Conference Calls at the Eiffel Tower

It’s busy season and work consumes my life. I recently just got back from a week long inspection trip and ever since I cant seen to find a way to cross everything off my to do list each day. I understand that people don’t think I should complain while gallivanting around France trying out hotels and restaurants and yes, I understand my job is pretty cool. But hey, an 18 hour work day is an 18 hour work day. There is a huge amount of stress involved because the amount of money my clients bring into my company. And as big deal American clients… they expect the best, which sadly is sometimes more than the French want to give.

Anyways, I basically sleep with my Blackberry. I get woken up at 8am on Saturday morning from calls from my guides after working for 7 days straight. I am not complaining. I love working and I love my job. I cant believe the opportunities I have gotten working for this company and I am very appreciative of the chance to work in my field abroad. It just that my job is actually taking over my life. However, I do have some pretty entertaining stories.

Yesterday I found myself at the Eiffel Tower for the second time just this week. Just so everyone knows… I love the Eiffel Tower. Its awesome to look at. From a far. I despise going there and battling the crowds of tourists and illegal immigrants selling cheap trinkets. Sorry to ruin your romantic view of Paris but I cannot stand venturing over to this area. However, it is a must see on the tourist trail which means I have to suck it up sometimes and go. The reason I have frequented the Eiffel Tower so much lately is because they have decided to do renovation on all of their lifts except one. Awesome idea to do during tourist season, right? Not so much. There is around a 2 hour delay to get up the tower. Not so great when my clients are on a jam-packed tour. My little trips to the Tower are trying to find some way around this debacle but yep, you guessed it! It’s France and things don’t work efficiently. Deal with it.

However, yesterday was a new experience. And the debacle was mine.

I had to meet a group there in order to give them the tickets to go up. I was supposed to meet them at 16h30 but due to the delay caused by traffic we didn’t get to meet until 17h. Well the problem was I had a conference call with another group at 17h30. As I braved the crowds of the Eiffel Tower while schmoozing with my clients and Blackberry in hand, I carefully checked the time to make sure I was available for the call. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to avoid the crowds completely and found myself almost sprinting down the stairs of the Eiffel Tower in attempts to make it to a quiet place before the call. Timing clearly wasn’t perfect causing me to take my call during the journey down the stairs. Quite an interesting atmosphere if you ask me.

In my wildest dreams I would have never imagined I would have to take a conference call on top of the Eiffel Tower. Don’t worry though—it was a success. The power of multi-tasking is seriously incredible.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I do not love Paris in the springtime right now. Cold, rainy, gray. I am curious when spring will actually start to show. It is quite tough to enjoy the ‘beauty’ of Paris in the spring when you don’t want to go outside due to crappy weather. Here’s to hoping April showers bring May flowers…

I have started to adopt the French way of thinking about weather so I don’t slip into a depression. “Oh it’s ok. A bad spring means a great summer.” I think this is the one area of their lives they are optimistic and I think that is partially due to the fact they don’t want to admit the weather here completely sucks. I feel bad London gets the bad rep. Paris is the same way.

23 years and I have always had sun on my birthday. Paris is really making me think that birthday number 24 won’t be so lucky. But of course, I just love Paris for always keeping me on my toes.

Speaking of birthdays, it is weird having my second one here. That means all of 23 was spent living in France. It is weird how plans can change so quickly. I was only supposed to be here a year and now I am pushing two. I think I will leave the end of this year but now I don’t know. It honestly changes daily. It is difficult because I am so happy here and I feel like I fit, but there are so many things I miss about being in the states… mostly, my family. If I could just ship them out here to live I think I would stay forever.  I am in this whole not thinking about it stage though. December is still 8 months away. I have time.

