March 2005 Archives

Singing Scots

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One of the only things funnier than noticing a bunch of young Scotsmen in kilts eating and drinking on the terrace of the restaurant across from my work, is a bunch of young Scotsmen in kilts arguing that a kilt is not a skirt with a young Aussie Lass, who is leaning out of her first story window to ask them, "aren't you fellas cold?".

And one of the only things funnier than that is a bunch of young Scotsmen all jumping up and singing an old love song to a bunch of young girls who walk past.

Singing Scots

And the only thing funnier than that is when that same bunch of young Scotsmen all join in for a stirring rendition of the theme song to Home and Away.

Cantonese Restaurant

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Chinese

Lunchtime!

Randomness

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Things are pretty quiet at the moment in our corner of the world. Last weekend was good, amongst other things, we saw Finding Neverland - one of the most beautiful movies I've seen in awhile.

I came to work on Tuesday feeling extremely relaxed, totally prepared to face a busy working week... That's definitely not something that happens all the time.

Symphony has been a crazy maniac in the mornings, and she's back to her old habit of chewing on plastic in the early hours, waiting for us to wake up, then leaping on the bed, covering us with kitten kisses when we move. Perhaps she smells Spring coming too. Whatever it is, Sylvain has pulled out the water pistol again. We're armed and ready.

Tomorrow is a new calendar month and if I can get through today, I will have successfully managed not to buy three pairs of shoes in one month. But who knows what tomorrow may bring...? I was surprised to receive a cheeky sms from someone (who shall remain nameless) today hinting that with the new calendar month arriving, I will have an excuse to buy more shoes. Pfft.

I'm not usually like this. Sure, I love shoes (and when I first came to France I brought 20+ pairs with me), but not to this extent. I think there are bad influences here in Paris.

Word(s) for the Day : exigu; exiguïté = tiny, cramped (for space); smallness
Second Word for the Day : un feu follet = a will'o-the-wisp (how this came up in everyday work conversation, don't ask!)

Bedtime

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Standstill

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Stuck in the train on the way home. Thankfully, only a 15 minute delay, and I was armed with a good book (Trance State, John Case).

Your turn

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"I make the tea," he says. "I put it on the... comment dire plateau?"

"Tray," I whisper.

"I make the tea," he begins again. "I put it on the tray, and I walking through the corridor with it. Then I get in your office and put the... tray... on the table and then... put my ass on the bench."

I look at him thoughtfully, smiling, "hmm, not quite the most elegant way of putting it".

"I don't say that? That's not good?" he asks. "How about... I put my
fanny on the bench?"

I collapse into giggles - goodness knows where he heard that word.

Then I teach him how to say "heinie".

Some would say this is being mean.

But this is the same person who laughed when I said, "c'est un peu con" ("it's a little stupid"), to my boss when he suggested something to me a year or so ago.

Yes. Revenge is sweet.

Although I'm pretty sure that he knew I was teaching him a stupid word. Especially because I couldn't stop laughing when I was doing it.

Watch your step

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I dodge one puddle, and jump over another. I'm seriously lacking in grace, that is certain, but at least I'm not getting my feet wet.

I knew it was going to rain today, but sometimes I'm so damn silly that I surprise even myself. Sylvain calls it stubborn. I call it optimistic. Sandals it was, and I will pay the price.

Dodge. Jump. Leap. Skip.

I get to work and triumphantly dance around the office in my open-backed shoes.

I make it to and from lunch without stepping in a puddle. Sure, I physically bump into several people as I try to dodge the patches of water on the way there and back, but they were only tourists so that doesn't matter ;)

At the end of the day, I walk up the hill and reach our apartment block. A little boy comes hurtling towards me on a tricycle.

"Aiiiiiieeeeeee!" is his War Cry.

I jump out of the way. Right into a puddle.

At least at home I can dry my feet off.

What's yours is mine

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At 10am on Saturday, Sylvain rolled out of bed and said, "I'm going to work on my motorbike today, that ok with you?"

"Of course, dear," I said, already calculating how long it would take me to get to the shops and take another look at my latest crush.

Twenty minutes later and he was out the door, "see you later!"

Two minutes after that, and I'm getting ready to catch the bus. I realise that I have no idea exactly where he's going, what he's doing, who he's doing it with, nor what time he's planning on getting home.

He gets back nearly 12 hours later, up to his elbows in black grease (or oil, whatever, I'm not a motorbike expert).

"How was it?" I follow him into the bathroom.

"Fun!" he replies. As he scrubs his nails, he starts to recount exactly what he's done to his motorbike.

"Did you have lunch?" I interrupt.

"Huh?" he stops in the middle of his description of the current problems with the exhaust pipe (or whatever, I don't know, I'm not an motorbike expert). He looks at me, "um, yeah, a baguette and cheese."

"Oh good," I nod, pleased - last time he went out working on his bike for the day, he forgot to eat lunch. "And who did you do it with?"

"What?" he continues scrubbing his nails. The bathroom sink is filthy. "Oh... Emmanuel... so, right, we were pulling apart that thingy that clignotes..." (this is our version of franglais)

"Who's Emmanuel?" I ask.

"One of my colleagues," he replies. "... and the blinker est cassé! I need to find a new one..."

I perch on the edge of the bathtub whilst Sylvain tells me the story of the broken indicator. And other stuff. I dunno. I'm no motorbike expert. I'm too busy thinking about my latest fling.

Herein lies the difference between men and women.

Or at least, the difference between Sylvain and I.

When I come home after going out, I will tell him every tiny detail about who said what and who is doing what and who is feeling what. Girl stuff. I see his eyes glazing over but I can't stop. By the end of the conversation, whether he likes it or not, he has heard everything about everything that has happened in the lives of the people I've met up with.

