Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday musings

Back in my early years in France, after I had finished my French classes and was starting to look around for a job, there was a statistic that shocked me:

50% of French people earn less than 1500€ a month.  

Of course at the time, I still had my American salary expectations and I hadn't quite understood yet how the French just pay up front for a lot of the things we pay out of pocket for (insurance, retirement, etc).  But the fact of the matter was, I was making more than that as a college student, and I could not wrap my head around the fact that half a country was making less than I was earning while in school.  And unfortunately, I just heard on the news the other day that ten years later, this fact is still true, and it still kind of floors me.

Because of the nature of my job, I spend a lot of time talking to your average French Joe (or maybe that should be Jacques). People who might or might not have their BAC, but who have most certainly never gone on to college.  The working class.  The ones who consider Paris to be far away and things like Paris Fashion Week and who wore what when to be alien.  But because part of my job entails convincing people to take good care of our equipment even though they won't be paid any extra for doing so, I talk to them. Not so much about family since family tends to stay out of work conversations, but about the weather, politics, differences between our countries. After all, it's a lot harder to say no to someone that you have a connection with.

I might not always agree with what some of these folks have to say - all foreigners should be kicked out of France for example - but I have learned a lot from them and it's been an eye into the mindset of a certain class of French people (and yes, IMO, there are still distinct classes in France).

One of the main topics of conversation as of late has been politics.  Those of you who follow French politics will know that François Hollande's approval ratings have been on a downward spiral since being elected. And I can tell you that definitely matches up with what I have been hearing while on the road.

A lot of these people seem so disillusioned by what he is proposing.  The increase in taxes, the likelihood that most of it will come from Monsieur tout le monde instead of the rich. But it always leaves me wondering - what were they expecting?  François Hollande's campaign was full of all kinds of wonderful promises - more money for schools, more money for students, more money for the poor, more fonctionnaires, etc.  And sure all of that is great, but the question I kept asking was - where is that moola going to come from?  Show me the money François!

There were vague answers about taxing the rich (many of whom are now planning on leaving France), but the truth of the matter is, the burden of most of it is going to fall on the average person, either through increased direct taxes or through an increased cost of living due to businesses being taxed more.  To me, it was almost to be expected, but it seems that most people didn't think that far ahead and now they are scared of what is to come.  Many of these people are living off of minimum wage and already have tight budgets, and the idea of having even less money to work with is not a fun one.  But this is the choice they made and they have to live with it now for the next five years. They didn't like Sarko as a person and they voted based on that, instead of his presidency. Of course I never say that to them, but it is often what I am thinking during these discussions. And I guess that is what scares me about the upcoming election in the US - that people will vote emotionally, and not rationally.  

When I was younger, I used to think "Oh, what harm can be done in just a few years?", but after seeing the changes that are happening after only a few months in office, I see how naive that was.  To Hollande's credit, he is at least trying to come up with money to fund all of his promises instead of just increasing national debt, but I still worry about the effect that it will have on France.  Contrary to a a lot of its Southern and Eastern neighbors, France has mostly been spared from the economic downturn, and I wonder if that will be the case five years from now?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Vamos a la playa

I had a revelation Sunday while C was getting ready to leave again and I was feeling bummed out after a too-short weekend spent together.  All of the sudden it occurred to me - Why don't I just go with him??  I mean, I was leaving anyways for the same area on Tuesday for my own déplacement. Plus I work from home and as long as I have internet access, I am good to go.  I cannot believe I didn't think of it before, and as MsMac said on Twitter "Well, duhhhhhh! ;-)!"  *Head, meet Wall*

So that's how I now find myself writing from a hotel room overlooking the ocean.  C has a slightly (ahem) higher budget than I do, so no crappy hotel rooms for Monsieur, oh no. When we arrived last night, I opened our gigantic double doors to this:
I couldn't see the water, but I could certainly hear it, so I had high hopes for the next day and I was not let down, especially since I keep hearing how terrible the weather is in Paris:
I had originally planned on working from that little table, but I was worried the ocean spray would damage my computer (but maybe the beach hair would be worth it lol) - so instead, I will be eating my lunch there, listening to the waves and watching the clouds roll by:
Hey, I've gotta enjoy it while it lasts - our room is so lovely (it even has an ipod docking station/speakers!), and by the time this posts, I will be slumming it again inland in a crappy French hotel....

