Archive for the 'France' Category

things i’ve been working on

While I’ve been jobless, I’ve learned a lot about myself and about the things I like doing with my free time. I found out that I really like writing, translating, keeping up with fashion, politics and tech trends, singing, and using computers to make stuff. I also know a lot more about making websites with JavaScript now after having taken a brain-frying Java programming class at Stanford, so I’m going back into hand-coding my own sites. And I found out that I’m a movement–> sound synesthete, which is why I’ve revived my childhood interest in animated GIFs.

So when I’m not looking at job postings, I’m probably doing one of the following:

Reading the news (and a couple of productivity blogs if I’m really procrastinating)
– Eating ice cream (my family at one point had five kinds in the freezer… in February)
– Hanging out in the Mission
– Walking or playing with my dog
Translating the Japanese Prime Minister’s blog
– Making epilepsy-inducing animated GIFs
– Looking at other people’s art
– Writing and tweeting for my sister’s blog
– Singing for a trance producer

I’m thinking of translating articles from L’Officiel so that I can brush up on my French as well as my Japanese, but I now have a part-time internship at a TV station to work on, so I don’t know if I can take on much more stuff. But I’ll probably just translate a couple of articles for the hell of it– they have all their editions online anyway, and I’ve got a friend who’d be interested in the one about Alber Elbaz of Lanvin…


the world, the french and the u.s. presidential election – or, why i don’t talk about politics

First off, I’m sorry I’ve been gone half the summer. I’ve had Burning Man, O’ahu and East Coast posts on the back burner; I’ll retroactively post them in the next week or two and will turn to my regularly scheduled itinerary from then on.

This post, however, is mostly a rant. It’s about why I don’t like talking about politics— or following it too closely, for that matter.

For one, I’m a flaming liberal— pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-alternative energy, pro-universal health care, pro-globalism, anti-war, anti-oil, anti-tax raises for everyone but the rich. That’s all well and good at Stanford, but my family would likely have been a bunch of super-Catholic conservatives if my parents weren’t going to hell for producing bastard children. As I pointed out when I was in Southeast Asia, I apparently cannot and should not talk about religion or politics with anyone Filipino. It just stresses me out way too much.

I guess it could have been worse, though. My father is still a Philippine citizen, but otherwise he’d vote for Obama, and he still engages me in debate from time to time like he did when I was younger. My grandparents are voting for Obama thanks to his fantastic elocution. My mother is going to vote for McCain, partly because his illegal immigration policies are more lax than Obama’s, but partly because, in her words, “The American president shouldn’t have the last name ‘Obama'”. I’m probably not going to be talking to her during the month of December.

Anyway, I digress. The second reason I don’t like following politics is because I don’t see the point in getting so angry about shit all the time. I watched the Palin-Biden debate yesterday and ended up throwing a shoe at the screen when I couldn’t take Palin’s ass-kissing and issue-skirting any longer. That was fun because my house was watching the debate like a bunch of frat boys would watch a football game– drunkenly and belligerently, yelling things at the giant projector screen.

But after the debate, a couple of people in my house were ranting to anyone within earshot about how Palin is an idiot. Of course she is, and the majority of the developed world agrees with you. There’s no point in running your mouth off about it in the safety of a liberal hotbed with people who aren’t experts on the issues, so if you really give a shit, do something tangible elsewhere. Join the Stanford Democrats. Lobby your goddamn representatives. Team up with people who feel angry too. I’m just not one of them.

I’ve taken to politics like the French take to life. With a French accent: “Yes, maybe parts of it suck, but ‘o ze fuck cares? Ze people who care can complain. I ‘ave my sirty-five hour workweek and five weeks of ‘olidays. I do not geeve a sheet.”

