Monday, November 16, 2009

La Chanson Du Dimanche

Sunday's Song. A math teacher named Clément and a screenwriter named Alex started getting together every Sunday to write and perform little ditties about current events and politics. They filmed themselves singing their songs while sitting on a street corner somewhere in Paris with a guitar, synthesizer and sometimes a kazoo. Yes, a kazoo. Wanna see? Here's a sample of them:

This is one of my favorite numbers. It's about an American who goes to Paris as a tourist but discovers that he can't actually go anywhere because everyone's on strike. In case you can't tell, they actually sing it with a strong American accent. The chorus is the American begging the train workers (cheminots) to go back to work so he can get around: (Petit cheminot, where are you? Petit cheminot, what are you doing? Petit cheminot think of me who needs you! Petit cheminot, I love you, Petit cheminot, I need you, Petit cheminot, don't leave me! Sing with me!)

I've seen some good street performers, but these guys really take the cake. Their songs are incredibly catchy and they've begun to build a sizeable fan base through word of mouth. I discovered them through Gaby who found out about them from other friends. That was a couple of years ago. Now the two-man band is touring in small towns around Paris and will be playing in Paris in December.

So, Friday night Gaby and I trekked over to Achères to see them. And these two guys managed to give a really amazing concert!! Giant Congo lines with the entire audience, song requests, a body surfing contest to see who was the best OGMan superhero with cape and mask (OGM = organisme génétiquement modifié or...GMO in English). They were so energetic and their enthusiasm was contagious! I just couldn't believe what a great show they put on.

Fun show! Fun group! I wish they would somehow make it to the U.S. beyond the small French student circles who might know of them.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Oh Yeah"

Every now and then I come across a catchy little French song that I can't get out of my head. So I thought I'd share my latest favorite one by Housse de Racket:

In case you're wondering, he's mostly naming all the famous artists he'll become one day. He'll change tomorrow, or maybe never...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Les Etats-Unis Part II: Sightseeing

My European friends here wanted to know what all we did on our vacation while we were visiting people.'s hard to go sightseeing when you're visiting your hometown and college towns and really want to see people more than places. Maybe I'll just send my friends the link to the Atchison episode of "A Haunting" and say,"Hey, isn't staying in the most haunted town in Kansas enough?"

During our many people visits, we did have some tourist highlights.

First stop: Bonner Springs. Yes, we wanted to visit my grandmother who suggested we go to this quaint new little place called Madame Hatter's Tea Room. It was lovely, and Gaby got to try sweet tea for the first time. This may sound weird, but in France, no one drinks iced tea unless it's Lipton's "Ice Tea" from a can or bottle. We also got to try on fun hats.

Next we headed to Chicago where Gaby had only one sight-seeing request: the Michael Jordan statue in front of the United Center. Yes, my French boyfriend is a huge basketball fan and used to stay up all night for the live broadcast of the Bulls playing at the United Center. Michael Jordan was a sports hero and symbol of Gaby's basketball-playing days. When he told me about the statue, of course I wanted to go see it too. I pictured Michael Jordan standing there holding a basketball. Like this:

Well, except it would be Michael Jordan and not James Naismith. Marissa imagined the same thing. Hahahaha! Man...shows how much we know. Here's the real thing:

So perfect!! I think Naismith would have been amazed to see how much his sport has evolved and how much some players have done with it.

Marissa's boyfriend Joe was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to drive us to the United Center and then to take us on a tour of the city. One of our favorite spots was the zoo, which was really pretty and totally free!! So nice!

Once we were back in Kansas, we did what every European who visits the U.S. ought to do. We went to a major league baseball game. To me, it's the greatest American past-time and one that can't really be experienced from a television broadcast. My parents treated us to a game at the newly renovated Kauffman Stadium. When Gaby walked in, he was genuinely impressed and couldn't keep from breathing out an awe-struck "Oh, wow." And he was right. I've always loved the stadium, but now it just looks even more amazing with its screens that wrap around the entire ballpark, the little Royals history museum, picnic areas and centerfield standing room in front of the fountains.

We had seats on the lower level right down the 3rd base line, and I was instantly transported back to my childhood and the days of Frank White, Bret Saberhagen, Bo Jackson and of course, George Brett. That night, the Royals were playing against the Minnesota Twins, and even though we lost in the end, it was the most exciting game I've been to since game 6 of the 1985 World Series. Here we are right before game time:

And the icing on the cake is that Gaby is now officially a baseball fan, and not only that, but a ROYALS fan. (Mission accomplished.) He wanted to go out and buy a baseball mitt and ball so we could play catch. He ordered a Royals cap. He's also officially a Zack Greinke fan on Facebook.

