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Archive for November, 2010

As an American, I Have an Obligation to Give a Deposition

28 November 2010 Leave a comment
Helping Hands

Helping Hands

There was no point in hiding and trying to integrate this past week. Yea, uh huh, it was Thanksgiving this week, and everyone knew it.  I honestly believe the one American holiday that the French are most intrigued with is Thanksgiving.  The fact this holiday is really about food, it shouldn’t surprise anyone why.  (Of course there is the nice aspect of the gathering of family and friends.)  So everyone at work made a point to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving.  Still several even inquired what exactly is Thanksgiving and what how it originated.  I gave my insights and didn’t hesitate to find French translations on the Internet of this hallmark of American stories.  I even had a selection of activities to attend Thursday night in honor of this American holiday.  I chose a fundraiser dinner affiliated with Helping Hands, a charity organization supported by Amadeus my employer.  They selected a very nice restaurant in one of the affluent villages in the area, Mougins.  We had an excellent dinner serving chicken (sorry, no turkey).  There were presentations on the different areas the organization serves including France, Thailand, Ukraine, Haiti and others.  The evening ended with a silent auction of various prizes.  The only challenges to the evening was that the acoustics made the presentations difficult to hear and everything dragged on late forcing me to leave early as I had to drive all the way back to Nice.

Thanksgiving even made one of the French channels on 100% Mag, a culture show.  It is in French if you watch it and the segments starts at 05:40 into the video.

Of course the benefit of living in such a large expat community, you’ll never be alone for any holiday.  There is always an opportunity for something.  As my friendships continue to grow I may soon have difficult decisions on who I choose to spend my holidays with.

Continuing on the thought of food in this country . . . French cuisine actually made UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage list this year.  An honor that will make any Frenchman smile.  There were other cuisines that made the list as well but of course the French entry attracted the most attention.  The reasoning for their selection is how the French are attuned to every detail of the experience.  There is a heritage in France of not only good recipes but of presentation, sequence, wine pairing and the refined vocabulary to talk about the experience.  As one learns the language there are several informal and slang vocabulary that use a gastronomic item as a way to refer to something else.  Choosing to become a chef or even a bread baker are respectable professions.  During that schooling, one has to make the choice of either learning the art of making bread (boulangerie) or the art of making pastries (pâtisserie) as one couldn’t master the art of both. 😉  The president of the Sorbonne in Paris put it best that “the meal is a profound part of French people’s identity.

They are also willing to share it.  Several top chefs even did presentations at one of the key metro stations in Paris this past week.

An Almost Perfect Dinner

An Almost Perfect Dinner

What really puts the icing on this cake is the top reality show in France.  I have never been a fan of reality shows but Un Dîner Presque Parfait (an almost perfect dinner) is one of originality and truly French.  You always have five contestants (one for each day of the work week) and they each put on a dinner party for the other four.  The remaining four vote on the experience based upon cuisine, presentation and ambiance.  Of course who gets the most points from their teammates wins.  It is entertaining to see these truly average Frenchies take on an air of being one of the best cooks in all of France.  What is even more hilarious, to me, is that the show catches each teammate in the moment of the dinner party for their reaction.  Of course this on-the-spot interview has to be private, away from the other teammates.  Remember, this event is in someone’s house – it is not staged – so they interview everyone in the host’s bathroom.   Of course bathrooms are tiny and so you have the camera crew and one contestant shoved into a small space to conduct an interview.  I don’t know what is more comical, the arrogance of the contestants or the host’s shower curtains.

Categories: Everyday Life

It Is a Wash!

21 November 2010 1 comment

La Piscine

La Piscine

There is confirmation that we evolved from fish. It is amazing to witness the affinity that human societies have to the sea or at least to big bodies of water.  Today I made a significant stride in my everyday life to make it to the local pool.   Community pools in France are present in about every city, town and village.  They are a cultural centerpiece not unlike the community baths of Japan and Turkey.  Bathing suits are part of the French landscape as much as bottles of good wine on the dinner table and corner bakeries open until late at night.  Several of my colleagues at Amadeus routinely go to the pool over lunch.  I have been trying to figure out an option for regular exercise and having the newly refurbished Jean Médecin Piscine next door to my car parking lot is anything less than an epiphany.  So it is a quiet Sunday for me and I was determined to get there before it closed at 1:00 in the afternoon.