That said, I completely understand the French view of the U.S. presidential and vice-presidential candidates this year. The economy is shot to shit and there’s a nonzero chance that Palin could end up in the presidency. Ah, les americains, those stupid fucking idiots.

the world according to the frankreich: don’t take it personally

If you are going to live in Paris for more than a few weeks and are wondering why Parisians sometimes seem like assholes, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Polly Platt’s “French or Foe?“. It explains, for instance:

– why French guys always sound like they’re arguing (they love to exercise their wits),

– or why you get lots of unsmiling eye contact on the street if you’re a well-dressed girl or guy (just appreciating the time you took to look good),

– or why you can get anything you want if you pour on the charm and the theatrics to everyone from the supermarket check-out clerk to the lady working at the French consulate (apparently French people just love to be entertained).

I brought the book with me to Paris but hadn’t read it in its entirety until last week. Wish I’d read it earlier. :P Granted it’s written by a woman of a “certain age” so it’s got some of the scoop on French manners that people who weren’t born before 1970 don’t really use anymore (unless they’re old money or politicians). But at least now I know what to do if I’m ever invited to a formal dinner party at the American Embassy…

french holidays and craigslisting in paris

I realized that my posts have been kind of boring and food-y as of late. Sorry about that! Here’s a small life update from my side as I try to scrounge up more material for an actually useful post.

France has a ton of holidays in the spring
, most of which are Easter-related (Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Pentecost and Whit Monday). But unlike Japan, which avoids having a work day sandwiched between two holidays (and sometimes creates an in-between holiday just for that purpose), France has a few awkward spring Mondays when the following Tuesdays are fériés. For my friends, this has discouraged travel plans to other parts of Europe on more than one occasion. (For my Barcelona trip, I just used one of my allowed absences and played hooky.)

But Mondays aside, there’s a nice four-day weekend starting this Thursday. However, Stanford’s quarter system completely messes up our schedule, so my midterms fall on this Friday and next Monday. Gah! I’m glad I don’t have the money to take another trip, or I’d definitely miss more classes.

Summer in France should be really interesting. I hear that In the month of August, absolutely no one works. I hope I can find a summer job regardless.

In other news, I’ve found an apartment! It’s this tiny thing just on the outskirts of Zone 1 and close to the Parc Monceau, owned by a twentysomething Russian girl who’s lived here for three years and seems chill. It’s insanely, INSANELY cheap for a Parisian apartment. (It’s also tiny, and at the top of a seventh-floor walk-up, and the shower is in the kitchen, but shit, it’s 250 a month!)

How did I find it? I have no idea, because the housing section in paris craigslist is usually full of apartment broker ads and temporary room shares, both very pricey. But I used the craigslisting strategy and waited until I pounced on something that was in my price range (defined as "cheap as humanly possible") and didn’t seem too sketch. I stuck with craigslist, but there are tons of other places to look, I just wanted to make sure that the seller knew a fair amount of English.

That’s about it. In my next post, I will talk about ice cream. No, seriously.

b in a castle = fish out of water

I am currently battling some sort of cold right now (I hear that there’s a French version of Airborne but I haven’t been able to find it), and I have been away all weekend and will be in Barcelona next weekend, so I apologize in advance if you don’t hear from me for a bit.

That said, I’m gonna use this short post to write about and my weekend jaunt to the Loire Valley courtesy of Stanford-in-Paris’s most generous donors, the Bings.

The Bing family has donated tons and tons of money to Stanford and to the Stanford Overseas Programs in particular. They want to help “the world leaders of the future” learn about “the meaning of culture” by paying for “cultural events” such as ballets and operas at the Opera Garnier and Opera Bastille, and our trip to the Loire, where we were housed in a castle, toured other castles, and fed expensive gourmet dinners.

I appreciate the Bings’ kindness, but this version of culture is a bit too much for my taste. For one, I’m probably not going to be a world leader, so this crap is pretty much wasted on me. For another, I’d rather they do more productive things (like pay my loans or help feed starving children) with the tons of money that they’ve spent spoiling me rotten.

