Friday, April 28, 2006


French customer service is just as wonderful as always. I was in H + M this evening, or "ash et em" as it's called here, and I was at the till spending around 65€ on a few articles. The dress I chose didn't have a bar code but I remembered the price from the rack. The trousers I wanted had a button missing. Despite all of this I still chose to buy the clothes as I'm not one to spend hundreds of € on high-quality goods. (Starting to sound a bit mean on this site now...)

First of all I asked the sales 'assistant' if she could discount me 10% from the trousers as they had no button. She pointed out the spare button that was sewn into the label at the back and explained that she couldn't do a discount because there was a button. I explained that the button was supposed to be spare and to be sold as an extra button but this didn't make any difference. She said she could go and ask her manager but it would take a long time. I chose to forget it.

She then asked me why I hadn't chosen a dress with the price tag on. I explained it was the only one in my size and that I'd remembered the price. Even after that she couldn't run it through the till because of "the system". So, I had to go and pick up another dress from the rack on the other side of the store. I'm sure one of the managers thought I was an employee by this point.

Just another example of France's wonderful customer service. If I'd been in the States I'd have had free garlic bread.

Anyway, I'm getting very excited now because I've packed up my office for the week and I'm not going to do a minute's work until a week on Monday - it's holiday time! I'm going to Sicily with G for a romantic break around the island.

We don't have any plans as yet, so I would really appreciate any advice that anyone has. The only advice I've managed so far was for the wrong country.....

I was on the RER A line, reading my Sicily Lonely Planet book and a man sitting opposite me.

"Greece is beautiful in September".

Not really being sure what to do with that comment, I looked up and said "OK that's nice".

"You'll have a wonderful time".

"OK thanks, but I'm actually going to Sicily as it says on my book."

He then proceeded to tell me he knew nothing about Sicily but Greece was gorgeous after all the tourists have gone in late August. I thanked him and my lucky stars as he got off at the next stop. He wasn't a crazy, bum pinching métro maniac but I didn't really feel happy with conversation on public transport.

Maybe I'm becoming too cynical, but at least I can now practise my sewing skills.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I'm not a member of the upper class. I realised this many years ago when I bought a pair of jeans for less than 10 pounds from Doncaster market and was proud of that fact. Even though I'm approaching my thirties, am doing quite well in my career and have a wonderful boyfriend who would buy me what I want, I still blanche at the thought of spending more than 20€ on a T-Shirt or more than 35€ on a meal.

So you can understand my embarrassment when I was invited to partake in a Monday night dinner with G's family at Mori. Mori - Venise Bar is a new trendy Italian restaurant opposite the Bourse in the centre of Paris. Typically frequented no doubt by financial executives and rich business people, this restaurant was exactly what I had feared it would be.

Decent white wine was spoiled by the cheesy veal slices I mistakenly ordered. The promise of delicious mushrooms with the sauce was quickly dashed when I saw the lonely mushroom head bobbing around in the sauce early on in the meal. A couple of sprout-sized potatoes completed the disaster and my lovely mother-in-law went home 33€ poorer because of it. I have to admit that the tiramisu that G ordered was pretty good, but with it being more than 10€ a portion I couldn't let the Yorkshire lass inside me waste hard-earned cash, even if it wasn't my own.

I have to admit to preferring the more food-oriented eateries in Paris like the Potager du Père Thierry - don't know who Thierry is but he's a damn fine cook - or the Epicérie. Both of these places fail to disappoint and you don't have to budget for the rest of the week.

I also have to admit that today I had lunch in a certain golden-arched fast food 'restaurant' even though I have not set foot in one for more than a year and felt fat and greasy on my way out. Sometimes you need contrast.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


I've just yanked myself back to the reality that is the Paris métro system in all its glory after a wonderful weekend in Bruges with G, my parents and my aunt and uncle. Bruges is a beautiful city, nicknamed the 'Venice of the North' with its canals and cobbled streets. There is traffic in the city, but the bicycles, horses and carts and pedestrians equal them in number.

We stayed in the centre of town in a gorgeous hotel made up of three houses all joined together. Our room had wonderful wooden beams and a very high ceiling - all in all an extremely romantic place. Mussels, beer and chocolate are Belgium's specialities and we sampled plenty of all three.