Our vacation probably seems like pretty standard summer stuff for any Midwesterner, but I think from a European perspective, it's still somewhat exotic. Plus there was all the food I mentioned in the previous post. And honestly, we had a really great time.

Les Etats-Unis Part I: Reverse Culture Shock

The school year officially starts this week at Nanterre University, so of course I'm thinking about our vacation instead of planning lessons. In true French fashion, Gaby and I took our vacation in August and went to the U.S. to visit family and friends.

After being away for an entire year, I was anxious to see everyone and to enjoy my home country for a month. I just wasn't expecting to notice all the differences so much. Here are my top five (not very surprising?) observations:

1. The U.S. is BIG. The first thing I noticed after getting off the plane was how much space there was, even at the airport. Big restaurants, big chairs, big tables, LOTS of room between chairs and tables, humongous portions. Roomy (and very clean) restrooms. The highways are so wide, as are the parking spots, probably because the cars are so large too. Relatively large houses, enormous backyards, lots of open land. I spent a lot of time out on my parents' back porch just enjoying the open space and feeling like I could really breathe. Ahhh.....The downside of all this? Well, Americans are big too. I'm not trying to be mean, but I feel like I could stand to lose more than a few pounds compared to the girls in France. Feeling relatively svelte in the U.S., I didn't think twice about reaching for that extra helping of Doritoes.

2. AMERICAN FOOD IS SO GOOD. If we Americans are ahem...a little heavier than Europeans, I think it's because our food is so incredibly awesome (and awesomely fatty). Having been deprived of some of our favorite American dishes and snacks, Gaby and I went to town. In Madison we helped ourselves to our favorite Glass Nickel Pizza, wings, burgers, hot cheese curds and Great Dane beer. In Chicago we chowed down on Marissa's amazing pork chops, sushi and the best hot gooey cinnamon rolls from Ann Sathers. And of course when we got back to Kansas, we went to a Royals game where we pigged out on stadium foot-longs, nachos and Philly cheese steak sandwiches. And I haven't even mentioned all the Cheetos, popcorn, Doritoes and Pepperidge farm cookies we made evening trips out to Wal-mart for. (TUMS anyone?)

3. STORES like Wal-mart ARE OPEN SO LATE!! I'm used to getting all my shopping of any kind done before 8:00 pm on weekdays & Saturday. Yes, it is hard to fit in grocery shopping when Gaby and I don't get home until 7:00 sometimes, but we manage. We also know that most stores are closed on Sunday and the ones that are open on Sunday are closed on Monday. By contrast, the Wal-mart in Atchison is open 24/7 except on Christmas day. Wow. I don't know how many times we drove out there after 10:00 to pick up some trivial item. (Usually cookies.)

4. I LOVE HAVING A CAR. Sometimes. I love public transportation in Paris, but I do miss miss driving in small towns and in the country. City driving and I have never ever gotten along very well, although Chicago was relatively kind to Gaby and me. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a car here; then I see all the traffic jams as I'm walking to the store and change my mind.

5. ENGLISH IS EASIER THAN FRENCH. Well, duh. But no, seriously, this was a big thing for me. I tend to be an extremely shy person. I have had to psych myself up to even order takeout over the phone (yes, in the U.S.) Yes, yes, it's almost an illness. Ridiculous, really. France has cured me of it to some degree. Now when I have to talk to a stranger, all I have to remember is that it's not as if I have to speak to them in French, which of course is infinitely worse. I was almost overjoyed to ask for information or directions from my fellow Americans.

There you have it. I'm sure I made other little observations which will probably come to me in the middle of the night sometime when I can't sleep, but for now that's all I can think of. Next post...sight-seeing in the Midwest.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chez le Coiffeur

I love how my hair feels after a good haircut. Shiny, silky, light, well-styled. The problem is that I cannot stand going to the stylist. It's not the shampooing/conditioning; THAT is heavenly. It's having to sit in the chair, look at myself in the mirror with wet hair in my face and then CHAT with the stylist about n'importe quoi. I never know what to talk about, so more often than not, I sit there awkwardly and don't say anything.

I imagined that getting my hair cut in France would be an absolute nightmare, not only because of the language barrier but also because of this one dreaded question: "How would you like your hair cut?" Euh....It's a question I can barely answer in English mostly because even though I know when I need a haircut, I'm never quite sure what I want, and the few times I have been sure, the stylist has always said, "No, that's not a good idea." What I really want to be able to say is, "I don't know. What do you think would look good? As long as you don't give me a euro mullet, do whatever you want." Not acceptable here.

