Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Saturday, November 29, 2008

We're off to see the Queen

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Friday, November 28, 2008

To London I go

So, guess who almost just missed her train to London? Yep, that would be me. Here I thought I was doing good and leaving much earlier than I would for a normal train, and I end up almost missing the damn thing. Check-in was already closed by the time I got there, and I had to do some major sweet-talking (read: begging and pleading) to get them to let me through. It was pretty much like checking in for the airport, what with customs and luggage scans and duty free shops and all. So FYI for anyone else taking the Eurostar for the first time - make sure you get there more than 15 minutes in advance like I did, or you'll be out of luck! Also, double check your departure time before you go because some of the trains have been advanced, delayed or cancelled all together- mine left an entire 30min before the departure time printed on my ticket.

And now a quick word about Thanksgiving - I had such a good time last night with everyone, and the food was absolutely delicious. It was a real American Thanksgiving with all the trimmings. And major props to Sarah for hosting us all - there were at least 15 of us there and she really was the hostest with the mostest! Not to mention the massive turkey she found for us... There are pics are up on Facebook, I didn't have time to post any here before leaving. It's probably a good thing I didn't though, or I really would've missed the Eurostar!

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

What I am thankful for...

Happy Thanksgiving to all the Americans out there. As I lay in bed this morning, having been abruptly woken up by a client (because alas, with the way my job is, I unfortunately have to work on both American AND French holidays), I thought about what I am thankful for. We all know this hasn't been the easiest of years for me - in fact, it probably ranks up there with one of the worst years of my life. But it's all about keeping things in perspective, isn't it? And so, I'm going to list out all the thinks I'm thankful for on this Turkey day:
  • I have a home - it may not be perfect, nor permanent - but unlike millions of other people out there, I have a roof over my head
  • I have made some fabulous friends here in Paris, for which I will be eternally grateful. Without all of you guys, I likely would've packed up my bags and left long ago
  • I have a job that I enjoy and that challenges me everyday, and that gives me enormous flexibility with my scheduling
  • Even though it's been tiring these past few weeks, I'm lucky to be able to travel as much as I do, and I've got a couple of more exciting trips coming up over the next few weeks
  • The Company bought me a plane ticket home, and I am so happy to be spending Christmas with my family this year (as opposed to the very-un-merry Christmas I spent with Fab's family last year)
  • I am able to put money away, bringing me a little bit closer every month to my goal of buying myself a small apartment here
  • And last but not least, I am grateful for my Finnish classes. It's so nice to be able to do something for myself again, and to have rediscovered one of the passions I left behind when I moved to France
I hope everyone has a wonderful Turkey Day no matter where you are in the world - I myself am looking forward to eating a fabulous T-day dinner chez Sarah. I plan on stuffing my face with turkey and all the other goodies everyone will be bringing.

PS. In case anyone has the Discovery Channel, I just found out they're doing a Thanksgiving piece featuring The Company in their "How Stuff Works" Series. On top of that, the turkey that President Bush pardoned yesterday (and who will be the Grand Marshall in today's Thanksgiving Day Parade) also comes from The Company. How random is that?


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sometimes I wonder why I even try...

Or, "No milk for you!"

When we last saw our heroine, she was heading to the supermarket to buy some milk for her morning tea. I would like to remind you that this requires an extraordinary amount of effort on her part, because it means she must get up, get dressed and go out before having her morning tea.

Ksam: *arrives at the local Franprix and enters the store*
Cranky Employee: We're closed.
Ks: But you open at 8:30!
CE: No we don't.
Ks: Yes you do, I've been here before at that time.
CE: Are you trying to tell me you know when MY store opens?
Ks: It frickin' says 8:30 right on your window!!
CE: I've worked here for (insert ridiculous amount of years here) number of years and I can assure you we've never opened at 8:30.
Ks: Then why the hell is your door wide open?
CE: Leave! Can't you see we're busy stocking shelves?
Ks: *walks out shaking her head and wondering why she ever tries to reason with these people*

And all of this happened the morning after our dear Ksam got felt up in the movie theater by a 50 year old Frenchie:

Erica and Ksam sit down to watch the 5:40pm showing of "Two Lovers". An older gentleman walks past and then turns back and sits down right next to Ksam, even though there are plenty of other seats available.