When he comes home after going out, he tells me the absolute minimum. Minimum. I have to pose my questions very carefully and strategically in order to drag any sort of information out of him.

I'm not saying that I want to know everything. Not at all. I'm just saying a little information would be nice.

That is, the interesting information - like who is Emmanuel and does he have a girlfriend or a wife and what does he do at work and does he like his job and maybe next time he can stay for dinner. I can do without the details on the motorbike. All I can say about that is that I like the colour.

All mapped out

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I'm away from work for one day, and I return to find this on the wall behind my desk. The post-its say things like, "katia's kingdom", "platypus-casa" and "kangou-land". Love it.

Too cute!

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Strappy, aqua-y, flowery goodness! What to do? What to do? But I am being a good girl and I have got willpower!

Shopping Therapy

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Brown, flat, slip-on, massive flower. How cute would they look under my jeans? How can I possibly resist? But resist I did. Because I'm not too sure about the size of that whopping great big flower. So... my carte bleu will live to see another day.

You will be mine!

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Rendez-vous in three weeks to show our papers to get a permanent carte de sejour! Or more specifically, one that will last for 10 years.

Waiting

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Patiently waiting for our turn to be seen at the Prefecture Service Etrangers (they started at 500 - thankfully!!!!). We got there uber-early anyway, to avoid the horrible wait, but still, it took half an hour to get to our number.

Early morning start

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Waiting for the Prefecture to open.

Stress Ball

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stressball

My stress ball - my current favourite toy at work. It's getting some regular use at the moment. My colleagues pick it up, "look there's Australia!", "Oops! They forgot to put Corsica on it!", "oh they really screwed up the map of Europe". Fun for all ages.

Express yourself

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I have a new colleague working in my office (in fact, she used to work for the organisation, left for a few years and has come back for a couple of months to help out). She also loves to speak English.

Her English is pretty good, but it's not fluent. Her grammar is great, but she really needs to concentrate when she speaks. So we are trying to set aside a few hours every morning to talk in English together as we work.

"I just don't feel like myself when I speak in English," she said to me yesterday, after lapsing into French again. "I'm spending all my time concentrating on what I'm saying, finding the words, making sure that it comes out right, that I don't feel like I'm ME."

I grinned. How many times have I said the same thing? (once, twice, three times, four times ... and this blog doesn't cover the other two years of blogging I did prior to June last year...)

It's getting easier, because I'm pretty fluent, but it's not just the words which mean that I'm expressing myself differently - it's my mannerisms, my behaviour which is curtailed a little, modified to be acceptable in another country.

There are little things (like reducing the amount I would normally drink at a family dinner), and big things (like not laughing as loudly, not being quite as sarcastic, and changing the way I make jokes). But I guess that's just normal when you're trying to fit in to another country and another culture. It's just not quite as visible as wearing long sleeves if I went to the Middle East. But the changes are still there.

Long days and long nights

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I'm having a very stressful time at work this week. It's only going to get worse over the next month. I sent one magazine to the printer today, and have to start serious work on a big project that needs to be out in a month. Plus the other monthly magazine. *hands start shaking* I am the sort of person who handles work stress quite well, but only up to a point - after that I start dreaming about work and getting all cranky. The next month is going to be all about work-related dreams and crankyness. So I really am going to need distractions, and am already trying to figure out what lovely things I can do this weekend to keep my mind off work..

In an attempt to calm myself down (because I'm already starting to panic in advance), and to distract myself from the upcoming pressure, I'm going to talk about my current favourite foods...

Favourite snacky thing : Fourme d'Ambert grilled on toast.
Not your ordinary Cheese on Toast, this is divine. The Fourme d'Ambert melts beautifully, but make sure you pull it out of the oven just as you see it start to go golden. Keep the slices thin, as it can be quite strong. (There are other Fourmes which are even better when grilled on toast, but Fourme d'Ambert is the only one my local Monoprix currently stocks). I don't normally eat cheese with bits of green in it (although I'll eat other strong cheeses, as strong as they get), but I was tricked into eating this one day and fell in love with it!

Favourite meal : Unbelivably Simple Chicken Salad
Grill a chicken breast or two (after seasoning it with salt, pepper and herbs of your choice) and slice it up thinly. Throw it in a bowl with some mâche, fresh cherry tomatoes, goat cheese and a drizzle of good quality olive oil. I'm a bit of an olive oil snob, and I think that a little good oil can really dynamise the taste of a simple dish. For a real treat, slice some Crottin de Chavignol and put the slices on some tiny toasts, then grill them in the oven. Throw them in the salad and you've got a gourmet dinner!

Favourite drink : Other than Pink Cosmopilitains? There is the good old vodka and orange juice, which goes down well after a long day at work (and lo and behold! what a coincidence! there is one sitting next to the keyboard!). Then there is Schweppes agrum' for when I'm being good.

Favourite dessert : Strawberries !
It's theoretically not quite the season for them, but there are some about. I just can't resist.

Share your favourite eats and drinks with me on your blog !

... and now it's time for dinner.

Lush-ious!

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I'd heard the rumours, but I have since found out that it's official : Lush has finally opened a store in Paris.

I'm not sure how long it's been there (can't be very long, as I go down Rue du Buci frequently and I wouldn't have missed that), but I spotted the new store on Saturday afternoon, and, barely able to contain my glee, I raced inside, which was packed with women sniffing soaps and foaming bath balls.

