Published: January 17th 2011January 17th 2011
Taking sleds up the gondola and sledding down was quite popular here. They had a nice course for it too.
To continue a bit with the now ancient winter vacation, En Suisse
My sister and I left my parents to celebrate New Year’s Eve on their own in London, and travelled with our uncle to his home in the suburbs of Geneva, Switzerland. The mandate was to do some skiing somewhere nearby. The mountains are never far in Switzerland, so there were plenty of options. A friend of our cousin’s came thru, offering to let us stay in his châlet in La Tzoumaz, in the Valais canton (like a state) of Switzerland. So we arrived on Jan 2 in the morning and got on the slopes immediately. One thing that was interesting is that their tickets are cards with an RFID, and no personnel are on staff to check lift tickets as they can automatically let you through the turnstiles guarding the lifts. Seems pretty efficient. On the other hand, the lift lines are a free for all, with no real structure until you are ready to board, where they divide you into lanes. The result is that people can and will cut in front of you if you leave any space open, so you need to get friendly
Swiss Snow Dog
Awesome Swiss dog in the snow-patrol
with your neighbor and mash in. Cheese
The Swiss give the French a good run for their money on love of cheese. I had fondue and raclette (like fondue except with potatoes as the cheese receptacle) for dinner while here, and a lot of extraneous cheese as well. Prices
Switzerland seems to be a very expensive place, at least for travellers from abroad. They are not in the EU, and use the Swiss franc as currency, which is about 1:1 with the US dollar right now. We went into a Starbucks which was charging like $9 for venti size drinks, and a McDonalds charging $10 for their Caesar salad. My cousins informed me that minimum wage here is something like $16-17 an hour, so I guess even lower class workers can afford to buy some of this from time to time. Their taxes here are also not so high, but education is largely public, and Universities are dirt cheap. Not quite sure how they pull that off. Skiing was not too bad tho, with a good lift ticket costing about $60. Back to France
After Switzerland, my sister and I headed back to Paris, and she had
Upscale McDonald's baby.
to depart that day back to the US. I hunted for an elusive Paris gym. Exercise is not so popular here, and my school's weight room is only open for a few hours a day, and only when a class is going on with a trainer to oversee you so that you don't drop a weight on your neck or something. Plus you need a doctor's exam even to use it, and the location is not convenient for me, so I said screw it and found a place next to my office. Its not a big gym, and is costing me 90 Euros a month, which is a robbery, but whatever, the location is great, the hours are good, and I don't need a doctor's note. Women in Math
As a broad sweeping generalization, I will say that in Europe, the ratio of women to men in math is much higher than in America, that is if you count only the Americans who are enrolled in mathematics graduate programs in America. This is especially true in France. I was convinced of this before even coming here, but being here has only confirmed it. In fact, the recent conference that
Cafe de McCafe
For a mere 8 dollars, you too could have a McCafe
I attended here in Paris showed that there are even some women in financial math, a field in which I have never encountered an American born girl at the graduate or professor level. It seems like this difference between America and France/Europe must be cultural, unless you believe that inherent man-woman math ability or interest is differently skewed across the sexes for Americans – who themselves have a lots of European DNA – than for Europeans. I think this is a very farfetched hypothesis, and my subjective cultural observations also convince me that America is somehow not a culturally attractive environment for women to study math compared to other things.
I personally like having some women in the field, and some of them are very good. As an example, there was one hell of a talk on commodities markets by this French woman, probly around 55 or 60 years old (I found a pic!
altho this outfit is definitely less spectacular), who showed up like she was ready to walk the runway in a Paris fashion show. She was wearing some ridiculous hat and glasses, along with a chic outfit. Her manner was incredibly brusk no nonsense. She also
The UN in Geneva is trying to make some kind of statement with this. I don't know what that statement is.
sounded like she had had a few too many espressos. Think of the boss lady depicted in Devil Wears Prada, but nicer. Her talk was highly entertaining, and good from what I could tell. This was definitely a pleasant refreshment in the middle of a bunch of math talks. Speedo obligatoire
I checked out our local pool here in Orly. I always swim with a snorkel, because I never learned to shut off my nose passage when breathing, so it’s really my only viable option. Some nanny-state pools have harassed me about it, including UCSB, claiming preposterously that it is somehow a drowning hazard. I mean come on, it allows me to breath underwater, what could be further from potential drownage!? So I was worried that France, being the nanny state it is in some ways, would harass me about it. Sure enough, the lifeguard on duty came over just as I was getting into the pool, trying to tell me something. Turns out tho, it was nothing about my snorkel, but my California board-short style swim suit was apparently not chic enough for France. She wanted me to wear a maillot traditionnelle, aka a speedo, or something equally
Switzerland gets a star in my book for allowing the sale of red bull vodka premixed.
revealing. She felt bad for me tho, since I obviously didn’t know this strange custom, so let me swim anyway. Locks on the inside
Since I have been in France, something has been irking me. In several places, including unfortunately my appartement, the doors have key-locks on the inside as well as the outside. Qu’est-ce que c’est que ca!!?? In case I’m not being clear, the only way to lock the door from the inside is with a key, and subsequently to let yourself out you have to find your key, unlock the door, exit, then lock the door from the outside, a tiresome regime. What’s more, as my Dad pointed out, this is a fire hazard, because if you are trying to flee a burning building, the last thing you want to have to do is find the key to unlock your door. As a third point, it seems like installing an extra key-lock would be more expensive than just having a twist-lock on the inside, as is typical in the US. The only redeeming feature of this that I can think of is that it is pretty much impossible to lock yourself out. If anyone can shed
Got to see this up close and personal. Epic job.
some more light on this, please comment. Dance like a butterfly, stick like glue
My mother gave me the terrific book French or Foe? by Polly Platt. This book reveals some of the mysterious customs of the French, and I highly recommend it to anyone travelling here for any amount of time. One point which I have found to be very true, is that the French either don’t have, or have a much smaller notion of the personal bubble. For example, if you are walking down a sidewalk that isn’t jam packed, and someone else is coming towards you, in the US you typically give them some extra space beyond what they strictly need to get by you. Not always so in France. A couple of times I have felt like people were playing chicken with me on the sidewalk, or just totally oblivious. In the supermarket as well, they don’t seem to care particularly if they are blocking your way, or if they make bodily contact in squeezing by you. This doesn’t really bother me that much, but can be surprising when you forget about it.
I was more annoyed with an instance when I was waiting in
a line overflowing outside the social security office in the rain. Some space cleared and I could finally get in, so I turned to the side to close my umbrella, and in that brief instant two people scurried inside in front of me. One started taking a ticket that places you in the queue. So I tried to muster up some angry French, but my vocabulary there really isn’t very good, so I just said, "excuse-moi, je suis avant de vous." I don’t know how she imagined I was going to let her get away with such a blatant cut, but maybe she thought I was an exploitable foreigner. I’m broke
As of Jan 17, I still haven’t been paid a penny of my supposed bourse, but not for lack of effort. I have jumped thru the all of the myriad of administrative hoops put before me. French bureaucracy is a maddening business that I suggest you avoid if at all possible. The latest is that they tell me I will almost certainly be paid on wednesday, but they told me that last wednesday too. If it doesn’t happen, I may storm the bastille, or grand Moulin, or wherever
An encouraging statue in École de la Medecine, Paris 6.
the bureaucrats are hiding. Revolution must be the only way to be sure that something gets done here.