Monday, December 5, 2011

What the F do the Borg have to do with Thanksgiving?

Resistence is Effing FUTILE yotch!
image © Wikipedia

Over the last couple of months, I have transformed from workaholic, to android who does nothing but work, eat, sleep and crap, into a full-on BORG. Old habits don't die hard with me, they live on, and on, and on, and effing ON. They are as immortal as the Borg themselves.

As a sort of wake up call, I started tracking my hours very diligently. Let's just say the words "a lot" to describe the number per week are similar to saying that the sun is "kinda big". I'm starting to think this is just a part of my personality. The whole, I'm gonna-give-1000-million-% until I waste away into a pastey-faced-imp-like-monotone-world-dominating-psycho who can plug her head into her computer and tells people resistance is futile. (It is you know, totally and utterly futile.)

It's already been 2 weeks since Thanksgiving and my obsession with staying on top of all-things-work has kept me away from the ole blog.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are always bitter sweet for me. I LOVE them. I play music, I make cookies, I get all "tra-la-la, it's Christmas, time to break out the ELF movie and cozy up". But I'm also very "where the F*** are those F***ing scientist Mother-F***ers hiding, and why haven't they invented teleportation yet?" (Yeah, I'm talking to you mr., pardon me, DR. physicist. Sheldons of the world, UNITE and get your asses on this!)

This year, like last year, I took a little time out to celebrate the day the pilgrims sat down and shared a meal with an indigenous group of unsuspecting people who we later slaughtered mercilessly and forced to live on small plots of land while we sold them "fire water". I mean... we celebrated all the things we're thankful for.

This is in fact, the last time that I'll be going to the country house with a band of merry x-pats, as it has (sniff sniff) finally been sold off (the house, not the merry band). I loved building a crackling fire, enjoying the hazy mornings with the clop-clop-clop of a horse-drawn carriage, and all the cooking, laughing, forest-walking, horse-riding, champagne-tasting, and other good things that accompany the country life.

I'm pleased with our last hurrah at the house. I have to say that the cooking, of which I didn't participate much, was even better than ever. Our "breakfast crew" has matured in their cooking endeavors, stopped bickering and finally decided (after much tribulation), that "French Toast" (sweet) is better than "Eggy Toast" (savory). The Franco-Ameri-Brit cooking styles meshed perfectly together to create the biggest god damn delicious turkey you ever saw, complete with every side dish known to man.

While all those people slaved in the kitchen, some of us whistled out the door to go horseback riding. I am in love with horses. (Not like that you dirty sod.) I had only one previous experience horseback riding when I was a teen, and it wasn't nearly so spiritual and fulfilling.

Dear lord. WHO, tell me, WHO wears a halter top to go horseback riding?? Well. This girl did. It was a hot summer day, but that is no excuse for my idiocy. We started trotting a bit, and all was well. It was around the second gallop that I realized... hmm... it's a little... chilly. No, more like NIPPY. Yes. As in, my shirt had untied and I was pulling a Lady Godiva.

I wish I could say that I was graceful. I wish it had been something like this:

The reality is it was really more like this:

 

Moron, that I was, I started screaming and grabbing desperately at the pile of fabric around my waist that used to be a shirt, at which point EVERYONE turns around and starts staring and my horse decides to go even faster to the point of almost bucking me off because I've decided that modesty is more important than life. Also, I forgot to pull on the reins and actually stop the horse. Like I said. Imbecile.

So this time went much better to say the least. Firstly, it was cold out, so we were all bundled. The chances of my pulling another Lady Godiva were slim indeed. Secondly, I wasn't 16 anymore, and figured out how to steer and stop the horse.

Finally, I really bonded with that beautiful brown horse. We were friends, whatever her name was that I've now forgotten, and I. I can't wait to try this again!


*UPDATED* I can't BELIEVE I forgot this part. We had the most CUT-THROAT game of boys vs girls Charades you can imagine. Dear god. I thought these people were going to riot. I blame the brit who stoked the fires of competition, you know who you are.

There was screaming, and pointing of fingers left & right. NO NO NO, that word is NOT fair!!! I have a PENIS, how the *hell* am I supposed to know who wrote the fucking "Princess Diaries"!! (Incidentally, it was this woman.)

I stepped in and tried to be the arbiter, but, to no avail. Because the girls were kicking such serious ass, we had to change the rules to appease the male-folk lol. Even if I think this is our last game of Charades, I'm sure we'll come up with new and better ways to instigate genitalia-rivalry.

The best part of the weekend however, wasn't the amazing food, or the delicious Chateau du Petit Thouars wine provided, or even the post-dinner dance party that the Brits weren't quite drunk enough to participate in.

The best part was my shirt not coming off. J/k. I wasn't sad. I wasn't all "woe is me, I miss my family". I was positively on cloud 9. Of course, I missed them, but the happiness won out :)

Lesson to us all: When in a far away land, find a good band.

Happy Holidays!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

10 Day Ohm Project Update

So, it wasn't a total failure, but not exactly a success either. I kept up with the hypnosis and occasional meditation, but the yoga was a total bust. I keep telling myself: you *must have* 30 minutes a day to do this crap, but somehow it keeps getting pushed aside into "I'll do it later" land.

I think karma is plotting against me... I try to quit smoking, and my world kind of goes up in smoke. I try to do this zen-living thing, and several projects that I wasn't anticipating fall, no THUD, into my lap like a thousand pound elephant in the room.

I really wonder sometimes if it's just not meant to be. Maybe I should just stop trying to force a lifestyle that isn't going to suit me, you know?

Thing is, I really respect and admire people who can do that. Who get up every morning, and run, or do yoga or something good for their mind/body/soul. I used to be like that, swear! I was practically vegan in the US. I would run every morning, do sit ups (omg did I have some rock-hard abs back then, not like these mushy, pathetic little lumps I have now), I was all about kickboxing and was starting karate before I moved here.

The strangest thing is that I go *right* back into that lifestyle when set foot in the US. All I wanted to do last time I was there was go to yoga w/ my bestie, and run, and eat healthy when I'm surrounded by all that good American food.

