"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

September 8-14, 2008

Monday: We had originally planned on going to Social Services early morning to apply for our “Carte Vitale” which is the government’s medical system. Wouldn’t you know it, we got up late. Methinks I had too much to drink the night before. Oh well. So we went to the original office just a few blocks from where we live, but there was a sign on the door that said they moved to another government office. Just our luck! It was already 2 pm, so we hauled ass to their office. I never walked so fast or so many miles in a long time.

We finally got to the Social Services office and it was packed. You have to take a number and wait to be called. We got called about an hour later, and the woman said, we had to be interviewed with another person and wait until our number was called again. So, we waited another hour. Remember this if you should ever have to do paperwork in Paris, don’t count on there being a public restroom. They did not have a restroom, can you believe that! The only public office where there was a restroom, from our experience, was when we had to get a physical for our “carte de sejour” (greencard), my guess is that they may ask some folks for a urine sample, hence, they have a restroom. So, if you have bladder issues, wear a catheter.

Headlines: “A riot almost broke out in Social Services” The headlines that almost happened. We had gone to the Social Services after lunch, methinks some people took a very long lunch. There was only 1 person at the front desk when we arrived and only 2-stations opened behind that woman. There was about 50-people in the office. One man started complaining, and it started a chain reaction, and then another man was yelling, then another guy yelled, “why don’t they open more stations, we’ve been waiting for hours etc.”; definitely not French. I don’t think the guy who started the riot was French, my guess is that he was Moroccan, because the French as a rule don’t complain. The manager had to come out and calm people down, the air was tense with anticipation to see if the man was going to throw a chair at the manager. I knew riots occurred at demonstrations and the banlieu’s (suburbs), but the Social Services, who knew? Wow this was exciting. Since I had to go pee so bad, I figured if they had started hurling chairs, it would be my opportunity to sneak behind the employees lounge and use their bathroom. But, alas, the manager did his job and calmed the group, by simply opening more stations. What a surprise!

Our number was finally called, and we were called into a private office. Hmm, not a good sign. As we got in an Indian woman was attending to us. I though great, most Indians speak English. I had seen her earlier and she looked really bitchy. Much to my surprise she did not speak English to us at all. We got our message across. She told us that everything looked good, but we had to show proof of income and to come early in the morning when they’re not busy. As we got close to leaving, she started speaking English, go figure? Oh well, at least she was nice (looks can be deceiving). Seems she was very interested in California. I told her SF was like Paris, but it rains a hell of a lot more here. I think if we could be more expressive in French, she’d probably would have wanted us to describe California more.

Went home exhausted, immediately ran into the bathroom. Ahh what a relief, too exhausted to go out. Stayed home.

Tuesday: Got a call from our friend “J”, he just arrived. We asked if we could use his printer, since we had to print bank statements to bring to Social Services. We agreed to meet at 12:30 pm. Got to his apartment, and the plumber was with us. J was having plumbing issues. But no-one was answering, so we assumed that J had to do a few errands and was running late. About half an hour later, the door opened, and J had crashed from being jet-lagged as well fighting a cold and didn’t hear the doorbell. It was great to see him again. He’s so much fun to be with.

After printing copious amounts of papers, J invited us to lunch with his houseguests from New York. Herb and Ann, a lovely couple. We decided to go to Rue de Rosiers and get some falafels. We didn’t know where, but J took us to L’As, an Israeli falafel house, kosher at that. And, it looked all too familiar, than I realized we were there just a couple of days ago, but had our falafel to go and sat in the park, who knew? I decided to order a schwarma instead of falafel, it was delicious.

Afterwards, we all went our separate ways. We walked around the Marais a little bit, then started heading home ‘cause it looked like it was going to rain. As we got out of the metro station, it started raining pretty heavy, so we stayed in and had a quiet night and prepared ourselves for another day at Social Services, except this time we were going to be there bright and early to avoid the crowds.

Wednesday: Got up really early. In fact, we were at the Social Services Office at about 8:45. Imagine that? We didn’t have to wait long, maybe half an hour, so they were right, it’s not busy in the morning, but around 10 am it started getting really crowded.

