year warrantee.

I also spent Sunday going to my new apartment and get a few things ready.  I wanted to clean up the place and started moving in my clothes as I have ample closet space.  One little barrior I had was that they completely installed a brand new entry door to the building.  So on Friday, the keys that they gave me were to the old door.  Now with the new electronic door I now have to go to the Syndie de Copropriété, the office that manages the building as a whole.  The beauty of France is that everything has specific hours of being open.  This Syndie has the hours of 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Luckily the office is literally across the street from my apartment . . . but don’t forget my office is 22km down the interstate.  So I got to negogiate with my boss tomorrow to see if I can take a long lunch hour to go down and back; or something like that.  In the end, I am very happy with my apartment.  Once I get some furniture in there I will be having people over for some nice parties.  Of course you are welcome to come them as well; don’t forget there is a non-stop flight from JFK to Nice. 😉

I will end today admiting that I experienced some anxious feelings today.  It is one thing to feel relief having the big three (cell, apartment, car) but it is another to wake up and realize this thing is real.  Wow, I really am in France and staying. I did feel a little scared because it is such a new beginning for me.  Trust me, these are not second thoughts – I still have no regrets.  I am just admitting I am human and cycle of emotions we go through.

Categories: Everyday Life

The Blues

11 June 2010 2 comments

As I am writing this post, France is playing in the first round of the World Cup.

FIFA World Cup 2010

FIFA World Cup 2010

If you can believe it, I actually have the game on in my hotel room.  I can’t help but be curious about this game that the world worships.  Of course I need to a drinking buddy at this point to really enjoy the game at a local bar.  I’m sure I will find one soon enough.  The game just ended without a winner as the score ended 0-0.  Les Bleus, as the French are called, couldn’t pull off a single goal against Uruguay.  Ironically the other match of South Africa and Mexico ended in a tie of 1-1.  I’m still learning this game so I don’t know exactly what happens next without a clear winner.

The other blue in my life today was the color of the sea from the view in my new apartment.  I am happy to have this step behind me and officially have a residence in France.  It was a long day as I did a split-shift at work.  I went in first for a few hours in the morning and then drove to Nice along with my relocation agent provided by Amadeus.  We had to go into the heart of Nice to the real estate office.  Of course it was a challenge to find some parking but finally we arrived at the office.  Of course I signed my life away and cleaned out my bank account.  Then we had to drive to the west side of the city where my apartment resides.  Then we had a walk-thru of the apartment with a 3rd party and spent an hour writing every nick, scratch, broken whatever, light switch, electric plug, and shelf that exists in the apartment.  The French are very anal about this transition into a given apartment.  If you don’t note all these details on the walk-thru, you will be held liable for these imperfections even though everyone knows it existed before you moved in.  Again, I am so lucky to have the relocation agent provided by Amadeus.  She does this for a living and of course speaks fluent French (she is actually Swedish by birth).  She was very anal with the other woman who was representing the agency.  In the end I received the keys officially claiming the apartment as mine.

Kitchen

Kitchen

Finally we finished the walk-thru and then I went off to find the parking agency.  I need to rent a parking space that is in walking distance of the apartment.  Of course the main office isn’t in my neighborhood, it is again back in the center of Nice by the train station.  At this point, my relocation agent had to leave me (she had another appointment) so I was on my own.  Luckily she had already called the office that morning so they knew I was coming.  After I arrived in that neighborhood, it was murder to find a parking spot.  I circled and circled waiting for someone to pull out.  I had three (3) near opportunities but someone else always beat me.  Finally one opened right in front of the parking agency.  I got that all taken care and received another key.  At this point it was 3:00 in the afternoon without a lunch; I was starving and thirsty to say the least.

I headed back to my hotel real quick for a sandwich and to do some bank transactions on-line.  Then headed back to work to put in a few more hours as I had only taken a half-day today.  Of course it is hard to appreciate this journey not living here with the traffic and distance covered, it was definitely a long day.  I can’t wait to hit my bed after I complete this post.

Bathroom

Bathroom

In the end I feel so relieved.  Mainly because now that I have a Bail d’Habitation (proof of residence) so many other doors open up for me.  So many things here in France require that proof of residence before they will even talk to you about purchasing whatever it is they are selling.  For example for me to buy my monthly bus pass to get me back and forth to work – I have to present a proof of residence.  Imagine SEPTA demanding your apartment lease before allowing you to buy a Transpass.

As far as my few things that are being shipped here from Philadelphia, they were just collected and boxed them this past Tuesday with the assistance of my best friend Jonathan.  By the time it passes American customs, crosses the Atlantic by boat and pass French customs, it may be July before I have my things.  Patience, patience, patience.

So what am I doing this weekend?  Going car shopping . . . .

Categories: Everyday Life

Today I could have been a true Frenchmen . . .

10 June 2010 Leave a comment

So I have not completed my first two weeks yet and I could have stood on the picket lines today.

Yes, a portion of the employees at Amadeus went on a 2 hour strike this afternoon.  (Sorry it is French, this news didn’t make the Anglophone press.)  Really, what could be more French then holding a walk out on such a beautiful spring day?  Strikes are not a regular thing at Amadeus because I said before it is a strong company.  Lots of people want to get a job here and I am fortunate to be part of the organization.  Yet, the voice of this manifestation does have some warrant.  Amadeus recently went public.

With its prosperous history of being a small start-up in 1992 to a global leader in technology products serving the travel industry, Amadeus finally going public was a big deal.  For those of you keen to economics, you can only image how the stocks did on the European exchange.  It was a bit of an explosion, financially.  I will try my best to explain at a high level what the issue is but economics has never been my strength.  Literally the shares increased in value that the employees received over €15 million in returns.  Of course you have spread that sum of money across the 1800 employees.  So what why is everyone mécontent? Well it is cross comparison of the tiny executive committee at the very top of the hierarchy.  Their returns amounted to over €44 million and it is only made up of 6 people.  Now do the math and tell me who has the thicker wallet?

March 19th Strike

March 19th Strike

To add salt to the wound, there has been a recent history of tightening the purse strings.  The last couple years there have been major cut backs in the budgets, a hiring freeze and no cost of living increase in wages.  So the employees have been sacrificing to ensure the vitality of the organization.  Probably to most Americans, they may raise an eyebrow to this situation and then dismiss it as well it is capitalism.  It is causing more of an upset here in a more socialistic mindset; there is more of a collective here.  Plus today’s strike was only part of a series of strikes that started earlier this spring immediately following Amadeus’ introduction to the European exchange.

Of course I did not participate, there is really no motivation.  1). I am still on probation and it would not be making a good impression and 2). I don’t have the vested history as the more senior employees here who are the ones on the picket line.  So all I would have gotten is a stroking of my French pride.

All in all it was still a peaceful day.  Supposedly the French press was outside campus gathering footage.  You only knew there was a strike because people were talking about it.  There was nothing to really see or watch though it was a bit easier finding a seat at the cafeteria. 😉  The day ended with a sincere e-mail from HR reminding us to clock in on our time sheet as an absence if you participated in the strike.