Can't explain it. Maybe being in the US makes me paranoid about being unhealthy, and being here has the opposite effect. I suppose it's very possible that Paris is actually bad for me if that's the case lol?

Whatever the reason, I can't seem to connect with that person over here. Any advice those of you who have achieved my goal?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The 10-day Ommmm Project


Copyright © Flickr by porchlife
If you know me IRL (as the kids say), you know that I'm a haggard, frazzled, stressed person at the moment. The phrase "I have a lot going on" was what I was telling myself 5 projects ago. Between that, and family stuff, friend stuff, Italian class, and all the other things life throws at me right now, it's been busy times a gajillion. 

Long story short: I'm not myself. Feels like the Michelle Bachman version of me right now. All batshit, running in all directions, blathering nonsense, and on top of it all -- not really sleeping. S'not good.

Back in the US last month, I went to my first yoga class with friends. I was pretty impressed with how good I felt, despite being the "Problem Child" as my friend dubbed me because I didn't know what the hell I was doing. (In reality, she was just jealous that I got a 30sec. back massage from the teacher. I bite my thumb at you E, pffffffff.)
Copyright © Flickr by myyogaonline

In light of that discovery, I'm taking some new steps. Turning over a new yoga mat. And doing it publicly because, well... I know myself, if I don't do it here, I know I'll just quit tomorrow when the next issue arises and slap a gold star over my "third eye" for even thinking it up in the first place. I'm really curious to see if the hippy-dippy, chakra-reki, flowerchild crap really works.

So, break out your tea lights. Slip on the stretchpants. Let the 10-day OOOHHHHMMMMMmmmmmm Project COMMENCE!

The plan: Do at least 1 yogaglo.com meditation or yoga class per day to chill my ass the f*ck out.

Simple & easy. I'll be documenting the experience on here, starting with today's!

What I did:
I did this morning yoga routine, followed by 15 min. of "OOOOHHMMMMMMMM"ing in the shower.

Result:

Hmm. I feel surprisingly wonderful. My body is awake, my mind is calm. I've set some mental expectations for the day. Mental being "focused" and "open-minded" and not in the "WTF NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO THAT SUCKS, I SUCK, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO??" sense. Which I think is good.

Maybe a before-bed meditation is in order?


Motivation level:Very. Very very. If motivation were a stash of Halloween candy, mine pillow case would bust open. Feels great, glad my sleep-deprived mind is still capable of this kind of creativity, rather astonishing.


Other notes:Anyone else really f*cking hate downward-facing-dog pose? Dude. Kill your wrists much? Yowch. Maybe this gets better as your arm muscles develop or something.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Expat goodbyes suck as much as any.

©flickr By √oхέƒx™
A few friends have packed it up to go back to their homelands recently and for lack of a deep, emotionally and intellectually moving way of expressing this, I'll just say what I usually do... it f*cking blows man.

It's hard enough saying goodbye to home. Your friends, family, colleagues, dog, hamster, kitchen sink, etc etc are left behind. That's about as much fun as having your teeth drilled sans Novocaine while taking a math test with someone singing Depeche Mode off-key behind you to "set the mood". (I know. Pretty bad.) But, having friends over here is no easier imho:

1) You both love Paris.
Something happens when you meet expats here, a kind of... "Ahhh yes, I know how you feel" bond is formed about the city. You swap favorite addresses, try new places together and it's inevitable that you feel a certain attachment to those places with those people.

Then, they leave, and you go back to those places. Man, that sucks. There you are, missing people from your old home, and new one. Nothing to be done but bitch and moan to your expat buddies until *they* announce that their own departure from sanity and Paris.



2) You both hate Paris.
Another thing happens: you bitch about the French. Nahnahnahnah.... I love the French, so wag that finger at someone else. But, you can't tell me that you don't have an irrepressible urge to whine about them from time to time when you're an expat in Paris. Dahdahdah, ya do. Period.

Chalk it up to cultural differences, there's always something that will irk you, no matter your origin. The day will come when an atrocious thing (like walking in poo, or watching naked neighbors, or generally too much saliva) will happen to you that an expat friend told you about. All you want to do is go to your favorite bar, sip your favorite drink and bitch to them about how batshit crazy this world is and how you fully understand why people sometimes try to jump off the Eiffel Tower to get away from it.



3) You start sifting.
Paris is on everyone's bucket list, am I right? So people come and go. I've started asking "How long are you here for?" as a means to cope.

What I mean by this question is really something more like "If you turn out to be an awesome person and I want to you to be my BFF, are you going to rip my heart out, spit on it's still beating last moments, and then do the mexican hat dance around it by leaving 6 months after we buy matching necklaces??"

4) Another one bites the dust
Before you know it, you're wrackin'em up. One after another and you start thinking to yourself, "Damn. I've said more goodbyes here than I did at home". Total Paris Buzz-kill.

Any expats out there feeling this post?




Monday, October 24, 2011

Naturalist Neighbors (AKA: Pubes-R-Us)

© flickr by BeauB
I have some new neighbors in the hood. A young couple that have obviously never had a "vis-a-vis" (neighbors that can see into their windows). How do I know this you may ask? WELL. Let me explain.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I've seen them regularly making out on the bed, but that's not really the worst of it. I have seen my fair share of impetuous preliminaries on the streets of Paris. Who hasn't? It's practically a right of passage to see some tongue-baths in this town. Eventually, they get to more advanced techniques and draw the blinds. (Thank the lord.)

The worst part isn't the bedroom... it's their bathroom. (You see where I'm going with this.) In France the toilet is typically separate from the tub-area, and I cannot express how truly grateful I am for this custom. But the problem remains: I have a view of their tub-area.

Shockingly, this pair of unprudists have a curtain. What they don't have, is a fucking clue how to use it. It's strategically placed 1/2-way folded down. It's Pubes-R-Us over there.

Anon-nudists next door shower nightly, for which I'm very glad. Less stink on the metro is good for all. Unfortunately they spend an inordinate amount of time drying themselves in front of the window, where I have a front-row seat to the ass-crack show of a lifetime.

I could sell tickets to this, not kidding. The red-light district ain't got nothing on my neighbors. But that's the thing. You can't NOT look. It's like when someone says "Don't look!!". We all look, dammit.

