Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Les Ennuis Terribles!

Last night before I went to bed I started to recall and write the story that led me to become a singer and the events which followed landing me in Paris. However, after this morning's minor debacles I've decided to finally put together all of my annoyances about being here in France. Don't misunderstand, as this city is completely gorgeous and every time I go outside it makes me smile in some fashion or another. My favorite thing to do is take a walk. The nuance of romance is built into nearly every building be they Romanesque, Baroque or Neoclassic. Much like Rome, it's difficult not to stumble upon some sort of great monument. The boulangeries are ubiquitous, the open air markets are filled with fresh items to indulge any and every gluttonous desire, and there is never a shortage of curious side streets to help one become lost in another world. What could I possibly have to complain about, right? HA! I'll go out on a limb here, while using fictitious statistics based on different articles I've read, and say that 80% of home grown Americans have never left the country and I'm sure at least half of them have made some antiquated generalization about the French or France that is based in myth or hearsay. The craze of "Freedom Fries!" is a perfect example of those who are quick to criticize a land they've never bothered to set foot in, let alone outside the gates of their trailer park to investigate (not that there's anything wrong with a good old fashioned double-wide). Of the 20% of Americans with passports, I'm sure Paris might be a romantic or educational destination and perhaps they'll come home with charming anecdotes of their week long experience, but that is hardly enough time for gathering information to make assumptions. I will also not pretend to be fully versed in the ways of the French, but in the last four months I have come across the same bag of irritations that makes a bout with poison oak seem pleasant.

Where should I begin......ah yes, this morning. I woke to make coffee as I always do after my eight hours of psychedelic dreaming and twenty minute morning meditation (alliteration makes me giggle with joy). I sleepily went to fill the kettle with water to heat on the stove, which I use to pour over the lovely Italian coffee grounds that will steep in the heat to bring me that glorious first sip of caffeinated goodness. I turned on the faucet which began to exhibit signs of a choking victim by wheezing and spitting out bits of water. About a week ago there was a notice in the entry way of my building informing the tenants that the water would be switched off from 8:30am - 5:00pm on Monday, February 8th. Well, that works out for most people with normal jobs, but I don't have school until noon on Mondays and then I come home before going to work to teach a class from 6-9. I tried to remind myself how I needed to get up early yesterday to shower, make coffee and brush my teeth, but alas my body decided to sleep through any chance I had of that. Also, the last time they threatened to turn off the water it didn't seem to happen until three days after the fact (this is very typical French) so I admit I felt my chances of getting a shower in would still be quite favorable. I woke up at 9 a.m. startled by what seemed to be elephants parachuting down though the building walls. As, I stumbled to the kitchen I was indeed met with disappointment. Just to be sure, I turned on the bathroom sink and shower as well, which only brought back the angry elephants in the walls instead of water. I had to accept my smelly fate for the day, brush my teeth with sparkling water and use what was left in the kettle to make a small cup of coffee. Of course there was still no water when I returned home and left again at 5:30. My class ended early last night so I rushed home in the hopes of having a shower, but to avail. I turned on every faucet and left them on until the water finally came rushing out (or up, as I am on the 6th floor) and in full disregard for water conservation I let them run until hot water appeared....not really, the hot water never came out. The thought of a cold shower in winter was less appealing than toughing it out until this morning. So, you can see how I might be a little more than perturbed by the kitchen sink spitting at me for the first five minutes of the day. I decided sit here in my own filth before having the glorious shower I've been looking forward to, as to keep me in a state of irritation while writiting......ooooo so method of me! Or is that just for actors.....

Some group is always on strike for some reason. It took me two months to receive my modem and cable box because the La Poste was on strike twice for a two week period. My landlady received a subpoena from her property management company because she hadn't responded to the billing notices for the taxes on my apartment that were stuck in the mail limbo due to this ridiculous strike, and guess who got to answer the door to the daunting man who served the papers? There is not a lot of room for logic in the French system and you must succumb to their way or the high way when dealing with them. There are people who are paid to push paper to slow you down and make life miserable. I am not exaggerating. The government has no problem paying for these types of positions be they public or private. However, if you like to try to shoot for a sense of efficiency, that does not exist unless it serves the interest of the particular French agency. They will put you off until they feel like dealing with you without any consideration of your circumstance. I had all of my paperwork in to get my work visa after receiving a student visa, but I had to wait six weeks in order to get a mandatory chest x-ray to make sure I wasn't bringing tuberculosis into the country before they decided to approve a work permit. I could have taken out all of Paris faster than the bubonic plague in a matter of six weeks if I were that disease ridden. If it is their fault that something has not been done on time, they will always immediately absolve themselves and punish you for not making the deadline. I guess they would have another American to blame for destroying France.

Alright, THAT'S IT! At this exact moment while I sit here complaining, there is a bit of a ruckus in the hallway. There's always something or someone disturbing my peace, but this is the same noise over and over and over again..... I just now went out to investigate only to discover there is a man tinkering with the elevator. I use the word "elevator" loosely, as it is hardly designed for more than one person and moves at the pace of the simile involving January's molasses. The man appears to be pushing the button...and pushing the button...and pushing the button... and receiving the same response one might hear when a car's battery has died. This is not good news for me. As previously mentioned, I live on the 6th floor. The lift only goes to the 5th, but one flight of spiral stairs is better than six. My right to bitch and moan has just been validated. Buildings with old romantic nuance are pretty to look at, but a pain in the ass for modern living.

