Monthly Archives: April 2011

Immigration

In order to live in France, you have to participate in many immigration-type processes.  What are these processes?  Great question.  I had no idea, but I was told that we were going to have to get a chest x-ray to find out if we were bringing TB into the country – except that they scheduled our x-rays for 2 months after we arrived.  Although I’m no doctor, I think that if we were bringing TB into the country, it is likely that we would have been infecting a lot of people in our first 2 months in country.  But what do I know?

We finally got a letter that we needed to show up in Paris at the Immigration Office to be checked out and get our health documents put in our passports.  In the letter we were given a time to show up and I thought we would just show up for our appointment, walk in to the office, have a physical exam and be on our way.  The first clue to the contrary should have been that the other IBM couple living in our town was given the exact same appointment time.  Hmmmmm.  So, they must employ lots of doctors at the Immigration Office……………right?

When we arrived at the Immigration Office on our assigned day about a half hour early, it was a literal mob scene.  We immediately saw the other IBMers in the crowd, standing in what we might loosely call a line in the US.  I was advocating that we go to the back of the line to be respectful of the other people waiting, but Tim jumped right in with the IBMers who were not too far away from the entrance.  As I stood and chatted with our friends, I felt slightly self-conscious, being a line jumper and all.  Who exactly did I think I was, cutting all these people?

Within moments, the reality of this situation dawned on me.  WE ALL HAD THE SAME APPOINTMENT TIME.  When I turned to tell Tim my realization, he said, “What did you think was going to happen?” Another great question.  Did I mention that we had the kids along with us too since they were currently on a TWO WEEK vacation from school and we didn’t have anywhere to put them?

Soon after that the boys started to dope-slap each other in the giant mob/line and I had a sinking feeling we were in for a long day.  No amount of candy could save this situation.  The best that I could hope for was a speedy process once we got in to the office.

Shortly after that, a small-ish Frenchman in a cheap suit (shocking in France) and a greasy comb-over showed up at the door to start admitting people for their appointments.  Once he opened the door to let a few people in, it was like we were at a New Zealand rugby match – the crowd from behind us ran around to the front of the scrum and we we left stunned as everyone behind us was soon ahead of us.  I have read about the (lack of) line culture in France, however I had never seen anything quite like it.  So much for feeling bad about being a line-cutter – at this point, it was about survival.

Tim managed to muscle our group to the front of the group as the next elevator became available to take us up to the offices.  Once we finally got upstairs, there were a series of people and desks, stamping some documents and sending us on to the next desk.  Eventually we were send into a room with about 75 other people, told to sit down and handed some English-language literature about moving to France.  We had gotten separated from the other IBMers at some point along the way and when I didn’t see them in this room, I just assumed that they were in another large room with a bunch of other people.  A woman came into the room and started a movie about moving to France.  Although it was all in French, the basic gist of it was:  if you’re going to move to France, you need to be a contributing member of society which means learning the language and getting a job.  Once that message was delivered, it was delivered again.  And again.  No deadbeats allowed. Message received.  However, there was a part of me that began to wonder if we were in the right place, since I am not allowed to work here for the first year.  Hmmmm again.

When the movie finally ended, we were called out of the room in groups to get the physical exam.  When they called me by my husband’s last name, I was slightly unresponsive (since that’s not my name), but I just figured that they assumed it was my name because they had Tim’s file and mine together (note: this is a clue to future trouble).  When the woman looked at my file as I was walking toward her, she realized that we had been put in with the wrong group of people.  Since we are temporary residents, we shouldn’t have received the film about becoming French deadbeats.

From there we were moved into a large waiting room with about 50 other people to wait for the chest x-rays.  I was wondering how they were going to x-ray us and do it in an orderly fashion, when they called my name.  There were 4 little rooms opening into the waiting room (like changing rooms at a store) with another door out the back side of it.  The woman put me in there and told me to take off my shirt and bra and wait.  As I was getting undressed, I looked up on the wall to see the visual version of what I was supposed to do.  One picture was of a hot guy standing shirtless in the room waiting patiently and the other picture was of a supermodel (with a belly-button ring) standing there shirtless in a sexy pose with her hands covering her chest.  How odd.  Because I know you’re wondering, there are no johnnys, robes, towels or any other type of medical covering in sight.