There I was minding my bidness, and BAM. BUTT-IN-FACE time. That's not all. It's like I have this need to know whose butt I'm looking at. Guy? Girl? I can't tell half the time, they rock the bush, which just makes it intriguing because you don't want to turn away until you know just how much to be grossed out. It's sick right? It's sick. Blegh.

Next time they do this I might just start shouting at the open window, something like... "HEY NAKO, I CAN SEE YOUR CRACK!! YA WANNA DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?!". When they look out the window, I plan to innocently start looking at the other balconies and pretend it wasn't me. Shocked-face will be necessary, better start practicing that in the mirror.

I'm hoping they will eventually get the net, or I will eventually become so grossed out that I'll just stop looking. Neither has happened yet, I'll keep you posted.



Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ten Tips for Paris on a Budget

Please give a warm welcome to Leah from AnyTrip.com who is guest blogging on JNSQ this week! Just want to take a second to let readers know that AnyTrip is giving away several trips to Paris, and you still have time to participate! Just Like them on Facebook to enter! Good luck and thanks to AnyTrip for these great tips!

© flickr Moyan Brenn
The allure of the City of Lights can put a big hurt on your pocketbook if you are not careful, so check out these tips for how to have a blast without breaking the bank.

Cheap accommodations – Hostels are fine if you are just looking for a place to grab a shower and snooze but if you want to savor the atmosphere of a Paris neighborhood, check out weekly apartment rates or room rentals where you can cook and hang close to home to keep your out of pocket expenses low.

Learn the language – Don’t aspire to speak French like a native, but valiant efforts to address locals with articulate French phrases give you a chance of not being pegged as an uncouth tourist and therefore avoid the price gouging that goes with the label. Of course, learning how to understand their response is the second part of the equation…

Hit the outdoor markets before closing – Any good bargain hunter knows that vendors drop their prices drastically when it is time to pack up, so if you can refrain from shopping until closing time, you will be surprised how much more you’ll have for less money.

© Flickr Dimitry B.
Museum Pass – Even though there are many free museums to enjoy in Paris, the ones you write home about have hefty entrance fees so a Paris Museum Pass is your golden ticket to unlimited access to all 60 museums -- ideal for repeated visits so you can soak up your favorites.

Paris Visite Pass – Spare yourself the trauma of Paris’ notoriously wicked traffic by hopping aboard their excellent metro system with a Parise Visite Pass. The traveler’s card entitles you to unlimited rides for a single price for a set amount of time – but note the passes are divided into zones so city-wide excursions require multiple passes. What’s really cool is that the pass automatically qualifies you for discounts in stores, restaurants, and sightseeing venues as well as the many seasonal events.

Cheap dining - Learning to eat cheap in Paris requires a bit of discipline but with fortitude you can indulge decadent food fantasies without facing sticker shock. The street vendors have rock bottom prices for crepes and pizzas while the cost of sit-down restaurants like Chartier, Chez Gladines and Au Petit Grec comes as a pleasant surprise.

Luggage and bags – Keeping track of your stuff is tough enough when you travel, but Paris is notorious for pick pockets and purse snatchers, so arrange your attire so you carry your valuables close to your body and just have purses and bags to carry incidental items. Simple but sturdy luggage with locking zippers is the best idea; anything too flashy just makes a juicy target.


© Flickr Aitor Escauriaza
Stay away from tourist traps – As in any popular destination, everything from food to souvenirs cost more the closer you are to the main attractions. By setting a firm resolution not to be tempted by the obvious bait, you’ll find your spending money will stretch much further.


Ask for advice - It is surprising how people love to share their insider knowledge of bargains, so by asking the right question at the right time you could well land a sweet deal. Be alert for opportunists, but don’t be shy about relying on the kindness of strangers.


Buy your own booze – Drinking cocktails and buying bottles of wine with dinner can jack up the bottom line in no time. By keeping your own supply tucked in a handy flask you can catch a buzz for a fraction of the price.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What if we stopped talking about the weather?

You: Wow! Summer = over.
Me: Uh-huh.
You: Already?
Me: Yes.
You: It's like, what???
Me: I know.
You: But? Seriously, it's crazy.
Me: Mmm-hmm. Indeed.
You: Yeah, like, just yesterday it was so warm.
Me: Imma about to shove my fingers up your nostrils until I touch the part of your brain that is making you act so retarded and POKE the SHIT out of it. Fair warning.
You: But like, it's so cold out?


(you know what comes next)

Yep. It was a great summer. Full of beauty and love and RAIN and friends and food and RAIN and bike rides and picnics and cold breezes and RAIN. Did I mention rain? One thing I'm tired of hearing is this whole, wow it's so cold & crappy out schtick. I just got back from vacay myself. The change from swimming in 80 degree aqua waters and basking in the golden rays of sun from a clear blue sky so gorgeous you start believing in God, to the gray skies of Paris in its dirty, honking, frowning, black-wearing glory is obvious enough without you telling me about it every 10 seconds. (Le sigh, I miss me some aqua waters and infinity pools.)

Don't get me wrong, I love talking about the weather with you... actually. You didn't get me wrong. It's more boring than the chitchat I had with my dentist about why her gear gets clogged. (Have you ever wished someone would give you knock out gas more?)

I feel like giving Paris one big collective bitch-slap into reality, because if my last 6yrs here are any sign of the times, I can tell you this:

1) Summers are full of rain god dammit. Rain, rain, glorious rain. This isn't London, but just get the net already, it's not f@%#ing Ibiza either. You will have rain at least 45% of every month. Can we get on with our lives and discuss something more interesting now?

2) There is the occasional sunny day. It will strike when you've finally put away your sandals and picnic basket. Yes, God is laughing at you. They are rare and beautiful and they happen once every two weeks or so. So don't put away the sandals, just ... don't plan picnics either. They need to be spontaneous, and uncomplicated. You could follow in the footsteps of my friend Richard (bless him) who just brings random food from his fridge that everyone's afraid to eat -- it certainly gave us something better to talk about than the weather, it was flat out awesome lol.