We got the nicest Social Services lady ever. She spoke no English but spoke very slow and enunciated really well. We did everything in French. She is one of the few French people that I actually understood, in fact about 90% of what she said, go figure? She said all our papers looked good, she made copies and told us that we would get our carte vitale in about 3-months. Jack told her that he had a doctor’s appointment on Friday, and is there anyway he can get a carte vitale number. She said she would talk to one of the managers and have them review it pronto and we’d have to wait to see if they can do it. We went back to the waiting room, and within a half an hour, she called us into her office and gave us a document with our temporary carte vitale number. Jack and I will share the same number, since I’m listed as a concubine; sounds like a house of prostitutes, but it’s really French for companion, who knew? That was one of the more pleasant experiences we’ve had with French government bureaucracy, go figure?

The French system is interesting, you pay or not pay your monthly premium depending how much you earn. Most new immigrants earn very little so they pay nothing. We didn’t want to cheat the system, so we told them we made a “few” bucks, ‘cause we honestly do want to pay something, I’m CERTAIN it will be much cheaper than in the US. Also, if you get a supplement called “complimentaire” (e.g., AARP) then they pay your deductible. Methinks I have license to get my body overhauled. I forgot to ask if it carte vitale covered “emergency liposuction” and possibly a “face lift?” We’ll see.

In celebration of getting into the system, we went out to lunch. We were going to go somewhere in our neighborhood, but we decided let’s try our friend Tracy’s favorite Italian pasta and pizza place, it’s in the Bastille. 300-metro stops later we finally got there. I had forgot that the Bastille is quite a schlep from us. Oh well. Got to the restaurant, and there were a few people in there. It was a nice day, but I didn’t feel like eating outside. There are some restaurants/cafes I do not like eating outside, this was one of them. The tables are the ones where the sidewalk is quite narrow; hence, pedestrians can actually walk by and brush against your table, see what you’re eating, flick their ashes on your food or accidentally knock the fork out of your hand, and maybe, even ask for a bite (you get the picture—too close for comfort) and I didn’t feel like that happening, so we ate inside. Of course, no air-conditioning so it was stuffy!

We ordered an appetizer, and it was really interesting. It was like tortilla chips, but really big and rolled into a cone filled with tomatoes, arugula, and sprinkled with olive oil. I felt like I was eating gigantic chips and salsa, who knew? It would have been reminiscent of Mexican food, except not spicy. But we had spicy olive oil, so we sprinkled that all over. I got my Mexican fix, sorta. Jack ordered the pasta, very tasty, and I ordered a rustic pizza. Food was great, loved it.

Afterwards, we were going to walk to a shop I wanted to go to in the neighborhood, but I started getting light headed and just plain tired. We got to the store, and wouldn’t you know it, it was closed, oh well. So Jack took me home, and I collapsed. I think there comes a time when too much food and wine is not a good thing, go figure?

Stayed in for another quiet evening, since we have to go shopping with J for tomorrow’s dinner party.

Thursday: Tonight is the La Rentrée (return) and Bonne Anniversaire (Birthday) party. So, got up early to get to J’s by 10 am. We are going to do my favorite sport, shopping. We got in his car and went to the “Metro.” In my previous missives I mentioned that it’s a members only store wherein you have to run a business, typically a restaurant to go in, whereas in the US, you can join e.g., Costco just by paying a fee. Metro is fabulous! The prepared foods, the gourmet section and just the presentation of the food is unbelievable. There were quite a number of Chefs shopping there today, methinks they were stocking up for the week-end. I would not be surprised if the Chefs buy the prepared e.g., Tabouli, like we did and doctor it up for service. We had a field day just going through the different isles. Afterwards, we went back to J’s to drop the food off, and I went home to take a nap since I got up early, what a surprise!

I returned to J’s at 6:30 pm to help him. J had already made the main course of salmon with tziki and he asked me to doctor up the Tabouli and we had asparagus and voila a whole dinner. Lots of different patés, get this, paté and/or foie gras of canard, average cost is about €1, one of the few best buys in France at the Metro. I typically don’t order foie gras or patés in restaurants, cause they probably got it from the Metro and then turn around and charge €8-10.

