Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Pulse Check #7

Days in Paris: 12

This should really be pulse check #9 or so because I skipped a couple of weeks but please forgive me.

It seems like this past Friday was a big day for me. I managed to get my récépissé and open a bank account on the same day before noon. Had I known how easy it was going to be to get my récépissé in Paris I would have gone to the prefecture the day that I arrived. I should point out that this is not necessarily the case for all regions as I have a friend that ended up waiting in line for 3 hours only to be told to come back the following week. I was under the impression that I would need my medical visit and some other forms before I could start my dossier for the CDS. I guess you live and you learn. Oh and shoutouts to Virgine at Credit Lyonnais in St-Germain-des-Prés.

So that was the good news. Unfortunately, the bad news is that I'm going to be homeless in a day. I thought that two weeks would be plenty of time for me to get settled and to find housing before starting work but I was terribly wrong. I need to come up with a plan B before I end up spending a couple of days sleeping in one of the metro stations.

So far I'm really loving Paris and I've already met some great people. Veronica has been very helpful and an absolute godsend and I owe her big time.

BTW: Does anyone know the cheapest way to transfer money from my US bank account to my French bank account? When I find housing I'll need to pay at least 1 month security deposit and 1 month rent up front. With the crappy exchange rate paying I don't want to end up paying a buttload of additional fees.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How to Lose 10lbs in Two Weeks

1. Move to Paris on limited budget with low income
2. Walk all over the city in search of affordable housing
3. Forget to eat during the day
4. Get home late realizing that you have forgotten to eat all day
5. Pass out due to exhaustion
6. Repeat

The above steps can be summarized by the following:
Become a English Teaching Assistant in France placed in the Paris-Versailles-Creteil academie.

Because of my sheer desperation I'm considering calling this guy.

I owe you, my dear readers a detailed post about what I have been up to for the past 10 days or so but I just haven't gotten around to it. I also have some pictures that I would like to share but my sheer exhaustion and focus on finding housing prevents me from doing so at this time. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Le Nouveau Locataire

Today I saw the Parisian apartment of my dreams. It was big, it was bright, there was balcony, there was an elevator and it was in a clean safe area. Oh and the guy that is renting it out was very nice and friendly and included in the rent is a cleaning man that comes three times a week (an upgrade from my bi-monthly cleaning woman in New York) and is a much needed necessity when living with three men.

The only downside is that I would be paying my entire salary in rent and I would be eligible for CAF assistance because the landlord refuses to add anyone else to the lease. While I am somewhat willing to pay that much for an apartment here in Paris I was banking on the idea of being able to get some money back from CAF assistance. If that's not possible I will have to bust my butt finding side jobs such as tutoring or babysitting some little brats (this is meant entirely as a joke and purely for entertainment purposes only to any future/current employers reading this post). So for the time being I will continue my search but will consider the apartment that I saw this morning.

*Anyone that has taken the beginner course in French at the Alliance Francaise will understand the post title.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Le Pity Party

I sat alone in a cafe today having a little pity party where I was the guest of honor. I'm down on myself because I haven't accomplish nearly as much as I would have liked to accomplish by now and I don't like the fact that I have accomplish everything on my own. In the past I've valued my independence and have worn it like a badge of honor but being here all alone makes me long for a little more dependence and someone to depend upon. What makes matters worse is that I can't easily reach out to my support system of family and friends back home like I used to.

During my pity party this grown man in a suit, riding a rented bike, caught my eye as he consulted a map of Paris.



And like that my pity party ended because scenes like the above are part of the reason why I'm here in France and are something that I'd rarely see if ever in NYC. I also realize that once I accomplish all of the things on my to do list (getting an apartment, opening a bank account, applying for my CDS, etc) I'll feel that much more happy that I was able to accomplish it all mostly on my own. Once that occurs I'll be happy to wear my independence badge once again.

