Thursday, March 31, 2005

Learning about Addictions in France

What can I say? It is serious. Grave, even, as they say here, although they don't pronounce the e. I have been here for a year and three quarters and I have witnessed the most terrible, outrageous, frightening and perhaps even dangerous addiction known to human kind.

The French are generally a happy people. However, in this part of the world, other French say that there is something wrong with the locals. They are not alone in their perceptions. Many Anglo-phones (to be polite about it) constantly bang on about the sullenness of the shop assistants, the waiters who are slightly aggressive and arrogant, and the really unhelpful policemen (see previous post).

Even my Arab and Magrebian friends tell me that the French in this part of the world are terrible. I must point out that an American Journalist friend and I don't share this view as our experiences have been unique,( but I will remark that I see a lot of women dressed up to the nines in the supermarket or in a café, who would be very beautiful if they stopped frowning and used less energy and decided to smile).

Well given what I saw this last Easter I think I know what the problem is. No, it's not cultural. It's not even as I was previously postulating, that there is something in the water. Neither is it an inherent racism or the strong urge to tell all the foreigners to piss off back home and let us drive our cars on our broken up costal roads like a crazy Ferrari driving German some of you might have heard of.

I promise you after the spectacle that was Easter, when addicts practically jumped on one another to get the last of their fix, pulling hair, eye teeth, and even false wooden legs in order to get that last hit, that last tablet that would make life worth living, I never thought I would see the day when I would wish for the Berlin Wall to go back up so I could run and hide behind it.

NOTE Please those of who live in this part of the world and don't understand "in general", well let me say this, if the following view doesn't seem to be anything you have done or witnessed, get down on your knees and thank God, Allah, Yahweh, Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix, Shiva, Breeda, your next door neighbour or anybody (ok no.......not George W, I draw the line there.)

This is what happens in general. A French man, woman or child, and sometimes all three get up early, let me just use the man as example. He puts on the coffee machine, rummages in the cupboard, pulls out a piece of old bread and smothers it in Chocolate paste, he then washes this down with a few milligrams of concentrated caffeine. Now for the Americans let me put it like this, coffee in France does not have the consistency of tea. No coffee here,.....well I have seen hoards of mice running through kitchens and using the liquid in a coffee cup as a springboard to evade the local cats of which there are many. I digress.
Madame then saunters downstairs having dressed and washed her husband, and child, (yes it is that old fashioned here in some parts. I have heard say French men in the south stop growing at the age of 18 but have no firm medical evidence of this yet. Suffice to say I was not surprised). She makes more coffee or reheats what is there, rummages in the cupboard and pulls out a bar of 90% cocoa, chocolate so dark you need a fusion powered blow torch to see where it is, if it isn't the brightest day, and even when it is bright.....? Well, I have seen brighter looking black holes. She breaks of a huge chunk of this solid mass and while sucking it, opens her eyes to the world and can suddenly start her day. I am sure some brainpower is lost in this early morning process and perhaps it might be up for discussion and some conference in the near future. The child who was sent to bed with Chocolate milk has a bowl of chocolate cereal dumped in front of him and maybe some hot chocolate too, accompanied by pain o chocolat (choclate with bread wrapped around it, and of course a tartine, crisy bread with chocolate paste, and so the French wake up. At 11 o clock they have coffee and a chocolate. After lunch the have a coffee and a chocolate. In the evening the have an aperitif with crisps(chips), just to delay the gratification I think, and then after a late dinner, of which one of the desserts will certainly be chocolate cake (homemade) or chocolate mousse, (shop bought) they will have a coffee (optional) and some chocolate(imperative).