It started raining really heavy just before people were starting to arrive at 7:30. Luckily I got to J’s just in time since I forgot my umbrella. We had a nice evening and great conversation as you can see from the pictures below. J loves to throw dinner parties and does a great job of entertaining etc.

Friday: Nothing really exciting today. The weather was sort of drab. Only excitement today is that Jack has a doctor’s appointment.

The doctor’s appointment proved interesting. First of all, typically in France they don’t have really fancy doctor’s office with all the bells and whistles like they do in the US. It’s not uncommon to see a 1-person operation, meaning the Doctor does the reception, the examination and the billing. Who knew? I guess it cuts down on a lot of overhead, what a surprise.

Jack went to his doctor’s office, and it was like going to someone’s house. There were 2-doctors in the office, and that’s it or as the French would say, C’est tout. Jack spent an hour with the doctor. Imagine that. I think the longest I ever spend in a doctor’s office was 15-minutes. He gave Jack a pretty thorough examination. Afterwards, he told Jack it was €26 ($39), go figure? An average doctor’s bill in the US is about $120-200. Typically here, you pay and give the carte vitale number, which Jack did, and then you get reimbursed 70% or more depending on your pay schedule within a week or so. So, with that said, the whole visit will cost Jack about €8, who knew? And, if he got the complimentaire, it would cost him NOTHING! What a deal!

The doctor concurred that his high blood pressure was high and put him on the same medication, but one level higher, and gave Jack a prescription. He also told Jack to get some blood work, which he will probably do since it’s so cheap here. Then here’s the next surprise, Jack went to our neighborhood pharmacists and the pills which would normally cost about €3 cost him 68 centimes, because he has the carte vitale number. I challenge anyone who says that the Universal Health care system doesn’t work! WOW!!! This system is great!

Had a quiet evening at home, after all the excitement at the doctor’s office.

Saturday: Jack was feeling really tired, because he hasn’t been sleeping well, so I decided to go out and shop. I went to the 9eme to what I thought would be a unique yarn store. Got in and I forgot to say, bonjour, so the woman was a little insulted, and said Monsieur Bonjour! So I responded in kind. The yarn was extremely expensive and you couldn’t touch anything, since they were behind these tall shelves, so I left.

I decided to walk down to the Galéries Lafayette. It was packed today, apparently from all the worshipers who were visiting the Pope in Paris. There were people who camped out at Notre Dame, so they could attend Sunday mass that was suppose to be officiated by the Pope himself. And, where was I, shopping.

Despite Galéries Lafayette’s reputation for being very expensive, you can find really good deals, if you look. I found some great yarn so I can knit a scarf for a friend. Went window shopping a little, since there was a sale going one. I saw this fabulous shirt that I had to have, it was white, very formal, with bold patterns. It was a Christian Lacroix. It said 15% off so I looked at it, yikes, it’s €225 about $320 on sale. It was beautiful though! I guess it’s back to Carrefour (French version of Target) for me.

Got home, and it started raining, what a surprise. Made dinner and had a quiet night at home.

Sunday: Gorgeous day, who knew? Sun’s out, not too hot, not too cold, I’m starting to like September, plus it is my birthday month. Our friends Laura and Karen are coming over for a short visit, since they return to the US tomorrow. We had a great visit, and afterwards, Jack and the girls went on a little walking tour of the Butte de Montmarte. I stayed behind, cause I had to clean up a little, and then finish the scarf that I made for my friend Michelle. Plus we’re going to Mehran’s later this afternoon for birthday cake and Michelle will be there also.

Shortly after Jack got back, we headed over to Mehran. His partner Christophe is throwing him this get together. At the party we ran into a woman from Istanbul Turkey, how fortuitous. She gave us some hints on what to do when we’re there and allayed our concerns about being there during “EID” the last days of Ramadan. Restaurants, stores etc. should be open. That’s good to know!

Had a great time, learned some new things about France. At the party, we met Laurent and his partner who is an artist. It turns out if you are an artist the government will subsidize your housing so you can continue your artistic endeavors. Who knew! How civilized!

All-in-all it’s been a quiet week.

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