How to park in France

Can’t find a legitimate parking spot? No problem.

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The taxi drivers strike back

Yesterday the taxi drivers were on strike (“en grève”). I caught this scene while walking back from the RER (which, along with the métro, wasn’t affected as far as  I could tell).

Apparently, they’re not too happy about Uber. I’ve used both, as well as zip cars and even a private rental–I’ll happily seek out the best deal for our needs.

I didn’t see anything like this picture below today, but you can read about it at The Guardian.

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Taxi drivers demonstrate by blocking traffic and burning tyres on a ring road in Paris. Photograph: Aurélien Meunier/Getty

 

Trouble in paradise

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.

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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.

Final disclaimer:

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.

Sometimes you need a car

Sometimes you need a car. I really like the idea of using the metro, the regional trains and the busses. But sometimes you need a car. Before we moved to Paris the idea that I might not drive for an entire year sounded like a dream come true. I can get excited about a big road trip, but there’s not much I like about commuting or being dependent on a car. In America, however, very, very few cities are livable without your own wheels. Not so in Europe. All kinds of people in Paris and other cities don’t have a car, don’t want one, and are getting by just fine, thank you very much. No getting stuck in traffic. No driving around looking for parking, no paying exorbitant parking prices.

It sounds wonderful. A dream come true. Until you actually, really need a car.

We didn’t make it even two months before we broke down and rented one. And all told, we’ve now used almost every form of car transportation available in Paris. Right off the bat, when we moved in we used a taxi to schlep all of our stuff from the hotel we needed only for one night before our apartment was available. Later we took a taxi to the airport when we had a really early flight, one that made it impossible to use the metro and get there in time. We’ve also used uber a few times. But those things hardly count. Those are still other people driving.

But since then we’ve done a private car rental (where you rent someone’s personal car), I’ve driven a friend’s car, we’ve rented a zip car, we’ve even carpooled.

Things would be different if the girls and I had Navigo passes that allows for unlimited rides on the metro and RER (the regional trains), but it doesn’t really pencil out for them since they hardly need the metro during the week. And I’ve been out of town enough that it hasn’t quite made sense for me either.

Something I hadn’t anticipated before moving here was how many times we’d end up traveling out beyond central Paris. The girls’ trapeze lessons are waaaay out in the outskirts. Farther out than Versailles, even! We’ve also gone to see friends who live well beyond central Paris. We attended a church retreat that was up north in St. Prix and using uber was a better deal for all of us than train tickets.

Driving in Paris is an experience. Last night I had to navigate a roundabout where it seemed like a dozen delivery trucks were unexpectedly parked in and all around the roundabout. Scooters whizzed along doing their usual bob-and-weave through traffic. Cars jockeyed for position. One delivery truck clipped another one. Drivers got out, hands in the air. I found my opening, knifed my way through and sped onto the périphérique, the highway that rings Paris. Hurray! I zoomed down the on-ramp… and came to a stop. Sunday evening. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. It appears that in this city of many millions, traffic is a constant concern. But even as we passed multiple accidents, even as motorcycles zoomed by the stop-and-go traffic as they threaded their way along the lane strips, and even as an impatient driver rode my bumper flashing his lights (when traffic finally opened up and I was only going the speed limit), I was more relaxed than my first time driving.

Maybe it was riding in a taxi in Italy. There’s nothing like experiencing Italian traffic chaos where lane markings are completely irrelevant to real life to make driving in France seem like a civilized affair.

The dream of not needing to drive for a year may not have panned out, but at least I don’t need to try to get a French license. That’s an endeavor of a much greater magnitude. Thankfully, I can drive here for a year with just my Washington State license—although it will expire next May while I’m still here… hmm…