3) Then there are those 2 days every July when the sun decides it wants you-kababs and needs to cook your ass until it's sizzling and you actually wish for death to not be so hot anymore. Cold showers are a solution, or your local public piscine is another. You know what doesn't help you cool off? Flappin' yer gums about how damn hot you are.

If I permit myself to make these comments, it's because I used to live in Wisconsin. I can't really imagine weather more detestably cold or hot than in that state. We have it *great* over here in Paris. That is all.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Best-Kept Boutique Secret in Paris

Yes... after a long hiatus, I have return-ed. Sorry to leave you hanging for a while, was busy writing all kinds of professional content over here and preparing a big fat conference, and didn't have much time for fun-blogging!

But, now that life is getting back to some semblance of normality, here's the post I promised! 

Cross-posting from here so you get the net, so go read on Girl's Guide to Paris.

Enjoy the details about this truly amazing shop with my interview with the owner, and please, go check it out. 

It is *SICK*, I love it more than I can say.
xx S

Shop details:
Address: 20 rue Delambre 75014 Paris

PS: The shop is going to be turned into an amazing art exhibit for Mathew Rose called "God and Country" starting Aug 30th, check details here or watch the interview by the lovely Eve Jackson here to hear from the artist himself!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Coming up...

A blog on my latest favorite address in Paris... my best kept secret shop! Stay tuned!! (Eh-hem, TEASE TEASE TEASE, you're going to love this)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Confessions of an Expatriate on the Fourth of July

Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower © Irene
Here's a guestblog I did for Girl's Guide to Paris, cross posting a bit here but there's a lot more including some ideas to celebrate Bastille Day in Paris -- click here to read the rest!

I have to admit it to you all, these last five years have drastically affected my celebrations of the Fourth of July and Bastille Day in Paris. Who’d have imagined that I, lover of all things that explode, would one day not observe the Fourth of July, only to have it replaced by the French independence day? How blasphemous is that for a true-blue American in Paris?

Back in the day I was one of those flag-headband-wearing morons, whooping and hollering, oohing and aahing during the national holiday, and how I long to be that idiotic again. But alas, nary a flag headband is to be found on this side of the pond, or if they exist, they’re well hidden from the likes of me! It was just so lonely waving my little American flag around the office that I gave up on the Fourth of July altogether, and I really tried not to think about what I was missing.

But this year I plan to change all that. I will still have to forgo the fireworks on the Fourth itself, and do without the ridiculous head attire, but by God I shall celebrate no less enthusiastically than my compatriots back home!

No more shall I be an “ex-patriot” expatriate! Why this change of heart, you ask? I suppose I owe it to my American friends here. They’ve inspired me to enjoy the day, since I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one longing to go to a park and crack open a beer.

It’s the heart (and hops) that counts, not the headwear, right? To me, the very best way to enjoy any holiday is with family and friends. Since the fam won’t be joining, I think we’ll all have to drink their share of Miller and eat their portion of fried chicken and watermelon. Patriotism demands sacrifice. I never said this would be easy.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Feature: The French Office & how to survive it

I’ve thought long & hard, (that’s what she said), about posting this. I’ve had so many recent conversations about this subject I felt compelled to send this out into the void at the risk of making some generalizations. When I arrived here, I was such an idiot, in so many ways. I made all the mistakes below, and more. Ugh. I shudder to think at how ridiculous I must have seemed... or, well probably still do seem lol.

I’m adding a disclaimer in light of the above:

The following is based on my personal experiences and each company, depending on its size, location and make up, will behave differently. I don’t advocate sweeping-statements about cultures or people in general, but that said, you may relate to some of these situations and if so, I hope that the advice based on my own reactions is helpful to you. Take it with a grain of salt ;)

------

So, you've done it! You’ve moved to France and by some miracle, landed a job that will give your life meaning and line your pockets cash! Yay, good for you! That, already, is some feat. Before you get too excited, be prepared for some cultural differences, good and bad, that will make this experience unlike any job you've had in the States.

1. Professional Distance
You. Are. The. Job. Professional distance is a biggie. Just as you can expect French friends to take longer to warm up to you, your colleagues may not give you the welcome you expect from day one. In France, people probably won't ask you how your kids are, wait, in fact, most don’t give a rat's ass if you have a family and probably prefer you not mention it.

They're there to work, not to make friends. The good side of this is that you don't get the opportunity to play favorites with someone based on their personal life. Theoretically, you're judged on your work. Theoretically.

The downside to that distance is that it makes it really hard to connect with colleagues. Everyone seems, to me, to be in their own little bubbles and not really concerned with the emotional investments and motivations people harbor for their pet projects.

Tip: Hang in there. Unless your company is populated with douchebags, you'll slowly but surely integrate. Don't be offended, it's not you, it's them.

2. Perceptions of Hierarchy
Nobody likes a cocky noob. Though this goes without saying in any company, I think it goes double for French companies. Status is very important in this culture. By this I mean both hierarchy and seniority. You should be aware of your 'place’, it’s key to not pissing everybody off.

I know from experience that if you waltz in with all the answers, you will be despised no matter how helpful your insights might be. You may get advice claiming you need to disregard the opinions of others to gain respect, but I don’t think that’ll get you very far. All people enjoy being listened to, and having their ideas considered. I’ve been in situations where that just *doesn’t happen* with French bosses, and I think as expats, that might make us stand out more as mangers.

Tip: Even if you were hired to shake things up, it's important to ease into your job, listen more than you speak at first and you'll ruffle fewer feathers. You can't revolutionize the French workplace over night. Question co-workers to get the low-down on who to 'vous' (formally address) and who you can 'tu' (informally address). That will help you to avoid an embarrassing faux-pas, AND give you the low-down on who the status-mongers are from the get-go. Be sure to treat the 'vous' people with kid-gloves when it comes to their ego or you may regret it!

3. Positive Reinforcement
I’ve heard that from day one in French schools students are taught that they’re not good enough. They colored outside the lines, they misspelled the word 'immatriculation' - whatever the teacher can criticize, he or she will without hesitation. In my opinion, this explains a lot about the thanklessness in the office.

