Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Thursday, January 24, 2013

As I mentioned, I was in Bulgaria most of last week for work. It's not a country I particularly enjoy going to - in fact, I am pretty sure this was my last trip there, as I have plans to transfer this account to one of my underlings (hey, there has to at least be some advantages to being a manager, non?).

There's just something about the whole country that I find depressing.  Here and there, there are pockets of modernity, especially in the business district of the capital, but everything else is just stuck in time, like the clocked stopped ticking there 30 years ago.

Their national infrustructure is crumbling, and the three hour drive to my customer on their rickety highways always leaves my back in pieces.  I can only imagine how it leaves my (older) interpreter feeling.  But it's when you get off the main roads that really gets me.  Driving through villages that just scream out poverty.  Looking at the faces of young people who look much older than their years.

I want to take out my camera to capture some of the images, but don't for fear of offending my customer and those around me.  But it really just breaks my heart.  Groups of sad-looking, unemployed men standing around. Mangy dogs covered in fleas and scratching themselves.  Crumbling buildings and broken windows everywhere, left-over vestiges from the Soviet rule.

But then there are a few things that cheer me up. Seeing that someone has made a flower out of the colorful magnets on the office whiteboard. The generosity of people wherever we go, always offering a coffee and a small snack, even though they had almost nothing. The connection I had with one particular man on site - even though we have never been able to communicate directly, we shared a special connection. As unlikely as it was - him, an older ex-USSR solider and me, a young American woman.  But each time, we laughed and we made hand gestures and really, sometimes the eyes can say so much more than words can.  And he took great joy in bringing me treats and having me try the regional specialties. As I left them Thursday for what is likely the last time, I listened with a tear in my eye as the interpreter translated his kind words about how much he has enjoyed working with me.  And then he took my face in his hands and did the bises, three times, for that is what they do for loved ones in that region.

As we drove away, my head was reeling from everything I had experienced during the week.  Mainly I just kept thinking - how is it possible that these people are also part of the European Union?   I asked my customer what changes being an EU member has made for these small villages, and he said with disgust "Absolutely nothing".

It just so happened that it was his 60th birthday while I was there, and I asked him when he was going to retire.  And he laughed and said "Retirement?  That is a joke. There is no way I could live off the 180€ per month pension they offer, so I will work until I die."   And I thought to myself, "It's only a three hour flight, but places like Paris and London must seem so far away to these people".  I know it sure feels like a whole other world to me.

Once I got back to France, I began berating myself for being blogging about such foolish things.  Here am I, complaining about my 1000€ gym membership that I can totally afford, while all the while, that is half a year's salary for your average Bulgarian.  I mean, really Ksam - get a grip. Talk about first-world problems. 

I keep thinking back to a trip to Russia I took while living in Finland.  I have blogged about it before, but the image of waking up in the middle of the night and seeing these women starting a fire at four AM in the middle of nowhere has always stuck with me.  You can't choose where you are born (well unless you believe in reincarnation lol), and it's just luck of the draw whether you are dealt a good hand or a bad hand.  And that's probably what I struggle the most with - sure, I have worked hard in life to get where I am, but I also had a head start over a good portion of the world's population. And it just kills me that that poor man with the kind soul has had to struggle day-in and day-out.  I keep coming back to a phrase Fab used to (jokingly) say - "Life sucks, and then you die"....but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't get the joke.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Mind the gap (literally)

So before I left for Bulgaria this week, I trekked all the way over to La Défense (reminds me of when we used to meet up there Crystal!) in order to buy a crock pot.  I had originally purchased one maybe 18mo ago from 3suisses, and the darn thing would crack after only a few uses.  I kept asking for a refund each time, but instead 3suisse would just send me a new one, and wash, rinse & repeat X 4. The fifth time was a charm, and I finally got a refund after saying I was worried about the fire hazard their poorly-made product was bringing into my home. (Though as a side note, they didn't tell me they were sending a refund check, so I sat there waiting for a new crock pot for weeks on end until one day the check just showed up in the mail - Eff you 3suisses and your crappy customer service).

