Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Walking in a Winter Wonderland




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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas everyone! My bags finally arrived, only 5 days late but still before Christmas. Nothing was stolen, and for that, I am eternally grateful. And on the upside - Delta will be reimbursing me for about $150 worth of clothes & make-up that I would've bought anyways, plus they gave me 12,000 bonus miles for the trouble. So it all worked out in the end.

And on that note, I'm off - I hear my family calling me for post-brunch/pre-ski mimosas. They're an awesome group, and I love them even more for saying that the only thing missing is poor C, who is stuck working in Paris. I hope you all are able to spend Christmas with your loved ones too.

Joyeux Noël

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Monday, December 20, 2010

I am typing this from the plane thanks to Google and their free holiday wifi promotion. I am also in first class, for the first time ever. I got a real meal, with real plates & silverware. And unlimited drinks. How will I ever go back to the cattle class?

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you'll know that France has been experiencing some major snow delays. After waiting at the airport for more than 7 hours, my flight to Chicago was canceled. Air France refused to help those who lived in Paris, telling us instead we all had to go home (without our baggage) and call their hotline to rebook. I worked my way up to the front of the counter and said "How much is it going to cost me to call that number?" The employee replied "32 cents per minute." Now y'all know how much I hate paying an arm and a leg to call customer service hotlines. So I said "Wait a minute...I (okay, The Company) paid over $1200 for my ticket. And now you expect me to pay even more to rebook?" She shrugged and told me my other option was to go wait in line for a minimum of 4 hours at the ticketing booth. No thank you.

So I called C and started trying to make my way out of the airport. Have you ever tried to exit the boarding area? It's not an easy task. But I finally found my way out, went through customs (!) and started walking towards the RER. Along the way, I heard a couple of Air France employees talking about how there were standby seats on the flight to Atlanta. My French side though "Hmmm...." and I did a quick 180 and walked back upstairs. I saw a Delta counter with only a few people in line, so I decided to try my luck.

At first they kept trying to tell me I had to go see Air France, but luckily I had my ticket printed out from Delta.com so they finally agreed to help me. After looking at my ticket, he said that unfortunately all the flights to Minneapolis were full for the next two days and that I should just go home. I am supposed to be at an important work training session 8-5 Monday-Wednesday, so I told the dude they'd told me at the gate to get put on standby for Atlanta. He looked at me a bit skeptically, but finally agreed to try. I also told him that my co-worker had been upgraded to business class due to all the trouble, and so he said okay and upgraded me to first class for the connecting flight. So then it was a race to get back through security and to the gate on time. Would I make it?

Half of me was hoping I wouldn't and that I'd have to go back home - it was quite sad to leave C all alone for the holidays, plus he'd been taunting me with pictures of my Christmas present under the tree. But the other half of me knew that considering the number of flight cancellations, it was probably better to get out if I could. Once I got to the gate for the Atlanta flight, I heard the stewards say there were 75 people on the standby list, and that they were going to take people on a first-come, first-serve basis. So I used my best French technique to slowly work my way up to the front of the group, and I was able to get one of those precious little tickets the minute they opened. Of course all the Americans were hootin' and hollerin' about the lack of lines and how the French people were budging, but hey - in these kinds of cases, it's every man for himself.

We finally made it on the plane and to Atlanta, 2 hours late, so I unfortunately missed my connecting flight and had to stay overnight in a hotel with no luggage. Which brings me to my packing tips - I've lost my bags enough times now that whenever I fly, I always keep certain things in my carry-on. I have my computer, snacks (which came in really handy due to all the delays), my phone charger, some make-up essentials, a brush and some clean underwear. I also try to have money in whatever the currency is of the country I'll be going to. The one thing I forgot this time was my computer charger, which is a bummer since I've only got an hour of battery left. But it's a good reminder to keep anything you vitally need - contacts, medications, etc with you and not in your checked baggage - you never know what will happen.

As of now, my bags are still in Paris & no one can tell me when they'll be delivered. It's not that big of a deal, but I am a bit worried for my presents - the CDG airport employees are known to have sticky fingers, and I don't want them stealing my bottle of Moët Champagne or any of my other presents. Or my work computer - which I normally take with me, but it's so heavy and I already had my personal computer in my carry-on, so for once I stuck it in my checked luggage.

Anyways, that's the saga of my trip home. I've taken it all in pretty good spirits - I'm not much of worrier since everything tends to work out in the end - it's all just part of International travel I guess. (Though I realize how lucky I am to not have been doing this all with a few children in tow...)

Happy Holidays everyone, and safe travels to wherever you may be heading!

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

PACStastic

The New York Times recently published a really interesting article on the PACS, here.

Just a brief background for those who aren't familiar with the PACS - it was started back in 1999 as a way to give homosexual couples similar rights to those of marriage. The funny thing is though, it has always been more popular with heterosexual couples - as the article states, one year after the invention of the PACS, 75% of the couples pacsing were straight. And last year, a whopping 95% of them were heterosexual.