The Art of Lying

I was strolling the lovely streets of Paris today with Opal in the hopes of accomplishing some key tasks such as purchasing a sim card for my cellphone, checking out the apartment listings at the American Church and figuring out the logistics of opening a bank account and I managed to accomplish two of those items. Kudos to me. However, the third item proved to be a little more problematic. You see, the woman behind the counter at the bank asked me the relatively harmless question "how long I planned to stay in Paris" and without a second thought I told her that I would be in Paris for 8 months. To my surprise she told me that it was impossible for me to open an account at that bank because they don't open accounts for such a short period of time.

From my experience with the bank I've learned that if I'm going to survive in France I'm going to have to become a conniving deceitful liar unfortunately. So tomorrow I will try again and when asked how long I plan to be in Paris I will say "well I have a year long work contract that is renewable each year so for the time being I plan to be here indefinitely." Let's see how that works.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Paris or Bust

I made it, I'm here in Paris and dear Google Blogger just because I'm connected to the internet in France that doesn't mean that I want to change my language preference on my page to French because I don't speak that language.

It kind of feels uneventful to finally be here in Paris and I'm really not sure what to do with myself. Over the next few weeks I have to make a bunch of decisions and I'm really not sure where to begin and I'm not confident enough to know that I'll make the right ones such as which bank to open and account with, should I get a prepaid sim card for my cellphone and most importantly where should I live. I know that everything will fall into place eventually but I just don't do well when I'm feeling unsettled and living out of 3 suitcases doesn't really help.

Veronica, a former assistant who I'm living with temporarily is really nice and helpful and it's comforting to know that she has done the assistantship in the past and to be able to pick her brain about things.

It's not cool that I would like to try to practice my French but my mouth just cannot seem to form the words. Sentences and phrases that I've said time and time again during my lessons with Marie and Claude I just cannot myself to say them for fear of sounding like an idiot. This is not some dress rehearsal but it's the real deal and I need a virtual kick in the butt or this experience isn't going to be anything like the one that I had envisioned in my mind.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I LOVE New York!!!!!!!!

Today I received an email from an English teacher from one of my schools. Maybe it was just my interpretation or maybe it really was her writing style but she seemed really excited to be writing to me and to have me as an assistant. She asked to know a little bit more about me so in my response I told her that I was a 30 something American from New York. The first sentence of her response was "I LOVE New York !!!!!!!!" There were literally 8 exclamation points. How cool is that? So much for the misconception that the French hate Americans. She mentioned that she was an assistant in Scotland 4 years ago so she knows what it's like. She also hinted at the fact that I may have Wednesdays off at one her particular school and she's work on a 3-4 day schedule for me...chouette!

Lastly, she told me that they have a place for me to stay temporarily for 250 euros/month. Why or why couldn't she have informed me this earlier? Albeit, he's a "a 25-26 year old crazy about football so you'll have to put up with that but it's SO french ;))." Had I stuck to my original plan of just arriving in Paris with no designated place to stay I would have save a couple of hundred euro. But no, I had to listen to the maternal unit and several friends that insisted that I find a place immediately so that I wasn't left homeless on the streets of Paris. Que sera sera right? It's only money. The good news is that I'll have an affordable place to stay should I not find permanent housing by October 1st.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Second Thoughts?

As I am entrenched in packing up my apartment and packing my clothes and belongings into two suitcases that weigh 50lbs of less each, I really beginning to have second thoughts about this move.

I'm not sure how I'm going to get all of this done by Friday. With a miracle perhaps.

Visa Visa

So I got my visa today despite the mini hurdles that I had to overcome.

Shall we start with the guy below? Doesn't he look completely intimidating and disgruntled all at the same time? If you really hate your job all that much why not go out and find a new one? That's what I did.