I think of it this way: your boss is not there to encourage you to work well, but rather discourage poor performance.

Tip: Be realistic about this cultural difference and learn to pat yourself on the back. When the French do dole out a few kind words, write them in a notebook and break them out on days you feel you deserve them most. Or, do like me, and find some expats you can complain to, that’ll make you feel better ;)

4. Benefits & Their Evil Twin, Taxes
Time to sit back and stroke your golden goose, France has a benefits program that will make your toes curl. The healthcare options are outstanding. Being American, I appreciate this even more. It’s a great comfort to know that the financial burden of being ill has been lifted. Having kids also brings another bundle of joy -- tax reductions and government checks!

The greatest gift of them all has to be the vacation: five weeks plus twelve RTT days are enough to make anyone jump for joy!! However, nothing is free, and the taxes you'll pay to enjoy all those fabulous benefits will likely make your smile turn upside-down.

Tip: Two words: Monthly. Payments. The first time I had to pay taxes in France, it was a lump sum deal. It felt like someone was ripping my heart out of my asshole signing that check!! Splitting the checks in twelfths was a hell of a lot easier.


5. Meeting Etiquette
Meetings are a whole other ball of wax on the other side of the pond. The Parisian faction are fashionable, and believe strongly in being fashionably late. Be warned, you will consistently be calling people to be sure they show up to your meetings. This is completely normal, even if it makes my 'merican head stoke out.

The rules are just not the same, and sometimes you just have to cope with the hand you're dealt and try to find a balance between how your Frenchie colleagues react to your promptness, and what you can stand.

Tip: Let your colleagues know how you operate if you're the one organizing. Give them the lowdown from day one to avoid aggravation/surprise when they show up 20 minutes late and you're pissed off. Expect them to show up early? Tell them straight out. Willing to bend a little? Let them know what you're willing to accept, so that if they show up later, you can kindly remind them... in front of the others. (A little ego-check never hurt!)

6. Hours
Americans have an entirely different outlook on what constitutes a work day. More often than not, we go in early to get out early, but in France, people don’t think the early bird gets the worm. Most people mosey on into their offices around nine-thirty or ten am, and head back home around seven-thirty or eight.

A ten hour day for a 35hr work week? Et oui! That's because lunch will be at least an hour or even and hour and a half long and breaks are frequent. What your French colleagues *may* lack in productivity is made up for in conviviality ;)

Tip: Follow their lead as far as hours go and take breaks with colleagues to better know them. Not eating with your crew will put a big fat 'outsider' label on your back from day one and hinder your integration. If you don't dig eating with your colleagues every day, try to make it a point to go with them at least once a week so they don't get hard feelings.


7. Hiring/Firing Practices
Getting a job in France is no simple task, even if you have a work visa. For expats it means finding someone willing to overlook your French language flaws, cultural faux-pas, and most importantly, the fact that you aren't French, and trust that despite all these 'drawbacks', you just might be competent one day (after months of their condescending tutelage).

What makes this process even more difficult is how hard it is to fire someone here. Sometimes I think having to fire someone is what the French fear most. It is the culmination of someone's failure to judge the employee's abilities, and who likes to admit they're a poor judge? Certainly not French management. It's also a ginormous legal hassle, full of proving, discussing, documenting, blah blah blah, shoot-me-now kind of crap. So, obviously, no one likes this part either.

Tip: Don't be surprised when you have ten hours of interviews and a cavity search before getting the nod. Also patience is a key trait to master since sooner or later you'll be stuck with a dud who can't be sent packing because it deflates someone's ego or would make some waves. Your future French boss might also be provocative during the interview, expect questions that are meant to shake you up, try to keep your cool. (I’ve had this happen to me, and heard it from a lot of friends, American or otherwise.)


8. Quitting Practices & your CV (resume)
Everyone has their limits. Sometimes you take a job and give it your all, only to find that it just doesn't fit. However, before you hit the road, there are a couple of things you should consider.

The French don't like flighty employees. “Duh, who does?” you’re saying. I know, I know. But in the US, at least in my case, it was better tolerated. Almost all my interviews here had a “Wow, you’ve changed jobs a lot” moment and my American bosses never seemed to blink at that fact. Stability is a huge asset, and if you move around too much, you're risking your rep’.

The second thing to think about is the 'demissionaire' phase (quitting period). Unlike in the states, two weeks is not an option. Three months is a typical notice period for a 'cadre' status, and in non-cadre situations it depends on your contract and can vary but is usually a month or so.

Tip: If you’ve got ants in your pants, try to negotiate your departure using vacation time to shorten the amount you have to work before leaving. Study your options before quitting, know your rights and the rules associated with your "Convention Collective" (see next point for more info on this). You might even be eligible to search for a new job on company time, or give less notice, or make a mutual break of the contract to obtain other benefits. Knowing these things in advance helps the process go smoothly and more to your advantage.

9. Collective Conventions
This documentation is a must read. It describes for all types of work in France the benefits and limitations like vacation days, your rights if you should quit or be laid off, etc. A quick google search will lead you to legifrance.gouv.fr where you can read this information for free (in French).

Tip: Know people in your field? Pick their brains! Still unsure? You could ask HR if no other option is available during your interview. As a noob, they might overlook your lack of knowledge in that area and fill you in.

10. M vs F
Break out time machine, you're going to take a trip back to 1950. In the U.S. if a man kissed my cheeks, told a dirty joke, called me beautiful and then asked me to get him a coffee, I'd probably pour it on his unmentionables and contact my nearest sexual harassment lawyer.

But I'm not in the U.S. I'm in France, where it's not offensive, it's "charming" and expected. Get used to some banter that would be deemed inappropriate according to American standards. Although many expect this will evolve and become less frequent due to the DSK incident, I think it's ingrained in their culture and fully expect it to continue on the sly.

(Note: of course you should use your own judgement about what feels acceptable to you. If you feel uncomfortable, bring it up with HR or your boss. My point is, they don't have the same standard of comfort here, and not to get your panties in a twist at the first incident because the intention may not be to harass you.)

Also expect to fight for your authority. Women do not enjoy the same commanding presence in France, much to my dismay.