The shop is still a little rough around the edges, which confirms my belief that it can't have been there for very long. It's got all the classic colours, the classic styles - I'm sure you can walk into any Lush store in the world and feel at home. But the prices are, quite frankly, horrific. A butterball, which goes for $5.95 AUD is priced at around 4.95 euros, translating to $8.30 AUD. Certainly not a price to be taken lightly for something you throw in the bath, but France is expensive, and people ARE willing to pay these prices.

But not me, at least, not on Saturday. I walked out empty-handed, except for the wonderful smell of Lush moisturiser on my hands.

I am not sure how long I'll be able to resist though. One does have to spoil oneself occasionally. And it's not as if I do that very often. Honestly.

La musique... oui, la musique...

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With the arrival of Spring comes budding trees and flowers, walks in the gardens around Paris, lazy afternoons, ice cream and shoes made for sunny weather.

But with the arrival of Spring also comes the buskers.

I work in a highly touristic quartier. It is mostly a very agreeable, lively, dynamic area, but with the tourists around, it's basically a given that we are treated to entire afternoons of accordion music as the accordionists play for each restaurant in turn, smiling, nodding, taking money from the customers.

Paris is full of accordion players making their way through the metro, the RER, the streets of Paris - when the sun comes out, it's their cue to come out and play (there are lots of things to say about the organised groups of beggars and the like, but I shan't go into that here). I have nothing against accordions or accordion players, but I do have something against spending the entire afternoon listening to the same snippets of music over and over and over again.

I spend the sunny afternoons alternating between shutting my office windows (due to auditory fatigue) and opening them to let out the stifling air (typical of a Parisian office located in an old building).

Occasionally we hear a saxophonist wandering through the quartier, which offers a welcome respite. Even more irregularly we get a guitarist making his way along the tiny streets, singing "No Woman No Cry". I throw open the windows, hang over the balcony and grin at him. I hope he comes back a little more often this year. Anything is better than the accordionists.

Last night we slept with the windows open, as usual, and heard our talented local bongo drummer playing his bongos from his balcony for the first time this year. We always fall asleep so well when we hear him jamming on his bongos late at night.

I love Paris in the springtime... but you have to take the good with the bad. I think I prefer to hear the accordion during the day and the bongos at night rather than the other way around.

Lazy Sunday afternoon

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A wander through the 15e and the 7e, a quick stop at The Real McCoy to pick up a couple of Cadbury Creme Eggs and some Red Bull, then collapsing on the grass near the Eiffel Tower for some reading and relaxing. Red Bull gives you wings! What more can one want?

Sunday Lunch

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No Sunday lamb roast for us - instead, it's Chicken Tikka Masala and rice. With Garlic Naan of course. Mmm. (Sylvain had Prawn Vindaloo)

Pure Class

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Kooky musicians on the Rue Saint André des Arts, 6ème.

Lazy Saturday Afternoon

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Sunning myself in the Jardin de Luxembourg. And enjoying my newest pair of shoes! Whee!

Lazy Friday

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I absolutely cherish my every-second-Friday-afternoon-off. It's been a hard week to be at work, with Spring suddenly deciding to set herself upon Paris, and I have been busting to get outside and enjoy the first beautiful rays of sun for the year.

Library Catalogue - how do you use DOS-based programs again?

Today I went to the American Library, dropped off the books I had read and picked up some more (after struggling with their DOS-based catalogue - I am so out of practice!), then I walked over to the Eiffel Tower and collapsed on the grass nearby - reading, relaxing, enjoying the sunshine. There are more beautiful gardens in Paris, but this one is so conveniently close to the library that it's a shame not to enjoy it.

Eiffel Tower

The tourists were truly out in force today, but I love hearing the accents, the voices, watching the people.

If we ever move, I'm going to find the adjustment to working 40+ hours a week a little tricky ;)

What did you say ?

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A couple of days ago I went to yet another one of these Expat Meetup things (this time, the official Meetup version). Like last time, it was a great evening, and I had the opportunity to talk to a few interesting people from different countries.

But I've noticed that I've got a bit of a problem with my accent.

When I talk to an American, I find myself over-pronouncing my Rs. ("Here" is pronounced "Hee-R" instead of "heee-uh"). When I talk to an English person, I find myself posh-ify-ing my voice. When I talk to someone who has not a native English speaker, I find myself over-enunciating every word that comes out of my mouth. I just can't help it. It's almost as if I'm picking up the accent of the person I'm speaking to and copying them.

I didn't realise how bad it was until a Dutch lady at the Meetup said, "but you don't have an Australian accent." I was so surprised that I babbled a few incoherent excuses, then retreated in contemplation over my glass of orange juice.

What is with this? I know I have an Australian accent - this is picked up by most anglos automatically, but I find myself talking differently here. Watering my accent down, almost.

I wonder if it's just a weird unconscious attempt to make myself understood by whoever I'm speaking to? I guess that here I'm exposed to so many people of so many different nationalities, it's normal to try to make oneself understood.

I'm just a little worried that one day this unconscious habit is going to backfire on me and someone will accuse me of mocking their accent. heh.

But perhaps I need to go and rent Crocodile Dundee or something, and get a good dose of cliché-d Australianism.

As an aside, I had yet another charmeur on the phone this morning who interrogated me about my accent. It's a no-win situation, whether I'm speaking in English or in French.

Flower Power

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Even the vans around Paris are getting into the spirit of Spring!

Unidentified Flying Objects

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A packet of noodles in a tiny store in the 5th (they resell a small selection of the foods normally found at Tang Frères), on an expedition to buy some fresh mint so that we can make some mint tea at work this afternoon.

Spring is springing

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Today I have come to work... and I am coatless, for the first time in about four months. My firefox weather extension tells me it is 15°C and fair. Hoorah! (cue Australians to laugh at my joy over this ridiculous temperature)

I've probably jinxed it and it will end up freezing by the end of the week again, but it feels so darn good to be free of the restrictions of scarves and coats! Bring on the sandals and the sunscreen!

