Interesting Immigration

Word(s) of the Day: Vraiment?  Vous voulez que je retire mon soutien-gorge aussi? (vuh-ray-mon vous vou-lay kah jah ray-tear mawn sue-tawn gore-jah aw-see) – Really?  You want me to take off my bra too?

Jenna and I had our immigration appointment today.  (The words of the day should serve as a warning for the rest of the post.  Read at your own risk.)  We both agreed that everyone should be forced to have an immigration experience in a country that doesn’t speak their maternal language just to give them a better perspective.

It’s both nerve-wrecking and incredible boring.

First, we had to make sure we had all the proper documentation and had paid the fee to get the test.  Because if there’s anything the government always needs, it’s more of your money.  I’ve already paid three separate fees for my visa.

Next we waited in the room until they called us into another room, where we waited again.  We then went to three separate doctors, one to check our eyesight, one to take an x-ray, and one to interrogate us.  In between each separate section, you wait for long periods of time.

For the x-ray, a woman puts you in a room and says (in French), “Strip. Waist up.”  Now in America, they generally give you a paper robe so you can at least pretend you have dignity.  The French don’t believe in modesty, so you just have it all out there.

It’s this way at doctor’s appointments too.  When a doctor tells you to strip in America, they give you a paper robe and leave the room.  Sometimes they give you a blanket so you can cover up even further.  France wasn’t founded by Puritans, so the doctor just stays there and tells you to strip.  In a clinical manner, of course.

Jenna and I envisioned a scene of a Frenchwoman going to a doctor in the US.

Doctor: Okay, so I need you to take off your shirt and bra.  I will leave the roo… Not yet!  Wait until I leave!  *Turning to the nurse* Can I get sued for this?

After our chest x-rays had printed, we went to the interrogation doctor.  She had my take off my shirt again.  I assume this was partially to check my heart beat, but also partially as a mind game.  She demanded complete precision in the dates of every illness I’ve ever had.  She gave me a list of vaccines to receive and said that it was completely necessary that I get them in order to have my visa.  She then said, “Except you probably can’t get them with the medicine you’re currently on… So wait until you get off all your medicine.”  Which won’t occur until I leave France.  So no vaccinations then?

It doesn’t matter.  The French gave me my visa stamp anyway.  From what I know of French bureaucracy, no one will ever realize I never confirmed that I had the vaccinations.  They also probably don’t even care.  Jenna had the wrong address and spelling of her last name on all her documentation except for her passport, and they didn’t even notice.  Well one guy did, but he said the French equivalent of “Meh, whatever.”

Sometimes I think if I were never to even get a visa, I would still be fine.  The French probably wouldn’t even know I was here.  Not that I’m recommending going against the law.

I’ve met French people who have told me they are far less racist than Americans, but I think immigration today disproves that.  As we were informed from a source (not involved in the French government), “Don’t worry about the immigration appointment.  It’s not really for you.  It’s distinctly targeting people who have never been to a doctor before; people who come from poorer backgrounds.  They’re not interested in you, but they have to have everyone go through it so that it looks equal.”

I wonder if they would have cared about Jenna’s address if she came from an Arab or African background instead of American…

Although they might not.  If you’ve never been through French customs, that’s because no one ever goes through French customs.  You have to actively search for it in the airport.  I don’t know why anyone would ever declare anything.  I’m sure the immigration officers are in shock when someone comes into their office.

“What, sir?  You want to declare something?  I’ve never had anyone declare anything before!  Um… I don’t know if that’s legal here.  Pierre!  Are people allowed to bring cabbage into the country?  You don’t know either?  Meh, who cares.  I don’t want to fill out the paperwork.  Well sir, we shall clear you and your cabbage.  Bonne journée.”

Of course, this could be different from flights not coming from the United States/ an EU country.  Maybe they just assume we’ve weeded out all the weirdos?

They’re probably right.  American customs is like a reenactment of the interrogation scenes from Law and Order.

But at least you get to keep your shirt on!  Most of the time.  I suppose strip searches make that statement void.

The government wants us all naked!  There’s your thought for the day.