For the purposes of this post I'll refer to the man pictured above as "Disgruntled Security Guard" or "DSG" for short. Being the punctual person that I am I arrived to my appointment slightly early, ok make that a full 45 minutes early. Now, after reading all of Stephen Clarke's books one thing I learned about the French is that they don't queue or stand in line. So I walked up to DSG and showed him a printout confirming my appointment and his response was "it's not 12:30", oh ok then I'll just stand here and wait until it's my designated time. Then around noon some guy drives up in a Mercedes and asks what time the consulate closes and I told him sometime around 12:30 and 1:30PM but because I was not 100% sure I checked with my bud DSG. DSG's initial response to my question was a roll of his eyes and when I repeated my question he snapped back with 12:30. Ok ok I get it DSG you don't like questions. So I continue to stand outside as it starts to drizzle and wait patiently for my appointment. 12:30PM rolls around and I walk over to the locked door of the consulate and I do the international sign language for "wtf DSG it's time to open the door and let me in" but of course he was non-responsive as he was most likely playing video games as he sat in front his computer. As 12:35PM rolls around DSG comes to the door (that's when I snapped the above photo) and he asks me "do you have an appointment" and I responded "well yes, you yelled at me less than 30 minutes ago for being too early for my appointment I'm not standing out here in the drizzling rain just for the hell of it". So he finally lets me into the building has me go through the metal detector two times and scans the inside of my purse. DSG approves my entry into the building and instructs me to proceed upstairs. I thought to myself "self, that was rough the next step should be a piece of cake" or not.

I get upstairs and I sat in the waiting area for several minutes waiting for my number to be called. After several minutes my number came up and I walked briskly and confidently to window number 4 knowing that this would be easy breezy as I had all the documents that I needed and the requisite number of photo copies. Mr. Civil Servant behind the window looks at my visa application and notices that I'm applying for a Teaching Assistant visa and then proceeds to say "parlez vous francais" and I quickly scan my brain to translate the question that he just asked me and I think to myself "girl, you're in big trouble now". He asks me several other questions in French which I can comprehend but I'm unable to respond to because I was paralyzed by fear. Then he sees the faxed copied of my arrêté and quickly switches over to English. He says to me "I cannot accept this, I need the original version. Where is the original version? Why don't you have the original version?" Mr. Civil Servant posed some very relevant questions several of which I asked myself in the recent past. Again, taking my cue from Stephen Clarke's A Year in the Merde and In the Merde for Love I did the best French shoulder shrug that I could muster. Then I proceeded to tell him that my contact in Creteil faxed the consulate a copy of my arrete because when it came to signing mine and mailing it to me they just couldn't make it happen. Mr. Civil Servant retrieves said fax peruses its contents and then says to me "well I really need the original copy, it's not my fault if you get in trouble for this." Uhm ok thanks again for doing your job. He gave me a slip of paper and told me to return between 3PM and 3:30PM to pick up my passport.

3PM rolls around and I return to the consulate. I wait in line for a few moments and am greeted again by DSG (saying that I was greeted is being overly generous). I pick up my passport and voilà I got my visa. I also met two assistants one placed in Rouen and another placed in Brittany both of which have housing provided by their schools so which means that I hate them by default...just kidding.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sunday Pulse Check #6

Days til Paris: 7

Wow we're into the single digits it almost seems surreal. Now that the suspenseful episode of "Will She Or Won't She Get Her Arrêté on Time" has passed I finally get to go to the French Consulate in New York City to get my visa tomorrow. Because I didn't know when, if ever, I would receive my arrêté I scheduled three different appointments with the consulate which is a big no no. I probably shouldn't even be writing about this for fear that they will read this post and cancel tomorrow's appointment.

I've been getting pretty emotional about my move recently. When I told my doormen that I will be leaving the building I got all choked up. The weird thing about it is that I have been telling people for the past five months that I am moving to France and I was totally fine with it. I can't even bear to think about how emotional I'm going to be next Saturday when I hang out with most of my family for the last time. I just realized that this past weekend was my last official weekend in Manhattan for 8 months or so since I'll be heading up to my mom's place on Thursday or Friday to spend the rest of my days in New York with her.

