My Christmas Wish(es)

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Moving To France, Paul is a Dork

I love the holidays. If I had to rank the favorite things in my life right now it would go like this:

1. Popcorn

2. Amy

3. The Holidays

4. Music from New Orleans

Needless to say, when we watched a Christmas episode of the show Treme the other night, just me and my baby and big ole’ bowl of popcorn, life was pretty good. (For those of you who who are wondering why Malcolm was omitted, he is currently on my shit list for putting me #5 on his list, behind  “Ipads” and his fantasy football team. Bah humbug to you too kid!)

Besides holiday music, which loops endlessly around our house during this time of year, the biggest reason I like the holidays so much is the sense of hope which pervades the spirit. Whether it’s New Year’s Resolutions that you fulfill yourself or the blind faith that a fat man in a red suit will bring you a slice of happiness, there is something in the air that reads, “Things are gonna totally get better for me.” It’s like a fortune cookie that lasts for an entire month!

So, without further adieu, here are my Christmas wishes:

1. I wish Malcolm would stop asking for his own Ipad. Seriously, the kid won’t shut up about it, even though he still has semi-exclusive use of the one we already got. He isn’t getting one because he there is a 100% probability that he would lose it if we got one for him. In the past 3 weeks, he has lost a pair of nice gloves, a nice hoodie, misplaced two library books and broke his nice glasses. The moral of the story is that he is cut off from nice things that are smaller than a dishwasher until he can demonstrate a certain level of ownership competence. I’m not sure it’s tough love as much as it is simple cheapness on my part. I hate replacing stuff for no good reason!

I am guessing there was some pretty good butter in here, but I want the good stuff by itself!

I am guessing there was some pretty good butter in here, but I want the good stuff by itself!

2. I want to find some good butter. The average, grocery store butter here is pretty darn good. I am still waiting, however, to have an experience where you sample some butter and then immediately slap the person nearest to you in the face. Fingers: crossed.

3. I hope to meet someone here who’d care if I died. You always want to feel part of a community, a group where, if news of your untimely demise hit, it would be met with wails and people muttering, “It was too soon.” I have met some people in Paris, but I have yet to forge any relationships where, if my hand got caught in the door of the metro and I was dragged through the subway tube and decapitated, someone would miss me. Sure it might get some people back int he USA roiled up, but, it’s pretty sobering to think that an entire town of 2 million people would all read my obituary and think, “Who’s that?” I gotta make some friends, and quick. The Metro is pretty dangerous here. Bonus points if that person was a) snarky, and b) liked sports.

4. I want everything to go smoothly during our trip home. We are coming home for the holidays for an extended stay visiting friends and family. We rented a house we on and a car from Both websites connect people who aren’t using their houses and cars to people who need their houses and cars. The upside for doing things this way is that they are significantly cheaper than a hotel and traditional rental cars. The downside is that the house could be infested with bats and the car has a body in the trunk. We had to try, though. After all, it wouldn’t be a Wilson-Schwartz adventure without the threat of rabies or an unexplained murder. Fingers: triple crossed!

5. I want my dad to feel better. He has been sick, it seems like, since the beginning of autumn. Sometimes they know what is happening, and give him stuff to make him feel better. Other times, the medical establishment scratches its collective head and says, “beats me!”  Through it all, he’s kept the same sense of humor that has made people groan at his jokes throughout his entire life. Enough is enough, get better pops!

I can't ask someone to slow down when they talk, but I can say "Père Noël" with the best of 'em at least!

I can’t ask someone to slow down when they talk, but I can say “Père Noël” with the best of ’em at least!

6. I want to learn how to speak French. I have been working on it, but I have a long way to go. When the store clerk screams at me for messing up her display, I want to understand what she is saying. When the waitress tells me funny stories about Celine Dion’s husband and child, (who we ate next to a few weeks back,) I want to understand all the goofy details. When my cellphone rings and I don’t know who it is, I want to be confident enough to answer it. (Currently, I don’t. I let it go to voice mail and try to piece together things later.) It’s a bit humbling to get your ass handed to you in a foreign country on a daily basis because you don’t speak the home language. I would like for all that to stop. I don’t need to speak it as well as Celine Dion, mind you, just enough to know what her family is generally like.

7. OK, I’ve thought about it and that’s a pretty long list. Skip everything and just get me the butter. Sorry pops, good butter trumps all.

Happy Holidays to you all and as they say here, Joyeuses Fêtes!

What The Hell Am I Doing?