Jenna and I went to Starbucks afterward.  I never go to Starbucks here, but it was an over-priced coffee kind of morning.

Pain au chocolat: still 31 (but I’m sure I earned three today… so I’m gonna go get those right now)


Thanksgiving, French Style

French Word(s) of the Day: mal du pays (mal do pay-ee)- homesickness

To cure the major homesickness we have been experiencing this week, Jenna and I decided to have a proper Thanksgiving.

Théo’s parents have an oven (there are roughly 12 ovens throughout the entirety of Paris because apartments are the size of your standard oven) and so we cooked there.

Turkeys have to be booked in advance and cooked by the butchery (again, because no one has ovens).  This must be done before the end of October.  We decided that turkey wasn’t essential, because everyone knows that turkeys are really just over-sized chickens.

Besides, the mashed potatoes are the most important part of any Thanksgiving.  I hear my mom made way too much because she forgot that I wouldn’t be attending (my Thanksgiving plate is generally half mashed potatoes, half everything else).  Feel free to send the leftovers!

Back to France… Jenna and I decided on the menu and Arnaud, Théo, and Théo’s dad joined us.  We commenced with having everyone go around saying what they were thankful for this year.

Jenna and I had considered forcing everyone to wear either a Native American headdress or pilgrim hat (clearly what everyone wears for Thanksgiving in America…), but we couldn’t find construction paper.

Next time.

Everyone was extremely intrigued by the pumpkin pie filling and the stuffing we brought.  Both were brought over from the States by my parents.  They would stare at them curiously and then try a little as if it was a fine cheese before asking “What’s in this?”  At which point, I would have to hold out the stuffing box with its list of ingredients, because other than croutons, butter, and a ton of spices, I have no idea what goes into boxed stuffing.  Not a lot of things I can pronounce, it turns out.

The mashed potatoes, or “purée” as they were referred to, were a huge success as well.  There weren’t any left by the end of the meal.  This is possibly because Jenna and I let everyone serve themselves and then split the leftovers in half between the two of us.  So actually, no one even got a second helping.

Of course, it was a French Thanksgiving, so we had our chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green beans with wine, and then had a cheese course.

Neither Arnaud nor I participated in the cheese course.  Mainly because we both hate cheese (Arnaud is really American), and partially because I’m lactose intolerant.  Arnaud doesn’t really have an excuse.

French cheese is a thing of true pungency…  Théo’s father explained to Jenna that the best way to eat cheese is to buy it, and then let it sit for a week or so before you begin eating it.  This will make it stronger.

In other words, when you buy cheese, it doesn’t smell bad enough.  You must wait until it smells even worse to eat it.  This is why many French refrigerators smell like they are housing corpses instead of food.

Jenna is an avid lover of smelly cheese, and enjoyed her lesson on how to make it smellier.  We both declared French Thanksgiving a success, even without the pilgrim hats.

While we were eating dinner, one of the Frenchies (can’t remember which one… sorry guys) said, “In how many hours will your family be eating dinner?” and when we responded that they were already eating at that moment, he said, “Ah right, Americans eat really, really early.”

After Jenna and Arnaud left, I got to call my family in the States.  (Who were already done eating… oh those early-eating Americans.)  I talked to all 12 people at the house, which Théo found amusing.  He laughed everytime I would say, “Okay, bye [insert family member name].  Love you, too… Hi [insert another family member name].”  Apparently the French don’t pass around the phone when their family calls?  I don’t know how you talk to everyone.  Speakerphone?  I can’t hear 12 people at once.

I’m beginning to doubt the French call their families…

Jenna and I went to H&M on Friday because we wanted a proper Black Friday.  We got the shopping without the crazy lines, but also without the really awesome sales.

Close enough.

We then saw the 7th Harry Potter, which was AMAZING!  It came out later in France than it did in the US.  I was getting tired of seeing cryptic statuses like “OMG, Dobby” followed by 10 or 12 comments that all said things like, “I know… so sad” or “Feel your painnnnnn” or statuses of “RW+HG= giggles <3” that were then liked by 15 people.