It is also strange to have my birthday here because I used to have large birthday dinners and huge nights of going out to celebrate. Just as last year, I work. And most my friends are on holiday. I am sure I will spend the night having a few drinks with Frenchies and I am perfectly ok with that. I am really liking the Frenchies lately. I think I even have to retract my previous statement that Coco and Frenchies don’t mix—I am currently being proved otherwise. To be honest though, my real gift is my mom coming. I haven’t seen her since Christmas and I can’t be more excited.

So maybe Paris is trying to drown my good mood in the rain but I am tenaciously fighting back. Life is good… despite the horrible weather.

On the Roller coaster of Normalcy

When you move abroad, everything changes. It’s inevitable. The longer you stay the longer the weird foreign things start to become your normal. Sadly, there are things that in the bottom of my soul I think are normal that my American friends have to remind me that they aren’t.

I guess I should first clarify normal. I refer to normal as something that you are used to. For instance, I am American. I lived 22 years in the United States. Therefore, my habits and things I deem “normal” should correlate with my American upbringing. Yet somehow, living in France for a year and half actually brainwashes some of those very simple things out of my mind.

That is not entirely the point of this post. The point is that I think I began to forget things in order to make my life normal here. It was like a survival mechanism in my brain. However I have found, just lately, another part of my brain is fighting back. There are things I am beginning to notice again that had been pushed into the dark corners of my mind.

I miss living in a country where lines for newly released movies have barriers to control the lines rather than leaving it a cluster f**k. I miss that fact that even though the lady at the DMV may be a horrible, angry bitch that she will give you the same answer and procedure as the other angry bitch behind her– the answer and procedure does not, in fact, change dependent her mood. I miss grocery shopping on Sundays or holidays. I miss having sunshine for entire weeks, months even, not a few hours. I miss being able to speak English in public and not getting looked at as an ignorant tourist. I miss guys in basketball shorts and not pointy shoes. I miss crappy American TV and lounging on the couch with my best friends. I miss having a couch or an apartment big enough for one. I miss having a toilet that flushes correctly. I miss having friends that I knew would be in the same city as me longer than a year. I miss working with people who have a concept of how business works and the importance of business relationships. I miss having a meal without someone (guy or girl!) pointing out how fattening something someone in the room is eating.

I don’t know why this is happening now but I remember why I love home. Not that I ever forgot but little things are fluttering back into my memories. But I also remember why I love it here. I can’t just walk out of the metro into an adorable street market with the smell of rotisserie chicken in the air while I am in San Diego. This is the problem. There is so much I love about both my homes. I don’t know what is “normal” anymore. It is this strange mix of things now. It is ok. But I do find that there will always be something missing no matter where I am because I do hold two places so dearly in my heart.

Paris leaves a mark. So much that I don’t know if I will be ready to leave it. It seems so far off when my contract ends but it seems crazy close too. I know I can probably renew it and start the whole visa thing again but I am not sure I have it in me.

I miss these things but I can make a list just as long that I will miss about Paris. I know eventually I will have to just accept it and keep it as a good memory. Until then, I am going to enjoy every last ounce of Paris… and of course the French in me, will complain about it too 🙂

5 nice Frenchies… 1 Day…. C’est pas possible!

Here it goes. Yes another French administration post. I am sure you all love reading these as much as I love going to these places but hey, its part of the experience. Whenever anyone asks me with that sparkle in their eye about moving to wonderful and romantic Paris, I can’t help but ask if they are ready for the year of impossibilities that lay ahead in trying to get a visa. Don’t get me wrong, my life kicks ass… but I definitely could do without this nonsense. However, today was pleasantly surprising. That’s right boys and girls… something seemed to go well. Shocker.

I had to go the Office of Immigration (OFII) because after your get your visa you have 3 months to have a medical visit and be approved by this office. When you return back to Paris, you send in your paperwork and they give you an appointment. Simple enough, right? Well yes, if you ever get that lovely appointment time. I am 12 days away from being here 3 months after getting my work visa. And I have no appointment.

