May 29, 2014

La cantine

My internship has come with many perks. The company is paying for half of my monthly metro pass, there is a small gym with a trainer and group classes available for free (yes, even to us interns), and there are two in house lunch dining options available with very reasonable prices.

Up till now, I have avoided eating at French cantines(dining halls/canteens). My first experience was during my time as a teaching assistant. They didn’t have anything that accommodated vegetarians, and so I would just make myself a sandwich and eat in the teacher’s lounge.

Next up, as a student, the cantine still didn’t have many vegetarian choices, and since I didn’t want to pay €3,50 for a plate of fries and over cooked carrots, I brought leftovers from the previous night’s dinner that I would reheat in the student’s lounge.

But now, as an intern, I eat at the cantine. There are many more options for vegetarians at this cantine, and for that I’m greatful. Plus, they have understood that it is disagreeable to pay the price of a meat meal when you don’t take meat, and charge less for a vegetables-only plate.

All of this is a vast improvement from previous cantine experiences, and I am grateful for cheap eats, especially as everything is expensive in Paris.

That said, I just don’t understand why the French culinary greatness can’t extend to vegetables. It has been my experience that the French think they can just boil a vegetable until its soft, put absolutely no seasoning, herbs, or spices on it, and declare it done.

Normally I love broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, but every time the cantine serves them they are just lukewarm mush.

After three months, I now know which plates I like and which plates I don’t, and more often than not, the dishes served fall into the don’t category. I’ve gotten pretty good at picking and choosing parts from different dishes to make up a worthwhile plate, but I still think side dishes should be just as important and flavorful as the main attraction.

That's why I put herbes de provence on my hauricots verts(green beans).

May 7, 2014

1e dimanche du mois

Paris. Despite having spent a semester abroad here, many weeks visiting with my parents, and weekend or day trips visiting with friends, there somehow remains museums and other activities left undone.

While I have enjoyed the freedom of not being obliged to visit 4 museums in one day, or even to “see the sights,” I still want to take advantage of living in the city of light.

That said, things have gotten a lot more expensive in my life recently for two main reasons. First of all, Paris is just darn expensive. Second of all, according to the European Union, I am an old fart.

Paris public museums and monuments are free to residents of the European Union younger than 26 years old, and seeing how I’m now 26, I have to pay my way. Most places don’t even have student-discounted rates. Apparently by 26 years old, you should be done with that whole higher education thing.

Luckily, the city of Paris thinks that everyone should be able to enjoy its many wonderful museums, and so they are made free to the public the first Sunday of every month.

I’ve taken this opportunity to visit some lesser-known museums, including le musée des arts et métiers.

Filled with old timey science apparatuses, cars, planes, construction materials, and communication technologies, this museum is cool.


Science.

It also reinforced the notion of how I am no longer “young,” as it had on display items that were younger than I am (like an iPod).

To top it off, I overheard a young child asking his grandpa, “qu’est-ce que c’est grand père? (what is that, grandpa?)” pointing at a certain item of older technology on display in a glass case.

ah, ça c’est un magnétoscope pour les VHS (ah, that's a VHS player).” But just stating what it was wasn’t enough. The grandpa had to continue to explain how at one point in time, that was how people watched movies at home.

Nevertheless, it was really cool to see old cars as well as old giant computers, and seeing how much technology has changed over the years made me excited for the future, even if I am "old" now.

March 27, 2014

Déodorant

Somehow, despite having lived in France for 4 and a half years (admittedly not consecutively), I have avoided up till now purchasing and using French deodorant. And no, I wasn’t just not wearing it! Somehow the deodorants that I’ve brought with me were enough to last.

I use solid deodorant, and I really made my last stick count. I was stabbing the weird plastic-y part at the end with a q-tip to ensure I got every last bit of use out of it. But, one can only put off the inevitable for so long, and so I ventured forth on the search for French deodorant.

