Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bottoms up

It's been a while since we've had a good English weekend story, so here goes nothing.  C and I had just sat down to a Sunday evening apéritif when his phone rang.  It was a friend with some bad news, so he ended up spending quite a bit of time on the phone, during which I started preparing dinner. When he hung up, I came back and said "Oh, your drink is still full!".  C replied "No problem, I will just drink it butt dry."  Thinking I misheard him, I said "What?"  He repeated "Butt dry" and I sat there for a minute trying to figure out what on Earth he could mean.   And then it hit me and I started laughing so hard I just about fell off the couch. Cul sec.  Cul seccccc!!!

When things calmed down, he said "So what do you say in English?" and I said "Usually something like 'Chug it'". So C said "I'm drinking chug".

Sorry, that's not quite it honey.

C tried again - "I'm drinking chugly??"

At which point I left to go compose myself for a few minutes.

English Sunday - a never-ending source of amusement in our household.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Always trust your gut

So earlier this summer, one of my childhood fillings broke partially and I needed to get it replaced.  My wonderful dentist was on vacation, so I had to find a replacement dentist and ended up booking an appointment with one just above my gym. I was surprised to see how young she was, but she was very friendly and had immediate availability - which maybe should have been my first clue.

She took a look at my broken filling and said "Oh la la - that one is too close to the nerve and can't be replaced.  We are going to have to do either an inlay or a crown".  Given the cost of those (300€ and 1000€ respectively), and that she was pushing me to replace all of my other fillings as a preventative measure, I said "No thank you. Surely there must be other options?".  She finally said she could do a resin filling for 47€ and I said "Sold!".  I had sort of a weird feeling about it though, like I didn't really trust her to do a good job since she had been pushing so hard for the crown.  But my dentist was gone for the whole month and I was leaving for the US soon and certainly didn't want to get it done there, so we proceeded.

She started drilling....and drilling....and drilling.  I was starting to wonder if she was going to come back and say she had no choice but to do a crown, but she eventually stopped and put the resin on and I was good to go.  She warned me though that I would feel a lot of pain afterwards and maybe for a few days. And boy did I.

Unfortunately the pain has continued off and on for the past two months, but with my busy schedule, I haven't had a free day to make a dentist appointment. I finally got around to it this week, and lo and behold, that biatch left a hole in my tooth!  And because of that, a cavity had started. Great, huh?  My real dentist was shocked, and that pretty much confirmed that she did it on purpose so that when I came back saying it was still hurting, she could insist on the crown.

Apparently dental studies are now quite costly in France and many students end up taking loans, similar as in the US.  And so when they are starting out and have to repay them, they charge their patients a fortune and do all kinds of necessary procedures in order to do so.  My dentist told me of a story of one patient whose dentist had insisted she get a very costly procedure.  She didn't feel right, so she came in for a second opinion and it turns out it wasn't necessary at all. My dentist called the other dentist to find out why and his answer was "Hey, what do you expect, I have a loan to reimburse".

I don't know about you guys, but this floored me. I guess I would maybe expect this in the US, but I was naive enough to think these kinds of things didn't exist in France. So the takeaway for me is 1) avoid young dentists if you can, 2) always get a second opinion if something doesn't feel right or seems too expensive (my dentist charges 600€ for a crown instead of 1000€!), and 3) it really is worth trekking across town if you've found someone you can trust.

And maybe there should be a 4) in there saying to avoid Dr Laurène Pollak on rue Vaugirard in the 15th....


Monday, October 8, 2012

2 days down, 56 to go

I am happy to report that I survived my first two days of class, including 8.5hrs of French economics (which was about as fun as it sounds).  I showed up about 20 minutes early, to find that most of my classmates were already there, snacking on coffee and croissants.  I guess that's one of the perks of doing an 'adult' masters - though with how much we are paying them compared to a normal student, they can probably afford it too! 