Ksam: See what I mean? People are always sitting right next to me!
Erica: You should've put your bag down on that chair.
Ksam: I know, but I'm always worried about someone trying to steal it.
*The movie starts*
Ksam (What's going on here? Is that man stroking my leg? Or is that just his coat?) *moves leg*

The movie continues on, and a little while later Ksam feels something again. (What do I do? I don't want to just start yelling at him in the theater if it really is his coat...) *Moves leg again*

The third time....(okay, this cannot be a coincidence. Slams down hard on his foot and turns to glare him). Ksam prepares herself to say something along the lines of "Tu me touches encore une fois connard et je te coupe les couilles" (touch me again bastard, and I'll cut your balls off) in case it happens again, but the dude gets up and runs out of the theater like a little girl, leaving Ksam to feel dirty and slightly traumatized.

End scene.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Off with her head


Monday, November 24, 2008

Aux Champs Elysées

This was one of the first French songs I ever heard, and I sang it late last night while walking down the Champs Elysées. I really should make an effort to head over that way more often...but after midnight, when there are no tourists.

There was still plenty of traffic though, and I'm still wondering how on Earth we managed to cross the Arc de Triomphe roundabout à pied. It was like Leap Frog, only live. And then we got yelled at by a guard as I was taking this picture. Didn't we think the underground passageway was closed for a reason??And what's a trip to Paris without a visit to the Eiffel tower? Though enough of the blue already people - does Sarko not know that it is so two years ago? :)

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bilan for the weekend:
  • Thursday night - home around 4am, not sure of the exact time.
  • Friday night - home at 2:30am
  • Saturday night - home at 4:30am
  • Kilometers walked - way too many
  • Non-alcohol-related calories consumed - way too few
  • Money spent - probably better not to do the tally

A few of you kind souls have pointed out to me that maybe I'd be better off at home, resting, considering how sick and rundown I am. And you're probably right. But after the long hours I put in during the week and all the time spent alone while traveling, I so look forward to the weekend and being able to just go out and let loose. I keep saying "Next weekend, I'll rest!" Except I won't, because next weekend I will be in London for a Bachelorette Party (otherwise known as Leyla's Hen Do 2008) and the week after will be the big K&K Episode 200 party. And then I will leave straight for the US for work.

But with my co-worker in town this weekend, I couldn't exactly just sit at home and not show him the best Paris has to offer! For whatever reason, I feel the need to convince them all that I have a good thing going here, like I don't want them feeling sorry for me. Though I will admit that I am definitely not looking forward to heading out in today's snowy weather, especially considering the fact that I don't have a winter coat here and it's colder than a witch's tit outside. And actually inside as well - my windows are a really poor fit for the window so there are constant drafts of cold air coming in.

*goes off to think warm thoughts*

Friday, November 21, 2008

Just another Thursday night in Paris

Last night, I met Jasmin & Opal at a bar to celebrate the arrival of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau. Veronica and their extremely tall and extremely funny friend Elaine joined us later on, and I was hoping to meet up with a fellow blogger as well, but the place was packed, so Zannah, if you showed up and couldn't find us, I'm really sorry!

The Beaujolais was going for the ridiculous price of 18€ a bottle (!) or 5€ the glass, but hey, it's a once-a-year thing, so what the hell. Though you'd think the 5€ per glass price tag would've been enough to stop me from waking up with a massive headache this morning, but I guess not. Though it might also not have been the best idea to mix the Beaujolais with a mojito and a whole lot of champagne either. And I may or may not have gone home with a really cute trilingual banker at the end of the night...