So the time is right for icecream!

Although (confession time) I have to admit that the secretary and I caved in to the pressure yesterday afternoon, when we realised that the ice cream shop just near our work had reopened (after she hung out of the window to check if it was open or not). We nipped out for a wee pot each - she had "cookies" flavour, and I had some frozen yoghurt with fruit of the forest. The temptation and all that talk about it yesterday was just too much. MMmmmmmmmm. Ice cream...

icecream shop

Pretty bird

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"Look at those birds!" Sylvain points at a couple of birds sitting on the tree outside our window.

"Oh they're so pretty!" I exclaim. "They've been playing outside our window for a few weeks. I think they're a couple. They're in love. We might see baby birds this Spring!"

Sylvain watches them for a few moments. "They're called Tourterelles."

"Ohhh," I murmur.

"...and they taste really good!" Sylvain adds.

Of course, I thwacked him.

Trust a Frenchman.

It reminds me of the horrible childrens song, "Alouette". Sure, in English, we have our share of horrific historical children songs, but I can't think of any that are as directly revolting as Alouette, which talks about plucking the feathers from an innocent little bird.

It's no wonder the French like eating crazy things when they sing about stuff like that as children.

We all scream

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"It's 16°C outside!" I exclaim. "Spring is nearly here! It's so unfair that we're stuck inside working."

"Two degrees more and it's ice cream weather!" my colleague exclaims.

We then have yet another a heated discussion about what sort of weather is ice cream weather, and whether ones designation of the weather as such should be based on the temperature.

The French people I've met are a little strange about this. To me, all weather is ice cream weather. Unfortunately the vendor of icecream just near my work doesn't think so, and is closed over the winter. My hips are probably grateful for that.

But I can't wait for them to open up again.

Bedtime... the cat & I

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In bed - the cat & I

I'm REALLY looking forward to Sylvain coming home. Not just because I've missed his company, but because Symphony will go back to sleeping half of the time with him. She's uber-sticky during the night - she doesn't let me move, if she is not sleeping in the crook of my arm, she's sleeping under the covers and between my legs. I love her dearly, but she's sticky.

The grass is always greener

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Sylvain is on his way home from Sweden now. He just sent me an SMS :

It's -28°C here! What temperature is it there?

I respond :

Apparently it's about 15°C. Spring is on it's way!

Sylvains response :

OOooh. Crap. That's a big jump in temperature.

Well boohoo for him. He's been off "working" for days (when in fact he's been busy ski-doo-ing for days). It can't all be sunshine and roses.

One of my favourite restaurants here in Paris is a cantonese one located just a few minutes walk from my place of employ. They have excellent soup, delicious canard lacqué, and it is one of the best Chinese restaurants that I have found here in Paris. We go there fairly frequently for lunch during the week, and sometimes even on the weekends - I'm slowly building up my repertoire of excellent restaurants here in Paris.

une soupe chinoise
Today's lunch : Soupe de nouilles au canard lacqué

Last week I went there to eat lunch with a colleague. She and I chatted for awhile, as usual, ordering without looking at the menu. A few minutes went by, and we noticed an elderly lady sitting at the table beside us was eating something that we didn't recognise. We looked at it curiously, "what is it?", "I'm not sure", "let's ask the staff what it is".

I had noticed that the lady was reading a book in English whilst she ate, so I thought I'd take the plunge and spoke to her in English, "excuse me, I hope you don't mind me interrupting, but I want to know what you're eating!"

Well... that was like opening the floodgates.

Not only did she tell us what she was eating, but she launched into an enormous tirade in English, until she realised (about 15 minutes later) that my colleague didn't speak a word of English, then she switched to French. It turned out she's been living in France on and off for the last thirty years, she loves this cantonese restaurant too ("it's the best REAL one I've found in Paris!"), and she also frequents the American Library in Paris on a regular basis. She didn't stop talking to us during the entire time we were there.

Just like all of us expat bloggers the other night, she adores the chance to speak her native language. I found it fascinating that even after all this time, even with a perfect fluency in French (and apparently Chinese), she grabs at every opportunity she can to talk in English.

I don't think that I'll ever stop grabbing at those opportunities either.

Shining on me

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This morning, Paris* had her best blue dress on and invited me out to play. Of course, I accepted her invitation and joyfully basked in the gloriousness of the almost-Spring sunshine.

But she is a capricious city, and this afternoon she has put on a grey shawl. I still catch glimpses of blue through the clouds, but the carefree blue-skied city that I love best is not quite ready to unveil herself for Spring.

Soon, though.

* France, not Hilton - in the words of the fabulous Jason.

Dutch bars serve good gooey meatballs

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The expat blogger meet last night actually started off with a serious crisis.

I was supposed to meet a couple of bloggers who had come into Paris a little early when I finished work, and I had all the intentions in the world to do so. But then disaster struck. I rang one of the bloggers and said, "I will be late! Shoe crisis! Must go!"

You see, I had walked past André, and saw some shoes that I had to have. Super cute! Black! Flower attached! What more can I say? So I bought them, went back to work and deposited my old shoes, put the new ones on, and finally met up with the bloggers. For some strange reason, they thought I had broken a heel or something overly dramatic like that, and didn't quite see the same level of crisis in the situation as I did. Hmph. I cannot help it. I am only human. This is Paris.

But the uncanniest thing ever? Aimee squealed, "Look at our shoes!" And they were the same. Great minds think alike. What a crazy world we live in.

But anyway...