The reopening of the Jean Médecin pool in the newspaper

The reopening of the Jean Médecin pool in the newspaper

After paying my €1.60 to get in (the piscines are heavily subsidized by the mayor of a given town), I entered something truly French.  Immediately after the cashier window were rows of benches and everyone was taking off their shoes and socks.  Of course I did the same thing to quickly realize that you had to walk through a small wading pool to wash off your feet.  On the other side was the locker room.  My American eyes were keeping watch for the familiar male/female signs for the appropriate changing spaces but when I turned the corner I was faced with a few women in their bathing suits.  For an instant I froze, thinking somehow I walked in the wrong locker room.  Then to my relief some men walked out of the shower space to head to the pool.  The locker was a mixed environment; men and women shared it to store their belongings.  Along the right wall was a series of closets that everyone used to formally get undressed and into their bathing suit.  Along the left wall were the lockers for you to store your clothes.

Once I was changed and ready to go, everyone had to pass through the showers and then another wading pool to even get to big pool.  There at the pool was everyone; young/old, male/female, families/singles.  It was just a nice relaxed atmosphere of everyone enjoying the water.  There was a huge pool with lanes mostly for the adults to get their laps as well as a nice smaller pool with a fountain for the children.  So finally I get the courage to enter the big pool with the lanes to start my laps.  Wouldn’t you know it, I get yelled at immediately by the lifeguard.  (Okay, yell is a strong word – he politely told me to get out of the pool.)  I didn’t have my swimming cap.  Suddenly I realized everyone around me had a swimming cap; male and female regardless of hair length.  Graciously the lifeguard gave me one that he had on his desk so I was able to still participate.  In addition to having a swimming cap, men had to wear speedos or square-cuts; the casual, lengthy swimming shorts more popular in the States are not even allowed.  In France, we take swimming seriously.

After completing my routine, I made my way back in which I came (wading pool -> shower -> locker -> closet -> wading pool again -> socks and shoes -> exit).  I do have to say I appreciate the more active lifestyle here, even though most of you reading this post will say that is an oxymoron.   In any case, the culture here is more attuned to doing exercise in a variety of ways.  At work I see many colleagues either bike to work or go the pool.  During the weekends, there are frequent hiking excursions to the mountains.  Along the promenade, there are always runners and bikers year around.

With all this talk on exercise, it is time for a good nap.  À bientôt!

Categories: Everyday Life

Boy Do I Have A Lot of Homework!

14 November 2010 Leave a comment

Okay, so I had another day off this week from work. This past Thursday was Armistice Day in France, an acknowledgement that World War I was officially over with the treaty signed at the famous Versailles palace outside of Paris.  The war that was to end all wars, supposedly.  I did find it interesting that France is really the only country in Europe still holding it as a public holiday.  Europe has had several aneurysms in its lengthy history; Word War I being one of the most impactful and most bloody.  Armistice Day is definitely a chapter of history for England, Germany, Austria and others as much as it is part of France’s history.  Even Armistice Day was celebrated in the States but after World War II, we changed to an all-encompassing Veteran’s Day acknowledging all military support.  Yet the European parliament was open for business on Thursday.  Of course France’s presentation of the day is minimal but it was a nice touch to see tiny French flags on all the city buses spreading a notion of solidarity.

Salon du Palais Gourmand

Salon du Palais Gourmand

So how does one express solidarity en français? Well let us over stuff a goose for a true gastronomic delight.  I went to the opening day of the Salon du Palais Gourmand.  It was pure sensory overload.  I really have to say there is nothing like it in the States.  It is an expo on nothing but food!  There are two huge tents that are filled with the finest vineyards, butchers and cheese makers.  Everything was made in France with a handful of vendors representing Switzerland and Italy.  There is no middle man, as you buy directly from the farmer; you can tell by looking at their rough hands as they gave out free samples to anyone walking by.  You found wines here that cannot be found at local French supermarchés.  Of course you are paying for the quality of the products.  Typically you only spend between €2 and €4 for wine in France; good wine.  Here you saw prices more in the range over €10, €25 and even getting closer to €50.  But when the French found a quality wine agreeable with their palette, they bought it in bulk.  All around you folks were buying things by the crate.  The entry fee was reasonable (€8) and then another Euro for a wine glass to use to taste the wine before purchasing.  Of course there was plenty of scandalous foie gras to be bought; either from a goose or a duck.  I have to be honest, foie gras is fois gras to me.  I really do not get excited about it nor get repulsed by it.