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Moving To France

Before I left for Paris, people asked me what I planned doing while I was here. I usually told them, “Nothing,” and then dreamed of sketching nudes by the Eiffel Tower while being fed bon bons by a mime. (Admittedly, I really didn’t know what to expect upon arrival here.)

Now that I am here, I am starting to struggle with an updated answer to that question. (The authorities here have taken a rather hard line against my insistence that it is perfectly acceptable to draw nude pictures of yourself in public. They have informed me that the long lines of tourists standing in line at the Eiffel Tower are not as enamored with my body as I am. Losers. Wait ’til they get to the Louvre and find out that Mona Lisa looks like a pudgy teen age boy with a lazy eye.)

Life here is not all bon bons and mimes and I am starting to wonder what I want out of the experience. Stay at home parenting will consume all of your time, if you let it. There will always be bills to pay, kitchens to stock, kids to micromanage, laundry to do, neighbors to murder, plans to make, and floors to clean. Is that what I want to spend my time here doing? If not this stuff, then what?

It is a question that stay at home parents ask themselves every day. With the exception of those bizarre people who enjoy the exhilaration of a well ironed shirt or a plate cleaned so well you could eat off it, there will always be tension between the selfless provision of care for the family and the selfish desire for personal gratification. Usually, the conflict is resolved in favor of the family, with provisions made for large quantities of alcohol at a later time.

This tension is magnified here for me. I have never been to the Louvre or most of the other museums here. I know very little about art, or history and absolutely nothing about art history. (Sadly, the entirety of my knowledge in this area comes from the Da Vinci Code, and I read it so long ago that even this knowledge is fuzzy by now. Was Mona Lisa smiling because she gave Jesus a hickie?) I would like to crawl out of this fog of ignorance, and Paris is a pretty great place to do it.

Oh, wait. We are out of milk. Looks like the Louvre’ll have to wait.

This is called Echiquier. You eat and say, "Checkmate!" It comes with a warning that encourages you to exercise.

This is called Echiquier. It comes with a warning that encourages you to exercise.

The same holds for food, a passion of mine. You can take cooking classes here, chase down the best pastry you’ve had in your entire life, sift through an open air market that has chicken feet, cock’s combs and everything in between, or just sit a cafe and watch the world go by. You cannot, however, do any of that if you spend the entire morning trying to resolve printer conflicts for documents you need to get your permanent residence card. (The paper here is a different size. The fucking paper!)

No matter what your poison is, Paris has attractions that will make you forget all about how your refrigerator smells. Music, architecture, literature, churches, and the list goes on an on. There is so much to do that you can freeze up on the universe of opportunities out there.

So what do you do? Where is the happy balance? How can I mix in stuff that I like with the stuff that needs to happen to avoid a divorce? The long answer is that I have no idea. OK, that was pretty brief. Let’s make that the short answer. I guess the long answer is that I set some small goals for stuff that I would like to do. Here are the goals:

First, I am going to stop whining about my “problems.” I live in Paris and someone (named Amy!) is paying my bills. Recently at dinner, we ordered eggs mayonnaise. Guess what was in it? Eggs. With mayonnaise on top! I love this fucking town! I am gonna quit my bellyaching and starting doing things to really make my belly ache. (Like eating eggs mayonnaise morning, noon and night!)

Second, I am going to do something every week that is a complete departure from who I normally am. I will go to a museum/library/house of worship and … wait for it, LEARN SOMETHING! I’m not gonna take any cheapies either, like eating my ham sandwich with dijon and claiming a mountain of personal growth. Nope, I will look for interesting sounding things to do here and then go do them, even if it means that house stays messy one day. My litmus test will be whether it sounds awful. If I read about something and say to myself, “That sounds awful,” I will make myself go. Personal growth is not free from pain. In fact, the two usually go hand in hand.

This book is old and promises to bring us tons of wisdom and bellyaches.

This book is old and promises to bring us tons of wisdom and bellyaches.

Last, I bought a book and I am gonna use it. The book is called Larousse Gastronomique. It was written in 1938 and no one bothered to translate it to English until 1961, undoubtedly because of a belief that Americans were idiots. It is not so much a technical manual on how to cook food but more an encyclopedia of food and some rough suggestions on how to make it. Case in point, the entry for cake starts with the etymology of the word for cake, “Gateau,” a history of the French cultural significance of cakes, (they used to throw confections on the heads of worshippers from the roof of the Notre Dame) and then lists page after page of cake variations. So far my favorite is punch cake: fill a charlotte mould with savoy sponge cake mixture. Cook this cake in the oven. Turn it out and leave it to stale for two days.