To avoid the whole haircutting ordeal, I even got my hair cut pretty short in Madison before coming to France. That way I could avoid getting it cut again for a whole year. Yeah, I'm that bad. But by the end of June my hair was so long, unruly and damaged at the ends that I began wearing it in a ponytail everyday. A sure sign I could no longer put off the visit to the coiffeur.

Gaby and I decided to go together to support each other since he hates going as much as I do. Alas, we went in the evening and the salon only had time to do Gaby's hair. He came out looking all neat and groomed, and there I was, still Captain Cavewoman (or Hippie Hil--take your pick.) I was definitely going as soon as I could. This morning I got up early to go to the one stylist that was open in Poissy on Mondays. Gaby walked with me for encouragement.

The owner and a few stylists greeted us with "Bonjours" and smiles when we walked in. I instantly began to relax. First impressions of salons are a big deal to me. This one seemed very friendly. First the lovely shampoo and conditioner. The lady doing the job wanted to know all about me. She even spoke some English with her charming little accent. Once that was over, the dreaded question from the head stylist: "Do you have an idea of how you want your hair cut?" "A little bit shorter and with some layers." "Très bien. We have some pictures you can look at to help you decide too if you want." In the end, I did look at the pictures and noticed that ALL of them had "some layers." Crap. Which one? They all looked way cool. Happily, the stylist ended up choosing one by saying, "How about something like this?" Perfect. Yes.

And then we chatted a bit while he cut my hair. I had a huge advantage that I hadn't been counting on. Since I was an American in France, he wanted to know all about how I liked France and what I was doing here. It was cool too because the guy apparently goes to New York and Miami three or four times a year and loves going there! So then we talked a little about his impressions of the U.S.

Finally he made the finishing little touches and I was done. My hair looked great, nothing crazy or new, but just what I had wanted. And the coiffeur had been so nice. Yet another case of my having been nervous for no reason. How silly. I walked out with a big smile and my head held high.

On my way back home, some guy yelled out the window of his car, "T'es BELLE!! Oh là là..." I credit my stylist. Oh, the French know how to make a girl feel good.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Update (long): autorisation de travail

In my last post about immigration, I'd just found out that I had to have my work authorization after all. I haven't written again about it because I thought it would just be too depressing/uninteresting for everybody to read about. But since I now have my papers in order for next year, I've decided to share how everything went at the department of labor when I tried to get my new work authorization. It was really an unpleasant experience that I need to record.

Gaby's mom came with me again, for which I am extremely grateful. I think that the department of labor workers tend to push around foreigners more when they're alone. I knocked on the door of the office of the woman with whom I'd talked the week before, the one who'd been so patient and polite. She didn't even look up, didn't even respond to my polite "Bonjour, madame" and just sat their for at least a full minute stamping applications as if we were not even there. Gaby's mom was shocked. (Not even a little 'bonjour'!)

I finally began explaining my situation to her and that the préfecture was asking for a new work authorization although I'd been told the week before that I wouldn't need one. She finally looked up and said she couldn't remember my case because she'd seen so many people since me. Yes, of course, I wasn't asking her to remember my case. If she'd only looked up beforehand, she would've seen that I had all my documents out for her to review. Of course I didn't say that. She took my current titre de sejour--the one she'd looked at before when she'd told me I wouldn't need a work authorization card.

She then said that she wasn't the person who dealt with cases like mine, and that I would have to talk to her colleague. Not a good sign. She kept my card and left the room to speak to the colleague and came back a few minutes later.

"You don't have the right to stay in this country for more than a year. Your work authorization card is non-renewable."

"What? But my contract is renewable and has been renewed, so shouldn't my work authorization also be renewable?"

At this point she directed Monique and me into the office of her colleague. There were no chairs to sit on, and so we were forced to stand there to make my case. I once again explained my situation.

"You'll have to go back to the United States because your contract ends at the end of August."

"Yes, I know, but it's been renewed, so the university told me I needed to renew my titre de séjour. To renew it, I need to renew my work authorization card."

"It's non-renewable because you just have a one-year contract that ends at the end of August. Renewable work authorizations are only for people currently living in France."

"I am currently living in France. I've been living in France this whole past year."

"Well, your university should have treated your case as if you hadn't been in France the whole past year. They need to treat you as if you were a new introduction into the country."

"But I'm not a new introduction to the country. I was here last year. What does that even mean?"

"It means they'll have to send your file to the Department of Labor in Nanterre so they can approve it and send a letter of approval to the French consulate in the US so they can give you a new visa. You should really go to the Department of Labor in Nanterre to see how this works."

"I did go last week. They told me to come here because it was a renewal."