On Friday night I went out with my friend Robin to this fashion related party at D'Or in midtown. I was up early Saturday morning to get my highlights redone. I actually had my colorist tone down my highlights a bit because they were getting a bit too light for my liking. Because they have been toned down, hopefully they will be noticeable as they grow out (I have no intentions of getting my hair colored while in France). I did a bunch of errands on Saturday afternoon and then headed to Greenwich, CT to eat at my all time favorite Asian fusion restaurant Penang Grill. Words cannot describe how good their food is and my writing about it cannot do it justice so I'll just leave it at that.

Today was essentially ex-boyfriend day. First, I met up with the existentialist whom I dated 4 years ago and still remain friends. Over lunch he told me made several interesting comments; that I had major cajones for pulling off this move, that he'd be willing to help out if I get into any financial difficulties (bankrolling a holiday over Toussaint was ruled out), that I should procreate (not with him of course) and he asked if he could come visit me in Paris (of course, duh). Then I met up with the French saxophonist. He had a gig playing a brunch in Brooklyn and I stopped by to hear him play for a bit. After the gig I went to the closing reception of Alexis Peskine's exhibit The French Evolution: Race, Politics and the 2005 Riots. I then made one last stop to meet up with my friend for a cocktail before heading back to my apartment.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Almost Scam

A couple of weeks ago during my frantic search to find housing in Paris I replied to an innocent enough looking post on www.franglo.com (actual post has been removed because I flagged it). There wasn't much detail in the post and there were no pictures included but I thought "what the hey, there's no harm in responding". A few weeks later I get the following message in my inbox:

Hello [L'etrangere Americane],

Thanks for the great response. I do appreciate your interest. The place it is still available and it is available for long time rent. All utilities are inlcuded and pets are allowed. I would have loved to meet you and visit the flat but I am presently not in Paris. It is available now and you can start as soon as possible. Also, you can rent as long as you can as I do not intend to live in the flat again. It is 670 euros monthly with an extra fee of 80 euros for the utilities which comes to a total of 750 euros. I used to reside in the house with my family before we had packed due to my transfer from my working place to the U.K and presently my house is still available for rent including all the utilities. Moreso Now, I also travel here and there on business. Pls i want you to note that, i am a kind and honest man and also i spent a lot on my property that i want to give you for rent, so i want to be sure if you will be able to take care of the flat as I do not any damages in the flat. I have given the price for the flat as I believe this way, I am helping someone in need for shelter and also the person will be able to take care of the flat and make it clean always I will like to know if you can give me an assurance that you will take good care of the house for me. Also, I will like you to fill the below form.

RENT APPLICATION FORM
1)Your Full Name
2)Your Full Address & Phone Number
3)How old are you?
4)Are you married?
5)How many people will be living in the house?
6)Do you have a pet?
7)Do you have a car?
8)Occupation?
9)What is your religion?
10) Do you smoke?
11) How many months do you want to rent the house for?

[Insert long highly detailed description of the apartment, decor, amenities, and neighborhood in perfect English here]

Will wait for your response.

Thanks,
[Scam Artist]

My initial reaction was that I had just hit pay dirt and that I was going to be living it up "MTV Cribs" style in Paris. Then little mini red flags started to go off in my mind such as "why is such an amazing apartment being rented for so little" and "why does he need to know my religion to rent me an apartment", "why is the first section of the email fraught with grammatical mistakes but there is nary an error in the second half"?.

Because I couldn't get those red flags out of my mind I decided to do a little super sleuthing courtesy of Google (love Google). Low and behold I found this little gem. Turns that Scam Artist copied the entire description and pictures from this apartment posting and tried to pass it off as his own little did he know who he was dealing with.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Finalement

This morning at 4:44AM EDT I was awoken by the beeping and buzzing of my fax machine. After I wiped the sleep from my eyes I sat up in my bed, did the double fist pump motion and thought gleefully to myself "mon arrêté, mon arrêté" (this thought actually occurred in English but is typed in French solely for effect). Now and only now does it feel as though I will be moving to France is little over 1 week. Now and only now has some of the stress lifted off of my shoulders to make way for feelings of excitement. And yes my arrêté has confirmed my placement in Pantin and Aubervilliers which are still less than 5 miles (4.5 km) from the center of Paris.