We are going to eat a lot of shitty food! At least we will learn some stuff along the way. To me, that sounds a lot better than making sure the clothes are dry, the tired old chicken dinner is served  and the dishes are done after. Well, maybe. Talk to me in a month.

French Faux Pas, Part I

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Moving To France, Paul is a Dork
This is not a rose des sable. Malkie got this one. This is a caramel macaron with two chocolate eyes and a grenache bon bon nose. It's called a macaron clown and Malcolm was in love with it. Until he ate it.

This is not a rose des sables. Malkie got this one. This is a caramel macaron with two chocolate eyes and a grenache bon bon nose. It’s called a macaron clown and Malcolm was in love with it. Until he ate it.

Just to let you know, there is more to life in Paris than fantastic apartments and amazing culinary experiences. It’s true! Why just the other day, I saw something really depressing and it made me think about life and it’s tragic consequences. Oh wait, that thing wasn’t tragic. It was a Rose des Sables, a pastry with hazelnuts, caramelized crepes and pastry creme. It made me want to get on an airplane and go home to slap the mother of everyone single person I know back in the United States. Maybe things are still pretty good here?

There are, however, some instances where things do not work out as I intended. Here’s how that looks:

1. No!

We went to a restaurant that promised a memorable creme brulee. Settling into the table, the waitress brought a basket of bread and said something in French to us. I figured she asked if we wanted bread, and so I said, “No.” She seemed surprised by my answer. When she returned with water, I called my own bluff, asking her what she had said. She said, “I asked if you wanted to know the specials.” No wonder my refusal was a bit surprising! Part of me wanted to double down, and tell her, “I thought so, we came here for this wonderful printed out menu. Why on Earth would we want to get something off that shitty chalkboard? Now bring us foie gras!!!” I didn’t say this, though. I said, “Oh.”

2.Fecal Soccer

Amy, Malcolm and I hit the nearby park to play a bit of soccer. It was a bit rainy, but warm enough to enjoy ourselves. We even got into a match with a local kid. For most of the outing, I noticed that the park smelled heavily of dogshit. Thinking, “That’s just the way it smells at Place Des Etats-Unis,” (ironically, “USA Square,”) we continued the game. When we got home, I realized that Malcolm had stinky, wet dog shit all over his cleats. Mind you, soccer is a game where you kick a ball (with your feet!) so kicking a ball with shit crusted feet ensures that the ball will also be shit crusted. And, when you kick the that ball or grab it out of the bushes and roll it to your opponents, that turd residue rubs off on you. The park wasn’t stinky. We were. I can’t even imagine what that local kid we played with thinks of us. We’re never going back.

3. I scratch … down there.

One of things I am most passionate about is talking about my private parts. (Sounds like a great bullet point for Linked In, doesn’t it?) Anyway, I have jock itch. I would like to take this moment to let you know that this is a good thing. True, it’s a fungal infection, but like athlete’s foot, it imparts a distinction of sports-related accomplishment. In my mind, it’s second only to an Olympic Gold. I will grow concerned only when I start developing ailments like Oaf Scratch or Lazy Man’s Ring-Around-Your-Anus.

Satisfied that my physical prowess extended to my time in Europe, I headed to a local pharmacy to brag about my affliction/trophy. There is, thankfully, a place in our neighborhood advertising itself as “Anglo Americaine” which, to me, reads, “Bring your swollen, itchy junk here for some relief. We speak your language!” I did. I spoke to the woman behind the counter who informed me that she did not speak much English but she would try. (Anglo Americaine my ass!) Sadly for me, she did not understand the term, “jock itch.” This was a crushing development, because it meant that I was going to have to pantomime my affliction to her.

[OK, stop reading, and do this: wherever you are, pretend that you need to describe jock itch to someone charades, style. Go ahead. Done? There is really no way to do this without smiling and/or developing a deep rooted sense of shame about yourself. Yet, this is precisely what I was forced to do.]

I began by scratching the palm of my hand and pointing down towards my groin with both hands like a Eastern European man at a dance club. The pharmacist understood itch, and asked where the itch was. Was it on my belly? No, no the itch wasn’t on my belly. With half a grin on my face, I thrust my hips forward and pointed to my genitals vigorously and then rubbing my hands together ala Mr. Miyagi to demonstrate chaffage. (In many ways, my entire life had been leading up to this very moment. It was oddly peaceful.) I was about to lift my arms over shoulders in a weightlifting pose to delineate my terrific accomplishment from those sad sacs with disgusting venereal diseases when the clerk opted to hide as best she could behind a display of trendy French mouthwashes. When she popped back up, she told me that the other pharmacist spoke better English and that I wait for him to finish up with the customer he was helping. Evidently when Mr. Miyagi points to his crotch constantly here, he doesn’t get good service.

