Friday, January 30, 2009

The Country that Cried Wolf

As you may or may not have guessed from my last post, I was pretty excited about yesterday's strike. I'm intrigued by occasional pandemonium (as long as it doesn't affect me personally, let's be clear) and the office tardiness alone caused by pre-strike festivities on Tuesday and Wednesday had me really looking forward to the full on strike yesterday.

Well. I'm very disappointed in France.

When I woke up yesterday and turned on the news radio, I was delighted to find that even they were on strike, playing French oldies instead of news. Cool! But then when I got to work, all the interns were already there. And Melina too, who had been stuck for 2 1/2 hours trying to get to the office the day before. In fact, EVERYONE was there by 10am, and not a single person had any difficulty getting to work. Later Frenchy sent me a link to Le Monde. 75% - 95% normal service on all trains, aside from RER A and B.


The Spanish truck driver strike this summer was way more impressive, and way more disruptive. (No mail, no Fedex, no food deliveries to grocery stores... etc, for two weeks!) So was the Spanish baggage handler strike that caused 24 hours of airline pandemonium back in 2006. I was so prepared to be impressed by French striking capabilities, but I'm really disappointed. Reminds me why I normally don't get excited for things in general - I hate disappointment!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Over the lifespan of this blog, I've lived through and written about my experiences with strikes on more than one occasion. Munich was one particularly disastrous day that comes to mind. A train strike in Peru is another. In fact, if I look back I'm sure that after IESE, Frenchy, and food poisoning, strikes are probably one of the topic I've written about most.

But tomorrow I will experience my first REAL strike. As in, the whole country of France (home of la greve) will be striking. What was announced on Monday as a public transportation strike (bus, metro, tramway) now seems to encompass everything from teachers to the post office to airline pilots. And you know why they're striking?

They are striking against the financial crisis.

Which makes a lot of sense. "I know! The economy is in the crapper and everyone around us is losing jobs, so LET'S TAKE A DAY OFF WORK TO BITCH ABOUT IT." And stop all the other working people from doing their jobs too. Huh.

The other funny thing about these pre-announced strikes is that they are supposed to happen on a given day, but actually things start to go haywire in advance. Which is why yesterday the tramway wasn't running properly and today the metro was all screwed up. It took some of my colleagues two to three hours to get to work.

Fortunately for me (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), I drive a scooter. So I can still make it to work and be productive, assuming the roads don't go on strike. But I won't have many people to be productive with. And hey, if there's no one there, no biggie. Because I heard that the museum staff will also be on strike, so the museums may be free to enter just to get back at the government. So I'll just spend a delightful afternoon at the Orsay perhaps. Ahhh la France!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Because of Glasses

My pal (director, writer, DJ, and all around awesome chic) Jauretsi posted a link to a clip from They Live on Facebook this afternoon. And of course I had to watch it... It's been ages since I've seen that movie.

About two minutes in, Frenchy, who was sitting next to me, said "They fight because of glasses? Because one wants to give glasses and the other one doesn't want to receive glasses?"

Yes. They fight because of glasses. Don't we all?

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Years Resolutions or, How to Let Go

So among my new years resolutions this year was to do yoga. I mean really do yoga, like regularly. I've done yoga in the past, and tried a few different types, but this year I was like, YEAH. I'm gonna DO YOGA.

Fortunately Frenchy's cousin gave me a voucher for some free classes for my birthday. Because, you see, I'd already been all, YEAH I'm gonna DO YOGA a month before new years even rolled around. And after three weeks of absolute nonstop travel craziness, and one weekend of absolute rest, I decided that this would be the week to just do it.

So we agreed that tonight was the night, since I play soccer on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the yoga schedule is apparently funky on Wednesdays, and while Caroline could do Friday, Frenchy had already planned a Guitar Hero raclette dinner for Friday night. How's that for an awesome combination?