Now I can be a person with cryptic Harry Potter statuses!!!!!

But seriously, this was best one yet.  Those kids have finally learned how to act, and Hermione has gotten cuter and Daniel Radcliffe has formed a uni-brow, which really isn’t the same thing at all.

Jenna and I both enjoyed that even though they were stuck in the woods for several months, they managed to have a change of clothes for every single day.  They even changed their winter coats.  I don’t think even Kim Kardashian has that many coats.

Being a witch sounds lucrative.  I must figure out how to become one.

Pain au chocolat count: 31

Voleurs and Misinformation

French Word of the Day: voleur (vole-er)- thief

Although magical and slightly other-worldly, Paris is a city.  Like all cities, it has its share of crime.  I was one of the lucky participants this past Friday.  (Obviously I’m fine, or I wouldn’t be writing this entry.)

My friends and I went to a bar and I brought my purse.  I made sure it was safe at all times, but somehow during my time at the bar, someone managed to steal my phone and 15 euro.  They also stole 30 euro, a metro map, and a pack of cigarettes from my friend.  They decided that everything in Théo’s coat was uninteresting, but they did move a piece of paper from one pocket to the other.

Somewhere, some thief is smoking a cigarette on the metro, trying to use a phone that doesn’t work.

I felt really stupid until Arnaud told me that he once had his coat stolen off the back off his chair while he was sitting on it.  Parisian thieves just have mad skills.  Strange taste in what they steal, but mad skills none the less.

We were in the south of France (Avignon… très belle, but largely uneventful) all weekend, so I haven’t had time to update.  I had tests today and yesterday as a welcome back present from all of my teachers.  One of them was today.  It was a thirty-minute oral test on my business experience (for Business French).  They said I did very well. (I have 2 teachers: one for the oral part and one for the writing part.)

The oral French teacher finds my partner and I very amusing.  When she has us break off into scenarios, she usually ends up spending the most time around us.  Not because we need the most help, but rather because we’re the dramatic ones.

For example, the other girls have conversations like this:

Girl 1: I would like to return this camera.

Girl 2: Why?

Girl 1: It doesn’t work.

Girl 2: Ok, I’ll give you a refund.

Luisa (my partner) and I have slightly different conversations.

Luisa: I’m returning this awful product.

Me: What was wrong with it?

Luisa:  You sold me the wrong software and it made my computer malfunction.  What is this?  It’s not Windows.

Me: Do you have the original packaging with you, ma’am?

Luisa: Yes.  Here it is.

Me: The box clearly states this isn’t Windows.  Did you read the box before you bought it?

Luisa: I shouldn’t have to read the box.  Your salesperson told me it was Windows.

Me: Was was his name?

Luisa: Juanito Carlos.  You should speak with him.  He’s an idiot.

Me: The short kid?  Please wait here.  I’ll be right back….  I found Juanito.  He’s been fired for misinformation.  We are going to give you back your money.

Luisa:  Good, because I was going to call the police if you didn’t.  You should hire competent people next time.

Needless to say, our conversations usually take longer than everyone else’s.  Our teacher told us we have overactive imaginations.

Yesterday, Théo’s friends from school took over a bar (not the same one as the infamous voleur), and had a huge potluck-style dinner with couscous and wine.  (Nothing goes better with food than wine.)  Afterwards, several of them helped me prepare for the Business French exam I had today.

I find it interesting that going to a bar can be marked as “studying for a test.”  I recommend it.

I majorly heart all of Théo’s homedogs from school. (Homedogs… are that kids still using that word?  I’m so not hip.)  They’re all extremely nice and inclusive, and some of them come from the south (that’s a shout out to you, Louis), so I can actually understand them when they speak.  (People from the south actually pronounce some of the letters in the words.  It’s lovely.)

Also, one of them is named Pierre.  This excites me greatly.  I know an actual French person named Pierre.  I was beginning to doubt they existed.

Now that I’m friends with them on facebook and they’ve had time to stalk my pictures (which is why facebook was invented), they would like to know when my sisters are coming to visit.  Sisters, any comment?