At Easter they have the egg hunt. Children are told that Bunny rabbits will leave eggs in the garden and that Chickens will hide them in holes. (no wonder I am so confused here). Demented Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Aunts and Uncles, neighbours and general friends of the family, spend the morning running around a garden big enough to host a political convention, while two, often only one, parent strives to keep the crazed bug eyed child occupied for a number of hours, while kilos, and I do mean kilos of chocolate are hidden. Then balloons are hung up showing the least perceptive child where in fact the chocolate might be and so, it really is a complete waste of a morning. Although honestly it makes life worth living to see the joy on a childs face. There is no talk of religion or going to church, that only happens at Christmas.

So where do the kilos of chocolate come from? There are dedicated shops here, like a barber, a hairdresser, an electrical goods outlet, and the chocolate maker/artist on ever street. Yes ladies, every 200 meters there is a shop dedicated to chocolate. Every type of chocolate imaginable, every shade from white to jet-black, every texture, sweet, sour, every flavour imaginable, and even some not so.
If not, every baker, of which there are just as many, not to be outdone, usually has a fair supply as well. I have passed by shops of this nature thinking they were museums for sculptors of fine art, only to realise the exhorbitant price was for something so good to look at, it would be a shame to eat it.

So imagine it is what Christians call Good Friday. You are standing in front of a selection of chocolate (if you can find one that late in the year) when suddenly, the granny brigade, the weightlifters union, the bimbo's for Barbie, and drivers against indicators, suddenly realise you are going to buy the one egg they all had there eyes on. Let me explain by saying the weightlifters don't always come off best. If you have ever been hit in the crutch by a crutch you will understand. But imagine the brawl that ensues, or perhaps, it is better if you don't.
I am convinced a small portion of French taxes and a huge amount of their appetite is what keeps the Brazilian or Venezuelan economies ticking over, however ill they may be. And that the resultant melee is also why there are so many pharmacies, doctors, and magicians knocking around these here parts.

So this is what I think, if you find yourself confronted by the frowning, aggressive, road rage incensed, sullen, down in the mouth, full of negative attitude, swaggering down the street, looking like the world has fallen on their heads, I don't get paid enough, French people, perhaps it would be astute of you to assume that they are perhaps just lacking a bit of chocolate. So for your human safety and sanity, give them some. Imagine how different the political spectrum would be if George W, instead of Calling the President of France an enemy, had sent him a few Hershey bars instead, actually no don't, that would have started a nuclear war because Americans know about as much about real chocolate as Irish do, But imagine he had sent him Chocolate, or vice versa maybe. We would be living in the type of world I see every lunchtime, smiling laughing beautiful people enjoying life (with all its trials) and a piece of rich dark succulent chocolate. Unfortunately the effect does seem to wear off once they get back to work. I hope you all had a cool easter.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Learning the Culture of the Cop (les flicks)