In other news I should be wrapping up things with my lease reassignment this week which means even one less thing to stress about. Lastly, I have begun the tedious task of pack the clothes and accessories that I plan to bring with me to Paris. The good news is that I have donated plenty of items that I no longer wear nor have use for. I've had items that have gone untouched for years hanging in my closet and sitting in my dresser just taking up space. While the purging process itself is quite liberating, psychologically I'm finding it hard to adjust to having less tangible things. I'm sure things will be OK when I go on my first shopping spree in Paris. This girl needs a new pair of walking shoes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The One About Hair

Two years ago this past September I met Logan for the first time and he was like a godsend. Logan was able to take my kinky curly natural African American hair and turn it into a work of art (not an easy task I tell you). I wish I would have found him sooner but I'm grateful to have him in my life now, who needs a boyfriend when a girl has a fabulous hairstylist? I love Logan's work so much I convinced the maternal unit and the sister to give him a try and now they are complete converts. My sister and I like him so much that we want to adopt him into our family.

This past Saturday I went to see Logan one last time to get a cut that will knock all the boys in Paris off of their feet and I'm pretty sure he succeeded. Normally, I let him cut and style my hair however he wants since he's the expert but this time I had my own vision in mind and it included bangs. Three days after the cut I'm still getting used to the new style and I'm beginning to realize how high maintenance bangs can be but overall the cut is great. I'm not sure how I will maintain my hair while I'm in France for 8 months forget coming home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I may have to schedule a trip back to New York just to see Logan.

If you're in New York and you're looking to unleash your inner diva go see Logan. Don't walk run!

Serenity Salon
458 West Broadway
New York, NY
212-598-1182

Monday, September 3, 2007

Le Rendezvous Chez Marie

On Friday evening I went to my old French tutor's apartment for an apéro. I was warned beforehand that for the duration of the evening only French would be spoken. Given this tidbit of information I almost declined the invitation but I knew that it would be good practice for my time spent in Paris. As promised only French was spoken as soon as I entered the apartment and the bad news is that I only understood about 40% of the conversation and even that may be quite generous. Even worse I was only about to express about 20% of what I wanted to say in French. I did learn the following phrase to prevent illness when drinking wine by the gallon in France:

"Blanc sur rouge rien ne bouge, rouge sur blanc tout fout le camps"*

Overall though the evening was enjoyable and entertaining. I always enjoy hanging out with an international crowd because the vibe is usually so laid back and welcoming. I don't know what it is but I usually feel more comfortable in my skin when I hang out with such a crowd. Hopefully I'll have the same type of positive experiences once I get to France.

*Translation: White before red nothing moves, red before white everything goes to hell.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sunday Pulse Check #5

Days til Paris: 14


How I went from elated to deflated in 30 seconds flat in 8 steps:

  1. Check mailbox after spending a day in Long Island with my family on my cousin's boat
  2. Discover brown envelop from the Academie de Créteil inside
  3. Open envelop
  4. Experience elation
  5. Flip through documents in envelop
  6. Search packet for arrêté
  7. Notice arrêté is missing
  8. Experience deflation
I'm beginning to think that someone is playing a cruel joke at my expense. Needless to say I'm still waiting and I'll be following up with the peeps in Créteil on Monday. Hopefully it was a harmless mix up and someone forgot to insert the document into my package.

This past week I ended up shelling out a buttload of money for a rolling duffel bag (which I like but is a little heavier than I had anticipated), a new Canon Powershot SD850 IS digital point & shoot camera (watch out now) and to secure housing for when I arrive. Makes me glad that I didn't quit my job last week when frustration levels were at an all time high.

While I'm happy to have secured some temporary housing the story as will be told to my future children is as follows:

Your mother arrived in Paris with 2 large suitcases and no place to stay for the night. She had $25 dollars in her pocket and when converted equalled approximately only 5 euros due to the poor exchange rate at the time.

Got it? Bon! I'm glad we're all on the same page.

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