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

There's nothing like a baby duck to cheer a girl up

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yesterday I did something I've been avoiding for several months now. I visited the customer that Fab and I visited together the day we broke up. I put it off for as long as possible because I just didn't want to go back there and be reminded of that day, but it was becoming inevitable and I finally decided to suck it up and get it over with. It was pretty much as bad as I was expecting, but then again, I'm tired, getting a cold and the ragnanas will be visiting soon, so I was already on shaky ground to start with.

I don't think my customer noticed anything, but man, I held back tears so many times yesterday. The worst was driving past the place where my life changed forever (dramatic much, Samantha?). Where I forced Fab to tell me what was wrong and he started crying and said "I can't do this anymore". And where my mind started reeling with a billion questions. What do you mean you can do this anymore?? What the f*ck are you talking about? Why the hell did you let me buy all this frickin' furniture? Because ah yes, I am practical even in the face of heartbreak. But that part of the highway is forever burned in my mind - how unfortunate that I will be forced to drive by there several times a year for as long as I work for The Company.

And then there are the nightmares I have for the few days after I have any kind of interaction with Fab. Why do our brains torture ourselves like that? Why do I have to constantly relive the humiliation of that day? The worst thing is, it's not even emotional, it's egotistical. I feel really bad admitting this, but it's like my ego still can't believe HE would dump ME. I was a step-up for him, he was a step-down for me. So how did I end up being the one with the short end of the stick? Why would he chose an uneducated, unemployed boyish-looking country chick over me? Why is he so ready to buy a home, get married, have kids with her after only a few months of being together? That is what I can't understand, what I can't let go of. And it haunts me in my dreams.

For the first time in a long time, I felt like going to a church yesterday. I just felt the need to sit in silence and pray. To ask someone, anyone, for peace. Or at least respite. Of course, this being France, every church in every single town I drove through was locked up tight. So instead, I went back to the hotel and had some wine and watched America's Next Top Model. What else was a girl to do?

You know, 95% of the time, I'm okay with what's happened. It can't be changed and I don't miss farm life a bit. I've got a pretty good thing going in Paris, great friends and I know I'm better off in the long run, blah blah blah. But the other 5% of the time, I still wonder how the hell I ended up this way? Alone, living in a shitty apartment where I'll be able to stay for who knows how long. How did this happen to me? I've worked so hard to get where I am in life, and this is all I've got to show for it? It's just not where I pictured myself at this age.

So basically, I just want to know when this all gets easier. When coming to see my clients in this area will no longer make my heart clench involuntarily. When seeing places we've visited together will no longer affect me. When the mere mention of Bretagne will not make me shake my fist in the air in its general direction (you all know you've seen me do it). When this part of the process will be over with. When the thought of meeting someone new will not automatically make me run in the other direction for fear of another broken heart.





Sunday, November 16, 2008

So, what to say about Tunisia? It was interesting to say the least. Am I glad I did not go alone? Yes, definitely. Would I go back again? Yes, but accompanied by a co-worker again.

I realize that a lot of what I experienced was just cultural differences - the fact that the majority of men just pretended I wasn't there or refused to eat in my presence didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. It was the ones who were overt about it, like the hotel dude who kept insisting on talking to my non-French-speaking co-worker instead of me. I also could not get used to the fact that the women stayed hidden - you rarely saw a female walking in the streets, and all of the cafés were men-only. I kept trying to ask people where all the women were or if they had a place of their own to congregate, but it was almost like they didn't even understand my question. And the ones that worked in the building were illiterate and didn't speak a word French besides Bonjour - they literally acted like servants and were bowing to us all the time.

Despite all of that though, I still found the Tunisians we dealt at work to be extremely friendly and welcoming. They went out of their way to show us around and feed us traditional food and drink. And once the men warmed up to me a bit, they were much friendlier than 99% of my French customers. By the end of the trip, we were all joking around and laughing with the best of them. They still had a bit of a hard time letting me do any kind of heavy lifting, but hey, I guess if it makes them feel good, I have no problem letting them doing the dirty work. I'm sure it couldn't have been easy for them to be taking me out to lunch every day considering they are not used to eating at the same table as a woman. Also, our heavy work schedule didn't always allow them to get in their mandatory five prayers a day, but yet they never complained or said a word to us about it - they just said they hoped Allah understood that they were working with foreigners and then prayed a bit longer at night. It only came out the last night that we started talking about religion, and it was all extremely interesting - I don't know much about the Islamic religion and they were more than willing to share with us. The main manager there was also telling me about the history of Tunisia and how it used to be the most important center in Africa, with the city of Carthage rivaling Rome. He even said the word "Africa" comes from the Arabic word for Tunisia (it sounded really similar to "Afrique"). I love hearing about that time period, so I was just eating it up.

