Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Friday, June 22, 2012

Achoum, part 2

So like I said, I've started up the allergy treatments again, and the idea is still basically the same (minus a bigger price tag, but more about that later).  The first step was to see my primary care physician and have him write me a "prescription" to see an allergy specialist.  As a side note, my medecin traitant is kind of a jerk and I ended up with a five minute lecture about how I never should have stopped in the first place.  Yeah thanks dude, I know - hindsight is 20-20. He also said that I should spend more time trying to lose weight than worrying about my allergies. *Ahem*

Moving on...the next step was meeting with the allergy doc to do the allergy testing panel. I'm not sure if it is always the case, but both times, my primary doctors have sent me to a specific allergy specialist - it's not like I was able to pick on out of the phone book or one that was nearby.  This time around, I am going to one who has an office right at the Eiffel Tower.  Which is nice and all, but she charges more than a regular doctor and that extra money is not reimbursed.  I complained about it once and her excuse was "Well look around you - it costs money to be in a place like this!"  I'm sure it does, but why should I have to help pay your high-falutin' rent? I also asked about the possibility of switching to someone a bit closer to my house, but she informed me that I would have to start the whole process all over again, so I guess I'm stuck with her.

She redid the allergy testing and while last time around I was treated for one type of pollen and dust mites, this time around, it is two types of pollen and no dust mites. Once you know what you're allergic to, you get a bunch of paperwork to fill out and send in, and a week or so later you will receive a package of little vials through the post. The vials have to be refrigerated, and each one contains a little bit more of the allergen.

The first day, you start off with vial 1 and one droplet under your tongue for two minutes.  The second day, you take two droplets from vial 1 and so on and so forth until you reach 10 droplets. You repeat the same process with vials 2, 3 & 4 in order to slowly build up your tolerance. When you've finished the fourth one, you reach the maintenance level and you will keep using the same drops for the next few years. The allergy company will automatically send you more every few months until you ask them to stop.

In case anyone is wondering, you can be treated for more than one allergen at once, and you can also keep taking your allergy medication. You can also stop taking the treatment for a few days if you go on vacation and then restart it after you get back.  You should however start the treatment a few months before the allergy season so that your body has some time to get used to it. It's also safe for children ages 5 and over.  Pregnant women can also receive the treatment as long as they began the process before becoming pregnant.

As far as costs go - when I was Bretagne, my doctor charged the normal rate, so his visits were covered 100%.  There are quite a few visits required the first year, so if possible, you should would try to find an allergy doctor who charges regular prices and not a dépassement d'honoraires like my new one does.  The treatment itself is also quite expensive (around 100€ per month), but the majority of mutuelles cover it, so if you have one, this shouldn't be an issue. The only thing that wasn't covered was 4.50€ for postage each time they mailed new vials. I never quite new when they would show up either, so I always ended up scrambling around for 4.50€ in change each time the postman buzzed - however this past time, I learned I could write a check, so something to keep in mind.

Voila, now you know more than you ever probably wanted to know about allergy treatment in France - but if you have any other questions, just leave a comment and I will be happy to answer them!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Achoum, part 1

As most of you know, my days in Bretagne weren't the happiest of ones, and on top of it, I also developed horrible year-round allergies. Funnily enough however, they would go away the minute I left Bretagne, leaving me with multiple opportunities for me to make jokes about being literally allergic to the region.

At the time, I figured I was stuck there, so I started hunting around for options, and came across the "désensibilisation" treatment.  I wrote about it already maybe six or seven years ago, but I know a lot of you didn't follow me back then, and since I've been seeing a lot of posts lately on blogs and Twitter about people suffering from hayfever and allergies, that I figured it could help a lot of folks out to re-explain it here.

In English, désensibilisation is called "Allergen-specific Immunotherapy Treatment", and in the US, it's commonly done by receiving a weekly allergy shot.  But who wants to do that?  Luckily in France, there is another, less painful, option called sublingual immunotherapy.  Which is basically a fancy word meaning you put the allergen under your tongue every morning and hold it there for a few minutes while it absorbs.

Like the shots, you need to continuing doing this for a minimum of three years in order to rid yourself of the allergy, but the good news is that you start to notice a difference almost right away. The thing about allergies is that you don't fully understand just how much they are affecting your quality of life until you don't have them anymore. Until mine were gone, I didn't even realize how much of a pain it was to be constantly sneezing and suffering from watery eyes.

Because my allergies were Bretagne-specific, I decided to stop the treatment once I moved to Paris and my symptoms had disappeared. I probably should have continued it, but at the time, I was trying to cut ties to anything that could possibly make me have to go back to my old town.  And I unfortunately find myself traveling to Bretagne quite often now for work and they are coming back.  So I started up the treatment again a few months ago. Come back in a day or two if you're an allergy-sufferer as well and you want to read more information about how the treatment works!