Let's keep going down the laundry list of complaints, shall we? Oh come now, my pain can be your pleasure. You know all of those lovely walks I like to take? Well, I spend more than half my time with my eyes glued to the ground so as to avoid the fresh piles of steaming dog poo left on the street by the very powerful canine community here in Paris. Dogs seem to have more rights than I do in this city. They take their masters everywhere without leashes, often determining the route and pace of travel. They stop and defecate anywhere they like without having to clean it up and no one says boo about it. There have been days when I have taken no more than one step outside my front door and walked directly into it. The animals are carried everywhere by the master if it's raining (which is ALL the time in winter). Dogs are allowed inside everywhere and if they are not then they are allowed to be tied up directly inside the front door, so this way the entire establishment has the luxury of listening to them yap at the top of their voice box until their "master" returns. Yes, most of these are yappy little dogs. I will never understand the choosing of dog breeds in Paris. It's worse than New York. The population of white, long haired, short, small yappy dogs is simply ridiculous. I really do love animals and am a dog person, but I also remember that I am the human and they are the pet. There's even a specialty, high end, doggy clothing store just up the street from where I live with designs by Jean-Paul Gautier. I mean really, imagine for a moment if I wandered around wherever I liked in my Gautier jacket, spewing excrement all over the sidewalks, screaming at the top of my lungs inside every store I entered and then whined for someone to carry me so I wouldn't get my feet dirty, I'd be known as the town crazy and probably be thrown in jail!

I love the apartment I'm in, mostly because I get to live by myself, but it's not without its limitations. If you've talked to me or read other postings you know about the miniature shower situation. At the risk of handing out too much information, or TMI as the youngsters like to say, I am rediscovering what a hairy woman I can be. Shaving is just not worth it, unless there is the rare occasion when I wear a dress or have a date, and it always proves to be a most vexatious incident. Speaking of hair, the blow dryer situation is something I fear will never be resolved. In the States, a good hair dryer would melt off your eyelid and blow away your lashes if you let it, but here it's more like the hot desert wind of the Santa Ana's. Riding on the back of a Vespa without a helmet would be a better solution. This of course, has to do with the allowed voltage in this country, which has recently been changed to make the world a greener place to live (although green as a color is not what I would use to describe Paris, however kudos for trying). That brings me to the next complaint of electrical wiring and number of outlets. If I run the radiator and blow dryer at the same time, I must extinguish any lights. If I turn on every light in my apartment it is only slightly brighter than that of Abe Lincoln and his candles. Each electric outlet (I have three) only allows one plug at a time, and of course I have a power strip, but with the limiting number of four plugs. OH! And, did I mention that because each wall outlet is 2 prong, one must also have an adapter for the very strong 3 prong power strip.....? Er go, this leaves me with entirely too many things to plug in and not enough room to use them. I am constantly forced to have to choose between the computer, modem, two telephone mounts - one via the internet and one land line (which is why some of you have TWO phone numbers for me, incase I need to unplug one....) - the keyboard, the printer, the lamp and the several chargers for any number of "rechargeable" electronic devices. Enough said (photos included).

Let's move on to local shopping for ordinary household items. Toilet paper. I just want nice, normal, white, unscented toilet paper. It seems a most outlandish thing to request. There is a rather large section of an aisle in the grocery store dedicated to this necessary paper product, however it is overrun with colored paper coordinated with a corresponding scent. Examples include: peach color/ peach scent; pink color/ rose scent; green color/ pine scent; lavender color/ lavender scent. There are some "fashionable" unscented colors such as bright orange-red or black, but something about black toilet paper just feels wrong to me. As I said, I do not wish to dye or scent my delicate areas, and (avert your eyes to the next sentence for another TMI moment) I would like to know the color of my bodily fluids without having to use a color wheel to figure them out.
I can't seem to find any cleaning products with bleach in them. Ammonia is as good as it gets, but I have always hated that smell. No economy sized Kikkoman low sodium soy sauce, in fact most "ethnic" foods are non existent except for the abundance of coconut milk for some strange reason. The import Mexican food products are all made by Old El Paso, and the thing that really makes me sad and nostalgic is peanut butter. Being that there are no peanut farms in France, there is no such thing as French peanut butter. You can get jams, marmalade and Nutella inexpensively by the bucketful, but a 4oz jar of Skippy in the "international food" section will cost you 7 euros. For a country that claims to have the best and highest cuisine in the world, their ability to innovate and fuse gourmet items from other countries and cultures says a lot about their ability to adapt in general.
In my opinion, that is probably the biggest problem with the French. They pride themselves upon being very well educated, learning the art of gastronomy, developing sensitive palates for wine and cheese, believing that travel is an important way to discover the world, and yet at the end of the day will insult everything they have seen, tasted, smelled or experienced outside of France. It is truly preposterous. No wonder they are filled with such a sense of ennui. It's as though they are inveterately bred for nothing other than to keep an idea of loathing for outsiders, and to exclude any antipode to their opinions for fear it might rouse suspicion that their way is not the best!


  1. French people living in the U.S. always complain about how America is so crappy for all kinds of reasons...so you're entitled to do the same!

  2. loved it. makes my days seem brighter.

  3. Oh yes. Your apartment with no water reminds me
    of the apartment I lived in four years ago here in the States. Ugh. Annoying. And, email me your address (via FB is fine) will ya plz? Wishes for a better "rest of the week" - for both of us!

  4. do you have one of those showers that looks like the thing they use at drive-through banks in the US that goes in the tube from car to teller? if you drop the soap you could get stuck there all day? oh yeah sistah. i feel your pain. seems to be some kind of weird french thing.