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Brasil Tropical

This past Saturday night, C & I were lucky enough to get free tickets through his work to Brasil Tropical, a Brazilian show including dinner & drinks located (literally) underneath the Montparnasse tower.  I often walk by there and only knew it as a night club, never realizing they also did diner-spectacles as well.

We showed up at 8pm and were directed to a lovely table for two. One of the things that surprised me right away was how intimate the space was.  We've been to the Moulin Rouge several times (for free too, thanks to C's previous job), and I never really liked the way we were sort of herded in like cattle.  Plus all of the tourists, etc - it's like they are so well-known, they don't even attempt to be nice or accommodating.
Whereas for the same price at Brasil Tropicale, you get a smile and are welcomed immediately with drinks and dinner.  Our forfait was 95€ each and here's what we got:
-a caipirinha, upon arrival
-entrée (cucumber salad, tabbouleh, & celery & carrot remoulade)
-unlimited meat (there were 5 kinds: sausage, chicken, pork, lamb & beef)
-rice & beans
-a yummy chocolate dessert
-unlimited wine (including a full bottle on the table upon arrival)

The food was good and definitely filling, and once we were done eating, the show began. 90% of it took place in the middle of the tables, which was nice because no matter where you sat, it meant you had a good view. There were five women and three men (plus the "ringleader"), and they did a great job of entertaining us for two hours. The costumes were amazing, and the other thing I really appreciated when compared to the MR was the ambiance.  The dancers actually looked like they were having fun and enjoying what they were doing - and really, how could you not with such upbeat Brazilian music playing?  The costumes were also varied and beautiful - lots of colorful feathers and sparkles, and maybe a bit more family-friendly than the MR since they weren't topless.

The other big difference I noticed was that all of the attendees were French - there wasn't a tourist in sight, nor any busloads of people filing in. (That did mean the show was 100% in French though).

Once the show was over, you could stay and dance until 1am.  C surprised me by wanting to dance, and it was a ton of fun - I guess it really is true that you can't resist the Brazilian beats!

If anyone is interested in checking it out, it looks like has reduced prices available- and as a side note, this is a great site for getting cheaper tickets to a lot of different shows, plays & concerts in Paris, and it also has a lot of reviews for the various ticket offerings.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Minnesota wine (not an oxymoron)

While I was in the US, we took our European customers to a wine tasting at the local vineyard. 

First of all, yes, there are vineyards in Minnesota - in fact, according to the Minnesota Tourism board, there are now 39. The University of Minnesota Research center has developed several grape vines that can resist up to -30°F temps, which I think is pretty cool. Truth be told though, the wine they produce isn't really that great, though I think it may have more to do with the people mixing it than the grapes themselves.

But back to the wine tasting. We tasted a total of 13 different wines, and they were all awful. Terrible.  Now, to be honest, I'm not really a discriminating wine drinker. I can drink just about anything, but I still dumped 11 of the 13 out after just a sip. I'm pretty sure the Europeans dumped 13 of the 13 out. I even heard one of them say that he wouldn't even clean his paint brushes with that stuff.  I've been to this vineyard several times before, and while the wines weren't great, they were never this bad. Which left me wondering - is it a bad year, or have my tastes changed?

The following Saturday, my family and some co-workers all headed back there again for the annual Wine Stomp.  Now say what you may about their wine, but they have done a great job of promoting it with various events that occur all summer long - concerts, comedians, meals, etc - it just makes for a fun place to hang out on a warm summer evening.  And all of it culminates in September with the Wine Stomp, where teams of two people try to do just that - stomp on as many grapes as possible in 3 minutes in an attempt to produce the most "wine".