I did the usual take-matters-in-to-my-own-hands sort of thing and decided to brave yet another journey to OFII. I first went to the office in Paris. It corresponds with where I live so that supposedly is the office. The first time I came here was when my encounter with the CERFA rouge devil happened. Optimistically, I had higher hopes today because I did in fact come equipped with my CERFA rouge!! (Yes, I somehow managed to track down this stupid paper in the labyrinth of French administration. Props to me.)

My hopes stayed on track when I entered the building and after a quick smile (smile! from a French person!) from the security guard, looked up to see the CERFA rouge devil was not working today. Instead, a young man with a pleasant demeanor stood behind the desk giving information that looked to be very helpful for the people in front of me.

When it was my turn, I carefully explained my situation in the best French I had available. I have to say that explaining your legal status of immigration is not the easiest subject matter in a foreign language. However, I got my point across and the young man was more than patient when I had to search my brain for a word. At the time, I thought he was being helpful and after looking at my papers, told me I needed to go to another office located in the outskirts of Paris. I double checked asking him if it was correct that the office associated with my work and not with where I live. He confirmed this, gave me directions, and I was on my merry way.

After a long metro ride, I found myself lost. Of course. I wandered around and wasn’t all too unhappy since the sun actually has shown its face today in Paris. Finally, I decided to ask someone. Luckily that person happened to be unbelievably nice and helpful man who gave very clear directions (even someone like me could figure it out!). As I made the short walk to the next OFII office, I chuckled and though, “3 for 3 on nice French people. Today is a miracle.

Once I entered the office there was a line but at the front of the line was a short, middle-aged woman behind the desk speaking English to the person she was helping. Score! A little weight was lifted off my shoulders. When it was my turn, I carefully explained my situation. She kindly looked up my file and asked me questions to make sure she understood. She then looked up at me and told me I was in the wrong place. I needed to be at the office in Paris.

Well.

I explained to her I just came from there and they had directed me here. Dumbfounded but still polite, she told me to wait for her colleague to help me.

4 for 4 nice French people.

Next up. A nicely dressed man came over to me to discuss my file. I again explained my situation and he was just as confused as me and the path of people I had encountered prior. Eventually he had me follow him to his office. There, he copied my file and sent it electronically to the Paris office. He then tried calling them but of course they didn’t answer. He said even when you work together you can’t get anyone on the phone in France.

I still haven’t decided if I love these comments or hate them. I love it because then I know it’s not just me. I hate them because it is ridiculous that I live in a place that doesn’t believe in operating efficient businesses.

Anyway, he told me I should hear from them within a month for my appointment and if not he gave me his direct number and email. Where has he been my whole struggle through this process? Why can’t this wonderful man work in every single administrative office in Paris? 5 for 5 today! I left the office happy that I am one step closer to getting what I need.

Not a complete success but a step closer. And in Paris, I take that as a win.

It Doesn’t Get Better

When I was jumping through hoops and going through endless obstacle course to get my work visa last year, I thought that a large part of the problem was my lack of French. Although I knew the French administration was notorious, by expats and natives alike, for being inefficient, difficult, and downright impossible, I did think my lack of the native language had a large part in my difficulties.

After finally receiving my visa in January, I cried with excitement. My year of effort had paid off and I was done. No more unsuccessful visits to the Prefecture or DDTEFP. Or so I thought.

Yesterday I made the journey to two lovely places: one office to receive a temporary Social Security Number in order to start getting my medical benefits and another to be fulfil immigration requirements. I hate to cut to the chase but for those of you who wonder if anything actually worked out in the end—it didn’t. Let me explain.