Sunday, June 17, 2012

The cat is out of the bag

Last night, I headed on over to an area of Paris where I rarely go for a lovely bloggers' cocktail/soirée organized by the hostess with the mostess. I had such a great time catching up with friends, finally meeting a few great bloggers I've wanted to meet for a while as well as meeting a whole new batch of bloggy newcomers. It's been a while since I've hung around with newcomers to Paris and it really was a breath of fresh air.

Despite all of the fun however, I have to admit I was slightly apprehensive about attending.  As some of the early readers may remember, up until last night, C did not really know I had a blog. Or I take that back - I wasn't really sure if he knew I had a blog. Several people have mentioned it in front of him in the past, but he never said anything to me, so I figured either he didn't understand or he didn't care.  Certain people out there *ahem* have insinuated that I was a bad wife for not telling him, but my blog is, and always has been, MY space.  Even my family and friends back home don't know about it - let me explain a little bit....

It all dates back to 2005, when I started blogging.  Unlike many bloggers out there, I wasn't writing to inform my family of my French adventures, nor trying to get a book deal, nor trying to meet people. At that point, I had been in France for over two years. I was so sad and so frustrated with my life and not being able to fit in, and I kept unloading it all on Fab every night when he came home.  That wasn't fair, so my writing began as a way to get all of that frustration out before he came home (especially as I felt I had to keep up a front of "everything is going great" to people back home, so I couldn't really talk to them either). 

As an unexpected benefit, people started commenting and sharing their experiences too, and it ended up being a huge eye-opener for me - I wasn't the only one going through this kind of stuff.  I'd spent so long wondering what was wrong with me, and why I couldn't adapt, and it was a huge weight off of my shoulders to realize that it was normal.  The community that came out of my old blog days really was incredible - many of them are no longer blogging or no longer in France, but they still deserve a shout-out - you guys cheered me up on a lot of lonely days.

And then when I moved to Paris, that same community provided me with a built-in network of friends, who essentially "knew" me without ever having met me. It was a bit odd at first, to be meeting strangers who knew so much about my life, but again, their support was a lifesaver to me in a very difficult time. I don't know what I would have done had I had to explain what happened with Fab to every single person I met. But as time went on, I found myself self-censoring. Losing my anonymity had its benefits friend-wise, but it also had a cost - I suddenly felt less comfortable sharing certain things.  I mean, the whole point of my blog was to share things I didn't necessarily want to share with those around me, and now those two worlds were mixing....

So all of this is a lot of background for explaining why I had yet to tell C about my blog.  Even though I no longer use it for the same purpose, I've still held on to the idea that it is my private place. Which is why I don't promote it, why I don't have a fan page and why I don't often write for other sites. If people stumble across it and can identify with some of what I write, tant mieux - but I'm not going to go looking for additional readers.

Now, I'm sure many of you are wondering what happened when C found out. Obviously, I realized that by going to a party where literally everyone was a blogger, it was very likely that he would officially hear about it. And after thinking about it for a while though, I came to the conclusion that he wouldn't care. C is so good about encouraging me to have my own interests and my own friends, and I was pretty darn sure he would understand my wanting to have a jardin secret*....

And thank goodness I was right.  Poor Lindsey was there to see the slightly awkward moment when it connected in C's brain that I still had a blog, but he just said "Oh I didn't know" and the conversation moved on.  He didn't ask me anything about it for the rest of the night, so on the way home in the metro, I asked if he minded that I hadn't told him.  He straightaway said "No, because I wouldn't read it anyways". I then gave him the short version of what I've written here and that was that.

Would I still rather he didn't know?  Yes, probably.  But I am glad that my gut instinct was right and that he understood and respected my reasons for not sharing.

*The French concept of having a "secret garden" is one I really identify with. The idea behind is that everyone should have their own secret hobby or passion, a place to go or something they do that is theirs and theirs alone. Plus it's a much better option than the other French national pastime of having an affair...

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Off their rockers

Because of all the long hours I do, my TV choices as of late have tended to lean towards things that take my mind off of work and make me laugh.  Which is how one night, we found ourselves watching Betty White's new show called "Off Their Rockers".  It's a reality TV show where a group of elderly folks prank youngsters, and it's pretty darn hilarious.  Here is a preview:

I didn't realize however until searching YouTube for it that it was a copy of a Belgian show called "Benidorm Bastards" - it seems like there are so very few original ideas out there anymore:

Either way, it's good stuff, and I do love me an elderly person with a sense of humor!