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed being spoiled rotten. I loved living in a castle, eating the world’s best cheeses and drinking fine wines, being introduced into the world of the high-class elite. In the back of my mind, though, there was always a nagging feeling that went something like, You aren’t rich. You aren’t high-class. You hate being a tourist. You’ll be paying off your college loans for the next forty years. There are starving kids in Africa. What the fuck are you doing here?

It didn’t help that the lavishness of the castles made me want to both cry and puke my guts out. Besides, if I imagined living in them when they were at their prime, I probably would’ve been a slave. No fairy tale dreams for me.

Maybe I should just visit the Loire castles sometime when I have more time to myself to explore them. I get the feeling that I would be able to see more of their beauty and less of their obnoxious wealth without cameras snapping, tour guides talking and forty privileged Stanford students chattering in the background.

N.B.: I really wasn’t trying to disparage being wealthy in this post. I was reflecting on my lack thereof. Yes, I’m insecure about being less affluent than most of my classmates. No, I don’t resent them because of it. (And I’m quite grateful to the Bings, though I really believe that they shouldn’t be wasting .00005% of their fortune on me.)

parisians as characterized by their metro system

I’ve been in Paris for approximately one week. Maybe less. My host mother lived in New York for five years and I’m surrounded by Stanford students in class, so I haven’t really been able to absorb a lot of French so far, but this is about my first impressions anyway.

Not that I want to stereotype. But there’s some sort of hidden rulebook for manners and conduct that a majority of Parisians seem to have read. To begin, you need to understand one thing. The director of the Stanford in Paris program worded it best:

“The Americans, they like to take care of you. They want to know your needs. The French, not so much.”

Parisians, in particular, have two salient characteristics. One, they keep things running smoothly. Two, they know what they want.

This is not a culture where every waiter is capable of waiting for you as you make a decision. They simply do not have the time. (Btw, one or two waiters often run a whole restaurant or café at lunch. Keep this in mind if you want to have a sit-down lunch: it can take about two hours. Also, vegetarians beware: most restaurants can’t cater to your needs. Don’t be a bitch about it. Just pick the meat off your plate.)

People may seem rude, but they’re sure as hell efficient. Have you ever used the Paris Métro at rush hour? It’s a beautiful thing. Trains come every two or so minutes (the wait time for the next two trains is prominently displayed at each platform), and you usually have to pull a handle to open the door you want to get into (I assume it preserves the air conditioning).

There are no announcements for each stop (except for line 1, which is fairly new and tourist-prone because it’s the line for the Louvre, the Concorde and the Champs-Elysées), so the wait time at each stop is usually about thirty seconds. People don’t try to keep the doors open because the doors are quite vicious– as the warning labels on the windows say in multiple languages, they can “pinch your hands very strong”.

warning on french metro doors

There are fold-down seats near each set of doors. When a large group of people comes in, the people occupying these seats stand up to make more room for everyone. This never fails. Very old people and people who have a pile of paperwork on their lap are exempted, but otherwise it never fails. (Or else you get a dirty look.)

There are no elevators on the métro, so old ladies with groceries or people with heavy bags (like me on my first day) are assisted by a small army of young and/or strong French people up and down the long staircases. In addition to being a random act of kindness, this facilitates traffic.

The only thing to be careful of in the metro (besides pickpockets) is the long line at the station counter, where a single attendant (maybe two, if you’re lucky) sells tickets and passes. These lines tend to be long at all the wrong times because there’s just no room for ticket machines in the station before entering. Fortunately for most Parisians, you only need to get in these lines every so often– a ticket can be issued for months at a time, and the touch-and-go NaviGo pass can be refilled online, or so my host mother says.

If you’re from Manhattan, you’ll feel a bit more at home than most. If you’re from a suburban or rural area in the United States, don’t cry at the lack of friendliness from strangers. Smiling is considered an overt come-on. If someone does smile at you, they’re probably about to follow you home and rape you.