Pain au chocolat count: 30

Jouer un jeu… ou avec feu?

French Words of the Day: jeu (joo)- a game; feu (foo)- fire

I’m not willing to wake up early for just anyone, but I made an exception on my parents’ last day here.  Yesterday, we went for pain au chocolats at my favorite bakery early in the morning.

And then they left, which was sad, but I see them in a month.

Last night to make me feel better, Théo took me to his friend’s apartment for a mini soiree.  I was the only girl, but they’re French, so they didn’t care.  The guys were playing a game where you everyone writes down the name of a well-known person (dead, alive, cartoon… doesn’t matter).  You have a partner and they try to guess the person based on the clues you give them.

I was afraid to play because I had a feeling I wouldn’t know any of the people they wrote down and vice versa.  French people love soccer.  The only soccer players I can name are ones married to former Spice Girls.

They decided to be nice and write mostly American actors and characters along with Carla Bruini.  I only had to change one of mine because no one could guess his name.  It think it was probably the only time in my life where the males in the room had an easier time guessing Hugh Grant over Hugh Hefner.

I was partnered with Théo by a stroke of luck (we drew from a bowl), and so I was able to play the game in franglais rather than français.  We didn’t win, but we weren’t the worst team.  That has to count for something.  I mean, there were French people in there I didn’t know- mostly soccer players.  Coming in second wasn’t bad.

We had a fire alarm today.  It conveniently started right around the time everyone starts making dinner.  Because of this fact, I assumed that it was someone who wasn’t very good at cooking.

It turns out it was a well-facilitated drill.

They had us all line up on the sidewalk in the cold (I grabbed my coat before exiting my room- go me), and afterward rounded us all up into the party room.  (It has another name, but who cares?  It’s in French.)  Waiting for us was a fireman.

I’m now positive that the timing was strategic.  The talk lasted for an hour.  The fireman showed us roughly 3,000 videos of things being set on fire.  By the end, I was convinced that my cellphone and computer were going to spontaneously light on fire over the night and that I was going to accidentally set my room on fire while cooking.

As we left, two of the directors were handing out cookies and fruit.  I assume this was their way of saying, “We know we terrified you to the point where none of you will be able to prepare food tonight.  Have a cookie to tide you over until the bakeries reopen tomorrow.”

Fear not, I have eaten tonight.  I had a little chat with my stove and we both agreed not to set anything on fire today.

Pain au chocolat count: 29 (thanks mom and dad!)

Mes Parents!

French Word of the Day: parents (pair-hawn)- parents

Translating my CV into French took way too long.  It would have been easier if some of the things had directly translated, but the French don’t even have the words or concepts of some of the things on my resume (like grants).  It’s surprisingly difficult to explain a job when the words for it don’t exist.

I also have to explain my schooling.  I might have graduated from college, but in France, the word “college” means “middle school.”  I’m willing to give the French the benefit of the doubt.  After all, my birthday and age are written on the CV.  I’m assuming most employers won’t look at the dates and say, “You were still in middle school at 22 years of age?  Is that normal in the US?”

According to the internship instructor, I can’t assume anything.  I think most of my resume now consists of me explaining the words on my resume.  Yay intercultural exchanges!

Thursday was Armistice Day.  The French have an obsession with World War I (possibly because they lost over 1 million men- an entire generation- and also possibly because everyone’s still trying to forget Vichy France existed), so they get a national holiday on the anniversary.  It’s a way to remember an important time in French history.

Of course, we used it as an excuse to party on Wednesday night.

My parents came on Friday.  Théo’s parents invited us for dinner which went really well, especially considering the fact that my parents speak very little French and Théo’s dad isn’t fluent in English.  Théo, his mom, and I had to translate a bit, but not as much as I would have thought.

We decided today would be our relaxation day, and we walked around the Champs-Elysées in the rain.  Paris in the rain… that sounds very poetic.  Except for the negative effect it had on our hair, it was.

Théo and Arnaud joined us for dinner tonight at this fabulous hole-in-the-wall restaurant.  Everyone got half-baked chocolate cake for dessert except for my dad, who got a banana pie with chocolate syrup on the plate- all of which he lovingly gave to me (the syrup).