I really was overwhelmed by it all and easily could have received a big bill by the end of the day.   But being single, it would have been hard to consume all that sausage, cheese and chocolate.  (One work colleague admitted during his first time he was so overwhelmed he came out with €300 worth of stuff.)  I did manage to came out with some delightful cookies that were so fresh and light.  You could write this event off as France’s version of a Farmer’s market but that wouldn’t do it justice.  Being that this event only occurs in November, the quality and authenticity presented are something to be admired.  In any case, I will have to study up in this next year the different regions of France from a wine perspective and comprehend the good vintages.  Then I will be able to navigate through the salon with confidence next year.  It is so rough to be a proper Frenchman.

They Can't Kick Me Out Now!

They Can't Kick Me Out Now!

Also this weekend was my last class on France in order to fully obtain my status as a resident of France (formation de la vie en France).  I learned all that it takes to live in this country.  There were some points that were helpful to me such as a full explanation for the health system here and how the reimbursement process works.  Other points didn’t apply to my situation so I struggled to keep awake when the presenter went on about how to find work in France (I have that) and how to enroll your children into French schools (I have none).  In any case, I had to stick it out till the end and sign my name on the roster and accept my official certificate.  They have no reason to kick me out now.

Other quick snippets:

I received an attestation from the l’Assurance Maladie, the universal heath coverage of the state.  So I officially have been assigned a social security number but this number is temporary until my permanent one arrives.  At least I have a number to give my doctor or anyone else for giving me medical care so that they can bill the state and not me directly.  It is a big relief to have that number and acknowledgement from the government that I exist.

The retirement age change that was the focus of recent strikes is officially law.  Sarkozy this week signed the bill making it French law.  Unions are still upset and not about to forget about this change.  They claim they will strike again when other labor bills are introduced in the spirit of rejecting this particular law.  Many politicians on the left are making it clear they will repel this law once they get back into power in 2012, the next presidential election in France.

I also updated my blog’s web site a bit now that I am hitting the 6 month mark soon.  In particular you will see a listing of web sites that I use frequently as resources.   I have referenced them several times in my blog and if you hold similar interest in French life, I encourage you to check them out.

Categories: Everyday Life

Integration 101

6 November 2010 Leave a comment

I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. This past week I had my first experience with the Préfecture.  The motivation was to finally get my driver’s license exchanged so that I have an official French one.  Something that would be more legal obviously as well as a task that my insurance requires that I complete within the first year of residence.  I am very fortunate to be an ex-Pennsylvanian regarding this matter.  France and Pennsylvania have a reciprocal negotiation that they will honor each other’s permit de conduire.  So all I have to do is get my license officially translated in French and file the paperwork.  Then the Préfecture will grant me a driver’s license, flat out.  No tests.  No driving classes.  (Of course the same would be true of a French person moving to Pennsylvania.)  Interestingly this relationship varies from state to state.  My colleague at work who is from Texas unfortunately has to start from ground zero.  She has to pay to go to driving school, accumulate several driving hours and take the test within the first year.  It is extra money if you need a translator during the test. 😦

So the Préfecture opens precisely at 9:00 a.m.  and it is very easy to get there.  From my apartment there are actually 3 bus lines that will take me to Central Administrative.  I enter the building shortly after 9:00 a.m. as I knew this whole experience is about waiting in line.  It was teeming with people all waiting a document of some kind (passports, vehicle registration, work permits, driver’s license, etc.).  I find the driver’s license room that was all the way in the back and of course you take a ticket and wait for your number to be called.  It wasn’t yet 9:15 and I was already number 27.  There was only two windows serving this room of people.  I sat down and began to play with my iPhone, listening to music and reading some e-mail.

Let’s pause for a minute. The Préfectures of France are the disdain of the French and Foreigner alike.  You could say they are big zits that are on Marianne’s face (remember France refers to itself as feminine).  Yes, the States do have the advantage that their governmental agencies are straightforward; the government states clearly what is needed for everyone and if you have it, you get want you want.  Here (sigh) on the other hand is something else.  The government will state what paperwork is needed but this is the minimum of what is needed.  The civil servant of the Préfecture that is sitting at that window to serve you has the power to demand for more paperwork.  So you can easily get all the way there with what you think is needed to accomplish the task but that civil servant can easily demand for more.  Consequently requiring you another trip to the Préfecture.  One learns quickly to bring your life (in paperwork) every time you go.