The second clerk didn’t understand the term, “jock itch” either, meaning I had to go back through my dirty gesturing all over again. OH FUCK YOU, ARE YOU SERIOUS? IS THERE NO ONE IN THIS GODDAMN COUNTRY THAT HAS ITCHY THIGHS? REALLY?! (The first clerk feigned un-interest in the corner, I think she just wanted her partner to see my routine.) After going through my itching and pointing, more pointing and more itching, the clerk told me I had two options: essentially, I had to decide between baby-butt cream and bug-bite cream. I was devastated. This was no way to treat an athlete like me! My jock itch was the result of a rigorous workout regimen. I wear that fungus like a badge of courage. To classify what I needed on the same level as a baby who shits itself or someone who gets stung by an ant is to practically deny me any accomplishment at all. This was not good. I took the ant-bite cream, as the clerk said it would probably be more effective. It stung, much like the bite of an ant. I walked home feeling two feet tall.

Life isn’t always perfect here. Still, a little embarrassment (and doggie doo!) is a small price to pay.

9 Reasons Why I Love Our Parisian Apartment

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Moving To France

We have moved into our new apartment in Paris! We are very excited to be in the same location for the next 12 months. Why are we excited? Read on, dear readers:

1. It is not our temporary apartment. Our apartment for the first few weeks here was born out of necessity, as we were due to arrive in Paris and had nothing lined up. We got there and my heart sank. Literally. The apartment was subterranean. It was dark and dank and you couldn’t open the windows out of fear that someone in the street above would jump down into the apartment and chastise you for trying to look up their skirt. (Hypothetically speaking.) The furnishings were old and dusty and, unless you were an 80 year old woman, it just gave you the creeps. Anne Frank would have tried to move out. Our new home is everything that this old apartment wasn’t.

2. The closets and cabinets here smell awesome. Admittedly, this was not a key criteria when we were looking for flats here, although it would have been pretty interesting to see our relocation guide’s reaction to such a request: “We’d like two bedrooms, an office, two bathrooms and it would be preferable if the cabinets smell like chestnuts roasting on cedar. ” I am not sure how they got the woodwork here to have such a nice aroma, nor do I really care. I keep opening cabinets in the hallway to see if there are brownies baking inside. Yum!

3.The kitchen is outfitted with an induction burner. I don’t know what that means yet. I think it’s good. The concept is pretty cool, the stove heats the pans through an electric current that connects through an oscillating magnetic field, resulting in crazy efficiency. I was a little skeptical when I read the manual and it said the stove could defrost spinach in 15-25 minutes, thinking that you could just breathe on it for 10 minutes and get the job done. Perhaps the manual is just a bit high on humility. I had pasta water boiling in less than 7 minutes, though, so I am impressed so far. The real test will come when I try to put a hard sear on a steak. Still, it sounds impressive doesn’t it? It’s the kind of thing I would say to a fancy-pants at a country club when they name drop about their family lineage:

Old Stuffy Bastard: “Well, there were Worthingtons on the Mayflower, you see.”

Me: “Ya, but did they have an induction stove?”

Drop mic and head off playing “The Final Countdown” in my head.

4. 41 steps. Our apartment is on the four-and-a-halfth floor. How so? The elevator is a half of a flight off from the apartments themselves, so it stops at the fourth floor and you walk up a half of a flight of stairs to get to our door. If I don’t use the elevator, though, I have to take 41 steps to get up to or down from the apartment. That is good for me. I plan on eating the shit out of this town, and the most like result of this scenario is that my body style (currently a “Jon Hamm if he were 5 months pregnant”) will start to trend toward “a Jon Hamm who is past his due date with triplets.” I take great solace in the fact that every time I leave the apartment my leaving and returning means that I will have worked off enough calories for a delicious French pastry or perhaps some pudding. I’ll be fine if I use opportunities like this to exercise, and by fine, I mean anything in the second trimester.

Bring on the soiree!

Bring on the soiree!