8h15. I arrive at the Social Security office that opens at 8h30 to already find a line of people: an old, disheveled woman with mismatched clothes and ratty gray hair sitting on the steps, a young woman anxiously pacing back and forth in front of the building, an older African man calmly smoking his cigarette, and a young mother attempting to keep her boisterous children under control. I nibbled on my pain au chocolat observing the scene. The line continued to grow–an old hippie complete with a camo sweatshirt, a small Arabic man uncomfortably shifting from side to side…

Finally the doors open and we rushed in. After getting assigned numbers we were shuffled into a small seating area. I was lucky number 4. Not bad. Soon the loud buzz and sign indicated I was next so I proceeded to the correct window. Trying to keep a pleasant demeanour because I knew this was going to be equivalent to a trip to the DMV, I walked up with a smile and friendly bonjour! The stoic, middle-aged man didn’t look up or respond.

“Parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?) I started, not sure if he was ready to begin helping me or not. Although I can get by with my French, I do prefer to naturally do important things in English. So, it’s always worth a shot.

“Non.” He still had yet to look at me. His sternness weakened my confidence but I kept trying.

“Bon, pas de probleme. Je parle un peu française. Je besoin de une sécurité sociale temporaire. ” (Not a problem. I speak a bit of French. I need a temporary Social Security Number.) At this point he didn’t even talk, a gesture of his hand-made me assume he wanted my papers. I began to hand him my birth certificate and its translation, my work contract, my pay slip, and a few other documents. Everything was in order and I had everything that I was told I needed.

Finally he spoke: “RIB” I knew that he needed my account information from my bank so I slipped him the paper. “Est-ce l’original ou une copie?” (Is this the original or a copy?)

“Une copie, monsieur” (A copy, sir) I replied timidly, knowing it was the wrong answer.

“Non, il doit être l’original. Pas une copie. ” (No, it has to be the original. Not a copy.)

And just like that my hope of success was shattered. He stapled the papers I did have attached with a form. On top he scribbled, “RIB original” and then proceeded to highlight the information I needed to fill out. I still managed to keep a calm and agreeable mood when I tried to clarify the next steps. “Merci, monsieur. Je sais que j’ai besoin de la RIB original, mais alors que je peux ramener mon dossier ici?” (Thank yo, sir. I know I need the orginal RIB but then can I bring back my file here?)

“Pas ici.” (Not here.) He attached a pamphlet to my papers, circled an address and shoved the stack my way. I gave him a slight smile, said good-bye and left with my tail between my legs.

I tried not to get too discouraged and went to my next stop. Once you receive your visa, you have to go to OFII, which is the equivalent to the Department of Immigration I suppose, within 3 months of entering France. You need to get a medical exam—basically they x-ray your chest and then awkwardly make you talk with them without your shirt on. Yes, another thing that makes no sense here. Anyways, I have done it before when I was an au pair. It wasn’t difficult. I sent in my papers, got an appointment, and I was good to go.

So, when coming back from Christmas holiday with my shiny new work visa, I did the same. It has been over a month and I have no news from OFII. Usually I wouldn’t care because this is the normal speed the French work at, however, there is a deadline. The fact I will be in Thailand for the next 2 weeks doesn’t help either. I decided to take matters into my own hands and go to the office. Why did I think this would work? I don’t know.

When I found the office there was a good of men smoking outside. No one was speaking French and no one seemed happy. I managed to scoot pass the crowd and enter the building. There was a row of chairs on one side of the room that was filled with people who looked like they had been there for ages. I walked up to the counter and began my story. This time I tried to be less cheerful and more stern.

“Bonjour. J’ai envoyé mon dossier il ya longtemps et ont entendu aucune réponse. J’ai besoin d’obtenir un rendez-vous bientôt parce que je pars en vacances.” (Hello. I sent my file in a long time ago and I haven’t received a response. I need an appointment soon because I am leaving for holiday.)

“Quel dossier ? Quel rendez-vous ?” (Which file? Which appointment?) She said this all without looking at me and waving her hand like she was asking for something. So I proceeded to hand her my papers and try to explain the situation more. At this point, as she shuffled through my papers, began to take people who had begun to line up behind me. She cut off almost every sentence I began and did not explain what she needed. Well, that is until she began to yell, “CERFA rouge. J’ai besoin de votre CERFA rouge. Votre CERFA rouge.” (CERFA red. I need your CERFA red. Your CERFA red.)