Mail it in!

Mail it in!

Let’s go back to the scene. As time ticked on the clock on the wall, I witnessed three Niçois get into a verbal yelling match with the civil servant behind the window.  They were all various scenarios and I honestly couldn’t tell you the exact details as my French isn’t that good to decipher yelling French.  What I could gather was these folks were tired of having to come back and refused to leave without getting what they want.  At the same time I am reading a posting from Jean Taquet, a lawyer who helps foreigners, particularly Americans, to integrate into France on a legal level.  He has a regular newsletter that I have been reading faithfully.  The recent posting was an American sharing frustration about the Préfecture and ended up yelling at them just as I was witnessing in front of me.  What was Jean Taquet’s legal advise?  It is never advisable to be confrontational with civil servants. Clearly the French need to start reading Jean Taquet’s newsletter as much as Americans living here.  Jean’s logic is clear – behind these civil servants is literally the national police, the next person in line.  He reminds the American that the full name is Préfecture de Police de Ville (Nice) – the police headquarters.  So if you demand to see their ‘manager’ (a typical American response), then you will be talking to a police officer.  Now we are getting into issues of contempt.  Handcuffs in France are just as uncomfortable as in the States.  The point to be taken here is that the States is definitely more black and white on legal issues; more pragmatic.  The French way is a little more loose as the Préfecture has the power to assess how the law applies in your specific situation.

Let’s really get back to the scene. How did my session go?  Well I got a Get Out Of Jail card and never had to speak to the civil servant.  About 45 minutes into my wait I notice the sign shown above hastily scotched taped to the wall.  It reads that just back in July, all requests for a foreign driver’s license exchange must be mailed in via post.  They no longer do it in person, same day.  So I made sure I had the proper form from the rack and left to have a coffee.  They were only up to number 15 and there is no need to wait another hour to have them tell me to mail it in.  Kinda of a let down on the punchline, eh? Well be assured I promptly mailed my paperwork the next day.  I am sure to keep you posted as I will have to go back to pick up my French driver’s license.

Where I had to take my "integration" classes

Where I had to take my integration classes

But it doesn’t stop there with the Préfecture, don’t forget my previous post about the OFII. This Saturday I had to attend my Formation Civique, an all day class on French civil law.  At first it can be slightly unsettling that you are going to something that looks like a military barrack.  So one voice says sarcastically Bienvenue en France.  Yet the other rational voice comments Well at least they aren’t wasting tax Euros and are being resourceful.  You can make your own judgement by the pictures.  In any case it was a worthwhile Saturday.  It is smart that the government requires this class for everyone becoming a resident of France.  It gives you a clear view of the history, laws, symbols and governmental structures.  Of course it is delivered in French so I had to concentrate all day to make sure I understood everything.  A lot of it was review for me, since I had been studying French culture for such a long time.  Yet there were still new facets of information. The debate of no religious symbols in schools is not new to France; that law was created back during the Napoleon era.  The recent news is only a modern challenge to an old law.  I also didn’t realize the Sénat is not directly elected by the people.  Other bodies of the government elect them; only the Assemblée Nationale is directly elected.  Then I was curious how some of the women in room were reacting to the clarity of French law that women and men are treated and respected as equals being that they come from more patriarchal cultures in the developing world.

The Classroom (at least they served coffee)

The Classroom (at least they served coffee)

We were a sizeable class of roughly 25.  All corners of the globe were represented such as El Salvador, Brazil, India, China, Japan, Guinea and with Tunisia taking the lead as the most represented.  With the current European Union laws, you will never see another European taking this course.  I was the only American in the room.  The teacher was a good presenter and interacted with the classroom.  He knew the material could get dry and made the best of it.  Of course, lunch was provided by going to the local brasserie down the street.  In the end I got my certificate which I need to keep forever as it is official and it proves my residency here (along with several other documents).

I still have more certificates to collect as I have to go back next Saturday too.  That class will be on the life and culture of France.