Tonight I raced out of work by 6:30 in order to be home and changed and back out the door by 7:30 so we could be there and signed in and whatnot in time for our 8pm class. Which is also when I made a VERY BIG MISTAKE. I changed my Facebook status and announced my yoga-with-Frenchy intentions. Well off we went, on what was supposed to be a 10 minute motorbike ride to rue St. Jacques. Except that somehow what Frenchy thought was rue St Jacques was really Avenue Rapp, and nowhere near St Jacques.

So we drove some more and finally arrived at the right street. And Frenchy goes, "Ok! Run! Warmup!" And I'm pretty sure I heard him say something about number 21. Which was funny because when we were running I happened to look up at the numbers and we passed 392.... 388... For a moment I thought maybe I didn't hear the "3" in "321." But no. He really said "21." At or around this time we turned around and started running back to the bike. By then it was 7:58 and I could only imagine the condescending and irritated look on the face of not only the yoga instructor, but on every single student in the class when we arrived, out of breath, 20 minutes late.

So we went home. The long way. Because, you see, not only did we get lost on the way TO yoga, WE GOT LOST ON THE WAY BACK!

And so I ask you. What is the point of having a Parisian fiance who doesn't know his way around Paris???

Hmmmm. I guess because he cooks you nice food when you get home from your non-yoga class...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Trying to do absolutely nothing

It's not easy! After the crazy month of December, where we had a constant flow of houseguests and visitors, plus a party and of course the holidays, I hoped that January would be calm and quiet. I was wrong.

The first week was still full of family (not that this is a bad thing!) and then a sick Frenchy to take care of. Week two was comprised of the first days back to work, and then my fabulous Barcelona Barforama escapade, from which I apparently still haven't fully recovered - a work colleague informed me Friday that I really should eat more because I've lost weight. Nice! Good thing I like chocolate!

The second week included a sudden business trip to London that was sprung on me just 24 hours prior, and last week, the third week, was the busiest yet. A full week of 12-14 hour days and another trip to London to boot. On Tuesday night I was so tired that I accidentally set my alarm for 6am rather than 5am the next morning. Whoops. My TAXI arrived at 6am to take me to the airport. Needless to say, I broke my own personal record for amount of time required to go from entirely horizontal and completely asleep to showered, dressed, packed, and off to the train station. 12 minutes! I don't recommend this, however, as an ideal way to start a nonstop two-day business trip with all your bosses. I do, on the other hand, recommend managing to be in a different train car from all of them!

So after these three weeks of craziness, I'm now practically under house arrest, goverened over by Frenchy. Friday night we watched a movie and went to bed early. Saturday we made it outside just long enough to buy a new scarf (left mine in the office in London) and some violin strings and to stop off at a friends daughters' birthday party. (Which, incidentally, exhausted me, in those 60 minutes, just as much as the two day trip to London.) Last night we were really busy: we baked cookies. Whew, exhausting.

And today I even managed to take a nap less an hour after waking up! And now it's 4:30 and not only have I not set foot outside yet, I am still in my jammies. If you've read this blog for any length of time, or if you know me personally, you realize that this is actually harder for me than jumping on a plane to some random destination and walking nonstop for two days, only to get back home practically in time to go to the office on a Monday morning. It's a challenge, but I kind of like it. Maybe I'll try it again sometime!

Monday, January 19, 2009


Today at lunch with Frenchy I tried to put into words how thrilling this historic moment is. A president we can be proud of. Finally. I don't have to shy away from admitting my nationality anymore. Our credibility has returned... things like this really can happen in America. It's not such a bad place, after all. Three and a half years away from home, with everyone who isn't American pointing fingers at everyone who is, well... what a relief. I'M AMERICAN!

Thank you, President Obama. And thank you, Democrats Abroad France, for helping me get my vote in! And thank you all my fellow Americans who voted for change. We did it!

Monday Morning Horoscope

I´m not usually much of a horoscope person (unless I come across one I really like) but this was delivered to my Google page this morning and seemed particularly fitting for a Monday morning that´s already full-blast by 9am.