Cops the world over have bad days.
So there I was feeling good. Swinging into Monaco, taking the illegal turn I take twice a week, for nigh on 2 months now as I don't know another way of getting to where I need to go, and a cop blows his whistle. I look in my rear view mirror, I know I am in trouble. Another Flick (cop) in front of me, smiles, and then waves me through the lights, "Allez voir mon amie, il a un chose a te dire" (or words to that effect) I allez voir his buddy who starts to tear me a new asshole for crossing a solid white line. Now here is a lesson, follow closely. How not to talk to a cop who obviously doesn't want to be where he is, and is looking to make your day miserable.
Cop: Don't you know it's illegal to do that?
Me: I have been doing every day for two months and there are cops always here and no one says anything. I don't know any other way of getting to where I am going.
The cop explains the right way to go and then..................................
COP: Is this scooter insured?
ME: Yes but the insurance disk is at home I didn't get time to stick it on yet.
COP: Can I see your papers for this scooters?
ME: No.
COP: What? (his eyes are bulging now and there is a vein throbbing on his neck just above his starched white collar).
ME: My papers are home.
COP: Your identity card,...............................are you still at this address?
ME: (cringing now) No.
COP: I will have to impound the vehicle.
ME: What are you joking? I mean you can't do that.
COP: I can do what I like sir, this is Monaco not France, not Ireland, why don't you have your papers with you, I can give you a fine for 150 euro for breaking the white line, and then more tickets and more tickets, I can make you life miserable. Don't you know all over the world you have to have papers with you? I will have to take the vehicle. (the vein has spread to his temple and across his forehead).
ME: Not where I come from.
COP: Yes you do, in Ireland, France, Italy, it is the same, it is the same here in Monaco. (he is now puse).
ME: (Now wishing my French was better and at the same time I knew how to keep my shut, and already cringing because I am dead late, and it looks like my life is going to be screwed up, no bike means no work, means no money) NO it is not the same you have 48 hours to bring your papers to a police station. (My head sinks to my hands)
COP: No it's not true.
ME: Excuse me I am not a liar. I don't want to get myself into more trouble with you sir but I really didn't realise no one explains anything here,,,,,,
COP: Right you don't want to because I am talking so you keep your mouth shut and listen or there will more and more tickets, just an endless line of tickets, its takes 5 working days to do the paper work on guys like you.
ME : (only thinking, no wonder this place is fucked up, you can't read or write) Sorry really I didn't know, I am not a criminal.
COP: A tourist has to have their papers with them.
ME: I am not a tourist.
MY BRAIN: Shut the fuck up collie or you will end up behind bars, this guys wife ran off with the milkman this morning just after she bit down on his daily blowjob.
COP: You are a tourist this is not France.
ME : I work here, I teach English
COP: Where is you work permit?
MY BRAIN: OH shit,,,,,,it's at home,,.....................................

Long and short of it, I got off (I think), I still might get a ticket in the post but by his expression he thought I was a wuss and it was probably no wonder Ireland lost the Rugby as those guys are way too soft.
Moral of the story, when in Monaco, pretend you don't speak French, never answer back, and for god's sake don't break the law, there are so many cops, there is no real criminals, except the tax dodgers, and er, well that is legal in Monaco.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Noticing that nothing is different except everything

Do let me generalise just a little
Basic observations about the differences of life between here and Ireland.
Here the weather is good generally, people are generally tired, generally find life difficult, generally are not happy, generally moan, complain, are often sick or break a bone, and generally don't realise how good they have it. They think the Cote d'Azur is expensive, is full of foriegners and always want to be somewhere else but never go. Generally they eat good food, drink great wine and are laid back except when in their cars and they think they have the worst roads, traffic and best drivers in the world (ahem). It's really hard to meet people and make friends.
Dublin however is where, it generally rains all the time, people drink way too much, prices are way too expensive, the place is full of foriegners, the roads are crap except the news ones, nobody got anything out of the Celtic Tiger economy, there is no health service, no one is well off, every one is open, friendly, chatty and it's easy to make friends. ............generally mind you.
So it's more real in Dublin but, it's better yet harder here, Generally.
Another words given swings and roundabouts I am no worse off here than at home and I have my son and the Sun here. So erm what will I do?...................... generally I think I am staying. :-)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Laughing my Ass off

I promise I will write about life in france soon but this link is just too funny.
Lots has been happening and lots more to do. Sorry to my regularsm just running around like a loon at the moment and gettting nothing done. But laughter is the best medicine so have a look.

Friday, March 18, 2005


Ouch ouch ouch owwwww. No really I am fine just don't make any sudden moves or noises. Well it was fun but not that much ouch fun. OK thats it till next March 17th. (Yeah right) OUch