Dessert is the most important part of any meal.  Especially if there’s chocolate involved, which there always should be.

Speaking of chocolate, my mom is insisting we go get some pain au chocolat during her visit because I’ve made her hungry with my blog posts.  It took a very long time to convince me to get some with her.  Roughly 1 second.

Chocolate… mmmmm.

Pain au chocolat count: 27


French Word of the Day: Lisbonne (liz-bon)- Lisbon

Before my trip, I had never considered Portugal.  Quite frankly, very few people I knew had been there or discussed it.  I had met one Portuguese guy who sang Lisbon’s praises, but I just took it as national pride.

Dude, he wasn’t kidding.  Portugal rocks.

Shelley had told us to go to Sintra, a town outside of Lisbon.  We decided to take a day trip there and climb the mountain.  Ou first stop was just before the mountain.  It looked like this:

I know what you’re thinking: that’s absolutely the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen.

Wait, it gets worse:

And who would ever want to see something as uncool as this?:

And that was just what we saw before the mountain. (It’s called Quinta da Regaleira, and it’s quite possibly my favorite place ever created by man with help from the big guy upstairs.)

I’m by no means a mountain woman.  Considering I had already walked three miles that day and several more the day before that, the prospect of climbing a huge mountain was a bit daunting.  Fear not, I conquered the mountain!

That’s such a lie.  The mountain conquered me.  I’m still sore two days later.

But at least I got to be greeted by this:

Moral of the story?  Go to Portugal.

This post is going to be short.  I have to somehow translate my CV into French.  This should take roughly a week, so of course, they gave me one day in which to complete it.  Maybe I should strike in protest?

Oh dear, the French are rubbing off on me.

Pain au chocolat count: 25!!! (courtesy of Théo encore and eaten fresh out of the oven)


French Word of the Day: Barcelone (bar-say-lone)- Barcelona

My facebook account has been steadily gaining friends.  As Dustin (one of the only guys in our program who is traveling with us for break) put it, “This is perfect.  We’re making friends with people I probably won’t see again.  That’s a much easier friendship to maintain.”

We booked a really great hostel here.  I told the others that they’re completely spoiled because normally hostels aren’t this nice.  This one is clean and spacious and well-run.  Other hostels are… not.

Everyone’s been really friendly.  We’ve been going out with new people every night.  English-speakers mostly.  We still manage to have a wide range.  It’s normally several Australians, Englanders (I don’t know if that’s a word), and South Africans.  For some reason, the three other people I’m traveling with and I are the only Americans.  Maybe we scare other Americans away?  We know they’re here.

One of the English guys is in the British Air Force.  He’s going to meet us in London at the end of November.  He’s got some good restaurants for us to go to.  I think Dustin just might be wrong about never seeing everyone again…

The English guys have just made everyone an English breakfast which has been Spanish-ified because the Spanish don’t do baked beans well or have “proper English sausage.”  I suppose the Spanish aren’t in the habit of having English breakfasts.  I’m actually not really sure what a Spanish breakfast looks like.  We don’t normally wake up early enough to go out for breakfast.

We have seen several gorgeous parks.  I really enjoyed the park designed by Gaudi.  His designs remind me of the elves in the Lord of the Rings.  We also saw the Picasso Museum.  I was impressed by his earlier work and (I’m totally going to offend the art history majors here) unimpressed by his later work.  Mainly because most of the later works were comparable to art pieces I created in grammar school.  One of the paintings was almost identical to something I made in kindergarten.  Perhaps he was trying to make a statement about youth or something.  I’m not really sure.  Of course, maybe I was just a very prolific artist at age 6 and it just took Picasso longer to catch up.

I’ve been able to use French here!  I gave directions to a Spanish guy in French (he didn’t speak English) and last night I made friends with two Belgian girls.  They were a bit tipsy and kept insisting that I get in all their photos.  Let’s hope they were sober enough to remember me or they’re going to be confused by the random girl in their pictures.

Off to Lisbon today!  Wish us luck!

Pain au chocolat count: 23