Almost everyone was wearing business attire - from casual business to a full-on suit and tie.  I went with dark jeans, a nice top, a black blazer and ballet flats....and ended up being the only person wearing jeans, but oh well. It didn't bother me enough to not wear jeans again Saturday - if I'm going to sit at a desk for 8hrs, I want to be comfortable.

As I mentioned the other day, I was really curious to see what the others would bring for classroom supplies.  We were provided with a folder, a notebook and a pen, and pretty much everybody used that to take notes (minus one guy on a laptop). I didn't see any sign of rulers or pencil cases anywhere, but maybe that will change as time goes on.

We have lunch provided as part of our course fees, and the first day, we had sort of a buffet-style lunch with everyone from last year's group.  They have about two months left in their program, so the director encouraged us to mingle and learn from their experiences.  Their average age looked quite a bit older than our group, but as the director reminded us earlier in the day, you only get out of an experience what you put in, so I sucked it up and first went to talk to two women near the bar. One of them ended up being super friendly and so, so enthusiastic about the program. She's a cancer surgeon at Curie Institute and very willingly answered the questions I had about the year to come. Funnily enough, we got to talking about the entrance interview too, and she said that the director was so mean to her as well and that she was convinced she wasn't going to get in.  So that made me feel better about the whole interview process.  I also asked her if there were any foreigners in her year so I could talk to them too and see how they were holding up, but unfortunately there weren't.

Speaking of which though, we actually have five foreigners in my class. Besides me, there's the Romanian woman I mentioned previously, an Italian woman, a Lebanese guy and a Russian guy.  There are also a lot more women than in the previous years, and a handful of people my age, so I don't stick out as much as I thought. Though I have gotten quite a few friendly digs from the professors during comparisons between France and the far, it hasn't bothered me, I know the US is an easy target.

Another funny thing that I have noticed throughout my time in France is that people look disappointed whenever I tell them where I am from.  It starts out "Hey! You're American - which state do you come from?"  And then I reply "Minnesota" and they're like "Oh...." *crickets chirping* since most people have never even heard of it.  And then I find myself justifying my home state by saying things like "There are 10,000 lakes!" and "Prince lives there!".  It makes for an awkward pause in the conversation though, and I always feel though that I'm letting them down by not saying something cool like New York or California.

Lastly, during one of our breaks, we saw Sarko jogging down the street, followed by two bodyguards and a limo.  We were laughing about the bodyguard part, or at least until the following morning when one of our fellow classmates got carjacked when getting out of his car!  At 8am on a Saturday morning in the 16th arrondissement.  Apparently he got beat up and even had to go to the hospital. How crazy is that?? Some people thought maybe he had parked in the Bois de Boulogne and that's where it happened, but we won't know for sure until the next class....


Sunday, October 7, 2012

French savings

I'll post more about the big first day soon, but I wanted to put a quick note out there for those of you who have French savings accounts. On October 1, 2012, they upped the maximum deposit limit for the Livret A and the LDD.  The livret A max went from 15,300€ to 19,125€ and the LDD max went from 6,000€ to 12,000€.  My bank did not give me any notice of this at all, and in talking to friends, theirs didn't either, so I wanted to get the info out there.

These two have the highest interest rates when compared to most other livrets (and it's still a piddly 2.25%), but it's worth moving money around to reach the new plafonds if you've got it - extra interest is after all extra money!  Just be sure to do it before October 15th, since interest on French livrets is calculated only every 15 days - so if you put money in after October 16th, you won't earn interest on it until November 1.

*As an FYI, if you're looking for a savings account, these are two good options because 1) they are free to open, 2) you can move money in and out of them as needed at no cost and 3) you will not pay any income tax nor social charges on the interest earned.

**There is also another livret called the LEP available for those who paid less than 769€ in taxes last year, and it has a little higher interest rate of 2.75%.