But that still meant I needed a new crock pot.  So I started looking around online, and the one I wanted was 100€. I'd only been reimbursed 50€ for the old one, and given we are in mega-savings mode, I didn't want to spend a fortune, so I decided to wait until after Christmas to see if one popped up online as an unwanted Christmas gift.  And lo and behold, there was my crock-pot, brand-new and at the price I wanted, so I set up a time to meet the owner at LD to pick it up.

On my way back, I transferred at Concorde to the line 12.  As I was entering the metro car, someone bumped me from behind and I got caught slightly off-balance. So instead of landing on the floor, my foot went straight down through the space between the car and the quay.

Yep, you read that right. 

I ended up on one knee, with the other leg dangling in the hole. On top of that, the crock pot had fallen out of the bag.  I froze for a second, panicking about the doors closing on me, but then all of the sudden, everyone around me reacted and I felt several arms lifting me up and into the car.  As the doors closed, a fellow-passenger had the foresight to quickly grab the crock pot box and scoot that inside too.

We all just kind of looked at each other for a second, and then the panic wore off and the mortification filled in. Like omg, I cannot believe that just happened to me.  I thanked everyone around me, but all of the sudden their Parisian faces were back on and everyone was just pretending that nothing had happened.  Tant mieux.

I'd like to pretend nothing happened either....and I would, except I have an eggplant-sized bruise going down one side of my leg and a bunch of scrapes going up the other side.  My only saving grace was that my shoe did not fall off.  You see, it had already semi-fallen off twice that day just during walking, and by some miracle, it did not fall down on to the tracks.  It was bad enough being *that girl* without having to go through the humiliation of having to make the rest of the trip home with only one shoe.  Between my big Carrefour bag, my messed-up hair, and a missing shoe, I would have looked like a right bag lady! 

Just another glamorous day in Paris...

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Give me an A

Right before Christmas, we handed in our first assignment for my masters program.  It was a 15 page business case study on "la success story" of Franck Provost, analyzing how he went from a simple hairdresser to the head of an internationally-renowned group, with several different franchises covering all price ranges (Franck Provost, Jean-Louis David, Saint Algue, Fabio Salsa, etc).

Yesterday, our program director came by during the break with several galettes des rois and some champagne to wish us "Bonne Année".  He also handed back our reports and gave us our grades.  Once everyone realized that he was planning on announcing our grades out loud, in front of the entire class, a nervous twitter started around the room.  I'd say the average age of my classmates is probably 45, and I had to laugh at the effect it had on them, even at their age.  As soon as they saw him holding a piece of paper with all of our names on it, I started hearing choruses of "Oh non...non, pas comme à l'écolé, s'il vous plait".

It brought me back to my previous experiences with the French school system in Bretagne, first at the University of Rennes and then as an English teacher.  I remember how horrified I was the first time a professor read our test scores out loud - not because I had bad grades, but because I felt so bad for those who did. I mean, how mortifying! 

It took me years to understand that it was just a different way of going about things, and that the French school system often used "shaming" to try to keep kids in line.  I rationalized it by thinking that the kids eventually grew a thick skin and go used to it, but seeing how my fellow students reacted made me wonder if it wasn't just skin deep after all... But then again, the French trounce the Americans on an annual basis when it comes to standardized testing, so who am I to judge?

For those of you wondering what my grade was - I got a 15/20, which I am very satisfied with. I know we all put in a ton of work on this - time estimates ranged from 50-100 hours, but I am still thinking they graded us easy for the first assignment. The lowest grade given was a 12 and the highest was a 17.....and even if I care more about how much I learn than what grade I get, part of me still hopes the easy grading continues for the rest of the year!


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Run, Run, as fast as you can

My gym membership recently expired, and even though I like my gym, it does cost me an arm and a leg. C & I have set ourselves quite lofty savings goals for 2013, so I figured that almost 1000€ would be better off in my savings account than in Club Med's pocket.  Especially given the fact that I will be traveling a ton over the next few months, and their resubscription offer included a higher price (which in their minds was sweetened by the "free gift make-up bag" I would get for signing up for another year). No thank you.