Tip: Don't let the jerks belittle you or boss you around. If you're female, you've got to find a passive-aggressive way to put them in their place without totally f-ing their ego in front of other people unless you are looking to get a "bitch" label slapped on your back. And learn to laugh at the 'charming' personalities as long as you feel OK with it.





BONUS:

I have heard this question a lot lately: "I'm bumping heads with my French boss a lot, what do I do? nothing works!?"... Here are a few things I've noticed about French bosses and am sharing in hopes that it may help...

5 Management Do's & Don't's

- Don't work better/harder than your boss. Insecurity can be a real issue. One trick I used to use was to make my boss think that the idea I want to implement was his/hers and that I just added to it, or perfected it. Then I get recognition without hurting someone’s ego.

- Don’t be disrespectful towards them. This might seem obvious to you, and you should treat your boss with respect regardless, but it's even more important in France. Think twice about snarky jokes or sarcasm.

- Don't compromise your ideals. You can tell your boss you disagree, just don't do it every day or they'll get seriously annoyed with you and you'll earn a "trouble-maker" label. Pick your battles wisely, go after the ones that will make the biggest difference in your happiness at work.

- Do be a “yes” person. In my opinion, management here has to deal with some downer personalities compared to the typical American employee. I think they appreciate the can-do American attitude.

- Do take initiative. They seem to like it when you propose ideas, as long as they're not *too* out of the box. You may frighten them to death if it's too innovative (see first point!)

- Do be patient. Since your hire represents a big risk for your manager, try to keep that in mind when he or she doesn’t trust you over night.


Please, add your own tips, comments, ideas, "shannon you're full of shit"'s, etc in the comments :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why I blame Hollywood if I get cold-feet...

Raise your hand if you think this is going to be ironic in a few years: My first post about contemplating motherhood is the product of a nightmare involving the anti-christ.

Oh dear god I cannot get this image out of my head this morning: little blond baby, adorable as can be, sitting on my husbands shoulders... and his head doing a 360-spin with wide, evil, red eyes and a really scary grin. It looked *just* like Chucky, except for the red hair. Sweet Jesus, I am so damn scared of having kids now. SCREW YOU SUBCONSCIOUS!!

My husband and I have been married for some time in young-people-terms. Five years have flown by at lightning speed. Feels like just yesterday I was arriving in PARIS, to live with the man I love, to leave my entire WORLD behind, to boldly throw myself into the great unknown. I had to try this life on to see how it fit.

I feel like I'm on the verge of going down that road again since we're now talking about chillins'. Except this demonic little head-spinning vision playing in the back of my mind is not really... comforting.

God this is such a *huge* decision. I'm going to warn you now, this isn't the first time we've talked about it, I've been saying for years now, "maybe it's time we started a family, eh?"... some how it keeps getting put off.

First it was because we were moving to Paris & wanted to get settled. Then it was because I wanted to get my career rolling. Then it was because I found all these great expats, and just wasn't ready to give up my cocktail-fancy-free-social life. Always something.

Now there's no good reason to delay, and given how much I LOVE my nephew and feel this maternal need to protect him as if he were my own, I think I've made all the babysteps toward progress possible. Still... be prepared to read a year from now, that we've decided to wait. Again. And then my mother in law and mom will heave weepy sighs, and cross their arms in disappointment. I say I want to now, but when the time comes I fear cold feet will strike again. Thank you, Chuck.

In the mean time, I'm trying to boogie as much as possible. Dinners, book clubs, parties, you name it, I'm doin' it. I some how feel like my "free" life is going to end. Like, the baby will be this boss who will frown at me and send my social agenda to its room for a time out. An 18-yr time out.

Can't wait to read this post again a year from now though, wonder what I'll be thinking? Maybe by then I'll be heavily involved in an expat-mommy-scene. That could be rad. Hopefully they'll convince me that my future-baby will miraculously not be the spawn of beelzebub. I'm a little afraid of what my nightmares will be when I'm preggo if just talking about it brings satanic imagery to mind -- yeash.

Monday, June 6, 2011

WTF Wednesday: The DSK Effect isn't working fast enough.

So, funny thing happened on the way to Denver a couple of weeks ago. I realized more than ever, my husband is soooo right. When it comes to men... Don't talk to them. Don't look at them. Whatever you do, don't you f-ing DARE smile at them. In fact, pretend their faces are covered in their own stomach sauce if you want to survive emotionally unscathed. Of course, the minute I diverge one solitary step from the path of righteousness, I am given a 2.5hr lesson in mid-air discomfort.

The French and American cultures are not made from the same molds. When an American man sees me see him, he seems to be thinking "Hmm. Someone looked at me. Moving on.". When I glance for a fraction of a millisecond at a French man who notices, no matter what age, 18 - 80, it's as if Barry White starts playing in his mind and he's trying to figure out how to discreetly, but not too subtly, invite me back to his apartment where he'll douse himself in "Sex Panther", (you know what they say, 60% of the time...), and see where it goes from there. What IS that??

In short, I have learned the hard way that a friendly smile is interpreted as a whole different kind of friendly on this side of the Atlantic.

These are assumptions, based on cultural clichés, stereotypes, and personal experiences, which I realize is unfair to all those who are not at all this way. I don't want to make the case that *all* French men are perves -- this is far from true. The assumptions can get you into trouble, and not just French assumptions. I assssssumed, that American men were all on the up & up. Guess Again!

When a "nice" man struck up a conversation with me on the plane, his American accent didn't scare me off. I thought, screw silence, I have another 5hrs ahead of me on this flight, he's not French... I'm going to chit chat dammit!

We chatted. We talked about politics, about DSK who had just been arrested the day before, and numerous other chit-chatty things. Really, it was pretty classic plane-stranger-conversation, no red flags as far as I was concerned. I even talked about my husband and how happily married I am.

