Six Months And Counting!Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France
I noticed a few weeks ago that we had passed an important milestone. We have been in Paris for six months now, a fact that impresses and horrifies me at the same time. It’s good to take stock in where you are and where you come from every now and again, so I am taking this opportunity to do just that. Here, without further ado, is what we look like six months into our gig.
I have come to the sad realization that I will never, ever be able to speak French. Well, a more apt description is that I will never, ever be able to understand French. I regularly impress myself with the things that I am able to cobble together (finally got that jock itch cleared up!), but everything breaks down when the French reply. Most of the time, I end up staring back at the speaker like a dumb cow while my mind races to figure out just what he or she said. Perhaps they speak too fast. Perhaps my hearing sucks. Perhaps I am just too old and will never get it. Whatever it is, I am glad that most everyone here speaks English.
The French are renowned for complicated bureaucracy that is often impossible to navigate. Some things have lived up to the reputation (getting our apartment manager to do anything, getting our immigration papers in order) but there have been some pleasant surprises, too. When you go to a doctor here, you don’t really fill out any paperwork. They don’t demand insurance and make you jump through a ton of hoops to see a doctor. Usually, you go to the doctor’s office and the first question is, “What’s wrong?” It’s almost worth the strep throat I got earlier in the year, just to watch to system in action.
I also had an interesting experience signing Malcolm up for a day camp last week. I emailed the camp director who secured Malcolm’s spot; no application, no deposit, and THEY DIDN’T EVEN ASK FOR A CONTACT NUMBER IN CASE ANYTHING HAPPENED! Dreamy. I dropped Malcolm off in the morning and knew that, no matter what, I wasn’t going to have to retrieve him until late in the afternoon. Can anyone say, “Happy hour?”
My culinary skills are on the upswing! I have reveled in the gratuitous use of cream and butter that I could have only dreamed of eight months ago. I made Pommes De Terre Dauphine that rocked the house, and while it took two and a half hours to make potato puffs, it was well worth my time. I have found some great cheeses, made strides toward a perfect vinaigrette, and even started poaching chicken. Poached fucking chicken, get more French than that, I dare you. We have been enjoying the $5-10 wine here, wondering why anyone would spend more, until we open a more expensive bottle and understand completely.
While I have found Paris slightly less formal than I originally thought, I have started dressing more like a man and less like a boy. Gone are my signature flip flops, hoodie and baseball cap. They have been replaced by (albeit comfortable) European shoes, smart sweaters, a scarf and combed hair, the later the result of semi-regular bathing. Am I the dapperest dan in the joint? Certainly not, but when you remember where I have come from, you have to be impressed. The real test will come this summer, when I will have to trade in my board shorts for French style man-kini.
Malcolm continues his own unique brand of being exasperating and inspirational. He lost two pairs of pants at school. I have no idea how one loses one’s pants at school, let alone doing it a second time, only to exclaim, “Oh, no, not again…” Like the prospect of wearing a speedo, I prefer to just not dwell on it. His current roster of friends includes an Australian boy, two Indian boys, a pair of British twins and a Japanese girl. His school is every bit the international experience we hoped it would be. I can’t really tell if he is learning anything at school, since most of the communications with his teacher revolve around his inability to hang onto stuff. He is enjoying the sporting life, playing basketball and soccer on his school’s team and baseball with a French team. He has undertaken a serious study of the European football scene, and can recite the lineups of the most of the decent teams here. Even with all that, he spends a lot of his time talking to me about food. When I don’t want to throttle him, I want to put him on my shoulders and be his best friend.
We have done a pretty good job of seeing Europe while we are here. We have been to Amsterdam, the Alps, Copenhagen, Barcelona and Italy, with plans to go to Provence, London and Helsinki in the immediate future. Phew! Some weeks, it seems like I spend most of my time travel planning. Europe is at our doorsteps here and we feel lucky to be able to do so much so easily.
The “French” Experience
It would be easy to beat myself up over our lack of integration into the French scene. Sure, it would be nice to have a ton of French friends and be more acquainted with what’s really going on here. This takes a lot of work, however. I drink wine on the couch with my wife instead of going to conversation exchanges with native French speakers. We have enjoyed the friendly confines of our expat friends (some of whom are from the bay area!) over the slightly heavier lifting involved with cultivating French relationships. We are living a somewhat French-lite life here, and while it has its ups and downs, it suits us just fine. Life is to be enjoyed, and we are enjoying it. Isn’t that what life in France is supposed to be like?
OK, that was a little too serious. I should make a fart joke. I won’t, but I should. Happy six months to us!