Monday, March 14, 2005

Realising I am not brave

Reading some other peoples blogs is inspiring. Take Jessica Rabbit for example who shows up in some of my comments. This is a lady who has done it all or almost all anyway and her most recent entry is a brilliant piece of writing and a testament to true love.
However my life I need not point out is different. I have discovered the problem, apart from having to fill in a tax form that I knew nothing about, and don't know where to get, not being able to pay my rent, (they sent me a reciept for it anyway, so I am keeping quiet till they ask) having to go to the cops and sign a form that says I am no longer living with either the bane nor the joy of my life, (should have done it six months ago apparently), and apart from the fact that I don't make enough money, so I need to find a real job even a crap one, (I thought I had finished the sweeping shit jobs) and unemployment in this region is 15%, apart from all that, and having to organise a whole load of english classes for ungrateful students who don't realise that the letter Z is not the most popular letter in English and that H isn't there for decoration, apart from that, the problem is I suddenly realise I am a coward.
I am stuck in a rut I can't get out of right now because I am afraid to speak french. Don't get me wrong, one on one, my french is okay, I can have a conversation about almost anything assuming I am not tired, (I am just over full blown flu, had my heart broken, have no cash, and few close friends, worry about my boy all the time and generally worrry, how could I possilby be tired?). The worry gives rise to fear which is exhausting, which gives rise to more fear, which wins out to cowardice. I cannot get my head around working in a buger joint or serving coffee to French people I just freeze at the thought of it. Now if you asked me to work in a hospital, be a barman, wash dishes, clean houses, yeah no problem. But a guy who grew up in Ireland when there was no economy, has been rarely out of a job, has never not paid a bill in his life, and is intelligent, is now down on himself cause just like 5 million other people in France I can't get a real job and I am too proud to serve ice cream. What the hell is wrong with me. The language problem comes from hearing a new voice or a new accent, each time it takes me five minutes to figure it out. Imagine you are hurrying for lunch you order a cream coffee and you have to repeat it 6 times to the obviously dumb ass who doesn't understand what you are saying. How the hell did he get the job in the first place? Well he had more courage than I for one. That's how.
With the weather improving up to 18C so I didn't wear my gloves on the scooter for the first time today I was kinda wistfully hoping the sunshine would snap me out of my anal obbession and I could stop walking around like an acrobat with my head up my ass complaining about the smell. No joy yet. One job I applied for online today replied negatively so quickly, they couldn't have time to read the email never mind the CV. Oh the joys of being a naieve 18 year old again at the age of 37. Still I don't have a problem. I just need to get up off my ass and find the confidence and start talking the old blarney I used to in Ireland, albeit in a different language, accent and country to very very very different people.
Funny I was planning to write about St Patricks coming up and I have no idea what any Irish people here are doing apart from working. Still guess I won't be having my annual lunch time Guinness. Don't think it would go down to well in English class at the bank in Monaco. Ha how grand does that sound. Still I am not brave for staying here to be close to my son and whoever decides I am the man of their dreams in the future, just stubborn. Maybe its a good start.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

International womens day

I didn't give anyone flowers but I am sending the thoughts. Hope you women enjoyed your international day, now lets have a mans one. ?????????????????????? (that has gotta get some reacton)

A friend in need

Isn't it great when you meet someone who naturally gives you what you just haven't been able to give yourself for a while. I have a friend. This friend listens to me and my perpetual fight with myself. Me with 4 years of communication and 3 of psychology who is supposed to know what to do when I feel like I am up against the wall, well I forget. She on the other hand just opens the invisible unwritten book with my Name on the cover, and reads from page one. She gives me the wisdom I know is already in me. What she says rings so true. It's a fantastic boost. She gives me a good boost. What more can I say. So for you if you read it A this entry is for you.