5. It has charm up the wazoo. This apartment is French, and not in the “Les Mis/Old French Whore” kind of way. It’s really fucking nice. The ceilings are intricately detailed and bright white. There are artistic photographs strategically placed throughout. (How artistic? We have black and white pictures of silhouettes in train stations and ladies in old-timey bathing suits. Yes, that artistic.) The floors are distressed oak in herringbone. It is impossible to enter the apartment and not conjure up the image of talented writers swilling Kir Royales while listening to jazz. (I wish I were a good writer, liked champagne and could stand jazz. We are more likely to have friends over for lasagne and Weird Al.) With a gigantic solid wood dining room table, I am sure we will all have a good time. I love the way our apartment feels.

6. It has a walk in closet. Having seen 20 or so Parisian apartments during our short time here, I can relate the closet scene thusly: 50% of apartments have a true master bedroom. Of these, the majority would require you to use dressers to store your clothes. A handful actually have closets to store your dead bodies clothes and shoes in. Under no circumstances, however, will these solutions allow you to have more than a one weeks’ supply of clothing on hand. Our apartment has a walk in closet. You can’t walk in do the tango, mind you, but let me reiterate that OUR APARTMENT IN PARIS HAS A FUCKING WALK IN CLOSET. It has four racks for hang up clothes and 28 cubbies for cryogenically frozen heads sweaters. Plus, it smells like chestnuts and brownies in there. Bananas, truly.

Street view.

Street view.

7. Location. I am tempted to say that the apartment has location up the wazoo, but somehow that just doesn’t relay the image that I intended. Our apartment in near the intersection of the 16th and 8th arrondissements, which means that we are within a 15 minute walk of the Trocadero, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and Pont Alexandre III, the most beautiful bridge in Paris. We are in between two larger train stations that will quickly connect you to anywhere you want to go here, beit Versailles, Notre Dame, Jardin du Luxembourg or the lesser-visited, Jardin du Oakland, which is really just a place where you can bring your television and just have someone take it from you. Our neighborhood will not excite those who live in Paris as it is not very quaint and “real,” but our out of town visitors will be thrilled. (hint, hint.)

Cool old church! Doesn't hurt that it looks like R2-D2.

Cool old church! Doesn’t hurt that it looks like R2-D2.

8. Light. Our place has a plethora of windows. The front of the house faces the street and the building across from us is two floors shorter, meaning we don’t have any precious sky blocked out. The rear of the house faces a courtyard and four-and-a-half floors is evidently high enough to ensure quality light for as long as their is indeed light. (You may take light for granted, but we don’t have that luxury. It doesn’t get light here until after 8:00 AM and starts getting dark 15 minutes later.) For evenings, the house is equipped with a shit-ton of wall sconces, floor lamps, chandeliers, table lamps, hanging birdcage lamps and a few high powered search lights thrown in for good measure. You don’t appreciate the value of a well lit apartment until you spend some time living in grandma’s basement. All in all, things are pretty bright here.

Says it all (on our bathroom tile.)

Says it all (on our bathroom tile.)

9. There is no scale. Nobody wants to see the effects of Jon Hamm’s kids gestating. With all the lasagna and Weird Al, charm up the wazoo, brownies in the closet, induction steaks, artistic bathing suit pictures and high powered search lights, our apartment will be the source of great pleasure during our time here. I don’t want to see the evidence of the toll Paris takes on me, even with 41 steps up and 41 steps down. I’d rather just enjoy the ride.

And now for larger pics of our house for friends and the architecturally inquisitive:


Malkie’s room.

Guest bed

Guest bed (hint, hint) Will use as an office.





Our bedroom

Our bedroom

Our bathroom

Our bathroom

Goodbye America!

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Moving To France

We leave for Paris today.  As with any important occasion, it is time for airing grievances. America, I will not miss you.

I won’t miss our drug store, who calls me to tell me that our prescription is ready when it isn’t.

I will not miss the spiders who crawl over me at night and bite me in the stomach. (Seriously, our house seems like an arachnid club med.)

I won’t miss our cars. The Metro in Paris is a lot like your car, if your car was stinky and beset by pickpockets. There is a chance that I will miss the smell of gasoline on my fingers. Mmmm gasoline.

I will not miss our nearest grocery store, which has seven different kinds of Cheerios, but only one kind of apple. I will however, miss the cool, nose-ringed checker who made buying toilet paper and dental floss a little hipper.

I won’t miss wearing you, hoodies, shorts and flip flops. You’re SO unchic. Real men wear pants. And shoes. And sweaters. God that sounds awful.