Your key planet Jupiter meets up with trickster Mercury today, challenging you to stay focused on the demanding day-to-day affairs of your life. You have to handle what's happening in your immediate environment, even if it's less fun than dreaming about the future. Nevertheless, no one can see your thoughts, so you can continue exploring your hidden fantasies as long as you also cover your bases in the here and now. By Rick Levine Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Week from Hell or, How NOT to Start the New Year

After two solid weeks of nonstop family time, wherein Frenchy and I acted as hosts, tour guides, and translators, it was a shock when Monday morning rolled around and it was actually time to go to work again. Work?! We needed a holiday from our holiday, not a Monday morning.

We were even more shocked when we looked out the window and saw Paris blanketed in snow. Frenchy had left his big motorbike at his parents' house a week earlier, so we hopped on my little scooter and headed for work. This scooter has never seen snow, and knowing how badly it handles in the rain, I can't say I was particularly excited to test out its snowcat abilities, but nevertheless off we went. We were halfway across the Bois du Boulogne when Frenchy decided to give me a snow driving lesson, informing me that while it's best to follow directly behind the cars (which we did slowly part of the way), you can totally drive between them in the snowy area as long as you dont 1) wobble the handlebars, 2) accelerate suddenly, or 3) brake suddenly.

Fine. And he was right, for a few minutes. I'm not sure which of the three he did, but I do know that suddenly we had wiped out, with my left knee taking the brunt of the fall. Luckily we, and everyone else, was going about 2km per hour max, so we basically just slipped and tipped over, and weren't gored by any oncoming cars. And in fact, it was the first time I've ever seen Parisian being helpful or caring or kind at all, as many of them stopped once we were on the side of the road to ask if we needed a lift to the hospital or anywhere else. We got back on the bike and slowly, very slowly, headed back to work.

Which is where I found out that I had become "invalid" as an employee. My card to enter and leave the building didn't work. Which is fine, but it's the same card that allows me to eat lunch. And if you pay in cash, they charge you double. Nice, huh? By Tuesday afternoon when I left for Barcelona, it was finally solved, after several emails and phone calls and even an in-person visit to the official building card manager. I met some interesting people over 36 hours... and also wasted a lot of time.

So onto late Tuesday afternoon, when I headed to the airport for Barcelona, and the next step in my work permit renewal. This is my fourth time, so you'd think I'd be used to it by now and it'd be a total snap, but life seems to like to deal me things to write about in my blog...

Tuesday was a holiday in Spain (La Epifania) so I had planned to arrive at night, pick up the government papers from my colleague who had picked them up from my old flat, stay with some IESE friends, and then get up early in the morning to take care of the last steps and wait in the fingerprinting line. The last step before actually picking up my new card, four full months after after starting the process.

I stayed with a friend in L'Hospitalet and her two boys and two cats and for some reason couldn't sleep the whole night, which is very rare for me. Particularly when I'm as tired as I was feeling that night. But the much-needed sleep simply refused to come, try as I might to relax and not think about how soon I'd have to get up. Suddenly it was 7am and I think I'd finally been asleep for about an hour, but I had to get moving. Before waiting in the line, I still have to take new passport photos and pay another set of taxes at a bank.

I started with the bank, and went to three different ones in L'Hospitalet before I finally gave up and flagged down a taxi and headed into Barcelona proper. I figured I'd just get it all done in one spot, since I was wasting time going to various banks which all had excuses for why they couldn't help me. (One only did those kinds of taxes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and this was Wednesday, the next had a new guy working there who didn't know what to do with my papers, and the third told me I had to make more photocopies first... but all the photocopy places were still closed.)

I was thrilled to arrive at the police station and find that, unlike previous years when I'd been through this, the line didn't wind around the entire block. I ducked into the shop across the street where the woman takes every immigrant's passport photos and makes copies and did exactly that. It was only later that I noticed how pale I looked in my pictures...