***A little off-topic, but I learned recently from a friend that Americans should avoid opening French "assurance vie".  I'm not sure I understood it 100%, but it sounded like that with the new legislative changes in the US, you will be required to inform the US government as to the nature and provenance of the interest earned on your "assurance vie", as in listing out what exactly what you earned from each stock your assurance vie invests in. Apparently it is quite complicated to figure out, even for tax professionals, so her advice was "If you don't want to have to pay someone to do your US taxes, it's best to put your money elsewhere if you can". (Plus just to make it even more confusing, assurance vie is not the equivalent to the US life insurance anyways - it's more of a retirement savings account).

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

24hrs left of freedom

This morning, I woke up with a start, realizing that tomorrow is October 5th. I'm sure most of you are saying "Yeah, so what?", but that just so happens to be the first day of my masters program.  As in my classes are starting TOMORROW. 

*cue minor freak-out*

This time around, I'm not so much worried about whether or not my classmates will like me, nor what to wear for my first day of school, but whether or not I will be able to cut it.  Can I really handle 12 hours straight of classes in French, on subjects like Business strategy or Financial Diagnostics?  These topics aren't exactly the things I am most passionate about in the world, so how will I stay focused?  Especially since now my whole company knows I am doing this thanks to the monthly newsletter, so they will be expecting to see some results of my studies in the near future.

And then there is the practical side of things - what exactly does one bring to class?  I have gone to a French university before, but I can't exactly see my 50 yr old classmates showing up with graph paper notebooks, rulers, and tiny pencil cases filled with multicolored pens and highlighters.  Though I guess this is France, so you never know....

For now, my plan as usual is to "Fake it until you make it", but that doesn't mean I won't be shaking in my boots come this time tomorrow. And crossing my fingers that my classmates won't look down and notice!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Time flies when you're having fun

It's hard to believe that at this time one year ago today, I was shimmying into my wedding dress and getting ready to head over to the Mairie for our wedding. On one hand, this year has gone by in a flash, but on the other, it often seems as if we have always been married. 

To celebrate our first anniversary, we decided to go away for the weekend. We had received a Smartbox as a wedding gift and had originally planned on using that, but after calling around to five or six places all around France, everything was full.  So it was back to the drawing board.  We were looking for a place around two hours from Paris, but like with the Smartbox, most hotels were full.  Side note - what is up with so many people being on holiday the last weekend in September??

So the search continued, and I finally came across a hotel in Le Havre that had a 2-for-1 offer including spa access and 10€ in tokens for their casino.  Everything looked really nice online and even though Le Havre isn't known as a romantic destination, we were quite frankly tired of looking for something, so we booked it.
And it ended up being a great choice - our room was great and had an excellent (if slightly noisy) view. The access to the spa (jacuzzi, pool, sauna, hammam, gym) was also a plus. And Le Havre is also right in the middle of several choice tourist destinations, which is how I finally convinced C to take me to Etretat.  I've been wanting to go for years, but he grew up not too far away and got dragged there on many a family vacation, so he'd had enough. But we had such beautiful weather that even he had to admit it wasn't such a bad idea.
On the way back, we stopped off at a pick-your-own fruit & vegetable farm, and had a lot of fun picking strawberries and raspberries for our afternoon snack.  I want to link to them too since they had such a huge selection and the owners were uber friendly - so if you're ever in the area, make sure to stop by La Cueillette d'Octeville
The next stop was Honfleur, where we had a lovely lunch of moules-frites at one of the many restaurants surrounding the port. It really is a lovely town to wander around, especially on a sunny day. 
And then it was time for a nap on the beach, before a quick stop in Deauville on our way back home.
We didn't have the 90°F weather we had last year at this time, but there was still enough heat to get a last day of suntanning in and to enjoy our anniversary weekend.  Thank you weather gods!

**I'd also like to give a special anniversary shout-out to J&O, who are celebrating their 3rd anniversary today - it's not too often that you meet another couple who got married on the same day in the same Mairie!

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