I will not miss my Wednesday Nights. My inner circle, a group of softball guys who put the “ass” in class, has been going strong for over 10 years, hanging out every Wednesday to play softball, poker or just annoy one another. They will be easily replaced by Frenchmen and some house plants. Easily.

I will not miss people who say “Bang” instead of turn, as in, “I’ma bang a right and then be right in the thick of it.”

Baseball. Meh. I will henceforth call the NFL “American Football,” because the rest of the world knows what “real” football is.  Wanna know another “real” sport? Tennis. Yes, fucking tennis.

I will not miss you, convenience. Sure knowing what you are doing and saying most of the time is easy. We are not going for easy. Easy is overrated.

I won’t miss the feeling I get when I see someone who may be casing our neighborhood thinking, “Are those the guys who are going to die in our house from spider bites?”

I will not miss my dad’s group friends. Who wants to sit around drinking beer and making fun of one another’s kids anyway? That’s lame. I will revel in drinking wine and honestly discussing my feelings in French. Totally not lame.

France is going to love the shit outta me!

France is going to love the shit outta me!

I will not miss you deodorant. How lucky am I to be moving to France!

I’m not gonna miss Amy’s once-a-year book club offering at our house. Those ladies know how to party and usually end up thrashing our house. (Book club, indeed. They ought to rename it “excuse to gossip about industry people and drink wine.”)

Those neighborhood cats who crap everywhere and pee on anything left out overnight will not be missed. I wish I had been able to microwave more of them.

I am not going to miss the sun. Sure, it will be cold, dark and rainy for the next 6 or 7 months. The sun causes cancer, though. Look it up.

I will not miss seeing Malcolm and his friends growing up together. Granted, some of them have been together since their respective births, and know absolutely everything about each other.  Even so, keeping track of all those details: who is playing what sport, who has read what Harry Potter book, and who is missing new teeth, is too complicated. I would rather just look at your kids when we get back and ask, “Who the fuck is that?”

I will not miss you chicken wings. OK, that’s a lie. I will miss you chicken wings. And you, beer.  And while we are at it, all you different kinds of Mexican foods, my heart will yearn for you.

I will not, cannot, won’t not miss our friends.  You know who you are. We belly laugh together over drinks. You know all the gory details about what our kid is REALLY like and vice versa. You know when I am down and need a hug. I know when you want me to touch your butt (even when you say you don’t!). We’ve been to each other’s birthdays, weddings and hospital stays. We celebrate made up holidays, mourn losses and take amazing trips together. Sometimes, we finish each other’s … While our lives are so much better for the friendship, we will walk away and totally forget about you. It’s like we never even knew each other at all.

The moisture in my eyes right now is from some onions I cut up a while back and from the realization that I will soon be watching Mulan II on an airplane. Totally.

So goodbye America.

France, prepare to be boarded.

Does France have spiders? Hope not.

Excuse Me, Does This Apartment Come With Transsexual Prostitutes?

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Moving To France

This post is about our house hunting adventures. For obvious reasons, our bid to to star on House Hunters International was unsuccessful. Rather than bore you with all the nitty, gritty details about all the places we saw, I will just give you the highlights.

5. Starting with a bang. By far, the best apartment that we looked at was the first one we saw. It had everything: a brand new kitchen, new bathrooms, a projection TV with a ten foot drop down screen, and, wait, did you just read what I said? IT HAD A GIANT FUCKING TV! Watching TV is not something we had even planned on doing while in France, but the opportunity to watch French TV shows (Mime General hospital, Mime-day night football, Reno Mime-11) was astounding. The living areas and bedrooms were all old and charming while the other stuff was sleek and modern where you wanted it to be. We would have beamed with pride to live in such a house. At first, we didn’t like the location, though, because it was located in the Seventeenth Arrondissement and we felt that to be seventeenth at anything wass clearly not good enough for us. Later, we went back to the neighborhood for dinner and found tons of cool little streets with bakeries, butchers, restaurants and wine caves. Even though it was pretty far away from Malcolm’s school and Amy’s work, we realized that were never going to find a better place to live. By the time, though two days later, that we realized just how cool it was, it had already been rented. Dang.

4. Paris has its share of shitty apartments as well. The second place we looked at was quite crappy, even though the rent was exactly the same as the first. Everything about the second apartment reminded me of something I would have rented in college. The kitchen was dark, gloomy and useful only for using the microwave. The family room had orange couches that gave off different aromas depending where on the couch you were seated. The bathrooms looked like those found in a Supermax prison. The bedrooms were tiny, and oddly furnished. (One of them had three beds in it. Maybe it WAS previously used as a prison?) I found myself holding my breath while touring the apartment, and exhaled contentedly when we left. Yuck.