Unfortunately, I had to chose *that* day, to be seated next a moron of such epic proportions that he has earned his own blog. Normally, if someone is talking about how in love they are with their spouse, you wouldn't make an inappropriate proposition. Such was not his case. (F***wit)

I swear, for just a moment, I thought I was a victim of candid camera. I looked around, waiting for a stewardess to jump out from behind the first class curtain and laugh hysterically at me, but, alas, this was no laughing matter. Seconds lingered in the air uncomfortably. I felt like I was reading his mind. He seemed much like a flasher who realized he'd left his clothes on under his trench, but was stuck in a crowd and unable to escape with his flash-ee stuck behind him in line. Eventually I managed to politely turn down the offer to "rest" between flights. (Eeeeew, still gives me the heebie-jeebies.)

All over France, documentaries and newspapers are talking about the "DSK effect". They're postulating that the treatment of women, the innuendo and harassment will no longer be tolerated because of this historic arrest. Yeah. I'm still waiting for the effect to sink in.

In the mean time, the lung-butter-mask option works. I suggest you go with it until the rest of mankind gets with the program.

Has this ever happened to you? Share your grease-ball story in comments :)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pointless bullshit, but really funny pointless bullshit.

Our version of the film poster looks like this.
I'm chillin' with my brother and my SIL in Denver, we're half... no three-quarters wasted on white wine... and we're watching... wait for it...

 BURLESQUE!!!!!


Why? I don't.. know. But it's fun. We're having a rough night. In my family, the way we deal with rough nights is to make fun of shit. MST3k style.

Here is what we said during this film, I call it... "Burlesque should've said". It's all the lines that should've been in this movie.

All the Burlesque Should've Said lines, have "BSS:" in front of them, and I've included a phrase of context. Enjoy.

(Ali and Eyeliner-man asking each other intimate questions)
"Why'd you leave Kentucky?"
"Why'd you leave Iowa?"
BSS: "Why'd you leave this apartment?"
BSS: "I didn't."
BSS: "I wish you would".



(Ali and Eyeliner-man talking about apartments)
"You have no where to go, and I have a couch" 
BSS: "And, eyeliner."

(Tess talking to random dancer who is throwing up in a toilet)
"Oh god, please have the flu."

BSS: "I have the 9 Month Flu."

(Sean watching Ali's audition)
"I couldn't keep my eyes off her..."
BSS: "Especially when she did the cat paws"

(Tess and Ali after the first show)
"Where are all the other girls?"
"Oh... they went out for pizza... I wasn't hungry." (looking at Tess)
BSS: "Because I looked at your face... it actually made me sick."

(doing make up for the first time at Burlesque)
"Oh... WOW..."
BSS: "Now you just need all the fat sucked out of your eyelids."

(dancing & singing for the first time)
"I need a tough lover"
BSS: "And someone who isn't afraid of my head which is exponentially bigger than the rest of my body, except for my ginormous gazungas."

(after the first show where she sang)
"What made you do that?"
"Who knew anyone could do that?"
"How did you do that?"
BSS: "Someone else just say 'do that'"


(Tess talking to her business partner)
"You have a lotta good qualities, and then you have some iffy qualities,"
BSS: "And then there are all of your shitty qualities, don't get me started."


(blowing out candles)
BSS: "I bought you this lip liner for your birthday, please wear it exactly one centimeter larger than your actual lips."


(Ali driving in a car with GERBER, aka: worst name for a male lead ever)
"Ahhh, where are you taking me? This is *not* the way to my house."
BSS: "Are you going to rape me?"


(out on the deck at a party, Gerber talking to Ali)
"What's your wildest dream?"
BSS: "I can make all your half-naked baby-food-eating dreams come true."

(Crumpling final notice)
BSS: "No need to worry about this foreclosure notice... again"

(Tess, getting ready to sing...)
"Ok let's do this."
BSS: "Even though I look like a blue-skinned-zombie, and I literally have *no teeth*."

(Tess singing)
"Oh no, I'm not going nowhere"
BSS: "Because I'm stomping in place... again"

(After male lead comes out naked to eat cookies, then goes back in his room, closes the door & turns off the light)
BSS: (door opens again, dressed in black pants) "I put on these black leather pants in the dark for you."

(Tess & Ali fighting)
"Do you ever listen to anything but the sound of your own voice??"
BSS: (cher singing) "Yesss I doooooo, believe in Love... and, the sound of my own voice."


Ok there were a lot more laughs, but seriously, I'm too tired from cracking up to put the rest in here.

Special Bonus:
People we think should've been cast in this movie...
- Elizabeth Berkley as Tess
- Ludacris as Mr. Tess
- Sean Connery as Gerber
- Tiger Woods cameo as the sound guy (or... his creepy self)
- Mr. Belding as a really sad drunk Mr. Belding who rides on Gerber's coat tails
- A bald eagle wearing leather lederhosen and breast tassels as a back up dancer.
- Jason Segel as creepy guy who leers from stage left.
- Keenan from SNL as Bill Cosby
- Sad Keanu... as ... well, Sad Keanu. That would be pretty damn cool.


Who would you cast? Now taking suggestions for auditions.

Friday, May 13, 2011

French Friday – A Passion for Paris with Je Ne Sais Quoi

Andi from www.misadventureswithandi.com has been compiling Parisian Passion for some time! I was thrilled when she asked if I would join the ranks of countless bloggers who share their undying love for this amazing place, and some of their favorite hot spots!


Why do I love Paris? You might as well ask me to fly to the moon… I wouldn’t know where to begin. I do know, that I’ve loved it since I was little. Although, it wasn’t love at first sight when I arrived for good.

I have photos of me as a kid, missing teeth, pigtails and all, wearing t-shirts with “France” and “Paris” and “Oh la la!!” plastered all over them. Despite my adolescent predisposition to love all things French, I had to warm up to it when I moved here. It was surprising. I thought I would blend in with the French, that my language skills would make me fit the mold that seemed destined to be mine since I learned to sing “Frère Jaques”… how naive I was. I’m about as American as they come, and a move wasn’t going to change that.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Five Stages of Post-OBL Grief

Photo credit: Emily Berl for The New York Times
For once, I'm doing a serious blog, sorry for those of you expecting a laugh or a poop joke -- you're bound to be disappointed; but maybe you'll keep reading anyway.

They say that when you grieve, you go through 5 emotional stages. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. I didn't expect that I would feel them about, of all people, Bin Laden.