I'm not sure how to sum up the fantastic event that was the actual expat bloggers meet. It was fabulous to put faces and voices (and accents!) to these blogs, and it was amazing how quickly the time went - I didn't get a chance talk properly to everyone! It was totally unlike anything I've ever done, because we all knew things about each other, even though most of us had never met before, and we all had really major things in common - language, foreigner-ness, writing, a love of communication. There was just something different about it, and it made it a really unique event.

Then, of course, there were the Pink Cosmopolitains (and the accompanying glowsticks). Mmmm. I have a new love. (Thankfully no nightmares this time.)

Thankyou Petite for organising it. You are a legend, girl. And your bum didn't look big. ;)

Some interesting facts
Most common statements concerning my blog : "so who is Spinach?", "THANKYOU for the explanation of who Spinach is!", and "I figured that the mysterious Spinach had to be part of a sibling rivalry sort of thing".

Most touching questions : "is Symphony feeling better?" and "did Sylvain get to Sweden alright?"

(Symphony is feeling MUCH better. Sylvain got to Sweden ok - he smsed me last night to say was been eating roast moose, and tonight he smsed to say that he was eating reindeer. Trust a Frenchman to describe his experience of a country based on the food.)

Glowsticks

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All that is left of quite a few rounds of Pink Cosmopolitains at the Expat Blogger Meet.

General Information

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I've received several curious emails and comments from people recently, who have asked, "but who is this myserious Spinach who has been commenting on your blog for the last month, and who is looking for his/her photos?"

I thought I'd clear this up once and for all.

Now... When my sister was here in France, she took lots of photos. As is to be expected. But the problem is that she left the cd of photos behind (taking my only cd of the photos I took). I sent her the cd of photos not long after she realised her mistake.

Being the stubborn-head that she is (even though the postal system is completely out of my power), she has sworn that Spinach (her cat) will spam my blog with queries about the photos until they have arrived and are sitting in her hot little hands.

I'm still not 100% sure why it is Spinach who is spamming my blog (and not my sister).

If you don't have siblings, you cannot possibly understand this.

If you do, I'm sure you can sympathise.

It's ridiculous, the mind games we play. Even when we're across the other side of the world from each other.

How are you, today?

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Belgians have a tendency to throw the odd "ça va?" into the end of their telephone conversations. It throws me every single time, and I never know what to say. This is because in French, of course, "ça va?" is generally something used at the beginning of the conversation.

"I know! It's so strange!" my French boss confided in me. "I just reply "ça va", with a nonchalant sort of tone."

It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who has such troubles.

Edited to add : When asked as a question, "ça va?" means "how are you going?". You can respond to this with "ça va", which means "it's going well". Which is exactly why it's so confusing that the Belgians say this at the END Of the conversation. *shakes head* I will never cease to be surprised in this language.

Wish you were here

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Katia, pouting, "I don't want you to go to Sweden."

Sylvain mirrors her pout, "I don't want to go either..."

*heavy pause*

"Liar," Katia narrows her eyes.

"Ok, I'm lying," giggles Sylvain. "In Sweden we're going to play on ski-doos!"

Honestly. He could at least pretend that he's going to miss me a little better than that. And this is for WORK. Pfft. All I get from my work are tickets restaurants [luncheon vouchers].

(although that's not so bad either)

(although it's still not Sweden and ski-doos)

Strike a pose

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I'm feeling all proud of myself, as I managed to get in to work at 8:30am, despite the horrible grèves that have befallen Paris today. It was just a matter of studying the train timetables, hauling my butt off to the train station at an unearthly hour and calculating my journey down to the last minute. Only half of my colleagues turned up today (the other half taking the day off), some of them straggling in as late as 10.30am with horror stories of metro stations being closed completely and buses taking detours.

The grèves today affect nearly everyone in Paris in nearly every capacity : transport, the post, schools - the list goes on. Way to go for giving the visiting Olympic 2012 decision makers a good impression of the city today.

But because of my heroic efforts at getting in so early, I am going to go home a little early too. Sardines in a can - that's what the trains were like this morning, and I have no doubt it will be the same again this afternoon, and I'll be forced to adopt my tried and true method of boarding the train - barge.

Onslaught

| 7 Comments

Tomorrow Sylvain is off to Sweden for 5 days for work, and he's a little nervous about the cold there - where he's going, it's apparently -20°C and he's going to have to be doing a lot of things outside.

Last night he said, "but I have to admit that I'm actually pleased to be out of town whilst that expat bloggers meet thingy is on".

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"The thought of shrieking anglos falling off bar stools has got me scared," he said, cheekily.

"Bah," I screwed my nose up at him. "You don't know what you're missing out on."

"Well you just make sure you keep a copy of our address in your handbag," Sylvain laughed. "I know what you're like".

Oh ye of little faith.

Deliciousness

| 10 Comments

Last Christmas, my parents gave Sylvain a subscription to trying our hand at some of the recipes. For me, the best thing about recipe books and cooking magazines is the inspiration factor - whether it's a particular combination of ingredients, the photos, the title of a recipe - you can come up with the best recipes yourself. We've certainly had our flops, but we've also had our share of successes.

Sylvain has also now been inspired to start watching the cooking channels. There are the anglos - he's fallen in love with Nigella (he goes all slack-jawed as she whips the cake batter), he suspects Ainsley is living a lie (my dad argues the same thing), and he thinks Jamie is a bit of a tosser (although he does cook yummy stuff). Then there are the frenchies - the ones who like to make supercomplicated things which take hours to cook, the ones who take themselves tremendously seriously and never crack a smile, the ones who like to load everything with as much duck fat as the pan can handle.

I should make it absolutely clear that neither Sylvain or I really need to concentrate so much on eating. I'd like to say that it is not so much the eating, but the creation. But the eating of said creations is such a pleasure too. heh!