So I began to wonder:

  • Am I supposed to take my shirt off and just stand there?
  • Or am I supposed to take my shirt off and stand there (in a sexy pose) with my hands covering my chest?
  • Do I seem very American if I try to cover myself up, or should I try to be French and happily strut around with no shirt on?
  • What about the many women in the waiting room who are wearing many more clothes (headscarves, robes, etc) than I am?  What are they doing right now?  What are the religious implications for them of standing nearly naked in a room waiting for a chest x-ray?
  • WHO THE HELL IS GOING TO OPEN THIS DOOR?

Just then, as I was contemplating what to do and how to stand, a short, French, male doctor opened the door.  I did what any stunned American woman would do, I strutted confidently (and shirtless) in to the room and awkwardly pressed myself against the x-ray machine – sweating bullets the whole time.

Once that was over, I thought surely that we were on the downhill slide of painful things to do at the Immigration Office.  Not so.  When we sat down to get our passports stamped with our medical information, the woman looked at my passport and my health application and realized that my name was different on each.  Since we have this relocation company from IBM helping with much of the EXTENSIVE paperwork, they typed my last name as Tim’s.  When we saw it on the form, it didn’t register as wrong to us because his name was listed on the line that said, “nom d’espouse” which I thought meant spouse’s name, but really means “married name.”  Ooops.

Next we had to endure a full-length lecture in French from the Immigration Officer about the confusion that we were causing by having the incorrect documents.  I repeated my only response, “Je suis désolé, Madame, ” over and over again, but in my mind I was thinking, “PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME COME BACK HERE AGAIN!  I AM BEGGING YOU!”  Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I could hear the boys in the hallway (where they were made to sit) having a mayhem melt-down.  I think the woman finally registered the desperation on my face and finally stuck the incorrect document into my passport.  We finally emerged from the office 4 hours later.

The upside of the day?  I found out I don’t have TB.  Also, in case you were wondering, the other IBMers were in and out in 1/2 hour.

The Irish Olympic Fencing Team

Fencing is serious business in France. I should have guessed that people here liked it, since the only time I had ever seen it in person was at the French heritage festival in Vergennes, VT a few years ago. However, I’m not that quick, so only after I saw the town plastered with posters for an upcoming fencing showcase did I put fencing and France together.
Despite the magnitude of the fencing event and encouragement from our new friends (the parents of Harry & John), we had no real plans to attend. No amount of swordplay could get me out of my backyard on that beautiful sunny day, but our friends did go and absolutely loved it. Apparently it was a showcase of a young boys most desired dream, including:

  • getting dressed up in a cool outfit (including a mask)
  • wearing cool gloves
  • being plugged in to an electric socket (the way they keep score)
  • and wielding a very long sword

Immediately my friend Louise’s sons were sold on the idea of fencing lessons.

Another fact about fencing in France is that, despite it’s popularity among the adult set, there is waning interest among younger people. The next generation is much more interested in futbol. So, in an effort to boost interest and find some new recruits, Louise found out that they were offering free fencing lessons to anyone who was interested, from now until the end of the school year. FREE LESSONS? Sign us up!

On the day of the first lesson, Owen was still not sure about it. He had no idea what to expect and was nervous to make any commitment to a sport that he hadn’t seen in person in the recent past. On the other hand, Eamon was not only ready to sign up, but he wanted me to invest in the entire outfit. I assured Owen that we could watch for a while and he could join in if he chose to. I also assured Eamon that I would not be buying an entire fencing outfit that day, no matter how much he liked the sport.

Once we got to the gym, we met the teacher who was named Uri and who was very nice to us, despite his limitations in English and ours in French. I was trying to explain that Owen was going to watch for a little while before he decided if he would join in, but something (read: everything) was lost in translation. Uri immediately took both boys to the jacket rack and not only found fencing jackets to fit them, but also stuffed the boys into them and proceeded to zip them up. Clearly there are no tentative Americans allowed in the sport of fencing – you’re either in or OUT.