Why was I going to such lengths to avoid French deodorant? Well, I have never seen deodorant in a solid form over here. They tend to prefer aerosols where you spray particles under your arms, or liquids.

Granted, I haven't done an extensive search, but as part of my on going quest to integrate into French culture, I decided to branch out.

While I know some of my fellow Americans use liquid deodorant, I never have. So faced with the unknown and my limited number of options, I went for something my compatriots use: liquid deodorant.


I hate it.

It’s wet. It stays wet. It takes eons to dry. If I’m running late and don’t give myself enough time to dry off, the underarms of my clothes get wet.

It’s cold, and I’m already cold in the mornings.

It’s slimy, and after application my underarms remind me more of frog skin than human skin.


My liquid déodorant, aka early morning torture.

I’m just glad I bought a travel size bottle.

However, my travel size solid deodorant lasted me 6 months... Looks like I’ll have to deal with cold, wet, slimy underarms for a while to come yet.

Update: thanks to my awesome readers, I was able to find solid déo!

February 23, 2014

Stage: le début.

For all my complaining about how unorganized my university is, how uncommunicative the professors and administration are, and how nobody ever seems to know what’s going on, I can at least now say that it has prepared me pretty well for the realities of being an intern in France.

After accepting the offer and settling on a starting date in December, come mid-January I still had no information about how my first day was going to be. This continued until the week before my start date, when I decided that I’d rather know than wait around. I called them to double check the starting date and find out what time I was expected. I then learned that I should be there at 9 in order to attend orientation.

While no further details were given, I was at least grateful to know this little tid bit. Knowing the first day was going to include an orientation calmed my nerves.

While I had them on the phone, I wanted to ask if it would be okay if I took an extra long lunch on Thursday in order to pick up the keys to our new apartment. However, they misunderstood me and thought I said lundi (not jeudi). That’s how I discovered that we were to be lunching with our bosses and other new interns on the first day.

I cleared up the confusion, but was glad that there was some otherwise I'm sure I would’ve been kept in the dark until jour j.

Just like orientation for the master, after my day of learning about the operations of the place, I still felt like I knew how nothing worked. We were not told if there was or wasn’t a strict time to come into the office. We had been told we’d learn how to use their time sheet software, but somehow or other it didn’t happen. I was told my desk would just be temporary, as they hadn’t found a place for me just yet. They then gave me a bunch of papers to read to play catch up on my project, and left me to figure it all out on my own.

Three weeks into it, I am getting the hang of things. I was able to figure out the time sheet situation mostly on my own, and as far as I can tell there are no future plans to change my desk.

I guess France is gonna be France. At least I get to look at this on the walk to the métro every day.


La Défense.

February 1, 2014

Goodbye Troyes

This Monday I will start my new internship in Paris and say goodbye to Troyes. While the unknowns before me do make this a stressful change, I will not be sad to leave, at least not in the way I was heartbroken to leave Lille.


Timbered houses in Troyes.

Troyes is a beautiful fairy tale miniature city. But whether it was because the university wasn’t actually in the city, or because I was less interested in the cultural opportunities, or because I’m less impressed with (the 9) medieval churches now that they’ve become the norm, I never made Troyes my city in the way that I did with Lille.

I don’t feel at home here like I did in the North. I felt certain that I wanted to get out of Troyes when I did my internship. However, when we walked to the library today to rent some DVDs, I couldn’t help remarking how beautiful this little city is. And how maybe if I’d been less of a homebody, it could’ve felt more mine.

While it’s been fun living in Champagne and drinking bubbly on the cheap (~13€/bottle!), I am ready for a new adventure.

So Goodbye fair city. I will miss the church view from my bedroom window, the small cobblestone streets and timbered houses, and my favorite pizza place. Thank you for a year and a half of discovery, hard work, and not distracting me too much from my studies. I’m sorry I didn’t get to know you as well as I should.

Until we meet again.
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