The Christmas edition of delicious. had a "white christmas" feature - all sorts of white-themed desserts. Our favourite was a frozen white chocolate mousse topped with a warm vodka syrup, then sprinkled with decorative silver leaf.

I've been busting to try this recipe, but have not yet had an excuse to make it, not to mention that I can't think of where to find the decorative silver leaf here either. I suspect that we might just have to give it a test run anyway (despite the lack of decorative silver leaf), just to test it. For the sake of science. Testing.

The last edition of delicious. arrived in our mailbox last night - but it wasn't just one copy, but two! Is anyone who is going to be at the expat blogger thing on Friday night looking for a copy of an Australian cooking magazine?

Scaffolding

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Looking to the right out of my window at work

Dear Monsieurs,

Your scaffolding is a work of art. Really. I admire anyone who has the guts to get up there and hang from heights all day long.

But whilst you're attaching said scaffolding to the building (the one which is so cosily, so intimately connected to mine), and whilst you're drilling into that shared concrete wall that is less than a metre away from my ear, I would just appreciate a little warning that you're doing so.

I've jumped out of my skin, *counts on her fingers*, 9 times this morning. Count yourself lucky that I have a reasonable amount of control over my bodily functions, because otherwise that'd be 9 pairs of underwear you'd be laundering, buddy-o.

Perhaps you could just reach over and knock on my window before you start up the drill. Or if you've got your hands full, call out a warning. Anything! Anything at all! Just warn me. Please.

Cordialement,
Your friendly new neighbour,
Katia

I can tell that we're going to be in for a few fun months of fist shaking, and I suspect I will also need to renew my prescription of migraine tablets.

La suite

| 8 Comments

Yesterdays vet trip did not quite turn out as planned.

Sylvain dropped Symphony off in the morning, and they "installed" the microchip, and were all set to go about cleaning her teeth, when they realised that there were problems. She had to have SIX teeth removed, because apparently they were compacting. The vet said it's partially because she is so tiny (our friends call her a chat de poche, a pocket cat!) and there just wasn't enough room in her mouth for all those teeth. They shaved one of her front legs, but because she's so tiny, they were not able to get enough blood out (or something like that), and had to shave a square off her chest.

We picked her up yesterday afternoon and she was still really groggy, wandering gingerly all over the apartment, sniffing things, falling over herself, unable to jump up on the couches or anything. The dizzyness lasted all night, but this morning she seemed better. We even managed to elicit a little purr when she came to give us her usual morning kisses, but she got pretty cranky after breakfast - I think it's still a little hard for her to eat croquettes with all those teeth missing.

It was really hard to see her like in that state last night. It's basically convinced us to get another cat sometime in the next year or two, because if (when) we lose her, we'll be devestated.

It's crazy how much emotional investment we make in these creatures. I try not to get so attached, but it's hard.

Goodies !

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There is no better way to cheer up an Aussie Lass with a sore tum than by sending her presents!

I opened the letter box today to discover my GISBE present had arrived! I raced down the stairs and only just remembered to take out my camera and snap a few shots before I started ripping it open.

Macy's !

I was super-thrilled to find everything had been placed inside a Macy's bag (Macy's! Wow! How exciting! I've only seen that place on the movies and read about it in books! Ok, it doesn't take much to impress me. heh), and I carefully pulled it all out and laid it on the table!

GISBE !

Somehow the gorgeous gal who put my gift together managed to find absolutely everything on my very obscure list! Funky yarn - scarfy goodness, here I come! And delicious goodies! Peeps! I've never seen a peep in real life! I'm so excited to have a pack of Peep Hearts in front of me! Nerd rope! I'm a Nerd lover from way back, but in a rope? What ever will they think of next? But the cream of the crop was the packet of TWINKIES that she managed to tuck in there!

Twinkies !

In Primary School, I read The BabySitters Club books like they were going out of fashion. It is from this series that I learned that the American word for "lollies" is "candy". My eyes were opened to world culture - oh yes they were. My favourite character was Claudia, a self-confessed candy-holic, and one of her favourite treats of choice was Twinkies. For years I've been wondering what a Twinkie really was - and the GISBE gave me the opportunity to ask for some!

I haven't opened them yet. My sore tummy may throw a revolution if I try to put one of those cream-filled sponge cakes inside, so for now my Twinkies will wait patiently on my desk where I can see them - and I will be able to tick another thing off my list of Things To Do In My Life : Eat a Twinkie.

Thankyou Mariko! I'm absolutely thrilled!
(now I REALLY can't wait for my giftee to receive theirs!)

Something fun

| 3 Comments

I've felt recently that I am not making as much progress with my French as I want. I'm reasonably fluent, and I get by at work with far fewer dramas on a day to day basis. Sure, I'm stll learning new words and phrases, but I'm plateau-ing a little and I really want to keep the momentum up whilst I can.

I really need to work on my grammar, and have learned an enormous amount of phrases over the last few years that I can say at whim, but buggered if I know how to spell them. I've been concentrating so hard on getting my spoken French up to scratch that I've neglected the grammar. I can cheat in spoken French, but it all falls to pieces when I write.

I don't often read in French, and I think that if I did, this would help the grammatical side of things. I've read a few different French novels over the last year, but I don't get the same amount of enjoyment out of reading in French as I do in English - I simply don't appreciate it in the same way. I'm also exposed all day long to written scientific French, so I don't think I'm seeing it in a very good light.

Last week, a friend suggested that I perhaps I just need to read something fun, like Bridget Jones or comic books or something, and not just the "20 minutes" pseudo-newspaper that is handed out in the trains in the morning.