Unfortunately because there were so many problems this time around, we didn't have time to do as much (ie. any) tourist stuff as I had hoped, but everybody we met at work said that next time we come, we should stay a few extra days and they will take us around to all the sites. And yes, there will be a next time - because of how slow things move there (it's even worse than France, didn't know that was possible!!), we will likely be going back in a few months, hopefully in January. So I am definitely planning on trying to stay for at least the weekend before or after - I'd love a day at the beach, a camel ride in the desert or a visit to Carthage (preferably all of the above).

And on that note, I'm off to unpack and then repack my suitcase for this week's trip to the Pays de la Loire!


Saturday, November 15, 2008

I was going to blog about Tunisia, but decided to share this funny story instead:

I start walking home after lunch today, having met a co-worker and his wife who were in Paris for the weekend on their honeymoon. I decide to stop in at a lingerie store that was going out of business, and after looking around, I find a few things I want to buy, so I head up to the counter to pay. The sales woman starts taking things off the hangers and whatnot, until she gets to one bra and says "Madame, I cannot let you buy this". I say "Why not?" and she says "With the poitrine you have, it will give you boobs up to here (points to her neck), so with all good conscious, I cannot let you purchase this!" I'm a little unsure how to respond for a second - I mean, who is this lady to tell me which bras I can and cannot buy?? - but then I laugh, give her a good ol' Sarah Palin wink and say "Mais Madame, c'est parfois l'effet recherché !!"

It made me stop and think though about how you never really see French women showing any cleavage, whereas so many Americans have their boobs hanging out on a daily basis. I'm not sure whether it's cultural and they prefer to keep men guessing, or if it's just because they don't have anything to show!

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Good morning Tunisia

Not sure if I can do photo posts by email, but it's worth a try!
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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First impressions

1. Extremely glad I did not come here alone, everybody looks at me like I'm a piece of meat.
2. Am doubly-glad I no longer have blond hair.
3. Two men have already told me "I wasn't speaking to you, I was speaking to the Man (ie, my male co-worker)
4. There are some pretty sketchy neighborhoods here. While stopped at a red light, we saw a gang of men try to rob the French semi-truck in front of our car. When they couldn't get in, I thought for sure they were going to turn on us. Luckily the light changed and we sped away.
5. I definitely do not feel safe here.
6. Our hotel is nice so far, and our balconies overlook the beach/water. None of the male employees however will speak to me, which makes things difficult since my co-worker doesn't speak French. And none of the female employees speak French, so I can't speak to them either.
7. Last night we had to stop on the TOLL ROAD to let some goats pass by.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Je m'en vais

en Tunisie !!

That's right people, I am FINALLY going to Tunisia today. Only one month later than originally planned. After the stress of last week, I'm feeling pretty zen about going. I'm not sure if our hotel will have internet access or not, but if not, I'll try to get put up a post here or there via blackberry. Wish me luck!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Between desperately trying to catch up on sleep and all the work that piled up while I was out of town, I had myself one pretty American weekend. I *finally* met up with EricaJ at Starbucks and we shared our respective carte de séjour/citizenship app stories. She's a couple months ahead of me in the process, and it's been really nice to be able to talk to her about what to expect.

Saturday night was game night, and after taking off my cranky pants, I had a good time gorging myself on the Halloween Booty K&K had received from a listener. As a side note, I am contemplating starting a podcast myself, if only so that people will start sending ME cool stuff. :) We had chocolate halloween peeps, which may have outed the classic yellow Easter peeps as my fav. There were scary frozen eye balls that I did not get anywhere touching, Mary Janes, and of course loads of M&M's.