This year's theme was "Prom and Bridal Wear", meaning the contestants were supposed to show up in (duh) prom or bridal wear. They also had another wine tasting, with different wines than the ones they'd given us a few nights earlier.  A handful of them were at least drinkable, so I don't know why they chose to give the worst ones to people who are used to drinking higher quality wines...
Most of the women who showed up to do the wine stomp were in prom or bridesmaid dresses, but one was in her wedding gown. Afterwards, it was completely covered in grape stains.
It all reminds me of the recent "Trash the Dress" trend.  I just don't get it.  Why would you spend all that money on a dress (not to mention the amount of time spent looking for it), just to completely trash it? I mean, I get the symbolism of it, ie that you are married & will never use it again, or you don't want to store it forever, but still. Sell it to someone who can't afford it. Donate it to a woman's shelter. But why destroy it?  If anyone has done this, please feel free to share your reasoning if there's something I'm missing.

Unfortunately also while I was in the US, a 30yr old Canadian woman drowned while being photographed swimming in her dress in a river with strong currents.  The dress became so heavy and weighed down by the water that it dragged her under. It just seems so senseless and not worth it...

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

L'Hôtel de Ville

This week is kind of a bummer of a week for me - here I was finally looking forward to being home and spending time with C after almost three weeks away, and it turns out he is gone the entire week for work. And I will be gone most of next week.  It's just plain old bad timing, but that doesn't mean I'm not feeling slightly sorry for myself anyways.

(Cue freakout about our marriage finishing in divorce because we never spend any time together. Ack!)

So to distract myself, I have been going through photos of some of the fun things I've done of late, including this year's National Heritage Days. Sophie was kind enough to save me a spot in line to visit the Hotel de Ville, one of my favorite buildings in the city.
I was expecting it to be nice inside, but I wasn't expecting it to be that nice.  I was blown away by how beautiful it was, and would go as far to say that it rivaled Versailles in its ornateness. 
Everywhere you looked, there were intricate details, glowing chandeliers, gold-leafing and beautiful frescoes.
Not to mention lovely views of the Seine & Notre Dame:
And beautiful marbled statues:
There was also a beautiful, old library that looks exactly the same as it did 100 years ago.
We also learned something interesting  - this particular library at the Hôtel de Ville is part of a little known set of libraries in Paris called "les bibliothèques spécialisées".

As the title suggests, they each have their own specialty : architecture, music, theater, etc and as an added bonus, some of them are as beautiful as this one. And minus a few exceptions, they are all open to the public, as long as you sign up for the "bibliothèque spécialisée" card. It's definitely a unique place to study, and you can bet I'll be looking on their map to see if there is one near me!

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Monday, September 17, 2012

The Happy Hours of Paris

One of the things I really like about living in Paris is all of the different activities offered by the Mairie de Paris. For example, all summer long, they were offering outdoor cooking classes at markets around Paris, led by well-known chefs. Or more recently they published a map of where you could find a coffee for 1€ all around the city, with an application soon to come. And this past Saturday, while visiting l'Hôtel de Ville for the National Heritage Days, I picked up a postcard with another neat idea: "Les Heures Heureuses", or "the Happy Hours" of Paris.

From September 26-28, from 5:30-9:30pm, 170 bars and bistros all over the city will be offering their own specialty tapas and bar foods for 2€ a piece. They've put together 10 different 'apéritif' routes, and they will also be having a contest to select the best snack, via an app called "FoodReporter".

In order to participate, you'll need to stop by the Hotel de Ville September 24, 25 or 26th to pick up your Happy Hours "passport".  Unfortunately I'll be out of town those days, or otherwise you can bet I'd be partaking!

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Hey there Mr President

Earlier this week, I was in Rennes for a big industry trade show, and as I was chatting with a customer, we started hearing this buzz moving towards us.  We stood up and saw a large crowd of people slowly coming our way, and I leaned over to ask a security guard what was going on, and he said in a hushed voice "C'est le Président". 

The French half of me weaseled my way to the front of the crowd, and that is how I found myself face to face with François Hollande just as he was passing by.  I'm not his biggest fan, but he was shaking hands with the crowd, and I couldn't resist - so I quickly stuck my out and he grabbed it and that is how I found myself shaking hands with the French president.

Just another day in France I guess....

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