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Published: December 12th 2010
My first meal in Charles de Gaul.
Bonjour, et bienvenue to my blog about living in France. I will be living in Paris (technically the suburb Orly to the south) for the next 6 months, and I will be writing about things that are humorous and/or interesting about life in France from an American’s perspective.
Having just arrived in Charles de Gaul on Thursday, December 9, I did one of the worst traveller’s mistakes, and lost my debit card almost immediately. I’m pretty sure that I left it in the ATM machine, after the machine refused to give me Euros for the 5th time (I don’t know why, since I told my bank beforehand that I would be in France). I quickly noticed that I didn’t have it, and went back but it was gone.
Fortunately, I still had a credit card, but unfortunately, American credit cards aren’t accepted in all that many places in France, and I didn’t know the PIN to it because I never use it to get cash, so couldn’t get any cash with it here. France mostly relies on debit cards, which they call carte bleu because they used to be blue or something. Like American debit cards they can be
You know you are in France when you see a baguette bit lying on a random store shelf
used as credit or debit. These cards rely on an internal microchip rather than a magnetic strip, so the technology to read them won’t necessarily read US cards. France also uses cheques more than America, and it’s illegal to bounce a check here (you can get banned from the banking system!) so people don’t, and they are accepted like cash. I’m not sure Americans could handle such a strict rule from what I read about our credit habits.
French people also save something like 16% of their income, compared to x% in UK and y% in America, which is pretty surprising given the greater social security system they have here, which lessens the need for building a large nest egg.
I am registered as a visiting PhD student at université Paris 7 (Denis Diderot) here. The university blocked some housing for researchers out in Orly (about 15 min ride on the commuter train to the south), so I am rooming with two visiting lecturers from Africa, one from Cameroon who speaks English decently, and the other from Congo who speaks no English. This is pretty ideal, because it will force me to use French at home, which I hope
Beacoup de baguette
to get pretty good at while here. However I have a really hard time understanding their French through their accents, so that will take some getting used to.
To add to my day 1 woes of losing my debit card, and getting about 6 hours of scattered sleep over 55 hours, I arrived to my place to find that the internet was dead, and no one was coming to attempt to fix it for a week. After getting an initial impression that my place was a dump, I have since revised this upwards to it being just old and in need of some renovation. In fact the internet got killed by them working on the electrical wiring, so some renovation is in the works.
I was also appalled by the shower here. It is a handheld sprayer, which is fine, but there’s no holdster for it! So you have to be holding it 100% of the time that you want water on you. I find this totally idiotic, but our entire bath/shower is getting replaced on Monday, so maybe they will install something better.
On the plus side the kitchen is well equipped, the bedroom is bigger than my place in SB, and is well-furnished, and we even have a washing machine in the apartment, but apparently no dryer. I guess I need to buy a huge dry rack and a fan or something. I think once we have internet that I will be fine with this place (I am currently camping at the local McDonalds, which has WiFi, and which the French seem to love as much as Americans!). Bread
: The French are kind of obsessed with it! It’s not unusual to see someone walking along with a quiver of like 5 full length baguettes tucked under their arm, munching on one while walking. The baguette factory at the local supermarket produces an amazing quantity, and for 0,59 Euro per baguette, it’s a bon marché. I downed an entire loaf yesterday, with half a block of cheese. Speaking of which, . . . Cheese
: I am not sure whether cheese or bread is the bigger French obsession, but they go hand-in-hand. The supermarket has no fewer than 3 guys behind a huge counter of specialty cheeses to aid you in sampling until you find the one that you want, and then they will measure out however much of it you want. French
: People pretty exclusively speak in French here. Even graduate classes at the universities tend to be taught in French, which I found surprising because I thought most European graduate work was done in English. Most in the universities and many in service jobs can speak passible English though. My French skills are not all that great, having just started to learn when I found out I was going about 6 months ago. I can communicate basic stuff, but I can’t understand fast-paced conversation much at all. Certain people seem to pronounce their consonants much softer than others as well, and this just ends up sounding like a big slur of vowels to me. I don’t know if it’s a regional dialect, or just a style of speaking. Learning a new language is pretty interesting (French is my first spoken foreign language). The transformation from speech sounding just like noise to comprehending it without effort is an amazing process. It’s really a non-trivial skill in the grand scheme of things. It’s become clearer to me why programming computers to understand a full range of dialects would be a very challenging task.
This was a pretty long post. They probably won’t be this long going forward, just a lot to cover in my first days here.
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