Sunday was spent chez EricaS, who is probably one of the best cooks I know. She made us pancakes and these delicious omelettes with cheddar. Real cheddar! That right there just goes to show how selfless she is - if I had cheddar, I probably would've kept it for myself, lol. And they have British cable, so I got my dose of English TV for the week.

And now, as I write this, I am eating a s'mores pop tart courtesy of EricaJ. She brought me a pack of them back from the US, and they sure are tasty. Which reminds me, I need to started on the list of food I want to buy while I'm back...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Seen on my way home from rhumrhums last night...

Anyone know what this is all about?


Friday, November 7, 2008

Halloween night (only a week late)

I meant to post about this Sunday, but the whole not-being-able-to-sit-up-without-risk-of-puking thing kind of put a stop to that. And then I was in Belgium til Wednesday and then I ended up having to make an emergency trip to Bretagne yesterday which pushed things back even further. As a side note - SNCF, enough with the strikes! Between waiting for the train and being on the train, the whole round trip took almost 11hrs. Plus 120€ for the last minute tix to boot!

Anyways, here we go. Those of you on Twitter and Facebook may have noticed that FND's (Friday Night Drinks) were canceled last week. Yep, that's right people - no rhum-rhums were consumed and hell did not freeze over. Instead, a bunch of us participated in the Undead Invasion, which was essentially a Halloween Scavenger Hunt. I'm not very creative, so dressing up for Halloween has never really been my thing, but I still like to celebrate it and figured this would be a good way. I roped a few people into being on my team (Jasmin, Kendra & Anna), and while the four of us were not quite sure how it would be, we ended up having a ton of fun. We put up a tough front in the picture below, but I'm telling you, we screamed like little girls anytime a zombie came near us. Oh yeah, forgot to mention, they had live zombie actors "guarding" all the clues.The way it worked is they gave us a map and six different clues. Once we found the clue, we then had to figure out what it meant, using one of two different deciphering methods. The six answers together formed an ancient incantation that would send the zombies back to their graves.

Here's an example of a clue:

Location: Near the intersection of Colbert's Hotel and the shop that makes blood flow

Guidance: Find the plaque honoring the late anatomist. Take the very last date listed and add its middle two digits. With this value, perform the simplest arithmetic on the values below to get your coordinates, over and down.

1 2 3 4 5
1 G H I J Z
2 F A B L Y
3 E D C M X
4 Q P O N W
5 R S T U V

Luckily the playing zone was roughly the Notre Dame/St Michel area (not far from where I live), so I didn't have much trouble figuring out where the clues were. And my fabulous teammates were pros at solving them. While we didn't win -maybe because we *ahem* stopped off for a drink & fries during the race- we still had a great time. Running from all of those zombies and then walking for twelve hours straight the next day probably contributed to me being out of commission on Sunday, but man, I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

**In case anyone's interested in doing next year, it's held in Paris, several different cities across the US and in Brisbane, Australia.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

People, WE DID IT!! After a sleepless night of waking up roughly every 30 minutes and then telling myself to go back to bed because it was still too early, I finally woke up for real to some excellent news. I still think it's too soon to say that change is a sure thing, but the need is there, the hope is there, the possibility is there, and that's already a good start.

I'm off to work now, but before I go, I wanted to give a public shout-out to my friend Alisa. She's donated so much of her free time over these past few months to the Obama campaign, canvassing neighborhoods, calling, doing what she can to get just one more vote, and I am so very proud of her. I strongly feel voting is a devoir, and that every vote counts, so I hope you are enjoying the fruits of all your labor my dear!


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I'm happy to report that yesterday afternoon was better than yesterday morning was. I was still fairly sick and completely exhausted, but the fact that I had a bunch of Belgian dudes standing around watching me was motivation enough to get through the day. I'm still surprised by how few people speak French/English here - besides my customer and his wife, everybody else has been Flemish-only, even at the hotel. It's made for a lot of interesting hand-gestures and stick drawings, especially when working with the electrician and the plumber!