They also say that there are now two PACSes for every three marriages, which I think is a pretty surprising statistic. And the number of couples getting pacsed already outnumbers the couples getting married in Paris 11th arrondissement. I was talking with C about it last night, and almost everybody I knew back in Bretagne was pacsed and not married (both foreign & French couples). Though I do have to say that most of the people I know here in Paris are married.

They give several reasons for the rise in PACSing - people who are not yet ready to get married but yet who want some kind of commitment, people who want the tax benefits, people who are against The Man, people who come from divorced families, etc.

I know Fab & I got pacsed because I wasn't ready to get married and be stuck in Bretagne forever, and it was the easiest way for me to stay at the time. I had always thought we'd end up getting married someday though, and I think a lot of my friends who are pacsed probably feel the same way - like it's a sort of stepping-stone to marriage, a way to buy time. C however says he would never get pacsed - he seems to feel, as one blogger so eloquently put it on my old SamdeBretagne blog, that one should "Take a sh*t or get off the pot".

Personally though, I don't think it's as black and white as that, and I am happy that there is at least something that exists for homosexual couples, even if it seems that most of them would still rather be able to get married instead.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

No boîte auto for you

So I just got off the phone with a rental car customer service rep. I should preface this by saying that I rent cars through this company for at least 2 weeks per month for work - so I've got a lot of fidelité points built up. I was thinking about rescheduling our trip to Reims for February, when Miss Leyla will be here, and thought I'd use my points to rent a car (to spare her from C's driving).

But everytime I would connect to their website, it said I didn't have enough points. People, after two years of regular rentals with them, I have about a gazillion points, so I'm thinking - how is this possible? I finally decided to suck it up and call their "customer service" line, at the low, low price of 32 cents per minute.

So I start explaining my story, saying that I want to use my points to reserve an automatic car for a few days in February. She cuts me off and says "Oh la la, that is SOOOO not possible. You can't use your points to rent an automatic car".

Me: What? Why not? You guys are certainly happy to rent them to me and to take several hundred euros a month from The Company, and I don't get any benefit from that?
CS: Sure you do Madame, you can rent any of our manual cars.
Me: Do you think I'm just renting automatic cars for fun?*
CS: Who on Earth doesn't know how to drive a manual car?
Me (thinking: "Um, practically my entire country, but whatever): That's really none of your onions, is it?

We go back and forth for several more minutes, with me insisting that surely there must be some way for me to use my points for an automatic car. She finally admits there is, but that it would require me to call her back each time. (Oh joy!)

Me: So every time I want to use my points, I'm going to have to pay 32 cents per minute to do so.
CS: Well, yes, but it's normal, we're a business, we have to make money.
Me: I'd like to remind you you make plenty of money off of your rentals....
CS: But every company IN THE WORLD charges, how could we not?
Me: I'm sorry to break it to you, but it's not actually payant in a lot of other countries.
CS: I don't believe you - companies could not survive without doing that.
Me: It's true - customer service numbers are free in the US. And in Canada too. (And then I throw in a whole bunch of other random countries, without really knowing if they have free numbers, but I figured she'd never know that).
CS: Hurrumph. Well whatever, in France, c'est comme ça.

Me: Okay, well anyways - can we get on with my rental?
CS: But I told you it wasn't possible to use your points with an automatic car.
Me: Sigh. (Do we really have to go through this all over again??) Okay then, well let's use the extremely convoluted, roundabout way you suggested earlier.
*tappity tap tap tap*
CS: Oh la la. We have another problem - you are wanting to rent during les vacances scolaires. This means it is going to TRIPLE the points needed. There is no point in proceeding.
Me: Well, can we just try it and see?
*tappity tap tap tap*
CS: Oh la la, there is a third problem. The reservations for February are not open yet.
Me: What do you mean they're not open yet? I just reserved a car this morning for work.
CS: Yes, but we're talking about the fidelité reservations. Those only open up a few weeks beforehand. Try calling back 10 days before you want to leave.
Me: Ten days before I want to leave? You want me to plan my vacation only 10 days before I go? Book the hotel and everything at the last minute, etc? Your fidelity program kind of sucks.
CS: Well it's not me that makes the rules - it's been like that forever. (The standard French excuse - even though something is dumb, we can't change it because it's always been that way).
Me: So basically what you're saying is that I have no chance of ever using any of the points that I've accumulated in the past two years?
CS: Sure you can....for a manual car.
Me: (Mental argghh!!!!) Really then, there's no point in me renewing my card and staying chez vous? I might as well go with another company who will let me do that.
CS: Whatever. (Can't you practically hear the shoulder shrug??)

So 30 minutes later, I was out almost ten euros and I still did not have a reservation. The funniest bit of all was at the end, when I said "Thank you for your help (grrr)" and she replied "No problem" and then we're both like "Bonne journée, au revoir". It always cracks me up that people can spend all this time arguing with each other, but you still almost never see someone storm out without saying good day and goodbye. It might be an angry goodbye, but they will still say it.

The French - polite, even in the face of rudeness.