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Doing my civic duty

I went to vote for the French legislative elections yesterday afternoon, and got to talking to the lady verifying ID cards. She ended up inviting me to come back once the polls closed to help count the votes, and since I was home alone for the night, I decided to go for it. This process has a special name in French - "le dépouillement des votes".  As a random side note, whenever I hear "dépouillement", it always brings to mind the image of someone digging up a coffin!

But anyways, back to the story. At 7:55pm, I returned to the polling station along with 11 others and we waited patiently for instructions.  They had us sit down four to a table and then passed out two large pieces of paper.  Each paper had a list of each of the candidates and then lines where we could mark the number of votes they got. It was a very similar format to this one from the presidential election:
At the bottom of the page however was a list of seventeen reasons that a voted could be considered invalid - sort of the French equivalent to the mispunched chad. I got a bit nervous reading the list of them since there were so many and it was in French legalese, wondering how on Earth I would ever remember so many different things, but felt immediately better when the young girl next to me said "Whoa" after reading them too.

Looking around the room, there was a mix of all ages - though I would say it was skewed to the older and younger ages of the spectrum, without many middle-aged folks.  At my table, there was a retiree, myself and two students. I asked if the three others had done this before, but we were all newbies, so no one really knew what to expect. Looking at the voting box, the elderly gentleman said that it didn't look like there were many votes in there, and I said that I'd seen on the internet that only 21% of people had voted by 2pm.  One of the two young girls said that she'd heard that it was up to 60% by 6pm, but that it was still one of the lowest turnouts ever for a legislative election. 

Then the officials came around to explain how it worked. Each table would get an envelope with 100 votes and we were to count them and verify there really was 100 there (both times, we had 102 in our envelope). Then one person was charged with opening the envelope, the other had to read it out loud and then the remaining two each filled out one of the big sheets as the names were read. Once we finished our 100 and verified that both papers had matching vote numbers, they would bring another envelope.  This isn't my picture since I didn't dare bring my camera, but this is essentially what our table looked like (minus the folks standing around watching):

I offered to record the votes along with another one of the girls.  After the first 100, the other two asked if we wanted to switch, and I said no because I was worried I'd mispronounce some of the names because of my accent (there were some weird ones in there).  They said "What accent?" and I explained that I was born in the US. And then I wished I'd kept my mouth shut since I probably would have been able to remain the anonymous foreigner.

Part of me was nervous to participate in the counting, given the racist undertones of this election, and I wasn't quite sure what the others at the table would think about having a non-native French person helping count the votes. I had a little speech prepared in my head about why I wanted to become French and how I think voting is every citizen's duty, but none of them even seemed to wonder how I was able to vote here. Instead they were more interested in asking about where I came from and what I was doing in France.

And then it was back to counting. We also had to makes piles for each of the candidates so that they could be recounted later in case the two people logging the votes didn't end up with the same number:
Any invalid votes or empty envelopes had to be placed aside for a later count, at which time all four of us were required to sign them as proof that they were really empty. 

The officials walking around were all very friendly and I was able to ask several questions as the night went on.  One of the big differences between French and US elections is that in France, they announce the winner the minute the polls have closed.  I've always wondered how this was possible, especially now that I see how long it takes to count the votes (it took us a little over an hour to count our measly few). I was told it was because most polling stations in France close at 6pm, so the outside of Paris and a few other cities, all of the votes have been counted by the time 8pm rolls around.  That part I understand, but I still don't get how they can call it without having counted the votes in the capital and other major cities, especially given their large populations and the fact that the elections are often close (within a percent or two).  But yet every time they do manage to call it, without having hoards of people counting for recounts. 

Secondly, I asked how many people were registered at our "bureau de vote".  He replied that there were 1362 registered voters, and that out of those, 849 had voted, amounting to 62% of our neighborhood.  However they had only counted 846 envelopes, and they were hoping to recover the remaining three as the night went on (as a miscount in one of the envelopes of 100). 

Out of the 849 votes, 6 were invalid.  We had two of them at our table and they were both empty envelopes.  I've never really gotten the concept of a "vote blanc".  Like you got all the way down to the polling station, wait in line and then don't even have your vote counted towards anything.  I know it's a sort of way to "sending a message to the Man", but come on, if you do that, you can't really complain about the results of the election afterwards. I heard all kinds of ads on the radio this week encouraging people to vote and to "not let others decide for you", which is a statement I definitely agree with.

Okay back to the counting - very early on in the game, it was clear that the UMP and the PS were going to be the two going on to the next round.  But it was still fun to see them neck-in-neck as the counting went on, and in the end, we ended up with 348 votes for one and 337 for the other.  I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say which was for which though.  Most of the other candidates just got a handful of votes - the next highest number after those two was 37.  And in looking at the official election results online, the UMP and the PS are tied at 34.8% in the first round - so it looks like it will be another close one next Sunday!