They've been very nice though, and contrary to what I'm used to in France, they came to pick me up at the train station (= no rental car, woot!), booked my hotel and they invite me to eat with them at lunch and dinner. They've also shown me around the area bit, and are in general just a lot more open than my French clients. I kept hearing all these stories about my co-workers being chauffeured around, taken skiing or yachting, etc, and I kept thinking "Man, I really got the shaft here with France", so it's nice that I finally have a customer somewhat along those lines too.

I'm kind of bummed about being here on election night - I have a feeling I will be getting up several times tonight to turn the TV on and see where things are at. I've gotten a little burnt out on all this election stuff, but now that it's finally here, I've got butterflies in my stomach (or maybe that's just all the coffee I've had today, lol). Seriously though, sitting there at lunch today, watching Obama on the Belgian news, I felt hope for the first time since he began campaigning - like maybe there really is a chance for change if he wins. I remember too well how it felt to lose in '04 - let's home tomorrow's results will redeem ourselves a little bit. I can't believe election day is finally here, and that this time tomorrow will we know who our new president will be!

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Monday, November 3, 2008

The longest five hours ever

5:15am - wake up, cautiously stretch muscles. *wince* Still sore but better than yesterday. Sit up - no immediate urge to puke (always a good sign).

6:00am - get on the RER B. Everything's fine for two stops, but then you get stuck at the third one because of an "incident". Finally get to the Gare du Nord and leg it to the train. Get to the track just as the train is pulling away. There goes your 26€ first class train ticket. Feel like you are going to puke. Go buy new 2nd class ticket for 55€. Decide you should eat something after all that exertion, so you buy an orange juice and a croissant.

7:30 - get on new train. The OJ and the croissant decide to make a second appearance.

8:30 - arrive in Lille. Every single escalator and elevator going up to the track is broken. Lug suitcase up the stairs and feel exhausted. Find ticket agent and try to buy a ticket to client's town in Belgium. Shake your fist at Lille when you find out there are two train stations, and for whatever reason, this one cannot sell you a ticket to Belgium. Lug suitcase back down stairs and over to the other gare.

9:00am - (time you were supposed to have arrived at your client's place of business). Wait in line again, only to find out this time that the computers are down and they can't sell you a ticket either. Stand there and say to the lady "well how the hell am I supposed to get to Belgium then?" as she shrugs her shoulders. Leave the line and go sit down for a while. Decide to get back in line. This time am able to get a ticket, but the ticket agent cannot tell you the train times - you must go ask at the "accueil". Curse Lille again. Go wait in line at the accueil. Lady refuses to tell you the exact train time, and will only say you need to book it over to track 15 ASAP. Oh, and by the way, you'll need to change trains in *says something that sounds like Courtrai*.

9:30am- get on train. Realize all of the sudden that you don't have your passport. Hope that won't be a problem. Watch the stops go by and decide to get off at a town marked "Kortrijk". Lug your suitcase down and up another flight of stairs and try to ask several people if this is the right stop. Not a single person speaks French or English. Wonder how this is possible since you are literally just across the border.

10am- use google maps to determine the town you need to be in is on the line to Gent, so you cross your fingers and get on the next train going there.

And that's where we leave our heroine for the day....

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sorry there haven't been any posts lately, the pricey hotels we stayed in didn't have free wifi, so that, combined with working 16+hr days meant no posting. I got back to Paris Friday, but my co-worker had a lay-over here this weekend so I spent the past few days showing him around. And then today I was hoping to go to the Salon du Chocolat with friends, but I am instead holed up with what I think is a case of food poisoning. My body is so wiped out after a week of long work days, lots of physical activity and little sleep. I ache all over. I can't even eat or drink anything, it just comes right back up. Sitting up too long is also not a good idea, so I'm going to crawl back into bed now, and hope that it's all better by 6:30am tomorrow, when I have to hop on the train to Belgium!