Categories: Everyday Life

Going Across a Border

3 November 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve left France only to come back again. You would think that in my first year living in France that I would celebrate my 36th birthday in full French flare with some exotic cheese that I can’t pronounce, an exclusive bottle of Champaign and the best crème brûlée But I didn’t. I chose instead to be around loud people, marble objects and pizza.  Go figure.

Ventimiglia's Train Station

Ventimiglia's Train Station

I have just gotten back from a northern Italian excursion (also explaining my brief absence from the blog).  One of my closest friends arriving from New York City last week motivated me in taking my first true vacation.  Being in this corner of Europe, you have a lot at your finger tips.  We chose to go across the border into Italy, familiar ground for me but brand new territory for my buddy.  We drove across into Italy to the first major town, Ventimiglia, and caught the train to explore three major Italian cities.  Overall the trip was fantastic.  An excellent choice to spend my birthday enriched in a foreign culture.  I won’t bore you with the tedious details but here is a brief summary of each:

  1. Milan – Our first stop was a major metropolitan hub of Italy.  You had people everywhere and streets lined with the most exclusive names in fashion.  Of course it was mostly window shopping for us.  Milan brought back memories for me as one of my older brothers lived in this city for two years.  I enjoyed seeing all the medley of trolley cars screeching across the streets similar to that of San Francisco.  The Duomo was still majestic as this cathedral took over 400 years to build will all its spirals and statues.  We voted the pizza we ate here to be the best of our journey.  We stayed one brief night here.
  2. Venice – Next we experienced one of the top tourist destinations in the world and now we see why.  Venice is a city that is like none other.  The little streets that are only made for pedestrians lined with several points to waste money or to invest.  We went with the latter and found some nice shoes.  The town was still hustling with tourists and we couldn’t image being there in the heat of July or living there having to deal with tourists day in, day out.  Even though this time was number 3 for me, San Marco Piazza is still an architectural gem.  The weather was absolutely fantastic with the sun shining but still cool enough for a jacket.  Even though we stayed one night, we covered a lot of territory.
  3. Florence – This city was our highlight of the trip and where we stayed the longest.  A true feel for an authentic Italian city.  You had an active modern city taking care of business under the shadows of a past empire.  Florence was a major player in the world of commerce back during the Renaissance allowing it to invest in the greatest artists of that era.  You see the influence everywhere you go.  A proud city holding the funerary monuments of Michelangelo, Brunelleschi , Galileo and Dante and their profound objets d’arts.  As a consequence to its wealth, it also attracted several political conflicts including its version of separation of church and state.  My friend’s childhood desire did finally come true, to see the famous David in the flesh.

Of course we had some excellent pasta dishes and pizza and some not so excellent ones.  We explored a bit of the night life and came back with heavier suitcases than when we started.  The journey ended in true Italian style, a delayed train ride.  We got back to my place a little before 1:00 in the morning and my friend had to be at the airport in a short 5 hours to check-in for his flight back to the States.

Reflection & Affirmation

Reflection & Affirmation

As much as the Italian sites were an inspiration of human development, I had my own personal affirmation during this trip.  My thoughts were solidified when we were driving back from Italy and we crossed the frontier and saw the big sign ‘France’.  I could finally read out loud the road signs with near perfection.  I could finally use my cell phone.  I could finally sleep in a bed that was familiar to me.  I could finally exhale.  I could finally say, I’m home.  It isn’t a scary, uncomfortable or prideful statement.  It is an affirmation that a change has occurred, a decision has been made and one is ready to face the consequences.

This experience takes me back to my days of choosing a college.  I was fortunate enough to be able to visit several of the colleges I was considering.  You walked along campus and you have your internal gauge of whether this place was right for you or not.  As I walked through the streets of Italy, I felt it wasn’t a location I would want to live but a definite joy to visit.  It is that gut feeling that you have whether or not it is right for you.  I could dwell on metaphysical details that lead me to such a decision: the loudness of the Italian people, Italy is slightly behind on the cyberspace landscape, the presence of everything being under construction, the cash society and sluggish diversity trends.  Yet I feel it is more about an inner peace/decision.  An exhale.  I am living in France; I am visiting Italy.

So what’s next? Back to the grind.  My next French bureaucratic goal is to exchange my Pennsylvania driver’s license to a French one!  (shivers) Stay tuned.

Categories: Travels