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Published: December 16th 2010
More baguettes, in case you haven't had enough
One of the reasons that I was excited to come to France was simply to live in a culture where I was the outsider, not knowing the language or the customs very well. It would have been better in that respect to go somewhere even more different from America, say Africa or China, but France is good for a start. I think going through life in your comfort zone, or at least without challenging yourself in a number of different ways, is a rather limited way to live, and only leads to limited possibilities for personal development. One thing that definitely sucks about grad school and a lot of jobs I see my peers in is the sheer amount of time it demands from you. This is a huge cost, especially in our youth. I don’t really like how generic career paths shoe us in to single-minded pursuits rather than developing a wide range of skills. But I digress, and should get back on topic.
So I have been here almost a week now, and being the “outsider” in France has been challenging. It’s a very different mindset when you are trying to settle in and live here rather than
Beer Champagne Style
Beer in Champagne-sized bottles, for good prices!
just hopping around doing touristy things. I am trying to live more of a French lifestyle, kind of dive right in to the way that they do things. For example, I am drinking the obligatory expresso after every meal. The secretary in my office sells little expresso cubes at wholesale (0,40 Euro per), which is how it was back in the physics dep at UCSB also I think, altho I didn’t drink expresso there. The secretary has a wide selection of flavors, from holiday mint, which I tried and isn’t really an expresso at all but more like a Starbucks concoction, to expresso with crème, or crème flavor mixed in.
I never thought that it would be possible to get work done in an office with 10 people, but my officemates know how to get down to business, and the office can be totally silent for hours. Then we go to lunch in a big group where we can get plenty of conversation in, so it works out pretty well I think.
I found out today that a PhD student from Brazil in my office up and came to France for undergrad without knowing a word of French,
and furthermore moved in for the first month with a sponsoring French household that only spoke French. That’s pretty ballsy, and he said it was really effective at getting him to learn French toute de suite. I have been relying on my English somewhat more than I hoped, but not all the time. I find tho that for dealing with administrative matters it’s well worthwhile to communicate in whatever language that you are least likely to have any misunderstanding in. Otherwise you can cost yourself a lot of time and headache, like I did when I started off in French back in LA at the consulate applying for my Visa. Ended up taking 1 hour longer than it should have, netting me a $60 parking ticket to boot. Paperwork
Speaking of administration, France is nuts on paperwork. I mean I know that I am a foreigner, so there would inevitably be a good deal of paperwork, but I didn’t envision the secretary at Paris 7 (my University here) asking me for my masters’ grade transcript, and the school wanting to see my original masters diploma before they issued me a student identity card. But fortunately I brought every conceivable
Face forward, no hats/glasses/weird hair, and whatever you do, DON"T SMILE.
document with me. I thought this would all be waived since I have a fellowship from the French gov that is supposedly very prestigious (altho that fellowship document was instrumental in my landlord letting me slide on the rent that I couldn’t produce b.c. of losing my debit card). I am supposed to get my school ID card tomorrow, and then I can use that to open a bank account at Société Générale and finally get paid. They want a crazy number of documents as well of course, including an official statement from my landlord saying that I do in fact live at the address I claim, and you have to bring in your own picture (you have to do this for everything imaginable in France, I guess they haven’t really adopted the whole digital camera and printer combo). My working hypothesis is that all this anality stems from their welfare state, and them being cautious about letting outsiders free ride on it. Smiling
Some say that the French don’t smile unless warranted, and this seems somewhat true. It’s much rarer to see someone walking down the street with a smile on their face for no apparent reason. I think that they perceive this as somewhat affected, and maybe it is. I think the French also have a different attitude towards the roles of happiness vs suffering than Americans. I will try to learn more about this. I any case, I thought it was pretty funny that when getting a picture taken at a photo booth, it explicitly asks you not to smile for the photo, and definitely don’t show any teeth. I complied, and I think my photo looks very French, what do you guys think?
So what else have I been doing? Well nothing too cool, aside from a nice lunch with some friends of the family in a legit French restaurant, my first restaurant meal since coming here (did I mention I’ve been broke?). I have a long research talk to give Thursday, so that took some time to prepare, and a lot of boring move in stuff. Last weekend was a desperate effort to first get some money, which failed, but fortunately my parents Western Unioned me a rescue fund (thanks Mom and Dad!), and a camping out at the local McDonald’s to do some essential stuff online. I intend to actually DO something fun/interesting/cultural this weekend, that will probably involve getting drunk on the beautiful champagne bottle sized beers shown here. I will post about that later.
À la prochaine.
PS – This post has been made possible by Iphone tether. I still have no internet at my place, but hopefully that will change tomorrow.
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Smiling + photos + paperwork
Same thing in Chile my friend. When I went to get my Cartnet (Chilean ID card), I had to bring a load of paperwork (much much more than would be required for a Driver's License or Passport in the USA). Additionally, I had to bring in my own mug-shots, which had to be taken at an official mug-shot-certified location. I tried to smile when they took my photo -- no dice. Smiling is definitely not allowed for mug-shots in Chile. Anyway, at least they have graduated to digital cameras in Chile. And, in fact, one no longer has to bring in his or her own photos to get an ID card. Maybe you should have moved to Latin America. Things seem to run a little more smoothly down there. :-)
you still look like you're smiling! or at least smirking. let's face it, you have a perma-grin. also, i want those champagne-sized beers, stat.