3. Elevators are great way to grope your neighbors. French elevator technology has progressed to the point where it can be considered mid-18th century. Seriously, the rickety old clap traps they have going there make you want to hug every hydraulic engineer you meet in the US. (Side note, hydraulic engineers are not used to being hugged. Proceed with caution.) To say that most French elevators are only built for two people is to oversell the capacity by about one person. Elevators are generally no bigger than a coffin, and, god forbid, if you ride in one with someone you don’t know well, parts of your junk will touch theirs and vice-versa. This can make for some awkward conversations when you are in one with, say, a relocation consultant that you have only just met. While riding in these tiny boxes, I could never really get over the sensation that at the very least, I could be buried in the thing that I was going to die in. As such, we took the stairs  a lot.

2. Malcolm has weird criteria for evaluating apartments. In every single apartment we entered, Malcolm took his shoes off at the door, bee-lined it for the bedrooms, found the bedroom with the most desks, set up his stuffed animals on the desk chair, crawled into bed and started reading. He didn’t care if the kitchen looked like straight out of prison. He didn’t care if it even had a kitchen, for that matter (I don’t think he went into a single one!) He didn’t even care about the giant fucking TV. He just wanted a lot of desks and a nice comfy place to read his books. About halfway through each tour, we’d hear Malcolm shout, “I like this one, let’s get it!” The last apartment we looked at had four desks in it and, despite the many flaws (view of crappy 50’s apartment high-rise close by, kitchen tailor made for a submarine, lobby that looked like basement of serial killer) he still talks about it as if it is the one we are going to live in. He will be severely disappointed when we do arrive in Paris.

1. OK, time for the payoff: I fell in love with a neighborhood. It’s called Auteuil. If that looks like it has a lot of vowels in it, you are correct. In fact, it is pronounced using sounds that have no match in the English language. Every time we tried to pronounce it, our relocation consultant crooked her head at us and asked what the hell we had just said. We ended up just calling it Tatooine to avoid confusion. It seemed idyllic. It is still called a village, even though it is in Paris proper. It has a central district that has many nice little shops, (including one that sells nothing but foie gras!) and some restaurants. What struck us most was how green everything was. Every street seemed to be lined on both sides by big honkin’ trees and, considering we live on a street with big honkin’ trees, it seems a perfect match. We hope to be able to settle there when we find a permanent home.

One major draw to the area was its proximity to the Park, Bois de Boulogne. This park is almost three times the size of central park in New York and promised to offer us tons of space to enjoy outdoor activities on afternoons and weekends. I asked our relo person to give us a tour of the park so we could see all that it had to offer. Somewhere in my head, I remembered watching a French movie which depicted nighttime scenes at the park involving a lot of oddly masculine prostitutes. So, I asked our guide whether that was only at night and where all that kind of stuff took place. She demurred, opting instead to show us the carnage instead. Driving down the main street (dare I say “vein?”) of the park at two o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday, we began seeing men dressed as whores. Some were on benches waiting for customers. Some were walking with customers into the nearby bushes for some shenanigans. Others were in various stage of cleaning themselves up. Having grown up visiting my mom in the emergency room, I learned that in some circumstances, you just don’t want to look behind the curtain. Horrible, frightening scenes take place behind the curtains, it’s much better to keep your eyes pointed forward and save yourself the therapy. Despite this training left me and when I saw a flash of something red in some bushes to my right, I glanced over. Sadly for me, it was someone cleaning themselves up and I had the unfortunate luck of seeing something I really didn’t want: dangle. Dangle is not something you generally want to see while touring a park with your family.

Mommy, what's dangle?

Mommy, what’s dangle?

I regretted my decision to look behind the curtain immediately. With eyes firmly focused out the horizon directly in front of us, we eventually made our way out of the park. I don’t know what made the scene so interesting to me, was it the fact that they prostitutes were out in the middle of the day on a weekday? Why were they all transvestites? Are the female prostitutes confined to the Moulin Rouge? So many questions, so few answers. (It’s not like I was going to ask the woman from Crown relocation where all the female hos were!) So, in the end, Tatooine had somewhat of a taint on it. To be sure, we will have to do some research to figure out where in the park we can go without a husky voiced harlot soliciting us. Then again, sharing a park 3 times the size of Central Park is a whole lot better than sharing an elevator.