I came home and told Sylvain that I was on a mission to find something fun to read in French, and was delighted when he came home the next day with several BDs just for me!

I'm not normally a comic book reader, but a couple of years ago, I read the Calvin and Hobbes series in French, and loved every bit of it. The pictures made the text come alive in a totally different way, and over the weekend, I started reading these new BDs with the same enthusiasm.

I have only learned one new word (un oisillon = a fledgling chick!), but I caught myself saying, "oooooh that's how you spell it!" more than once, and I am really looking forward to the next lot.

I'm just lucky that there is such an enormously rich French-language comic book culture (and a huge number of translated comic books). Making learning fun! I really am just a big kid.

A good start to the week

| 4 Comments

The swaying of the train was enough to make me want to get out and go straight back home after only one station had passed, but I put on a brave face and I made an appearance at work this morning. Very nobly, I might add, as I'm still feeling like a bunch of party bugs have gate-crashed my stomach. My boss took one look at me and said, "go home". I didn't argue.

I'm now wrapped up in a fluffy red mohair blanket that Alexis gave me (and which is still shedding bits and pieces of itself all over the place), drinking gallons of water, and moving between the pinkuter, the bed (thankfully only a distance of about 50cm so I'm not exerting huge amounts of energy, except for when I type and turn the pages of my book), and the bathroom. Good times.

The worst part of it all is that I'm Symphony-less. Sylvain took her to the vet this morning, so that they can put the microchip in, as well as clean her teeth while she's under anaesthetic. I can't stand being sick like this, and not having my little cat home to keep me company just feels weird.

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Voila some further photographic proof that our cat is extremely strange and absolutely loves getting in her travelling cage. Last time wasn't just a freak incident. We got the cage out about an hour before Sylvain was due to take her the vet, and she hopped in immediately. She makes me laugh. I love this cat. I wish she was home to keep me company - there is nothing better than cat cuddles when one feels under the weather.

Sylvain and Katia are sorting the washing.

Symphony is pouncing randomly on odd socks.

Sylvain exclaims, "look at that pile of underwears to be folded!"

A minute later, Katia registers what he has said, "Underwear doesn't have an S on the end."

Sylvain thinks for a moment, then asks cheekily, "even if you wear more than one pair?"

Katia, giggling hysterically, "yep... even if you wear more than one pair."

Symphony continues to pounce randomly on odd socks.

Gone with the wind

| 6 Comments

Friday's crappyness was only the beginning. I've been as sick as a dog all weekend. I cancelled all my plans, cocooned myself in bed and got up close and personal with anti-nausea tablets.

Dissolve yourselves under my tongue, my friends. By our powers combined, we will stop this horrible I-might-just-throw-up feeling!

The only thing worse than getting sick is the knowledge that I've wasted my entire weekend on it, and I'll probably be capable of working tomorrow (or at least, I won't be able to convince my doctor to give me an arrêt maladie [medical certificate] to give me the day off work tomorrow). Pure injustice.

I have, however, managed to devour one and a half books, so all is not lost.

More icy fun

| 3 Comments

...and it has started snowing again. The snowflakes flying past my window are mighty big mothers.

Sylvain was unable to go to work at the usual hour this morning because there was too much ice on the roads (because he was driving a work car which has got worn tyres), so I just rang him to say, "it's snowing again! Get your posterior home again before it gets more crazy snowy and you're stuck at work until Monday!" He replied, "I have a window at work too, you know - I'm on my way home already".

In other news, I had The Most Shitty Day At Work today. It is my half-Friday today (hoorah for the 35 hour working week), so with what I consider to be a tremendous amount of skill and finesse I managed to get a whole heap of shittyness thrown at me in 3 1/2 hours. Really Bad Day.

Crankyness abounds.

Not even the pretty falling snowflakes can appease my crankyness.

Pride of place

| 11 Comments

It's Friday. I really need to do some washing and I've spent half an hour agonising over what to wear to work.

I am about to walk out the door.

"Why don't you wear practical shoes, love?" Sylvain asks innocently.

"Because they won't go with what I am wearing," I grumble.

"But you're going to slip over in all that snow..." he says with concern. "...again..."

He's right. There is a good 20cm of snow on the ground outside. Overnight it was too cold to snow again and it's all turned to ice.

"But practical shoes won't go with what I am wearing," I complain.

Sylvain shrugs.

Half an hour later, I've descended the hill to the train station. I've managed to slip, heart in my mouth, then finding my footing at the last minute, at least twenty times. I've fallen on my butt twice. And I am pretty sure that my ankle is slightly sprained because it's hurting a lot after one of those pseudo-falls that I did. I so don't have this walking in the snow thing happening.

On reflection, I should have worn my hiking boots, without caring about what I was wearing. I could have carried my work shoes in another bag, but I am also carrying 8 books that I need to return to the library this afternoon, so I initially didn't want to be carrying too much extra baggage to work.

I think I was just being stubborn. I know that if I had have thought of wearing my hiking boots all by myself (instead of Sylvain suggesting I do so), I probably would have done it.

I am my own worst enemy. When will I get over this pride thing?

Snowy days

| 4 Comments

I woke up this morning to see the world had been covered with yet another white carpet of snow.

I just love it.

Perhaps it's something to do with the magic of all those wee little snowflakes falling from the sky.

Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that I'd never experienced it until I moved here.

Perhaps it's something to do with the fact that I like saying, "I love the snow", when everyone else is saying, "I hate this weather".

I just love it.