*And yes, I realize I could just suck it up and finally learn to drive a manual car, but 1)I'm gone so much for work that I don't really want to spend the little free time I have learning to drive a stick shift in Paris, 2) it would cost a fortune and 3) at this point, I plain just don't feel like it.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Scenes of Christmas

I've been wanting to go to the Strasbourg Christmas market for years now, and had decided that THIS was going to be the year. But then we had a look at ticket prices and it was just too darn expensive. I was pretty bummed until C suggested we take a detour through Germany on the way back and check out one there. I asked my customer for advice, and they suggested we go to Aachen.
After several fast starts - we couldn't figure out why the GPS kept switching the town name from Aachen to "Aix-la-Chapelle" (really though, the two are nothing alike!), we finally made it. The Aachen market was fairly small but very picturesque and quite different from the French ones I've been to. First of all, most of the French ones sell very little actual Christmas-related items. And with the exception of raclette sandwiches, they all sell basically the same food you'd find at any other time of the year. Whereas the German one had mostly only Christmas stuff and some new-to-us treats. And as a bonus - they sold mulled wine in a real mug that you got to keep at the end of you wanted.Another thing I've been wanting to do for a while is check out the Christmas lights in Paris:They were indeed beautiful, but with the exception of the above pictures, they weren't that Christmasy - most of the window displays were like this:Or like this:It was still a fun night out though - just be sure to dress warmly!

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I know I said no more alcohol during the week...

But how could I say no to menhir wine??

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Morocco

I just got back from 4 days in Morocco. It was an okay trip, but I think I'm starting to be "over" North Africa. We were in Casablanca, which is not a touristy city at all. And I don't know if it's specific to that city, but at least compared to Tunisia, there seemed to be a somewhat higher standard of living and a bit more personal freedom. The buildings were a bit newer and well-maintained, there were a lot of high-priced SUVs everywhere and we saw a lot of women wearing Western-style clothes and no headscarf. And also contrary to Tunisia, we weren't harassed a single time during the whole trip - we were able to pretty much walk about freely, even at night.
The two touristy things there were Rick's café from the Casablanca film:
and the Hassan II Mosque:
It was a pretty incredible mosque - it has room for 25,000 worshipers and a retractable roof. It's also the only mosque in Morocco that women are allowed to visit.

After the visit, we walked over to watch the sunet at the beach:The warm weather and sunshine were a nice change from the snow in Paris, but I have to say it is nice to be home again....Even if it's for less than 24 hours!

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Friday, December 3, 2010

As a sort of recompense for my toils last week, C & I decided to do a bit of sight-seeing on our way back to Paris.

Our first stop was at the biggest dolmen in Europe, found just outside of Saumur. It's hard to tell from the picture, but it's gigantic - over 23m (75ft) tall and 18m (60ft) long. And C, who's over 6 feet tall, was able to stand up inside of it no problem. Not bad for a 5,000 year old structure, eh?Then it was on to Troglodyte country - some of you may remember that I visited some troglodyte caves around this time last year. Well this time around, we found some that had literally been built into the side of a mountain. Wouldn't this be a crazy place to live?
In between stops, we would our way through many a tiny, deserted village:
Stopping along the way to taste & purchase several different wines - among them were Saumurs, Chinons, Bourgeuils, and a magnum of Crémant de Loire for Thanksgiving dinner. We'll just say that I did most of the tasting and C did most of the driving. And luckily the more I drank, the less I minded the slow driving - it made for easier picture-taking anyways. :)
And lastly, what's a visit to the Loire Valley without a stop at a Chateau? I've been to most of the big castles here over the years, so this time we stopped at the Chateau d'Ussé - which is supposedly the castle that inspired the writing of Sleeping Beauty. I don't know if that's true, but it sure was a neat place to visit:And then it was back to Paris and the horrible traffic jams caused by the "snow" that day. I ended up driving since we were running short on time to return the rental car, and man - it was one of the most stressful things I've ever done. But I did it, and we made it back just in the nick of time. It's funny though, because there are a lot of great destinations within an easy drive of Paris - but the Parisian traffic is so bad we never want to go. Our travel time last week was doubled (4 hours instead of 2 hours) just because of the traffic. So how people commute everyday in IdF, I will never know!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Monday night, I came home to find this on the door:Let me preface this by saying that I know this is a French tradition that dates back a long time. But it still gets my goat. Why should I have to give a tip to someone for doing what they are paid to do? The firemen I get - a lot of them are volunteers, and besides, you don't really want to piss the firemen off.

But the mailman? Come on. I remember back in Bretagne, we knew a couple working for La Poste in Paris. Between the two of them, they got at least an extra 8,000€ every year. EIGHT GRAND PEOPLE. I bust my butt for my job, and no one gives me a tip at the end of the year, let alone an eight thousand euro one. Our postman doesn't even do a good job - he's really lazy and often times just leaves mail on top of the mailboxes - which is not cool since they're outside where any Tom, Dick or Harry walking by can grab them. (Or maybe that should be "Thomas, Richard or 'arry").

To be fair, they are technically "selling" you a calendar, and you are free to give however much you want to purchase it, but the calendars are super lame now. Who wants to stick this up on their wall?
I've adopted a lot of the French ways over the years, but this one just isn't one of them. How about you guys though? Will you be giving out a little extra somethin' somethin' to your mailman this year? How about to the Firemen? Or to your building's concierge?

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