So now it's back to reality and in less than twenty four hours I'll be back at work, ready to enforce my omnipotent language on some more unsuspecting frogs.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

CPE and all that

"You're fired!" is a statement not often heard in France, despite the high pressure of some executive positions in major companies that have their head offices in La Défense. Even petits boulots (which could be translated into 'dogsbody jobs' in English) are not easily lost. There are all kinds of laws protecting the vulnerable employee from the ruthless employer and you really have to do something serious to hear that immortal phrase. Of course companies making cutbacks and handing out redundancies to people approaching retirement age is another reason to lose your job, but frankly, in France, with a contract in your fist you're pretty safe. I know of no other country (but please correct me if I'm wrong) where employees have as many rights as here in France.

So you can understand when young people start marching the streets in protest against a contract which will effectively make them as expendable as workers in the US and the UK, not to mention the rest of the world.

You can understand when the young shout out in protest that it wouldn't be fair to employ them with the threat of firing for no valid reason for two years hanging over their head.

You can understand when they scream that it's not fair to apply this rule only to the inexperienced under-26 population.

What I cannot understand is why, after being so strong, tough and almost Thatcheresque in his previous discourse, Dominique de Villepin has now retreated under the table trembling with fright that he may not be able to wear a nice tie and speak to his "chers compatriotes" as Monsieur le Président by the time the elections come around in 2007.

As an English person, I really believe that the most sure-fire way to guarantee more strikes in the future and nation-wide chaos is to give in to strikers. I am certainly not saying that I agree with the conditions of the CPE, I think he never should have put it forward in the first place, but what I'm saying is that if you're going to push something through, push it. Nobody respects a scaredy-cat.

The answer, as far as I can see is to focus on training issues. Let's teach the young how to communicate better in English for international communication, how to use computer software more easily, how to give presentations, negotiate, how to do effective job interviews, CV writing and all the other skills that we never realise are important until we're faced with reality.

Let's train the youth of France to perform on a higher level with more marketable skills, perhaps then at least the demonstration banners will be more interesting to read.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Metro Madness

I've never loved the métro in Paris, but I've never had a particularly scary experience on it either. I take it daily, eyes fixed on the middle distance not looking at any of my fellow passengers or caring what they wear, look like or do. I try to let people get off before boarding myself, I don't push or tut like some and I generally get to where I want to go with minimum hassle (strikes permitting).

Such a good citizen then surely does not deserve the freakish incident which happened to me on Tuesday evening in the bussle and noise of St Lazare station.

I felt a sharp pinch on my backside as I began to go down the stairs leaving the line 3. I turned around abruptly (not easy with a fold-up push scooter over one shoulder and a duffle bag on the other) to see a girl in a pink hat about my age, in her late twenties, looking at me. Thinking it was obviously not her I asked her if she had seen who it was "Vous avez vu qui viens de me toucher?"

She just stared and I thought maybe she thinks I'm crazy and it was some random guy who's well out of sight by now. So I kept on walking and felt like someone was following me. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it was Miss Pink Hat. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and walked right along to my platform and right to the end of it. Of course there she was behind me. I changed direction and went all the way back to the other end and there she was again.

At this I turned around, looked her straight in the eye and asked her if she was following me and what she wanted. "Vous me suivez? Qu'est-ce que vous voulez"? She didn't respond, just stared at my fold-up scooter (it is rather fetching) and my coat (nothing special) and looked crazier as the seconds went on.

When my metro arrived she was still right next to me so I pretended not to take it and then jumped on at the last minute. When we pulled away her face was almost touching the glass door and her eyes were staring right at me. Crazy Miss Pink Hat was no match for Mr Metro so I managed to rely on my Parisian friend to get me to my destination without further event.

I have now put my unremarkable short beige coat safely in the wardrobe and have pulled out my equally unremarkable long beige coat. I know I can't prevent crazy pinching ladies altogether, but at least I can make it more difficult for them to get their hands on my derrière.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Detox Diary - all done!

Finally on Thursday night I abandoned my detox. Not because I wasn't enjoying its benefits but because a good friend from university and his wife came to visit G and I in Paris. So, now I'm back to cooking delightful things with meat, dairy, wheat and alcohol, all the sins I was previously denying myself; and yes, it's fantastic.

No more springing out of bed and dashing to the pool at 8.30am at the weekend, but I very much enjoyed the oysters, magret de canard with mushroom risotto and concerto au chocolat I had with G and our friends at Les Grands Marches in Bastille yesterday evening. Balance is very important in life, isn't it?

Today we had planned to go to Versailles but I'm not sure we will because I'm looking out of the window right now and there seems to be a tropical storm right outside my Vincennes window. Are we in France or Brazil? The French have a wonderful expression which is les giboulets de mars, which is roughly the equivalent of April showers. I suppose everything has to be different for the French!