Intimidation

| 13 Comments

Sylvains father likes to think of himself as an amateur wine buff, and has a large cave filled with several thousand bottles of wine. Luckily for us, he can't drink it all, and each time we visit, we return with several boxes of very good wine which needs-to-be-drunk-immediately-otherwise-it-won't-be-good-anymore-here-have-another-case-no-we-really-have-enough-no-i-insist-oh-ok. This means that we very rarely need to buy wine, except when we're visiting certain regions of France and can't help but bring it back with us (our visit to Alsace last summer? 8 cases!), and when I need wine for cooking. Goodness knows it would be grounds for divorce if I dared use my FILs precious wine for cooking.

It's actually an advantage, because wine bottles here are confusing. They're covered in details about where the wine was grown, what region, what wineyard, what year, etc. etc. etc. To amateurs of wine this is not a problem (and many a French person will be able to decipher labels with ease, I think it's in their genes), but for a foreigner it can be intimidating.

When I arrived here, I knew that Very Good Red Wine was supposed to come from Bordeaux. But stand in front of the Bordeaux aisle at the supermarket or your local Nicolas and it's not easy to make a choice. Australian bottles of wine are labelled primarily with the name of the producer and then type of wine - Shiraz, Cabernet, etc. Here, whilst you're inundated with information about the former, it's virtually impossible to know the latter.

When, whilst examining a bottle of wine at dinner one evening, I voiced my confusion about the type of wine it was supposed to be, Sylvain's mother explained to me that you just know.

I replied, "but how?"

She responded with a shrug, "well... you just know..."

Uh-huh.

I'm not the only one who has a problem with wine labels. The Powers That Be here in France have recognised that such labels are very intimidating to the competetive overseas markets (it's clear what one will choose that when presented with a choice of a clearly labelled bottle of australian or californian wine and a confusing French one), and are setting about rectifying this problem. I understand that they're suggesting to the winegrowers to simplify their labels - either that, or they will continue to see the repercussions in their diminishing sales.

I have the same problem with certain French foods. Look on a menu in a standard Brasserie and they'll almost certainly feature several of the many magificent typical French dishes. The problem is that the French are so used to these dishes, and they know what they are. Unless you're in a touristy restaurant, there will rarely be a little line of text underneath the menu item saying exactly what is in it.

One of my first work lunches consisted of a group of us going to a local Brasserie. I spotted the item, "Blanquette de veau".

I asked my colleagues,"What is a Blanquette?"

"Veal!" they replied.

"I like veal," I thought. "Let's give it a go!"

My plate arrived, piled with pasta, veal and covered in a mushroom sauce.

Mushrooms are my most loathed food, and nary a mushroom passes my lips if I can help it.

"You never said there were mushrooms in it," I exclaimed in horror. "It wasn't written on the menu!"

"But that's what a Blanquette is, madame," my colleagues and the waiter explained.

"But how was I supposed to know?" I argued. "You never said there were mushrooms in it when I asked."

"That's just what it is," they replied.

I ate the rice that hadn't been touched the sauce, pushed the pieces of veal around the plate half-heartedly, and when we left the restaurant, I went and bought a sandwich.

The French are reknowned the world over for their knowledge of good food and their good wine. But they're not always willing to share it.

What's in a name?

| 7 Comments

A conversation in the comments of another blog yesterday has provoked me to think quite a lot about certain profoundly important things ("what's in a name?"), so I thought I'd put my own thoughts about it down here.

My name is pronounced by French people as "Kar-tcha". This is the generally accepted European pronounciation. My friends and family in Australia pronounce it differently : "Kay-tee-ah". Much to the confusion of my French colleagues and friends, I obstinately continue to introduce myself as Kay-tee-ah to everyone (the French can be tetu, but so can I), although I must admit that Sylvain and my in-laws all make an enormous effort to say it à la facon australienne.

I'm pretty upfront about myself on this blog. Like many bloggists, I sign my posts by my real name, and I have no qualms about doing so. But there are lots of people in the Blogosphere who go by pseudonyms, and quite rightly so - the internet being what it is, you can never be too careful. So then I began worrying what I would call people at next weeks Expat Blogger Meet Thingy (where I am assured I will be able to partake in many mixed beverages).

Evidence shows that I cannot help but call Bloggers by their "pen name". In the last few weeks, I've been lucky to meet a few different bloggers around the town. In each case, I called them by the name that they presented on their blogs. When they introduced themselves by their real names, I ended up strategically avoiding using their name altogether and continued calling them by their "pen names" in my head. Really, I did.

I'd just like to say, in advance, that if you use a "pen name", and I've been reading you for longer than a week, your "pen name" has probably become so deeply engrained in my brain that I will not call you by anything else. Vivi and Petite are perfect examples of this. It's too late now, and I'm sure that it will forever remain Vivi and Petite in my head. I apologise to all of you pseudoymn-ers in advance.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet."
~Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2), William Shakespeare

So chunky, you can carve it

| 6 Comments

I am possibly the worst pet owner in the world.

Symphony and I were playing chase. She zoomed past me and I pretended to grab her.

But I accidentally did grab her.

And pulled a chunk of fur out of her belly.

A CHUNK.

I stood there, staring in horror at the chunk of fur in my hand. Sylvain stood there, staring in horror at the chunk of fur in my hand (ok, it wasn't a chunk like a handful, but it wasn't a chunk like a couple of hairs either - it was more a chunk containing about 30 hairs. A small chunk. A chunk. I pulled a chunk of fur out of my cat).

Symphony squeaked and sprinted into the toilet, where she hid in her litter box and proceeded to dig like crazy for about 10 minutes. I think she was stressed out.

I waited in the hall for her to come out of the toilet, but as soon as she saw me she proceeded to sprint around the entire apartment like a maniac. She hasn't calmed down, and the "incident" happened over half an hour ago.

I now feel like I am the most horrible pet owner. It's a good thing I don't have kids.

A chunk!

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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