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

My work schedule has been overwhelming as of late - along with my new title comes a boatload more of work. I don't want to complain about having to travel so much since I know that most people would love to have a job that allowed them to visit so many cool places - like poor Ksam, her company sends her all over France and Europe and flies her back to the US for free several times a year.  But I can tell you that the day I realized I would only see my wonderful husband a grand total of four days between May 28th and July 7th, I was not a very happy camper.  I am luck that C is very supportive of my career and he is very busy as well for reasons I will explain in a few weeks, but still - we are a newly married couple!

I have however been wanting to write about one of my recent trips to visit a new customer in Bulgaria. If you're like me, you don't really know that much about Buglaria, besides it being an Ex-Soviet Bloc country. So I didn't really know what I was getting myself into in going there, if anything.

I was told before going that everyone at this particular location spoke either French or English....but what they didn't specify is that everyone in the main office in Sofia spoke French and/or English.  At the actual customer site, 260km away, they only spoke Bulgarian.  Luckily I was provided with an interpreter, a vivacious and chatty 60 year old man who had lived a crazy life.  He spent much of his youth in a French school in Tunisia, so his French was almost flawless (if not a bit old-fashioned). And then growing up, he worked as an interpreter for various Bulgarian consulates around the world and thus also spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese and a little bit of Italian.  I still don't know what this guy was doing making peanuts in Bulgaria (he was complaining about how his retirement will only be 180€ a month). With all of those languages, he should be working in Geneva or Brussels as a translator/interpreter for the EU and raking in the big bucks!

Anyways, he was quite the character and we had a few laughs over the week, especially once they brought out the Rakia, a popular and very strong alcoholic beverage in the Balkan countries.  At a 40% alcohol content, it's pretty similar to the French eau de vie....Except instead of drinking a small glass at the end of meal as they do in France to aide digestion, the Bulgarians drink it like water during dinner.  I'm telling you, that first night, I don't even remember how we got back to the hotel. I tried to pace myself after that, but they were quite insistent about me drinking just as much as they did.

I tried to document some of the funnier things he said, but my notes usually got a little difficult to read by the end of the night.  He didn't appear to like the English or the Greek at all though, and one night said "Oh, I don't know why those English always like the Greek so much - they can do no wrong in their eyes. Probably because they have so many homosexuals and the English love that".  WTF??

Another funny thing was that when the Bulgarians say yes, they shake their head side to side (our No).  And when they say no, they shake their head up and down.  So that caused quite a few bursts of confusion and subsequent laughter when I was ask them something and they would shake their head no but really mean yes.

And apparently fear of the "deadly air currents" is not just a French thing.  It was fairly warm one day, so I was sitting in front of the office window, enjoying the air flow coming through.  The manager came into the office and near about freaked out, shutting the window immediately and then proceeded to explain via the interpreter how air currents cause severe liver and kidney issues.  Each one of them had a story about an illness caused by air currents.  (I had to muffle my laughter).

I also had to hide my disgust at certain times at their lack of hygiene.  Their break room was so disgusting and literally crawling with flies. And the woman's "bathroom"?  Well let's just say it consisted of a hose coming out of the wall and this:

I'm telling you, if that's not a motivation to hold it all day, I don't know what is.  Luckily the hotels we stayed at had western-style toilets and were all very nice - actually nicer than most of the ones I stay at in France!

One of the main surprises of my trip however was how delicious the food was. Every single dish I ate was a party in my mouth.  Even though the dishes were very simple, they were bursting with flavor and fresh ingredients.  Now you guys know I spend a lot of time eating out in French restaurants, and the large majority of time, the food is just okay. I find most of the restaurant food here too saucy and fairly bland. So I was happy camper to get plate after plate of flavorful food.

I'll have to go back in a few months, and I was originally thinking of having C come with me to travel around, but I honestly didn't see much worth visiting.  On a whole, the country looked like it had been left to waste away.  They've only had their independence since 1991, and it sort of feels like time stopped then. The majority of the major roadways are in terrible shape, there are massive concrete buildings everywhere falling into pieces and the countryside just looks wild, but not in a good way.  There are a few tourist attractions (a couple of nice beaches and some ski stations), but otherwise there really isn't much to see, which is surprising given the historical attractions of their neighbors (Greece, Turkey, etc). But the people were very nice, even if I sensed a general sense of apathy among them.  Considering that their country has spent the majority of its history under the rule of another regime, you'd think they'd be happy to now be a democratic country, but it seemed more-so as if they didn't really know how to take care of things on their own and that no one was really trying to help them define themselves as a nation. So it was an interesting week, but I still would have much rather been at home here in Paris.

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