Then I ran across the street to the bank and paid nearly 100 euros in further taxes, and then it was finally time to get into the line. By this point, it was 9am, and I was slightly dismayed to find the reason there was no line outside. No, it wasn't because it was only 2 degrees celsius outside and there was snow on Tibidabo and they'd all decided to stay home. It was because the line was in the parking lot inside the police station's gates. I took a number and waited outside in the freezing cold for two hours... to receive another number. In the middle of it all, the guy handing out the numbers, a big burly Catalan policeman, announced that it was 10am and he'd be taking 30 minutes for breakfast so if we wanted to go out to do the same, we should just be sure to be back by 10:30 so as not to lose our places in line.

He finally turned up again at 11am. And I had my new number (188) and was in the next waiting area, inside at least, by 11:30. They were only up to number 99 when I walked in and took a seat. And as I watched the numbers s-l-o-wl-y move on the counter, I started to realize that I wasn't feeling too hot. Within minutes I was feeling downright miserable and realized I needed some fresh air (well, preferably a bed) ASAP.

I went outside to ask the guard if there was a toilet I might use in the police station, as I was feeling rather barfy. He kindly told me no, and suggested taht I go out and try one of the bars down the street and use their restroom. Awesome. I wasn't even halfway down the block when I barfed on a tree. In the middle of Via Augusta. I couldn't really come up with a more appropriate place in the moment... I looked at the ground, at a scooter, tried to find a garbage can, and then just ended up with a tree. Poor tree.

I felt momentarily better and ducked into the nearest bar I could find. There was an old couple at the bar, and their son who must've been my age. I must have looked awful because I barely got the question "may I use your bathroom" out when the old guy pointed up a narrow spiral staircase and off I went. Moments later I was downstairs again, gingerly sipping a manzanilla tea and wishing I could be anywhere but there, alone in Barcelona with no apartment, no hotel, no choice but to go back and sit in that godforsaken waiting room and pray with all my might that I wouldn't barf on everyone.

And back I went. The guard asked if I was ok and I told him I was worried I might've missed my number being called. He told me not to worry, that if it were the case, he'd personally see to it that someone helped me. Unfortunately, that wasn't my problem at all. Rather, they were only on number 126 when I arrived. And so I waited there for another thirty minutes, trying to keep the room from spinning and my head from exploding. The counter was only up to 140 when I realized I wouldn't survive there much longer, and I took a drastic step.

I poked my head into the room of the guy at the nearest desk, who was helping two other people, and apologized profusely and explained my situation: I'm incredibly sick, my papers are all in order, can you pleasepleasepleasePLEASE just help me quickly after these guys even though it's not my turn so I can get out of here without spewing all over your desk? He told me to ask his boss, desk 7. Which I did. She was helping someone on her staff when I arrived, and I spent those three or four minutes (which felt more like three or four hours) trying not to toss my cookies again and focusing on anything that might help. Like, oh, that little trashcan there.

Finally she called me in and I explained myself again. She didn't seem to really want to help until I insisted that my papers were all in order, I've been through this three times already, and it should only take a couple of minutes. She took pity on me, particularly when she saw I was telling the truth. Not only were my papers in order, but my hands were also shaking and I could barely keep my head off her desk. (Note to people who want to skip the queue in this manner, but without actually vomiting: LOOK THE PART!)

Another girl fingerprinted me and moaned that she was sick too, and then that was that. I was outside again on Via Augusta, with a receipt for my new residents card that could be picked up in a month. I got in a taxi and headed to a friend's house. Miguel was in Frenchy's class and his wife Cris had their first daughter in May, and was, thankfully for me, home with her that day. I made it to their place on Muntaner without incident, but proceeded to barf allllllll over the place after getting out of the taxi. Even in front of a group of people waiting for the bus. I guess they felt sorry for me, but that didn't really make anyone want to help.

But fortunately I was soon in the peace and quiet of Miguel and Cristina's guest room, where I must admit I wasn't able to sleep for several hours thanks to my very angry stomach, but where I was very well taken care of and finally managed to sleep a full 10 hours straight through the night. I missed my flight of course, and had to come back to Paris the following night, but there's no way I could've gotten on a plane in that state anyway.