The ladies both rolled their eyes and then began scolding me.

"Didn't the university explain how your contract works? (No.) Didn't the French consulate in the US tell you you wouldn't be allowed to stay beyond a year? ( You do NOT have the right to stay in this country. You have to go back to the US. Weren't you planning to go back to the US this summer?"

"Yes, but to visit my family, not for a new visa. None of my colleagues have ever needed to go back to the US for a new visa; they've all been able to renew their titres de séjours here in France."

The ladies both shook their heads.

"Well... can you tell me what documents the university needs to send for me to get a new visa?"

The lady behind the desk showed them to me.

"Oh! I have those documents--the university gave them to me. Can't I just give them to you now?"


"Why not? They're all in order; everything's signed and stamped."

"We're not allowed to take documents directly from people here. They must come from the employer or the prefecture."

"Well, the employer gave them to me to give to you. The prefecture didn't want them and told me to give them to you."

"Oh, no no. That's not how we do things. Oh, I can't believe the préfecture and the university are treating this like a normal renewal. "

Because maybe it IS a normal renewal you crazy bitches.

Monique stepped in. "Well, can't you perhaps call the préfecture then and explain that there's a miscommunication?"

"Oh, absolutely not. We do not EVER communicate with the préfecture. They don't know anything, and we just don't get along with them very well."

WHAT???? Isn't that your JOB????

At this point I began to think about the plaque that's hanging in the lobby of their building. It was put up in memory of two department of labor workers who were killed in that office for "trying to uphold the law." I won't tell you what other thoughts went through my head at that moment.

Monique continued to question them about how the whole process worked, but I was already gathering up my stuff. It was a lost cause. Usually new visa applications were turned in at the end of May at the latest. I would have to apply for a new visa at the end of July right before everyone went on vacation for the month of August. This meant my application would sit on someone's desk for a whole month and they wouldn't even look at it until September, meaning I wouldn't get my visa until mid-October and would lose at least a month and a half's salary.

And then a miracle happened. The lady behind the desk asked to see my contract again.

"I'll tell you what. I'll just treat this as a renewal this time. After all, the university's like a big enterprise and not just some little employer. I'll stamp the department of labor's approval on your contract and send you your work authorization through the mail."

I couldn't believe it. Of course I thanked her profusely, but I felt more suspicious and angry than thankful. Would she really renew it or was she just trying to get us the hell out of her office? Was she really going to send my new work authorization or would she just throw my file away once I left the room? I made sure I had copies of everything as she wanted to keep my two original work contracts.

I didn't relax until Monday morning at 11:00 when Monique called to say the postman had dropped off my department of labor letter and could she open it? Yes of course, open it!! The work authorization was there and ready with all the correct information. I couldn't believe it.

We went to the prefecture immediately where I got my new titre de séjour receipt. I'll be able to pick up the real thing in September when I get back. It's amazing, really, that it is done so early. And all this based on the whim of some lady who decided to not follow the crazy bureaucratic rules that define immigration, rules that vary from department to department and even from worker to worker.

I've read countless stories online about other people's horrible experiences with immigration, and I know from experience that they're not lying or exaggerating. I hope that someday we'll do away with such ridiculous laws and that people will look back on them and realize how stupid and barbaric they really are.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

La Fête Nationale à Poissy

This year for Bastille Day, Gaby and I decided to avoid the crowds of Paris and stay in Poissy. After all, the town had its very own fireworks show over the Seine, just down the street from our apartment. (We're rather lazy these days.) The old bridge was blocked off to pedestrians several days in advance for security purposes. I watched all day as workers raked up leaves and bits of trash and mowed the park lawn in preparation for the crowds.

I spent the early evening making fried chicken, cutting watermelon and making fresh-squeezed lemonade, food and drink that I associate with the American "fête nationale." Gaby, his mom and I walked on over to the park not too long before the fireworks were to start and were still able to find a good spot to sit right next to the Seine. To our left, small children were shooting off Black Cats and jumping jacks. To our right, a family was taking turns lighting roman candles. I couldn't keep from grinning. It felt just like the 4th of July, a holiday that I've missed far too often in recent years.

At sunset, they signaled the beginning of the show with lights on the old bridge.

A barge from which the fireworks were to be shot moved slowly down the river to position itself just to the left of the audience. And then the show began with the music of movies dealing with astronomy and space exploration, Poissy's town theme this year. As an American, I think I found it especially comforting to watch really spectacular fireworks set to the familiar scores of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and E.T. It was a nice little remedy to any pangs of homesickness.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures--I was too busy watching the show to take any more!! I'll try to add some of Monique's shots later.)