Life in Paris isn’t all days of wine and roses. Even here, some days are diamond, some days are stone; some days are pain au chocolat, some days are a pain in the… well, you know. So here we go: some of the challenges of living among the French.
Sarcasm alert: this post is full of it.
Code? What code?
To get into your typical residential building in Paris you need a door code. Type in the code, press the button, and voilà, you’re in. Plenty of these buildings have doctors or lawyers or other professionals on the ground floor. Back in September when I needed to consult with my surgeon, I found the building, found the door, but I didn’t have the code! What to do? So I dug out my phone and called the receptionist (who barely spoke English) and explained I didn’t know the code to get in. She said something like “No code.” Right, exactly—I don’t have the code. Finally she came out and let me in. Come to discover all I had to do was press the button—without a code—and the door would open.
Danger: minefields everywhere
Ah Paris, city of culture, city of art, city of taste and refinement… city of dog-poop-on-sidewalks-all-over-town-and-especially-wherever-you-happen-to-be-walking. On the street around the corner from our apartment there is actually a sign that instructs the fine citizens of Paris to pick up after their pet. True story: I never even noticed that particular sign until the day I was walking by just as a woman stepped in a big pile of dog poop right in front of the unheeded sign. So far I’ve avoided all those nasty little land-mines. Not that everyone in our family can say as much…
Things heat up
Our rather small oven built by NEFF (company slogan: That’s not a bug, it’s a feature!) can overheat simply by running the broiler for a while. Or using it to, you know, roast something at a completely normal temperature. At which point the sensors inside its genius computer brain issue an Emergency Alert and increase the Oven Security Level to Defcon 1 (“Core Breach Imminent”) and engage Complete Oven Lockdown. Seriously—it locks the oven door closed and will not function! It has even gone into lockdown mode after we’re done cooking and the thing is turned off. This is more than mildly annoying, especially when I can’t get it to release the lockdown for more than a day. And even more super-especially-annoying when there is hot, tasty food inside the oven that I want to serve to guests!
Thanks to some googling—and no thanks to the French manual—I have learned the proper (non-intuitive) reset sequence to input, thus enabling us to get the dumb door open and rescue our food. Even so, we now leave the oven door open after use until it has completely for sure, no-doubt-about-it cooled down. Be assured: I will absolutely positively never ever voluntarily purchase an oven built by NEFF.
Cool it now
It got pretty cold in the middle of October. Not Montana cold by any stretch, but unseasonably cold for Paris—cold enough that it might be nice to crank up the heat in the house for the sake of, oh I don’t know, sleeping without shivering. So I figured out how to say “the heat isn’t working” in French and went down to see if I could get any help from the guardian in our building. She understood me, smiled (she’s very friendly) and mimed shivering, rubbing her arms with her hands. Then she said a whole string of things I didn’t understand, got out a calendar and pointed to a date later in the month. That I understood.
Turns out our apartment is one of those old ones that has centralized heat—heat for the whole building that is turned on on a set date regardless of what the weather is like, arctic freeze or Indian summer. And turns out this is fairly common. That’s why there’s a little space heater on wheels in the corner of the living room. So for about ten days we’d wheel that thing around to wherever we were in order to take the edge off the chill until the building heat came on later in the month. At which point, right on cue, the weather warmed right back up.
Where the streets have no name
I had hoped in our year of living here I would never get behind the wheel of a car (I did a whole post on this). Well, I managed to make it a little more than a month before we rented a car from a local so we could get out to one of the suburbs instead of spending hours on the train.
At least the French drive on the right, but that’s about all I’ve got going for me. The first time I drove, negotiating the narrow streets, trying to see the tiny street signs hidden on the sides of buildings, dodging other drivers, and following Siri’s directions (in her robotic, mangled French pronunciation that makes me sound like a native speaker) was enough to get my heart beating right out of my chest.
But we made it—and I lived to drive again—and for the most part minus the stress. After Christmas we even rented a zipcar on a Sunday morning for a joyride around town to take in the sights while most Parisians were still sleeping (you don’t have to get up very early to do this). The streets were so empty, I even took a loop around the normally manic Arc de Triomphe. Whoo-hoo!
I’ve got this figured out, I know exactly what I’m doing—or not
I’m getting lots of things figured out in Paris, more and more all the time. But now and again I get humbled.
So there I am: confidently striding off the métro, down the platform, up the stairs, and onto the connecting train—and not realizing until it pulls into the next station that I’m going the wrong direction.
Or getting a good deal on a couple of boxes of coffee pods for our K-cup coffee maker (something I’d never used before moving to Paris) only to later discover that they’re for a completely different style of coffee maker. I didn’t know there was another style.
Or ordering a baguette sandwich at the bakery (in French, right after French class) and being handed two sandwiches—and not because it was buy-one-get-one-free day. Yeah, apparently I didn’t say what I thought I said.
Can you hear me now?
We don’t have a local bank account here since we’re short-timers. Meaning I can’t get an ongoing phone service plan for our phones. So every month I need to buy recharge slips for each of us at the tabac to get another month of service. Service that includes 600 megabytes of data for the month. Enough data to check my email and open four-and-half web pages before it’s exhausted. Okay, it’s not that bad, but I have to ration my cellular data usage like a miser if I don’t want to find myself wandering Paris at the end of the month unable to load the map on my phone. (No, I haven’t carried a paper map anywhere in months.) In some ways this is a good thing. No mindlessly scrolling Facebook while waiting for the train. No looking up some bit of trivia or watching Studio C videos just to kill time (although I love Studio C). It means being intentional about using the internet when I’m out and about. And that’s actually not so bad. There’s a lot more I could say about the frustrations of the recharge plans—like they’re always changing the deals, the rates are exorbitant, certain plans seem to expire mysteriously, and the Orange phone company website is cryptic… okay, I’ll stop now.
Hung out to dry
Our combination washer/dryer is another fine product brought to you by the people at NEFF. Another product I will never ever willingly buy. Who invented this Franken-combo? Sure, it washes clothes—to be precise, the tiny thing has a capacity of exactly two shirts, three socks and a washcloth—and then you have to switch if over to the dry function (sechage), where upon it will shake, rattle, and roll for a couple of hours, at which point you will have a pile (a very small pile) of hot, damp clothes that are now thoroughly wrinkled. We’re having to iron things we’ve never even thought of ironing before. What’s more, it’s not like anything comes out really dry. Sheets have to be hung over chairs for another few hours before you can make up a non-damp bed.
Now wait, you say—those things that get so wrinkled, can’t you pull them out early? You know, before the wrinkles set in? What an idea! Alas, no. This is another NEFF product, remember? Which means that once the door is closed and the cycle (no matter what cycle) has begun, it is in LOCKDOWN, baby. Don’t even think of getting your precious pants out until it is good and ready—and they’re good and wrinkled.
It’s not that I’m not complaining; living in Paris continues to be a fantastic experience. The dog poop I’ve accepted, the appliances I’m tolerating, and the continual phone service recharging—well, maybe I am complaining just a little bit…
Come to think of it, I think I need a crêpe.