She finally looked up and made eye contact. Her angry and impatient eyes examined my confused and apprehensive face. I had no idea what she wanted. I had never heard of this document. I had called the office, checked the website, and looked at the letter they had sent and no where was a CERFA rouge mentioned. “CERFA rouge.” She continued to yell. “J’ai besoin de votre CERFA rouge signé par DDTEFP.” (I need your CERFA red signed by DDTEFP.) I tried to tell her I didn’t understand and I don’t have it. “Je ne sais pas la traduction. CERFA rogue. CERFA rogue” (I don’t know the translation. CERFA red. CERFA red.) I hate when people tell me they don’t know the English word when there isn’t one. The reason I didn’t understand her was not because it was in French, it was because I have no idea what the hell that document is. You could say it in any language and I would still not know. But thank you for making me feel like an incompetent idiot. She then scribbled an address in a small piece of paper, threw my papers I had given her down in front of me and told me to leave with a swift point to the door.

Flabbergasted, I walked out.

I stood there. In front of the building searching the depths of my memory for any recollection of a document called CERFA rogue. I finally managed to vaguely remember the paperwork I filled out last year for my visa. I rushed back to my flat and searched my stack of documents. There it was. I had made a photocopy of the paper before I sent it in to get my work visa. I had seen it again when at the consulate in LA. Problem is, I never had or ever will have that same document with the signature and stamp of the DDTEFP. It is someone in the labyrinth of the French administration never for me to be seen again. It was never leant to be returned to me. And I have no idea how I will ever retrieve it.

So here I am. A full day of French administration and not even a bit closer to what I need to do. I want to be done. I love Paris. I love my job. I love my life. But I am out of energy. No more please.

I am so excited [No French translation]

I think I overuse the phrase “I am so excited.” This realization came about when I floundered for French words to explain my emotion because the direct translation of it is far from what I mean. Part of me thinks it is because French people don’t get excited. Why have a way of saying something that doesn’t exist, right? Another part of me thinks it is because everything has to be complicated in this language. For example, I asked my colleague what the correct way to say how I was feeling and it actually turned into a 10 minute conversation. End result: no, there is no way to say I am excited just like you can simply say I am happy. Alors, je suis impatiente de prendre mes vacances…

When I sat down to write this post, I didn’t have the purpose to comment on language or cultural differences of the French (seems to turn into that quickly all the time though!). The true purpose of this post was to get my intense excitement down on paper and hopefully relieve some of the built up energy inside me. I want to scream. I cannot wait for the next few months. I am finally using my holiday to travel and not to visit home to fix visa issues. Not that home is a horrible vacation; I am just looking forward to getting to spend weeks traveling. I usually have to fit my adventures into a long weekend but now I get to actually take a proper holiday… a few actually!

And what is even better is I am going to places that have been on my dream list. I never could have imagined this year I would be traveling to a new continent. I have cut out pictures from travel magazines and carelessly day dreamed of the moment I would be sitting on the unmatched beaches of Southeast Asia. In two weekends, I will be snapping photographs of the infamous canals of Venice (and filling my tummy with delicious Italian food!). In just a few months, I finally will get to head more east in Europe and see the magnificent cities of Budapest and Prague.

It is too much to handle. I cannot believe how quickly everything is approaching. As a sacrifice, I know that I will be sitting at my desk during the busy summer months for over 40 hours a week while all the French vacate the city. But at least I will have pictures of my recent adventures to longingly gaze at!

So countdown.

8 days until Venice.
3 weeks until Thailand.
2 and a half months until Budapest and Prague.

Hey readers! Does anyone have any suggestions for these places? I would love to hear your thoughts if you have been to any of these cities. Thanks 🙂