Denial.


While I slept half way across the world in Paris, something amazing happened: US forces found and killed Bin Laden.

My first reaction to this was disbelief. It's been such a long battle. So many lives have been lost in the search for this... beast. I couldn't fathom that after nearly 10 years, the puppet of hate had been silenced. It just felt unreal. It had to be a hoax, someone must be behind this, still pulling the strings.

But the more I read and watched this morning
it slowly sunk in.

Anger.


While I obviously felt many other things, namely relief, anger started to emerge as the dominant emotion. I saw Americans celebrating, showing their asses on TV, screaming at the camera with wide smiles and tongues hanging out like lap dogs, and generally... well, sounding ignorant.

I'm pretty pissed off about the media coverage in France. I didn't expect a nation-wide party, and I'm sure that's not what's really happening. Not in the majority at least. Of course, there are some who are going to get drunk, and wave a flag, and celebrate like it's the fourth of July... but I didn't feel that way at all.

My thoughts were so far from that it's ridiculous. I was thinking of the families who lost loved ones and friends in the towers and in the wars. I thought of all the sacrifice and pain and humiliation the US has suffered.

I'd like to think I'm not the only one. Surely, people who have lived through that loss, were having a moment of silent reflection?

But I guess that doesn't make for very good television because all I saw from Paris was a bunch of hootin' and hollerin'. At least no one showed their boobs.


Bargaining.
Tonight while watching the news
I found myself thinking... "Please, please someone, anyone, show a vigil, show some people who are not acting like they're at a frat party. Don't let this be the only image of Americans that the world has to evaluate our culture..." Alas, my pleas fell on deaf TV executive's ears.

Merci Paris, t'as capturé la drame, mais pas la bonne.


Depression.
Then I just felt plain old sad. Sad that this is how people see my culture, this is what will remain in the archives of the reaction to the single most significant military action in my life time. A bunch of kids, partying in the street like they'd just won the $25M bounty on his head.

Sad that due respect wasn't paid to the people who deserved justice the most.


Acceptance.
I'm starting to come to terms with it. Beginning to accept that what I at first perceived as an inappropriate celebration, others may see as a sign of hope.

I watched the president's speech. Watched it again. And felt a few small ripples of happiness myself, though it was accompanied by a smidge of guilt. Obama's speech was solemn, yes, but it was also hopeful. I think I even glimpsed a bit of a smile at times that he was probably trying hard to suppress.

Maybe it's good for America to find its smile, good for Americans to make peace with the situation and to let out their collective steam.

Still, I wish the sober, thoughtful, respectful side of of Americans had had equal portrayal on this side of the world.
The print media was much more dignified, and the coverage of ground zero that I saw online made me feel a lot better.

I think it's still sinking in for me, and maybe when it does fully, I'll raise a glass too... but not to Bin Laden's death. He doesn't deserve my attention.

I'll raise my glass to the soldiers. To the lost ones. To their families. To the persistence and courage and love of democracy that my country fights to uphold. But not to the execution itself. To that, I'll dedicate an exhale.


How did you feel?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Metro Oddities part III: 3 safety tips on Paris trains + bonus I'm an old hag story

photo credit flickr: Estro
Back in the states I was, for lack of a better word, badass. I took a kickboxing/karate class five times a week. I did push ups. I crunched my innards until they looked like an ice-cube tray. I was a buff little karate-chopping midget.

I was also twenty-three years old and got out of work by five at the latest. Now I'm a wrinkling, asthmatic wod of flabbery, who can't seem to stop working before 2am and hasn't felt running shoes on her feet in a coon's age. (Bonus points if you can tell me how long that is, because I've no idea. Sounds long though doesn't it?)

My life has become a series a of getting out of and sitting back down into chairs. When I move, a percussion concerto of cracking joints remind me that I'd probably throw my back out if I added sit-ups to my morning routine. I'm officially settling into frumpy-old-hag mode.

Honestly, I think my only current defense option is a manicure. By the by, I hate breaking a nail.

All of these defense deficiencies made the events a few months ago much more terrifying.

Standing at the platform of the RER I wondered how late and/or early the train would be. It was a typical night, I had worked a twelve-hour day and my brains had turned into soup. There were a few scattered women flipping mags or typing on phones. None of us much concerned with our surroundings.

Somehow, despite the sloshing lack of intellect, I noticed a suspicious character lurking in the doorway of the arriving train. He sported a hoodie in ninety-degree weather. Obvi up to no good. We crossed paths as I climbed into the car. I could almost hear the Dirty Harry pan flute and harmonica.

He eyed my purse like it was the holy grail. When he finally managed to pull his eyes off my bag I tried to give him my signature, "Touch this and I'll ... Well, we both know I'm not capable of doing anything about it, but I'll be madder than an expat waiting in line at the prefecture."

By some miracle, I seemed to have intimidated hoodie-thug. He averted his eyes and I felt I was in the clear for the moment.

Key words being: for the moment.

About ten seconds later the buzzer began warning us all, and he bolted through the corridor, grabbing the bag of the girl right in front of me. RIGHT IN FRONT. She made a sound like he'd just stepped on her tail, and his attempt failed, he fled the train.

The other women and I checked on the almost-victim, she was OK, no harm done, just a bit shaken. But it got me to thinking... could've been me. Why wasn't it?

Here are three tips to help you avoid this situation:

1) Check yoself, befo you wreck yoself.
We all get distracted in the metro. It's boring, it's loud, it's hot, and if you follow my husband's instructions "don't look at anyone or talk to anyone", you're not going to see these "bad guys". He's partially right. Don't talk to anyone. Don't stare anyone down, you whore, but don't be oblivious either.

2) Got passengers?
Don't get on an empty train late at night. It sounds obvious, but really, don't. People get hurt in empty trains at night, it's just a fact of living in a big city, so be smart and ride the train early when it's full of sweaty and/or smelly people. Your nose will hate you, but your ass will be secure.

3) Sit bitch.
Don't sit near the doors. It's an invitation to get your purse nabbed and freak you out so badly you yelp like a puppy. Sitting in the middle and around other people is the safest place to be on the train.

Ride safely people!
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