Since Owen & Eamon were completely new, as were Louise’s 2 sons and the other little boy they dragged along, Uri decided to give them a private lesson, rather than make them learn to fence with the more experienced children. The next hour involved an intense lesson in the art of fencing and all of the French vocabulary to go with it. It started with foam swords and ended with full face masks and real foils (the real word for fencing swords). Luckily, there was no electricity involved at this early stage, which made it only slightly less frightening. I couldn’t believe my eyes – my boys fighting with swords in a controlled environment. I realized in that moment that this experience was either a blessing or a curse. A blessing because now they may be eligible to get a college scholarship without playing the oboe, or a curse because now they have free rein to duel at home in the name of fencing.

As Louise and I watched the five boys during their lesson, I wondered aloud if there would be any hope of seeing this gang on the Olympic Fencing Team someday. We decided that their best bet was to compete for a country that has a very poor fencing program, similar to the way that all of the second rate US ice skaters to move to Latvia to make an appearance at the Olympics. Since Louise is Irish (and thought that it was very likely that Ireland has a poor fencing program – if one at all), we decided that we could be in the presence of the 2024 Irish Olympic Fencing Team. Go Ireland!

Slacker

So, since I’ve moved to France I’ve turned into a total slacker.  Not that I wasn’t a slacker before, but I was at least a high performing one.  Here, my performance has dropped to epic low levels.  There are so many reasons for this.  Let me start with the obvious:

  • The wine.  Friends, I had to nearly give up my beer-drinking past to embrace life here.  The problem began when I couldn’t find any good beer to drink.  In a desperate moment, Tim brought home some ridiculously small bottles of Heinekin one night and we proceeded to drink nearly the whole case of it (since it was like doing one little beer shot after another).  Our house started to look like a frat house with tiny bottles strewn everywhere.  It soon became clear to me that there must be a better way.  Why try to swim against the tide by being a beer drinking when the river of wine is so clearly flowing in the opposite direction?  The little bottles of Heinekin still sit around our house, but now they have been turned into flower vases (you can shake the Vermont class out of this girl).  By the way, the wine is REALLY GOOD and can create a shroud of confusion around all attempts at productivity.
  • The flute.  There is a flutist living in one of the houses which abuts ours.  This is not some high-school band member getting in some (painful) practice, but rather it is someone who very likely plays professionally.  Since all the back yards in France are walled, the sound of this flute echoes off the walls around us, creating a surreal musical experience which can only be summed up as magical.  And this person practices for hours each day.  Just when I have something to do, that might pass as work (or at least a good use of my time), the music begins.  It seems wrong to work when this person is playing.  Rude even.  The most appropriate thing to do is to sit down and listen, right?  Ok, so I know I should be studying French, or cleaning up the house, or at least writing on the blog, but instead I sit and listen.  Slacker.
  • The bakery.  I’ve always loved baked goods, but I never thought I would allow my life to be dictated by the hours of the bakery.  At first, I would stock up on bread, only to realize that it’s not the same if it isn’t fresh.  So we’ve got to go to the bakery MUCH more often than we would at home.  Oh, and it’s closed every day from 13h30-14h (translation: 1:30-3pm).  I found this out the hard way and ended up standing on the street corner like Bubbles in The Wire, eyes shifting/pulse racing.  Hard times.  I also found out that the bakery is closed all day on Tuesday.  Ouch.  We also realized that if you need bread for dinner, it’s best to buy it after 3pm when the bakery reopens, rather than in the morning for the evening.  But it is also important to have it fresh for the morning, which often means an early morning run.  All this to say, that sadly, many hours are spent plotting or executing the next bakery run.  I am a slave to bread.

So this is more than a little embarrassing to write – in fact, it’s just pathetic.  I can imagine my former self saying, “Seriously, did you just write a blog post that your 3 biggest challenges are wine, flutes and bread?”  But in an effort to be honest, I had to come clean.  So there you have it.  This is why there has been blog silence.  I even made a recording of the flute music yesterday which I will try to post so that you can hear the challenge of productivity in the face of melody.

A tough life indeed.