On another note, I had another encounter with the Arab community here the other night. An American friend of mine and I had dinner with two sisters, one of whom I used to teach English to. When he came in the other sister jumped up and hugged him, proclaiming, J'adore les Americans, I adore the Americans. Remember now I am living in France, remember too that America is at war in the Arab world, and remember too, the prelevant attitude in the US to the French. The girl I used to teach is a Mathamatical genius, she came from a poor family. She was born in France and grew up in a village in Algeria. She is qualified as a draughtsperson from an Algerian college. Her sister told me yesterday about the finanical and cultural struggle she underwent to be educated. Her father wanted her to stay at home. She scrimped and saved and got very good results in her exams. She came to France with a dream, similiar to the dream many Europeans have when they go to the U.S. . Making it, living a good life, having a good job, maybe meeting someone and settling down. Imagine her dismay when the French government told her, her qualifications were worth nothing. If you want to work in France your qualification has to be french.
So Hadia started all over again. She had an exam last week and breezed it. She doesn't think of herself as beautiful, she is shy with people she doesn't know, she does have a somewhat naieve view of the world and what is going on. Both of them seem to take it for granted that to be Arab/ or Algerian/ or even Magrebian/ or even Berbour which is none of the above, results in you getting the shitty end of the stick. That's fate, that's life and that is the way it is.
I, with my western celtic culture, am fascinated by their looks, their story, their culture, the way the dance and sing. I believe that with the confidence of the white, dare I say it, an American confidence, either woman, (as they are women and not girls) could take this country by storm and be what they want. It seems France is doing a good if not better job of treating some of the worlds people worse than the American government could appear to hope for. For those of you from the US I do not want to offend you, I understand many of you have lost loved ones in the war. But I am not writing about the war. Neither am I judging it here, not intentionally anyway. I am driving at the point that so often in life when we feel it is working against us, we are actually filled with an abundance of talent and options that could change our situation and somehow we manage to stick ourselves in a rut and hide. It will be easier for me to make a living here than either of them. I am white male, european educated, only bilingual, (they have at least 3 languages each) and I believe I can. They on the other hand are Berbour women, Olive skinned, percieved by many to be Dirty Arabs what chance do they have of ever making it in todays world. What dissappointments will they carry in their souls for the rest of their lives. What can I do to help except encourage each time I can.
As a subnote, talking to an Irish friend today, who is a property sourcer, and agent for sailing boats, I learned from him that now it is illegal to sell your appartment to an Arab in the very area the two girls are living. How people get away with it here I don't know, but I imagine if they were black and in America there would be some sort of network that would support the girls, educate them to their rights and set them on the road. If I am wrong please don't let me die in ignorance. But I can't imagine people have to endure what the Arab community does here, anywhere else in the world. Now if my french was better maybe I could do something. But I have to do something for myself first. Perhaps it is always the way.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Re learning the life lessons

Funny how the break up of a relationship can take it out of you. I slowly realise that it has taken me a full 6 months to get to grips with what was happening. Now that the earnings are down, and the panic set in I had two choices. Panic and make a bad decision or do nothing. Or cop on give myself yet another kick up the backside and do something to make it better. Obviously I choose the second. The one thing i am not used to here and it's cultural, is how people seem so isolated or independant. I am not sure if it is a positive or negative yet.
Let me give you an example. I met a very pretty student of mine the other day in Monaco. She was ashen faced, dazed and shocked. She had slipped on a very steep street up around Beausoliel. She had a gash on her knee and her stockings were ripped. The point is that where as most guys I know and for that matter most women too, would have run to help her, fussed over her, and made sure she was ok,..well.......that didn't happen. No one stopped, no one looked, no one asked anything. It's very south of France. No one wants to know.
I am wondering if there isn't some psychological throwback to the war in 1940's that has been handed down. A type of "Don't get involved " mentality. Perhaps the French mind thinks it can only work out bad in the end. Perhaps the fact she looked Arab may also have something to do with it. It is hard for Arabs here. Even those who are well educated, attractive, and well off, experience a certain glass barrier. Others have told me they fear for future careers as their surname is Arab or their photo (a pre-requisite on a french CV) will work against them.
So I sit back and take stock. I am becoming aware for the first time in my life what it means to be white. I take stock of what I have and what I haven't. What my strengths and weaknesses are and what my choices are. Unfortunately the time for fighting was long ago but better late than never I guess. So let me say this, if you are down, or in a rut, or broken hearted, don't wallow. That's been my mistake. Grab yourself give yourself a good shake and think of the positives. Yeah its hard. But there is no one else can do it for you.

Follow by Email