So I finally got back to the office in Paris Friday morning, 10 pounds lighter, several shades whiter, and still feeling nowhere near 100%. I was still sick enough that I had to go home by 4pm, and I still don't know what was wrong with me. Stomach virus or food poisoning, I'll never know. And I will never forget what will thankfully be the LAST time I will ever have to wait in that stupid line!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2008... What a strange ride it has been!

At the end of every year, I usually like to carve out a little time for myself where I just sit down quietly and think about the 365 days I've just been through. The high points, the low points, the achievements and accomplishments, the things I could've done better, the new things I've done and the new places I've been... And frankly I usually feel pretty good at the end of it. Rarely have I ever kicked myself for not getting something done, or sticking to some resolution. In fact, I'm usually surprised by how much I've done in just one measly little year.

And this year, the only difference is that I haven't had a bit of quiet time to myself until AFTER the new year. It has been a very busy holiday season, and a wonderful one, with my family and Frenchy's together again, this time right here in Paris and with no broken bones or dislocations. So I finally have some time now, on a flight to Barcelona, to go through what 2008 has been, and if there is any single theme, it has been... uncertainty.

Which is funny, really, because all year I've been in a wonderful, stable relationship, and I've held a relatively normal, stable job. That right there is more than most people can say for the year that was, and so I consider myself lucky. But being in a relationship or a job situation where a visa is required presents its own set of difficulties. Will we make it? Can we end up working in the same city? In the same country? Will you find a job? Will I keep my job?

Throw in a move to another country (for me, a new one, for him, back home) and you throw another spanner in the works. I was ready to leave Barcelona, for many reasons, and Frenchy didn't want to return to France, for just as many reasons. Would our compromise work out?

I guess, looking back, the answer to everything has been yes. It has worked out, though it hasn't been easy. The uncertainty with work started back in May, the day before Frenchy's graduation, and finally now seems to be improving, and Frenchy has found himself a good job in Paris. And growing day by day, the uncertainty of this stupid economy, the most boring story of all, and the one that affects us all the most.

But uncertainty is so 2008. I'm bored with uncertainty. (Is it even possible to say such a thing?!) I'm excited it's 2009. I want to put that stupid uncertain year behind me and move on to something fresh and new and oh-so-certain. I mean, I CAN be certain about one thing - 2009 is here!

So one quick look back on the year that was, and it's on to the year that now is.

January: Fun trips to Milan and Mallorca; recovery from dislocated shoulders and cracked ribs

February: Business trips to Havana, San Francisco, and London, and the annual IESE Multiculti party

March: Derry for Joanne's birthday, Paris for work, and I gave my first business presentation in Spanish

April: Business trip to NYC with a side visit to Philly to see Nicole and Evan, plus our first skydiving adventure

May: Work trip to Paris, first wedding of the season, Rome for Frenchy's birthday, plus my IESE class reunion, Frenchy's graduation, a surprise birthday dinner for the Frenchy, and an offer to move to Paris

June: Business trips to Madrid, Helsinki, and Paris, and a side trip to Tallinn and a Finnish adventure with Juha for the Midsummer party

July: Belgium for Juanra's wedding, Paris for work and a wedding, Strasbourgfor a wedding, plus a trip to SF to give my first talk on a panel about video games and advertising for OMMA, and a trip to NYC

August: Toronto for... another wedding, Paris for work, then Toulouse for another wedding and on to Biarritz, San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Zaragoza

September: Paris & NYC for work (including a pitch for my old company), and Oregon for the last wedding of the season

October: Paris, Cannes, London x3, Barcelona... plus the overnight move from Barcelona to Paris

November: Stockholm, London, Prague... where we got engaged; played my first match with my new women's football team here, and saw my first live rugby match: France v. Australia

December: weekend in Aix-en-Provence... oh, and I turned 30. And it was dirty.

Well. Seven new countries, three times as many new cities. Eight weddings. A move to a new country. A new decade and an engagement. Looking back at all that, I feel it's time for a recovery nap. And then on to the next adventure. 2009, I'm ready!