And that is how our househunting went.

Schools in France

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Moving To France

We went to Paris last week to look at schools and housing. I have a lot to cover, so I will split up our experiences in three posts: schools, housing and food. (Technically, we weren’t there to scout food spots, but no recounting of a trip to Paris is complete without an detailed explanation of the food. It would be like going to a magic show and not reporting back at all the pedophiles in the audience.) This post is about our search for schools.

We decided to avoid the French public school system. I did a little research on the system there and found the following: students in the French public school system are berated in a manner consistent with being a fraternity pledge during hell week. You are scolded for incorrect answers. You are scolded for poor handwriting. You are scolded for not appreciating the scolding you just got and if you mention any war that the French came out on the losing side of, the teacher will call you an imbecile and throw the eraser at your head. Considering the French military’s record is something like 5-28, (they’ll always have the Crimean War!) we’ll tell Malcolm that it’s best to just avoid such topics. We decided to spare Malcolm the dominatrix approach to education and opted to only look at private schools during our trip.

There are some private schools in France that are have contracts with the government to teach the French curriculum but supplement with immersive French instruction and hugs throughout various parts of the day. This French-lite approach appealed to us for its rigor and for the speed at which Malcolm would pick up the language. Malcolm, who, for his entire educational career, has gone to a grade-free, homework-free, non-competitive environment for his schooling, spoke up during the school tours of these places and announced his desire for homework and grades, a development which sure surprised the school reps giving us the tour. Who asks for homework?! Interestingly, each of these schools insisted on interviewing Malcolm by himself, quizzing him on his math and writing skills  and ensuring that he wouldn’t try to burn the place down the minute he was separated from his parents. Having your kid tested like this is a bit unsettling, but at some point your kid is going to have to go it alone and this seemed like as good a time as any. I was sure, though, to take away his matches before leaving him alone. While these schools were some of the most prestigious in Paris, we ultimately felt that this approach was too focused on the system and not on the child. There were going to be subjects like math where Malcolm was going to be far ahead of the curve and subjects like “writing in complete sentences” and “wiping your butt” that he was going to be hopelessly lost in. We wanted something a little more flexible.

Of course, I couldn't tell them that Malcolm keeps his matches in Snowball's body cavity.

Of course, I couldn’t tell them that Malcolm keeps his matches in Snowball’s body cavity.

We toured a small Montessori school that we originally thought would be perfect for him. With so much change going on in his life, we thought that a classroom that looked like what he was used to would cut down on the stress of the move. After touring the school, we found that he would have been assigned to a classroom of 18 kids split between three grades. If you are doing the math, that’s six kids his age. Six kids who understand the trials and tribulations of being an eight-year-old. (Five kids to make fun of the weird kid with, assuming he’s not the one.) Considering we are moving to a brand new place, six kids is an awfully small peer group. What if the kids aren’t into sports, and therefore completely useless to our son? What if they don’t like Harry Potter and run around their respectively houses screaming things like “Petronum” or “Emporium Maxwell” with a chopstick in their hand? What if the other kids like going to magic shows? No, such a small school was too risky. We needed something bigger.

In the end, we had to decide between our two finalists. School A was a lot like a French school but with a more student-centric approach, which we liked. School B was a lot identified itself as an IB school. (In case you find yourselves interviewing schools in a foreign country, we found that it is totally NOT acceptable to giggle because you think the IB stands for irritable bowels. Evidently, IB stands for International Baccalaureate. Who knew?) Anyway, the IB school was a truly international school, with over 60 countries represented in the student body. We were also impressed with the technology in the classroom at the IB school, it had smartboards in the classroom and the promotional videos for the school showed the kids manipulating spreadsheets on the smartboards. Very cool! Malcolm liked school B because it had the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series in the library and a school soccer football team. (We decided his input was essentially irrelevant until he could come up with criteria that didn’t make him seem like he was a complete dufus.)

The choice ultimately came down to whether we wanted Malcolm to have a more French experience while living abroad or simply an international one. After some discussion, we came to the conclusion that most of what we wanted to get out of this trip was living in a large international city. He probably won’t use his French when we come home, but it sure would be cool if he had friends from around the globe to keep in touch with. Besides, learning about the Crimean war for weeks on end just isn’t very exciting. We decided on the IB school, and submitted our application late last week. Now our fingers are crossed that Malcolm gets in and Malcolm’s fingers are crossed that nobody checks out any of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books until we get there. Dufus.