Normally when I'm not traveling, I try to work out 5-6 days per week. I'm very lucky to have a flexible work schedule, and I often work out during my lunch break.  It's something I really enjoy doing, and it is necessary to somewhat counteract what I eat when on the road. 

Some of you may remember back in the summer of 2011, I attempted to get into running as a pre-wedding present to C.  I successfully completed the Couch to 5K program, but even after the end of that, I still didn't enjoy it.  C & I tried running together a few times, but it made me so cranky, that we eventually went back to our old habit of him running and me rollerblading.

I know he still would like us to run together though, so between that and two inspiring blog friends, I decided to give running another try.  The problem is - I still hate it.  Every since I started running, I have been in a foul mood.  Crank with my co-workers, cranky with my dear husband - just feeling generally down in the dumps.

It was raining today (and besides running, there isn't much more that I hate than rain), so I decided to stay home and do The 30 Minute Shred instead.  And lo and behold, the cloud lifted and I am feeling much better.  It was like a light-bulb going on - I used to think that the reason I didn't like running was because it was boring. But I now know that my brain needs the mid-day break that going to the gym gives me. I can spend an hour not thinking about anything and just focusing on my posture and following the instructor.  Whereas when I run, I still have to concentrate - on where to go, on green/red lights, on French people who have no concept of what is going on around them and who randomly stop in the middle of the sidewalk, and on avoiding everyone's favorite - dog poop.  So I just don't get anywhere near the brain break that I do from a class.

The question is - now what do I do?  I had wanted to surprise C, but last night I finally confessed to him that I had started running again, and he was like "For Pete's sake woman, for the sake of our relationship, go and sign up for the gym".  But I am stubborn person.  So many people I know love running - so why can't I?  I would love to be able to run a 5K or a 10K with C on a Saturday.  It is the perfect sport - relatively low-cost and I could even do it while traveling (and burn off some of the calories from the 2x day 3 course meals). Plus there is the fact that I made a commitment to myself to run five days a week for the month of January....

I'm not a quitter, so I think I am going to still try to meet that goal and reevaluate at the end of the month.... 1/3 down, 2/3 to go!  But apologies in advance if the irritability sticks around... :)


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Metro fun

I came across a pretty cool website today on Facebook - it shows the annual user frequency of each of the Paris Metro stations.  It's no surprise that the most popular ones are the train stations (St Lazare, Montparnasse, Austerlitz & Gare de Lyon).

You can access it online here:

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

Bonne année et meilleurs voeux to all my lovely blog readers.  2012 was a good year for the Ksam household and I have high hopes for 2013 as well!  We rung in the New Year chez nous with good company and an abundance of cheesy raclette goodness.  The only thing marring the night was a surprise text message from Fab's wife, sent from his phone, telling me to "occupe-toi de ton cul et laisse-nous tranquil salope".  It's a nasty little message full of spelling mistakes, saying "Take care of your own ass and leave us alone b*tch". 

Classy, huh?

I tweeted her text because it was bothering me yet it didn't really seem like an appropriate dinner topic, and my twitter friends were just as mystified as myself.  And it's still throwing me for a loop even a few days later.  I guess it just brings back some bad memories of the crazy MIL, who was constantly doing evil things behind my FIL's back.

But mainly, I just don't get it.  We have never had any kind of contact before, so why randomly text me on NYE?  The whole break-up occurred coming up on five years ago now, and it's not like Fab and I are in contact on a regular basis.  He sent me a text after the US elections saying "Looks like Once you go black, you never go back" and I wrote back saying I was glad to see he hadn't lost his sense of humor, but that was it.  So how does that merit an insulting SMS almost two months later?

I didn't reply to her, but I am somewhat tempted to email Fab and say "Do you realize your wife is a crazy biyatch?"  But I haven't yet, because 1) He probably does realize that (and it serves him right) and 2) If she's reading his texts, she is probably reading his emails too, so it wouldn't serve any purpose.

All of this has made me even more grateful that I am in Paris in a loving and drama-free relationship, and no longer isolated and lonely in Bretagne.  Another confirmation for me that everything happens for a reason, and I am definitely looking forward to the fun and new opportunities that 2013 will bring.

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