I don’t want to end on a bad note. Hmm, what can cheer you up? I’ve been getting fat off of desserts lately. If you think Parisian waiters are extremely rude, don’t worry: the food they bring usually more than makes up for it. If you’re vegetarian, get a few entrées instead of an actual dish. And dessert. God, I love the Hôtel du Nord‘s tiramisu.

Two Weeks of Suck, Part 4: how i finally went catatonic

Part of the Two Weeks of Suck series, in which b recounts her spring break.

8. Friday. I find out through an e-mail that my Parisian host mother won’t be home when I get to her place. (Actually, I should’ve known this a long time ago, but it took me a while to decipher her French.) I finally call my mom to see if there’s any way I could reschedule my flight to Sunday.

And she freaks out on me! I don’t fucking know what to do. Since my flight is non-refundable, the fee to reschedule is like $600 altogether. A hotel near the airport is $125, so my mom doesn’t really give a shit whether I want to spend an extra day with my boyfriend, she’s booking the hotel.

9. Saturday. I’m at Heathrow Airport in line for my Air France flight. The first time around, I have to repack because the guy tells me that one of my suitcases is over 20 kilos.

The second time around, I’m told that the maximum limit altogether is 20 kilos.

I didn’t know this at the time, but that’s sort of a European standard. About 44 pounds or a medium-sized suitcase’s worth. We Americans are apparently spoiled rotten. I’m 18 kilos over, so the woman at the counter tells me (in heavily accented English) that it’s 8.40 GBP per kilo over the limit, or there’s a post nearby so I can mail the thing. When boyfriend asks if there’s any way to get it on the plane, she tells us that she is not a post office. She even rewrites the number “8.40” on my ticket, very slowly. She’s kind of a bitch.

No, make that a HUGE bitch. I wouldn’t have slammed my passport down on the counter so hard that it flung into her face if she hadn’t been a huge bitch. I wouldn’t have hopped on the conveyor belt and yanked my suitcase right off it if she hadn’t been a huge bitch.

Boyfriend tried creatively repacking so I could get everything on board in time (by this time I had about five minutes before the plane left), which involved me wearing about six layers of clothing, running through the airport with them on, and trying to convince airport security to let me have my second suitcase as a carry-on. It didn’t work because you can only have two pieces of luggage in Europe: your check-in and your carry-on. Keep this in mind.

All hope lost, we ran back to the check-in counter. I don’t know what my boyfriend was trying to pull at that point, but I’d just sprinted through the airport and back in six layers of clothing and hadn’t eaten all day. I was seeing stars, and not in a good way. Someone handed me a cup of water and I half coughed, half vomited it back up.

After that, I don’t remember much of what happened. Boyfriend was pretty much my proxy for everything, because I could barely think about anything but, “Holy fucking shit, my mom is gonna kill me”.

In the end, I missed my flight, and the hotel reservation my mom had made couldn’t be canceled, so mom ended up having to pay for both, plus the Eurostar that I ended up taking the next day. In a stressful and sort of roundabout way, I got what I wanted: another day with boyfriend and NOT a flight with Air France.

By the way, if you ever take the Eurostar, at least try to go for Leisure Select (especially if you’re under 26, so you qualify for a Youth fare). For just ten or so more bucks you get more comfy seating and a small meal, complete with dessert and a selection of apéritifs (which BTW should not be eaten with your meal outside the home).

The Two Weeks of Suck have been over for some time (about one week exactly), so I’ve been able to reflect a lot on everything that went wrong– and a few more things went wrong than the nine presented here, but they were more dorm-related and not very useful for me to recount here.

Anyway, at the time, each brick wall I ran into was enough to hurtle me into another whirlwind of stress. I really owe it to my boyfriend for calming me down and being a source of comfort through it all. I have absolutely no idea what I’m gonna do without him.


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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